The tipping point

first_imgWhen Marshall Nannes began researching his master’s thesis on American military bases in Bahrain and Kuwait, he did something practically unknown. He actually asked the people in those countries how they felt about the U.S. presence there.“All the research on the topic was at the government-to-government level,” said Nannes, a graduate student at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) who traveled to the two tiny Mideast nations in January for his research. The popular wisdom, he said, was that “it doesn’t really matter what the people — the opposition leaders — think.”A scant two months later, Bahrain has been swept by turbulent demonstrations and a government crackdown. Bahraini opposition leaders, once just the subjects of Nannes’ obscure thesis, now are interviewed regularly in The New York Times. And Bahrain’s protesters are trumpeting their anger in the streets.Political protests are sweeping the Arab world across a 2,000-mile crescent. The unrest began in December with one man’s self-immolation in Tunisia and spread like wildfire to Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere, taking the international community by surprise. In a region that historically has appeared inhospitable to democracy, millions of ordinary citizens rose to demand basic political rights.Responding to these shifts, Harvard analysts have been working overtime to parse the resultant economic, religious, political, and social changes. Taken together, their insights offer a fresh glimpse into the Arab world’s future. In a series of interviews, the Harvard specialists said it is time to shed outdated assumptions about the region: from the dictum that oil must be protected at all costs, to the fear that Islam guides the region’s worldview, to the fantasy that democracy can solve all of the area’s problems.“Now is not the time to go in with rhetorical guns blazing, but to step back and think about what this means” for civil-military relations, democratization, and issues of religion and the state in the region, said Paul Beran, director of the CMES Outreach Center.The results of the political unrest have ranged from the inspiring — President Hosni Mubarak’s relatively peaceful departure from power in Egypt  — to the explosive, as in Libya, where an international military coalition began enforcing a no-fly zone last weekend against leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, as civil war raged through the land.Among the key themes that Harvard analysts see emerging from the Arab unrest are these:It’s not about oilTo much of the world, the Mideast and North Africa have long been defined by oil — and energy interests often define when and how the West responds to the region’s political crises. But whether the Arab world sustains its newfound democratic energy or slides back toward more authoritarian rule, oil won’t be to blame, according to one Harvard expert who studies the effects of political instability on energy markets.It’s time to ditch the myth of the “resource curse,” or the popular theory that countries with an abundance of limited natural resources such as oil are more vulnerable to, among other ills, power-play politics and corruption.“Sitting on a boatload of oil does not make you unstable,” said Noel Maurer, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School (HBS).In truth, oil production tends to stay up and running even in highly destructive wars. “It actually seems to be the case that the [oil] markets are completely resilient to political instability and violence going on around them. Those sectors are often the last man standing,” Maurer said.The idea that lucrative oil resources make many Arab nations ripe for takeover by authoritarian leaders only leads to cynical cynical — and misguided — foreign policy, according to Noel Maurer, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. Photo by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff PhotographerThe idea that lucrative oil resources make many Arab nations ripe for takeover by authoritarian leaders only leads to cynical — and misguided — foreign policy, Maurer said. The United States should support the Arab revolutions not just because they increase freedom for millions, but because democracies in the region would likely prove more stable for business than the autocracies that U.S. leaders have tacitly supported for years, he argued.That said, observers are right to be concerned if continued fighting in the region cuts off the flow of oil, as has already happened in Libya.“Oil markets right now are extremely tight,” Maurer said. “There’s not a lot of excess capacity around, so even small shocks could send prices up.” As rising industrial powers, China and India demand an ever-greater share of the world’s oil, and that is unlikely to change, he said.While Libya produces much more oil, Bahrain, an island nation of just a million people, is “the real place to watch,” Maurer said. “Oil’s going to start flowing in again from Libya, either because the rebels will figure out how to continue production or Gadhafi will prevail, although the latter is unlikely now that the United Nations has intervened,” he said. But if unrest continues in Bahrain, fear of it spreading could send oil markets into short-term panic.In addition, the Bahraini unrest and the resultant government crackdown have thrown a wrench into the relations between oil giant Saudi Arabia, which dispatched security forces to aid government forces, and the United States, which opposes any violent response.The economy trumps religionThe uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and other Arab countries have surprised outsiders with their lack of religious rhetoric. The protests and resulting overthrow of Tunisia’s leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak have shown that the economy, not Islam, dominates everyday citizens’ concerns, according to Malika Zeghal, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor in Contemporary Islamic Thought and Life in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).In Tunisians’ revolutionary rhetoric, “religion was simply absent because the Tunisian revolution was not about religion,” Zeghal said. “The protests were articulating a critique of the relationship between Tunisians and their state.”That critique stemmed from deep economic crisis. In central Tunisia, unemployment among young people with college degrees is as high as 40 to 50 percent, according to Zeghal. Tunisians’ discontent over the lack of economic opportunities coalesced into anti-state protests targeting the regime’s corruption and its repression of political dissent.Egyptians and Tunisians are now debating whether their revised constitutions should keep the notion of a state religion.Both countries have legally authorized Islamist parties (Wasat in Egypt and al-Nahda in Tunisia) for the first time. Such religious parties will have to cross the same hurdles as secular ones, Zeghal said. Egyptian and Tunisian youth have high expectations that their new governments will increase economic opportunities and become accountable.Even Muslim parties’ “ability to emerge politically in future elections will also depend on their capacity to find solutions to the deep socioeconomic crisis in these two countries, and to speak a political language that can inspire the youth,” she said.Democracy isn’t enoughThe Egyptian constitutional referendum held March 19 was certainly proof that major change has already resulted from the wave of protests. More than 14 million Egyptians turned out to vote in what was considered the first legitimate referendum in the country’s lengthy history.But while this step toward democracy was a breakthrough for Egypt, that move alone won’t solve the underlying socioeconomic problems that sparked the protests. “There’s a stark contrast between the rich and the poor in these countries, and the disparity has been growing,” said Steven Caton, a professor of contemporary Arab studies in the FAS Anthropology Department. For a case study on the limits of democratic participation, look no further than Yemen, an extremely poor nation. Caton, who has studied the country for 30 years, noted that Yemen has a longstanding democratic tradition. Despite the autocratic bent of the country’s ruling regime, Yemen has held several successful, internationally monitored elections for both its president and parliament. But the country has still been swept by revolutionary fervor. Support for President Ali Abdullah Saleh has plunged, amid violent protests and high-level government defections.“They have a more-or-less democratic system that limps along,” Caton said. “What they don’t have, really, is an ability to address certain simmering, long-term complaints within their society.”Yemen’s population has exploded in recent years, Caton said, and more people are moving to urban areas looking for work as the country’s agricultural system becomes overburdened. So Yemen’s city dwellers are also exposed to the regime’s corruption to a degree they never would have been had they remained in tribal society.“The regime has allied itself to this oligarchy at the expense of an equitable distribution of resources to the rest of the population,” Caton said. “These protests are for political reforms, and they’re couched in the populist language of democracy. But they’re really about political reforms that will bring capital back [to the country] and redistribute capital.”To create long-term stability in the region, Caton said, the United States must be prepared to contribute to economic development, not just to stable elections. American leaders, who have focused on Yemen mainly as a potential hotbed for al-Qaeda terrorist recruitment, need to invest in economic development projects to earn trust.Social media matter — to a pointThe temptation to overvalue the role of social media in bringing about democratic change has abated somewhat since Iran’s failed Green Revolution in 2009. Then, Iranian protesters took their frustrations with undemocratic elections to the world through Twitter, only to see their online voices muted as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tightened his grip on power.When it comes to reporting on so-called social media revolutions in the Mideast and North Africa today, “the Western media’s a little more sophisticated than they were then,” said Rob Faris, research director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and a contributor to its Internet and Democracy Project.How can outside observers know when to trust the Internet buzz coming from the region? The Internet and Democracy Project’s authoritative 2009 study, “Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere,” which the Berkman Center is now updating, shed light on how countries such as Egypt have fostered revolutionary chatter online in ways that Iran did not.Even Muslim parties’ “ability to emerge politically in future elections will also depend on their capacity to find solutions to the deep socioeconomic crisis … and to speak a political language that can inspire the youth,” said Malika Zeghal, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor in Contemporary Islamic Thought and Life in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. File photo by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer“In Iran you had a clearly divided blogosphere. You had pro-reform elements, and pro-theocracy elements,” Faris said. “That parallels in many ways the [two-party] structure of American politics. Egypt is completely different.” Not only are Egyptian opposition groups much less cohesive and more difficult to target online, he said, but a survey of the country’s blogosphere shows “it was missing a pro-Mubarak element.”“We don’t know to what extent the blogosphere reflects offline life,” Faris said. “So far, everything we’ve seen is consistent with that.”Still, even Faris, an Internet acolyte, cautioned that after the masses are mobilized, the web may prove useless in helping to build new institutions and hold them accountable. “It’s probably easier to bring down an autocrat than before,” Faris said. “But what that brings you after the revolution — I don’t think that’s changed much.”Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter don’t appear to be as crucial to organizing protests as some might believe.“You might put a Facebook page up to get people interested [in a protest], but chances are all the major organizing is happening on back channels,” said Jillian York, project coordinator for the OpenNet Initiative, an Internet monitoring group run in part out of the Berkman Center.But cell phones do play a role. While wealthier nations such as Iran and the United Arab Emirates saw skyrocketing rates of Internet use over the past few years, the countries that have experienced recent unrest were experiencing an explosion in cell phone use, according to figures from the International Telecommunication Union.With the new ability to communicate instantly, easily, and — most important — privately through cell phones and text messaging, “it’s become clear that mobile is an absolutely vital part of this movement,” York said.Lessons for AmericaPresident Barack Obama’s decision to support a no-fly zone over Libya with U.S. warplanes marked a late but decisive entry into the region’s turmoil. Although the announced goal of the no-fly zone is to stop humanitarian abuses by Gadhafi’s forces, the move also signals tacit support for overthrowing the embattled leader. It was a controversial shift, according to Stephen Walt of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. Backing the ouster of authoritarian leaders such as Gadhafi reflects the Obama administration’s desire to see the “Arab spring” of democratic change blossom.“America’s interests in the region, both strategic and moral, have not changed at all,” said Walt, the Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs and faculty chair of the International Security Program. “What’s changed are the political strategies we must use to try to advance those interests.”He said the United States will have to get used to caring about public opinion in the Arab world, a metric that was easily ignored when American diplomats dealt primarily with authoritarian leaders not accountable to public opinion.Despite Western fears that the region’s revolutions will leave a political vacuum that could be filled by extremist groups, Walt said the protests have most likely helped to slow the spread of radical Islamist ideas.“One of al-Qaeda’s primary grievances was with this set of autocrats in the Arab world that they accused of being un-Islamic and in bed with the United States,” Walt said. “Al-Qaeda argued that the only way to deal with those governments was with violent extremism and terrorism. Instead, what we’ve seen is that peaceful protests accomplished far more to open up these societies than al-Qaeda ever did.”There is some evidence that embracing international cooperation, as the Obama administration has done, has long-term positive benefits. A recent study of the world’s political systems over the past 200 years said that a country’s membership in international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, or regional trade groups leads the state gradually to become more like its neighbors.“States are more likely to experience positive changes in their level of democracy when they are tied to many other countries that are more democratic than they are,” said Magnus Thor Torfason, assistant professor of business administration at HBS and a co-author of the study. Tunisia and Egypt had strong ties to international groups. Even countries that are tied to other democracies through military alliances, as was Egypt, are historically more likely to accept democratic reform.“If the United States wants to promote democracy, it should engage effectively with international organizations, but also support the engagement of other democracies,” Torfason said.In other words, Torfason’s research suggests, democracy can be contagious — a theory borne out by the protests that have swept North Africa and the Mideast. Regardless of how the political turmoil plays out in individual nations, Harvard’s analysts agree, the region will have shed its reputation as a place seemingly immune to the popular desire for freedom.“We are witnessing a fundamental shift in the social and political conditions in much of the Arab world,” Walt said. “The clock is not going to be turned back.”last_img read more

Fire Island Breach Repair Firm Sought

first_imgSign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York The breach on Fire Island at Old Inlet opened by Superstorm Sandy is blamed by some for Long Island flooding and credited by others with improving Great South Bay water quality (FINS).New York State and federal agencies have begun the process of preparing to close the breach on Fire Island caused by Sandy amid renewed debate over whether it’s caused flooding on the South Shore.The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) requested Thursday that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (ACE) take the preliminary steps to seek out a contractor to fill in the breach—but they haven’t officially OK’d its closure.“If the breach does not close naturally, the closure process will be much further along,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a statement. He said the request will allow the state and feds “to act more quickly to close the breach if that is deemed necessary.”The breach falls within the remote eastern half of the barrier island in part of the Otis Pike High Dune Wilderness Area—the only such federal preserve in the state—known as Old Inlet, which has opened and closed repeatedly throughout history.The south-facing portion of the breach facing the Atlantic Ocean has widened by more than 1,000 feet since the Oct. 29 superstorm—108 feet on Nov. 3 to 1,171 feet on Feb. 28—and the side facing the Great South Bay more than doubled from 276 feet to 616 feet during the same time period, according to the Fire Island National Seashore (FINS).“It’s not a final decision to close yet but having everything in place so that when a decision is made we have everything ready to go,” said FINS Superintendent Chris Soller, who believes the breach may still close on its own this spring.“It will probably be months rather than weeks,” said Chris Gardner, an ACE spokesman, referring to the time it takes to procure and haul in the required heavy machinery. “There’s a variety of different factors at play. Most importantly there’s not dredges working in the area that we can draw upon.”DEC, ACE and FINS, a unit of the National Park Service, together agreed to begin procuring a contractor under the Breach Contingency Plan, which was used for the first time after Sandy since being inked in 1996 following bungled breach repairs at Westhampton Beach.The plan was used to close two other breaches—one at Cupsogue County Park in Westhampton Beach and the other at Smith Point County Park on the other side of the Moriches Inlet—shortly after Sandy. The third breach has been closely monitored but left to close on its own because it falls within the federal wilderness area.A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who called a news conference this week blaming local flooding on the breach and demanding that it be closed immediately, did not respond to a request for comment on the DEC’s announcement.Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, contends that there is no proven link that the breach is causing flooding along Suffolk’s bay front. But, it is proven to be flushing the polluted Great South Bay.“We need to base decisions on fact, not fear,” she said. “I’m very frustrated that science somehow went out the window here … we shouldn’t substitute political science for good marine science.”last_img read more

Rhodes deal dead – Bruce

first_imgHull boss Steve Bruce has said a potential deal to sign Blackburn striker Jordan Rhodes is “dead and buried”. “We’re close to one or two things, very close on one in particular, which will be a fantastic addition if we pull it off, but until it’s really, really rubber stamped then I’m not going to say much,” he said. “I really don’t want to comment after last week’s debacle on Jordan Rhodes. It would be wise of me to say nothing.” One person who has already completed his move to east Yorkshire this week is defender Michael Dawson, who signed a three-year deal from Tottenham for an undisclosed fee on Tuesday. Bruce is thrilled with his latest acquisition, believing Dawson’s maturity at the back will be vital as Hull battle on domestic and European fronts this season. “We’re delighted to get someone of his experience and his ability,” Bruce said. “I’ve always thought that especially in the centre of defence, a little bit of experience does everybody the world of good. “It’s been a long drawn out process but we eventually got him which I’m delighted about.” It was reported last week that Bruce was keen on bringing the prolific Championship striker to the KC Stadium following the departure of Shane Long to Southampton for £12million earlier this month. Bruce reported Blackburn were open to selling their star asset, but that they had changed their minds, with the former Wigan and Sunderland boss now conceding defeat in his pursuit of the Scotland international. Press Association “It’s dead and buried,” Bruce said. “We got an indication from Blackburn that they were willing to do a deal and that obviously changed in 24 hours. That’s their prerogative. “If they’d have said that to start with – that he wasn’t for sale no matter what we wanted to do – then fine, we’ll walk away. “But unfortunately it gets a bit protracted and last weekend we thought it was close and then all of a sudden he’s not for sale, so we’ll move on to the next one.” Bruce admitted his frustration at coming so close to landing the 24-year-old, who has scored 53 goals in 93 Championship appearances since joining Rovers two years ago, and blamed the constant scrutiny being placed on the deal. “It gets into the public domain and all of a sudden it’s not going to happen,” Bruce added. “It’s disappointing for everybody concerned, but more disappointing, I would presume, for somebody like Jordan.” Perhaps understandably, Bruce was a little more reticent about naming his other targets, but did reveal the club were nearing a deal to boost their forward line. last_img read more

Trojans return home to host LMU Lions

first_imgFollowing an impressive road victory over the New Mexico Lobos, the USC men’s basketball team looks to continue its winning ways as it hosts the Loyola Marymount Lions on Wednesday night.Double-double · Redshirt sophomore forward Darion Clark posted 12 points and 11 rebounds in USC’s win over New Mexico last weekend. – Brian Ji | Daily TrojanThe Trojans (4-3) won their first true road win of the season on Sunday when they beat the Lobos, 66-54. This was their first game on an opponent’s court after playing three games at home and an additional three at a neutral site.Redshirt sophomore forward Darion Clark led the team to the win at The Pit with 12 points and 11 rebounds while sophomore forward Nikola Jovanovic added 10 points and a career-high 16 rebounds for the Trojans.“I thought Darion Clark really set the tone with 12 points, 11 rebounds,” USC head coach Andy Enfield after the game. “Nikola [Jovanovic] got into it and was rebounding at a high level.”Much of the victory could be attributed to the fact that USC held New Mexico’s senior guard Hugh Greenwood to a scoreless performance. Greenwood came into the matchup averaging 13 points per game, but the Trojans limited him to 0-for-11 shooting, including a dismal 0-for-9 from beyond the arc. New Mexico was led by forward Devon Williams, who had a career-high 15 points and a career-high 10 rebounds.Freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who is leading the team in scoring this season,  scored only eight points in the win, but he showed off his passing ability with seven assists, which led the team. And while redshirt sophomore guard Katin Reinhardt was scoreless in the game, he did defend Greenwood for the majority of the contest, forcing him to take tough shots and go scoreless as well.“Greenwood is such an excellent offensive player. We knew it would be tough but we never imagined we would hold him scoreless,” Enfield said. “That’s just a testament to how well we played defensively.”The Trojans will look to improve their shooting percentage against LMU: they shot only 38.3 percent from the floor against New Mexico including only 23.5 percent from deep. Though the Trojans did not have a good shooting performance, their defense was able to hold New Mexico to 32.7 percent from the field and only 12.5 percent from three. They will also try to keep their turnovers down as they did on Sunday, only committing nine; turnovers were a problem for this young team earlier in the season.The Lions will enter the game with a 3-3 record, having recently lost to UC Irvine on Saturday. LMU is led by guard Evan Payne, who has scored 20 points in five of the Lions’ six games, including 23 against Irvine.LMU has 11 newcomers on its roster and will rely on its three seniors to lead an inexperienced group. Forward Godwin Okonji and guard Ayodeji Egbeyemi are playing in their fifth seasons after having to sit out last year due to injuries. The third senior on the team, guard Chase Flint, will also look to use his experience to lead a group that includes only three players who played significant minutes for the Lions last season: Flint, Payne and forward Marin Mornar.The Trojans will try to improve to 5-3 on the year as they look to get their fourth win in a row. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. at the Galen Center. USC is 2-1 at home and LMU is 0-1 on the road, only having lost to Arizona State.last_img read more