Tag Archive for Egypt

Iraq in flames again



Iraq in flames – again









This week, Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq was quickly overrun by Islamist rebels. A few weeks before, Falujah was captured and is still in rebel hands.

that the same rebels have captured the town of Tikrit and a major oil installation and that up to 500 000 people are fleeing the captured areas.

The Iraqi army has proved totally ineffective, abandoning their posts after only putting up a token resistance to their attackers. Reports of officers being the first to run, leaving their men to their own devices.

This is one part of a larger movement to establish a separate state across the North of Iraq and Syria. A state controlled by brutal Sunni Islamists aligned with Al-Qaeda.

A former US ambassador to Iraq today suggested that now is the time to support “moderate” Syrian opposition with weapons so that they can defeat both President Assad and the Al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant.

This could be a huge mistake for two reasons.

The Syrian opposition is in disarray, it has lost ground to government forces and is split into various factions ranging from pro West to those linked to Al-Qaeda.

There is more than a fair chance that any weapons supplied to “moderate” forces would soon find their way into Islamic militant’s hands.

Secondly and perhaps more importantly, there is no single strongman in the opposition camp to hold the ravaged country together should the campaign to oust Assad be successful.

Notwithstanding relative stability in Morocco and Tunisia, the failure of democracy to flourish in the countries affected by the turmoil of the “Arab Spring” indicates yet again that Western style democracy is not the best form of government for the countries in the region.

Under Mubarak, Egypt was more stable than it has been since he was overthrown. He was imprisoned because under his command some protesters were shot, but the new president is celebrated for squashing all opposition, while responsible for the deaths of greater numbers of protesters. Hundreds more have been sentenced to death.

Since the end of Gaddafi’s rule, Libya is fast becoming a failed state controlled by various militia. A threat to Europe because its lawlessness is providing a conduit for illegal migrants from across North Africa and beyond.

Before the civil war in Syria, there was relative peace and stability. Now there is chaos with millions of refugees creating huge problems for neighbouring states and hundreds of thousands of casualties.

If we turn a blind eye to the mass gassing of Kurds and a protracted war with Iran, Iraq under Saddam Hussein was fairly stable.

All those dictators were, by our standards, awful dictators, nasty and ruthless. But they kept control. What we consider “human rights” were denied to most citizens, but most of them stayed alive, had a roof over their heads and food to eat.

Thousands of American, British and other nations’ lives and billions of taxpayers dollars, pounds and euros have been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan trying to prop up systems that were doomed to fail.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that most of the countries now in turmoil need strong dictators, not ineffectual and unenforceable democracy, as unpalatable as that may be to sensitive liberals in the West.

Many of the borders in the region were lines on a map drawn by the colonial powers early in the last century. It seems that Al Qaeda determined to replace them with the originals.

The West does not need an unholy alliance between a strong Syria under Assad and a radical Iran with nuclear capability. It needs that and a new state controlled by Al Qaeda even less.

It’s time to put our Western arrogance aside and accept that peace and stability in the region will only come when strong, effective and probably ruthless, leaders fight their way to the top.

With hindsight, the West should certainly have propped up Mubarak and there is now a case for suggesting many lives would have been saved in Libya, Iraq and Syria if we had left the despots in place and not weakened by sanctions.




graphic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Cruising the road to Damascus – at any cost.


The leaders of the USA, UK and France seem determined to take “surgical” action in Syria, probably by using precisely targeted cruise missiles.


In the almost 3 years of the Syrian civil war, over 100 000 people have been killed, large areas of the country reduced to rubble, neighbouring countries burdened with huge waves of refugees. Bombings in Lebanon and Iraq may be a direct result of the conflict. The involvement of Hezbollah and Iran in support of the Syrian government is both worrying and a further complication.

But with all that, the Western powers have been reluctant to get involved in what is still a civil war, an internal problem.

Until this week when 350 people were killed in a chemical warfare bombardment blamed on the Syrian government.

As yet, no convincing evidence that government forces were responsible or conclusions on the exact chemical used have been produced.

Russia and China are predictably vetoing any UN resolutions to use force against the Syrian Government, supporting their argument by allegations that it may have been the Syrian opposition attempting to force an “own goal” on the government.

Any escalation in the conflict increases the threat to our two most important allies in the region, Israel and Turkey,  but a chemical attack in Damascus in itself, does not dramatically increase that threat.

As awful and inexcusable the use of chemical weapons may be, and as much as we might regret the loss of hundreds more lives last week, the threat to the West or world peace has not been increased by these events.

Why then do we want to get involved? Have we not learned the lessons from Iraq? When the justification for the invasion was later found to be false. Or Afghanistan, when having quickly defeated the enemy, we attempted the impossible task of installing democracy in an undemocratic part of the world, lengthened our involvement by years at huge cost. That cost measured in hundreds of our soldier’s lives and billions of dollars and pounds of taxpayers hard-earned cash.

Have we forgotten Egypt where by abandoning an ally, and tacitly supporting a revolution, we ended up with a ruler far more dangerous, another coup and now a country in turmoil with a wrecked economy.

Why then are our leaders so determined to get involved in Syria after a comparatively small increase in casualties?

Is it really because the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable? Large scale killing of civilians is surely unacceptable with any type of weapons.

Is there a bigger threat to Israel, Turkey and perhaps Jordan that we are not being told about?

Is Iran about to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike?

Do President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron just want to irritate the Russians and Chinese?

Or is it once again an example of Western arrogance and hypocrisy, trying to impose our standards on people who march to the beat of a very different drummer?

Before this incident, it looked as if the Assad government was gaining control over larger areas of Syria, perhaps turning the tide and winning the war.  It could be argued that the quickest way to reduce the horrendous casualty rate, stop the destruction of infrastructure and reverse the flood of refugees would be to let the government win the war by what ever means it has at its disposal.

After all we justified dropping atomic bombs on Japan as the best way to end WW11 despite the huge loss of life.

I am not an apologist for Assad, I would be happy to see him removed from power and made to pay for his sins, however deciding on who should rule Syria is a matter for the Syrians not us.

We should beware of assisting in his removal and his replacement by a more anti-Western ruler. We don’t need to risk the lives of our troops in another un-winnable war when that war, disastrous as it may be for Syrians, poses little threat to our own security.

What are your thoughts?



The wheel turns in Egypt


Headline yesterday “Mubarak to be released from prison”.

Isn’t that amazing, it’s taken two years for the wheel to come almost full circle. Given Mubarak’s poor health and advanced age, he is unlikely to make any sort of political comeback.

When I wrote about the Egypt and the law of unintended consequences on 10 July, the death toll in the unrest was around 50, now 6 weeks later it is over 1000.

My comment that the country would be better off and far fewer Egyptians dead if we had supported Mubarak instead of abandoning him is more relevant than ever.

There was a reason why Mubarak tried to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood taking power. The consequences of his overthrow are being measured by the body counts in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria.

Other commentators estimate that only around 10% of the world’s population live under true democratic governments. I cannot confirm or dispute that estimate, but I am convinced that it is a minority, with the vast majority living under autocratic systems of varying degrees of oppression.

When the Arab spring has finally withered in the summer heat, we may well find that a long winter of discontent is the prelude to a return to the traditional systems of military or civilian dictatorships, monarchies or new variations of old regimes.

Also yesterday, large numbers of casualties in Damascus, Syria. Symptoms indicate poisoning, probably by some form of chemical warfare. Accusations of responsibility by both sides in the conflict.

Is this the Obama administration’s red-line? I somehow doubt it, I cannot believe the American people want to get dragged into another unwinnable Middle Eastern conflict.

If it escalates to pose a direct threat to Israel or Turkey, there might be some justification for action. While it remains a civil war, any Western involvement increases the danger of installing a more dangerous ruling party than the current one.

As sad as it is to see the death toll climbing in both conflicts, perhaps the West needs to curb its temptation to interfere and let the dramas play out as they have done for thousands of years.

It’s an interesting world.







Egypt and The Law of Unintended Consequences



Egypt in chaos










Back in 2011 when the mobs of the Arab spring were busy overthrowing President Mubarak of Egypt, the liberal left and the media were celebrating the rise of democracy across the Middle East.

People power, the leverage of social media and the dawn of a new, happy, prosperous future was forecast for the whole region.

It looks as if the dream of a better future has turned into a nightmare of mob rule and a reinstatement of military control in Egypt, civil war, huge numbers of casualties and massive destruction in Syria and an uncertain future in most of the other countries.

I am overjoyed to see the Muslim Brotherhood removed from power, but concerned at the way it was done by mob rule and a subsequent military coup. Whether we liked it or not, the government of President Morsi was democratically elected. There were no credible allegations that the election was not free and fair.

Allowing an elected government to be overthrown by mob rule is a dangerous precedent with serious implications for some of the struggling Southern European countries. If enough Greek protesters get out on the streets, would that country’s military feel obliged to stage a coup?

The country with the least unrest, most stability and an efficient economy in the region, Saudi Arabia, is also the most autocratic. Attempts at overthrowing the rulers in that country would be resisted quickly and with massive force. Mob rule would be stillborn.

I am not an apologist for Saudi Arabia, I think their treatment of women is awful. But I also think that there is a very good reason that the relative stability in most countries in the region before the “Arab Spring” was only possible with strong dictators as leaders.

For all his faults (and the world is a better place without him) Saddam Hussein kept Iraq functioning without the continual sectarian strife, suicide bombers and rising chaos now developing since the departure of Western troops. He confined his murderous activities to a war with Iran, gassing Kurds and dealing with small numbers of dissidents

Afghanistan is showing similar tendencies. Pakistan has been a much more dangerous place for both its own citizens and those in neighbouring countries since the removal from office of the last military strong man Pervez Musharraf as President.

More parallels in Africa. Harsh tribal rule and no economic development replaced by relative peace, creation of infrastructure and developing economies under strict, efficient, colonial rule. Corruption, brutality and wrecked economies after independence.

Rhodesia, one of the only two countries on the continent with a viable, first world type, economy and a responsible government, thrived for years despite a terrorist war, sanctions, no foreign aid. Then descended into chaos after being forced to hand over power to a corrupt and murderous terrorist government.

30 years later, after record rates of inflation, emigration of 25% of the population, thousands murdered, a ruined economy and its currency abandoned, the former life expectancy has been halved and there is still no semblance of democracy.

The other, South Africa, now heading down the same slippery slope into chaos, currency devalued, a huge brain drain of many of the best and brightest from all population groups, murder rates higher than under the former government. Important industries crippled by political interference in hiring practices and labour unrest.

Why does democracy, with all its faults, work reasonably well in the West and is now working better in many parts of Asia, South and Central America, but not in the regions mentioned above?

The passage of time.

It has taken European societies over 2000 years to nurture and refine systems of government developed by the ancient Romans and Greeks. There were many backward steps on that long road, descents into chaos, invasions by other groups. Religious interference.

It is unrealistic to expect societies that have known no system other than tribal, feudal or dictatorial rule to adopt democracy overnight. When power has been reserved for only the strongest leaders for centuries, often exercised with brutality and cruelty, compassion is seen as weakness.

It is ironic that former ruler Mubarak is about to be re-tried for using force against demonstrators when over 50 of the current crop of demonstrators (demonstrating for the continuance of a more autocratic ruler than Mubarak) were killed by the military this week.

How much better off would Egyptians be today, how many fewer deaths, and how much better the wrecked Egyptian economy, if Mubarak had not been abandoned by his former allies in the West. But instead gently influenced to introduce change at a rate the country could withstand.

Certainly for the liberal proponents of the Arab Spring, a clear demonstration of the law of unintended consequences in action.