According to the data of the Department of Consular Service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, most women – citizens of the former USSR or the new independent states in the post-Soviet era, who are married to citizens of African countries, are Russian by nationality. As to the places of their settlement on the African continent, Russian women live in 52 states of Africa. About 60 percent of them are the wives of men from North Africa – the main Islamic belt of the African continent.1 This circumstance prompted the author of this article to acquaint the reader with certain specific features of the social and legal practices of the Magrib countries in relation to foreign citizens marrying citizens of North African states.

In this connection we are interested, first and foremost, in the acculturation problem through marriage in modern Islam, particularly, the problem of the adaptation of Russian women in the Islamic world, if not their participation in religious rites then their everyday life in the Moslem medium.

Touching on the socio-cultural aspect of the problem (the legal elements of the Sharia have thoroughly been analyzed by many scholars of the Orient, especially the Arab East2), I shall note that, according to Moslem concepts, woman is not an independent creature, but one living in order to belong to man. Such discrimination (from the European point of view) begins from the very birth of a girl – the fact negative in Islamic perception. Later, it is manifested in a different approach to the upbringing of boys and girls, and also during all periods of woman’s life. The main task of her existence is marriage, the birth and upbringing of children, and her main ideology is unconditional submission to the husband.

In contrast, boys are taught from the very first years to think of and feel their superiority, their future role as masters, continuers of the family, who should not only support women materially, but also act as intermediaries in their relations with the outer world.

One of the most conservative principles of the Moslem social doctrine in its attitude to women is the institution of seclusion. This principle should be strictly observed by the family and the outward attribute of it is the veil, or hidjab. This is a subject of continuing discussions between the supporters of the preservation of traditional Islamic values, on the one hand, and modernists, on the other, as well as between various scholars and public and political figures. The married woman in the Islamic family often becomes a privatized object of private life, deprived of personal contacts with the surrounding world, strictly controlled by man and fully dependent on his will.


Traditional Islamic Model of Marriage and Family Relations

An interesting tendency was observed in Côte d’Ivoire in the mid-1990s, which was manifested in the relations between indigenous black men and young Lebanese women living in the country, which some of the local mass media regarded racist. During the past several decades people from the Middle East have settled in Cote d’Ivoire and neighbouring countries, however, mixed marriages between Lebanese and Africans have been few and far between. And it was not due to racialism. It was because the Oriental traditions were too strong in the consciousness and everyday life of the fathers and brothers of potential brides, who strictly controlled and guarded them, keeping them untouched before marriage. Marriage and sex relations in Cote d’Ivoire, especially in its capital Abidjan, were many and varied. Polygamy, levirate,  premarital relations, etc. were rather widespread, and this was why there were cases of fist fights between relatives and the claimant, as well as direct imprisonment of women within the four walls of their family homes.

The private life of a woman, including sex life, in Moslem interpretation is based on such Koran premises as honour, chastity and modesty, which are a must and form the basis of the strict control of society over its members. Let us turn to an interview given by I. Abramova, which illustrates attempts to violate certain premises of the Koran undertaken by Russian wives.

“Relations in the family went from bad to worse. After all, they were educated girls from Moscow used to a different way of life. But they had to stay at home all day long and do household chores. They had no right to work. That is, they had that right, as far as I know, but they had to have their husbands’ permission, which they, naturally, did not give. Such life was not to their liking. Then quarrels, even scandals began. They tried to defend their rights, but were told that there were no rights for them, and that they had to obey the husband and mother-in-law.”

The system of traditional Moslem education and upbringing demands that woman should observe the rules of social behavior, such as lower her eyelids when meeting a man, hide not only the head and body, but also decorations under garment, move noiselessly, not leave home without permission, perform ritual ablutions, and do many more things, according to the Sura “Women” (IV) of the Koran. As to the intimate relations (no matter how varied customs and habits might be in the different social spheres of the Islamic world), according to the Koran and the official position of most societies of this cultural-religious zone, all questions pertaining to sex can only be resolved in marriage. Naturally, the Koran regulates sex relations and forbids adultery and incest. It is indicative that the culture of hidjab does not pacify men sexually. On the contrary, experts emphasize that deprived of the opportunity to see the faces and bodies of women, Moslem men feel greater tension and are more aggressive sexually than men representing cultures which do not have such strict bans concerning women.3

The Magrib expert A. Buhdiba points out that during the past centuries various social sections have evolved their own specific attitude to the traditional Islamic model of the ethics of relations between men and women. True, any society (and the Islamic world is no exception) has a great variety of sex relations. The Magrib tradition denounces this, society closes its eyes to it, but in actual fact, all these questions are surrounded by the wall of public silence. 4

Finally, it should be admitted that young people in the Islamic regions of Africa (as in other cultural-historical zones of the continent, for that matter) break through the bounds of this single and generally accepted model and more insistently orient themselves to other examples of marriage-sex relations, primarily, European ones.

On the other hand, it is precisely the ideas of chastity and honour based on the Koran that continue to shape and influence the outlook of the new generation of Moslems, form the basic element of their upbringing and education, and realize the intricate mutual connection between the socio-cultural innovations and the value-cultural traditions of definite social groups – ethnoses, classes and generations. Our compatriot (her name is Lyuba) notes:

“One Somali man says that my marriage with Said (the first husband of Lyuba. Now she is married again to a Somali) is unhappy because Christianity and Islam are different cultures and cannot be compatible…However, women’s education raises their status and freedom in Somalia, it seems to me. This is why they forgive me much…”

Let us examine the problem in its civil and legal aspect. As is known, the marriage and family codes in African countries are many and varied. On the one hand, they were formed under the influence of the local historical and cultural tradition and the system of common law connected with it, and on the other, they were (and still are) influenced by the European legal standards, thus presenting an intricate (sometimes conflicting) mixture of the common law, the religious marriage and family system, and the modern state legislation.5 The standards of behaviour and morality of people are often determined by a traditional religious-legal system, which continues to play a major role in marriage and family relations, including those with people of other religions. It is especially well-pronounced in the North African region, in the countries with the firm Islamic tradition, where the views on marriage, the family and family life are strictly regimented by the Moslem dogmas, law and ethics contained in the Koran. Besides, most Russian women marrying men from the African countries of the Islamic belt do not know Africa,6 they are completely ignorant about Moslem legal culture, in general, and about the Sharia as the universal code of behavior, both religious and secular, which is especially strict in the system of marriage and family relations and in the questions of succession. We shall dwell on the problem using the example of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and the Tunisian Republic.



Mixed Marriages and Traditional Religious-Legal System

Although the Sharia in Mauritania became the basis of its legislation comparatively recently (in the early 1980s), its standards regulate practically all spheres of the public, family and private life of the country’s citizens.7 Along with this, the common law (adat)8 plays an important role in the family relations of people in Mauritania. The wedding ceremony of Mauritanian Moslems is not as solemn as Russian women are used to. This is how it is described by one of our respondents, who lived in the city of Nouakchott:

“The ceremony is very modest. Marriage is registered either at home or in a mosque in the presence of close relatives. The written document is not necessary: suffice it to have two male witnesses, or one male and two female witnesses. Their presence at the ceremony is simply formal when the parents of the groom pay engagement money to the father of the bride, and the priest reads certain Suras of the Koran and repeats the terms of the marriage contract three times…If religious marriage is concluded between a Moslem man and a Christian woman, their marriage contract stipulates the minimal engagement money, or there can be no contract at all. Incidentally, when marriage is concluded between a Moslem man and a Moslem woman, witnesses must be Moslem, too. Jews or Christians can be witnesses in exceptional cases, when a Moslem marries a daughter of a ‘ man of Scripture’, that is, Christian or Jewish.”9

 As to mixed marriages, they occupy a special place in the Islamic legal system. The Koran and other fundamental Islamic documents concretely determine the conditions permitting marriage with members of other religions. Referring to numerous quotations from the Koran devoted to marriage, directly or indirectly, which divide mankind into the believers and the infidels and define the boundaries between the “pure” and the “impure”, separating Moslems from non-Moslems, the well-known French scholar of Islam, M. Arcoun, notes that already in the early epoch of the Koran, people knew that legitimacy of each marriage was connected with the level of religious “purity.”10 It should be noted that the appearance of bans and permissions in the legal system regulating mixed marriages was, as a rule, connected with concrete historical conditions. In some cases Islam categorically forbids marriages between members of other religions, and in other cases, on the contrary, it supports them. Islam is absolutely intolerant toward concluding marriages between Moslems and heathens (2: 220-221).

The Sharia has a different attitude to marriages between Moslems and persons of Christian and Judaic religions. When concluding marriage with women of these religions, the Moslem should observe the same conditions as in the Moslem marriage. At the same time, Moslem marriage with a Christian or Jewish woman is permissible only if the latter are “women of Scripture.” Marriage of a Moslem woman to a Christian or Jew is out of the question. In our case there are no collisions, because most mixed marriages are between African Moslem men and Russian Christian (or atheist) women. If a Moslem woman dares commit such apostate act, she may be put to prison to enable her “to think of her fallacy.” This happens because (as local experts on the Sharia standards assert) man with his unlimited power and undisputed authority in the family will be able to turn his wife to his faith. Such “religious evolution” of the infidel is approved by Moslem morality which gives her absolution. 

For this very reason Islam is absolutely intolerant to marriages between Moslem women and persons of alien faiths. Finally, marriages with atheists are banned altogether. Thus, marriage unions between Mauritanians and Soviet/Russian women concluded in the former USSR or the present Russian Federation have no legal status on the territory of Mauritania (even if they are sealed in full conformity with the Soviet/Russian law), they are not registered officially and are regarded as cohabitation. True, by their national character Mauritanians are distinguished by religious tolerance, this is why public opinion in the country, as a rule, recognizes Russian-Mauritanian mixed marriages de facto.

Quite a few works are devoted to the specific features of Moslem marriage and the family, the history and traditions of the social behaviour of men and women in the world of Islam, the way of life, morality and psychology and the rules of behavior of married woman in Moslem society.11 It should be borne in mind that polygamy in its most widespread form – polygyny – is a most typical feature of Moslem marriage. The Koran allows Moslems to be married to four women (the Koran 4:3). This premise is considered to be the sacred foundation of polygamous Moslem marriage. Although in a modern Mauritanian family (and in a North African family, for that matter) this privilege is not used by all men ( because of the influence of the democratically-minded forces who denounce polygyny among officials , and also due to purely economic reasons, because far from all men can provide the necessary means to several women simultaneously.) At the same time the social doctrine of Islam, which institutionalized the inequality of sexes in Moslem family, laid the foundation for the dependent position of woman with regard to her husband in case of divorce. It is here that male “autocracy” is revealed in its true form.


Divorce “Moslem Style” (Mauritania)

Perhaps, the principal feature of the Sharia divorce is that its initiative comes practically always from the husband. Divorce is considered a unilateral action which is usually started by man. The latter enjoys unrestricted rights in divorce. For instance, he can divorce any of his wives as he pleases at any time without giving any reason. (There have been such cases in the compounds of our compatriots who were married to North African Moslems and lived in African countries permanently.12 The consequences of Moslem divorce for woman are exceptionally hard, both morally and economically. To say nothing of the difficulties she will encounter if she wants to build a new family, especially if she is a foreigner.

The divorce procedure also grants privileges to man. According to a Russian woman who was a party to a divorce, the husband has only to say three times “You’re my wife no more”, and divorce comes into effect. In other words, an oral statement is enough to break up marriage.

There are many nuances in the divorce procedure in the Moslem world, but all of them have a pronounced anti-feminist character. We should also note that Moslem legislation recognizes certain reasons which allow woman to come out with the initiative of divorce. Among them are apostasy, prolonged absence, or certain physical defects concealed before marriage.

In this connection we’d like to turn attention to several interesting aspects which are part of Mauritanian Moslem law and are directly connected with the discussed case of Afro-Russian marriage.

Our compatriots who have registered their marriage with Mauritanians in their native country sometimes use the premise of the Sharia forbidding Moslem to conclude marriage with an atheist in their own interests. In the situation when they themselves wish to divorce the citizen of Mauritania, they declare in court that they concealed their atheistic convictions when concluding marriage, after which the judge immediately pronounces marriage null and void. (But even in this case the children born of this marriage remain with their father and are regarded citizens of Mauritania.) Nevertheless, the Mauritanian still retains a loophole: he may apply to the secular court (Mauritania has double legislation) which may pass a ruling on the basis of the standards of the French secular law.

Property matters in divorce cases of a foreign woman and a Mauritanian citizen are settled on the basis of the Sharia. There are specific features of the status of a Russian woman who concluded marriage with a Mauritanian in her native country, which is legally invalid in Mauritania. She has certain privileges in divorce as compared with a Moslem woman. The point is that in breaking up Moslem (religious) marriage the divorced woman has no right to claim any part of the common property, except her personal savings, incomes and presents from the husband. In case of marriage of a Russian woman to a Mauritanian concluded in Russia, the Moslem court, not recognizing this marriage legal and regarding it as a form of cohabitation by mutual consent (partnership), recognizes the woman’s right to common property. The examination of such a case in the Mauritanian court is considered as the examination of a civil property suit and is not regarded as divorce. If the woman succeeds in proving the fact that she had incomes of her own and gave them over to her companion, or that some property was acquired by her money, the court may rule to give her a part of that property or pay certain compensation. After divorce foreign women may continue to stay in Mauritania for quite a long time using their national passport, which should be registered with the police every year. Foreign women can obtain Mauritanian citizenship after five years of staying in the republic.


The Code of Personal Status and Women’s Rights in Tunisia

The spheres of law regulating marriage and family relations in Tunisia bear a noticeable imprint of traditional Moslem ideas and premises of the Koran, although the problems of the legal position of women, equality of their rights (just as the women’s problem as a whole), in contrast to other Arab countries in North Africa, have developed more favourably there. These specific features should be taken into account when examining the question of the legal position of Russian women married to Tunisians.

The Code of personal status adopted in 195613 laid down the basic principles of the emancipation of Tunisian women at a state level. The personal inviolability and human dignity of women it proclaimed were later bolstered by a whole range of measures, among which were a ban on polygamy (any violation of the ban was punishable by law); the establishment of legal divorce given by husband to wife, and the official right to divorce given to both; permission to the mother to have the right to custody over minor children in an event of the father’s death, etc. The Code of personal status existing for half a century has constantly been revised and amended in accordance with the country’s legislation.

Tunisian legislation, regulating the legal status of women, envisages six civil states of a woman in her life: woman as bride, as wife, as mother, as divorcee, as guardian, and as worker. We shall deal with those of their states which can be applied to a foreigner married to a Tunisian.

Leaving aside the general Tunisian standards of marriage procedure (they are much like those in Mauritania), we shall note that by Moslem law the suitor must make a “marriage settlement (Mehar)” on the bride. This condition is contained in the Code of personal status (Article 12, revised version), although the size of the “settlement” is not agreed upon (it can even be symbolic), but it is always considered the private property of the wife only to be paid to her in case of a divorce (the “private property of the wife”, according to Tunisian law, includes presents and incomes from hired work or business, which remain in her possession in case of divorce.)14

As to the rights and duties of foreign woman, they are determined by Article 23 of the Code of personal status, and practically all its premises have been taken from the Koran. Despite the fact that the new version of that article formally grants the wife equal rights with the husband15 (the previous version of that article (para 3) made it incumbent on the wife to obey her husband in everything), in the event of legal collisions, for instance, a Moslem marrying a non-Moslem woman, or a suit being examined in court, the Sharia plays a considerable role as before.

Brought up and educated in the spirit of the socialist equality of rights of men and women, Russian wives of North African Moslems cannot get used to the legally endorsed supremacy of the husband and submission to him as the head of the family, which inevitably results in family collisions often leading to divorce.16 However, as the practice of Russian consular offices in those countries shows, there is a possibility to adjust and balance such situations. For example, Article 11 of the Code of personal status envisages that marrying persons may conclude, along with marriage settlement, contracts of other types, conditioning certain specific features of the given marriage. Unfortunately, this article is used rather seldom and not always correctly. Although there is a quite reasonable condition (which is essential from the point of view of the legal position of the foreign wife) determining temporary employment, place of residence, joint property, etc. For instance, the Tunisian husband, as the head of the family, has the right to prevent his wife from working. On the basis of the above-mentioned article it could have been possible to fix her “right to work” in marriage settlement or supplements to it. Besides, a step forward has been made by the Tunisian legislation in the sphere of economic and social rights. The Code of duties and contracts broadens the Sharia framework regulating the rights of women and grants them the right to sign contracts and agreements in the sphere of property relations, buy, sell and dispose of their property.

The same can be said about the place of residence which is also chosen by the husband. Then again, a foreign wife, who does not want to follow her husband to Tunisia can state her wish beforehand, or choose the concrete place to live in Tunisia. Thus, there is a possibility to fix legally certain liabilities of the husband with regard to his wife.17

We should also note that on the whole the local legislation, while regulating the legal rights of a divorced woman (incidentally, no distinctions are drawn between a Tunisian woman and a woman-citizen of another country), regards the latter in two positions – the divorcee and the divorcee with the right of guardianship. We’d like to turn attention to several circumstances connected with the fate of the children after divorce in a mixed family.

Prior to 1966 there was the rule according to which priority right with regard to children was given to the mother, irrespective of whether she was Tunisian or foreign. At present local legal practice is based on a rather vague term “the interests of the child.” Thus, in case of divorce, guardianship is given to one of the parents or a third person, with due regard for the interests of the child. But if the mother takes guardianship, she bears full responsibility for the upbringing and education of the child, his or her health, rest and recreation, travel, and financial expenses (this is stated in the new Article 67 of the Code of personal status which now gives the mother some of the rights or the full right of guardianship, depending on the real state of affairs.)18 This is why in a mixed marriage, where the legal and economic status of woman, as a rule, is rather unstable, the question of children staying with one of the parents after divorce is settled in favour of the Tunisian father. The main argument of the latter is the assertion that the mother will take the children back home, depriving him of guardianship, that is, of the parental rights to participate in the upbringing of the children. At the same time, in a number of cases of divorce, there may be a positive decision in favour of mothers-foreigners (Soviet/Russian citizens), who had the Tunisian national passport. Considerable role was played by the personal qualities of the woman, her ability to keep her temper in bounds and act properly, to converse in a foreign language, as well as her profession or trade, her living quarters, etc.

In general, it should be noted that when we talk of easy divorce according to the Sharia law, it does not mean that this can widely be applied to all Moslem countries. There are many reasons for this connected with the specific features of the historical and cultural traditions, and also those of an economic character. Although the Sharia formally places all Moslem men in a similar legal position, divorce is a rare phenomenon among the poor sections of the population, inasmuch as it is rather expensive to turn a legal possibility into reality.

As to the minor children left after the husband’s death, the modern Tunisian legislation envisages that their mother is their guardian with all ensuing rights (Article 154 of the Code of personal status), irrespective of whether she is Tunisian or foreign. This article went into force in 1981. Before that guardianship was given over to the nearest heir-man. According to the modern Tunisian legislation, in 1993 the divorced mother received the right of guardianship of her child. Previously, according to Moslem tradition, this right was granted exclusively to men (Article 5 of the Code of personal status).

Examining the new laws and amendments called upon to strengthen the legal status of woman (including foreign woman) in the system of marriage and family relations, it should be noted that despite the efforts of the government, their implementation is accompanied by great difficulties. In general, the practical solution of all these questions, although they have many specific features and nuances, largely depends, as before, on the position taken by the husband himself, or his relatives.

Finally, it would be expedient to mention changes in the attitude of Moslems themselves toward mixed marriages. In the view of M. Arcoun, mixed marriage leads not only to psychological and cultural perturbations. Based on the family cell alone represented by husband and wife and their children, it destroys the patriarchal family as such, which needs broader framework of social solidarity, which is quite effective and cannot be replaced by any modern institutions of social security (in the West such bodies are often publicly recognized as unfit, useless and even harmful, for instance, in social welfare in old age; old people often find themselves outcast and become marginalized.)

Thus, the modern problems of mixed marriages are based not so much on religious and racial grounds, as on weightier moral, psychological and cultural foundations.



First published in Asia and Africa Today, 2007, No 1, pp. 47-54.



Not claiming the universal character of the maxim “forewarned is forearmed”, we, nevertheless, think that it would be quite useful for the new generations of Russian women who choose husbands from among people in the Islamic world, to acquaint themselves with this information.






1. We emphasize that this concerns only the Islamic belt of the continent. In reality, the total number of Moslems in Africa comprised over 40 percent of the entire population of Africa by the early 1990s. Forty-six percent of them lived in North and Northeast Africa, about 18 percent in East Africa, 32 percent in West Africa, and about three percent in South and Central Africa. The largest Moslem communities are in Egypt (over 90 percent of the entire population of the country), Nigeria (46 percent), Algeria (99.6 percent), Morocco (99 percent), Tunisia (98.7 percent), Sudan (about 73 percent), Ethiopia (no less than 50 percent), Guinea (over 80 percent), Senegal (80 percent), Tanzania (over 25 percent of the entire population), Somalia (almost 100 percent), Libya (about 90 percent). For more details see: Африка. Энциклопедический словарь. Т.1. М., 1986, с. 590-591 (Africa:Encyclopaedic Reference Book.Vol 1, M., 1986, pp. 590-591).

2. See, for example:Гилязутдинова Р.Х. Юридическая природа мусульманского права // Шариат: теория и практика. Материалы Межрегиональной научно-практической конференции. Уфа, 2000; она же: Дискриминация женщин по мусульманскому праву // Актуальные проблемы теории права и государства и экологического права. М., 2000; Сюкияйнен Л.Р. Шариат и мусульманская правовая культура. М., 1997; он же: Найдется ли шариату место в российской правовой системе // Ислам на постсоветском пространстве: взгляд изнутри. М., 2001 (Gilyazutdinova, R.Kh. “Legal Nature of Moslem Law//The Sharia: Theory and Practice. Abstracts of the Interregional Scientific Conference.” Ufa, 2000; The same author: “Discrimination of Women by Moslem Law” // Practical Problems of the Theory of Law and the State and Ecological Law M., 2000; Syukiyainen, L.R. “The Sharia and Moslem Legal Culture.” M., 1997; The same author: “Will the Sharia Find Its Place in the Russian Legal System?” // Islam in the Post-Soviet Era: View from Inside. M., 2001). Accepting the system of definitions of the latter presented by the above-mentioned authors, including the cultural-legal incorrectness of identifying Moslem law with the Sharia, which is, above all, the religious conceptual basis of Moslem law, we shall use the terms currently practiced by consular offices and organizations in charge of our fellow-compatriots permanently living in African countries.

3. Мехти Ниязи. Мусульманская женщина: сложные последствия наложенных ограничений // Gross Vita. Вып. 1 (Mehti Niyazi. “Moslem Woman: Difficult Consequences of Restrictions” // Gross Vita. No 1) – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

4. Восток (Vostok). 1992, No 1, p. 61.

5. Синицына И.Е. Обычай и обычное право в современной Африке. М., 1978; она же. Человек и семья в Африке (По материалам обычного права). М., 1989; Энтин Л.М. Роль государства в общественном развитии стран Африки. - В: "Общество и государство в Тропической Африке". М., 1980; Иорданский В.Б. Хаос и гармония. М., 1982; Право в развивающихся странах: традиции и заимствования. М., 1985; Сюкияйнен Л.Р.  Мусульманское право. Вопросы теории и практики. М., 1986. (Sinitsyna, I.E. “Habit and Common Law in Modern Africa.” M., 1978; The same author: “Man and the Family in Africa (On Materials of Common Law).” M., 1989; Entin, L.M. “The Role of the State in the Social Development of African Countries” // “Society and the State in Tropical Africa”. M., 1980; Iordansky, V.B. “Chaos and Harmony.” M., 1982; Law in Developing Countries: Traditions and Borrowings. M., 1985; Syukiyainen, L.R. “Moslem Law. Questions of Theory and Practice.” M., 1986). Also: “Le Droit de la famille en Afrique Noire et a Madagascar.” P., 1968.

6. “Marriage as a Way Out” to Other Cultural-Religious Areas Is Not Typical, as a Rule, of Moslem Women.

7. For a number of years there have been attempts in Mauritania to evolve a civil code of marriage and the family, always obstructed by the Moslem clergy. Thus a decision was adopted by the Politburo of the ruling party of the Mauritanian people in the latter half of the 1970s on introducing the Sharia as a code of legislative and ethical principles in the country’s state and public life.

8. There have always been various traditions and customs in the Islamic world. In this connection the question of the correlation of the Sharia and the adat (the term meaning customs, habits and traditions which regulate, along with the Sharia the way of life of the Moslems of one or another region.) has become quite important. However, the Sharia principles and standards are considered mandatory and should be strictly adhered to, and they are above all rules of behavior, including the adat. This plays a major role in the regulation of marriage and family relations with persons of other religions. Moslem legislation allows people to be guided by the adat, provided it does not run counter to the Sharia, however, in the real life of many Moslem nations customs and habits continue to exist, which do not fully coincide with Islamic precepts, and sometimes, even contradict them. Islamic scholars point out that the term adat is used to denote the common law of Islamic people. The system of the rules of behavior, which is a combination of local customs and certain standards of the Sharia, can be termed the adat law, whose certain premises are recognized by courts, and sometimes form the foundation of the marriage and family legislation. (For more details see:Сюкияйнен Л.Р. Мусульманское право. Вопросы теории и практики. М., 1986).Syukiyainen, L.R. “Moslem Law. Questions of Theory and Practice.” M., 1986.) The adat as a system of social standards based on local customs of non-Islamic origin is quite widespread in a number of African regions to this day. Most of these customs and habits took shape back at the time of the existence of tribal family relations and paganism. Even the introduction and establishment of Islam have not led to their complete replacement with the Sharia.

9. From the personal archives of the author. Letter from Mrs. A.M. in Nouakchott, September 20, 1997.

10 Аркун М. Смешанные брачные союзы в мусульманской среде // Восток. (Arcoun, M. “Mixed Marriages in the Moslem Medium” // Vostok). 2001, No 6, pp. 131-132.

11 See, for example:  Сиверцева Т.Ф. Семья в развивающихся странах Востока (социально-демографический анализ). М., 1985; она же: Модернизация и ее влияние на семью на Востоке // Взаимодействие и взаимовлияние цивилизаций и культур на Востоке. М., 1988; она же: Страны Востока: модель рождаемости. М., 1997; Бухдиба А. Магрибинское общество и проблемы секса // Восток, 1992, № 1; Пономаренко Л.В. Ислам в общественно-политической и культурной жизни Франции и государств Северной и Западной Африки // Вопросы истории, 1998, № 9; Аркун М. Смешанные брачные союзы…; (Sivertseva, T.F. “The Family in the Developing Countries of the East (socio-demographic analysis).” M., 1985; by the same author: “Modernization and Its Influence on the Family in the East” // Interaction and Mutual Influence of Civilizations and Cultures in the East. M., 1998; by the same author: “Countries of the East: Model of Birth Rate.” M., 1997; Buhdiba, A. “Magrib Society and Problems of Sex” // Vostok, 1992, No 1; Ponomarenko, L.V. “Islam in the Public, Political and Cultural Life of France and the States of North and West Africa” // Problems of History, 1998, No 9; Arcoun, M. “Mixed Marriages…”); Mernissi, F.“Sexe, Idéologie, Islam.” P., 1982; “Women and Gender in Islam. Historical Roots of a Modern Debate.” Yale Iniv. Press, 1992; Tersigni, S.“Foulard et Frontière: le cas des étudiantes musulmanes à l’Université Paris” // Cahiers de l/URMIS unité de recherché migrations et société. P., 1998, No 4, etc.

12. Information from the Soviet Embassy in Sudan of April 6, 1987, to the head of the Consular Department of the USSR Foreign Ministry; documents from the Soviet Embassy in Tanzania of February 14, 1978 to the head of the Consular Department of the USSR Foreign Ministry, to the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine, to the Personnel Department of the USSR Ministry of Defence, etc.

13. Personal status is a section of Moslem law regulating the major sphere of the legal position of Moslems. It includes marriage, family and hereditary property relations, mutual obligations of relatives, guardianship, and some other problems. Moslems pay much attention to them because most premises on personal status are contained in the Koran and Sunna.

14. The former President of Tunisia Habib Bourgiba tried to include in legislation in 1980 the premise declaring that all property (personal and real) acquired by one of the spouses becomes the common property of the family. However, his attempt ran against the strong opposition of traditionalists. A year later a so-called life-long alimony was introduced to compensate women for moral and material loss in divorce, the size of which was determined on the basis of the “average living standard of the family.” The alimony could be replaced by a lump sum if the divorced woman so wished.

15. The revised Article 23 of the Code of personal status says that both husband and wife should treat each other with love, kindness and respect, avoiding negative impacts on each other. They should perform their marital duties in conformity with traditions and customs. They should run their household and bring up the children properly. The husband as the head of the family should support his wife and children in every way, and the wife should also contribute to the welfare of the family if she has means to do this (Najet Zonaoui Brahmi. Des amendements et des dispositions nouvelles. Une volonte egalitaire, 1997, No 12, pp. 35-36.)

16.Consular data show that most divorces take place in the families in which the wives are Russian (Ukranian and Belorussian); there can practically be no divorces in the families where the wives are of Central Asian or Transcaucasian origin, who are fewer and far between among those living in Tunisia permanently today.

17. Document of the USSR Embassy in Tunisia “On Organizing Registration Office in Tunisia” of March 13, 1990; Document of the USSR Embassy in Tunisia on “Certain Aspects of Legal Position of Foreign Citizens Married to Tunisians” of May 21, 1991.

18. In 1995 the government of Tunisia published the law No 65/93 and set up special Guarantee Fund for paying alimony and bonuses to divorced wives and their children. This Fund is under the National Insurance Fund (CNSS) and draws its means from the state budget, alimonies and pensions on divorce, interest, and fines, incomes from capital invested by the Fund, as well as donations from private individuals.


Published in Research

The election campaign in Israel is attracting increasingly more attention with the approach of the election date. The elections of 17 March 2015 are early elections. The government composed of different political parties with Likud and right-wing domination has had a difficult time during the 20 months at power. The war in Gaza, the differences about budget, an attempt to pass a law about the Jewish nature of the state, and finally the recent accusations of corruption against Netanyahu and his wife, will all together influence the upcoming choice of the electorate. However, there are also rather stable factors that benefit the right. Nevertheless, the centrist-left block has started gaining points, having virtually reached Likud. Currently the right-wing Likud block led by Benjamin Netanyahu and its opponent Zionist Camp block with Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni at the head receive approximately the same amount of votes according to the preliminary estimations. For example, the survey by Haaretz newspaper made in the beginning of February 2015 shows that Likud can receive 25 seats in Knesset, just two more than the Zionist Camp. Such slight divide between the main contenders indicates that the final voting results may favor any party. The main question is who will have more chances to create a coalition in case of victory.

Much will depend on the ability of centrists and left to increase their support by attracting a part of right electorate – the name of their block (“Zionist Camp”) is definitely aimed at a more ideologized Israeli audience. Netanyahu has deliberately made his political opponents act fast by announcing the snap elections in order to seize the initiative. Both right and left forces have issues here. The case is that the programs of both blocks are rather parallel than competitive. The left focus on social aspects, what is for sure important for the electorate, though their hopes concerning security are traditionally connected with Likud. The Israeli Jews clearly distinguish between personal and state security. While the state security has increased due to the chaos and destabilization in the Arab world, the issue of personal security becomes sharper as the threat of terrorism increases. Cognitive dissonance is natural for the Jewish population of Israel and it directly influences on the political choice of the electorate. On the one hand Israel is the most powerful and efficient in the military domain state in the Middle East. On the other – lives of Jews are still threatened not only in the Middle East but also even in the calm and secure Europe. So the surprising unanimity among the electorate on the success of the previous government and their readiness to see Netanyahu as a Prime Minister again. In the end of January 65% of the respondents expressed their discontent with Netanyahu’s policy as a Prime Minister. The same people stated that he is likely to become the PM once again. However, only 30% really wish him to get into office again. It is of course not much, but Isaac Herzog has even less chances to obtain this post – only 11% consider him a suitable candidate.

Thus, both centrists and left besides the social-economic agenda have to focus much on the settlement of the Palestinian problem, some new ideas of increase of cooperation with several Arab countries, mainly with Egypt and Jordan, in the security domain.

Coalition of centrists and leftish forces, according to its partisans, could come out for the relaunch of the negotiations with the Palestinians, freezing of settlements, dialogue with Arab states on the basis of the Arab initiative, for search of decisions for Gaza together with Egypt and Jordan. When it comes to the security, both the right and the left speak about the same – Islamic terrorism, Iran, etc., but they have different means. For example the left believe that the Iranian problem should be resolved together with the US, and that the Palestinian problem should be solved in order to fight ISIS together with Arabs. The occupation is sacred for the right. And they will do anything to preserve the settlements, hence, the military presence.

How can the present Israeli society be characterized? First of all it remains fragmentized. According to Israeli researchers, there is an escalating conflict of two peoples within the Jewish population of Israel. The number of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) is constantly growing. Coming from poor uneducated layers from small towns, they are very conservative. They prefer that all the life in Israel is regulated by religious norms. The post-modern society is composed of the representatives of educated class, inhabitants of large cities. These two parts of Jewish people have different priorities, views and perceptions. The Orthodox Jews do not care about the peace process and do not need it, and they stay in the reserve for right and religious parties, and what is more they benefit from their demographics.

Finally, the right can also be backed by the important part of ex-Soviet immigrants. They are pro powerful state, decisiveness and toughness in politics, and they associate it with the right. Moreover, they have preserved a genetic repulsion to socialism.

The voting activity also plays a certain role. Generally a high turnout is typical of Israel, but it is not evenly distributed. Among Haredim and religious Jews it is 95%, 85% among the settlers and is not more than 70% among the city dwellers. So, the rights have better chances.

And yet, taking into consideration that both blocks claim virtually the same amount of votes, there is a question whether a viable government can be created. In case of victory both Likud and Zionist Union will get opportunity to create a narrow coalition government, i.e. either a right narrow government or a centrist-left one. Such governments are unstable and it will be difficult for them to pass important decisions through Knesset. Moreover, creating a narrow coalition Netanyahu will also face his political opponents, primarily with Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu and Moshe Kahlon, who left Likud and created his own Kulanu party in November 2014. It can be very challenging to negotiate with them during the creation of a narrow coalition.

For Herzog and Livni a narrow coalition means even less stability and more vulnerability of the government than the right one. It is unclear whether they will be able to create such a coalition or after fruitless attempts they will have to pass this right to Likud according with the Israeli legislation.

Quite possibly, a government of wide coalition could be a decision for both blocks. As some Israeli observers believe, Netanyahu was not always a successful Prime Minister, but he can be a trustful partner. Finally, a government of wide coalition based on both blocks may allow to cut off the most uncompromising ultra-right, what would generally correspond to the Israeli national interests.

Text in Russian is available here (published by MGIMO-University)

Published in Tribune
Sunday, 11 January 2015 03:24

Listening to the Music of the Revolution?

Initially published on Republished following authors' permission. (Authors are IMESClub's members).

Resume: If the international community fails to establish acceptable and understandable rules of international behavior in the context of “revolutionary challenges,” the world may slip into a new round of global confrontation, which will be caused not by systemic contradictions but by vain disregard for real common threats. 

The late 1990s and the early 2000s were marked by profound changes in geopolitics, world economy and finance. The Cold War paradigm of international relations seemed to have gone for good. At the same time no new rules of states’ behavior have emerged that would consort with the new world order.

The Cold War years showed that, for all the ideological, military and political costs, the bipolar system was relatively stable. It helped to maintain the balance as it imposed quite rigid restrictions on weaker countries in regions (allies or partners of great powers). There was a red line, recognized by all, which could not be crossed, that is, provoking of a global clash. Regional forces sought to gain the support of their patron, sometimes not paying due attention to its own concerns, but ultimately the fear of unacceptable risks caused great powers to act together, putting pressure on regional allies and enforcing restraint in international relations.

The collapse of the bipolar system and the impossibility to comply with the prior rules of the game in a polycentric world made international relations more chaotic. Regional state and non-state actors began to behave more actively, often guided by the behavior of the United States which was no longer restrained by the other center of power. Washington often demonstrated irresponsible policies, not even trying to assess possible consequences of its actions. It seemed there had come a period of international autism when global players, lost in their own worlds and ignoring the interests of others, started reshaping the Yalta system.

Such notions as sovereignty and territorial integrity, on the one hand, and national self-determination, on the other, which have long been conflicting with each other, are being eroded de facto and turning into legal fictions. But these notions should not be viewed as mutually exclusive, either. The right to self-determination can be realized in various forms, for example within a federal state or as autonomy granted to an ethnic group, which does not violate the territorial integrity of a given state. In practice, however, the growth of ethnic nationalism and the activity of new elites seeking access to power and property have equated the concept of self-determination to secession.

Under the new circumstances, powerful states increasingly often resort to the principles of territorial integrity and national self-determination to justify their “sovereign” decisions, proceeding from considerations of political expediency, the way they see it. In other words, they act depending on a specific situation or impulsively react to what they see as unlawful actions of another actor.

The world is witnessing a clash of two different tendencies: the chaotization of world politics, with selective use of military force, and the objective need for humankind to preserve the hard-built integration ties which suggest a certain degree of financial, economic and, in some matters, political interdependence.



The crisis over Ukraine has become the most dangerous episode in a series of conflicts that have taken place in the world over the last quarter century, although the Arab Spring has already sent enough signals to major actors to shun ideology in reevaluating objective trends and analyze their miscalculations and mistakes. Whereas no one took local conflicts of the recent decades in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and even Syria as serious threats to international security (the United States’ bellicose rhetoric in the UN Security Council in response to Russian vetoes was aimed at enhancing Washington’s image at home and abroad), the confrontation on Ukrainian soil has prompted the question of whether the world is sliding into the abyss of a Cold War again. This time it is a worst-case-scenario Cold War when the conflicting parties are losing the degree of mutual trust and ability to heed each other, which in the years of systemic confrontation allowed U.S. and Soviet leaders to undo the most intricate knots of tension.

Why have tensions in Russia-West relations come to a head? The sliding from “strategic partnership” to a new round of confrontation led to the accumulation of the explosive mass of irritating factors as well as mutual misunderstanding and misinterpretation of each other’s motives. The events that led to the conflict over Ukraine had been developing slowly but consistently and spilling over more and more eastward towards Russia’s border and its centuries-old cultural and national habitat.

Whereas tensions over NATO’s enlargement into Eastern Europe in the late 1990s, which caused a strong reaction from Russia, subsided over time, the situation began to change rapidly as Western ambitions went as far as the borders of the former Soviet Union. While Russia’s ties with Central and Eastern European countries in the last decade were marked by positive dynamics, the European Union tried hard to draw former Soviet republics into its orbit under the political cover of the so-called Eastern Partnership. Considering the experience of the three previous waves of enlargement, Russia could not consider these developments other than preparations for a subsequent admission of these countries to the Euro-Atlantic alliance (there is an unwritten rule that NATO membership cannot be given to a country that has not gone through the difficult procedure of entry into the European Union).

Ukraine was placed on this waiting list, just like Georgia and Moldova before. The West resumed its policy of containing Russia long before the current Ukrainian crisis, disguising it with talk of partnership and inadmissibility of returning to the struggle for spheres of influence. Among its instruments, it used the strategy of regime change, earlier tested in the Balkans, Georgia and some other transition countries. In Ukraine, however, the West failed to observe democratic decencies. When the regime in Ukraine was replaced by force, with blatant interference of the West, Russia, which until then had held defensive positions, decided it could no longer leave this challenge unanswered. In Russia’s public opinion and official strategy, Ukraine means not only national security and cooperative ties, vital to the economies of both countries, but also centuries of spiritual kinship, and cultural and language commonality.

Considerations of defense played an important role in the Russian reaction. Recent years were marked by a large-scale anti-Russian campaign in the West under various pretenses. The West toughened its criticism of the social and political systems in Russia, which in turn increased conservative sentiment in Russia as a reaction to abortive rapprochement with the West.

There must be some key link in the entire causal chain of actions and counter-actions between Russia and the West. One of these links is the fundamental differences in their perception of modern revolutions and new local or regional threats caused by them.

After the end of the era of bipolar confrontation, Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East were swept over by three waves of revolutions, with different balances of pros and cons, and gains and losses. At the turn of the 1980s-1990s, Russia was also involved in the renewal process, full of internal contradictions, achievements and setbacks. The new challenges, such as international terrorism, upsurges of ethnic nationalism, drug trafficking, cross-border crime and immigration activity, coupled with the global financial crisis, revealed vulnerabilities in the functioning of political systems and market economy mechanisms even in developed countries.

While the communist ideology has failed around the world and the evolutionary model of post-Soviet Russia has not yet produced an attractive alternative, serious defects and dysfunctions have been revealed in liberal democracies, as well. Many Western experts point to a decline in the quality of democracy in the United States and Great Britain, to increasing institutional failures, and the growing number of “defective democracies.” The institution of elections, the main element of democratic government, is losing its former value in the eyes of voters, especially young people (only two out of five Britons aged under 30 voted in the 2010 parliamentary elections in the UK).

It took a quarter of a century to see that “the end of history” predicted by Francis Fukuyama was not going to happen. Later, analyzing “dramatic changes” in the post-industrial era in his book The Great Disruption, he showed convincingly that “history,” meaning the victory of liberalism as a perfect model of state system, is far from over. The period since the end of the 20th century has been marked by a craving for freedom of choice in everything and decreasing trust in social/political institutions. The democracy established in the West has revealed its internal contradictions, making the messianic ambitions of the larger part of the American establishment a naive exaggeration, to say the least.

The United States, whose foreign policy is constrained by ideological clichés, has more than once had to pay for its “interventionism” or idealization of revolutionary change of political regimes with chaotic moves in the Middle East. Washington made obvious blunders in assessing such a social/political phenomenon as the Arab Spring. The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia were automatically taken as a universal phenomenon in the victorious march of democracy. They were even compared to the “velvet revolutions” in Eastern and Central European countries. However, soon it became clear to everyone that Arab revolutions cannot be “velvet.”

Whereas European countries had the experience of bourgeois/democratic development and built their identities on the rejection of communism and viewing the European Union as the center of attraction, there were no such reference points in the Middle East – or for that matter, in the majority of post-Soviet states, and Ukraine is no exception.

The national development of the territories where the present Ukrainian state was established by a historical confluence of circumstances has always been influenced by two tendencies – search for independence and desire for political and cultural community with Russia, with the latter trend obviously prevailing. Ukraine, which was artificially cobbled together from two different parts after the Soviet Union’s military advance in the West in the late 1930s, has remained culturally and politically fragmented to this day. Different historical narratives and national heroes, different mentality, different patterns of employment, and alienation from Russia characteristic of people in Western Ukraine – all these factors surfaced after Ukraine became independent. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian political elite has proven unable to achieve national unity: it has exploited the Ukrainian division and traded service to the nation for money and self-interest. The European Union’s self-confident policy of pressure had forced Ukraine into a dilemma, which it was unable to resolve by definition.



Speaking of nation-building, which has much in common in all countries regardless of regional specificities, one should mention the disastrous experience of the first attempts of bourgeois reforms in the Middle East in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The political systems of Egypt, Syria and Iraq, patterned after the Western model, failed to take root on Arab-Muslim soil and were swept away in the military coups of the 1950s-60s. The dramatic changes of the 21st century have also destroyed the myth that the world is developing along the main track from “authoritarianism” to “democracy,” which the majority of the U.S. political elite views as a purely American product, a kind of “Protestant fundamentalism.”

Young people in Arab countries, like the Ukrainian youth, shocked the world with mass calls for a renovation of social foundations, for respect for human dignity and civil liberties, and for social justice. Soon, however, the revolutionary transformation of the Middle East ceased to fit into the democratic context. As the developments went more and more out of control, the Middle East policies of the United States and the European Union were increasingly often faced with serious difficulties, in many cases becoming hostage to traditional thinking.

The powerful popular unrest in Arab countries was caused by a mix of social and economic reasons. External factors did play a role, but initially an indirect one. At the same time, as the domino effect spread, the West a priori supported opposition forces, the way it used to do in other regional conflicts, ignoring their diversity and contradictions in their political attitudes. Since then, external interference in favor of one of the conflicting parties only increased, while the hope to gain political capital by showing solidarity with the Arab “democratic revolutions” was more and more at odds with the real transformation processes in the region.

The fate of Iraq, which has found itself on the verge of losing its statehood and involved in a religious war, has now caused the West to rethink the harmful effects of the American invasion in 2003. As Richard Haass, a leading Middle East expert, wrote, the U.S. policy in Iraq “reinforced sectarian rather than national identities.” In the same way as the Suez Crisis of 1956 caused a surge of pan-Arab nationalism, the Western coalition’s war against a Muslim country triggered an unprecedented escalation of violence by radical Islamists and created fertile ground for the rise of al-Qaeda. The delicate balance between the ruling Sunni minority and the Shiite majority, maintained by Saddam Hussein’s iron hand, was upset in no time in favor of the Shiites. The attempt to impose Western-style parliamentarianism on Iraq resulted in the emergence of a Shiite regime. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki conducted a narrow confessional policy which prevented inclusive participation of other religious and ethnic groups in the government. Kurds began to actively build their own autonomy, while Sunnis and Christians found themselves left without any political representation. The dissolution of the army and the Ba’ath Party, which had been the core of Iraq’s political system, gave rise to a powerful internal protest.

Just as much harm was done by the United States’ active but erratic participation in the complicated transitional processes in Egypt. After a momentary hesitation Washington used all its political and information resources to support the Egyptian revolution, forcing Hosni Mubarak to resign. Later, when Islamists had succeeded in riding on the revolutionary wave, the U.S. assigned the key role to the moderate wing of the Muslim Brotherhood which used the new situation to quickly become an influential political party and win parliamentary and presidential elections. Just like during the rise of Islamism in Algeria in the 1990s that evolved into a decade-long civil war, the Americans exerted constant pressure on the Egyptian army, which led the transition process, forcing it to hand over power to a civilian government, essentially to Islamists. Therefore, the “second coming” of the army to power in July 2013 and the removal of democratically elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in what cannot be described other than a military coup put the White House in a difficult situation again.

The army’s actions, even if they were a response to the demands of millions of people who took to the streets again, did not fit into the antithesis of coup vs democracy; nor did they look like a movement to defend democracy against “Islamic dictatorship” simply because democracy had never existed in Egypt.

In the Muslim world, which had divided over the attitude towards political Islam, the changes in the U.S. policy alienated both adherents of the new military regime and its opponents who supported the Muslim Brotherhood.

Washington also made mistakes in handling the Syrian conflict. Its unconditional support for the motley opposition movement in Syria, in which jihadi organizations linked to al-Qaeda were gaining strength, and the declaration of the Assad regime as a priori illegitimate made American diplomacy weaker rather than stronger and deprived it of the freedom of maneuver. This made Washington hostage to exorbitantly ambitious demands of Syrian émigré politicians and their regional sponsors, and complicated preparations for the Geneva Conference. Ultimately, the U.S. policy obviously began to play into the hands of terrorism, on which the United States had declared war. This became particularly manifest in the summer of 2014, when military successes achieved in Iraq by the terrorist organization Islamic State of Syria and the Levant put the Obama administration in a still more delicate situation.

In the short-term historical perspective, the balance of pros and cons in the regime change in the Middle East has not been in favor of revolutions. The main reason for the overthrow of governments was their inability to meet the basic social, economic and political needs of society and fulfill their promises, although the Arab region in the past decade was developing along the path of modernization and integration into the world economic system. Yet this evolution was much slower than the development of other regions, such as Southeast Asia and Latin America. Secondly, it failed to solve key growth problems. Economic reforms in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria created a middle class but did not narrow the chasm of wealth inequality. Only a small group of people close to power benefited from the results of the reforms. Representative political institutions underwent only token changes. The democratic facade hid authoritarian rule which grew increasingly nepotic. The laws of revolutionary chaos came into play when the authorities proved to be totally unable to regenerate the political system to broaden citizens’ participation in decision-making that affects their vital interests.



The transformation of the Arab Orient is proceeding unevenly, with ups and downs, and with progress and regression. Nevertheless, we can try to summarize some of the lessons learned from these developments, and draw some parallels with crises in other regions.

Revolutions come not only when outdated forms of state and political system have to be removed. Whereas in Syria, for example, the Ba’ath party’s monopoly on power has long become an anachronism and its slogan “Unity, Freedom, Socialism” has lost its former appeal, the ten-year civil war in Algeria was largely the result of ill-prepared reforms and hasty democratization launched in the late 1980s through the early 1990s under the influence of changes in Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.

The crisis of the unitary state model in Ukraine, coupled with corruption and moral decay among the elites, is another evidence of the need for timely reform. Instead of reform there followed the revolutionary chaos, the armed conflict in southeast Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis.

What the West took for democracy in the Arab-Muslim countries was purely formal features, such as the electoral process. At the same time, equally or even more important issues were not given due consideration: Can the political force that has won national elections build a society that will meet the hopes of the revolutionary masses? And can democracy be promoted using non-democratic means? Of course, elections are an important tool of democracy, but in the absence of developed institutions they cannot guarantee a transition to democratic rule. In societies that do not share common democratic values, those forces win which can offer the simplest recipes for the nation’s transformation that would be understandable and acceptable to the most conservative and larger part of the electorate. In Palestine, believed to be the most secular Arab society, the 2005 elections were won by the Islamic Hamas movement; and in Egypt, a leading Arab country with a “hybrid regime,” power went to the Muslim Brotherhood. The first thing they did was to amend the Constitution in order to stay in power indefinitely.

Does this experience mean that elections are useless in politically immature societies where the majority of people do not realize their own social interest? Obviously, the question should be put differently. Not just elections but a guaranteed handover of power (as a result of elections) can gradually make the authorities more responsible and nationally oriented.

The developments in Egypt, where two “revolutions” took place over three years, make one think of whether a military coup can be a catalyst for a return to stable evolutionary development. Both Islamists who resort to terror to restore “constitutional law” and secularists who invited the military to power are grossly mistaken in hoping to build a new Egypt without achieving a national consensus.

Not all winds of change can be explained by foreign interference, yet the way internal conflicts are settled – by force or through a peaceful division of power – plays an important role as it predetermines whether the transitional post-revolutionary period is smooth or not. The conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Libya have shown that violence and civil wars, especially if they are supported from abroad or if there is foreign intervention, cause enormous damage to creative efforts.

The experience of the majority of revolutions in the world shows that power is taken not by the forces that stage them but by those who “have caught the wave” with foreign support or by chance. The regime change in the Arab World, which took place under democratic slogans, once again confirmed the relevance of this historical trend. When mass protests began in Arab countries, there were no Islamic slogans in the streets, but eventually Tunisian and Egyptian Islamists came to lead these revolutionary-democratic protests, using their experience of organizational work among the masses, sermons in mosques, and disunity in the secular opposition. In fact, the Egyptian revolution went through two “Tahrirs,” just as the revolution in Ukraine did with two “Maidans.” One Maidan was moderate, pro-European and directed against the corrupt regime; the other one, radical and nationalistic, transformed the change of power into an armed mutiny, with a hostile attitude to Russia and the Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine.

As the transition period has slowed down in Arab countries shaken by revolutions, actually in all of them democratic illusions are giving way to the local, including Islamic, reality. Many Arab political analysts wonder whether their countries are ready for democracy and what development model will take root in the Middle East where the foundations of the social contract between the state and society have been undermined. All known variants – Egyptian, Turkish, Saudi and Iranian – have been discredited or are losing their attractiveness. “Political Islam” at the present stage has failed. Further progress towards a Western-type parliamentary system is unlikely.

In contrast to the Western political process which developed in societies with a structuring nature of private ownership relations, the domination of commodity production, and the absence of a centralized government, in Eastern societies the political process always was the result of domination of state and communal ownership. In these countries power was the equivalent of ownership, and society occupied a subordinate position towards the state. Absolutization of the state meant, in particular, that its power did not transform into the welfare of citizens, who remained subjects subordinate to the communal interest merged with the state interest.

Disappointed hopes for a fast improvement of life after the overthrow of old regimes transform into a desire for a strong hand and order. This phenomenon can be seen in Egypt where Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who won the latest presidential election, is viewed by most Egyptians as “the savior of the nation.” A strong personality has emerged also in Libya. General Khalifa Haftar, who returned to his country from exile after the revolution began, united part of the army, tribes and local militias to challenge the transitional government under the banner of fighting Islamists.

The formation of new governments may take long efforts to achieve national consensus under the aegis of a personified political force that has taken the upper hand in political in-fighting, which means preservation of authoritarianism, and not necessarily in an enlightened form.


*  *  *

Today revolutions have become major factors influencing the system of international relations. Obviously, leading world powers may have different attitudes to them, yet they should be balanced and responsible. Russia and the West can and should avoid a recurrence of crisis situations in their mutual relations. This, in fact, is their historical responsibility. If they agree on common principles to settle intrastate conflicts that give rise to ethnic, religious or purely political extremism, this would play a positive role.

The nature of modern revolutions has long been a subject of heated discussions. When do internal affairs cease to be internal? Does this happen when there is suppression of civil liberties, a disproportionate use of force against mass opposition protests, acts of violence or other violations of human rights and international humanitarian law? Without questioning the basic principle of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs, one should admit that many of these issues have already acquired global dimension.

If the international community fails to establish acceptable and understandable rules of international behavior in the context of “revolutionary challenges,” the world may slip into a new round of global confrontation, which will be caused not by systemic contradictions of the Cold War times but by vain disregard for real common threats.

Published in Tribune
Thursday, 08 January 2015 02:00

The MidEast World: best of 2014

IMESClub presents you the 40-pages-length issue of "The MidEast Journal" – collection of the 2014 brilliant pieces of our eminent members.

The issue besides other pieces includes:

❖The IMESClub interview of the year: Interview with Bakhtiar Amin, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Future, Former Human Rights Minister of Iraq. The interview was devoted to the Iraq, its fate, on the US role and etc.

❖Brilliant dossier on Russia-Algeria relations by Mansouria Mokhefi, Special Advisor on the Maghreb and the Middle East at Ifri, Research Associate at ECFR.

❖Another one interesting dossier on Russia-Iran relations by Lana Ravandi-Fadai 

The issue is available in PDF in one click.

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17 December 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi, Tunisian tradesman, has committed an act of self-immolation in protest against the confiscation of his goods and against lawlessness of the authorities. This has become a starting point for the Jasmine revolution that led to the overthrow of Ben Ali’s regime and to the series of harsh disturbance in several Middle Eastern countries, called the Arab Spring thanks to the journalists’ good graces. Four years have passed since then. In November 2014 Tunisia saw the second parliamentary elections after the Jasmine revolution, where a secular party Nidaa Tunès has won, the first round of presidential elections was also held. The second one is planned for the 21st of December. Compared to the other survivors of the Arab spring, the Tunisian case distinguishes itself by the positive development. Four years after the Jasmine revolution the Tunisian phenomenon is commented by Nikolai Sukhov.

Self-immolation of Bouazizi was a “programmed” event. It was artificially bloated by those social powers, which have already been accumulating the discontent with Ben Ali’s regime that did not allow the youth use the means of social mobility, did not let the country develop. He has not fulfilled the promises that brought him to power more than twenty years ago: to build a prospering society based on justice and tolerance in Tunisia. But a new generation with completely different thinking in the changing world has grown. Most importantly, this youth has lost fear, though it was generally accepted that Tunisian special services are numerous and powerful. This idea was of course supported by the facts of imprisonment, torture and beatings of the protesting youth or young people showing their civic stand by different means. But after the banishment or, more correctly, the scuttle of President it turned out that the manpower of the special services was much lower and they were not so powerful and omnipresent, a exactly this has determined their failure to deal with the protest movement. The protest movement has finally prevailed.

Bouazizi self-immolation was artificially bloated, as I have said, and his modest personality was surrounded by legends and myth, that did not correspond to the reality at all. The most important thing is a demand for such legends, the resentment it symbolized. There was a social resentment for negligence for the interest of youth, despair felt by young educated people – and these qualities were later attributed to Bouazizi, though he was never a university graduate. This myth has showed a social request.

Then during 2011-2012 the country has, of course, survived different stages of its post-crisis development. But it is important that the Tunisian society was capable to overcome all the problems typical of other societies in Arab countries. They were able to settle their differences and achieve the national dialogue by peaceful means. The existing contradictions between different powers in other Arab countries and mainly in Egypt, have led to clashes, even to the armed ones. Tunisia has not faced this. The situation in Tunisia has shaped the way we see it, that the sincere desire to create their own country, to make it nice to live in, has allowed the leaders of social movements to arrive to the agreement between each other. And already in the end of 2013 a road map determining the means to create a technocratic government was signed. And it was able to stabilize the situation and allowed the economy and social life get into more or less natural course. There was ongoing political – and it is important! – struggle between Islamists and secular parties on the basis of this stabilization. And we have seen the result in the end of this year – Nidaa Tunès, oligarchic from one hand and with absolutely secular slogans and program, has won the parliamentary elections in November. We can be happy for the Tunisians here.

Egypt has arrived to nearly the same results in economy, social sphere and relative stabilization, but it had to suffer a coup d’état. Tunisia has shown the ability of its society for peaceful coexistence of different social powers and that they are building their society on the basis of democracy and consensus. Of course much depends on the leaders of the parties, on their charisma, power and external as well as the internal support. According to the estimations of experts, Ghannouchi, for example, already does not have ambitions to become a national leader, to bring his party Ennahda to victory. He has expressed his will to enter the international structure of Muslim Brotherhood - the International Union for Muslim Scolars (based in Doha). Ennahda does not have a proper leader anymore and this weakens the party. Meanwhile the secular forces are lead by the rich Tunisians who are interested in creating a dynamic economy, to recreate it. They are people who could not influence the country’s life during Ben Ali’s rule even despite their wealth.

Published in Commentaries

This April in the framework of Global University Summit 2014 that took place in MGIMO-University in a friendly and effective partnership with MGIMO and the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences IMESClub held its round-table "Global Efforts to Settle the Situation in the Middle East. Capabilities of the Deauville Partnership".

And today we're publishing the text of the brilliant speech delivered by one of three key speakers of that meeting – Mansouria Mokhefi.


Since 2011 and the fall of Arab dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, scholars and policymakers have sought to assess the importance of the popular protests for democratization, political stability, and geo-strategy across the Arab world. Three years later, the hopes that the uprisings would bring freedom and equality while producing stable democracies have largely gone unrealized. The post Arab spring environment, marked by political, economical and social dysfunctions as well as by internal conflicts and regional wars is more fragile, complex, volatile and dangerous than it has ever been. 

Not only are an unprecedented number of Arab countries in the midst of one kind or another of large-scale armed conflicts, but new types of armed non-state actors are also waging war with local terrorist groups rising in many parts of the region. The rise of militant forces, as the result of a total failure of governance as well as a consequence of the culmination of decades of Arab resentment towards Western domination, has already shifted regional and international alliances and is about to redraw the map of the Middle East.

When assessing the so-called Arab Spring revolutions, one should not forget that the uprisings overthrew dictators but they did not overturn the prevailing political and social order: the political structures have remained unchanged despite the adopted democratic elections process and, aggravated by economic and social frustrations, and reinforced by local and regional insecurity threats, authoritarian ruling is still the norm.

One can only assess that faltering economies (1) and the rise of violence (2) are defining the new environment in an unprecedented fashion and continue to pose serious security threats (3) that are affecting the regional balance of powers (4).


1. Faltering economies

Economic liberalization taking place in Arab countries over the last three decades has resulted in greater poverty, rising income inequality and alarming rates of youth unemployment. Moreover, the region’s already stagnant economic situation has dramatically worsened in the countries that have weathered the Arab uprisings: new governments not only failed to appreciate the economic roots of the revolutions but have also been incapable of addressing the major problems of rife corruption and rooted cronyism that plague their countries. None of them has put forward the much-needed economic reforms likely to address the popular grievances or reduce the societal pressures, and a viable alternative agenda has yet to be put forward. Thus, the faltering economies, aggravated by rising prices, low wages, widespread labor strikes and a structural unemployment crisis, are still the source of growing frustrations and social unrests. Loss in revenue from oil and a substantial decrease in tourism, as well as lack of foreign investments, have turned sluggish growth to a non-existent one while paralyzing the economies and ruining the countries. The Arab spring revolutions have also revealed and widened large and increasing inequalities. The lack of opportunities for the growing number of youth is a difficult handicap to which none of the concerned countries has a solution. Therefore, post revolution Tunisian governments have been confronted by a sharp economic downturn that has been feeding political tensions and uncertainties, while Egypt is on the path to social disaster with fundamental economic problems that the large Gulf States’ assistance cannot solve. Post Arab Spring leaders are doomed to ultimately confront the same demands - “bread, dignity, and social justice” - that deposed their predecessors.


2. The rise of violence

Arab nationalism, the powerful ideological discourse of the post independence period, has showed its limits and has given way to variants of Islamism resulting in numerous sectarian factions that are fighting each other. The post Arab Spring context has demonstrated how Arab nationalism had in fact been the product and domain of Arab elites and national intelligentsias, whereas Radical Islam and different forms of Salafism have been taking hold among the massive and poor under-classes, highlighting the major division between these societies.

Tensions between radical Islam on the one hand and mainstream moderate Islam on the other have polarized many countries; they have reached alarming levels in Tunisia, culminating in the assassination of two political leaders in 2013, and precipitating the retreat of Ennahda from the government without solving the issue of coexistence between the two streams.

Ravaged by gun violence and political chaos, Libya is in the midst of a civil war. In Yemen, no real political transition has been accomplished while the North Shiite rebellion continues and the US drone war against al-Qaeda has polarized the country in a dangerous fashion.

In Syria, the death toll has reached 200,000, with roughly a quarter of the country's population displaced and despite calls from countries such as Russia, Iran and Algeria to engage in a political solution based on dialogue and reconciliation, Western countries have been opposed and Assad is still in power. Meanwhile, Djihadist radicalization and foreign militarization have aggravated a conflict that has spilled over to Lebanese soil and empowered radical Sunni jihadists like those of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), an Al-Qaeda offshoot with greater means and ambitions than Bin Laden’s organization.

Tensions over the place and role of the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt have divided the country, put an end to the democratic transition, and brought back the military dictatorship. Since the military takeover, violence against Egyptian police, security and military forces has sky rocketed.

Confrontations over the Syrian war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, each backing a different side, along with their ongoing competition for the Moslem leadership, have aggravated the Shia -Sunni sectarian tensions and continue to feed violent divisions throughout the region.

Violence has been on the rise against all minorities: Christians are on the verge of total exclusion from the Middle East. And violence against women has also been recorded everywhere: while the revolutions were expected to bring equality and freedom, not only have women’s rights not been acknowledged but they have deteriorated everywhere, with an unprecedented number of rapes and alarming physical attacks reported in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.


3. Destabilization and security threats

The chaotic situation following Moubarak’s fall, the return to a military regime and the subsequent violent crackdown on the Moslem Brotherhood, the most intense since the 1950s, have expanded a cycle of political violence that has increased many security challenges facing Egypt. In addition to the growing domestic instability, the country is facing a growing insurgent activity in the Sinai where terrorist groups such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis  have been regularly attacking Egyptian security forces and threatening gas pipelines. The fight against these groups and their attacks has compelled the Egyptian Army into a new cooperation with Israel, but the attacks unabated.

The conflict in Syria has drawn Djihadists from all over the world. Their actions rare destabilizing the entire region with increasing threats on Jordan and Lebanon, the latter of which has already been drawn (through Hizbollah since the beginning of the uprising) into waging war in Syria. The region’s risks of destabilization are also emphasized by the fact that many countries are facing the specter of partition: Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Fed by extremist violence, poor governance, and social tumult, the Maghreb countries, already in varying states of crisis, are facing rising insecurity challenges as well. Terror activities have been recorded across the region, even in Algeria (attack on In Amenas in January 2013), which has managed to avoid the Arab Spring’s contagious revolutions, and in Tunisia (south of the country), which has never experienced terror attacks from Al-Qaeda. Simply put, since 2011, the chaos that succeeded Gadhafi’s fall, with Libya becoming a sanctuary for Djihadists, has been seriously threatening every neighbor’s security and stability. The porous borders have facilitated massive circulation of weapons and the uncontrolled movement of Djihadists who have been expanding their territories and broadening their targets. Libya’s uncontrolled borders have become proliferating free-trade zones for the trafficking of weapons into neighboring areas, posing serious threats to all neighbors. This situation has propelled Algeria to increase its control over the region and to intervene beyond the country’s borders, in Malian, Tunisian, and Libyan territories. Moreover, the growing instabilities in and around North Africa, along with the difficulties in controlling trans-border terrorism, have also raised concerns regarding the possibility of the situation in the Western Sahara breeding new terrorism with militant groups operating in the camps. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned about the Sahrawis’ vulnerability in the Polisario-controlled refugee camps in southwest Algeria to recruitment by criminal and terrorist networks.


4. New environment, shifting alliances

The new geopolitical landscape born out the Arab Spring is the result of the major events that took place over the past three years and the challenging outcomes that the revolutions have imposed on the region. First, it is important to recall that, due to many different events and developments that took place over the previous decades, the most important and traditional Arab players have seen their voice and influence considerably reduced and even destroyed: Egypt after the peace treaty with Israel and its alignment with the US; Iraq after the US invasion and destruction of the country built by Saddam Hussein; Syria since its international isolation and the Arab spring. 

As a result of the Arab uprisings and their consequences, the region has never been so divided. Divisions created and exacerbated by the Egyptian situation and the Syrian war have left an Arab League more divided and useless than ever. The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has never been so fierce and it has been fueling growing divisions within the Moslem world. Rifts within the GCC, whose members (Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait) have been trying to isolate Qatar, are another aspect of the many divisions that characterize today’s Arab world. Backing Islamists in various countries, Qatar has seen the political vacuums in the Arab Spring states as an opportunity to spread its clout, but the Islamists’ failures in Egypt and Tunisia have toned down the Qataris efforts to become an influential regional player and Qatar’s determination to deploy an independent foreign policy has been reduced and marginalized by Saudi Arabia’ s political strategy and financial influence.

In the Maghreb, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its affiliates, whose activities have spread inside Algeria and in the Sahel region, continue to pose considerable threats. The French intervention in Mali, Operation Serval, in January 2013 was a consequence of these attempts at destabilization and takeover. In addition, the dispute over the Western Sahara continues to simmer, hindering all cooperation between Algeria and Morocco, the two major stable countries in a region that has already experienced the increased expansion of Islamic extremism and Djihadist terrorism.

In this new context, it is noteworthy that, after having controlled the dynamics of the region’s politics for most of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st, the Western world has seen its influence challenged and diminished. The Arab Spring accentuated the relative decline of Western influence throughout the region:  after being the absolute arbiters of the political balance in the Arab world, and though they remain the most important players because of the military security they provide, Europe has lost its economic and financial power and the US has lost its moral authority. Following the wars in Iraq et Afghanistan, Western interventionism in the Libyan crisis and the ambiguous and ambivalent  policy regarding the Syrian war have facilitated Russia’s prominent return to the region, where, as an unavoidable player in Syria and a crucial partner in Egypt, it has been challenging Western decisions and orientations. In addition to Russia, new players are entering the field, with Arab countries turning towards new partnerships with China, India, Brazil and Turkey. While inter-Arab cooperation remains insignificant and will remain so in such a divided context, the multiplication of new players constitutes another challenge to the traditional Western influence in a region that has not finished with major shifts and repositionings.



While it has been widely reported that the Arab Spring revolutions will bring democratic reforms and advancements, democracy has actually regressed everywhere and the region has experienced the resilience or return of autocratic regimes.

Besides Tunisia, which might be the only country to emerge as a democracy, though still a very fragile one, for everyone else, instead of democratic transitions, a diverse range of political systems is the most likely prospect. All hopes related to the Arab Spring ended in fact with the Syrian conflict and its disastrous consequences on the region. Everywhere, fragility, discord, and a lack of security have caused the multiplication of ungoverned spaces and the proliferation and reorganization of terrorists groups that appear to be more dangerous than Al Qaeda. For Western powers, the Arab Spring also marked the end of a total and exclusive influence. The United States and the EU have always been far more focused on economic cooperation and/or support, and far less on building democratic institutions or defending basic freedoms. Now that they are engaged in different wars aiming at suppressing or reducing the threats posed by Djihadism, they still need to focus on addressing the real issues of the support and financing (by other Sunni states) of the terrorists groups that have spread all over the region.

The United States and the EU are also, despite various other problems, compelled to cooperate with Moscow in the global war against Islamism.  However, even though Western powers remain the most important players in the region, the growing disappointment of Arab public opinion toward the West and the persisting resentment about the West’s policies toward the Arab world are still omnipresent. 

On another front, the rise of immigration stemming from the Arab Spring countries towards Europe, is not only feeding European public opinion’s growing fatigue, it is also reviving racist discourse and behavior.

Last, but not least, the specter of a Djihadist return to European countries that they left to join the Djihad in Syria or Iraq is a major concern for governments that still don’t know how to deal with this issue. 

Published in Tribune

Interview is available in Russian (click here).

Maria Dubovikova: The first question I would like to ask, following the recent changes on the battlefield of the everlasting conflic – what are the prospects of the Arab-Israeli conflict now? Are there still chances for a peace settlement in the short or maybe mid-term perspective? And why?

Vitaly Naumkin: I think there are no chances for a peace settlement in the short terms. It is a difficult confrontation, which will occasionally inflame and deescalate. Explosions will follow the pauses, and it may last long enough, maybe for several years. I do not see any chances for a resolution even in mid-term perspective. Why? First of all because there is no intention from the Israeli part to stop the occupation. It goes on. And the settlement is impossible without the end of occupation. Some dialog is possible – the parties will be forced to have it. Some experts believe that the reconcilement can be achieved only through an imposed decision. I do not much agree with such scenario. First of all, because there is no accord within the international community, among the global players. Let’s take,the US–Russia relations as an example. Is it possible to speak about agreement if the Americans still impose pressure on all the Middle-Eastern countries to make them stop the cooperation and the development of ties with Russia, trying to talk them into joining the sanction war, that is waged against Russia by the US, EU, and some other countries – Australia, Canada, etc.? Secondly, a decision may be imposed only on the parties, that are dependent much on the external players and obliged to listen to them. And even in such case it is not always possible. Israel has shown that it is not eager to listen even its closest partners, as it is sure that they will not abandon the strategic union with it and will continue to support it. And if Israel is criticized everywhere, even in the US, and this criticism is growing due to the atrocities against civilian population in Gaza, this will not make the US threaten Israel with any sanctions. There is nothing to talk about without sanctions. In this sense Israel is a quite sustainable state.

Thirdly, the positions of the two parties are so irreconcilable, that it is unlikely that something can be imposed on them now. And if we examine the consequences of the events in Gaza from the Arab angle, we will see that HAMAS positions are not undermined, but they have strengthened instead, despite they receive support in the region only from Qatar and Turkey. The sympathies towards HAMAS are very high among the population of the West Bank, which is however controlled by Fatah. Our Palestinian friends give such an assessment. HAMAS believes that it was victorious in this battle. Israel had to agree to cooperate with the coalition government. It is a technical, not a party one but is created on the basis of agreement between HAMAS and Fatah. At the beginning Israel refused to conduct dialogue with HAMAS, but agreed afterwards. Mutual concessions made a fragile ceasefire agreement possible.  

But HAMAS has not managed to make Israel satisfy the demands presented in the beginning of the conflict – to lift the blockade and free Palestinian convicts. Israel, in its turn has suffered an important reputation loss. There was no choice as annihilating more than two thousand people including 400 children and trying to continue to present it as a counterterrorism is impossible. They wave no opportunities to calm the anger of the Palestinians. Some hot-heads in Israel say that they need to reoccupy Gaza, deploy troops there. It is a new occupation and it will lead to the further radicalization. It will cause violence, guerilla and subversive warfare and this will not have an end. There will be no security and that is why Israel has to retreat and free the territories. Israel says it has to provide its own security. Of course it has, but only through a settlement including the interests of all the parties.

Many of the projects of reconciliation proposed today include an idea of demilitarization of Gaza and establishment of Mahmud Abbas’s administration control there. Mahmud Abbas can not follow such decision as the Palestinians are using the concept of common sovereignty over the whole Palestine, which includes the West Bank, Gaza and Eastern Jerusalem – all three inseparable parts of Arab Palestine. Why the Palestinian authorities have to agree to demilitarize one part, not knowing what to do with the others? Demilitarization is only possible for the whole state, which should be created on these three territories according to the resolutions of the Security Council of UN. But Israel refuses to recognize East Jerusalem as a capital of Palestinian state as it considers it as an eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state. The Palestinian leaders also can not agree to demilitarize Gaza as they will be just smashed by their own population. The reputation of Abbas is already shaky and if he makes further unilateral concession, he will be just branded as a traitor and he will have difficult times. Moreover, there is no accord among the Palestinians. However, meanwhile Mahmud Abbas and Khaled Mashal manage to interact productively. It is difficult to say whether this cooperation will be long term or not. All the more so, there are parties of realists and radicals within HAMAS. I have often heard from the Palestinian public figures, that they could agree to the demilitarization in conditions of the international guarantees for the security and deployment of the international forces.

I will repeat, that such state should include all three parts of Arab Palestine – West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. May be, it is possible to fantasize over the granting this city a special status, giving the access to it to the representatives of all the Abrahamic confessions. It is possible to agree on that. There are some other variants of compromise solutions but Palestinians can give up Jerusalem on no conditions, let alone they have support of international community and the international law. And the Arab and the whole Islamic world will not support such “renegade”. This is out of question. A compromise should be found.


M.D.: You have mentioned the US pressure on the Arab countries to make them join sanctions against Russia. And it seems that mostly all their attempts are in vain. Is the Arab world interested in cooperation with Russia? Or the West is still more attractive partner for it?

V.N.: Unfortunately, there is no unity in the Arab world, it is atomized. There are pro-Western elites in the Arab countries, which at best do not care what policy towards Russia will their governments conduct. These elites will act only according to the US and their own interests. There are other elites, which are at least interested in diversification of their states external policy, and Russia is much needed here in all the spheres: political, economic, and military, just as a counterbalance for the Americans. This is the most humble estimation. Analyzing further, we will find some core elements in cooperation with Russia, which cannot be provided by anyone else today. Let’s take for example Egypt. Who can really provide weapons today if these weapons are not supplied by the US? Russia. But in this respect Egypt does not abandon the cooperation with the US and is not going to do so. There are some differences between Cairo and Washington and As-Sisi is willing to develop relations with Moscow. By the way, Egypt always had such tendency to work with both parties, even during the Cold war era, Nasser’s Egypt was considered a “client” of the USSR. President As-Sisi acts very reasonably; it is just common for Egypt. It is a big country with important geopolitical interests, international weight.

Saudi Arabia also tries to act independently. And it is also inclined to develop relations with Russia on many directions. But there are states that are attached to the US and depend in them in their own security. The Western countries limit theirmilitary cooperation and they are unable to quit this orbit. This also concerns some countries that had some contracts with Russia in this sphere and that are interested in development of the cooperation, say, the UAE. They cannot work on this direction without the US approval and they do not need this. Maybe such need will emerge due to the grave deterioration of the situation in the Iranian, Syrian and Iraqi directions.

Hardly anyone will dare to predict now how the situation in Iraq and over it will develop. What will be the further actions of ISIS? How will the de-facto third air war, launched by the Americans in the North of Iraq, finish? Will they bring it on the Syrian airspace and what could be the consequences in such case?

Alas, there are more questions than the answers. But these questions will also determine how the Arab countries will cooperate with Russia. No doubt, that nobody, including the US, will be able to isolate Russia in the Middle East.  And even their closest ally – Israel is going to launch a broad cooperation with Russia. This country understands our open, fair and reasonable enough position during the last crisis, when we criticized the actions of Israel in Gaza, but showed the willingness to cooperate with them and highly appreciated the fact, that Israel had not supported the anti-Russian sanctions.

Israel did not take part in the voting on the anti-Russian resolution in the UN General Assembly in March concerning the inclusion on Crimea and Sevastopol into Russia. And Netanyahu does not conceal that during the last crisis he contacted President Putin on the phone several times (Israeli establishment does not like to have secrets) – this does show something.

M.D.: As for ISIS – it’s quiet evident that the crisis is extremely dangerous for the Middle East and for the whole international community as well. How do you think, do the Western powers, the Middle Eastern ones have a chance to stop the spreading of ISIS and to annihilate it? And wil the ongoing American operation on the North of Iraq be effective, or will they finally have to deploy their troops on Iraqi land once again?

V.N.: I would say it is impossible to defeat a movement that has deep mass and religious roots by bombardments. How is it possible to precisely identify the targets and then eliminate exactly those radicals by airstrikes? The Americans do have smart bombs, but they are not so smart to return back if the target is invalid. “It seems, that is not those guys!” That means there will be civilian casualties, as always, which cause a rise of anti-Americanism everywhere. The ISIS member may be untouched, but the one who fights against him may catch a packet and go to long rest. These are unforeseen consequences of airstrikes.

But in the modern warfare the air forces remain the key element in any combat activities. That is why the absence of planes in ISIS is their weak point. It is also important that this theater of operations does not provide much cover. So, generally it is easy to destroy large groups of vehicles and personnel by aviation – there is no cover for them. David Goldman from the “Middle Eastern Forum” even believes that the capabilities of ISIS are “overestimated” and reminds that the insurgents from this organization “operate on the terrain where the aerial reconnaissance may detect any stray cat”. That is why now the ISIS is hunting aircrafts – planes, helicopters, drones, and attempts to capture airfields in Iraq and Syria. They hunt pilots. The absence of aviation is partially compensated by the modern AA systems captured in Syria, if they will not be destroyed by the US air force, mainly by UAVs.

The Iraqi armed forces have not had aviation for long time – the West was afraid to give it to them, thus not numerous flying personnel has lost qualification. The dissolution of all the military units of Saddam Hussein’s state contributed to this issue. It was one of the gravest mistakes made by the US trying to make a new state in Iraq. And now the ex-officers of the old army fight on the ISIS side.

Russia has just recently provided airplanes to Iraq, but the pilots have still to do some training to operate them efficiently. There are countries having powerful air forces among Iraq’s neighbors.  Saudi Arabia has more than 300 F-15, 75 “Typhoons” and more than 80 “Apache” attack helicopters. Jordan is armed with 60 F-16 and 25 “Cobra” attack helicopters. On the one hand if these countries engaged in combat, I am sure, they would demolish this ISIS. And they would not much care about the collateral damage. But on the other hand, such actions could cause hatred not only towards the Americans (who are already hated enough) but also against these regimes, which are already considered pro-Western. Moreover, my colleagues from these countries, including Saudi Arabia, mention that there are great sympathies towards ISIS among the population. And these sympathies are spread not only among the common people, religious activists, social outcasts, but also among the military. That is why in personal discussions they are voicing concerns, that if such war begins, no one knows on which side will fight several dozens of thousands Saudi Arabians, which are supposed to be engaged in combat. And let’s not forget about such crucial mobilization motivators for religious extremism like Israeli occupation, American invasion, unfinished campaign in Afghanistan (and it is unclear what will happen to this country in future), severe civilian war in Syria, which absorbs Jihadists-legionnaires from all over the world to fight the secular regime.

The US examine the possibility to launch strikes on ISIS on the Syrian territory, a part of which is controlled by the extremists, and where they are gaining sufficient military success – regions of Rakka, Deir az-Zora, Aleppo. However Washington rules out any cooperation or coordination of actions with Bashar al-Assad government – a natural ally of those who fight Jihadists from ISIS, connected with Al-Kaeda by a group “an-Nusra” and other groups. If these strikes will hit targets on the Syrian soil without Damask consent, even if these targets are the regions of concentration of the ISIS troops and weaponry, the Syrian government will consider such strikes a violation of its sovereignty. It seems nice, that the ISIS would be bombed out, but who knows what these Americans can do – the highest-ranking officials of the country, including Obama, are repeating “Assad should leave” like a mantra. What if they decide to bomb also (or event instead) the government forces? By the way, I think that Russia will be on Damask side, though we are also very willing to be done with the ISIS.

In Syria there is in fact a confrontation between the government forces and thuggish Jihadists. And where is a moderate, according to the Western classification, opposition? Where is the Syrian Free Army? It is impossible to see it. However, a positive tendency of forming coalition of all those fighting against the ISIS is falling apart. Today, as far as I know, even the Kurdish Working Party and the organizations connected to it, which have not collaborated with Arabs yet, are fighting the ISIS in cooperation with some moderate Islamists. ISIS threatens all neighboring countries – mainly Jordan, which has its own Islamist extremists, Lebanon, which has got a subdivision of ISIS with an unknown before Amir al-Urdunni. The head of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi threatens to reach Kuwait, which he is going to punish for the cooperation with the US.

The situation is extremely dangerous. To sum up, the local regimes should not expect to defeat the ISIS by the US smart bombs and missiles. And nobody wants to fight on the ground – not the Americans, not even these regimes themselves, a part of them even refuses to list ISIS as a terrorist organization. It is better not to risk, who knows, how the situation will turn? Moreover, the defeat of ISIS would cause a reverse reaction as a sympathy and input of forces to cruel Jihadists who speculate in the feelings of Muslims. Meanwhile, the Iraqi army facing severe difficulties does not show its best. And the potential of Kurdish armed units “Peshmerga” was also overestimated. It was on thing to conduct guerilla warfare against Iraqi security forces in their mountains during Saddam Hussein rule. But fighting in open combats with reckless, wildly cruel and heavily armed ISIS fighters – it is absolutely another type of warfare. My Iraqi friends tell me that there are also ISIS allies among the Kurds, however they are not numerous. Kurds are not very religious in general.  And the massacres against non-Muslim minorities on the North of Iraq – Ezids, Shabakh, Christians, were aimed to threaten all the population of the region. The capital of Iraqi Kurdistan – Erbil does not manage to deal with the huge mass of refugees.

I think that Peshmerga, which are still able to make a barrage against the murderers from the ISIS with the coordination with the Iraqi army and the US Air support, will not go further than their territories. They will not go to fight in the South of Iraq.  It is a theater for the Iraqi army and the militia of Shia who live there.  A so-called Golden division of Iraq – an elite unit consisting mainly of Shia, and destined mainly to defend Shia shrines in Kerbel, Nejef and some other places, has a good combat reputation.

Iran has recently declared that it has sent its advisors to Iraqi Kuristan. Prior to that the Iranian advisors were only in the Iraqi army and in the security forces. Will the Americans and their allies cooperate with Iranians? Will the West be able to overcome the anti-Iranian syndrome having the common interests with Iran to oppose the ISIS and al-Qaeda? It seems, that again, there are more questions than answers. But in general the battle will be long and bloody.


M.D.:And the Libyan crisis?

V.N.: Also seriously and for long!


M.D.: With no any chance?

What chances? Libya seems to have few people and much oil – make a deal! It is possible to divide power and resources. Maybe someone in the region will not like it, but I will dare to say: the Arab League should think about creating a peacekeeping force (under the support of the UN) to make Libyans stop the internal conflict, not to allow the creation of an “Islamic state” on its territory, how it happened in Iraq. The countries like Egypt, Algeria, concerned about such threat could have played an extremely important role in realization of a such plan. Let’s recall how the Syrian troops have once entered Lebanon and stopped the civil war there. But the crisis should be settled by the Arabs only and not by a new Western intervention.

Interview is available in Russian:

Published in Interviews

M.D.: Israel and Palestine are being tossed around: from escalations to more or less successful negotiations. What do you think will be the result of the latest negotiations breakdown and aggravation of situation between Israel and Palestine? 

Irina Zviagelskaya: You know, that the kidnapping of there Israeli teenagers caused this situation. As the security services failed to locate them, Israel resorted to the military actions and arrested dozens of Palestinians who were already released according to the previous agreements. Now there is an ongoing tightening of Israeli position. Israel has accused Hamas of the abduction. But many experts believe, it was not necessarily Hamas to kidnap them. There are many other organizations that act among Palestinians and practically uncontrolled, so they could do it deliberately in order to turn Israeli’s anger against Hamas. Moreover, many people in Israel are disturbed by the creation of Palestinian government of the national unity, though it is a technical one. There are many reasons that have caused the regular escalation of the situation and they are unlikely to be eliminated. In any case, I am very pessimistic concerning the peace talks. As we know, the promises of State Secretary Kerry that the Americans would swiftly achieve a breakthrough turned out to be unrealistic.  The issues to resolve in order to achieve peace are far too complicated.  Moreover, I believe that violent and bloody processes taking place in the region are completely unlikely to encourage compromise in Palestinian-Israeli conflict.


M.D.: How do you think the US overtures with Iran and its potential exit from isolation will influence on the situation in the Middle East and on Arab-Israeli conflict in particular?

I.Z. : As far as the US policy towards Iran is concerned it can hardly be called overtures.  The question is to make Iran renounce its nuclear program. And this corresponds to the interests of everybody; Russia is among the members of the negotiations. Another issue is whether Iran is interested itself to exit the isolation, dispose of all sanctions and reintegrate into the world politics and economy. Not surprisingly, Mr Rouhani, well known for his balanced view, has become President of Iran. Meantime, several experts have voiced their fears that Washington will get the increase of oil production and decrease of oil prices as a result of removal of sanctions and US-Iranian approach. I find this logic doubtful, and taking into consideration the situation in Iraq, oil prices decline is just impossible.

The exit of Iran from isolation can be very positive.  Iran could especially take active part in the settlement in Syria, were it plays a significant role, as we all know. The second moment is of course the situation in Iraq, where Iran has its own interests and where its role is very important.

The current situation in Iraq is very dangerous. There is a crisis of US policy of state transformation by military interventions. As soon as the Americans left in the end of 2011, everything collapsed. It has collapsed because they had created a confessional regime. Relying on Shia majority they have dismissed the army, where the majority was Sunni, they managed to close BAAS party, which was also mainly supported by Sunni. And thus they have not only created a huge resentful mass of Sunni, but also have set a course towards the creation of regime excluding different ethnic and confessional groups.

We now see the results of what has happened. The struggle against extremist Sunni groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and Levant is top priority now. If they manage to gain a number of military victories and shift the balance of power to their side, that will mean the most grave crisis in the Middle East.


M.D. I just wanted to ask about Iraq in particular. Now Washington officially states that the US has no responsibility of the crisis in Iraq. And actually it implies that it is not going to intervene in the crisis. How much should the situation heat to make the politicians take real actions, as Bagdad demands now?

I.Z. : Well, firstly, besides the official statements there are enough expert estimations that directly show, that the US has invested too much in Iraq in due time. We can say that the current administration is not to blame. Of course, it is not Obama’s administration that launched military actions in 2003. It was Bush’es Jr administration. And for sure it is not the administration to be responsible for the regime building in Iraq and the kind of help that was offered to Iraq. However 4,5 thousand US soldiers have died. The military operation and attempts to reform Iraq have cost great money. And everybody knows about it. What has happened in Iraq just indicates the impossibility to transform a society, which is not ready for it by the means of external intervention. This is a crisis of American strategy in the Middle East as well.

Will the US intervene? I had opportunity to read the declarations of the American President who said, “I do not exclude anything”. In general, everything depends on the future course of actions. If the extremists are allowed to win, it will create a great danger not only for Iraq, but for the whole Middle East. Violence and extremist ideas easily overcome the borders. I believe it is very dangerous for Russia, which has its own Islamic extremists, where we face terrorist, where there are examples of Russian soldiers of fortune who fight for the opposition Syria, quite possibly among the insurgents twisted in the same way. Crisis in Iraq should be taken with all the seriousness.


M.D.:  Is it possible that the US are just interested in strengthening of ISIS, as once powerful, it could give a final blow to Bashar Assad’s forces, after which the US can strike the Islamists?

I.Z. : It is impossible to predict who will these people strike. The paradox is that Bashar Assad, unacceptable for the US, is currently carrying tasks, which correspond to their interests. He fights the ISIS and other extremists.

Russia is actively returning to the Middle East now. A new, particular era of relations with Saudi Arabia has begun; we are developing the relations with the UAE. The relations with Egypt, with president Al Sisi, are promising. But I would not agree that Russia expels the US from there. Somewhere Russia and the USA keep competing. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian crisis has increased our rivalry including in the Middle East. But in the meantime we have very important field for cooperation there. It is the Syrian crisis settlement, struggle against terrorism and extremism; it is the desire not to let Iran possess nuclear weapons.


M.D.: Maybe my question was not completely correct. Is it possible to say, that the Middle East countries have a growing interest to the relations with Russia themselves?

I.Z.: Yes, it is true. Speaking about the social level, the Arabs are generally tired of the Americans. They were enthusiastic about the inclusion of Crimea and Sevastopol into Russia. Because, from their point of view, it has shown the US that not everybody is ready to play by its rules. Furthermore,  many countries in the region always wished to have Russia as a counterbalance in the Middle East.


Interviewed by Maria Dubovikova

Published in Interviews

President Vladimir Putin’s visit to China on May 20-21 culminated in the signing of roughly 50 agreements ushering in a period of unprecedented convergence between the two countries. Does this affect the situation in the Middle East and, if so, in what way?

Everything seems to indicate that the answer to the first part of this question is yes. Seemingly, the Middle East was not the focus of the talks between the two leaders. For all the obvious asymmetry in interests, however, the consensus between Russia and China seems to allow the two parties to seek further coordination in their actions, thus taking each other's concerns into greater account. Such consensus includes Syria, despite Beijing’s lesser involvement on this issue, relative to Moscow; Iran, within the P5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program; the fight against terrorism and extremism; the creation of a weapons of mass destruction-free Middle East; the condemnation of external intervention and the strategy of "regime change" as well as the push for "color revolutions;" the policy to reach a settlement in the Middle East; and relations with the new Egyptian regime and with respect to the Sudanese issues.

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Published in Tribune

Sisi won the presidential election in Egypt with remarkable results that demonstrate a high level of national confidence in the former general. While head of the Egyptian army, he played a key role in ousting the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Mursi in July 2013, following mass protests against the Islamist president and his government. Widely criticized by the West, he has gained incredible popularity and support in Egyptian society even amid his brutal reprisals against the Brotherhood.

After making his appearance on the Egyptian political scene as well as in the global arena, al-Sisi has been compared more often than not with Gamal Abdel Nasser. Many experts and journalists debate the possibility and reasonability of such a comparison, while al-Sisi, now president elect, has avowed himself that he wishes he were Nasser.

Putting aside all the arguments on whether the comparison is possible, it should be noted that the two have enough in common: won power due to a military coup, fought the Muslim Brotherhood, demonstrate patriotism, nationalism, charisma, Western-skepticism and are leadership-driven.

Moreover, and forming the framework of al-Sisi’s election, the current international tensions between Russia and the West and broad geopolitical games are reminiscent of the Cold War era. Even the apparent convergence with Russia seems to be a rebirth of the bilateral ties between Egypt and the Soviet Union during Nasser’s rule.

Despite the similarities, the key differences are evident. Russia will never be the former Soviet Union again, the bipolar world and old-styled Cold War between rival blocs are over, today’s international system is much more complicated and, for sure, Egypt itself is not the same Egypt it once was. And al-Sisi is much weaker then Nasser was.


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Published in Tribune
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