Foreign Policy Blogs

As we thought. Not.

egypt protests

Photo credit: AP Photo/Pete Muller

We are now deep into year two of the Arab world convulsions. Not one country across the North African-Middle East arc is settled. Even where it sounds quiet it is not.

Two years from the first cry of freedom, very few things are how the outside world predicted.

As Egyptians vote for their president in the first free election in that country’s history, who would have predicted Libya would appear more normal and representative and that Egypt would be more wild, unruly, and sad. People would have scoffed.

Algerians rejected more strident Islam at the polls. Tunisia is testing its new democracy every day. Morocco seems to be successful in staying away from the limelight. Lebanon is churning again thanks to the brutality of Syria’s civil war and genocide next door.

Nothing is as predicted.

Libya may be the biggest surprise. The interim government registered 90 percent of the country’s eligible voters for what would be the first elections in 60 years–and 47 percent of those who signed up were women. Some 4,000 candidates have presented themselves for the election of a 200-member national assembly that will be charged with writing a new constitution, appointing a new interim government, and overseeing another election a year from now.

Local elections have already been held in the cities of Benghazi and Misrata. In those cities and in Tripoli, policemen and the regular army keep order as daily life has mostly returned to normal. Oil production has hit 90 percent of prewar level. The government has recovered more than $100 billion in frozen reserves, giving it ample resources for a population of 6 million people.

National elections may come as soon as June 19.  Mustafa Abushagur, a deputy prime minister visiting Washington recently, said the vote could be delayed but would be held before the beginning of the Ramadan holiday in late July.   “This is a country, and there is a central government operating,” he said.

Outstanding. And its neighbor to the east?

Once the proud leader of Arab world in arts, culture, literature and politics, Egypt is falling apart today. Corruption is a way of life. People are desperately poor despite fabulous natural resources. Abuse of natural and financial resources is uncontained. The Egyptian police state with its numerous security and intelligence agencies are constantly terrorizing the population.

Voters are angry and feel duped. Their revolution ended quickly with promises for democracy; now, they face a choice for president between a member of the Islamic Brotherhood and an individual who was part of the former military government, Ahmed Shafiq. On top of that, the high court dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament and confirmed Shaiq’s candidacy. The fruits of democracy can spoil quickly in the wrong climate.

One visible result of this disintegration: a sharp increase in sexual attacks against women. It is so egregious that a march protesting this surge in sexual attacks and demanding an end to sexual harassment was attacked by a mob of hundreds of men; they overwhelmed the male guardians and groped and molested several of the female marchers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

There is one place where the reality is not hard to see, but only when one looks with real eyes: Syria, where the killing will continue as long as Assad can get away with it.

The head of the U.N. mission now admits surprise at Assad’s behavior. U.N. observers, when they are permitted to observe, find ghost towns and hints of massacres.

Assad has learned the lessons of history well. A bully knows he needs to act in the moment in case the world finally discovers the way and courage to stop him.

It took another massacre, this one of 55 people, for United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan to admit his plan may not work.  For those counting, that was two massacres, yet Annan still insists a diplomatic solution can be found as long as Russia and Iran are involved.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel put it out front in a letter to the Washington Post — put Assad on trial at the Hague or at least start the process.

At least he has an idea. There are other ideas as well: establish no kill zones, provide intelligence, weapons, and air support to the opposition when possible.  It may create more bloodshed as opposed to one side having the guns for easy slaughter. It may also cause Assad’s forces to think twice knowing the bullets can be fired at them as well.

Much more blood, that much is clear. The Arab Spring still has a long way to go. No uncertainty of prediction there.



Tom Squitieri

Tom Squitieri has spent more than three decades as a journalist, reporting overseas for the Lowell (Mass.) Sun, the Boston Herald and USA TODAY. He won three Overseas Press Club awards and three White House Correspondents' Association awards for his reporting from Haiti, Bosnia, and Burundi. He is a newly-elected board member of the Overseas Press Club.

In academics, Squitieri was invited to create and then teach a unique college course that combines journalism, public affairs, ethics, philosophy, current affairs and war zone survival skills into a practical application to broaden thinking and day-to-day success. The class "Your 15 Minutes: Navigating the Checkpoints in Life" has a waiting list each year.

Born in Pittsburgh and raised in western Pennsylvania, Squitieri has been on all seven continents and in dozens of places he intends to keep secret.