Saturday, February 26, 2011

Two more articles on the Middle East to add to yesterday's selections

Articles on the Middle East

An excellent analysis by Olivier Roy in the New Statesman

An excellent speech. by Australia's Foreign Minister. One of the clearest enunciations of Australian Foreign Policy I have read in some time.
Comments from friends
One Friend on Facebook did not agree this was a good speech:  "MPC not an attack on you or your views, but I am going to disagree about the 'excellence' of this speech. It does depend on your yardstick. As a clear enunciation of current policy, perhaps. As a vision of where our policies need more subs...tance and content, not. First, I can imagine myself sitting in the audience, lashes fluttering as Rudd drones on and on in that robotic voice he has...and perhaps startling myself awake as a little snore erupts from my lips. Second, I might have found the cliched phrases at the start rather tiresome. Third, but probably more concerning, the entire thrust of it is all about his egocentric pusch to have 'middle powers' like Australia play a larger role in bodies like the UNSC. Fourth, and the reasons why we would want to play this role is because 'we have global interests' beyond the region. Yes, true, but he's completely neglected to mention the challenges of climate change, which is probably the only truly global problem we face today. Fifth, he's played the 'fear' card about radicalisation of the middle east in a reference to fundamentalist Islamic movements. Now, I don't know what the current read out on these forces is in govt. but no one seems really concerned - so why mention it at all? I think it's boring and too long!"
My response:   "yes, I must say I am not somebody who personally subsribes to the points made about the radicalisation of Egypt and what it means for western interests as my blog argues. However, I do believe that it is the clearest articulation from a foreign Minister in a long time. It is very clear on what developments in the ME mean for Australia, why we should play a role and how we can play a role. It pulls the various tenets of our FP framework into this vision for the ME. About time we explained our FP in such clear terms to the public"
Friend's comments:  "As to Greg Sheridan's response in the Australian to the speech itself, it doesn't seem like the sharpest critique of areas where a response could be made more effective? He chucks bricks at the growth of the aid program, without linking that idea to pointing... to the gross inequalities that exist in the region & which may be a proximate cause of people's unhappiness & militancy for democracy. As far as I can tell from my miniscule knowledge of the ME & N. Africa (I am willing to stand corrected) overall GDP is not an issue. Some of these countries are oil producers which make absurd amounts of cash. The maldistribution, the high levels of people in poverty, are largely due to filthy rich Arabs including not a few dictators, demagogues & members of their remnant aristocracies I suppose living like leeches off the great mass of their own people. The corruption & disregard for their own people is sickening. South East Asian & South Asian migrant workers flock to this area of the world to do work that Arabs won't do. Rich Arab countries do nothing at all to remedy the sources of unrest in neighbouring countries - look at Yemen at the arse end there with some of the worst poverty indicators, internal unrest & right next to one of the richest countries in the world! Foreign donors are expected to make up the difference. Foreign aid is not going to fix the problems. Fundamental domestic reforms, driven by demand for more democratic governance in those countries, will be a move in the right direction. If moderate Islamic influences helps inform a move in the right direction, we should let them at it & stop trying to impose a 'western' ideology which essentially always ends up being rejected anyway. As to Sheridan's next criticism about Australia not having enough diplomatic representation, well that might be the case, but then we'd have to think about whether those people would be allowed to move from the safety of their embassies anyway during periods of strife...what literally would they be able to do? The problems of N Africa & ME are ones that are not of Australian making - the Europeans & the US have been benefiting for some time, presumably, through trade & defence relations that seem fundamentally directed at maintaining access to oil. Let's get off fossil fuel dependence. And let the US & Europe fix problems of their making in that region...the chickens have come home to roost. I wouldn't criticise Gillard for focusing on more pressing, domestic issues right now - that's what I voted her in to do."
My response:    "I liked Daniel Korski and Ben Judah's take on it: that the West's three pillars of FP in the Middle East - military presence, commercial ties and client states - are crumbling in the sand.

As for points about the risk of Iranian influence,... while many on the "Arab street" have long admired Tehran's defiance, it is unlikely that centuries of mutual antagonism and three decades of outright hostility will be undone by current events.

It seems that many in these countries are not interested in the West's advice about democracy and how they should be governed. But it seems inevitable that whoever emerges victorious in future elections in Tunisia, Egypt or elsewhere, whether of nationalist or Islamist stripe, they will be reluctant to give up the many perks of engagement with the West."

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