Morsi thrilled fellow Islamists when, immediately upon being elected, he vowed to pressure the United States for the release of Omar Abdel Rahman. The “Blind Sheikh” is serving a life sentence for leading a terrorist war against the United States that included the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a plot to bomb various New York City landmarks. He also schemed to murder now-ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Rahman is the emir of the Islamic Group (IG), which orchestrated the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and has been agitating for Rahman’s release for almost 20 years — often in barbarous ways, such as the 1997 Luxor massacre, in which dozens of Western tourists were killed and leaflets demanding Rahman’s release left behind. In the new Egypt, IG is one of the Salafist “political parties” in the Muslim Brotherhood’s ruling coalition. Though its formal designation as a terrorist organization makes assisting IG a crime, the Obama administration recently issued one of its officials a visa to come to Washington for consultations. Is it any wonder that Morsi sees an opening here? Expect no action on Rahman before the U.S. election. Afterwards . . . ?
Kofi Annan had no chance at all of halting the civil war in Syria on behalf of the United Nations. He had nothing to offer Bashar Assad except stepping down, exile, probable arrest, and danger to his life. A proposal for a truce with the rebels amounted to an appeal to Assad’s better nature, something that surely doesn’t exist. Annan had six points to discuss with Assad, as though he were one bureaucrat talking to another. Proposals for ceasefires coincided with reports of large-scale massacres. In the absence of leadership, the 300 blue-beret observers chose to stay in their hotels. The final disaster was Annan’s visit to Tehran to discuss his peace plan with the very people determined to have civil war at all costs. Could anything be more ill-conceived, more designed to humiliate the United Nations? Why, yes: At this very moment Syria is in the running for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Libya is the latest Arab country to have had an election, and it’s gone surprisingly well considering what a complicated business it is to start life after Moammar Qaddafi. The vote has been for a National Congress of 200 seats, 80 of them for political parties, 120 for independents. This Congress or parliament will be drafting the constitution. That’s all very well in theory, but in practice the country is fragmented, tribal, and potentially violent. The 150 or so political parties that have formed are little more than militias gathered around someone who wants power. Islam alone is common to all, so the election seemed likely to be another step in the triumphal march of the Muslim Brothers through the region. That this did not happen is due to Mahmoud Jibril, an American-educated political scientist from the University of Pittsburgh and a former prime minister in Libya. His skill was to unite as many as a third of the political parties into a coalition that became the majority, at the same time presenting himself as every bit as good a Muslim as his Islamist rivals. He favors sharia, or Islamic law, for instance, and made a point of being seen praying five times a day, as the faith requires. According to the small print, former prime ministers are not permitted to hold office again. Nobody knows who the 120 independent members of the future National Congress will be or how they will be selected. There’s still plenty of room for trouble, but a good start has been made.
Mexicans elected Enrique Peña Nieto, a sleek and reticent 45-year-old, president. Peña Nieto, candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), beat Andrés Manuel López Obrador to his left and Josefina Vázquez Mota to his right. PRI was the mummified corpse of the Mexican revolution, a corrupt oligarchy that perpetuated itself via rigged plebiscites for over 70 years until its grip was broken in 2000 by the National Action Party (PAN), which stood for economic and religious liberty (PRI was rigidly anti-clerical). PAN’s economic promises were mostly unfulfilled, as Mexico continued to offload its poor and its problems northwards. What got much worse under two PAN presidents was drug violence, as northern Mexico became a Cormac McCarthy novel. Washington waits to see whether Peña Nieto will continue the war on the cartels; maybe we could help our troubled neighbor to the south, and ourselves, by reexamining our drug policies.