More war or jaw-jaw?

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

Philip Whitfield

August 29 2011

CAIRO: Is Libya murderous mayhem or a just war? Is mass death justified? When do the ends violate the moral principles of the means? What are the consequences for Egypt of turmoil on its borders?

Largely peaceful non-violent protests characterized transition in Tunisia and Egypt. That’s not the case in Libya, Syria, Yemen or Bahrain.

History will record the triumph of non-violent protest over armed insurrection in Tunisia and Egypt. Not to diminish their importance or minify their bestiality, the cold-blooded murder of detainees will be overshadowed by the significance of popular uprising unseating tyrannical regimes.

Egypt’s revolutionaries faced two choices to upend Mubarak: to violently confront the pillars that propped the dictator up or to destabilize the regime with non-violent action, the chosen course.

Non-violence is relatively new, historically. Peter Ackerman views democracy from influential positions on the boards of the US-based International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, Freedom House and the Council on Foreign Relations. He told an audience last November that until 35 years ago you were either quiescent or took part in violent insurrection.

Citing more than 200 violent insurrections since 1900 he said the success rate was 23 percent. “In almost every case when there’d been a victory the people who undertook the insurrection said: We took all the risk and so we take all the power.”

It never ended up in a democratic result, he said. When they failed, which was virtually in every case, the people who suffered were the general population.

Another influential voice is Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. In March, assessing the prospects for democratic change in the Arab world, he said: I wouldn’t take anything for granted.

Diamond cautioned that a transition from authoritarian rule to democratic governance in the Middle East would be tricky. “Getting the timing right, getting the sequence right, getting the institutions right, getting the politics right, is fundamentally important, even essential, to having a successful democratic transition.”

Diamond said uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab nations represented the latest wave of democracy movements that have reshaped the world. In 1974, there were about 40 democratic countries. Another 76 became democracies over the past 35 years. Of the world’s 194 nations, 116 are democracies today.

He identified several pre-conditions that increase the likelihood of successful democratic change. It helps if a country is reasonably economically developed and literate and if there is a business or entrepreneurial class, he said. Also important are exposure to democratic culture and ideas, particularly pluralism and tolerance.

Diamond noted that since the American Revolution in 1776 there have been few democracies established from violent revolutions. Usually, the charismatic figure that leads a revolutionary struggle through violent means winds up like Lenin or Mao, not like George Washington or Nelson Mandela.

Among Arab countries Tunisia had long been regarded as the most able to develop and sustain democracy, Diamond said. With an established middle class, Tunisia was less polarized and radicalized than many other Arab nations.

“I am much more optimistic about Tunisia than Egypt,” said Diamond who was “very skeptical” about democratic prospects in Egypt. He was “deeply suspicious” about the military council that took over as the transitional government. “It’s not like the military was allied with the Mubarak regime. The military was the previous Mubarak regime.” The Egyptian military, Diamond said, is “not above playing the same game Hosni Mubarak played” to thwart democracy.

Egypt’s electoral system also needs reform. According to Diamond: Unless the electoral system is reformed basically, you will get an electoral outcome dominated by the old ruling party with a new name — and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Aristotle, Cicero and Augustine are regarded as the founders of just war theory. Many of the rules developed by the just war tradition have since been codified into contemporary international laws governing armed conflict, such as The United Nations Charter and The Hague and Geneva Conventions.

Just war theory, which covers civil war, falls into three parts: 1. jus ad bellum: the justice of resorting to war in the first place. 2. jus in bello, which concerns the justice of conduct of war. 3. jus post bellum: the justice of peace and the termination of war.

In the first place, governments lose their legitimacy to govern if they fail to make every reasonable effort to satisfy the human rights of their own citizens, notably life, liberty and subsistence. That’s debatable. However, if the uprising has overwhelming popular support the people win the argument.

What’s not arguable is the unjust conduct of a government in defense of what it sees as an illegitimate uprising. That is where Mubarak, Qaddafi, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh fail.

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution says though Bahrain is a pygmy in Arab politics the Saudis watch Bahrain like hawks fearful of the Shia 70 percent majority overturning the ruling Sunni Muslims.

Riedel claims the Sunnis suppress the Shias with imported Pakistanis and other Sunnis to man the riot police to ensure their loyalty to the throne. Their brutal put down of Shia unrest, aided by Saudi tank commanders, qualifies the Bahrain rulers for international isolation.

Egypt’s dilemma is moral and pragmatic. The continued use of extreme force catalogued by protesters taken into detention, casts doubt on the militia’s credibility to act even-handedly in the new era. A judicial inquiry is required to determine the truth and to recommend reform to be enacted by the new parliament.

Immediate action to rout out bullies is required. Police training methods need overhauling. Community policing is the best way to gain trust. Retraining commanding officers who oversee police stations is essential.

Military posts along Egypt’s borders in the Sinai and adjacent to Libya will require manning for years to come. Egypt must avoid being drawn into firefights provoked by proponents of violence on its borders. The new Egypt will be provoked. The enemies of democracy wear many disguises.

Intelligence will be critical. Egypt will need to partner with neighboring security forces.

To move forward means tapping the reservoir of diplomatic skills and drawing on the goodwill engendered during the revolution.

To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war, Sir Winston Churchill said at a White House luncheon on June 26 1954. Would that his words had not fallen on deaf ears.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator.


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