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Take an in-depth look at Algeria’s New Republic

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In February, 22nd 2019, millions of Algerians have taken to the streets in cities nationwide as well as abroad, shattering the wall of fear of silence, demanding the departure of the-then President Abdelaziz Bouteflika who proceeded to run for a fifth presidential term despite his poor health. This announcement sparked anger among Algerian citizens, giving birth to a massive grassroots movement in several cities, the biggest outpouring of dissent seen in Algeria for decades in 1988 due to social despair, which surprised the international community and observers of Algerian politics due to its peaceful nature.

What happened as a reaction to these marches?

The former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika responded favorably to the pressure of his resignation. He stepped down on April 2nd reversing his decision to seek a fifth term in power, however, this decision has failed to appease protesters and satisfy their claims. Protesters, young and old, men and women from all walks of life, indeed, remained in the streets every Friday re-appropriating long confiscated public spaces and calling for the overhaul of the whole system and the sweeping away of the remnants of Bouteflika’s inner circle, viewed as corrupt. They have directed drawing rage at the political elite they blame driving the country to a political deadlock and economic collapse.

Politically, this departure was about to create a political vacuum, thus, the army interfered, under the leadership of the late Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaid Salah, Deputy Minister of National Defense, Chief of the Army Staff, (in Algeria, the President of the Republic assumes the post of Minister of National Defense), who positioned himself on the side of people by bringing forward Bouteflika’s resignation.

Late Gaid Salah, in a speech, addressed to the nation, called for the application of the article 102 of the Algerian constitution, appointing the Speaker of the Council of the Nation Abdelkader Bensalah as an interim Head of State for a maximum period of 90 days until an election will be organized, in an attempt to calm down the Algerian people. Another political Rendez-Vous was set on July, 4th, however, the Algerians still boycotted it as millions of them continued to protest every week rejecting the holding of elections by the state institutions, a remnant of the previous regime.

Responding to these demands, Algeria put off the presidential election planned for July 4th, due to the lack of valid candidates, as announced by constitutional council, which added that the files submitted by the two candidates – Abdelhakim Hammadi, a doctor specializing in pharmacy, and Hamid Touahri, a retired aircraft maintenance engineer –had been rejected for not meeting the requirements.

The first postponement of the election, constitutionally mandated to replace the former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is considered, on the one hand, a win for protesters, and, on the other hand, the country will come into lull pause and enter a constitutional vacuum, as this roadmap adopted, till then, by the Constitutional Council have met several constitutional articles, such as; seven, eight, 102 and 193.

Seven and eight states that the whole power is granted to people as this latter is ‘the source of all power’ and that they have the right to exercise their sovereignty ‘through the institutions themselves’.

While the last two (102 and 193), respectively, indicate that the president of the Council must assume the office of Head of State for a three-month period, at most, till the organization of new elections.

However, this case, ie the “second postponement of July 4th election” is not mentioned in the constitution. Consequently, the Constitutional Council interfered, again to avoid the chaos likely to result from this political deadlock, issuing a ruling extending Bensaleh mandate until the next presidential elections, held in December.

What were the reforms introduced by the government? Did they satisfy the protesters?

In fact, the government found itself at a deadlock in face of huge protests, dubbed by observers as the largest and purposeful one, where people called for deep political reforms and the removal of all officials belonging to the old guard. The only solution for it to get out of the political crisis was certainly dialogue and negotiations between the regime and protesters. The Army managed to take action against corrupted officials from the previous guard,   tipping the balance of power in favor of the protesters. They launched “Clean Hands” campaign with a view to rooting out corruption linked to top tycoons and high-ranked government officials.

Several high-ranking officials, former Prime Ministers, including Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, Ex- and current Ministers, tycoons from powerful families with links to the former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and Heads of major companies and financial institutions were being questioned on corruption-related cases and then given huge sentences. Different investigations into corruption, customs-related violations, and other financial wrongdoing have been launched too, targeting the most powerful tycoons in Algeria, most of them were remanded in custody.

In addition to investigations into hampering the well- functioning of the army and State targeting members of the ruling elite, namely;  Said Bouteflika, the former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s youngest brother and two former intelligence chiefs, the Generals Bachir Athman Tartag and his predecessor, General Mohamed Madine, aka Gen. Toufik. A military court convicted the brother of ousted President Bouteflika, Said Bouteflika, who had wielded enormous influence as a gatekeeper to his ailing brother while in office. He was seen as the linchpin of an opaque clique of politicians and business leaders who influenced decision-making at the top of the gas-exporting North African country. The advisor and key aide of the former President of the Republic Bouteflika is incarcerated in Blida prison and sentenced to heaving prison term alongside the other co-defendants – two former intelligence chiefs.

Ex-Prime Ministers, namely: Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal were, also, imprisoned for multiple accusations; embezzlement of public money, abuse of office and granting of undue privileges. Other officials and Ex and current Governors are due to appear before the investigating judge at the Supreme Court. 

These actions illustrate the government, under the leadership of the late Army chief of staff Ahmed Gaid Salah’s will to respond to the protesters’ demands and purge corrupt politicians, oligarchs, and military officials so as to restore the confidence of the people. 

 How Algeria’s Dec.12 Presidential Vote was decided?

As a response to protesters’ claims who demanded dialogue and the involvement of the all stakeholders in the political life, the Algerian Head of State Abdelkader Bensalah set up a panel to oversee a national dialogue with a view to hold a presidential election, already postponed twice, aimed at ending the political deadlock, prevailing in Algeria since February, 22nd.

This panel’s plan of action consisted of rounds of dialogue with different stakeholders to develop proposals, to be discussed at the national conference, where the date of the election was determined. Several meetings were on the agenda bringing under one roof national personalities in charge of leading the national dialogue, including civil society organizations, political parties, national figures as well as young people and activists of Al-Hirak (the popular protest) from different provinces of the country. In contrast, the state, in all its components, including the military institution, were not part of this dialogue, restricting its role in observing the strictest neutrality throughout the course of this process.

Dialogue was in full swing, allowing the participants to express their respective positions in relation to the peaceful people’s movement, but especially to make their arguments to transcend the current political stalemate. The objective was to bring together the points of view of each other in order to synthesize the proposals to reach a consensual platform, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to draw up a roadmap.

In this sense, the participants insisted on the need to set a date for the presidential election as soon as possible and take necessary measures to ensure transparent and fair election, in addition to the setting-up of national independent authority in charge of preparing, monitoring and announcing the final results of the election.

The need to avoid the constitutional vacuum in order to preserve the State’s institutions has been widely highlighted, considering that the presidential polls of Dec. 12 was crucial steps for building the rule of law, and a passage that will lead the North African country to a new bright and promising era, where the Algerian people would finally be able to achieve their legitimate aspirations for a decent life, in a country whose glory will be made by its loyal sons.

However, the national personalities debated too the conditions, the political, legal and institutional dimensions to bring credibility to the next presidential election to ensure the organization of the election under the best conditions.

Did Presidential Election holding end Algeria’s political deadlock? 

Former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune has won Algeria’s decisive presidential election without the need for a second-round runoff, replacing the long-serving president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The presidential election was, as I mentioned before, the only way out of the political deadlock the nation has been going through since Feb. 22.

Upon his inauguration as 8th president of Algeria, Mr. Tebboune extended his hand to the protesters, stressing he was ready to meet with protest leaders to listen to them (and) respond to their concerns. He said that his priority was to revise the constitution to establish a new Algeria that corresponds to the aspirations of the movement, a project that would be put to a referendum. He promised to include young men and young women in his new government.

Did the newly-elected President fulfill his commitments?

Colossal efforts are being made. The President is exerting huge efforts with a view to responding to the protesters’ claims and constructing a new Algeria in fidelity to the oath made to the Chouhada of the War of liberation and to the Declaration of the First November.
Regarding his priorities as President of the Republic, Tebboune said that, at the political level, he intends to carry out profound and extensive constitutional reforms, involving academics, intellectuals, specialists and members of the national community living abroad, and effectively, the President had started consultations with a number of national figures and political parties within the framework of a broad dialogue without exclusion on this important issue. The presidents and representatives of different political parties have expressed their “readiness” in their respective statements to the enrichment of the text which is currently submitted to a committee of experts for the preparation of the first version with a view to enriching it, considering that this approach goes in the direction of building a new Algeria, promised by President Tebboune during his electoral campaign for the presidential election of December 12, 2019.

It is, thus, expected that the committee of experts will complete its mission around March 15 and will present a first version of the Constitution which will be subject to debate and enrichment, in accordance with the agenda adopted by the President of the Republic.

Between 500 and 700 copies of this first version will be distributed to all stakeholders concerned by the revision of the country’s Basic Law, in addition to publication on a website dedicated to the constitutional revision and on social networks so as to allow all citizens to debate and enrich the text.

At the end of the month-long debates, the draft will again be submitted to the Committee of Experts, which will carry the proposed amendments and modifications before submitting the text to Parliament and then to a popular referendum.

As a reminder, the President of the Republic had emphasized compliance with the agenda adopted for the revision of the Constitution, the Committee of Experts having been set up on January 8, 2020, and divided into seven working groups, in accordance with the seven axes contained in the mission letter sent by the Head of State to the Committee.

The Head of State had outlined, in a mission letter addressed to Mr. Laraba, seven axes of proposals and recommendations around which the Committee must reflect.

These axes concern “the strengthening of citizens’ rights and freedoms”, “the moralization of public life and the fight against corruption”, “the consolidation of the separation and balance of powers”, “the strengthening of the power of control of the Parliament “,” the consolidation of the independence of the judiciary “,” the consolidation of the equality of the citizens before the law “and” the constitutional consecration of the mechanisms of organization of the elections “.

The President, through the amendment of the constitution, seeks to fulfill the demands of the people and address their grievances, including decrees that reduce the powers of the President, reduce the presidential terms to one, able to be renewed once, protect Algeria from falling into individual rule and create a balance between institutions, ensuring separation of powers, build a strong State where citizens, equal before the law, exercise their rights freely and lawfully and establish the rule of law and equal opportunities that will be the essence of the new Algeria, committing to setting radical change of the governing system, through deepening democracy and the rule of law, reinforcing social justice, and protecting human rights.

Besides, during his presidential campaign, the President promised to include young ministers, a promise that came true.

With respect to economy, Tebboune voiced his will to establish a diversified economy that generates jobs and wealth. He periodically chairs meetings with the new members of government to start developing an action plan to be presented to Parliament with a view to saving economy from collapse and reform education, universities, and the health treatment system. He appointed the technocrat Abdelaziz Djerad as Prime Minister on Sec.28, 2019 and banned the practice of addressing the President as “His Excellency”.

He promised, also, to tackle the corruption and vowed to make the judiciary independent and distanced from officials’ meddling and power. This later has released large number of the detainees who were arrested in relation to the long-running anti-regime protests since the end of 2019, like on Jan 02, 2020, 76 people, including an elderly war of independence veteran Lakhdar Bouregga whose arrest has attracted particular anger were released. President Tebboune, also, decreed a presidential pardon (February 2020) that included 3471 people incarcerated in various jails across the country. This pardon, usually, decreed on July, 5, which is the commemoration of Independence Day, coincided, this time, with the month marking the beginning of the popular movement against the old guard.

Other reforms are entrusted to a 17-member panel of experts with three-month time to draw up a list of suggested changes which will, then, be put to the parliament and a referendum.

The conclusion is that President Tebboune is working on reforms in various spheres of life; economy, education, housing, etc, apparently to appease the protesters because it is worth mentioning that the Hirak is still taking place. Regular smaller anti-regime protests continue with protesters skeptical about the extent of constitutional and other reforms formulated under this government and whether they will lead to genuine democratizing reform of the country. They seek sweeping political reforms for meaningful democratic change.

Tebboune, for his part, has dubbed this popular movement, of which the first anniversary was celebrated weeks ago by the Algerians, as a “salutary phenomenon,” warning against any attempt at internal or external infiltration. He further sealed a decree enshrining 22 February a national holiday named +the National Day of Fraternity and Cohesion between the people and their Army for democracy. On different occasions, Tebboune reaffirmed that the blessed Hirak has preserved the country from total demolition. According to him, the collapse of the national state is a synonym with the demolition of all its institutions and all the indicators pointed to such a scenario. Thanks to their maturity, the people thwarted the plot by fulfilling many of their claims.

As regards the remaining demands of the Hirak, Tebboune asserted that he is working on them because he personally committed to meeting them and changing the management method and improving the piteous image of the State, which, in fact, was very far from his concerns.

 According to the President, protesting is the right of all citizens and it is even the foundation of democracy, a fortiori when it comes to people demonstrating in an organized manner, without destruction or disturbance. He repeatedly highlighted that he has nothing to reproach because it has spared the country a disaster and without it, efforts would be, today, underway to resolve the crisis in Algeria as is the case in Libya. However, he keeps warning the protesters, who demonstrate on Fridays, dubbing them as his children, to be vigilant against the infiltration of their movement because there are signs of infiltration both from inside and outside.

 What do you suggest as economic reforms?

Well, this week, a working meeting on the assessment of the economic situation, in the aftermath of the drastic fall in oil prices impacted by the global economic slowdown caused by coronavirus outbreak and the unilateral decision by some OPEC member countries to sell their crude oil output with particularly aggressive discounts, was held under the chairmanship of the President, where this latter gave guidelines to face a situation which remains difficult but which the State possesses the national means to face.

In this regard, the President of the Republic instructed the members of the Government, present in this meeting, to take all the necessary measures to curb the effects of this unfavorable situation for the national economy, while stressing on the need to preserve the citizens’ revenue and living standards.

The minister of finance has been instructed to immediately submit a first draft of the Complementary Finance law to remove some inconsistencies in the 2020 Finance Law. The objective is to include measures capable of countering the financial effects caused by the crisis and collect the unrecovered taxes and customs revenue. He has also been entrusted with speeding up the process of creating private Islamic banks.

The President of the Republic firmly rejected the resort to foreign borrowing and unconventional financing.

Instructions have been given to the minister of commerce to undertake judicious management of imports without affecting citizens or the national economy. With sufficient resources for the years 2020 and 2021, the State is not likely to suffer shortages in industrial inputs or necessary products.

Also, the head of the State instructed the minister of agriculture to increase national production in order to at least halve the import of produces destined for human and animal consumption, especially corn and red meats.

The Industry and Mines Minister has been instructed, for his part, to immediately set up all the arrangements leading to a national production with 70% integration rate for the light industry, hitherto artificially applied by the CKD/SKD formula, and re-launch mechanical engineering with a 35% integration rate at least.

He has also been instructed to encourage, without any restriction, the creation of micro, small businesses and start-ups and to remove all forms of regulatory and bureaucratic obstacles to their expansion.

As for him, the Governor of the Central Bank was instructed to accompany these steps aiming at reviving economic activity, just as he was tasked with transferring into the legal gold reserve all customs seizures as well as the National Solidarity Fund which had been frozen for several decades.

Likewise, he has been entrusted with ensuring the repayment of loans granted by banks to private investment holders. Finally, the President of the Republic ordered members of the government to continue to closely follow, under the authority of the Prime Minister, the situation with a view to taking all the necessary measures in the event of prolonged deterioration of the economic situation so to protect citizens.”

I think this meeting covered different economic aspects. As we know, Algeria faces the herculean task of transforming its economy to meet the pressing demands of a young, growing, and increasingly restless population. Despite the country’s favorable demographics, its economy remains almost entirely dependent on oil and natural gas, which accounts for 95% of merchandise exports. Unfortunately, Algeria’s economy is in trouble. It is facing the effects of nearly decades of energy-sector dominance and, in some cases, mismanagement.
Algeria’s tighter economic circumstances have hindered the state’s ability to provide services properly. Inflation and a concomitant increase in the cost of living have made it more difficult for many to secure daily needs. 

Energy consumption is also rising at a fast pace in the country, so much that the national gas company, Sonatrach, estimates that it will exceed domestic production by 2025 if better efficiency and new fields are not found. Algeria is, therefore, in dire need of economic diversification.

Tebboune’s government is entitled to carry out the required economic reforms to end the economy’s reliance on oil through the new economic growth paradigm, empowering the private sector and reshaping the social contract. Former governments have sought to implement similar reforms, but their bids fell short of achieving the goals.

Success of the new government in overcoming the above challenges hinges on a number of factors, such as: 

Introducing a new development model based on economic diversification away from oil. However, economic diversification requires the reshaping of a growth model to include competitive economic sectors, such as; tourism, manufacturing industries, and the auto industry in particular. It also requires gradual liberalization of fiscal, monetary and trade policies to promote revitalization of the private sector. In addition to empowering this latter, as Algeria must encourage this sector to contribute in all economic activities. This is essential for easing the huge fiscal burden that the government had to bear over the past years. 

What about Algeria’s foreign policy?

In his first speech since being sworn into office, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune confirmed Algiers’ previous stances on various policies, stressing on Algeria’s fundamental principles, namely: the defense of national independence, the recovery of national identity, the denial of any form of interference, refusal of any foreign military base on its soil, rejection of alliance policy and military pacts, and active participation in the struggle against underdevelopment and poverty, principle of reciprocity, the non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs and the peaceful settlement of crises.

 As all we know, Algeria is a pivotal country at the African, Mediterranean and Arab levels. It will continue to play a leading role in the settlement of different crises as it did in the past in Mali where an agreement was signed in Algeria’s capital “Algiers” bringing the warring parties together. It categorically rejects the formulation of alliances to attack sovereign countries, for instance, it refused, in the strongest terms, to join the Saudi-led Military Alliance, considering it as an act of aggression.

Regarding Western Sahara, Tebboune highlighted Algiers’ policy towards this conflict, renewing the country’s unwavering and unconditional support for the legitimate right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination through a free and fair referendum, and to stand by its side to reach a permanent solution to its just cause in accordance with international law and legitimacy, in line with the United Nations doctrine of decolonization. 

Broaching the situation in Libya, Algeria is still attached to the stability of this country, refusing to be kept out of the settlement process.

Algeria, under the leadership of President Tebboune, will continue to play a leading role in the resolution of the crisis in Libya. The main principles of the Algerian initiative are known. The solution can only be political and peaceful and can only come from the Libyans themselves with international support and notably neighboring countries.

Algeria has, as part of its efforts aimed at reaching a solution to the Libyan crisis, relaunched several mechanisms given the effects of the Libyan conflict on this country. Algiers hosted, on January 13th, the foreign minister meeting of Libya’s neighboring countries (Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Chad, Sudan, and Niger) to establish coordination and promote dialogue between these countries and the international players so that to accompany the Libyans in the revitalization of the political settlement process of the crisis through an inclusive dialogue between the different Libyan parties.

Besides, Former Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra is being considered as UN envoy to Libya, after Ghassan Salame resigned from the post earlier this month. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been consulting with U.N. Security Council members about appointing former Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra as his new Libya envoy,

Lamamra served as Algeria’s foreign minister from 2013 to 2017 and as an African Union commissioner for peace and security from 2008 to 2013. He has been a mediator in several African conflicts, notably in Liberia.

With respect to Arab causes, President Tebboune remains stressing that the Palestinian issue is a constant of the foreign policy of the Algerian state. Algeria will remain a support for Palestine and its people who are fighting against a brute colonial force until the achievement of its independent state.

More recently, Algeria voiced rejection of the Middle East peace plan sponsored by US President Donald Trump, which gives Israel the right to have Jerusalem as its capital. 

Besides, Algeria still asks the League of Arab States to end the freeze on Syria’s membership and to re-represent it again in its meetings and activities, especially that this year’s Summit will be held in Algeria. Syria has been suspended from the Arab League since 2012, when a coalition of countries, led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, voted to suspend their membership.

According to Algerian Radio, Boukadoum said: “the absence of Syria has caused great harm to the League and the Arabs.” He would add that “we must push for the return of Syria’s membership and work for Damascus to return to the League of Arab States.”

 What about Algeria’s participation in the works of the African Union (AU)?

The works of the African Union (AU) Summit held in Addis Ababa marked Algeria’s return to the African arena, with the President of the Republic Abdelmadjid Tebboune reaffirming commitment and immutable positions towards the resolution of conflicts in Africa and the world. 

President Tebboune, thus, marked his participation in this meeting of Heads of State and Government with a speech that was very well attended by his African peers, in which he stated that “the new Algeria, in the process of being built, will remain faithful to its principles and commitments, and will henceforth play fully its role at the continental level and globally.” Meanwhile, President Tebboune praised the major achievements and the efficient contribution of the African Union in building peace at the continental and regional levels, through the establishment of institutional frameworks of peace and security mechanisms.

The head of State voiced Algeria’s commitment to contribute more effectively to achieving development in the African continent, which is well illustrated as mentioned before.

Algeria believes, basing on its successful experience, especially the tragic decade lived by the Algerian people during the 1990s, that resolving the crises in our continent requires a peaceful solution, all-inclusive dialogue, and national reconciliation, far from any foreign interference.

As regards African continent, President Tebboune believes that Algeria’s successful experience confirms his conviction that resolving the crises in the African continent requires a peaceful solution, all-inclusive dialogue, and national reconciliation, far from any foreign interference. Stemming from this deep conviction, Algeria will always work tirelessly to support efforts aimed at the establishment of peace and security in Africa.”

On all these matters, Algeria has constantly contributed, in multiple manners, to the efforts aiming the establishment of durable stability in Africa, particularly in the Sahel region, whether at the bilateral level or through mechanisms such as; the Joint Operational Army Staffs Committee (CEMOC) or the Fusion and Liaison Unit (UFL) or through the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT).

Speaking about Libya during the work of this Summit, especially that Algeria shares a long border and a common destiny with that shattered country, the Algerian Head of State said that the situation in this country continues to arouse anxiety in Algeria, calling it grave.
Referring to the brotherly Libyan people’s suffering, who do not deserve the suffering they endure today, Tebboune confirmed Algeria faithfulness to its diplomatic tradition, offering to host a dialogue between the Libyan brothers, as stated in Berlin and, recently, in Brazzaville, during the summit of the AU Level High Committee on Libya, held under the patronage of the President Denis Sassou Nguesso.

The Head of State stressed that Algeria which calls for the end of all attempts of interference in Libya strongly supports the continuous efforts to end hostilities and to create the conditions for dialogue between the Libyan brothers, the sole means to finding a solution to the crisis and to prevent this African country from being the scene of rivalries of States.

Broaching the Sahel crisis, Tebboune described it as “sad and regrettable illustration”, noting that “the already fragile stability in countries, such as Mali, suddenly deteriorated in the aftermath of the crisis in Libya. Niger also did not escape to the deadly attacks on his army. “

President Tebboune also reiterated Algeria’s solidarity with different countries namely; the Lake Chad Basin which are facing the subversive acts of Boko Haram, with the help of the Multinational Joint Force, denouncing the resurgence of bloody terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso and other attempted attacks in Sahel countries, spreading instability throughout the Sahel despite the courageous efforts of these countries.

As long as Western Sahara is concerned, President Tebboune urges rapid appointment of UN Envoy to Western Sahara, emphasizing the need for a solution that guarantees the inalienable right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination, through the organization of a free and fair referendum in accordance with the AU and UN relevant resolutions.

Returning back to the Arab League Summit, what are the prospects of this political Rendez-Vous? What will be the role of Algeria?

In my opinion, Algeria eyes to play a very essential and considerable role in restoring balance to join Arab action. Tebboune has promised to exert huge efforts with a view to resolving crises, paving the way for a new era and gaining the strategic country’s pivotal role at the regional, Arab and global scales.

As we know, and for many years, and though Algeria suffered from paralysis and powerlessness, its role in finding peaceful solutions to the crises through reconciliation, convergence of views and inclusive dialogue, has been highly commended and appreciated. Now, following its recovery at all levels, it is, by its credibility and integrity, committed to a strong return to diplomacy especially at the Arab level, which the joint Arab action, has lacked for so.

In addition, we notice that the Algerian diplomacy has flourished following the exchange of visits between the Algerian President and the flow of Arab and international leaders, ministers, and high-ranking officials and delegations, the last and not the least, the visit paid by the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, to discuss means and ways to further boost and bolster bilateral relations and revive mechanisms of cooperation and coordination, in addition, to reach an agreement on the delimitation of sea boundaries between both countries.

I think that the frequent visits foreshadow an upcoming change in the Algerian diplomacy. Observers expect that this strong return will lead to positive breath thoughts in many thorny issues.

What are the approaches advocated by Algeria?

For Algeria and its people, reconciliation and dialogue are the best ways to solve crises, while asserting that the Palestinian cause remains the compass of Arab and Islamic dignity.

President Tebboune hopes that the holding of the Summit in the Algerian capital “Algiers” will shake off all the dust of neglect from this auspicious organization and pump new blood into its frozen arteries with a view to ending the sowing of seeds of disaccords and preventing military escalation in the Arab nation as Algeria is able to play its role as a mediator based on the principles of its Glorious Revolution of November 1. This is stemmed from the deep conviction of Algerians in the virtues of unity, especially when it comes to our brothers. It is extremely difficult for Algeria to see oppressed peoples suffering and not to act.

What about the postponement of the Summit?

In my opinion, the postponement of the next Summit means that it will be different, and will take place in the presence of Syria, to, as mentioned by our President, to correct a historical mistake committed in one of the most degraded stages that led to the Arab collapse.
Preparations are afoot; President of the Republic Abdelmadjid Tebboune received, in Algiers, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, with whom he tackled the arrangements for holding the thirty-first regular session of the Arab Summit, which Algeria offered to host this year, stressing that it will take place, if the global situation improves, before June 30.

Algeria aspires to shed light, during the work of this Summit, on different causes, notably, the Libyan one where chaos has endured for nine years with a plentiful supply of arms, in addition to the Syrian cause as Algeria remains faithful to its principles, rejecting, in the strongest terms, any attack on any Arab country. President Tebboune recently, and during an interview with Russia Today, mentioned that what weakened Syria at the international level is the fact that this country is among the rare Arab ones that have never considered the normalization of its ties with Israel and has always been a front-line state, a position that for many years underpinned its politics and economy.

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Middle East

Tunisia between Islamism and the ‘Delta variant’

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photo credit: tunisienumerique.com

On Sunday 25 July, on a day dedicated to celebrating the country’s independence, in a move that surprised observers and diplomats alike, Tunisian President Kais Sayed relieved Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, who had been in office since September 2020, of his duties. He suspended Parliament’s works and dismissed the Interior and Defence Ministers.

Mechichi, as well as the Speaker of Parliament Rachid Gannouchi, are members of the Islamist Ennhada party which, with 25% of the votes, holds the majority of Parliamentary seats and since 2011, when it returned to legality, has become a powerful political force that has attempted – without resorting to violence – to give secular Tunisia a progressive turn towards the most militant Islamism.

As is well known, Tunisia was the first Muslim country to be crossed by the stormy wind of the “Arab Springs” when, in December 2010, a young fruit and vegetable street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in a square in the centre of Tunis to protest against the corruption of President Ben Ali’s government, in power for 23 years.

The demonstrations that followed the young street vendor’s death led to the ousting of President Ben Ali in January 2011, who was forced into exile in Saudi Arabia with his entire family, as well as to the fall of Mohamed Gannouchi’s government and, in October of the same year,  to new elections which saw the success of the religious party, Ennhada, which had been banned by Ben Ali. This triggered a series of political innovations that led – in January 2014 – to the approval of a new constitution that, despite strong Parliamentary pressure from the most radical Islamists, can be considered one of the most progressive in the whole North Africa.

In the five years that followed, Tunisia – amid political and economic ups and downs – maintained a degree of internal stability that enabled it to dampen those Islamist pressures that, in other countries of the region, had turned the so-called “springs” into nightmares marked by unrest and bloody civil conflicts.

Ennhada was gradually integrated into a sort of ‘constitutional arc’, despite the protests of its most radical militants, and its most charismatic leader, Rachid Gannouchi, was even appointed Speaker of Tunis Parliament.

In recent years, however, the country has been afflicted by the problem of corruption of its entire ruling class, including Islamists. It is on a programme platform to fight this phenomenon resolutely and relentlessly that in October 2019 an eminent Law Professor, Kais Sayed, was elected President of the Republic.

In August 2020, President Sayed appointed Mechhichi, a moderate who had already been his political advisor, to form a technocratic government, “free from parties’ influence”.

The situation has seen the establishment of what the Tunisian media call the ‘government of the three Presidents’, namely Sayed (President of the Republic), Mechichi (President of the Council) and Gannouchi who, as Speaker of Parliament, tries to make the majority presence of the Ennhada Islamists in the legislative branch count.

The equilibria are fragile and are made even more precarious by the heavy social and economic consequences of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the country.

Since the beginning of this year, Tunisia has been in a state of creeping crisis: the political uncertainty caused by the perennial search for a difficult political and governmental has been compounded by ideological and personal tensions between the “three Presidents”, whose positions on the instruments with which to tackle the pandemic and the economic crisis have gradually exacerbated to the point of producing a situation of political and legislative paralysis that is completely unsustainable.

In recent weeks, the ‘Delta variant’ of the pandemic has caused a spike in infections, causing further damage not only to the population and the health system, but also and above all to the economy of a country that is seeing the possibility of boosting its gross domestic product with tourism disappear for the second year running. For decades tourism has been an irreplaceable source of livelihood and enrichment for large sections of the population. The pandemic crisis has acted as a multiplier of the economic crisis, with the progressive and seemingly unstoppable loss of dinar value and the increasingly acute disparity between the increasingly poor and the increasingly rich people.

The government’s approach to the pandemic has been nothing short of disastrous. While the World Health Organisation declared Tunisia ‘the most infected country in Africa’, the government saw the change of five Health Ministers in succession, each of whom proposed confusing and uncoordinated emergency measures (lockdown, curfew), which were completely ineffective in containing the spread of the virus and the high levels of mortality.

The often improvised and contradictory confinement rules have exasperated the population, who has taken sides with the two parts of the political front: on the one hand, Ennhada’s supporters, who are convinced that the technocratic part of the government is to blame for the health and economic crisis; on the other hand, the secularists, who accuse the Islamists of being the cause of everything and of playing the “so much the worse, so much the better” game to permanently destabilise the institutions and turn Tunisia into an Islamic State.

Ennhada itself has not remained unscathed by internal quarrels and divisions, between the ‘hardliners’ who want the party to return to its militant origins and those who prefer to ‘stay in power and rule’ who – as is currently happening in Italy – prefer to seek stability in the situation and maintain their power positions.

Last May, Abdellhamid Jelassi, the Head of the Ennhada “Council of Doctrine”, resigned accusing the party leader and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Gannouchi, of delaying the date of the Congress in order to avoid his defenestration and the appointment of a successor closer to the original ideas of the movement and to the most radical tenets of Islamic doctrine which, according to the orthodox members, have been betrayed by “those who want to rule” for the sake of power.

It was in that situation of economic, political and social crisis that, invoking Article 80 of the 2014 Constitution, President Sayed dismissed the Prime Minister along with other Cabinet members and suspended Parliament’s works for thirty days.

Many people within the country and abroad, starting with Erdogan’s Turkey, shouted the coup.

In Ankara, the spokesman of the AKP, President Erdogan’s party, defined President Sayed’s actions as “illegitimate” and threatened sanctions against those who “inflict this evil on our brothers and sisters in Tunisia”, while the Turkish Foreign Minister more cautiously confined himself to expressing his “deep concern” over the suspension of Parliamentary activities.

It is significant, however, that on the national front, after the first street protests by Islamists and Ennhada supporters, which were immediately harshly repressed by the police, and after the closure of the offices of the Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera, which has always fomented Islamist demands, as well as the dismissal of the top management of the state TV, the “crowd” in the streets was dominated by demonstrators who favourably viewed the President’s initiative which, in their opinion, put an end to the activities of that part of the national government that proved totally unable of tackling the pandemic emergency and its negative social and economic consequences.

According to those who claim that what happened on July 25 was not a coup, President Sayed did not dissolve the Tunisian government: he confined himself to dismissing incapable Ministers and leaving those of the ‘technocratic’ wing in place, in the hope of producing a government turn while waiting for Parliament to reopen at the end of August.

The situation is in flux, but it seems to be moving towards stabilisation, which will be speeded up if the Mediterranean countries and the European Union move quickly to help Tunisia get out of the doldrums of the pandemic and economic crisis.

Helping the Tunisian authorities pragmatically to resolve the political crisis is also in the interest of all the countries bordering the Mediterranean, starting with Italy, not only for reasons of good political neighbourhood, but also to prevent a possible Tunisian chaos from triggering a new and uncontrolled migration push. This is what is currently happening in Afghanistan, where, following the ‘unconditional surrender’ of the United States and NATO allies, the Taliban are coming back, with the first consequence of a mass exodus of Afghans to Turkey via Iran.

According to the UNRHC, the United Nations refugee agency, thousands of refugees from Afghanistan are moving towards Turkey at a rate of 1,000 to 2,000 people a day: a phenomenon which could soon affect Italy, too.

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Politics by Other Means: A Case Study of the 1991 Gulf War

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War has been around since the dawn of man and is spawned by innate human characteristics. Often, when efforts at resolving conflicts fail diplomatically (be it at the nation or international level), war is what follows and seemingly the only other option. As Clausewitz, the famed Prussian military commander and military theorist, once said, “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce” and, despite the horror and destruction of war, war is necessary for the conduct of foreign policy. War and physical combat allows for resolutions that cannot come about from any other way, once all legitimate foreign policy tactics have been exhausted. With the U.S. there are an abundant amount of examples showing how direct military conflict has solved a foreign policy problem. The 1991 Gulf War is a prime example.

               The Gulf War began in August of 1990, when Iraqi tanks rolled over the Iraqi-Kuwait border, claiming vast oil reserves and annexing the country. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had just come out of the Iran-Iraq War, an almost eight-year, prolonged war of attrition which ended with, “an estimated quarter of a million dead…over 60,000 Iraqis [as] prisoners of war…[and] had run up a debt of over $80 billion…[with] the collapse of world prices meant that Iraq’s oil revenues in 1988 amounted to $11 billion, less than half its 1980 revenue”. Not only this, but Iraq had been fighting what was essentially a civil war in Iraqi Kurdistan, which involved the use of chemical weapons against civilians. The hundred year plus dispute between Iraq and Kuwait about sections of the border with essential waterways leading to the Gulf, the economic hardships and falling price of oil, the U.S. severing ties with the Middle Eastern nation due to war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the fear of decreasing power and influence in the region, and the desire to attain the funding for nuclear weapons programs were all central factors in Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

               International outcry was swift and critical of Saddam’s actions. This was largely due to the fact that Iraq was now closer to Saudi Arabia and the threat of him and Iraq controlling a substantial portion of the world’s oil reserves was very real. Richard Kohn, a professor of military history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, discussed this with NPR, stating, “The stakes in 1990 and ’91 were really rather enormous. Had Saddam Hussein gotten control of the Saudi oil fields, he would have had the world economy by the throat. That was immediately recognized by capitals around the world”. Immediately following the invasion, on August 03, the United Nations Security Council demanded that Iraq withdraw from the country and, when Iraq did not abide by this demand, the UN “imposed a worldwide ban on trade with Iraq (The Iraqi government responded by formally annexing Kuwait on August 8)”. The U.S. too engaged and tried to push the Iraqis out of Kuwait by placing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, utilizing this military presence as a deterrent.

Despite such action by the most powerful international foreign policy and diplomatic body in the globe, and diplomatic action on the part of the U.S. and other foreign nations, war still occurred in January of 1991, which eventually pushed Saddam out of Kuwait via aerial and naval bombardment and, by February, had armor and infantry troops rolling towards Baghdad. The question that remains is, was the war necessary to solving the situation in Iraq and did such military action further international foreign policy goals of the United States?

               War was the only other option that the United States could take when dealing with Saddam. The United Nations, the Arab League, and the United States had all vitriolically and openly opposed Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. When Iraq tried to open diplomatic channels to resolve the crisis (while not complying with the UN’s order and keeping troops in Kuwait), the U.S. requested that the Iraqis comply with the decree and pull out of Kuwait, following Margaret Thatcher and Britain’s line of thought that concessions to a dictator would strengthen the Iraqi influence and desire for more power.

               While the fact that the United States did not try to pursue a diplomatic avenue with Iraq in this matter is certainly an interesting method, it is also understandable. Giving in to Iraq’s desires and granting them concessions when they had flagrantly disregarded international law and violated the sovereignty of a fellow nation state (in addition to committing horrendous crimes against their own population), capitulating to the Iraqi government would have been a mistake. It would have solidified their power and their influence within the region and would have seemingly legitimized their standpoint.

               Not only would negotiating on such terms have legitimized their view and stance, but it effectively would have been negotiating with a terrorist. The former Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 1989 to 1991, Joseph C. Wilson, (who would later play a key role in the Plame Affair during the Iraq War), discussed how, “several hundred hostages were held by Saddam, 150 Americans as well as another 70 in our care to keep them out of Iraqi hands…There is no doubt that our personnel and our families were at risk, in considerable danger in fact,”. Hussein’s motivation for holding these Americans and others of varying nationalities (notably British) was most probably to utilize them as a deterrent to an attack from the West. Engaging in capitulation and trying to negotiate with someone who was essentially a terrorist (utilizing terror and violence, or the threat of such action, to attain a political goal) was not something that the United States nor the United Kingdom was willing to do under any circumstances.

               The United States, in this instance, was dealing with a terrorist and a dictator, a megalomaniac who was determined to reclaim what he believed was rightfully Iraqi territory and gain access to further wealth through illegal means. The potential of his army in securing what were important and essential global financial centers in the Middle East was serious and it is possible he was planning to invade Saudi Arabia at some point. Saad al-Bazzaz, the former head of both the Iraqi News Agency and the Iraqi Radio and Television Establishment in addition to being an aide to Saddam, alleged in 1996 that, “the Iraqi leader ordered the elite Republican Guard to be ready to launch an offensive…nine days after the invasion of Kuwait…The invasion plans called for four divisions, or 120,000 troops, to thrust into the desert to capture oil fields more than 180 miles away”. The fact that Iraqi troops also, in January of 1991, after the initial aerial bombardment, captured the small, Saudi Arabian coastal city of Khafji, lends credence to the idea that Saddam may have been planning something larger. al-Bazzaz also alleged that Saddam again began planning an invasion of Saudi Arabia while the Battle of Khafji was ongoing, but resorted to defense when it was apparent he would lose Kuwait.

               Upon the conclusion of the Gulf War, what did the U.S. gain? One of the most significant achievements in the aftermath of the conflict was that the United States was able to create a coalition of military forces (including those from Middle Eastern nations like Syria and Egypt) to side with other nations (former colonizers like France and the United Kingdom) who are often opposed to their conduct of foreign policy or have fraught relationships. As well, the State Department’s Office of the Historian notes, “Although Russia did not commit troops, it joined the United States in condemning Iraq, its long-time client state”. The Office goes on to describe how Secretary of State Baker and his staff went about gathering allies and were instrumental in assisting in diplomatic and coordination efforts for the eventual air and ground campaign. The U.S. gained improved relationships that bonded by the pursuit of an enemy and the removal of a foreign power from a sovereign nation and were further solidified in the UN’s policing of Iraqi airspace and nuclear deproliferation programs.

               Often, wars can be prevented and all out avoided through the use of diplomacy and foreign policy. The Vietnam War, the 1898 Spanish-American War, and the Chaco War of the 1930’s between Bolivia and Paraguay are prime examples of when diplomacy should have been utilized to the fullest effect and in which foreign policy officials and avenues for conflict resolution were not fully considered or utilized. However, in this instance, war was the only viable option for removing Saddam from Kuwait and returning the country to its rightful citizens. Negotiating or trying to work with the Iraqi government on the terms they had decided (meaning working with them in a foreign territory they have illegally acquired) would have given their actions an aura of legitimacy and possibly emboldened Saddam to further push the boundaries of international law. By giving Saddam an ultimatum and proceeding with physical combat and engaging in a war, war with Iraq was the correct decision when considering the person and government being dealt with.

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Middle East

Middle Eastern interventionism galore: Neither US nor Chinese policies alleviate

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A recent analysis of Middle Eastern states’ interventionist policies suggests that misguided big power approaches have fueled a vicious cycle of interference and instability over the last decade.

Those approaches are abetted, if not encouraged by US and Chinese strategies that are similar, if not essentially the same, just labelled differently. The United States has long opted for regime stability in the Middle East rather than political reform, an approach China adopts under the mum of non-interference in the internal affairs of others.

As a result, both the United States and China de facto signal autocrats that they will not be held accountable for their actions. This week’s US response and Chinese silence about the suspension of democracy in Tunisia illustrates the point.

The policies of the two powers diverge, however, on one key approach: The US, unlike China, frequently identifies one or more regimes, most notably Iran, as a threat to regional security. In doing so, US policy is often shaped by the narrow lens of a frequently demonized ‘enemy’ or hostile power.

The problem with that approach is that it encourages policies that are based on a distorted picture of reality. The Obama administration’s negotiation of a 2015 international nuclear agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program proved that amending those policies constitutes a gargantuan task, albeit one that is gaining traction with more critical trends emerging in both the Democratic Party and among Evangelists.

The recent study, ‘No Clean Hands: The Interventions of Middle Eastern Powers, 2010-2020,’ published by the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, suggests by implication that China has at the vey least allowed instability to fester in the Middle East that is fueled as much by destabilizing Iranian interventions as by similar actions of various US allies.

The study was authored by researcher Matthew Petti and Trita Parsi, the Institute’s  co-founder and executive vice president and founder and former president of the National Iranian American Council.

To be sure China may not have been able to influence all interventionist decisions, including the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but potentially could have at times tempered the interventionist inklings of regional players with a more assertive approach rather than remaining aloof and focusing exclusively on economic opportunity.

China demonstrated its willingness and ability to ensure that regional players dance to its tune when it made certain that Middle Eastern and Muslim-majority countries refrained from criticizing Beijing’s brutal attempt to alter the ethnic and religious identity of its Turkic Muslim population in the north-western province of Xinjiang.

Taking Syria as an example, Li Shaoxian, a former vice president at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, articulated China’s approach in 2016 as Chinese President Xi Jinping paid his first visit to the Middle East. “China doesn’t really care who takes the presidency…in the future—as long as that person could stabilize and develop the country, we would agree,” Mr. Li said.

To be fair, the Quincy Institute study focuses on the interventionist policies of Middle Eastern states and recommendations for US policy rather than on China even if the report by implication has consequences for China too.

A key conclusion of the study is that the fallacy of US policy was not only to continue to attempt to batter Iran into submission despite evidence that pressure was not persuading the Islamic republic to buckle under.

It was also a failure to acknowledge that Middle Eastern instability was fueled by interventionist policies of not just one state, Iran, but of six states, five of which are US allies: Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. The US allies, with the exception of Turkey and to a lesser degree Qatar, are perceived as supporters of the regional status quo.

On the other hand, the United States and its allies have long held that Iran’s use of militant proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen; its intervention in Syria and support of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip; and its armament policies, including its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs, destabilize the Middle East and pose the greatest threat to regional security.

They assert that Iran continues to want to export its revolution. It is an argument that is supported by Iran’s own rhetoric and need to maintain a revolutionary façade.

Middle East scholar Danny Postel challenges the argument in a second paper published this month by the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies that seems to bolster the Quincy Institute’s analysis.

“The view of Iran as a ‘revolutionary’ state has been dead for quite some time yet somehow stumbles along and blinds us to what is actually happening on the ground in the Middle East. A brief look at the role Iran has played over the last decade in three countries — Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria — reveals a very different picture: not one of a revolutionary but rather of a counter-revolutionary force,” Mr. Postel argues.

The scholar noted that Hezbollah, the powerful Iranian-backed militia in Lebanon, and pro-Iranian armed groups in Iraq responded in similar ways to mass anti-government protests in 2019 and 2020 in Lebanese and Iraqi cities that transcended sectarian divisions and identified the Iran-aligned factions with widespread corruption that was dragging their countries down.

They attacked the protesters in an attempt to salvage a failed system that served their purpose and suppress what amounted to popular uprisings.

Do they really think that we would hand over a state, an economy, one that we have built over 15 years? That they can just casually come and take it? Impossible! This is a state that was built with blood,” said an Iraqi official with links to the pro-Iranian militias. A Hezbollah official speaking about Lebanon probably could not have said it better.

Iranian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal suppression of a popular revolt is no less counter-revolutionary and illustrative of the length to which Iran is willing to go to protect its interests.

“Indeed, for all the talk of Iran’s ‘disruptive’ role in the region, what the cases of Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon reveal is instead an Islamic Republic hell-bent on keeping entrenched political establishments and ruling classes in power while helping them quell popular movements for social justice, democratic rights, and human dignity,” Mr. Postel concludes.

“The idea that Iran is a revolutionary power while Saudi Arabia is a counter-revolutionary power in the region is a stale binary. Both the Islamic Republic and the Saudi Kingdom play counter-revolutionary roles in the Middle East. They are competing counter-revolutionary powers, each pursuing its counter-revolutionary agenda in its respective sphere of influence within the region,” Mr. Postel goes on to say.

Counterterrorism expert Matthew Levitt appeared to contradict Mr. Postel in a paper published this week that asserted that Hezbollah remained a revolutionary pro-Iranian force in its regional posture beyond Lebanon.

“Hezbollah’s regional adventurism is most pronounced in its expeditionary forces deployed in Syria and elsewhere in the region, but no less important are the group’s advanced training regimen for other Shi’a militias aligned with Iran, its expansive illicit financing activities across the region, and its procurement, intelligence, cyber, and disinformation activities,” Mr. Levitt said.

Mr. Postel’s analysis in various ways bolsters the Quincy Institute report’s observation that tactics employed by Iran are not uniquely Iranian but have been adopted at various times by all interventionist players in the Middle East.

The Quincy Institute study suggests further that a significant number of instances in the last decade in which Middle Eastern states projected military power beyond their borders involved Turkey, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar on battlefields that were as much related to competition for regional influence among US allies or the countering of popular movements as they were to rivalry with Iran.

“Iran is highly interventionist, but not an outlier. The other major powers in the region are often as interventionist as the Islamic Republic – and at times even more so. Indeed, the UAE and Turkey have surpassed in recent years,” the report said.

The report’s publication coincided with the indictment of billionaire Thomas  J. Barrack, a one-time advisor and close associate of former US President Donald J. Trump, on charges of operating as an unregistered foreign agent in the United States for the UAE, widely seen as another case and form of intervention by a Middle Eastern state.

By implication, the study raises the question whether compartmentalizing security issues like the nuclear question and framing them exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than discussing them in relation to diverging security concerns of all regional players, including Iran, will lead to a sustainable regional security architecture.

There is little indication that thinking in Washington is paying heed to the Quincy Institute study or Mr. Postel’s analysis even though their publication came at an inflection point in negotiations with Iran suspended until President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in mid-August.

That was evident in a proposal put forward this month by former US Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross on how to respond to Iran’s refusal to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support of armed proxies  as well as Mr. Al-Assad as part of the nuclear negotiation. Mr. Ross suggested that the United States sell to Israel the GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30,000-pound mountain-buster capable of destroying hardened underground nuclear facilities.

Members of Congress last year offered legislation that would authorize the sale as a way to maintain Israel’s military edge as the United States moves to reward the UAE for its establishment of diplomatic reltions with Israel by selling it top-of-the-line F-35 fighter jets.

The administration is expected to move ahead with the sale of the jets after putting it on hold for review when Joe Biden took office In January.

The Quincy Institute and Mr. Postel’s calls for a paradigm shift in thinking about the Middle East and/or Iran take on added significance in the light of debates about the sustainability of the Iranian clerical regime.

Contrary to suggestions that the regime is teetering on the brink of collapse as the result of sanctions and domestic discontent, most recently evidenced in this month’s protests sparked by water shortages, widely respected Iran expert Karim Sadjadpour argues that the Iranian regime could have a shelf life of at least another generation.

Mr. Sadjadpour draws a comparison to the Soviet Union. “Post-Soviet Russia… didn’t transition from the Soviet Union to a democratic Russia, but it essentially became a new form of authoritarianism which took Communism and replaced it with grievance driven Russia nationalism—led by someone from the ancient regime and a product of the KGB, Vladimir Putin,” Mr. Sadjadpour argues.

“Likewise, if I had to make a prediction in Iran, I think that the next prominent leader is less likely to be an aging cleric—like an Ayatollah Khamenei or Ibrahim Raisi—and more likely to be someone who is a product of either the Revolutionary Guards or Iran’s intelligence services. Instead of espousing Shiite nationalism, they will substitute that with Iranian nationalism—or Persian nationalism,” he goes on to say.

An Iranian nationalist regime potentially could contribute to regional stability. It would likely remove the threats of Iranian meddling in the domestic affairs of various Arab countries by empowering Shiite Muslim groups as well as support for political Islam. Iranian nationalism would turn aid to groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon militias in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen into a liability rather than an asset.

Mr. Sadjadpour’s prognosis coupled with the Quincy Institute report suggests that the Biden administration has an opportunity to reframe its Middle East policy in the long-term interests of the United States as well as the region and the international community.

The nuclear talks are one potential entry point to what would amount to the equivalent of turning a supertanker around in the Suez Canal – a gradual process at best rather than an overnight change. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan may be another.

Concern in Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran about the fallout of the withdrawal suggests that stabilizing the greater Middle East in ways that conflicts can be sustainably managed if not resolved creates grounds for China, Russia and the United States to cooperate on what should be a common interest: securing the free flow of oil and gas as well as trade.

China, Russia, and Iran may be bracing themselves for worst case scenarios as the Taliban advance militarily, but the potential for some form of big power cooperation remains.

China scholars Haiyun Ma and I-wei Jennifer Chang note that in the case of Afghanistan “despite the Taliban’s advancement on the ground and its call for Chinese investment, the current military situation and the political process have not yet manifested a power vacuum created by the US retreat, which makes Chinese entry and gains…largely symbolic in nature.”

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