Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

Egypt: Corruption and the Presidency

by Elliott Abrams Monday, May 9, 2011

Much has been written about the effort to find bank accounts and other property belonging to the Mubarak family and to others who were powerful figures in the Mubarak regime. Whether that effort has crossed over from a fair inquiry into persecution of some wealthy businessmen is a subject for another day. Certainly the people of Egypt have a right to recover any moneys stolen from them through corruption during the Mubarak years, and to prosecute wrongdoers.

But however important it is to punish wrongdoing by those now gone from power, is it not more important to keep from power others who may have been corrupt? Is it not more important to prevent future corruption?

With this in mind, Egyptians should now demand to understand the financial affairs of any candidate for the presidency and of his family. Do any of the men who will present themselves for that office have foreign bank accounts and properties? If so, where and what are they? What is the value? If it is many millions, what was the source of those funds?

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Syria: Clinton Fails Again

by Elliott Abrams Monday, May 9, 2011
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers remarks on March 22, 2011.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers remarks on March 22, 2011. (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters)

On March 27, Secretary of State Clinton made what seemed an astonishing gaffe by calling the Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad a “reformer” in an interview on Face The Nation. That statement was widely attacked so two days later she appeared to withdraw it, claiming “I referenced opinions of others. That was not speaking either for myself or for the Administration.”

But that apology turns out to have been meaningless, for now she has done it again. In an interview on May 6, she was asked about events in the region. Here is part of the exchange:

SECRETARY CLINTON: There are deep concerns about what is going on inside Syria, and we are pushing hard for the Government of Syria to live up to its own stated commitment to reforms. So I think it’s – it is fair to say –

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The End of the “Peace Process”

by Elliott Abrams Friday, May 6, 2011
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal (R) talks with President Mahmoud Abbas (L) during their meeting in Cairo May 4, 2011.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal (R) talks with President Mahmoud Abbas (L) during their meeting in Cairo May 4, 2011. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

The agreement between Fatah and Hamas marks the end of a long period of cooperation and negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians.

It’s worth reviewing the recent history briefly. In 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon endorsed the two-state solution and said Palestinians should govern themselves. At a summit meeting in Aqaba, Sharon and Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (whom Yasser Arafat was forced to appoint) exchanged words of peace and Abbas explicitly renounced violence as a tool of Palestinian politics. In late 2003 and with more detail in early 2004, Sharon announced that he would pull Israeli settlers and troops out of Gaza and withdraw symbolically from four small settlements in the West Bank, and after a long political battle did so in the summer of 2005.

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Bahrain: No Mood for Compromise

by Elliott Abrams Thursday, May 5, 2011

Medical personnel are the latest targets of a continuing crackdown in Bahrain.

According to a recent posting by the Project on Middle East Democracy, “The Bahrain News Agency reports that the Military Public Prosecution is questioning 47 medical and paramedical employees for their involvement in ‘the recent deplorable unrest which gripped the Kingdom of Bahrain.’” The personnel under investigation include 24 doctors and 23 nurses and paramedics. The report continues “Medical personnel were criticized throughout the unrest for treating those involved in the opposition and…medical treatment  was described as akin to supporting the opposition.”

But the crackdown is not limited to doctors and nurses. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights reports that “In recent developments, Bahraini authorities arrested two former members of Parliament from Al Wefaq political party: Matar Matar and Jawad Fairouz. MP Jawad Fairuz is known for highlighting government corruption and unfair distribution of lands as he attempted to bring the case to parliament. Matar Matar has been documenting violations and cases of disappearances and arrests through the Al Wefaq office.” Al Wefaq has been a moderate Shia voice, not involved in violent or extremist activities. The day before his arrest, Matar told al-Jazeera that the organization was committed to secular democracy in Bahrain.

What these two reports show is that the elite of the Shia community is being targeted—the best educated, the middle class, and in the case of the two members of parliament the politically active. The path back toward compromise is made that much more difficult with every passing day. The sectarian divide is widening, for the Government of Bahrain is making the issue Shia versus Sunni rather than constitutional change.

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Degrading the State

by Elliott Abrams Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Syrian protesters hold a poster which shows Bashar al-Assad and Muammar Gaddafi during a protest calling for al-Assad to step down in Amman on May 1, 2011.

Syrian protesters hold a poster which shows Bashar al-Assad and Muammar Gaddafi during a protest calling for al-Assad to step down in Amman on May 1, 2011. The poster reads, "The two sides of same coin". (Majed Jaber/Courtesy Reuters)

Hundreds of Syrians have been charged with the crime of “degrading the state.”

The news comes from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent human rights group. This “crime” carries a three-year sentence, and is reminiscent of Soviet-bloc criminal codes now gone except in Cuba. This is a useful reminder of the sort of regime that rules Syria: backward, resistant to any reform, bloody and violent, repressive, unchanging.

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Syria: Will Violence Beget Violence?

by Elliott Abrams Tuesday, May 3, 2011

In a recent post, I wrote that “The spectacular news of Osama bin Laden’s killing by U.S. forces could not have come at a better time. Al-Qaeda’s message that violence, terrorism, and extremism are the only answer for Arabs seeking dignity and hope is being rejected each day in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and throughout the Arab lands. Al-Qaeda and its view of the world are being pushed aside in favor of demands for new governments, free elections, freedom of speech and assembly, and an end to corruption.”

My friend Lee Smith, a superb analyst of  the Middle East and author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, wrote me to raise a question about those words. He has a great concern, as I do, that the United States is not doing enough to pressure the Assad mafia in Damascus. We have not targeted Assad with sanctions, called for his departure from power, kicked his ambassador in Washington out or withdrawn our own from Damascus, despite the growing violence against the people of Syria.

“My concern,” Lee said, “is that…the Sunnis in Syria are now getting the idea that the only way to bring down Bashar is through violence. In due course, a Zarqawi will come to lead them and he will sow mayhem not just in Syria but throughout the region. This White House is at odds with itself—and inadvertently cooking catastrophe.”

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Bin Laden, Obama, and the Arab Spring

by Elliott Abrams Monday, May 2, 2011

The spectacular news of Osama bin Laden’s killing by U.S. forces could not have come at a better time. Al-Qaeda’s message that violence, terrorism, and extremism are the only answer for Arabs seeking dignity and hope is being rejected each day in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and throughout the Arab lands. Al-Qaeda and its view of the world are being pushed aside in favor of demands for new governments, free elections, freedom of speech and assembly, and an end to corruption. Bin Laden’s death weakens al-Qaeda and Salafi movements further by taking away their most powerful symbol.

President Obama will bask in the satisfaction of all Americans that justice has finally been done—and done through an assault that combined the best of intelligence work with a courageous and well planned military operation. It is entirely appropriate that Mr. Obama and the administration get and take a fair amount of credit.

It is therefore unfortunate that Mr. Obama seems to want more than that fair share the American people will naturally and rightly give him. His remarks last night were far too much laced with words like “I met repeatedly,”  “at my direction,” and “I determined,” trying to take personal credit for the years of painstaking work by our intelligence community. Mr. Obama might have noted that this work began under President Bush, but as usual he did not. It was also a mistake for him to use this occasion to deliver unrelated comments about “the pursuit of prosperity for our people” and “the struggle for equality for all our citizens.” A shorter and more straightforward announcement would have been more appropriate for this occasion.

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