The Arab Voice – March 2020

From Coronavirus to  Idlib

Arab writers respond to perplexing ‘plaguing’ issues in the region

Is Coronavirus a Conspiracy?

By Abdullah Bin Bakhit

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 14

We live in an age of fake news and conspiracy theories not only in the Islamic world, but also in America, where they have become more popular than ever. Today, there are books, magazines and online forums dedicated solely to the topic, many of which have been energetically covering the issue of the coronavirus epidemic. Did the virus originate from bats? How come it only broke out now and not in prior years? How come it emerged just as the US government exerted greater economic pressure on China? Did the Chinese physician who discovered the disease die of infection or was he killed? What are the Chinese authorities hiding from the rest of the world? Each of these questions generates tales, books, dialogues and interviews that neither the Chinese government nor news agencies can answer. Refuting these claims is not enough when people who are so skeptical of the existing world order.

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Before and after photos show how coronavirus fears have emptied out some of Saudi Arabia’s busiest holy sites (Getty Images/Business Insider)

The way in which people respond to these events – pandemics, accidents and wars – is no different than the way avid fans watch important sports matches: Everyone knows the details of the game, but everyone is keen to know the details behind what the facts hold and what the news says. Sadly, real news is often void of juicy stories that the public is looking for. Very few people possess the ability to hear the truth and act on its basis. There is also a big difference between conspiracy theories in America and those in the Arab world. Conspiracies in America stem from a mistrust in political institutions. The average American politician cannot capitalize on it. Conversely, in the Arab world, conspiracy is propagated by politicians. It’s always used to galvanize the masses. A review of the history of conspiracy theories in the Middle East will reveal that the conspirator always has a name: Zionism, the Mossad, the CIA, Freemasonry.

Abdullah Bin Bakhit

 

 Coronavirus: Between Reputation and Safety

 By Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, February 17

One of the biggest lessons we can learn from the coronavirus epidemic is that public health is an interconnected issue requiring cooperation by many different actors. Countries cannot combat the virus alone, and any attempt to conceal incidents of the disease might cause it to spread even more. The anger directed toward governments is further exacerbated by various rumors and conspiracy theories that have been spreading around, including the idea that the virus originated from a military laboratory at a biological-weapons hospital. The truth is that epidemics have accompanied people since ancient times. With the boost in global travel and environmental change being brought about by human activity, viral epidemics are only expected to grow. Governments can only be blamed for one thing: if they choose to advance their political reputation over the safety of citizens. The Chinese government, for example, is said to have contacted Li Liang, the first doctor to warn about the corona danger, threatening him to cease his warnings. Unfortunately, Liang was right, and he himself died of the virus he warned the world about. The good news so far is that the spread of infection within China has slowed for the first time since its outbreak. Because of corona, Chinese President Xi Jinping faces the most challenging time of his term since he stepped into office seven years ago. He deliberately took to the streets, accompanied by the media, and visited patients at different hospitals with a mask on his face. Clearly, the current state of panic surrounding the disease is far more dangerous than the virus itself. Despite the fact that coronavirus mortality rates stand at less than 2%, the news coming from China has been causing major concern in the West.

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Members of Kuwait’s national guard wearing safety masks keep watch outside a hotel in the capital where Kuwaitis returning from Iran are quarantined and tested for coronavirus COVID-19, on February 24 (Image Credit: AF)

The main concerns are that there is no vaccine to prevent the illness, no drug to treat it, and death occurs within three weeks of infection. Popular anger is a natural consequence of helplessness and fear, and if the scientific deficit persists in discovering treatments and vaccines over the next few months, the situation will become even more complicated, particularly at the political level. Economic breakdown, civil disobedience, travel boycotts and halts to trade are only a handful of the possibilities. Governments around the world have already resorted to harsh measures to prevent the virus from spreading in their own jurisdiction, including through the forceful isolation of anyone returning from Asia. These are harsh measures, but they are becoming more and more common. They might very well be the only way to stop the spread of the disease.

 Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed

 

Idlib in the International Arena

By Riad Naasan Agha (former Syrian minister of culture)

Al-Etihad, UAE, February 15

Many observers believe that what is happening in Idlib these days may inadvertently lead to the outbreak of a world war if the situation continues to get out of hand. Undoubtedly, the international community is keen on disarming this Syrian bomb for fear of getting involved in a bloody war. Unfortunately, Idlib, which used to be called the “forgotten city”, has become one of the most infamous places in the world. Today, over 4 million Syrian civilians are held there as hostages. Hundreds of thousands of others have fled. Instead of reducing tension and violence in Idlib, it seems like regional powers are turning the city into a site of never-ending bloodshed. The entrance of Turkish forces into Idlib Province to support rebel groups, concurrent with a growing Russian campaign to empower a local pro-Assad government, presents a real danger of escalation.

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People check the damage in a street following an air strike in Ma’arrat Misrin, part of Idlib governorate. Feb. 25. (Photographer: Mohammed Al-Rifai/AFP via Getty Images)

Indeed, the Idlib land mine might explode in the faces of Turkey, Russia, Iran, the United States and NATO following the failure of the Astana and Sochi agreements, which had been doomed to fail due to each actor’s own goals. Time and time again, I have called on our Arab brethren to restore their role in the conflict and demonstrate leadership at a time of need. There is no need to solve the Idlib crisis in the corridors of Geneva or Washington, but rather in the hallways of the Gulf. It is time for the Arab world to step up to the plate and fight to make sure that the Syrian people can finally live a free and dignified life.

They, too, understand that Syria is the gateway to greater security in the region.

Riad Naasan Agha

 

 

 

Shifting Sands

Saudi Writers To Palestinians: Accept Trump’s Peace Plan Or “You’ll Regret It Later”

By David E. Kaplan

While British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lavished praise on Donald Trump’s vision for Middle East peace during the PM’s question time in the House of Commons, far more telling was the ‘Shifting Sands’ responses from Saudi Arabian intellectuals and journalists.

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In 1960, a British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan spoke of a ‘Wind  of Change’ blowing across the continent of Africa. Could it be that in 2020, another such transformative shift  could be blowing across the Middle East, emanating from the Arabian Peninsula –the birthplace of the Islamic prophet Mohammed?

While and to be expected, there is no change of the solid Saudi support of the Palestinian people and their quest for statehood, nevertheless, the official Saudi position on U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” was one of support, albeit qualified.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry reaction was clearly revealed in the Riyadh-based, pro-government Saudi daily newspaper, Al-Riyadh  in the January 29, 2020 edition:

the Kingdom appreciates the efforts made by President Trump’s administration to develop a comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli peace plan, and it encourages the start of direct peace negotiations between the sides under U.S. sponsorship, in which any dispute regarding details of the plan will be settled. This, in order to advance the peace process and arrive at an agreement that will actualize the brother Palestinian people’s legitimate rights.”

This is a marked shift in attitudes from the past and a clear indication to move the process forward.

To  encourage the Palestinians and offer reassurance that they were not being abandoned by the kingdom’s “qualified” support for the plan, the Saudi press reported in Al-Watan that King Salman spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by phone, assuring him of “the Kingdom’s steadfast position vis-à-vis the Palestinian cause and the rights of the Palestinian people.”

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Over and above the royal position, most illuminating is the support the peace initiative has received from the Saudi media, as well as telling tweets by intellectuals and journalists.

Noting the famous line by famed Israeli diplomat, Abba Eban that “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, a number have been calling on the Palestinians not to miss “this opportunity” and to approach the plan with a positive mindset.

The articles and tweets recall that every plan offered to the Palestinians has been worse than the one preceding it and that if they reject the ‘Deal of the Century’ now, they may well long for it in the future.

Hereunder are extracts from articles and tweets:

Ibrahim Al-Nahas in the Saudi daily Okaz

Hasten not to reject and examine the plan carefully is the advice to the Palestinians from Political Science lecturer at King Saud University and Saudi Shura Council Member, Ibrahim Al-Nahas.

In an interview with the Saudi daily Okaz, Al-Nahas expressed that “Trump’s Peace Plan,’ or, as media call it, the ‘Deal of the Century,’ is an important stage in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process in particular, and in the peace process in the Middle East in general.” While this “does not mean that it should be accepted without discussion of its goals and objectives,” he added that “all the Palestinian elements must examine the plan carefully, and especially while keeping in mind past experience [with previous proposals]. ……”

He advised that Palestinian decision-making should not be linked “to regional elements [such as Iran, Qatar, or Turkey], as some Palestinian factions and movements do,” and “cease the accusations of treason voiced by some of the Palestinians and Arabs against Arab countries that maintain advanced ties with the U.S.”

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Ahmad Adnan in Okaz

Saudi journalist Ahmad Adnan wrote in his column in the Saudi daily Okaz located in Jeddah.

The PA has made negative statements against the deal. I maintain that at this stage it needs a friend to be honest with it, telling it and advising it: Sign the deal and then curse it as much as you want, day and night. The Palestinians have in decades past specialized in missing golden opportunities because of [their] mistaken assessment of their capabilities and of the crisis.”

After listing a number of examples of these ‘missed opportunities”,

Adnan writes that “In actuality, the Palestinian cause is no longer the Arabs’ main cause – not because the Arabs have given up on Palestine, but because this matter [i.e., the Palestinian plight] is mirrored in all Arab states, as we have seen in Syria, for example. The Palestinians will hear the merchants of the Palestinian cause creating a great uproar and will discover too late that this uproar is aimed at exploiting them in order to take over and destroy the region.”

Perhaps the merchants of the [Palestinian] cause will manage to torpedo the Deal of the Century, and, as we today bemoan the [missed opportunity of the] Arab peace initiative, we will tomorrow bemoan the Deal of the Century – while the Palestinians, unfortunately, descend towards the fate of the [American] Indians…”

 Khaled Al-Suleiman in Okaz

Concerned that if the Palestinians reject the deal that they will be compelled to relinquish even more, Khaled Al-Suleiman wrote in his column in ‘Okaz:

The history of the Palestinian cause has proven that reality is the greatest enemy of the Palestinians. The price of Palestinian and Arab rejection of every peace plan was [only] more concessions, beginning with the partition plan through the Clinton plan to the Trump plan.

It should be noted that the Palestinian decision-making has always been subject to pressure and control by  Arab regimes that harmed the Palestinians as much as Israel did, if not more.

Today, the Palestinians again find themselves facing a peace plan that gnaws away more of their rights and sets them against options even more bitter than those in the past. But rejecting [the plan] this time does not mean that the [next] will carry a lower price-tag. International reality is now presenting the Palestinian cause  with the worst possible scenario, since it is weak, isolated, and ignored. Therefore, the Palestinians’ options today are more limited, and cannot tolerate unrealistic positions.

“The Palestinians must calmly examine the reality of their struggle with Israel and of their relations with the Arab [regimes], so as to draw up a position that will serve their interests, not the slogans of others. All the Arab regimes that have in the past traded in their cause, and that continue to do so, live within their own independent borders, far from any state of war with Israel. Their support for the Palestinians consists of nothing but hollow slogans and incitement, for which the Palestinians pay with their spirit, blood and money.”

Muhammad Al-Osaimi in the Saudi daily Al-Yawm 

Noting that  the Palestinians have missed many opportunities over the years, columnist Muhammad Al-Osaimi in the pro government Arabic daily newspaper Saudi Al-Yawm daily, argues that had they grasped them, they would have been better off today. He therefore counsels they should not be quick to reject the ‘Deal of the Century’:

Who knows how many opportunities [for peace] the Palestinians have had in the past 30 years? Had these opportunities been realized, they could have been today in a better situation as a people and as a country …… Now they face another opportunity that they are rejecting, and that they may  long for in another five or 10 years.”

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Al-Yawm daily

 

Truth On Twitter

“The Day Will Come When The Palestinians Yearn For It” is the message from Saudi intellectuals on Twitter.

Saudi intellectual Turki Al-Hamad tweets:

The Palestinians are making a big mistake by not agreeing to the American peace plan. I mean, what’s the alternative? The Palestinians have missed numerous opportunities because of slogans that led [them] astray and strategies of ‘all-or-nothing.’ The end result was nil: continued occupation, loss of Jerusalem, erosion of large parts of the West Bank, and an internal Palestinian struggle harsher than the conflict with Israel.”

He followed with this further tweet:

Previous opportunities were better than this one, but their answer was always no. This was when the Palestinian issue headed the global agenda. Today, the Palestinian issue has been cast into oblivion, and the Palestinians have no other alternative – unless the chaos of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or the powerlessness of the PLO can be considered options.”

And in a subsequent tweet::

Politics is the art of the possible, and what is possible today is the proposed American plan. Should the deal be rejected, the alternative will be the continued erosion of the West Bank territories. Then the Palestinians will say ‘If only we had agreed’ – just like with the previous plans.

It’s time for the Palestinians to change their behavior so that it serves the interests of their people…”

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Saudi Intellectual Turki Al-Hamad who earlier criticised the Palestinians for forfeiting an important opportunity by boycotting the Bahrain Economic Workshop in 2019. (Watanserb.com, March 10, 2019)

A former columnist for Okaz and the Al-Arabiya website , Saleh Al-Fahid, tweeted:

The Palestinians’ rejection of the Deal of the Century reminds me of their rejection of the 1947 Partition Plan and of all peace plans proposed to them since then. Each time they were offered less, and they pointlessly yearned for the previous plan. I am worried that if they reject the Deal of the Century, the day will come when they yearn for it …”

Another Okaz columnist, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Lahim tweeted criticism of the Palestinian organisations opposing the deal:

Imagine you had a hen that laid golden eggs. Would you relinquish her? Never. You would make an uproar so as to fill your pockets. This is the situation of the Palestinians who trade in the Palestinian cause and reject peace…”

Changing Landscapes

Away from Saudi Arabia, no less illuminating of changing perceptions on Israel was Al-Jazeera presenter Faisal al-Qasim tweeting that “Zionism was the most successful project in the twentieth century.” Despite risking the wrath of his 5.5 million followers for “his kind of praise for the Zionists”, al-Qasim was not deterred.

He tweeted:

Who are the most advanced, developed, democratic and successful … Israel or the Arab regimes?

…..The majority of Arabs, if they want to insult you, they describe you as ‘Zionist,’ knowing that the most successful project in the past century and the present is the Zionist project, while all projects of the Arabs, especially Arab nationalism, have failed. Before you use the word Zionist as an insult you must first reach the shining sole of Zionism.”

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Al-Jazeera presenter Faisal al-Qasim.

A Far Cry

These words reveal changing mindsets.

They represent a far cry from the crazed anti-Israel rhetoric of the 1960s fueling Egyptian strongman, Gamal Abdel Nasser to unite the fractious Arab states behind him leading to the Six Day War. Now, in 2020, that anti-Israel fanaticism has begun to dissipate, and a new somewhat more positive attitude toward the Jewish state has begun to emerge not only among rulers eager for allies in confronting Iran, but also among segments of the Arab populace across the Middle East eager for peace and prosperity.

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Fueling mass hysteria against Israel in the sixties, President Gamal Abdul Nasser is seen here delivering a speech in Aleppo on February 17, 1960

The Arab Voice

Insightful perspectives in the twilight weeks of December 2019 from two Arab journalists on two politicians – one in the East and one in the West.

These writers note the duplicitous nature of both the Malaysian president, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and the electorally trounced UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn and warn of the dangers of  their flirtations with the world’s extremists and supporters of terrorism.

 

The Kuala Lumpur Summit – A Play To Mislead The World

By Ali Kassem

Al-Arab, London, December 21

It is very surprising that the Malaysian prime minister chose to speak about Islamophobia in front of three leaders who sponsor notorious acts of terrorism

Why did the president of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, choose to talk about Islamophobia, blaming Islamic countries for the exacerbation of the phenomenon, in the presence of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani? And who exactly are the Islamic countries that bear responsibility for exacerbating Islamophobia, according to Mr. Mohamad?

Let’s start by introducing Mahathir Mohamad. He was born in 1925 and grew up in a poor suburb, in a household with modest financial and social means. His academic excellence enabled him to obtain a scholarship to enroll in an English school, after which he studied medicine. But his passion for politics sent him on a long journey in which he assumed various positions in government, including the premiership of Malaysia since 1981.

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From Leader To Misleader. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad delivers his keynote address at the Kuala Lumpur Summit Malaysia December 19.

Mahathir brought many accomplishments to the prime minister’s office. His greatest achievement was his economic recovery strategy, which he implemented after the Asian economic crisis in 1998. He defied the opinions of his advisers, who foolishly urged him to peg his country’s currency to the US dollar, and this bold step was one of the main reasons for the recovery of the Malaysian economy at a faster rate than other Asian countries. Mahathir received many local and international awards and honors, including the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1994 and the King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam in 1997. In 2007, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

It is therefore very surprising that a man of such stature chose to speak about Islamophobia in front of three leaders who sponsor notorious acts of terrorism, generating the problem of Islamophobia in the first place. Perhaps it is Mohamad’s old age which rendered him blind to this fact. Mahathir’s comments were made during an Islamic summit in Kuala Lumpur, in which Saudi Arabia refused to participate. Riyadh explained that it will not attend a conference claiming to represent the interests of the world’s 1.75 billion Muslims unless it is held under the auspices of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

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Conspicuous By Their Absence. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrives in Malaysia to attend the Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019 at the invitation of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Notably absent was – Saudi Arabia.

At a time when Saudi Arabia is making efforts to combat manifestations of extremism and battle Islamophobia, the architect of political Islam, Mahathir Mohamad, has chosen to surround himself with three of the most powerful regimes sponsoring extremism and terrorism in the world. The strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar are caused by the Qatari sponsorship of the Muslim Brotherhood, and its support for political Islam, both Sunni and Shiite. A Saudi presence in the summit would have given legitimacy to the Iranian regime, which does not hide its expansionist ambitions in the region. The same logic applies to Turkey. The three regimes mentioned above try to delude the rest of the world by participating in a conference condemning terrorism, while they ignite conflict and spew hatred behind the scenes. Mahathir would have been wiser not to associate himself with these three regimes.

Ali Kassem

 

Britain Needs To Get Rid Of Corbyn

By Amir Taheri

Asharq Al-Awsat, Lebanon, December 20

The British Conservatives’ victory in the recent election was described as a “landslide victory” and an “earthquake” by pundits. Indeed, given the fact that the Tories won their first parliamentary majority since the 1980s, the election may very well signal a “landslide victory” for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. And given the major defeat suffered by the Labour Party, the title “earthquake” seems fitting. However, a closer look at the results may give us a more nuanced picture of the results.

One of the key questions pundits have raised again and again is: How did voters who associated themselves with socialist values decided to abandon the Labour Party and vote Conservative this time around?

There are two possible ways to approach this question. First, what pundits fail to recognize is that the transition from Labour to Conservative isn’t necessarily new to these elections; it already happened during the 2016 vote on Brexit.

Put simply, the recent UK election just confirmed what we’ve previously seen in the Brexit referendum. Beyond the issue of Brexit, another key factor in Labour’s downfall is undoubtedly the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s duplicitous response to antisemitic tropes within his party, his flirtation with the Irish Republican Army, his “brotherly” affinity with Hezbollah and Hamas (as well as his decade-long career as a commentator on the English-language channel of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards), his anti-Israel sentiment, and his anti-NATO stance, have all rendered him an unfit candidate to lead a major Western democracy.

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Labour Of Hate. It all went wrong for Corbyn and Labour.

Corbyn and his colleagues did everything in their power to destroy British social democracy and replace it with a radical movement that suffers from what Lenin described in 1918 as a “childish disorder.” With their own hands, they destroyed the Labour Party of Britain. Much to the luck of liberal British voters, the central pillar of democracy is that nothing is irreversible. Even the Labour Party can recoup and rebound. However, it must reinvent itself first. This cannot, and will not, be achieved with Corbyn as its head. The sooner Corbyn and his supporters step aside and give room to a new Labour leadership, the better for democracy in Britain.

Amir Taheri

The Arab Voice

Perspectives this week from three Arab journalists on three countries in the region – Turkey, Iraq and Iran

The first, Ashraf Al-Barbari examines the price being paid by the people of Turkey due to the confrontational and reckless path of its long-serving President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; the second, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed  reveals how the protest movement in Iraq is not calling for a coup against the regime but for early elections to hold corrupt politicians accountable and ensure the rule of law; and the third, Ameel Amin, speculates that Iran – facing debilitating sanctions and weakened in leadership beset by internal disagreement – could face “collapse” unless it negotiates soon with the USA.

 

Lessons Learned from the Tyranny of Erdoğan

By Ashraf Al-Barbari

Al-Shorouq, Egypt, December 6

It seems as if the illusions from which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been suffering, have reached a new and unprecedented level. They now exceed the limits of perception. The man has redrawn his country’s map to unilaterally include many Greek islands. Determined by an obsession to recreate his country’s lost empire, he continued by signing an agreement with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj to draw a maritime border between the two countries, even though the two countries share virtually no water between them. Although the entire purpose of a border demarcation agreement is to make it publicly known to all, Erdoğan made sure that his agreement with Sarraj stayed secret – mostly because he understands, better than anyone else, that the paper on which it is written lacks any value, especially from the standpoint of international law.

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Meddling In The Med. Turkey sparks Cyprus and Greece fury with provocative oil drilling project in the Mediterranean.

This agreement is nothing more than new evidence indicating that Erdoğan’s long stay in power has transformed him from a successful prime minister with undeniable development experience in his early years to a despotic ruler leading his country to the abyss after he toppled his closest allies and advisers. The leaders of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party have paid the price for allowing Erdoğan to be transformed from a mere party leader whose term must not exceed two periods every four years to a lifelong leader. Erdoğan turned the party into his own political organization and toppled every leader who contested his authority. Now, the entire Turkish public is paying the price of allowing Erdoğan to stay in power for more than 16 years, whether as prime minister or president of the republic. In the past few years, Turkey found itself drowning in a sea of problems with virtually all of its neighbors, while the Turkish economy entered a freefall following years of stability and growth. Erdoğan’s transformation from a successful prime minister to a ruler haunted by paranoia and delusions was nothing but a direct, and possibly inevitable consequence of staying in power for too long. If the president had adhered to the rules of the democratic game and left his executive positions after eight years, Turkey would have perhaps continued on its path toward prosperity. Erdoğan is a living testament to the fact that power corrupts. In seeking to secure his own thrown, he manipulated the rules of the democratic game, overthrown his political partners and opponents, and corrupted his country.

 Ashraf Al-Barbari

 

Iraq Is in Great Danger

By Al-Rahman Al-Rashed

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, December 8

Iraq, which is looking to get out of its crisis, may very well turn into another Syria unless Iraqi politicians, parliamentarians and the military apparatus remedy the situation and block the way to the “third party.” Sadly, the campaign to target unarmed protesters is getting more violent and bloody with each passing day. This will eventually push the protesters to turn violent, themselves. The perpetrators of these brutal crimes, known as the third party, are Iran-backed militias that get their money and the salaries of their tens of thousands of militiamen from the Iraqi government.

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Iraqis Take To The Street. Iraqi demonstrators carry the national flag and placards amid ongoing anti-government protests. (Sabah Arar/AFP via Getty Images)

Since the demonstrations erupted in early October, about 500 protesters have been killed and 20,000 others have been injured. The attack on demonstrators this past Friday was the boldest and most violent we’ve seen to date, as unknown militants killed about 50 people in Baghdad, while security services remained neutral. And because no one calls the killers by their name, even though it is a secret known to everyone, whether they are Asaib Al-Haq or other armed groups, organized violence will continue, and the Iraqi state will continue losing its grip over the situation. These militias dare to engage in confrontations because no one calls them by name, and there is no public warning against them, and they exploit their semiofficial status. They live on the government’s money while not abiding by its rules, despite attempts to tame it. And the army, the country’s official military force, is sitting on the sidelines without intervening. No one wants to see Iraq pushed toward complete chaos, but everyone is monitoring with concern how Tehran increases its grip over Iraqi state organs. In Iraq, Tehran sees an opportunity to overcome its serious financial crisis brought about by the American sanctions. What about those who are claiming that the Iraqi protests are an attempt to collapse the Iraqi political system and should, therefore, be suppressed? Unfortunately, those making these claims, trying to sow distrust in the protests, are the very same people who are forcefully trying to take over Iraq. As for the protesters, they are, in fact, strengthening the Iraqi political system because what they are demanding is change and reforms from within; not a coup against the regime. The protesters actually recognize state institutions. Their only demands are early elections, to hold corrupt politicians accountable, and ensure the rule of law. The third party, in contrast, want to crush the protests because they fear institutional change that would diminish their power. The protesters represent the power of the state and the opportunity of the Iraqi political system to finally reform itself. Therefore, protecting protesters means protecting the regime, and fighting against the killing of protesters means fighting against the killing of the modern Iraqi state.

 Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed

 

IRAN AND THE ESCAPE TO THE UNKNOWN

By Ameel Amin

Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, December 6

Iran is still trying, in vain, to find a way out of the sanctions and its inevitable fate. But it failed yesterday, today, and will continue to fail tomorrow. Its leadership is failing to understand that its strategic recklessness does not improve its bargaining power; it only tightens the noose around its neck. Events of recent days suggest that the mullahs are anxious and confused, suffering from disagreements and contradictions even among themselves. This may be the reason why President Hassan Rouhani declared a few days ago that his country was ready to launch negotiations with the United States on a multilateral framework if Washington lifted the sanctions that it re-imposed on Iran. However, Trump resents the Iranians and, unlike his predecessor in office, is unwilling to make any gestures toward the mullah regime.
A few days ago, The Wall Street Journal drew attention to what US financial intelligence revealed – that the Iranian government is experiencing a crisis in foreign exchange reserves, a crucial indicator of the country’s ability to control economic forces and import supplies. This lack of foreign exchange reserves, the decline in oil exports, and the increasing trade deficit place Iran in greater economic distress than it was in 2013 – that is, before it signed the notorious agreement with the US in 2015.

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Death To The People. Following a fuel price increase, Iranian protesters clash in the streets in the city of Isfahan in central Iran. With Amnesty International reporting at least 208 killed in Iran protests, rights group are calling the ‘alarming’ death toll ‘evidence that Iran’s security forces went on a horrific killing spree’.

Therefore, the immediate question is:

Will Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, drink from the cup of poison that was drunk by Khomeini the founder, and accept submission to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 12 conditions?

Evidence seems to suggest otherwise.

Observers of Iranian affairs believe that Iran would rather ignite the whole region in its attempt to save itself. On Wednesday, Washington was talking about new evidence indicating that Iran was smuggling new weapons and forces into the Middle East, possibly indicating that it was planning for a possible attack. In this context, the American Politico website reported that the US government is planning to support the protests of the Iranian people in several ways, most notably by lifting the Internet ban in the country and by escalating the media campaign in support of the Iranian people. The Americans believe that the recent Iranian youth protests are a sign of the effectiveness of the intense American pressure campaign against Iran. If the Iranian people take to the streets, the mullah regime will have no choice but to continue burning its foreign reserves to save the economy. This will only expose it to further danger and potential collapse unless it comes to the table and negotiates with the United States.

Ameel Amin

The Arab Voice

Perspectives from two Arab journalists: the first on on the concern of the Lebanese economy imploding due to Hezbollah’s policy of “crazy adventurism” and confrontation, and the second on recognising that  time is now ripe to honour the late Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat’s for his pursuit of peace with Israel that was both risky and right.

 

HEZBOLLAH IS BRINGING DOWN LEBANON’S FINANCIAL SYSTEM

 By Tony Abi Najem

Nida Al-Watan, Lebanon, November 25

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was not joking when he threatened that if Iran was attacked, Hezbollah would be ready to set the entire region on fire in its defense. But now a new kind of war is being waged by Washington against Tehran: an economic and financial one revolving around sanctions and which has proven to be less effective than a traditional war. Since announcing its withdrawal from the [2015] nuclear deal, the Trump Administration has imposed successive economic sanctions on both Iran and Hezbollah.

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‘The People Are One’. Lebanese unite against the political elite with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in October in large protests threatening the coalition government.

From the very first moment, Tehran realized that the battle would be unconventional, harsh and long, and that precautionary measures had to be taken, notably the reduction of Hezbollah’s reliance on Iranian money. This necessitated trying to secure alternative sources of funding for Nasrallah, and at this point, the game became clear to him as well. Just like he’s done so many times in the past, Nasrallah responded by doing what he does best: hide behind civilians. Hezbollah itself began hiding behind the people of Lebanon and their banks, financial institutions and economy. Hezbollah members of parliament took it upon themselves to obstruct any attempt to reform the economy.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah members upped their illegal smuggling of goods into the country while circumventing the formal banking system. It is for this reason that Hezbollah refuses to capitulate to the people’s demand to form a technocratic government that would protect the Lebanese national interest. Instead, it seeks to take the country and its economy hostage in the Iranian-American confrontation, even at the cost of a complete collapse of the Lebanese financial, banking and economic system!
Simply put, all Lebanese people pay the price for Hezbollah’s decision to engage in a confrontation with the United States from Lebanon in the service of Iran. This crazy adventurism is coming at the expense of the Lebanese people’s livelihoods, savings and financial stability.

Certainly, those who have declared their readiness to ignite the entire region, including Lebanon in defense of Iran will not hesitate to destroy Lebanon’s economy and financial system in the current financial war in an attempt to defend the mullah regime!

Tony Abi Najem

 

ANWAR SADAT’S HISTORIC VISIT TO ISRAEL

By Ibrahim Al-Bahrawi

Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, November 23

Forty-two years ago, on the evening of November 20, 1977, Egyptian president Muhammad Anwar Al-Sadat stood at the Knesset podium to deliver a speech demonstrating his remarkable ability to eliminate Israeli resistance to peace and the restoration of Arab land occupied by Israel in the 1973 war. In my estimation, this unprecedented step could only have been reached by a self-confident fighter willing to make great sacrifices for his country and his nation.

Sadat’s bold personality was exactly that. It was the same vision and conviction that pushed him, during the 1940s, to resist the British occupation of Egypt – making him lose his career as an army officer. With his historic visit, Sadat was able to achieve a huge political gain by breaking many barriers that prevented the Israelis from responding to calls for peace and withdrawal from the occupied Arab land in the Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights and West Bank. He also helped Israelis overcome their mistrust of outsiders, specifically their inherent fear of, and hostility to, Arab nations.
After all these years, I believe it’s our historical duty to recognize Sadat’s huge political accomplishments and to apologize for all those Arab leaders – in places like Iraq, Libya and Syria – who defamed him for his actions.

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Peace Of Mind. EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT Anwar Sadat (left) and prime minister Menachem Begin deep in conversation at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

These leaders waged a harsh campaign against Sadat and, in doing so, prevented other Arab nations from following in his footsteps and seizing the opportunity to liberate all the occupied territories through negotiations. Sadat’s speech ended the political stalemate imposed by the Israelis, with US support after the 1973 war, and shook the expansionist concepts that were implanted in the mind of Menachem Begin, founder of the extremist-minded Likud Party, who claimed in 1967 that “Sinai is an organic part of the Land of Israel.”

President Sadat was the veteran Arab fighter who successfully led the October military battle in 1973. But he was also unafraid to fight for peace by making risky political decisions that others criticized at the time. Now, through the perspective of history, we know he was right. It is time to give Sadat the respect this great leader deserves.

Ibrahim Al-Bahrawi

 

The Arab Voice

A selection of opinions and analysis from the Arab media

This month’s selection of articles reflect on the repercussions and ramifications following of the death of Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Iraqi-born leader of ISIS as well as the  nationwide demonstrations taking place in Lebanon, Iran and Iraq.

 

Baghdadi and Bin Laden … What’s the Difference?

 By  Waheed Abd al-Majeed 

Al-Etihad, UAE, November 7

When Osama bin Laden announced in 1988 the creation of what he called the “Global Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders,” known as al-Qaida, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had just turned 17. When bin Laden claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks, Baghdadi was an anonymous preacher at a Baghdad mosque. This generational difference between Baghdadi, born in 1971, and bin Laden, born in 1957, influenced the path the two men took.

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Death Of ISIS Leader. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself after US special forces found him in north-west Syria.

The circumstances surrounding the establishment of Islamic State in 2013 were considerably different from those in which al-Qaida was born. Although it is tempting to compare the assassination of Baghdadi just a few weeks ago to that of Bin Laden in May 2011, it is important to remember that the two events and their impact on the two organizations are inherently different. Bin Laden was able to play a pivotal role in his organization even while hiding, based on two factors: – First, his historical record in the war in Afghanistan and also the fame he gained during that war, which enabled him to lead global terrorism. – Second, his ability to communicate and attract attention, as demonstrated in his countless speeches.

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Revealing Reality. Zeid Ali, 12, left, and Hodayfa Ali, 11, comfort each other after their house was hit and collapsed during fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants. (Felipe Dana/AP)

In contrast, Baghdadi had neither of these factors. There is no remarkable historical record and no markers indicating that he was a strong or influential figure. From his supporters’ point of view, Baghdadi’s main achievement was in transforming a terrorist organization that operated only in Iraq into a larger movement operating in other Middle Eastern countries as well. By these measures, the impact of his death on ISIS may appear less important than that bin Laden’s assassination had for al-Qaida. But this conclusion may be hasty because it overlooks an important variable: Both men spent their last few years in hiding. Therefore, it was extremely difficult for them to play an effective leadership role in their respective organizations. Bin Laden’s role was considerably diminished in his final years and he became essentially irrelevant from an operational standpoint. Meanwhile, Baghdadi was killed after his organization was defeated militarily and expelled from areas it controlled in Syria and Iraq. But Baghdadi’s weakness was even more dramatic because he lacked the moral authority that bin Laden had. Yet this difference, however important, is not enough to conclude that the repercussions of Baghdadi’s killing for ISIS will be less monumental than the effects of bin Laden’s death on al-Qaida. If al-Qaida became weaker after bin Laden’s death, it was linked to the emergence of ISIS, which attracted some of its cadres and many of its supporters. Therefore, the fate of ISIS after the killing of Baghdadi may depend on two central questions: The first is the fate of Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashemi Al-Qurashi, who was coronated as ISIS’s new leader. Will the movement consolidate behind Qurashi’s back? The second relates to al-Qaida:

Will it be able to exploit the confusion and disorder within the ranks of ISIS to regain the forefront of global terrorism?

Or, alternatively, will a third organization, separate from these two, emerge in the region and vie for leadership?

History tells us that this is certainly possible.

Waheed Abd al-Majeed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

 

 

Trust: Basis of Social Contract between Ruler, Ruled

 By Muhammad Al-Sheikh

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, November 6

One of the most important things that have emerged from the ongoing demonstrations in Lebanon is that confidence is an indispensable requirement in the so-called “social contract” between the ruler and the ruled.

The people of Lebanon, who have grown accustomed to all of their sects and parties, do not trust their elected politicians anymore. Lebanese politicians, like many of their counterparts around the world, fail to deliver on their campaign promises as soon as they are elected. It seems as if this has been particularly true in Lebanon and Iraq, where leaders handed out promises only to pave their way to the throne but then turned their backs on the people as soon as they won the election. Politicians hiding under the cloak of democracy, speaking of accountability and transparency, have been the first to abandon these concepts when assuming power. The problem with Lebanon, just like the problem of Iraq, is that sectarian loyalties triumph political competence. People are elected to office based on ethnic labels, not political credentials; this inherently diminishes any prospect for equal opportunity in society while creating a deep sense of clientelism and injustice. Therefore, it can be argued that the first condition for democracy is the abolition of sectarianism because when sectarianism meets patriotism, only one survives.

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Lebanese Demand Change. Following nationwide cross-sectarian rallies across Lebanon since October 17, 2019 demanding a complete overhaul of an inefficient and corrupt political system, the government resigned and spurred promises from political leaders, who have vowed to enact serious reforms to combat corruption.

In Iraq, sectarian loyalties have allowed the country to fall into the hands of Iran. The Iraqi parliament is simply unable to make an independent decision and lacks any capacity to pursue its own national agenda. This is true, at least to some extent, in Lebanon as well. Thankfully, I am confident that the uprising in Lebanon will be sufficient to turn the table against the Iranian regime trying to take over the country. The people of Lebanon are going through a historic opportunity to liberate themselves from the hateful Iranian occupation. We must remember that Iran is extremely weak from the inside. The Iranian people are closely watching what is happening in Iraq and Lebanon. Revolutions can easily spread from one country to another, as the Arab Spring has taught us.

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Rise Of Fuel Price Rises Tensions. Iranian protesters block a highway following fuel price increase in Tehran, Iran, 16 November 2019 CREDIT: REX

The Iranian regime might unwillingly find itself being the next target of demonstrations, but this time, from the inside.

Muhammad Al-Sheikh (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

 

 

 Can Iraqi Regime Be Changed?

By Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, November 7

A handful of revolutions have shaken the region of late, but none has paved the way to the rise of a new regime. Leaders resigned and governments fell, but the regimes remained strong in Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan. In Libya and Yemen, state institutions have completely collapsed, yet the two countries are still in political limbo, finding themselves without alternative political systems or effective state institutions. The protests in Iraq caught the world by surprise since no one truly expected them to erupt, let alone be sustained at such intensity throughout the entire country.

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Anger At Leadership. Discontent over economic hardship and corruption, Iraqi demonstrators take part at ongoing anti-government protests at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq November 2, 2019. (REUTERS/Saba Kareem)

Although Iraqi phone lines had been cut off and Wi-Fi signals suspended, the Iraqi people have not backed down. The sad truth, however, is that despite the protesters’ admirable insistence, they are unlikely to topple the regime. The Iraqi masses who have taken to the streets are certainly able to force the government to resign. But this will change very little on the ground. The biggest achievement of these protestors is the ability to send Iran a message that its influence over Iraqi politics is not wanted. This is what brought hundreds of protestors to demonstrate outside the Iranian consulate and set it on fire. The people of Iraq are well aware of the fact that their government might be Iraqi, but its orders come from Tehran. Unfortunately, previous experience teaches us that the alternative to a government that steps down is not always clear. Sometimes, the resignation of the government is the easiest thing to offer because the alternative is not much better.

Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

 

 

 

The Arab Voice

NO INTEREST IN ISLAMIST RULE!

The Arab people do not wish to be governed by Islamist parties

By Suleiman Gouda

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, October 1

When the first round of presidential elections in Tunisia took place in the middle of this month, Abdelfattah Mourou, the vice president of the Islamic Renaissance Movement, ran on a list of 24 candidates. When the result was announced, Mourou was not among the two candidates that advanced to the final run-off. The Ennahda candidate, which is usually described as the Tunisian version of the Muslim Brotherhood, received 13% of the total vote in the first round, coming in third after businessman and media mogul Nabil Karoui, and renowned Tunisian law professor Qais Said, who came in first.

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Fingers On The Pulse. “It’s our right and our obligation to vote,” said Nourhene Ben Chalbi (left) with Mariam M’hamdi and Sabri Mohamed showing their inked finger after voting. Simon Speakman-Cordall for The National

Interestingly, when the losing candidates came forward to challenge the results, Mourou was not among them. This can only mean one thing: Mourou understood what had happened and realized that his movement is simply unpopular among the people. The small share of votes given to Ennahda was commensurate with its shrinking popularity. This in and of itself was a kind of sensibility that we can only wish to see enacted by our own Brotherhood branch, here in Egypt. The Egyptian Brotherhood is still far from a point where it can reckon with its defeat. Its members still vehemently refuse to recognize their political insignificance and failure to rule the country.
After the first elections were held in Libya in the post-Gaddafi era, the Muslim Brotherhood contested the results. Their share of votes was barely enough to pass the threshold. This meant that nothing on the ground gave them the right to rule Libya.
However, they did not stop protesting, and until today target the army with all sorts of baseless accusations. If elections were held in Yemen today, the Houthi group would gain a similar share of votes to those won by the Ennahda movement in Tunisia and the Brotherhood in Libya. The meaning of this would, again, be the same:

The Arab people do not wish to be governed by Islamist parties! Not in Yemen, and certainly not in Libya, Tunisia, or Egypt.

Suleiman Gouda

 

 

 

ROUHANI AT THE UNITED NATIONS

By Radwan Al-Sayeed

Al-Etihad, UAE, October 2

Iran, caught in yet another misfortune caused by its reckless behavior, seems to always speak in two voices: One talks about global peace and security, and one creates problem and spews hatred in the region.

At the United Nations last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani looked like a peace dove. But don’t be mistaken: this peace dove has teeth. He wants peace in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz through a security system linked to charters and contracts. He wants negotiations, not war.
He said that the Iranians had treated the European initiative positively, but the Europeans could not deliver on what they had promised. Just as Iran accepts negotiations in every way, it has commendable efforts to cooperate in solving problems. From Syria to Lebanon, Palestine to Yemen, it is ready to help achieve peace!
Rouhani began his speech with prayers for the martyrs of the revolution. I tried to understand which “revolution” he was referring to. He spoke about the martyrs in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine and Afghanistan. But he neglected to mention that in all of these places, Iran has committed massacres either directly or indirectly, through its proxy militias. In Syria and Iraq, Iran participated in the killing of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of millions of others.
Just a few days ago, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah called on the inhabitants of the Syrian town of Qusayr (which housed more than thirty thousand citizens) to return to their homes, from which Iranian and Syrian militias had kicked them out. The very same martyrs Rouhani was talking about in Syria and Iraq are those murdered by ISIS, the Popular Mobilization, the Revolutionary Guards Corps, and Hezbollah – all of which are supported by Iran. And who carried out the coup in Yemen, which killed and displaced thousands? They are the Houthis trained and armed by Iran. But Rouhani, for some reason, wants to be a negotiator who solves these problems.
Needless to say, this makes absolutely no sense. Iran is the problem.

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Mixed Messages. In the Iranian president’s address to the 47th session of the United Nations General Assembly on the 25th September 2019, Hassan Rouhani – contrary to Iran’s aggressive behavior in the Middle East – spoke about a “Coalition for Hope” and called for “Let’s return to justice, to peace, to law, commitment and promise and finally to the negotiating table.” (Richard Drew – AP)

It is Iran that is influencing the militias to reject any diplomatic solution, even the Hodeida agreement, which Rouhani praises and extols. He would have been “proud” if the Houthis had cooperated in its implementation, but they – unbeknownst to him, of course – did not. In Afghanistan, Iran is involved in working with the Taliban against the legitimate government. In Palestine, where Israel is maintaining its brutal occupation of the Palestinian people, there have been several wars Iran needed in its bargaining with the United States.
Rouhani came to the United Nations after Iran targeted Saudi oil installations with guided missiles. The Europeans condemned the strike, but French President Emanuel Macron remained determined to get Rouhani and Trump in the same room. Rouhani refused until Trump promised to ease the sanctions on Tehran. Eventually, it was Teheran who came out with the upper hand. Wouldn’t it have been wiser for the Europeans to come to terms with Iran’s true identity, instead of rushing to embrace Rouhani at the UN? Iran needs to be spoken to in the language it best understands: that of threats and force.

Radwan Al-Sayeed

 

 

No To Blackmail

400 MILLION POUNDS FOR A BRITISH FEMALE PRISONER

By Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, October 2

Did you think that ISIS and other terrorist groups are the only ones to kidnap innocent people and ask for money in return for their release? Well, think again. You might be surprised to hear that Iran adopted the same modus operandi. The British government recently revealed that Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif asked Britain for 400 million pounds in return for the release of a British woman of Iranian origin who has been jailed for extortion charges in Tehran.
We have never, and will never, accept any suggestion that the UK government should pay Iran to release its nationals who have been arbitrarily detained in the country,” the British government, which exposed the negotiations, said in a statement. They must be released unconditionally. The UK will not be blackmailed, and the comments of the Iranian foreign minister will only further discredit the Iranian government.”
Indeed, Minister Zarif, with his usual double tongue, to which his listeners are accustomed, said his request for money in exchange for the release of the British detainee was meant to convince the Iranian court that the release of the prisoner is an exchange of British money owed to Iran, and that these funds accumulated and accrued interest! But we all understand that this is plain old ransom.

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Bring Nazanin Home. Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of imprisoned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe outside the Iranian embassy in London with Vicky Foxtrot, MP for Lewisham Deptford & Shadow Minister for Civil Society. In April 2016, Nazanin and her two year old daughter Gabriella were arrested at Tehran airport after visiting family in Iran. Iran does not recognise dual citizens, and Nazanin has been illegally imprisoned ever since on false espionage charges. (Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA)

This is Iran’s old-fashioned approach. Indeed, its first “diplomacy” was the detention of 52 employees of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 for 444 days. Subsequently, it carried out several kidnappings, mostly through its proxy Hezbollah, which targeted Western civilians in Lebanon in the early 1980s and bargained against them.
This behavior continued during the war in Syria. The notorious Evin Prison in Tehran hosts dozens of detainees of British, Australian and other Western nationalities, most of whom were arrested for the purpose of bargaining. In this ongoing series of bullying as a state policy, we should not rule out the possibility that Iran, through its organizations in Iraq and Lebanon, abduct Americans with the sole hope that this would embarrass US President Donald Trump and push him to make more concessions vis-a-vis Tehran. This is Iran’s ideology, and without the world sending it a strong message of deterrence, it will continue to practice this diplomatic terrorism.
Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed

The Israel Brief-16-19 September 2019

 

The Israel Brief – 16 September 2019 – All your pre-election updates! Israel in Dubai? Watergen in Monaco!

 

 

 

The Israel Brief – 17 September 2019 – Election Day! Women’s March terrible trio are out! Did IDF stop Bibi going to war?

 

 

 

The Israel Brief – 18 September 2019 – All your election results….so far!

 

 

 

The Israel Brief – 19 September 2019 – Election results update. What does Trump say about Israeli elections? World Muslim League President to visit Auschwitz.

The Arab Voice

Theatrical Conflict between Hezbollah and Israel

 Muhammad Al-Sheikh 

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, September 7

Lebanon is a small country whose economy depends almost entirely on two factors. The first is tourism, the second is the investment of foreign capital. Unfortunately, Lebanon is suffering from a $90-billion debt squeeze in addition to underdeveloped services in various sectors. The question that must be asked in this context is the following: Is Hizbollah general-secretary Hassan Nasrallah aware of this?

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The Puppeteer Himself A Puppet. Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayeed Hassan Nasrallah who has become the true ruler of Lebanon while taking orders from Tehran is seen here Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV.

When Nasrallah openly threatened Israel with war, was he aware of the implications for the Lebanese economy? Did he consider the implications of turning Lebanon, at the expense of the Lebanese people and their livelihoods, into a protective shield for the Iranian mullahs? In my opinion, Lebanon’s current situation is unprecedented. Never in the course of history has it reached such a level of humiliation in which its citizens and politicians are subjected to the whims and dictates of a foreign power. Nasrallah has become the true ruler of Lebanon, taking orders from Tehran while the rest of Lebanon’s politicians are mere puppets. In any case, the real conflict is not between Lebanon and Israel but between Iran and Israel. Iran has made the wiping of Israel off the map its ultimate goal. Iran now knows that it will not be able to remain besieged forever and that it will be forced to come to the negotiating table with the United States. Thus, what Tehran is doing with the help of Nasrallah is being done in order to improve its negotiating power vis-a-vis the United States, especially if Trump wins a second term in the next US presidential election. In other words, Hizbollah’s decisions are actually made by Qasem Soleimani, not Hassan Nasrallah. It is simply unfathomable that in an effort to improve its ability to negotiate, Iran is sending the entire region into war. If the American plan to tame Iran succeeds, Hezbollah will follow Tehran’s footsteps and become nothing more than a lame duck floating in a pool of bilge water. This will be the ultimate vindication for the people of Lebanon.

Muhammad Al-Sheikh 

 

 

The Fall of the Tehran-Beirut Corridor

Muhammad Qawas

Al-Arab, London, August 30

The glamorous photos coming out of Biarritz, in France, where the G7 nations convened last week, should not deflect our attention from the most interesting thing happening behind the scenes: the language used by the international community in response to the Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. US Vice President Mike Pence reached out to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, expressing his country’s full support for Israel’s right to security. This was also done by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who conveyed a warning message to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri against any Lebanese response to the Israeli action. While the American stance represents an antiquated classical behavior in support of Israel, the silence of the major nations, especially those whose leaders met in France, about the Israeli strikes that spanned from Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea, demonstrates the complete complicity of the international community in Israel’s actions. Under the auspices of the international community, Israel is shaking the strategic corridor that Iran has sought to build in recent years from Tehran to Beirut. The impetus of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to maximize the French efforts led by President Emmanuel Macron to launch a diplomatic backchannel during the G7 meeting is the Israeli message, which was heard loud and clear in Tehran. Any military response against Israel would bring broader and fiercer fire, with the backing of every nation in the world.

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Shaking Things Up. France’s President Emmanuel Macron shakes the hand of US President Donald Trump at the G7 conference in Biarritz, France on August 26, 2019. In the wake of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif surprise attendance – what’s brewing?

In the last few days, Tehran seems to have realized that the key to the survival of its regime is tied to Washington’s position alone, and that the stance of European leaders on the nuclear deal, as well as those of Beijing and Moscow, are nothing but irrelevant promises that hide complete alignment with the US position against Iran. It is clear that Iran is groaning under painful and devastating economic sanctions that it is trying to hide. It also seems to be losing the battle of the Strait of Hormuz. It is clear that the reluctance to resolve the Washington crisis with Tehran allows Israel to buy time and expand its military operations aimed at destroying what Iran has been building for decades. Meanwhile, Trump does not seem to be in a rush. To agree to attend a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, or to postpone it until “the right conditions” are ripe, is a luxury Tehran does not have. Israel’s military campaign may be driven by Israeli national interests, but it also seems to be serving the interests of other international players.

Muhammad Qawas

 

 

Israel After the Election: What Might Change?

09/10/2019

Waheed Abd al-Majid 

Al-Etihad, UAE, September 5

The upcoming Knesset election, which will be held on September 17, raises many questions about Israel’s future, chief among them the likelihood of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu being reelected. It is expected that these elections will be the most complex in the history of Israel after Netanyahu won a plurality of votes with his Likud party in April but failed to form a government. Things will certainly not be easier this time around. This prediction is based on indications that there is little difference in the balance of power from the last campaign…. Opinion polls show that the Zionist right-wing camp, which has been in power for nearly two decades, continues to outperform the liberal camp. Interestingly, one of the most intriguing figures in these elections is Avigdor Liberman, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party. Although Liberman supported Netanyahu following the latter’s victory in April, the dispute between the two intensified during coalition negotiations, culminating in Liberman’s refusal to join a Netanyahu government.

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Here We Go Again. (left-right): Avigdor Liberman, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ayelet Shaked, Ayman Odeh and Benny Gantz are all major players in the upcoming Israeli election. (Getty Images/JTA Photo Montage)

This discord has grown even stronger during the new election campaign, which focuses on Liberman’s preference for excluding the two main religious parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, from the next government – against Netanyahu’s will. If the results of the polls are true, it is not unlikely that there will be a change in the Israeli political map. According to the prevailing trend in polls, it is expected that Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc as a whole will get the same number of seats it won in the April elections (65) or even slightly more. This number is enough to form a government and secure the confidence of the Knesset. But things might change at the last minute. Surveys show that Yisrael Beiteinu will increase its power and could reach nine or 10 seats, most likely at the expense of other right-wing parties. In this case, three possibilities can be envisaged, two of which involve a significant change in the political map. The first is the Likud’s transition to the opposition for the first time since 2001, with the formation of a government through an understanding between the new center-right Blue and White list, Yisrael Beiteinu and other parties. A coalition led by Benny Gantz, the head of Blue and White, could then be opened to rotation with Liberman. The second possibility is the formation of a unity government, which Lieberman has spoken about more than once. The viability of this option is unclear given the difficulty of even imagining the participation of the Zionist left-wing parties. It’s also hard to imagine the Likud joining the coalition if Liberman sticks to his refusal to accept Netanyahu as prime minister. The complexity of the situation leads us to a third possibility that will maintain the current balance of power: Likud leaders turn against Netanyahu and agree with Liberman to name one of them to form the next government. Although Netanyahu is aware of this possibility, a coup against him is not totally unlikely since Likud figureheads are quietly beginning to admit that their party’s role is more important than Netanyahu’s political survival. In any case, Israel appears to be at a pivotal moment that might lead to a major change in its political map and the composition of its next government. As always, the Palestinian people as well as the Arab world will have to deal with whatever happens as observers from the sidelines.

Waheed Abd al-Majid

 

Reframing Our Religious Rhetoric

09/02/2019

Muhammad al-Sheikh 

Al Jazeera, Qatar, August 29

Marxism, one of the strongest doctrines of the European Left, revolved around a deep enmity and hatred of religion as an obstacle to human emancipation. European and non-European leftists often evoked Marx’s famous paraphrased statement, “Religion is the opium of the people.” But more recently, things have almost become the extreme opposite. Leftists have grown to become the biggest supporters of fundamentalist Islamic movements, accusing opponents of hatred of religion or, more specifically, Islamophobia. The alliance between the Islamists and leftists is not limited to Europe but shared by leftists all around the world. They insist that the spread of terrorism is the result of savage capitalism, which led to the disintegration of the great leftist camp (the Soviet Union). What is the secret of this alliance, and what are the motives for this phenomenon? In the beginning, it should be noted that there are two phenomena sweeping the West in the last decade: the phenomenon of Islamophobia and the phenomenon of right-wing extremism.

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Does It Have To Be An Either Or? Grappling with the future.

These phenomena feed each other. Like the leftists, political Islamists were bitter about their ideological defeat and the failure of their political experiments. They sought to compensate for their ideological loss through non-democratic means. We must remember that this utilitarian alliance is a temporary one, which will soon come to an end. It is also true that it is unjust to judge Islam by the standards of a very few extremists. But we must admit that this phenomenon cannot be ignored, especially given the events of September 11 and the spread in global terrorism. The violent events that swept most of the world, carried out by Muslim fundamentalists, shook the minds of people and caused a deep fear of Islam. I am a frequent advocate of religious tolerance and respectful discourse. But I fear that the term “Islamophobia” will be used as an excuse to silence us and prevent us from reforming our religious discourse in a way that makes it more peaceful and welcoming of all peoples. This is what the revolutionary Islamic movements refuse to do, because a non-violent Islam inherently means the elimination of all movements of political Islam. Reforming religious discourse means stripping them of their most important weapons, through which they seek to fulfill the ambitions of their leaders and masters.

Muhammad al-Sheikh

 

The Arab Voice

And This Is How It’s Done

By Raheel Raza – a Pakistani-Canadian freelance writer and recipient of Canadian Ethnic Journalists and Writers Club.

Did US Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib really want to go to Israel? Maybe they never wanted to go but just wanted to create hysteria and garner attention, something at which they are experts. I think it’s the latter, and they got all the chatter.
Omar and Tlaib made it a point in their press conference on this issue to point out that they were “Muslim.” They also said they were going to meet people from both sides and work at “peace.” Yet they have no qualms about slamming the entire country and therefore the entire people – all the time.

Did Omar and Tlaib make a statement condemning the brutal murder of 17-year-old Rina Shnerb without simultaneously justifying anti-Jewish violence?

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Two Faced. Did they really want to visit Israel or was the plan only to garner attention?

As a Muslim woman who has been to Israel a dozen times, let me tell them how it’s done. I fully support Israel’s right to exist with Jerusalem as its capital and the right of the Jewish people to be free from orchestrated antisemitic attacks.

 In my travels to Israel, I go with an open mind and no pre-conceived notions. I’m well aware of the problems, and I’ve met and spoken to people from both sides of the equation. I’ve met policy-makers, activists and ordinary citizens and heard their stories. It always amazes me how critical Israelis can sometimes be about their own government, but this is what a democracy is all about.

So, I invite Omar and Tlaib to come with me. I will show them what Israel stands for and the beauty of the Israeli people.

Raheel Raza  who has written for The Globe and Mail, the Toronto StarKhaleej Times is president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow. She will speak on non-violent Islamism in the West during the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s 19th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism at IDC Herzliya.

 

ARAB CAUTION AGAINST AMERICA’S FOREIGN POLICY

Kheir Allah, Al-Arab, London, August 23

Six years ago today, the Syrian regime resorted to the use of chemical weapons against its people for the very first time. More than 1,500 civilians were killed in the province of Ghouta near Damascus.
The Obama administration quickly promised to respond to the attack, especially after the US president drew redlines against the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Then-US secretary of defense Chuck Hagel hastily returned to Washington, where he was preparing a response to Assad’s criminal attack.
But suddenly the US president changed his mind, just as everyone was prepared to deal a blow to the Syrian regime. The Syrian opposition was encircling Damascus and approaching sensitive sites in the Syrian capital, the international community condemned Assad, but Obama backed down. Hagel himself, who resigned from his position, wondered why Obama changed his mind in such a dramatic way.

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Meddling Maniac. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general, has denied that the group intends to meddle with Lebanon’s balance of power among Christians, Sunnis and Shiites.

A few years later it finally became clear: the Obama administration was secretly negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program. Obama did not want to take any steps that could upset Tehran. He allowed the mullahs to kill hundreds, even thousands of Syrians. What he didn’t allow was any attempt to prevent the Islamic Republic from blackmailing the West, including the United States. In the summer of 2015, the G5+1 signed an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.
The deal was the ultimate goal of the US president, who falsely believed that terrorism comes only from al-Qaeda or ISIS. He forgot, for example, that the ideological roots of al-Qaeda and ISIS came from the Muslim Brotherhood, whose leader Obama supported during the Egypt coup. Thankfully, in the end, the Egyptian street, supported by the Egyptian military and Gulf states, had the courage to defy the American administration regarding Egypt. It is no secret that these Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, rushed to support Egypt and provided it with the necessary financial and political support it needed to get back on its feet.

What was unique about the Arab position at this time was not only its caution with the Obama administration, but also its boldness to confront Washington’s foreign policy. Arab leaders witnessed Iran reaping the benefits of its blackmail. Tehran received billions of dollars from the United States and spent a good portion of this money on its expansion project, which spewed violence and hatred through the entire region, including in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Although President Donald Trump’s administration has been the antithesis of the Obama administration, especially in regard to Iran, in 2019 there is still reason to be cautious and fearful of reliving the 2013 experience. This past summer, the Iranians downed an American drone carrying sensitive equipment worth well over $140 million. The United States prepared to respond to this hostile act, especially after it confirmed that the plane, which was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz, was outside Iranian airspace. But at the last minute, Trump backed down for reasons still unknown to us.
Arab countries have the right to defend their interests regardless of who sits in the Oval Office. Of course, the current US administration knows Iran well. But this knowledge is not enough if one considers the broader American stance in the region. What is America’s policy in Yemen? What is its Syrian policy? What is its Iraqi policy? Last but not least, is there an American position that truly understands what is at stake in Lebanon?

We are living in a turbulent world and we must act with caution. More importantly, we must get answers and assurances from America about where it stands in regard to our security interests. By  Kheir Allah

Al-Arab, London.

Al-Arab (Arabic: العرب‎ meaning ‘The Arabs’) is a pan-Arab newspaper published from London and sold in a number of countries.