Posts Tagged ‘coup’

On Israel and the coup d’etat in Mauritania

August 7, 2008

[Western Saharan Nation of Mauritania. BBC images]

For those of you who didn’t notice, Mauritania had a coup on Aug 6. Ousted President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waqef represented the first democratically elected government in the Western Saharan nation. Mauritania was also one of only three Arab League nations to have full diplomatic relations with Israel. There is no evidence yet that the new military junta will alter its friendly ties with Israel (or that they will succeed in lowering food or gasoline prices in the country). However Israel is monitoring the situation closely and the new Israeli ambassador to Mauritania, Miki Arbel, will delay his departure.

In fact, among the military junta’s primary grievances against the Abdallahi government was its overtures to Islamic hardliners in Mauritania with alleged ties to an al-Qaida-affialiated terror network believed operating in north Africa. That and the presidential decree ordering their dismissal hours before the coup.

So it would seem the new guys are at least secular minded/anti-Islamist, although clearly it’s not the same thing as being pro-Israel (think Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein etc.) If nothing more the coup serves as a reminder to Israel of the fragility of any diplomatic agreement it signs with flimsy governments — and some of its diplomatic partners in the region indeed have flimsy, unpopular governments like that of the Palestinian National Authority’s Fatah.

And recall that the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979, showing that even seemingly strong governments can dissapear in a flash, and with it any agreements signed with Israel. Nobody knows what will happen in Egypt after Mubarak dies, but he’s made that fatal flaw of a man in his 70s not grooming a viable successor, save for his son Gamal (nobody in Egypt wants Gamal). Even Nasser and Sadat — both far more popular leaders than Mubarak — didn’t have such audacity.

And when Mubarak of Egypt or Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas goes, don’t think a Jeffersonian democracy will step in. The Muslim brotherhood in Egypt has a strong following and may step in if a secular government fails to hold its grip on power, just as Hamas (the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) may take over Palestinian leadership even in the West Bank.

The al-Assad regime in Syria has never been at peace with Israel. Yet still, should it be overthrown in a coup — far from unprecedented in Syria, although the al-Assad regime has been remarkably resilient — the Muslim Brotherhood will be its most likely replacement. That would be an even worse situation for Israel. So if nothing more, the coup in Mauritania can serve to remind Israel of these unpleasant realities, before it becomes too comfortable with the current situation or trades land for peace with a flimsy partner. Agreements can become null and void overnight, but land can’t be taken back once ceded away.

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Context of the Lebanese Crisis

May 16, 2008

[Taking a stroll in downtown Beirut]

American media never pro-actively follow political developments in places like Lebanon, nor sufficiently explain the deeper issues even when crises breaks out. That is why Americans are left scratching their heads when violence erupts so suddenly and unexpectedly. And that is why I turn to British media. No gasket ever blows without simmering pressure, and there’s been a lot of that in Lebanon. For a very in-depth explanation of the situation in Lebanon, The Economist has a great article. Also see Patrick Seale’s quite informative piece, Lebanon Steps Back from the Brink of War.

Probably the most significant lasting fallout from the previous week’s events surrounds Hizbullah crossing the Rubicon by using its arms for internal Lebanese political machinations, which the militant group had previously vowed never to do. That, and the pro-Western Lebanese government may fall. The argument that their weapons are reserved only for use against Israel is now totally undermined. Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah demonstrated in both words and actions last week that, “We no longer have red lines.”

Writing for the Daily Star, Rami Khouri believes the reconciliation talks going in Doha may lead to short term or even long term peace and quiet in Lebanon, but not before a new power sharing formula is devised, or before the country goes through some major soul searching about its place among the regional and global power rivalries.

It’s often said that Middle Easterners have long memories (there are people in my field who would call that an Orientalist cliche but I believe it’s true). So do Lebanese who remember the civil war years (1975-1990) really want to go down that road again? Did they forget it wasn’t pleasant? Ask Robert Fisk for his opinion on that