Crescent Moon, Waning West

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The decline of Western power in the Arab world

ShowImage.ashxAFTER a slow summer, the Arab spring has turned into a turbulent autumn. The past few days have seen the gruesome end of Muammar Qaddafi, the more edifying spectacle of an orderly and open election in Tunisia (see article) and the death of Saudi Arabia’s ancient crown prince Sultan amid demands for the kingdom to modernise faster. Egypt, by far the most populous Arab country, is poised to hold its first proper election next month. Revolts and civil strife continue across the region, from Syria to Yemen and Bahrain.

For the West, whose ties to Arab dictators once gave it great clout in the Middle East, events in the region have spun way out of control.

That fact was underlined this week by the Iraqis’ insistence that all American forces must quit the country by the end of the year. Yet the West should not regret this turn of events. The power that it has lost in the short term should, in the long run, be replaced by influence born of good relations with decent governments.

On balance, the Arab world is in far better shape than it was less than a year ago. For sure, the economies of all the countries affected by the democratic upheavals have slumped. That is true even of Tunisia, which has the best education and skills in the region. But dictatorship and state control suffocated the Arab economies—even those awash with oil. Once Arab countries’ borders open up and their governments become accountable to their citizens, they are likely to grow faster. And that will not happen until they have put in place a system of government that gives a far wider degree of participation than before.

It is beginning to happen. Tunisia has led the way. Egypt promises to follow, though the generals in charge of its transition have been horribly inept of late, raising fears that the country may slip backwards to disorder or military control. But a parliament is due for election next month. It is to choose an assembly that may take a year or so to write a constitution providing for the election of a new Egyptian president. Libya, too, should have elections within a year.

Everywhere risks lapsing into bouts of chaos and strife. But this trio of north African states looks set to give a democratic fillip to other Arab countries, including those such as Syria that seem destined for a time to be soaked in blood while they strive for liberation.

The rise of political Islam is not necessarily cause for alarm among democrats in the West and the Arab world. In Tunisia an Islamist party, Nahda (“Renaissance”), that was brutally banned for decades has won a stunning victory at the polls. Egypt’s Muslim Brothers are likely to do well too. In Libya the Islamists may also be gaining ground. This rattles secular-minded Arab liberals and many well-wishing Westerners.

But a more open and tolerant brand of political Islam better suited to the modern world seems to be emerging, especially now that its proponents must compete for the favours of voters who admire the Islamists’ hostility to corruption, but dislike the sectarian and conservative attitudes that many of them expressed when they were underground.

No one can be certain that if Islamists gain power they will give it up at the ballot box, but secular rulers sometimes fail that test. And, on the whole, the threat of religious extremism with which strongmen used to justify repression has not materialised. Barring a few ungoverned pockets in Yemen and on the fringes of the Sahara, al-Qaeda has failed to benefit from the democratic wind.

It’s a local show these days

The strength of these revolutions is that they have been almost entirely home-grown. Those in Egypt and Tunisia had no outside help.

Syria’s brave protesters are on their own and may, in time, triumph.

Libya’s new rulers could not have succeeded without NATO’s bombers, but the absence of Western ground troops and of proconsuls telling the locals what to do has been in salutary contrast to what happened in Iraq eight years ago, where democracy was crudely imposed on an unprepared people (see Lexington).

After the deaths of some 150,000-plus locals and around 5,000 Americans and other foreigners, Iraq has a freely elected government. But it has not developed the habits of tolerance between communities and the independent institutions that underlie all truly successful democracies. A decade of American hard power has been less effective than a few months of peaceful protest in setting countries on the road towards representative government.

Partly because of the Iraqi adventure, America—at least its foreign policy—remains heartily disliked by Arabs across the region. That is only slightly less true under Barack Obama than it was under George Bush. America’s unpopularity stems partly from its backing of Israel and the continuing humiliation of the Palestinians, partly from its willingness to use force to get its way and partly from its history of supporting useful Arab dictators. Prince Sultan’s death may make this last point particularly salient. If the reactionary Prince Nayef becomes the crown prince and de facto regent, America may struggle to maintain an alliance with him alongside friendships with the Arab world’s nascent democracies.

Yet in the decline of Western power lie the seeds of hope for healthier relations in the future. Although the Arab world’s revolutionaries in general, and the Islamists in particular, are unlikely to hail the West as a model, they seem to be moving towards open political and economic systems. Nobody in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya is arguing for a Saudi Arabian, Iranian or even Chinese model. Arab students, businessmen and tourists in their thousands still choose to go to the West for their studies, their deals and their fun.

The prospects for Western influence in the Arab world are good. But in the future it will be won through education, investment and, when requested, advice on building up institutions. Such levers do not work as quickly as those that were forged from deals with unpopular and unstable dictators. But, in the end, they are likely to prove more reliable.

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Foreign Policy: Why Can’t the Syrian Opposition Get Along?

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kate Seeyle

Kate Seelye is Vice President of the Middle East Institute. Prior to joining MEI, she worked as a radio and television journalist covering the Arab world from her base in Beirut, Lebanon.

The buoyant images of Libya’s rebels, who are currently tearing down the last vestiges of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, have also underscored the challenges facing the fragmented opposition in another Arab country — Syria. Five months after the start of an uprising against President Bashar Assad that has left more than 2,200 people dead, dissidents are still struggling to forge a united front that could duplicate the role played by Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC).

The TNC was created just 12 days after the start of the Libyan uprising, quickly organizing resistance to Gadhafi within the country and lobbying for support on the international stage. By contrast, the opponents of Assad’s regime have held gatherings in Antalya, Turkey; Brussels; Istanbul; and even Damascus, the Syrian capital, to shape the opposition’s leadership and articulate a road map toward a democratic Syria. But as of yet, Syrian activists in the diaspora have failed to establish an umbrella group that has earned the endorsement of the only body that can confer legitimacy — the protest organizers inside Syria.

Although Assad’s brutal crackdown has undoubtedly made this a difficult task, the absence of a united front has hindered the opposition’s ability to effectively communicate to regime-change skeptics that there is a credible alternative to the Assad government.
The disarray in the anti-Assad camp is recognized all too well in Washington. “I think the [international] pressure requires an organized opposition, and there isn’t one,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when asked on Aug. 11 why the United States didn’t throw more weight behind the protest movement. “There’s no address for the opposition. There is no place that any of us who wish to assist can go.”
Given the lack of a recognized leadership, different Syrian groups — mainly based in the diaspora — have been jockeying to assert themselves. Most recently, on Aug. 29 young dissidents speaking on behalf of a revolutionary youth group inside Syria named a 94-person council to represent the Syrian opposition. At a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, Syrian dissident Ziyaeddin Dolmus announced that the respected Paris-based academic Burhan Ghalioun would head the so-called Syrian National Council, which would also comprise the crème de la crème of Syria’s traditional opposition.

Dolmus said the council would include many of the traditional opposition figures based in Damascus, such as former parliamentarian Riad Seif, activist Suhair Atassi, and economist Aref Dalila. “Delays [in forming a council] return our people to bloodshed,” he said at the news conference, which was broadcast by Al-Jazeera.
But no sooner had the council been announced than it started to unravel. When contacted by the media, Ghalioun and the others quickly distanced themselves from the announcement, claiming they had no prior knowledge of it, according to reports in the Arabic press. Later, Ghalioun denied any association with the group on his Facebook page.
One Washington-based Syrian activist, Mohammad al-Abdallah — whose father, Ali al-Abdallah was named to the council — dismissed it as a joke.
Others said it was an attempt by young revolutionaries, upset over the lack of progress, to put forward a wish list of opposition members.
U.S.-based Syrian activist Yaser Tabbara, who had helped organize a gathering of anti-government Syrians a week before in Istanbul, called it “an earnest attempt by youth to reach out and demand that we move faster than we have been.”
According to Tabbara, the Istanbul conference that concluded on Aug. 23, was motivated by a similar sense of urgency. “It has been five months since the uprising started, and we don’t yet have a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Assad and his cohorts for their massacres,” said Tabbara. “Part of the reason is that some in the international community, like India, Brazil, and South Africa, do not see a viable alternative to this regime.”
The four-day Istanbul gathering, according to organizers, sought to unite all the efforts of previous opposition efforts under one banner.
Few of the groups or individuals from previous opposition gatherings attended the meeting, however. Members representing a consultative committee that emerged from a June opposition gathering in Antalya withdrew at the last minute, claiming, according to Reuters, that it “did not build on earlier efforts to unite the opposition.”
The conference was further handicapped by what Syrian journalist Tammam al-Barazi called “the perception that it was held under an American umbrella.” Its organizers included members of a grassroots community group based in Illinois, the Syrian American Council.
Although dismaying, the opposition’s divisions and sniping are hardly surprising. Most activists grew up under the Assad family’s authoritarian rule, and their differences reflect the many divisions inside Syrian society, which is split by sect and ethnicity as well as ideology. The opposition includes Arab nationalists and liberals with little trust for the Muslim Brotherhood, whose supporters were accused of dominating the first Istanbul conference organized in July by a leading human rights lawyer, Haitham al-Maleh.

Dr. Abdul Razzaque Ahmed Receives Lifetime Achievement Award From the Pan Arab League of Dermatologists

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Press Release

Pan Arab CeremonyDubai, UAE–On 19th of April 2011, the Pan Arab League of Dermatologists honoured Dr. Abdul Razzaque Ahmed of Boston, Massachusetts with a “Lifetime Achievement Award”.  The Award was given at a joint meeting of the Pan Arab League of Dermatologists and Dubai Derm 2011 held at the International Convention Center in Dubai.  The patron of the Meeting was HRH Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who presided over the session.  In announcing the Award, Dr. Omar Al Sheikh of Riyadh, KSA, Secretary General, stated; 

“In recognition of his 35 years of dedication and commitment to treating patients with severe autoimmune blistering diseases and for the discovery of new and novel therapies to treatment them.  In addition, in recognition of his numerous landmark and milestone contributions enhancing the understanding of the molecular mechanisms of their pathogenesis, the Pan Arab League of Dermatologists present this Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Abdul Razzaque Ahmed.”

The Pan Arab League of Dermatologists has been in existence since 1979.  It consists of 23 Arab countries which have a cumulative population of over 8700 dermatologist that constitute the League.  It meets every three years in a different Arab country.  This is the first time in is 33 years of existence that it has bestowed such an Award. 

The objectives of the League are:

•    To hold conferences and educate its members with knowledge of the latest advances and discoveries in the science and practice of medical and surgical dermatology.
•    To promote the specialty, scientifically and professionally the League provides an avenue to advance collaboration between individual members and member countries. 
•    To foster the development of infrastructure in the academic institutions within member countries by aiding in the formulation of curricula, faculty recruitment and exchange, and sharing resources to create a learning environment that is challenging for young physicians to become competent dermatologists. 
•    To strongly support the translation of manuscripts, books, and other written educational resources into Arabic to advance scientific research and the utilization of information technology. 
•    To ultimately be the voice of dermatology in the Arab world by uniting Arab dermatologists under one umbrella.

Dr. Ahmed is originally from a small town called Wani in the District Yavatmal in Maharashtra in Central India.  He studied medicine at the internationally-renowned All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.  Shortly thereafter he went to the United States where he trained in Internal Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, in Dermatology at the University of Buffalo, and in Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the University of California at Los Angeles.  Dr. Ahmed was on the Faculty of Medicine at UCLA for six years before moving to Harvard University in Boston.  He began molecular research and earned a Doctorate of Science degree from the Harvard University Faculty of Medicine, and a Master’s degree in Public Administration (MPA) from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Thereafter, Dr. Ahmed continued his laboratory research for 20 years on the campus of the Harvard Medical School with funding provided by the National Institute of Health.  He also opened the first “Center for Blistering Diseases” in the U.S.  The Center provides an all-inclusive, holistic approach to treating every aspect of a patient’s life.  Dr. Ahmed established a model for the treatment of these autoimmune, potentially fatal diseases.  This model has been emulated in other cities with significant success.

Dr. Ahmed is one among a handful of blistering disease specialists in the world.  He has published original scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals, chapters in various books, and edited five  monographs.  He has lectured in the U.S. and worldwide throughout Asia, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East.  Blistering diseases patients come to him from all over the U.S. and several countries overseas.  He is unique because he is an excellent clinician, an imaginative and creative scientist, and an effective teacher with an infectious enthusiasm and the ability to make young physicians become interested and excited in what they study and learn.  He has received several prestigious awards in the U.S. and many other countries.  It is important to note that he also received two Citations for his research and its global impact; one from The Commonwealth of Massachusetts House of Representatives, and the other from the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Argeo Paul Cellucci. 

Dr. Ahmed treats patients with autoimmune, potentially fatal blistering diseases that affect the skin, mouth, throat, nose, eyes, voice box, swallowing tub, genitalia, and rectum.  The blisters break easily, leaving raw and open sores that are open to infection.  These sores stick to the clothes and bedsheets.  Patients are sick, toxic, and have difficulty coping with their daily lives, often afraid to be seen by society in general.  These diseases are rare.  For example, pemphigus occurs in one patient in a 250,000 population; cicatricial pemphigoid with a potential for causing blindness occurs in one in 1 million population, and epidermolysis bullosa acquisita occurs in one in 3 million people.  Most physicians do not know how to handle these patients and refer them to Dr. Ahmed for medical management.  His patients see him as a savior and “God sent”.  His treatments have saved numerous lives and prevented blindness in numerous others. 

When receiving the Pan Arab Lifetime Achievement Award, Dr. Ahmed thanked the patients who gave him their trust and the opportunity to make the discoveries he has made over the years.  He thanked his teachers, mentors, colleagues, and many students, for their dedication and assistance.  He focused on his research towards the discovery of the genes that predispose individuals to these diseases and their value and importance to all future research in this field.  He spoke about his discovery of two molecules involved in the process that allows these diseases to happen (target antigens).  He ended by discussing the discovery of two treatments (intravenous immunoglobulin and Rituximab) that can save patient lives and give them not only hope but offer the patients an opportunity to live normal lives. 

While many investigators are chasing “cures” for common diseases like cancer, heart attacks, and stroke, or wanting to find ways to lose weight, grow hair, and eliminate wrinkles, Dr. Ahmed has silent but perseveringly and relentlessly worked on these “orphan diseases” so that those unfortunate patients on the sidelines of the medical world may have hope and a chance to survive.  The Pan Arab League of Dermatologists has done the world, and especially the patients with pemphigus and pemphigoid, a great service by recognizing a physician truly worthy of such recognition. 

Direct inquiries to email address:  centerforblisteringdiseases@msn.com

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