Turmoil in Egypt
As Egypt's much-anticipated moment of crisis arrived and popular rebellions shook governments across the Middle East, Iran stands as never before at the center of the region. Its Islamist rulers are within sight of dominating the region. But revolutions are hard to pull off and I predict that Islamists will not achieve a Middle East-wide breakthrough and Tehran will not emerge as the key powerbroker. Some thoughts behind this conclusion:
An echo of the Iranian revolution: On reaching power in 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sought to spread Islamist insurrection to other countries but failed almost everywhere. Three decades had to go by, it appears, before the self-immolation of a vendor in an obscure Tunisia town could light the conflagration that Khomeini aspired to and Iranian authorities still seek.
Part of a Middle Eastern cold war: The Middle East has for years been divided into two large blocs engaged in a regional cold war for influence. The Iranian-led resistance bloc includes Turkey, Syria, Gaza, and Qatar. The Saudi-led status quo bloc includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, the West Bank, Jordan, Yemen, and the Persian Gulf emirates. Note that Lebanon these very days is moving to resistance from status quo and that unrest is taking place only in status quo places.
Israel's peculiar situation: Israeli leaders are staying mum and its near-irrelevance underlines Iranian centrality. While Israel has much to fear from Iranian gains, these simultaneously highlight the Jewish state as an island of stability and the West's only reliable ally in the Middle East.
Lack of ideology: The sloganeering and conspiracy theories that dominate Middle Eastern discourse are largely absent from crowds gathered outside of government installations demanding an end to stagnation, arbitrariness, corruption, tyranny, and torture.
Military vs. mosque: Recent events confirm that the same two powers, the armed forces and the Islamists, dominate some 20 Middle Eastern countries: the military deploys raw power and Islamists offer a vision. Exceptions exist – a vibrant Left in Turkey, ethnic factions in Lebanon and Iraq, democracy in Israel, Islamist control in Iran – but this pattern widely holds.
Iraq: The most volatile country of the region, Iraq, has been conspicuously absent from the demonstrations because its population is not facing a decades-old autocracy.
A military putsch? Islamists wish to repeat their success in Iran by exploiting popular unrest to take power. Tunisia's experience bears close examination for a pattern that may be repeated elsewhere. The military leadership there apparently concluded that its strongman, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, had become too high maintenance – especially with his wife's family's flamboyant corruption – to maintain in power, so it ousted him and, for good measure, put out an international arrest warrant for his and his family's arrest.
That done, nearly the entire remaining old guard remains in power, with the top military man, Chief of Staff Rachid Ammar, apparently having replaced Ben Ali as the country's powerbroker. The old guard hopes that tweaking the system, granting more civil and political rights, will suffice for it to hold on to power. If this gambit succeeds, the seeming revolution of mid-January will end up as a mere coup d'état.
This scenario could be repeated elsewhere, especially in Egypt, where soldiers have dominated the government since 1952 and intend to maintain their power against the Muslim Brethren they have suppressed since 1954. Strongman Hosni Mubarak's appointment of Omar Suleiman terminates the Mubarak family's dynastic pretensions and raises the prospect of Mr. Mubarak resigning in favor of direct military rule.
More broadly, I bet on the more-continuity-than-change model that has emerged so far in Tunisia. Heavy-handed rule will lighten somewhat in Egypt and elsewhere but the militaries will remain the ultimate powerbrokers.
U.S. policy: The U.S. government has a vital role helping Middle Eastern states transit from tyranny to political participation without Islamists hijacking the process. George W. Bush had the right idea in 2003 in calling for democracy but he ruined this effort by demanding instant results. Barack Obama initially reverted to the failed old policy of making nice with tyrants; now he is myopically siding with the Islamists against Mr. Mubarak. He should emulate Bush but do a better job, understanding that democratization is a decades-long process that requires the inculcation of counter-intuitive ideas about elections, freedom of speech, and the rule of law.
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Elliott Aron Green - 2/12/2011
Fahrettin, Israel is widely hated in Israel. I think we know our needs better than most outsiders. Whether Obama understands our problems or not, he does not act in a way conducive to ensuring our rights and our very lives. There is a Turkish side to this, you know. The ship Mavi Marmara carrying pro-jihad members of the Turkish IHH and other pro-jihadis was indirectly sponsored by the Erdogan govt, as was reported even by an article in the NYTimes. Besides the IHH, other sponsors of that pro-Hamas flotilla included Code Pink, the ostensibly anti-war protest group. But Jody Evans, leader of Code Pink, visited the White House in the months before the Israeli navy stopped that boat and the rest of the convoy for trying to break Israel's legitimate blockade of Gaza. After the death of nine pro-jihad Turks on the ship, the Woodrow Wilson Center of Washington DC gave the Woodrow Wilson award to Turkish FM Davutoglu as supposedly doing a great job to promote the values of Woodrow Wilson. It is hard not to see that award as a reward for facilitating the "free Gaza" convoy.
The Obama White House probably meant for that incident to be a great embarassment for Israel.
jjb, I am surprised that you, as a supposedly mature adult, were taken in by mere political campaign propaganda by the Obama campaign. Abner Mikva was a long-time Chicago Jewish politician in the Democratic Party. So of course he would praise Obama. What would you expect of him?
NF told you that many Jews who praised Obama before the election now do not like him on the Israel issue. Recall that prominent Jewish Democrats like Martin Peretz, Alan Dershowitz, Edward Koch and others are now highly critical of him, and not only in regard to Israel. Obama made a lot of promises before the election to various ethnic groups. He promised the Armenians that he would recognize the Armenian genocide as such. But he broke that promise within two or three months after his inauguration where he flattered Islam and Muslims, going on to flatter them even more, in an even more unfounded way in his Cairo speech. I don't believe that Israeli agents wrote Obama's Cairo speech, do you?
Since you, jjb, much like believing in Jewish conspiracies and Jewish world control, perhaps some wise words from an Arab can convince you that you're wrong. Probably not, but it's worth a try. See link:
N. Friedman - 2/11/2011
I never claimed that Obama is Israel's enemy. You have me confused with someone else.
As for the rest of what you say, I take the argument to be racist and you to be a racist.
james joseph butler - 2/11/2011
Whistling past the graveyard. So Obama's policies don't mesh with Israel's = he is an enemy of the state.
You're so right Nate, Obama is an enemy of the state. America that is. If he had brains and non-AIPAC sponsored testicles he'd state the obvious: Israel is a neo-colonial vestige of the paper age. The people united, thanks Zuckerberg and facebook, want the truth. Mubarak is history and Israel is not a democracy. No country can claim to be a democracy that judges its citizens upon its ethnicity.
Nate the same truth that doomed Mubarak awaits Israel.
N. Friedman - 2/10/2011
The issue with Mr. Obama is that his policies do not mesh well with Israel's understanding of its predicament. The US believes that Israel is in a position, by ceding territory to create a Palestinian Arab state, to resolve the Arab Israeli dispute once and for all, thus ending Arab hostility towards the US.
While it would, for Israelis, be great to settle their dispute with the Arab peoples, the chances of doing so are nil. And, given the lack of stability in the today's Arab regions, the Israelis are not interested in playing the role played by the Czechs, who were thought, at one point, to be a key towards resolving the dispute between Germans and the rest of the European peoples. Which is to say, the Israelis look at their world and say, ceding territory will be pocketed as a gain by our enemies who will then demand more.
So, the US preference to push settlement is something that Israelis, pretty much across the political spectrum, resist.
As for those who said nice things about Obama pre-2009, almost all of them have now admitted they misread him. This is documented rather well. You might read "The Jewish Problem With Obama," By Edward Klein (with Richard Z. Chesnoff), which can be found here.
james joseph butler - 2/9/2011
This fallen Roman Catholic can only say, y'all are darn lucky America keeps electing true believers like Obama.
The Chicago Jewish News, 10/24/08, cites these references regarding Obama: Abner Mikva, former US Rep. and Obama mentor, "I think when it's all over people will say that Barack Obama is the first Jewish president." "One longtime Jewish observer of the political scene, 'Jews made him. Wherever you look there's a Jewish presence'."
Candidate Obama, "Some of my earliest and most ardent supporters came from the Jewish community in Chicago." Newton Minow, senior counsel at Sidley Austin and "long time Democratic power broker"- "If you just look around you can see he's got many many Jewish friends. He's very much at home with Jewish people, their values, their interests." Bettylu Saltzman, "He's right on the issues when it comes to Israel."
I could go on and yes there are contrary voices in the same article but there's no doubt that no other candidate for Pres was as indebted and as interwoven within the Jewish community as BHO when he was elected to the presidency. Rahm didn't join the US armed forces.
But getting back to the first paragraph, Obama is a true blue, God Bless America, God fearing, Jews are special Christian, I love Israel president. (sorry Rev. Wright) Hallelujah Jesus! Trying to find space between him and W on the Middle East is like trying to find space between them and their wives.
The only reason why you can find ugly scatological clips on Youtube from Israelis and doubts on HNN about President Obama's fealty to Israel is because he's black and his middle name is Hussein.
Fahrettin Tahir - 2/9/2011
I do not see Mr Obama as an enemy of Israel.
I think he simply does not know how to approach the Middle East where other US governments have made their country hated more or less by everybody.
He is in a situation where he can not continue as before not can he give up.
N. Friedman - 2/8/2011
Enemy is a word to use for, well, enemies. Obama may not be much of a friend, if a friend at all, to Israel. But, he is certainly no enemy. That is really a misunderstanding on your part, confusing your view of how Israel should go forward with who is friend and enemy. Again, Iran is your country's enemy. In fact, your country has more enemies than it knows what to do with or about. Obama may not be helping much, but enemy is most definitely not.
N. Friedman - 2/8/2011
I am not sure I agree with all that you write but, in any event, there is a big difference between an enemy and Obama.
Joseph Mutik - 2/8/2011
The attitude of the USA towards the Jews is a very complex issue. Before and during the WWII USA tacitly cooperated with Hitler's regime concerning the Jews. After the WWII the attitude evolved from benign neutrality, before the 1967 6 days war, to real help when it helped American interests. Obama doesn't really care about Israel and his careless attitude had as a main result the present stalemate in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He pressed the Israelis for the settlement building freeze, giving the Palestinians an excuse for not negotiating. Obama told Israel that diplomatic letters sent by a previous president should be considered toilet paper and as an incentive to convince the Israeli government to extend the building freeze Obama promised to give Israel a new set of toilet paper presidential letters.
Israel, after the WWII, received about 500000 Jews ethnically cleansed from Europe and also Jews ethnically cleansed from Arab countries. USA gives an important help to Israel but the reality is that only the fact that the Israeli Jews can defend themselves is the real defense, because as we know from history USA is not going to help Jews that can't defend themselves.
Elliott Aron Green - 2/7/2011
NF, I am not talking about the United States as a whole but only about Prez Obama. It's too late at night here to go into detail about Obama's attitude towards Israel.
N. Friedman - 2/7/2011
I am not an Israeli but, frankly, "enemy" sounds so far over the top as to be absurd. Now, it may turn out that, friend or foe, the President's policies will turn out to be a disaster for Israel. But, that he is an enemy of your country is, frankly, not true. It is crazy talk.
Consider: there are shades of distinction between friend and enemy.
Obama is not your country's enemy. To think that is to stop thinking. He merely has priorities which do not fully gel with those of your country and, to some extent, he may personally be somewhat indifferent. Then again, he may think he is trying to help your country, even if his help is not any real help but a hindrance. That, however, is not the same thing as an enemy.
Iran is your country's enemy. So is Syria. The US is a friend even when it agenda does not gel fully with that of your country.
Elliott Aron Green - 2/6/2011
Mr Marsh, despite your belief in the uprising's "spontaneity," the Wall Street Journal reports that there was an organization encompassing Baradei, the Muslim Brotherhood and "secularists" even before the first demo, and that this secretive group worked to organize the subsequent demos. See link:
As to Qatar, it does house CENTCOM HQ, as you indicate. However, it also owns and houses in part the al-Jazeera TV station that constantly agitates against Egypt's govt, not to mention Israel. It is also close in many ways to Iranian policy. How do you explain all that, Mr Marsh?
Elliott Aron Green - 2/6/2011
Omar, I want you to know that I really enjoy your paranoid rants, and it seems that Mr Kovachev does too. Bravo!!
Now you poor fellow, you continue to labor under your misconceptions, to wit:
construction of Settlements in occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories.
The Golan Heights and Judea-Samaria were parts of the ancient Jewish homeland, and the Roman Province of Judea. Judea-Samaria was also a part of the internationally designated Jewish National Home occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967.
Now, your paranoia has come up with another beaut:
Recently Israel has been sufficiently emboldened to covet Egypt’s main life line: the NILE
Could you please elaborate on this Israeli lust for the Nile?? Do you have any facts on this matter that you would care to share with us? We are ever open to accepting true knowledge from whatever source it comes. As to the Nile, I do know that Ethiopia believes that Egypt and Sudan have been unfairly depriving Ethiopia of the Nile's waters that begin in that country.
Elliott Aron Green - 2/6/2011
jjb writes: Thank you Israel, thank you America. They've had enough. President Obama, June 09
JJb, you write as if Obama and Israel were somehow allied. Israelis consider Obama an enemy. He does not represent us.
Peter Kovachev - 2/4/2011
Gosh, Mr Marsh, that's quite a mouthful. All that foppy-sounding fluff just to peddle the tired old narrative about Israel fueling all Arab "frustration," or as you more creatively put it, "wholly justified ferocious resentment." Coincidentally, one would hope, that happens to be the meme frantically pushed by the Muslim Brotherhood, assorted jihadists, the international antisemitic rabble and Iran.
Speaking of Iran and your astonishment over its importance, you may have pehaps wish to consider Iran's exuberant rush to get nuked up, or its "influence" in Gaza, the Hezbollah enclave in southern Lebanon (heck, the Lebanese government as well), Syria and now, even Turkey.
Alas, in spite of your unspecified Israeli "injustice," what seems to be currently animating people in Egypt and elswhere in the Arab world is dismal poverty, hunger and lack of hope in any future. While your kind may holler and point at Israel, don't count on jobless, homeless and starving Egyptians or Tunisians to get exercised over the shocking absence of cloves or escargot in the new Gazan indoor shopping centre, nor over the horrors of new Israeli apartment blocks in Israel's own capital. At least not without a lot of "political re-education" from the usual suspects and their trusty ideological serfs, such as yourself.
I'm glad you had a good laugh ...hysterical reactions can be quite therapeutic indeed... but the sober truth is that yes, actually Israel is an island of stability in the Middle East. Strong democratic institutions, orderly political processes, an educated and hard-working citizenry, a competent military and a healthy economy all stick out rather obviously in the surrounding muck of gory savagery, astounding stupidity and top-to-bottom incompetence.
Charles S Young - 2/3/2011
Pipes claims Obama is "myopically siding with the Islamists" but the link he provides shows no such thing.
Obama just gives boilerplate about how Mubarek should respect universal rights.
This is Glen Beck level of argument.
Fahrettin Tahir - 2/3/2011
If you follow that line you will have to fight one war after the other.
If you want peace you have to listen to what the other side is telling you.
Criminal nation? Tell me, what happened to the native Americans ..
Joseph E. Marsh, Jr. - 2/3/2011
One of Mr. Pipes most praiseworthy talents is his easy manner of establishing his utter lack of credibility by the end of any first paragraph of his. Here, Pipes brilliantly does it by the third word in the whole essay: the compound adjective "much-anticipated." Much anticipated by whom? The Israeli establishment, which built its regional security atop what they evidently thought was the bedrock of a Mubarak dynasty? The Obama administration with its bewildered, confused, and less than exuberant expressions of uncertain support for Cairo's spontaneous community organizing? Much-anticipated as evidenced by the preparedness shown by all parties concerned, including the demonstrators, who as of February 3 still have not produced a spokesman? As if that weren't enough, by the end of that very same sentence, Pipes speaks of Iran as at the "center of the region," even though just about everybody else on the planet sees that it's actually Egypt.
Never mind the many other jarring speed bumps on the way to a typical Pipes prefabricated conclusion, such as citing Qatar as a "resistance" state when it is more US military base than "state" (just take a look-see on a flight around Doha). Pipes' whole act is to go through the motions of essay-writing in order to make, for the fifty zillionth time, his eternally recurring points, namely (a). that there scarcely exists a phenomenon that can't be fitted to the trope of "cold war," which if we are to be truthful begs reducing to "war," which can only be fought with any hope of success by the benefactors at the Hoover Institute for whom Pipes has shilled for decades, and (b). it's really all about Israel, the "island of stability" in the Middle East and "the West's only reliable ally." Is everybody done laughing right out of his chair, reading "island of stability"?
You betcha, Mr. Pipes, Israel has reliably taken delivery of 3 billion US dollars per year in US aid, and in no small part for that very reason, it has been a very reliable source of enormous injustice, tension, and wholly justified ferocious resentment, quite a bit of which surely fuels the crowds in Cairo.
Joseph Mutik - 2/2/2011
The middle east isn't only Sunni. Syria is a Shiite minority dictatorship on a Sunni majority. Also in Lebanon the Shiite, as we all see try to get the control of the country through violence.
There are people here who know some history and geography, this is a history site after all!
We also know the genocidal criminal Turkish history of the 20th century concerning the Armenians and of course the violently criminal behavior against the Kurdish people. Only a short time ago the Kurdish people were allowed to use and study Kurdish, before they were forced to speak Turkish. What's interesting is that the prime minister of the Turkish criminal nation is now making noise against Israel.
Turkey lost the strategic importance the country had during the cold war, against USSR and is trying to redefine itself.
The Chinese and American economies are very much linked together and China has enough social problems inland (the less developed part of the country) and for sure they are not going to endanger the economic ties with the USA. So about China you are entitled to dream! About Iran, go for it, but be careful because Iran begun to have fuel and food prices problems, so who knows?!
The western world can be blamed for a lot of things happening in the Islamic world but the truth is that the main reason for the Islamic world dis-functionality is the Islam itself. Islam is a civilization in decline that didn't learn yet how to cope with the modern world and only when the Muslims will learn to blame themselves the change will begin!
Fahrettin Tahir - 2/2/2011
In a new twist, the TV propaganda station of the terrorist PKK, which has done so much for the Kurdish conflict is now being discussed as a candidate for the Nobel peace prize.
This is the West's way of encouraging the Kurds to be unreasonable and demand secession from Turkey, their only real ally in the Islamic world.
Turkey has two potential responses: one go with Iran and the anti western Arab regimes and two go with China.
Two and a half: both at the same time.
This is how they deal with their friends. Thy have more respect for their enemies.
Peter Kovachev - 2/2/2011
Ok, now something that finally makes sense. The line I love most, the one I'd like to blaze across t-shirts and make my millions:
"Here it is the interests of a cuddled 'tube baby' criminally and incest fully begotten that reign uber alles!"
Peter Kovachev - 2/2/2011
Bravo, Omar! I was wondering how you and the Brotherhood will find a way to blame Israel for Arab woes, and looks like you're set.
Egypt, as the developing Islamist-approved version goes, suffers because it made peace with Israel. And just like many of the nitwits on Cairo's streets have been saying as of yesterday (Iranian instructions finally trickled down), it's the perennial Arab "humiliation" that's unbearable...not getting one's butt soundly whipped by the hated "Zionist entity," or wallowing in systemic incompetence, religious superstition, corruption, rabid hatred, abject poverty rubbing shoulders with obscene opulence, mass ignorance and all the other charming halmarks of Arab nationhood.
Sounds like you have the upcoming election platform all figured out. I'd certainly vote for you over that slimy old El Baradei; at least you've let us all in on where you stand and even more importantly, you make us laugh. What an exciting time this must be for you !
omar ibrahim baker - 2/2/2011
The USA is bent on keeping its eyes closed and its ears numbed until a stone hits it in the face, and its diplomats start fighting each other for access to a departing helicopter!
It has a seemingly cureless love affair for losers and the interests of Standard Oil, now Exxon, and Boeing etc invariably over ride the interest of the USA, the nation.
That is the story of the USA in most, practically all, of the Third World!
However in the Middle East the story got a new twist and it is no longer the interests of Exxon and Boeing that override and supersede nor, of course the USA's (the nation).
Here it is the interests of a cuddled “tube baby" criminally and incest fully begotten that reign uber alles!
But the baby grew into an adult and with bottomless support from his foster father grew into a hoodlum then progressed to full time gangster that even his “father” cannot control.
The father is now in a fix and with his face bleeding from the last stone, actually the latest two stones is at a loss on what to do: deal with his foster son or ward off the stones.
omar ibrahim baker - 2/2/2011
The story of Saddat/ Mubarak Egypt is the sad story of the typical defector who, as always, ends up by being doubly looser.
In as few words as possible it is a story of continuous decline which runs as follows:
Egypt was the de facto and the de jure leader of the Arab world until Sadat chose to break ranks and make a separate peace with Israel.
Ever since Egypt's declining standing and influence in its natural, traditional, milieu and sphere of influence accelerated to the point of making it a minor ,negligible regional player eclipsed not only by some of the seniors, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Turkey but also by tiny Qatar!
OUT of its element Egypt lost it standing and influence and got practically nothing in return.
Neither of it two co-signatories to Camp David, the USA and Israel, returned the "favor" for breaking Arab ranks.
If anything both failed Egypt where it counts most:
POLITICALLY: re regional power, standing and influence.
The USA NOT only failed to deliver any "reasonable" resolution of the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict (the regional enjeu par excellence) but ,instead concluded a STRATEGIC alliance with its ex nemesis and regional competitor, Israel, that further lowered Egypt's regional standing and emphasized its negligibility .
Israel driven by its own innate expansionist ambitions and encouraged by American kowtowing accelerated its expansionist ambitions by further land expropriation and construction of Settlements in occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories.
BOTH, the USA and Israel, knew that they were playing with a SPENT force and acted accordingly.
ECONOMICALLY: Egypt did not fare any better there either.
The “free market” economic doctrine the USA imposed led to further deterioration of the living standard of the majority of the Egyptian population that, in turn, bred a new “class” of millionaires and billionaires, with the inevitable corruption that always goes with it
Israel however got the most, the best deal: free, uninterrupted trade crowned by a dream like long term contract for Egyptian gas at a ridiculous fraction of its value.
(Recently Israel has been sufficiently emboldened to covet Egypt’s main life line: the NILE)
By breaking Arab ranks and concluding a separate “peace” treaty with Israel Egypt:
-Abdicated its Arab leadership and lost all the regional power that goes with it
-Acknowledged defeat and submitted meekly to the USA and Israel
-Relegated itself to a minor negligible regional entity.
Thereafter, understandably, both the USA and Israel dealt with Egypt as a defeated, compliant and spent power and treated it accordingly.
james joseph butler - 2/1/2011
Pipes is like the rest of the American foreign policy establishment, behind the rest of the world. If it's not oil, Israel or Iran, there's no need to adjust your settings. Even now his suggestion is that democracy is antipodean, "counter-intuitive", in the Middle East. Democracy is a "decades-long process" requiring the "inculcation of counter-intuitive ideas about elections, freedom of speech and the rule of law".
Ah the joys of learning from ones' betters. Thank you Israel, thank you America. They've had enough. President Obama, June 09, BBC, Is Pres. Mubarack an authoritarian ruler? "No".
Fahrettin Tahir - 2/1/2011
What Mr Pipes omits to say is that Iran is a shiitic state, wheras the rest of the Middle East is Sunnitic. Expecting Iran to dominate the Middle east is like expecting the Greek Orthodox Church to take power in Sweden.
It will not happen.
What we are seeing is an attempt to use the image of Iranian domination to scare the Sunnites into closer cooperation with Israel and the US.
The Saudis seem to accept this especially since their oil producing region is populated by oppressed Shiites.
Both Turkey and Egypt are too self conscious to be scared by Iran. This is why they can cooperate with Iran without and fear.
The alienation of the Islamic world is due to Western policies and it is these policies which need to be changed if the anti-Western block building is to end.
Does the West really have to break up Iraq, Sudan, Turkey, Afghanistan, to be followed by Pakistan and Iran? Thta policy is doing far more to create anti Western feeling than any Islamist conspiracy.
Who says that Orientals are the only ones with conspiracy theories?
- New Churchill Museum director shares vision
- Judith Kelleher Schafer, 72, a historian of slavery and prostitution, dies
- Northwestern celebrates Garry Wills with a book in his honor
- Conservatives go after UCLA's historian James Gelvin
- Laura Hillenbrand writes her masterpieces despite suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome