Ed Husain

The Arab Street

Husain examines politics, society, and radicalism in the greater Middle East.

Turkish Lessons for U.S. Foreign Policy

by Ed Husain Friday, September 30, 2011

Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan arrives to address the opening session of the Arab foreign ministers' meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on September 13, 2011 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

When I visit Arab countries, I often hear the United States accused of being an ‘‘imperial power.’’ It is also viewed as being too close to Israel, and religious extremists of the al-Qaeda trend invariably refer to the United States as “crusaders.” Consequently, important U.S. political messages on the need for democracy, the importance of freedom, and the advantages of building secular polities are ignored or ridiculed as “neoconservatism”—a discrediting label associated closely with the Iraq war in most Arab minds.

Whatever the United States’ intentions and failures in Iraq, it did not seek to colonize Iraq, or any other Arab nation for that matter. In contrast, Turkey was a major imperial power for several centuries across the Middle East. Until very recently, Turkey was not only detested by Kurds and Lebanese Armenians for the atrocities that Turkey committed against these people, but most Egyptians and Syrians were taught in their schools that Turkey’s four-hundred-year-old occupation of Arab countries was responsible for Arab economic and political decline.
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Iran Among Arab Neighbors

by Ed Husain Thursday, September 29, 2011
Crisis Guide: Iran

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On this day last week, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at the United Nations. He questioned the 9/11 attacks as “mysterious,” which led to al-Qaeda yesterday labeling Ahmadinejad’s claims “ridiculous.” While there is no love lost between the Shia Ahmadinejad and Sunni al-Qaeda, they are both competing for attention in Arab political space.

Today, Iran’s influence in Arab countries is stronger than it has been for decades. Egypt has closer business and political ties with Iran than it did under Mubarak, despite alleged Iranian spies being caught and dispatched back to Iran after the Egyptian revolution. Iraq’s government, ignoring American advice, is closer to Tehran and depends on Iranian influence over Iraq’s clerics. The murderous Syrian dictatorship is being held up, and democracy quelled, with Iranian support. The Saudi king has pleaded with Americans to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. Jordan and Bahrain made similar requests to the United States.
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Pakistan Is Indispensable to the United States

by Ed Husain Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pakistan's foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar addresses the media in Ankara on August 11, 2011 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters)

“Disloyal, deceptive, and a danger to the United States” was how Texas congressman Ted Poe described Pakistan in a bid to freeze aid to the country. Gone are the days of Charlie Wilson when General Zia’s Pakistan was the funnel through which the U.S. bankrolled the Afghan mujahideen. Then, billions of dollars were provided for jihadis without the knowledge of the U.S. taxpayer. General Zia was no friend of the West, either.

But today’s American lawmakers want to be loved by the world. They forget that superpowers exert authority and influence, and that does not always make for affection between countries. The Greeks, Romans, and British were not always loved by the world. Idaho Republican senator James Risch spoke for many of his colleagues and compatriots when he said “Frankly, I’m getting tired of it, and I think Americans are getting tired of it as far as shoveling money in there at people who just flat don’t like us.”

Having visited Pakistan, I think most Pakistanis have problems with U.S. foreign policy in their region—not Americans per se. A popular joke in the country helps underscore this point: if your mother is on her death bed, Pakistanis ask one another, would you give her Pakistani medicine or American drugs? The answer is always the latter. This trust in American science, alongside the popularity of American clothes, movies, culture, and education, are not the hallmarks of a people that hate the United States.

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Something Foul in Cairo

by Ed Husain Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Head of Egypt's ruling military council Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi in Cairo September 13, 2011 (Amr Nabil/Courtesy Reuters).

This week, Egypt’s SCAF announced that parliamentary elections will now begin on November 28. Putting aside complaints about the repeatedly postponed, complex, and months-long election process being unleashed on a nation that has high illiteracy rates and little experience of democracy—why is Field Marshall Tantawi suddenly out shaking hands in the streets of Cairo?

In a widely circulated video on YouTube, heavily criticized by Egyptians on Twitter and Facebook, Tantawi is seen in civilian clothing and ostensibly popular on the Arab street.

Is this Tantawi testing Egypt’s political waters? Although there is speculation that the video may be several years old, it is nonetheless causing quite a stir. Egyptian state television commentators went out of their way to praise Tantawi’s appearance as that of a leader. Will he become a presidential candidate for the forthcoming elections? If so, this will be a game changer not just for Egypt, but Washington, DC, too.
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Women in Saudi Arabia: Too Little, Too Late

by Ed Husain Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud attends a Shura assembly on September 25, 2011 in Riyadh, where he announced that Saudi Arabia will allow women to stand for election and vote (Fahad Shaheed/Courtesy Reuters).

It tells us much about the modern media and blogosphere when we get excited about news from Saudi Arabia that essentially means very little. Can women in Saudi Arabia run for office in this Thursday’s municipal elections? No. Can they vote? No. But a post-dated political check by an ailing monarch has made global headlines. And yet, a woman sentenced to ten lashes today in Jeddah for violating a driving ban has received no media attention (thus far).
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Welcome to “The Arab Street”

by Ed Husain Monday, September 26, 2011

Thousands of Egyptian Muslims perform prayers at the Laylat al-Qadr service during the holy month of Ramadan in the street outside an Alexandria, Egypt mosque on August 27, 2011 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Where next for the Arab world?

This was asked when Arab revolutions broke out in the middle of the last century, when army officers squandered popular goodwill and gave their people decades of dictatorship. As now, there was hope in the air. Then, the ideological underwriting for tyrants was pan-Arabism and Arab socialism. Today, the ideology of radical Islamism and the lack of mobilized, political alternatives threaten the street uprisings of young Arabs.

Googlers, Facebookers, and the Twitterati may have helped overthrow military dictators, but these elite, urban youth do not possess political alternatives, constituencies, movements, and trust in parts of their countries where social media has no presence. This mismatch helps explain, for example, why they lost the referendum on changes to the Egyptian constitution in March of this year. The critical mass in most Arab countries is still mobilized by the Muslim Brotherhood and its various offshoots through mosques, organizational networks, trade unions, schools, and even businesses.
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