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2015, A Year Of Milestones Of Horrors In The Middle East: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 28 December 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

28 December 2015

 2015, a Year of Milestones of Horrors in the Middle East

By Hisham Melhem

 The case against the Islamic Military Alliance

By C. Rashaad Shabab

 Peace process in Syria: Talk, talk, kill, kill

By James Denselow

 Gulf States: A burning priority for ISIL?

By Olivier Guitta

 Has the U.N. resolution on Syria already been violated?

By Brooklyn Middleton

 A Saudi vow to protect regional security and stability

By Samar Fatany

 Stop insulting expat workers!

By Khaled Almaeena



2015, a year of milestones of horrors in the Middle East

Hisham Melhem

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Another annus horribilis in the Middle East is about to end. It is that time of year when you look back at 2015 in astonishment at the tragedies that befell the region, and ahead at 2016 with trepidation at the inevitable agonies awaiting us. After decades of trying to understand ( and occasionally trying to explain) the political, cultural and economic dynamics that have been pushing the region towards greater fragmentation, and in the process speaking like a Cassandra, anticipating mostly gloom and doom in the future, I see no reason to change now. If anything the long term trends in the region point to more implosions, including in areas that have been relatively immune so far, and more human suffering and the attendant political and social chaos.

For the Arabs specifically, I see diminishing control of their destiny, with other regional and international actors assuming greater roles in determining where the region is going. This will be felt mostly, but not exclusively, in Syria and Iraq. The other conflicts in Yemen and Libya will continue to rage in varying degrees of intensity, their resolutions becoming harder because of breakdown of state authority, regional involvement and an expanding physical space that is being filled by ISIS and al-Qaeda. The oil price slump of this year, which has impacted every economic sector, and led governments throughout the region to cut spending, will remain in 2016 and beyond and the gloom that came with it will linger on for the foreseeable future. In 2015 Syria’s war, because of its refugees and the influx of foreign fighters, became an international problem. And once again we were reminded that a handful of dedicated terrorists organized and /or inspired by ISIS could terrorize and suspend normal life in European capitals like Paris and Brussels, and deepen the politics of fears in the United States.

Historic milestones

In 2015, we have seen historic milestones of horrors. Some estimates put the death toll in Syria’s wars over 300,000 casualties. Syrians who left or driven out of their exceed 4.5 million, and 7.6 million internally displaced. The International Organization for Migration said recently that more than a million refugees and migrants went to Europe this year, half of them were Syrians. More than 3700 of the refugees drowned in the deceptive waters of the Mediterranean that swallowed their rickety boats supplied by equally deceptive smugglers. Scores died on those long European treks crossing newly erected boundaries or suffocated in trucks in the heat of last summer.

The world discovered ISIS, in June 2014 when its trucks and jeeps laden with hordes of Jihadists breached the defenses of Mosul, and occupied Iraq’s second largest city. But 2015 was the year of ISIS par excellence. A self-proclaimed Caliphate straddling large swath of Syria and Iraq with a fake Caliph clad in black and in hiding, has been doing battle with an international coalition led by the United States, and still retains considerable fighting prowess. The Islamic State was dealt some military setbacks in 2015, and eventually will be defeated by force of arms, but it will remain a formidable dark power in 2016 and beyond, in part because both regional and international actors either don’t consider ISIS their most dangerous enemy, or because they are unwilling to send ground troops to defeat it.

Given the sectarian and ethnic cleansing taking place in Syria and Iraq, in which both governments and their (Shiite) militias, along with ISIS and other (Sunni) jihadists have been implicated, as well as the destruction of infrastructure, cities, hospitals and schools makes it practically impossible to resurrect a Syria and an Iraq that resemble what used to be on the eve of destruction. What was built over the centuries and obliterated in the last few years – from old residential neighborhoods, ancient souks, schools, Churches and Mosques may not be restored, or ever rebuilt. And who will finance the reconstruction of Syria, estimated at $300 billion?

President Obama’s milestone in 2015, in fact his biggest milestone in the Middle East in his seven lean years there, was the nuclear deal with Iran. One could make the case that the agreement will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear device for 15 years, but the biggest flaw in the negotiations and the overall approach of the Obama administration towards Iran, was his abject failure to attempt to rollback, or at least deter and check Iran’s regional ambitions and the proxy wars it has been waging in Syria and Iraq and to a lesser extent Yemen. During the height of the Cold War, when the U.S. was holding summit meetings with Soviet leaders and signing ‘Salt’ and ‘Start’ nuclear agreements, American Presidents, Republican and Democrats kept hammering them on their human rights violations inside the Soviet Union, and rolling back their gains or deterring them in the proxy wars raging in Asia, Africa and Central America. We all knew the names of the Soviet dissidents and their particular struggles. President Obama was never forceful in defending the human rights of Iranians, particularly during the ‘Green Revolution’ of 2009, and he was very tepid in challenging Iran’s regional destructive activities.

Obama’s revisionist history

Russia’s military intervention in Syria is one of the consequences of President Obama’s dithering on Syria. The administration is hoping that the recent U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing a ‘peace process’ to end Syria’s civil war, after a transitional period of 18 months, could lead to another round of negotiations in Vienna, in the context of a fragile cease-fire. Publicly, Secretary John Kerry appeared to have given Moscow a significant concession when he stated that ‘the United States and our partners are not seeking so-called ‘regime change’, as it is known in Syria. What we have said is that we don’t believe that Assad himself has the ability to be able to lead the future Syria..’. The eagerness of Secretary Kerry for a resolution to Syria’s wars, his willingness to compromise and his deep belief in the power of diplomacy are not enough to guarantee that his efforts on Syria will not end disastrously like his efforts to revive the other ‘peace process’ between the Palestinians and Israelis.

President Obama’s stated objectives in Syria; a post-Assad and a more inclusive regime in Damascus, and defeating ISIS are clear, but the means to implement such objectives are still limited, tentative and incoherent. As recently as last June the President admitted that ‘we don’t yet have a complete strategy’ to defeat ISIS. In recent weeks and in major speeches and interviews the President has been insisting that his revamped strategy – intensifying the air campaign, greater coordination with Kurdish and Syrian Arab armed groups, and the insertion of dozens of American special forces- is working, and urging strategic patience. But a Syria/Iraq strategy that does not include the willingness to deploy relatively significant American ground forces to clean up the Euphrates valley in Syria of ISIS strongholds, then turning these liberated areas to Syrian opposition groups, means that ISIS and the Assad regime will continue their depredations against the Syrian people, long after Obama has vacated the White House and began writing revisionist Syrian history in his memoires.

Arabs in the shadows of their neighbors

One is hard pressed to point out positive developments in the region in 2015. From Libya in the west to Yemen in the East, you see a long trail of blood and tears, where Arabs continue to kill Arabs with abandon, with little help from their regional and international friends, and with no end in sight. My essays in this space throughout the year reflected these tragic realities, occasionally asking questions such as what is the matter with Egypt? And how could the political and intellectual classes in majority Arab states allow their societies to disintegrate into warring sects and tribes? A theocratic regime in Tehran is shaping the future course of countries like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, by influencing and manipulating the Shiite communities in those states to serve its regional ambitions. An increasingly Islamist (Sunni) government in Turkey is competing with Iran for political and strategic interests in Iraq and Syria. In January 2012 when I published an article in Foreign Policy, titled ‘Arabs in the shadows of their neighbors’ things were not as disquieting as they are now.

Egypt has all but dropped its old mantle of regional leadership. It is barely capable of influencing tiny Gaza, let alone the Levant and beyond. Its large and sluggish armed forces are pre-occupied in fighting a low intensity and nasty Islamist insurgency in Sinai that occasionally visits Egypt’s large cities inflicting military and civilian casualties. The government’s crackdown on all forms of political dissent has deepened the sense of gloom in the country. Before the civil war in Yemen, devolved into a regional conflict involving the two powerful countries in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, the country was slowly becoming a failed state. This ancient land with its distinct cultural heritage which was once known as "Arabia felix" could face disintegration if the war does not end soon with a political arrangement that is acceptable to its main constituents and its immediate neighbors.

Of Palestinian knife men…

The Israeli government, in the face of a hapless Palestinian Authority, continues to incorporate more and more Palestinian lands in the West Bank and making the creation of a viable Palestinian state all but impossible. The absence of a promising framework for a peaceful resolution is dragging the occupied and the occupier to another inconclusive, ugly and nihilistic round of bloodletting. In recent months a wave of ‘face to face’ violence swept the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, in which hundreds of mostly civilian Palestinians and Israelis including babies were killed. In October and November 94 Palestinians have been killed in shootings and clashes with Israeli soldiers and Israeli settlers (a notorious firebombing of a Palestinian home by settlers burned a married couple and their 18 year-old baby). Rights groups including Amnesty International have accused Israel of using excessive force, and that the killing of some Palestinians amounted to ‘extrajudicial execution.’ Palestinians killed16 Israelis in random knife stabbings, gun attacks or were rammed by vehicles driven by Palestinians. An ugly unforgiven mood hovered over Palestinians and Israelis. There were the usual accusations that both sides trade in such nasty times; the wages of occupation, the sins of incitements and the overall demonization of the other. The fact remains that the occupied/occupier dichotomy will not be broken by Palestinians knifing Israelis at random, nor will Israel’s overwhelming military preponderance and expropriation of Palestinian lands extinguish the Palestinian’s yearning for independence. The perpetuation of the current impasse, will further undermine the diminishing constituencies of peace among Palestinians and Israelis, and continue to dehumanize both the occupier and the occupied.

… And Jewish dagger men

Both Arabs and Jews have long collective memories. The Palestinian knife men, should remind Israelis of the ‘Sicarii Jews’ who along with the Jewish Zealots fought to expel the Romans in the years preceding the destruction of Jerusalem. Josephus, the Jewish-Roman historian who opposed the Jewish rebellion used the term ‘Sicarii Jews’ in a pejorative way, and labeling them as extremist religious minority that wanted to drag the Jews to a nihilistic rebellion against what they termed as ‘the Kingdom of arrogance’. The word Sicarii is Latin and was given to these young Jews because of the small dagger (sicae) they concealed under their garments. These Jewish Zealots waged a campaign of terror, in the first century AD, mostly in broad daylight and during festivals, stabbing not only their Roman enemies, but also fellow Jews who were deemed collaborators with the occupiers. According to Josephus, these Jewish dagger men would mingle with the crowds before they pull their daggers to stab their victims to death before they flee the scene of the murder. They were so brazen that they assassinated the high priest Jonathan, and murdered an imperial servant, ‘an act which resulted in lamentable consequences’.

(These tactics were perfected in the 11th and 12 centuries, but this time by Muslim dagger men in Northern Persia and Western Syria by the cult of the ‘assassins’, from the Arabic ???????? Hashashoon but properly known as the Nizari Ismailis, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

These ‘assassins’ dispatched their enemies in suicide attacks against their prominent Sunni enemies in Persia (they expected to be hacked to death) and their Sunni and Crusaders enemies in Syria. They were so brazen that they tried twice to assassinate the famed Muslim leader Salah al-Din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub known in the West as Saladin).

Looking back at 2015, one should say good riddance to an inheritance of woes, but the bridge we will take to 2016 is the bridge of sighs, that will very likely put us, once again on the road to perdition.

Hisham Melhem is a columnist and analyst for Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al Arabiya. Follow him on Twitter : @hisham_melhem


The case against the Islamic Military Alliance

C. Rashaad Shabab

December 28, 2015

Two days before Bangladesh celebrated its 44th Victory Day, Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince and defence minister, Mohammed bin Salman, announced that he had conscripted the military of our sovereign state into the service of the so-called 'Islamic Military Alliance'. The prince announced that 34 states had “joined” this coalition. For the sake of our sovereignty, security, and even religiosity, Bangladesh must withdraw from this alliance.

In what can only be described as a testimony to Saudi incompetence, immediately following the announcement, a number of countries declared they had agreed to no such thing. Speaking about the coalition, a senior official of the Pakistani Foreign Office was quoted as saying “We came to know about it through news reports”. Malaysia and Lebanon have given statements to similar effect. The Government of Bangladesh has neither given such statement, nor has it made a public announcement about the country's participation.

It speaks volumes about the Saudi sense of entitlement that they did not even bother to secure the consent of sovereign states before announcing their membership in the 'Alliance'. Coupled with the overtly Arab-supremacist structure of the Saudi state, this entitlement does not bode well for the level of regard that will be shown for the lives of soldiers from non-Arab countries such as Bangladesh, who according to the Prince's announcement are to be placed under Saudi command. Doing so would unnecessarily risk Bangladeshi lives, and draw us into a sectarian fight that we have no part in.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, one of Bangladesh's founding principles is secularism, something that is enshrined in our Constitution. Any move by the state to join a military alliance that is founded on religious grounds, would therefore be of questionable legal standing. But setting legality aside, the alliance makes little sense. Its purported goal is to fight ISIS. Where Islamist militancy is the problem, how can an 'Islamic Military' be the solution? It is every bit as preposterous and ill-conceived as the 'war on terror' was.

Why then are the Saudis proposing this force? Because it is 'Islamic' only in name: in everything else it is Saudi. The headquarters will be in Riyadh, and the force will be under Saudi command. Conspicuous in their absence are Iran and Iraq – two large, important, Muslim majority states which would have been indispensable to any authentic fight against extremism – but which also happen to be Shi'ite majority. Their absence transparently betrays Saudi Arabia's sectarian vision for its 'Islamic' army, and serves to illustrate the dubious Islamic credentials of the House of Saud's military undertakings.

It is common knowledge that the Saudis have long exported a particularly intolerant interpretation of Islam under the banner of 'Wahhabism'. It is less well-known that Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, whose scholarship the Saudis claim to extol, within his lifetime refused to endorse the plunderous military campaigns of his contemporary Saudi chieftain, Muhammad Ibn Saud. The scholar also forbade the deliberate destruction of property and the slaughter of civilians, a prohibition wholly violated when Ibn Saud's son, Abd al-Aziz Ibn Muhammad sacked the holy city of Karbala in 1801, slaughtering thousands of civilians, including women and children. The terror that ensued from this wanton massacre precipitated Mecca's surrender in 1803. That is how the Saudis came to control Islam's most holy site. What legitimacy then, does the House of Saud, which usurped control of Islam's holiest site by the slaughter of civilians, have to command a multinational Islamic army? The military history of this family has been anything but Islamic, even by the standards of the scholar who they claim their perversion of Islam is based on.

Saudi global influence rose with the price of oil in 1973. As oil prices have plummeted from a high of $105 as recently as July 2014, to under $36 per barrel in December 2015, Saudi foreign exchange reserves have nosedived, and are projected to keep declining. Permanently reduced spending capacity implies that the recruitment of migrant workers from Bangladesh will never return to earlier levels, whatever our government's response to Saudi military conscription.

On the issue of migrant workers, there is a wide-spread fear among the Bangladeshi middle class that refusing to participate in this sectarian military farce would somehow endanger the the livelihoods of the million or so Bangladeshi migrant workers who reside in the Kingdom. This perspective patronises our migrants as recipients of some form of Saudi charity. They are not. Rather, they are indispensable members of the Saudi economy.

Citizens of the Kingdom live off oil rents and are utterly dependent on Bangladeshis and other migrants for even the most basic services. That is why when Saudi Arabia imposed an immigration ban on Bangladesh in 2008, they did not expel existing workers, and it is why they cannot do so now. It is also why Indonesia and Pakistan, which have similarly large numbers of migrants in the Kingdom, have been able to state that they had not agreed to join the 'Alliance', despite the bungling Saudi prince's announcement to the contrary. Migrant Bangladeshis are productive workers, not hostages, and the military involvement of a sovereign Bangladesh must not be paid as ransom.

To the citizen, the conscription of our armed forces by a foreign power to wage its own sectarian war is a slap in the face of Bangladeshi sovereignty. To the religious, the violent and bigoted perversions of the faith that the Saudis would propagate using this force are an affront to the peaceful and tolerant religion that is Islam. And to the strategist, aligning oneself militarily with an incompetent, declining power, risking Bangladeshi lives and security is an insult to rationality. For all these reasons, Bangladesh must immediately extricate itself from this so called 'Islamic Military Alliance,' which is no such thing.

The writer is a PhD. candidate at the University of Sussex.


Peace process in Syria: Talk, talk, kill, kill

James Denselow

27 Dec 2015

The death of Zahran Alloush on December 25 is a reminder that the Syrian regime is willing to risk the Vienna process in order to further its own more direct interests.

The peace plan and its constitutional milestones towards a better Syria are both ambitious and fragile: the plan has succeeded in crystallising parts of the Syrian opposition in Riyadh earlier in December and set in motion direct talks in the new year, making a rare optimism for 2016 to be the year in which the conflict goes in a better direction.

However, the killing of Alloush has already put a halt to the evacuation of opposition elements from the much beleaguered Yarmouk refugee camp and led otheropposition leaders to question the regime's intentions towards the "peace" process.

Yet we should not forget that the Vienna process did not come about because of the desire of the regime. Indeed, the initial talks that set out the course ahead did not feature Syrian actors, but instead had patrons and allies from all sides around the table.

In contrast to the earlier Geneva process it appeared that in Vienna, global powers were serious enough about building a peace process that couldn't be hijacked by the main fighting protagonists themselves.

With the targeting of Alloush, it would appear likely that the Syrian regime is trying to restore its own agency in the shadow of a Vienna process by which it feels marginalised.

This is a period of huge danger and opportunity for the range of actors that make up the Syrian opposition. They face being labelled as "extremist" and excluded from the nascent peace process or being acknowledged as "moderate" legitimate players and then assassinated.

As Human Rights Watch's director Ken Roth tweeted, Alloush's killing "is part of Assad's strategy of trying to reduce [the] choice to him or ISIL".

The importance of this moment is matched by the need for leadership among the opposition to ensure not only the right agreements within the Vienna process, but also to bring about legitimate implementation of any deal.

Leaders are important, and nowhere more so than in set peace conferences. Without these figures, we may be left with a shell of a process - all political theory but no actors left to carry it out.

Bearing this importance in mind, the tactics of "decapitation" or targeting of an enemy's leadership are not new or original.

In December last year opposition groups in East Ghouta accused the regime of waging a campaign of targeted assassination against its leaders. Throughout the conflict numerous car bombs have killed opposition leaders without clarity over who was directly behind the attacks.

The Assad regime famously has links to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and other "anti-Syrian" politicians in the country. It may be nominally happy to "talk" to the opposition, but we should be under no illusions that they would happier see them dead.

More dangerous for the fragile, ambitious but desperately needed process is if the Russians are found to be involved in the killing either directly (they carried out the air strike) or indirectly (it was their intelligence that led to Alloush's killing).

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces has already accused the Russians of conducting these killings. It is one thing for the Syrians - the object of the Vienna process - to try to assert independence from the process, it's quite another for the Russians - co-creators of the Vienna process - to be seen to be taking out significant opposition leaders weeks before talks are scheduled to start.

The Russians may claim that until there is full agreement on who the "legitimate" opposition are, all anti-Assad groups remain potential targets.

There is strong onus on the other key players in the Vienna process, particularly the United States and the European Union, to get clarity on what happened to Alloush, guarantees from the Russians about their intentions and guarantees towards the actors who will make up a key part of a process that they have co-designed.

Meanwhile, the more marginalised the regime feels, the more desperate its actions are likely to become, and nobody can be surprised by its simultaneously satisfying the diplomatic obligations expected of them by their Russian allies and doing their upmost to kill opposition leaders on the ground.

James Denselow is a writer on Middle East politics and security issues and a research associate at the Foreign Policy Centre.


Gulf States: A burning priority for ISIL?

Olivier Guitta

27 Dec 2015

While recent spectacular terror attacks either directed or inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have mostly taken place against the West and Russia, a new priority for ISIL could be the Gulf.

The two countries that appear to be more at risk now are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The audio statement last night from ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, after seven months of silence, calling for an upheaval in Saudi Arabia against the regime is proof of that. This follows a December 4 video in which both countries were singled out as enemies because of their military campaign in Yemen.

Also the UAE was the first country to say in November that it was ready to send ground troops to Syria to fight off ISIL, and this was followed by the Saudi announcement of a large anti-ISIL coalition.

The likelihood of a full-blown ground operation by troops from that newly formed coalition is at the moment quite low, as it would mean Saudi soldiers fighting alongside its arch-enemies - the Shia militias - against ISIL.

Saudi-led coalition

Furthermore, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE's priorities are in Yemen. The fact that the latter is allegedly using mercenaries from mostly Colombia in Yemen also makes the involvement of ground troops in Syria and Iraq less likely.

This assessment might change instantaneously if there were to be a spectacular ISIL-directed terror attack in either Saudi Arabia or the UAE.

This scenario is self-evident as the November Paris attacks triggered the United Kingdom to strike ISIL in Syria. And France had started its air campaign in September - something they had refused to do until then.

For the UAE, another country of significant importance is Libya. To understand this, it's enough to look at the August 2014 and February 2015 air strikes that the UAE conducted with Egypt in Libya - without the knowledge of the United States.

Now that ISIL has been expanding its territory and presence in Libya, particularly around Sirte, it is not far-fetched to see the UAE becoming more of a target for ISIL if it continues air strikes in the North African country.

Moreover, the UAE domestic security forces have proven to be excellent thwarters: In August the UAE dismantled an Islamist cell of 41 people, both Emiratis and foreigners, that planned to overthrow the regime and install an Islamic caliphate.

As the facts are on the ground, ISIL has the potential to pull off a multi-pronged Paris-style attack perpetrated by terrorists from abroad - pictures of the Paris terrorists were featured in one of the recent ISIL videos threatening Saudi Arabia.

The threat against the UAE and Saudi Arabia could also be homegrown terrorism involving less sophisticated attacks using cars or knives as weapons. As in the case of the Sousse beach attack in Tunisia, the goal would be to damage the UAE tourism industry, scare off expats and investors.

For that Dubai is the ideal target because it represents everything the jihadists hate, and its huge number of international tourists and Western expats make it doubly attractive. What is actually surprising is that the UAE has become a top target country for the ISIL only now.

The big prize

Like for al-Qaeda before, the big prize for ISIL is certainly Saudi Arabia. In October 2014, ISIL's rationale about attacking what it called the "apostate" Saudi regime was that it was reaching out to Iran, selling out Sunnis in Iraq and bailing out Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. While the last allegation is true, the first two were false.

Meanwhile, Saudi authorities arrested ISIL followers that plotted against various targets, including the US embassy in Riyadh.

Also since April, Saudi domestic security forces have been concerned with potential terror attacks on malls and on Aramco oil facilities. In July, Riyadh was targeted when an ISIL operative or follower blew himself up at a checkpoint near the Al Hayer prison.

Then in August a mosque attended mostly by Saudi security forces was targeted by ISIL in Abha, close to the Yemeni border, leaving 15 people dead. Following that incident, in October a Syrian man and a Filipina were arrested in Riyadh for allegedly preparing suicide attacks.

Since then and the Saudi announcement of the anti-ISIL coalition, numerous ISIL videos came out in the following 72 hours threatening the kingdom directly.

While some previous ISIL attacks had targeted the Shia community inside the kingdom, the most recent threats make clear that the regime itself will most likely be targeted.

In one of the recent longer videos, ISIL attacks the ulema, the princes' "immoral" way of life, the Saudi banks and the supposed kindness to the Shia minority, among other things.

It also specifically calls for attacks against Western engineers working for oil companies in the country, and asks the Saudi population to rise against the regime.

Even though ISIL has made no secret that it wanted to unseat the Gulf ruling dynasties, the recent call for attacks does not bode well for Saudi Arabia or the UAE.

Sadly, recent terror history shows that ISIL operatives and followers will stop at nothing in striking countries they have in their sight.

Olivier Guitta is the managing director of GlobalStrat, a geopolitical risk and security consultancy firm with a regional specialisation on Europe, the Middle East and Africa.


Has the U.N. resolution on Syria already been violated?

Brooklyn Middleton

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The latest and rare paper victory for Syria has yet to bring forth any change on the ground or even begin to halt the bloodshed. I believe the United Nations Resolution 2254 has been repeatedly violated since its adoption on December18, frequently by Russia – a signatory to the agreement. Without any consequences ensuing for the continued breaches, the agreement will ultimately prove meaningless.

On December26, at least nine people were killed, including five children, when Russian aircraft aerially bombarded a school in the Jarjanaz area of Idlib province. Video footage and photographs of the attack aftermath, circulating on Twitter, showed familiar scenes: Blood-soaked sidewalks, endless rubble and tiny, mangled bodies. One day prior to that deadly attack, the Syrian Network for Human Rights indicated that Russia carried out a number of airstrikes on a women and children’s hospital in Aleppo, rendering it useless.

Quite clearly, both attacks were in flagrant violation of stipulation number thirteen of resolution 2254, which indicates that all signatories have agreed to “cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such, including attacks against medical facilities and personnel.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has just released a briefing detailing Russia’s indiscriminate bombing campaign since it intervened militarily in the country. Director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Program Philip Luther noted that there was damning evidence indicating Russia may have carried out war crimes in Syria, “by striking residential areas with no evident military target and even medical facilities, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians.”

Bombing civilian sites

In addition to Russia’s continued attacks against civilians, reports indicate forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad carried out a chemical weapons attack, possibly using Sarin, in the rebel-held town of Moadamiyeh, located south west of Damascus, on December 23. At least five people were reportedly killed. There is no likelihood Russia and the Assad regime will sit down for talks to discuss the most complex matters of the conflict when they refuse to even halt bombing civilian sites.

This critical point should trigger a shift in the current focus of future discussions: First, stop the bloodshed and then talk later. Russia’s failure to uphold one of the most basic tenets of the new resolution underscore its inability to act as a partner for peace in Syria. There can be no genuine progress made on bringing stability to Syria while parents are digging their children out of rubble or people are suffocating to death from toxic gas.

All signatories of the resolution should convene for an urgent meeting and confront Russia directly. The failures of the U.S.-Russia backed chemical weapons deal, which resulted from a lack of following through and trusting the regime to report its own inventory, should not be repeated with this latest resolution. Important actors have agreed on the steps that need to be taken in Syria; those ignoring what they have just vowed to uphold must be dealt with.

The worst possible outcome of continued negotiations with Russia – who act on behalf of the murderous Assad regime both diplomatically and militarily – would be allowing them to continue carrying out indiscriminate attacks while signing agreements they have no intention of honoring.

Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.


A Saudi vow to protect regional security and stability

Samar Fatany

Sunday, 27 December 2015

In his speech to the Shoura Council, King Salman addressed the major political challenges that are a threat to Saudi Arabia, the Arab and Islamic nations and the global community. The priority remains the defeat of terrorism, the establishment of an independent State of Palestine, the launch of a political transition in Syria and ensuring the unity of the Syrian territories, the security of Yemen and restoring Yemeni legitimacy and stability as well as securing the entire region’s stability and territorial integrity.

The King reiterated the Kingdom’s determination to fight terrorists and to drain their resources. He firmly declared the Kingdom’s will to coordinate with Muslim and peace-loving countries and international organizations to combat terrorism and maintain global peace and security. He highlighted the Kingdom’s role in establishing the Islamic Military Alliance and the joint operations center in Riyadh to coordinate military operations to combat terrorists wherever they may be. He said the Saudi government will continue to firmly combat deviant ideologies that blatantly distort Islamic teachings to promote a selfish agenda.

King Salman also warned against those who wish to tamper with the Kingdom’s security and stability. He stated that terrorism is a global threat that has no religion or homeland and reiterated that the Kingdom has exerted great efforts to pursue terrorists, prosecute them and dismantle their networks and cells and has managed to successfully foil many of their evil plans.

Shouldering responsibilities

The King firmly stated that the Kingdom will continue to support all efforts to confront the challenges that are threatening the Arab and Muslim nations. The legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and establishing their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital is an endeavor long sought by the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia condemns the recent Israeli criminal violations, notably the escalation and irresponsible actions of killing unarmed, innocent people, including women and children. The King stated that the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque, violating its sanctity and targeting worshipers should be halted and that the continuing Israeli settlement construction works must be suspended and the old ones removed. He called upon the international community to shoulder its responsibilities and take the necessary measures to protect the Palestinian people against Israeli aggressive practices that continue to provoke all Arab and Muslim states.

King Salman warned against the threat involving the security of Yemen and its people which also threatens the region’s stability and territorial integrity. He stressed the Kingdom’s determination to restore Yemeni legitimacy and stability and ward off the threats posed by terrorist groups and their regional supporters.

The King also expressed Saudi Arabia’s keenness to achieve security, stability and justice in Syria and highlighted its role in bringing together all Syrian opposition factions to find a political solution ensuring the unity of the Syrian territories in accordance with the resolutions of the Geneva I Conference. He stated that the Kingdom will continue to seek a political solution that will enable the Syrian people to establish a transitional government composed of moderate opposition forces that guarantee the unity of Syrians and the departure of foreign troops and terrorist organizations.

King Salman was very clear in defining all the challenges of the Kingdom and the whole region and stressed the keenness of the Kingdom to work together with peace-loving countries and international organizations to address the major challenges that are threatening the world.

The Middle East region remains in crisis and the challenges are overwhelming. A more positive global cooperation is very critical at this stage to address the growing regional and global threats. The current policies and the confrontational attitudes between all elements involved in the Middle East conflict have ruined all prospects for peace. Unless we eliminate the atmosphere of distrust and conflict, there can be no peace and the terrorist threat will continue to destroy our peaceful world.

Federica Mogherini the EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy got it right when she said: “Our positive common agenda is us coming together. We cannot and must not fear each other. It’s not the ‘other’ but ‘the fear of the other’ that can destroy our region.” She echoed these genuine words of wisdom and goodwill during a gala dinner that was held during the Mediterranean Dialogue Forum in Rome on Dec. 11.

Mogherini called for “new regional architectures” that would include a wider Middle East of the Gulf, the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and the Euro-Mediterranean area. She said: “We are linked, we share an interest in peace and security.”

She concluded her remarks by stressing the need for the integration of the whole Mediterranean Region to usher in peace and development, as it did for Europe. Diplomacy, dialogue and cooperation are possible and they can bring positive results.

Saudi Arabia would indeed welcome any positive international cooperation in addressing the conflicts of the Middle East region. Let us begin by addressing the humanitarian issues of the Palestinians and the Syrian refugees that require immediate attention. The despair and the injustice inflicted upon the innocent because of biased policies and prejudices must be addressed along with a new action plan to counter ISIS and other terrorist hate propaganda.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Dec. 26, 2015.

Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”


Stop insulting expat workers!

Khaled Almaeena

Dec 27, 2015

An article in a local Arabic daily focused on the increasing control which expatriate workers have over the Saudi retail sector. The writer Saad Al-Dosari “laments the fact” that retail markets are controlled by expatriates and he adds that most expatriate workers are illegal or undocumented workers!

He says that expatriate workers are a “virus” and asks why the campaigns of the Ministry of Interior have not succeeded in eradicating this “menace”.

He states that the ongoing control of the retail sector by expatriate workers kills any job opportunities for Saudi nationals and negatively affects the Kingdom’s economy. In observing our Arabic press, I have noticed that from time to time negative and racist comments have been made by some writers against expatriates. It may be that these journalists are suffering writer’s block or that they can think of nothing else to write about. However, it should be made clear to them that the use of a term like “virus” is a racist comment. Perhaps the attitude of these Saudi writers is: “Expatriates are an easy target so why not have a go at them?”

Mr. Al-Dosari does not ask why the retail sector cannot retain any Saudi workers. And it appears that he has made no effort to ask the owners of shops for an explanation. Well, I will tell Mr. Al-Dosari that there is a shop and many others that I know of which closed because the Saudi employees did not turn up for work. At a well-known supermarket in Jeddah, six of eight checkout counter clerks were missing on a recent Friday morning. Probably gone fishing!

As for the absence of Saudi women in the retail sector, the writer should be well aware that the mere thought of women working in retail makes the self-appointed guardians of our morals scream and shout. To them the sight of a woman at the sales counter is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Furthermore, when we as a nation are engaged in building coalitions and constructing nuclear facilities, railroad systems and huge airports, how can we attack the workers who are toiling to help us complete these ambitious projects?

The expatriate worker did not land in this country by parachute. He came with a visa which was issued to him by our government. If there is no need for him, then don’t ask him to come. But please do not insult expatriate workers and hurt their dignity. They have come to help and assist us. In this highly-connected global economy, the mass migration of skilled and even unskilled workers has became a necessity.

Why has the United States led Europe? Because over the years, the US has accepted and absorbed those who were determined to work hard in jobs that many Americans would not take. When I was in America, my local barber was a Vietnamese and the laundry lady was a Korean. They worked hard and did a good job.  And nobody complained about them.

The key to economic growth is job creation and not replacement. And once again to the expatriate workers in this country, Arabs and non-Arabs, Muslims and non-Muslims, we right-minded Saudis say a big Thank You! May God allow you to realize your dreams.


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