Egypt’s big lesson in democracy

Egypt adopted a postrevolutionary constitution this week. But the Arab nation has only begun to understand that democracy isn’t only majority rule.

Members of the constitutional assembly speak during a session at the Shura Council building in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 26. The official approval of Egypt’s disputed, Islamist-backed constitution Tuesday held out little hope of stabilizing the country after two years of turmoil and Islamist President Mohammed Morsi may now face a more immediate crisis with the economy falling deeper into distress.

As many married couples learn the hard way, the greater good can be found simply by listening to each other. That lesson in selflessness is also true for democracies, such as the fledgling one inEgypt, a nation now pivotal to the success of the Arab Spring.


On Tuesday, Egyptians officially began life under a mostly democratic constitution, nearly two years after the Tahrir Square revolution. But this remarkable feat for the Middle East was hardly a model in how opposing sides in a democracy should listen to each other. In fact, the US State Department issued a stern warning toPresident Mohamed Morsi about “the urgent need to bridge divisions, build trust, and broaden support for the political process.”

Many of the steps on the way to the Constitution – whose bright spot includes regular elections – ignored the interests of Egypt’s various minorities, from liberal secularists to Coptic Christians. The dominant Muslim Brotherhood, whose party has won three national votes, fell for the notion that the majority should always get what it wants – a mistake that has been the undoing of many democracies.

“Democracy requires much more than simple majority rule,” said a US State Department spokesman, Patrick Ventrell.

Mr. Morsi, who resorted to temporary tyranny in order to railroad the Constitution, conceded in a speech Wednesday that he had made mistakes “here and there.” Only after his victory did he display greater sincerity toward including the opposition in the government.

“There is no alternative to a dialogue that is now a necessity,” he told Egyptians.

While the new charter passed with 63 percent of the ballots, voter turnout was low. Only 1 in 5 of eligible voters endorsed the draft document, reflecting a general disgust toward Morsi’s heavy-handed majoritarian rule. The Constitution itself includes vague protections for minorities while giving broad authority to unelected Islamic council.

Egypt is still learning that a republican democracy is merely a means – and the best one, at that – to define the public good. This requires a careful balancing between majority rule and minority rights, something that many Americans also fail to understand.

Constitutions, by their very nature, are a way to set down operating principles to run a society, such as basic freedoms, that majorities cannot violate. They are humanity’s way of acknowledging a higher good than temporary individual or collective wants. They are an institutional force to find common ground.America’s founders set up many obstacles to majority rule on purpose. George Washington, for example, defined the role of the Senate – where the two votes of tiny Rhode Island equal those of California – as the saucer to cool the hot tea of populist bills passed by the House. A president’s veto can be overridden only by supermajorities in Congress. And the Supreme Court stands guard to keep the majority from stepping on minority rights.

Democracy would also fail if a minority could also command a veto power in every case. Each country must find a solution to the tension between its majorities and minorities as well as between a constitution and the results of elections.

In Egypt’s case, the dominant Islamists have only begun to accept legal protections for non-Muslims based on a concept of citizenship for all. For Islam’s sake, this is the right course. A recent Pew Research Center poll found a majority or substantial minority of people in the Middle East and North Africa believe it is possible to interpret Islam’s teachings in multiple ways.

And as democracy advances in the region, a international group of leading Muslim scholars is leading an effort to define an Islamic basis for citizenship and the rights of minorities.

Democracy cannot consist only of two wolves and sheep deciding what to have for dinner. Listening to others in a democracy helps raise individuals out of themselves in hopes of grander visions of the common good. If Egypt can succeed in that, others in the Arab world may follow.

( / 27.12.2012)

UN envoy calls for interim Syria government

Lakhdar Brahimi urges “real change” in Damascus and for transitional leaders with full power until elections are held.

The UN envoy said that Syrians needed more than just a cosmetic change
International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has called for “real change” in war-torn Syria and the installation of a transitional government with full powers until elections can be held.

The envoy unveiled his initiative in Damascus on Thursday as Russia, the most powerful ally of Syria’s government, denied the existence of a joint peace plan with the United States, amid a flurry of year-end diplomatic activity on the crisis.

“Change should not be cosmetic; the Syrian people need and require real change, and everyone understands what that means,” the UN-Arab League envoy said on the fifth day of his latest peace mission to Syria.

“We need to form a government with all powers… which assumes power during a period of transition. That transition period will end with elections,” Brahimi told reporters.

“”We prefer… a project whose facilitation the parties have agreed upon, and, if they do not, the last solution is going to the (UN) Security Council which will make a binding resolution.”

– Lakhdar Brahimi

He did not specify a date for the envisaged elections, either presidential or parliamentary depending on what could be agreed. He also made no mention on the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, whose current term expires in 2014.
“The transition period should not lead to the collapse of the state and its institutions,” Brahimi said, adding the initiative was incomplete.

“We prefer… a project whose facilitation the parties have agreed upon, and, if they do not, the last solution is going to the (UN) Security Council which will make a binding resolution.”

Brahimi, who while in Damascus has held talks with Assad as well as with opposition groups tolerated by the regime, replaced former UN chief Kofi Annan after his dramatic resignation in August over what he said was the failure of major powers to back his own six-point peace plan.

And a diplomat at the UN Security Council said on Wednesday the veteran Algerian troubleshooter had received no support from either side since arriving in Syria on Sunday.

“Assad appears to have stonewalled Brahimi again, the UN Security Council is not even close to showing the envoy the kind of support he needs and the rebels will not now compromise,” said the diplomat.

Brahimi is to hold talks on Saturday with Moscow at the request of the envoy, Russia’s foreign ministry said.

Russia on Thursday hosted a Syrian delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad, with its foreign ministry saying the results would be announced later in the day.

“This is of course a part of the efforts we are undertaking to encourage dialogue not just with the government but all opposition forces,” spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

Moscow has to the fury of the West refused to cut cooperation with the Assad regime in the conflict.

The diplomatic drive comes amid Western media reports of a new Russia-US initiative that would see Assad stay in power until 2014 while preventing him from further renewing his mandate.

But Lukashevich vehemently denied this.

“There was not and is not such a plan and it is not being discussed,” he said, adding Russia’s Syria policy was still based on an accord with world powers made in Geneva back in June for an inter-Syrian dialogue.

Brahimi too denied such a plan has been devised, saying he had only “proposed” and “wished” there was an agreement between the Americans and Russians.

Russia has always insisted it will not prop up Assad but has also emphasised Moscow will not seek to persuade him to step down, saying it is up to Syrians to decide their country’s future.

( / 27.12.2012)

Meretz presents four-year path to peace based on Arab League initiative


Party would cancel the Oslo Accords in agreement with the Palestinians, and replace them with a new interim pact.

The leftist Meretz party on Tuesday unveiled its diplomatic platform – a four-year path to peace based on the Arab League initiative.

The platform calls for immediate recognition of a Palestinian state followed by negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, a freeze on settlement construction, release of Palestinian prisoners and removal of West Bank roadblocks, Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On said on Tuesday at a Tel Aviv news conference.

The plan would also cancel the Oslo Accords in agreement with the Palestinians, and replace them with a new interim pact. Gal-On said she would be meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah to discuss the plan on Wednesday.

“We stand here today on the eve of elections as the last anchor of the peace camp,” she said. The party chairwoman added that when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “said no to a Palestinian state in the United Nations, he got a resounding slap from the world, and those who did not want a Palestinian state by agreement will get it without an agreement.”

She went on to say that the “[Moshe] Feiglins, the Yariv Levins and the Danny Danons on the Likud roster” will not allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come to a peace agreement, referring to the candidates on Likud’s right flank. Gal-On said the window of opportunity for peace, “which is a strategic interest of Israel, is rapidly closing.”

Meretz’s diplomatic platform was formulated by Ilan Baruch, formerly Israel’s ambassador to South Africa. When Baruch retired two years ago from the foreign service, he harshly criticized Netanyahu and then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

“I have not come to talk politics, I have come to talk policy,” Baruch said on Tuesday. “Between Hamas and Fatah, the decision on what happens with us depends on the Israeli leadership. Unfortunately the Israeli leadership today, as well as those who would like to be part of the next government, very much strengthen the Palestinian voice that says the entire country is Palestine and there is no room for Israel.” Baruch said Tuesday’s presentation was not meant to be a comprehensive peace plan and was not based on empty slogans. “It is a plan intended to jump-start the process that has gone into deep freeze, [which is] completely the responsibility of the outgoing government and apparently the incoming one. Any plan that pretends to reinvent the peace process is not serious. Our plan is based on existing materials. The first and supreme test is the applicability of such a plan.”

( / 27.12.2012)

Prisoners wounded in Israeli attacks on their cells


RAMALLAH, (PIC)– Israeli prison guards and special forces attacked Palestinian prisoners in two prisons on Wednesday wounding four of them, the Palestinian prisoner’s association said in a statement on Thursday.

It said that joint forces of Matsada, Nahshon, and Dror attacked wards 4, 6, 9 in the Megiddo jail wounding four prisoners, adding that ward 4 was closed.

The statement said that other units stormed ward 14 in Nafha desert prison last night and injured a number of prisoners in the process.

It said that the soldiers searched the detainees and damaged their belongings in the process in rooms 94 and 95.

The association noted that the Palestinian prisoners have complained of growing provocations on the part of the Israeli prison administrations against them.

( / 27.12.2012)

Iraq militia issues threat against Turkish interests

BAGHDAD (Reuters) — An Iraqi militia on Thursday issued a threat against Turkish interests in Iraq, responding to what it described as Turkey’s “blatant interference” in the country’s internal affairs.

Relations between Turkey and Iraq have been deteriorating over the past year, with the two countries trading accusations of inciting sectarian tensions, and summoning each other’s ambassadors in tit-for-tat manoeuvres.

Ankara has angered Baghdad by cultivating close ties with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, which has defied the central government by signing contracts with foreign oil firms.

( / 27.12.2012)

Iran’s Guns for Gaza

Lee Smith over at the Weekly Standard has written an excellent introduction to Iran’s efforts to supply Palestinian extremists with guns. It’s a roundabout route—by sea from Iran to Sudan, then by land through Egypt and the Sinai, then down the tunnels into Gaza. Iranian personnel are believed to be present for at least some of this process; the Israelis periodically attack.

A new, non-Iranian source has also emerged: Libya. Gaddafi’s vast stocks of weapons were a boon to the international black market in small arms; the Standard shows a photo of a masked terrorist holding a Belgian assault rifle (a photo drolly cited “courtesy of Hamas”). This highlights two of the key challenges of modern global security: first, how do you arm your allies (or any state, if your arms industry is to be treated as just another business) without adding to insecurity in the long run? As the New York Times’ C. J. Chivers once illustrated, weapons last a long time—sometimes longer than the governments that control them. Second, how do you respond to state breakdowns that threaten international security? With its small stock of chemical weapons, large stock of conventional weapons, and proximity to Europe, the collapsing Libya was a danger to its neighborhood. Yet the world’s response did little to address that, and the new Libya is hardly a state in the Westphalian sense; Smith’s article highlights the problems such shell-states can cause.

So why is the Islamic Republic arming Hamas? The most straightforward reason is that it limits Israel’s regional strength. During the November campaign against Hamas, Operation Pillar of Cloud, nobody was talking about bombing Iran. Israel was consumed with its immediate security. Long-range Iranian rockets amplified Hamas’ power, and forced the Israelis to devote energy to hunting them down. There’s a deterrent element here—Tehran wants the Israelis to worry that an operation against the nuclear program will lead not only to retaliation from Iran, but also to a rain of rockets from Gaza in the southwest and Hezbollah in the north. Israel would then be fighting on several fronts at once and potentially facing more internal dissent.

But there’s another, deeper reason for Iran’s arms shipments. A key part of Iran’s brand at home and abroad is being the most powerful advocate of “resistance”—rejection of Israel and of the West’s regional role. Resistance is a key raison d’être of the Islamic Revolution, and the Palestinian conflict is by far the hottest issue for supporters of resistance. Hence Iran has aligned itself with Palestinian hardliners and eagerly trumpeted its ties to them when they act. Every rocket that lands in Israel and every Palestinian casualty strengthens the resistance narrative that accommodating Israel has accomplished nothing, and that struggle is the only way. The analogy to Iran’s troubled relations with the West is obvious. The dark secret behind the guns for Hamas and other extremists, then, is Iran has no interest in an Israeli-Palestinian peace. It wants the conflict—and the suffering of the Palestinian civilians it claims to support—to be endless.

(John Allen Gay / / 27.12.2012)

Dutch right-wing politician puts “anti-Islam policy priority in 2013”

Dutch politician Geert Wilders, leader of the right wing populist Party of Freedom PVV, said on Thursday that anti-Islam policy will be his top priority in the forthcoming year, local media reported.

“Next to all things about Europe and the economic situation the people will hear from our resistance against the ‘Islamization’ of the Netherlands,” Wilders told Dutch TV channel NOS in an interview.

“I will intensify this battle, both in the Netherlands, but also internationally from Australia to America to Switzerland, or anywhere else,” he added.

He said the fight was a life mission for him. He also noted a “Moroccan problem,” referring to the recent death of a soccer linesman who was attacked by some young people of Moroccan origin, and one of Antillean descent.

In 2010 the PVV won 24 seats in the Dutch parliament, partly as a result of its anti-Islamic rhetoric. As a supporting party the PVV contributed the minority cabinet of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte which fell in April 2012, after Wilders quit negotiations on austerity measures. In the parliamentary elections held in September 2012, PVV saw its seats reduced to 15.

( / 27.12.2012)

Korea Telecom makes bid for Vivendi’s Maroc Telecom stake

Korea Telecom confirmed that it made a non-binding preliminary bid for Vivendi’s 53 percent stake in Maroc Telecom on 17 December, Bloomberg reports. Vivendi is reportedly seeking around EUR 5.5 billion for the stake. Korea Telecom said last year that it would focus on growing its presence in emerging markets, including Africa and Central America, but was forced to drop a plan to buy 20 percent of Telkom South Africa this summer due to opposition from the South African government. Other potential bidders for the Maroc Telecom stake include France Telecom, Qtel and Etisalat.
( / 27.12.2012)

Foreign activists enter Gaza on solidarity mission

A delegation of pro-Palestinian activists, mainly French and Egyptian, crossed into Gaza from Egypt on Thursday to deliver aid, AFP correspondents at the border reported.

The “Welcome to Palestine” delegation of about 90 people is to stay in the territory until January 1, in solidarity with the people of Gaza and in protest against the Israeli blockade in force since 2006, organisers say.

Organised by French group EuroPalestine, the delegation includes 60 French members and 25 Egyptians, and entered Gaza through the Rafah border terminal, the only land crossing between the territory and the outside world not dependent on Israel, which also maintains an air and sea blockade.

The visitors brought drugs, surgical supplies and French textbooks, the organisers said.

In the past, several similar “Welcome to Palestine” initiatives failed when activists were refused entry by air to Tel Aviv and by land from Jordan into the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Israeli blockade on Gaza was first imposed in June 2006 following the capture by militants from the territory of an Israeli soldier, who was eventually freed in October 2011 in a trade for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

It was strengthened in 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement took control of Gaza, then eased somewhat following an international outcry over the killing of nine activists in a 2010 Israeli commando raid on a flotilla trying to break the naval blockade.

In 2011, a UN report found the commandos used excessive force but ruled that the blockade itself was legal.

Israel says that its restrictions do not affect the civilian population of Gaza and that it allows 50,000 tons of goods to enter each week.

( / 27.12.2012)

Russia’s Lavrov says world must seek peaceful solution for Syria

MOSCOW (Reuters) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that the chances of forging a solution to the Syrian conflict based on a June agreement by world powers that called for a transitional government are decreasing, the Interfax news agency reported.

It is nevertheless necessary to keep seeking a peaceful solution because the alternative is “bloody chaos”, Interfax quoted him as saying in an interview. “The longer it continues, the broader its scale and the worse (it will be) for everyone.”

( / 27.12.2012)