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.

CFR Interview: “Will Tunisia Inspire More Popular Uprisings?”

by Elliott Abrams Friday, January 21, 2011

The CFR web site contains an interview of me yesterday by CFR’s Bernard Gwertzman on the impact on the broader Middle East and North Africa of the political changes that continue to unfold in Tunisia. Topics include whether other Arab regimes will face a similar uprising, and Obama Administration attitudes toward promoting human rights in the region.

Obama at Half Time: Two Years in the Middle East

by Elliott Abrams Wednesday, January 19, 2011

©2010 Google - Imagery ©2010 TerraMetrics

There will be many assessments of what President Obama has achieved in the Middle East during his two years as president, and few will be positive.

Twenty years of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians were scuttled by the obsession with a construction freeze in settlements and in Jerusalem. The one ray of light, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s reforms and constructive programs on the ground in the West Bank, continues to get more American lip service than real dedicated effort. George Mitchell’s uninterest in the actual progress on the ground in the West Bank has been glaringly obvious, all the focus instead on imaginary negotiating tables.

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Who’s Next After Tunisia?

by Elliott Abrams Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tunisia's President Ben Ali talks with Qatar emir Sheikh Hamad, Algeria's President Bouteflika and Syria's President Al-Assad as they pose for a family photograph at the Arab League summit in Sirte on March 27, 2010. (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters)

Wide discussion of whether the revolt in Tunisia will now spread to other Arab lands seems to me to ignore two key factors: what is unique in the Tunisian case, and the issue of monarchy.

Tunisia was unique in combining a reasonably advanced society (80 percent literacy, $8,000 per capita GDP) with an extremely repressive personal dictatorship. Algeria, right next door, is different: It is a dictatorship, but one ruled by what is known as “Le Pouvoir,” the power—a shadowy combination of military officials. President Bouteflika has been in power for twelve years, but his is more institutional than personal or familial rule, and it is characterized less by the rapacious corruption of the Ben Ali family in Tunis than by immobility and boredom. Riots might convince the military leaders to dump Bouteflika, but it will be harder in Algeria than in Tunisia to remove the regime.

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Freedom in the World 2011

by Elliott Abrams Friday, January 14, 2011

Tunisians shout slogans as they demonstrate against Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunis on January 14, 2011 (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

Freedom in the world is declining. Given Hillary Clinton’s remarks yesterday about change in the Arab world and with the Obama Administration’s half-time in office coming next Friday, it’s a good moment for an assessment of Obama human rights policy.

That freedom is declining is the stark conclusion of Freedom in the World 2011, the annual survey published by Freedom House. Their assessment: Read more »

Can Lebanon Escape?

by Elliott Abrams Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A supporter waves a Lebanese flag over thousands of anti-Syrian protesters during a rally in Beirut March 14, 2005. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

Newspapers today are reporting that Hezbollah-backed members of parliament have withdrawn from the Lebanese government, effectively bringing down  the coalition led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

In 2005 the leading citizen of Lebanon, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was murdered by a gigantic car bomb that killed 22 other people as well. An international commission was established to investigate the murder, and is soon to report its findings. By all accounts it will accuse Hezbollah of being at least partly responsible. Hezbollah is demanding that the Government of Lebanon reject the findings, a particularly poignant demand for the current Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, as it was his father who was assassinated in 2005.

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Sudan’s Christians Vote for Independence

by Elliott Abrams Monday, January 10, 2011

A Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) soldier stands inside a demolished church in Kapoeta Southern Sudan. (Antony Njuguna/Courtesy Reuters)

The reports of millions of southern Sudanese voting in the referendum on independence are a reminder that democracy and self-rule are not a luxury that only the rich can afford. While there has been violence, some of it apparently the fault of northern Sudan, the overall picture is remarkably positive.

The BBC has supplied a useful but oddly inadequate set of maps showing that Sudan is by most standards two nations already. For while the BBC maps show ethnicity and a variety of other differences between north and south, curiously they avoid the subject of religion. Yet it is religion as much as any other factor that divides the Muslim Arab north from the Christian and animist south.

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Four More Years

by Elliott Abrams Friday, January 7, 2011

Israel's PM Netanyahu hugs Meir Dagan, the outgoing director of Israel's spy agency Mossad, at the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. (Ronen Zvulun/Courtesy Reuters)

Yesterday the legendary Meir Dagan retired after eight years as head of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency. Having had some opportunity to work with Dagan while in the U.S. Government, I take his opinions and judgments very seriously—including his newest predictions about the Iranian nuclear program.

Dagan now believes that Iran will not have a bomb until 2015. That the date keeps receding is, presumably, due in part to Dagan’s own efforts and those of his organization. If he is right, we have four more years to stop the Iranian nuclear program.

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Is Tunisia Next?

by Elliott Abrams Friday, January 7, 2011

A man puts up an electoral poster of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunis. (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters)

Tunisia is not a very important country, but the fall of its twenty-three year old dictatorship could nevertheless be significant.

Day after day of demonstrations at the end of 2010 proved able for the first time to defy the security forces. President Ben Ali removed the governor of the relevant province and blamed his own ministers, and in a TV speech denounced the demonstrators, but he has no answers to the demands for freedom and prosperity. His police state control of the streets and the communications media is failing. Systems like Ben Ali’s are maintained by fear, and the fear is disappearing. One Tunisia expert describes the current situation well here.

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Telescopic Philanthropy, 2011

by Elliott Abrams Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wreckage is seen after rioters damaged shops in Maan. (Petra Petra/Courtesy Reuters)

APN News: “Rioters in the southern Jordanian city of Maan set fire to government buildings, police cars and businesses on Tuesday to protest the murder of two men earlier this week prompting the government to send security forces to restore order. Witnesses say more than 500 rioters were protesting the lack of arrests after Monday’s killings. Demonstrations filled streets in the desert town about 250 kilometers south of the capital, Amman. Security officials said on Tuesday that they used tear gas to disperse protesters who had attacked government property and damaged private shops. … Residents say the unrest followed the funeral of two workers from prominent Maan tribes who had been killed in a labor dispute by Bedouins from the powerful Hwaitat tribe. They said Hwaitat members were angered that rival tribes from Maan were employed in their hometown to build a multi-million dollar water project.”

Jerusalem Post: “Jordanian King Abdullah on Wednesday warned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that “the deadlocked peace process threatens the entire region,” AFP reported. Abdullah’s comments to Netanyahu came in a telephone conversation between the two described in a statement released by Jordan. “Efforts for having serious and effective peace talks should continue, based on a two-state solution, which is the only way to achieve regional stability and security,” Abdullah reportedly told the prime minister.”

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