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Then and now: Five years of Arab Spring : New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 18 December 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

18 Dec 2015


 Then and now: Five years of Arab Spring

By Mark LeVine

 Canada shows the way


 Paris pact’s positive impact on GCC countries


 An alliance against a radical ideology

By Manuel Almeida

 A black-market mentality shapes Middle East politics

By Raed Omari

 Muzzling silence-breakers damages Israeli democracy

By Yossi Mekelberg



Then and now: Five years of Arab Spring

By Mark LeVine

17 Jan 2015

Tunisia: How the US got it wrong

The events in Tunisia again show how US foreign policy in the Middle East fails to fully understand the region.

One sign read "Game Over". But in fact, the game has barely started.

The Facebook generation has taken to the streets and the "Jasmin Revolt" has become a revolution, at least as of the time of writing. And the flight of former President Ben Ali to Saudi Arabia is inspiring people across the Arab world to take to the streets and warn their own sclerotic and autocratic leaders that they could soon face a similar fate.

As the French paper Le Monde described it, scenes that were "unimaginable only days ago" are now occurring with dizzying speed. Already, in Egypt, Egyptians celebrate and show solidarity over Tunisia's collapse, chanting "Kefaya" and "We are next, we are next, Ben Ali tell Mubarak he is next." Protests in Algeria and Jordan could easily expand thanks to the inspiration of the tens of thousands of Tunisians, young and old, working and middle class, who toppled one of the world's most entrenched dictators. Arab bloggers are hailing what has happened in Tunisia as "the African revolution commencing... the global anti-capitalist revolution."

The birth of a human nationalism?

Around the turn of the new millennium, as the Arab world engaged in an intense debate over the nature of the emerging globalised system, one critic in the newspaper al-Nahar declared that an "inhuman globalisation" has been imposed on the Arab world when its peoples have yet even to be allowed to develop a "human" nationalism. Such a dynamic well describes the history of Tunisia, and most other countries in the Arab/Muslim world as well.

And so, if the people of Tunisia are lucky, they are in the midst of midwifing the Arab world's first human nationalism, taking control of their politics, economy and identity away from foreign interests and local elites alike in a manner that has not been seen in more than half a century.

But the way is still extremely treacherous. As a member of the Tajdid opposition party told the Guardian, "Totalitarianism and despotism aren't dead. The state is still polluted by that political system, the ancient regime and its symbols which have been in place for 55 years."

Indeed, the problem with most post-colonial nationalisms - whether that of the first generation of independence leaders or of the leaders who replaced (often by overthrowing) them - is precisely that they have always remained infected with the virus of greed, corruption and violence so entrenched by decades of European colonial rule. Tunisia's nascent revolution will only succeed if it can finally repair the damage caused by French rule and the post-independence regime that in so many ways continued to serve European and American - rather than Tunisian - interests.

A region's tipping point

The stakes could not be higher. The "Tunisian Scenario" could lead either to a greater democratic opening across the Arab world, or it could lead to the situation in Algeria in the early 1990s, where democratisation was abruptly halted and the country plunged into civil war when it seemed that an Islamist government might come to power. We can be sure that leaders across the Arab world are busy planning how to stymie any attempts by their people to emulate the actions of Tunisia's brave citizenry. But at this moment of such great historical consequence what is the US doing about the situation?

The timing couldn't have been more fortuitous, as Secretary of State Clinton was in the Middle East meeting with Arab political and civil society leaders at the moment events took their fateful turn. Yet when asked directly about the protests the day before Ben Ali fled her answer said volumes about the mentality of the Obama administration and the larger US and European foreign policy establishments to the unfolding situation.

"We can't take sides."

A more tone deaf response would have been hard to imagine. This was a moment when the Obama administration could have seized the reins of history and helped usher in a new era in the Arab/Muslim world world. In so doing it could have done more to defeat the forces of extremism than a million soldiers in AfPak and even more drone strikes could ever hope to accomplish. And Mrs. Clinton declared America's attention to remain on the sideline.

Obama's Reagan moment

Can we imagine that President Reagan, for whom Obama has declared his admiration, refusing to take sides as young people began dismantling the Iron Curtain? Indeed, even when freedom seemed a distant dream, Reagan went to Berlin and challenged Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!"

It's not as if the Obama administration doesn't understand what kind of regime it was dealing with in Tunisia. As the now infamous WikiLeaks cable from the US Ambassador in Tunis to his superiors in Washington made clear, "By many measures, Tunisia should be a close US ally. But it is not." Why? "The problem is clear: Tunisia has been ruled by the same president for 22 years."

Indeed, WikiLeaks did Clinton and Obama's job: It told the truth, and in doing so was a catalyst for significant change in the country - yet another example of how the release of all those classified documents has helped, rather than harmed, American interests (or at least the interests of the American people, if not its political and economic elite), even if the Obama administration refuses to admit it.

What is clear is that if the massacre in Tuscon last week might have provided Obama with his "Clinton moment", as he eloquently led the country on the path towards unity and healing, the Jasmin Revolution has handed him his Reagan moment. Obama needs to stop playing catch up to events, lay aside hesitation and throw his support behind radical change in the region, behind young people across the Middle East and North Africa who could topple the regimes who have done more to increase terrorism that Osama bin Laden could dream of accomplishing.

Decades of support despite repression

The US has understood and even welcomed this very dynamic in Tunisia for the last half century. A 1963 Congressional report on "US Foreign Aid to 10 Middle Eastern and African Countries" stated positively about Tunisia that "Tunisia has been known for its internal political stability and unity... This fact, unique in a ME country, can be explained by the existence of an unopposed single-party rule... Under the vigorous leadership of President Bourguiba, Tunisia offers a favourable and stable political climate, progressive in its outlook, in which to bring about economic development. US aid should be continued at the same or higher level," the report advised.

In recent years the US position has been little different. The Tunisian regime was supported by the United States because it was secular, cooperated on the "War on Terror" and followed, at least on the surface, liberal economic reforms. And European support for Ben Ali was even stronger, with successive French governments openly declaring their preference for stability and cooperation against illegal immigration and the threat of terror to supporting the kind of democratic transformation that would have gone much farther to securing those goals.

During the Bush administration, then Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick rebuffed attempts by local journalists to get him to admit to a double standard in calling for human rights without actually supporting them in countries like Tunisia and Egypt. The Bush administration supported draconian anti-terrorism laws that were clearly used to repress any opposition to the regime.

Today, Clinton declares that in fact the US doesn't have much power in the region. "We can't force people to do what we want," she explained in Doha at the Forum of the Future earlier this week, emphasising reforms that were focused far more on "economic empowerment, rather than political change," according to the Washington Post. Clinton never even mentioned the word democracy in her prepared remarks, or human rights for that matter.

And while she preached the gospel of reform and civil society, Clinton praised the record of another despotic regime, Bahrain, whose foreign minister participated in the forum with her. This even though the country's record of censorship and political repression lags little behind Tunisia's, if at all, as the annual Human Rights Reports of Clinton's State Department clearly show.

Taking history's reins

The WikiLeaks cable that by many accounts helped encourage the protests that have now toppled the Ben Ali regime had the virtue of being honest, as it explained that the incredibly deep and endemic corruption up through the very top of a regime that had completely "lost ouch with the Tunisian people" produced an untenable situation.

It's clear, then, that the US understood the problems plaguing Tunisia, so why didn't Clinton speak as openly as her ambassador in Tunis? Imagine what support she would have gotten from the people of Tunisia if she only stated what everyone already knew? If at the very least she had, as her ambassador urged in the then classified communique, declared America's intent to "keep a strong focus on democratic reform and respect for human rights," words that the US would not utter directly and openly until Ben Ali had fled the country.

The question now is, does Obama have the courage, the "audacity", to use one of his favourite words, to seize the moment?

Once Ben Ali had fled the country, the President did salute "brave and determined struggle for the universal rights", applauded "the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people", and called on the Tunisian government "to respect human rights, and to hold free and fair elections in the near future that reflect the true will and aspirations of the Tunisian people".

But unless there is a stick behind this call, there is every reason to believe, as so many Tunisians and other commentators worry, that the country's corrupt and still powerful elite will find a way to remain entrenched in power once the situation calms down. Indeed, Obama's call to "maintain calm" is counter productive. While violence is of course deplorable, the worst thing for Tunisians to do would be to remain calm, to tone down their protests and leave the streets.

Now is the time for Tunisians to ensure that the revolution that is just sprouting is not cut off or co-opted. The protests need to continue and even expand until the foundations of the regime are uprooted and other senior officials removed from power and sent into exile as Ben Ali has now been.

What is President Obama going to do if they emulate their colleagues in Iran and ruthlessly suppress further protests? If he and other world leaders don't lay out the scenario to the Tunisian people and the elites still trying to contain them now, so everyone understands what the United States will do to support the people, what incentive will those seeking to retain power have to take another route?

Crucial next steps

While the United States and the international community should not directly intervene unless the military begins killing or arresting large numbers of people, there are a number of steps Obama could take immediately to ensure that this nascent democratic moment takes root and spreads across the region.

First, the President should not merely urge free and fair elections. He must publicly declare that the United States will not recognise, nor continue security or economic relations, with any government that is not democratically elected through international monitored elections. At the same time, he must freeze any assets of Tunisia's now ex-leadership and hold them until they can be reclaimed by the Tunisian people.

Second, he should declare that the young people of Tunisia have shown the example for the rest of the Arab world, and offer his support for a "Jasmin Spring" across the Arab world. Obama should demand that every country in the region free all political prisoners, end all forms of censorship and political repression, and fully follow international law in the way they treat their citizens or the people's under their jurisdictions.

Furthermore, the President should call on every country in the region to move towards free, fair, and internationally monitored elections within a specified time or risk facing a similar cut-off of ties, aid and cooperation. Such demands must be made together with America's reluctant European allies.

Of course, such a call would apply to Israel as much as to Egypt, to Morocco as well as to Saudi Arabia. There would be one standard for every country from the Atlantic to the Indian ocean, and the US would pledge to stand with all people working to bring real democracy, freedom and development to their peoples and countries and to oppose all governments that stand in their way.

Imagine what would happen to America's image in the Muslim world if the President took such a stand? Imagine what would happen to al Qaeda's recruitment levels if he adopted such a policy (in fact, al Qaeda has been equally behind the 8-ball, as it was only Friday that the leaders of the movement's so-called Maghrebian wing declared their support for the protests in Tunisia and Algeria).

Imagine how hard it would be for so-called "supporters" of Israel to attack the President for finally putting some teeth behind his criticism of Israeli policy (which Clinton in Doha incredulously said the US could do nothing to stop) if he could reply that he was only holding Israel to the same standard as everyone else and that his policies were actually protecting America's core interests and security?

In Doha, Clinton poetically spoke of regimes whose "foundations are sinking into the sand" and who will, it is assumed, disappear unless "reform" occurs. The reality is that US foreign policy towards the Middle East and larger Muslim world is equally in danger of sinking into the sands if the President and his senior officials are not willing to get ahead of history's suddenly accelerating curve. It is the US and Europe, as much as the leaders of the region, who in Clinton's words are in need of "a real vision for that future."

Clinton was eloquent in her closing remarks at the Forum for the Future, where she declared,

"Let us face honestly that future. Let us discuss openly what needs to be done. Let us use this time to move beyond rhetoric, to put away plans that are timid and gradual, and make a commitment to keep this region moving in the right direction. People are looking for real leadership in the 21st century, and I think it can be provided, and I know that this is the moment to do so."

She couldn't be more right, but it will only happen if the United States, and not the Arab world's aging and autocratic leadership, takes her sage advice.

Arab Spring: How no one's got it right yet

The events in the Middle East show how the conflicting interests of world powers ruined the prospects of democracy and human decency.

Looking back at one of my first op-eds devoted to the Arab uprisings almost five years ago, it's surprising how clear the dangers were. Even after the first days of the revolutionary era, every attempt to bring substantive democratic reforms to the societies of the region would frustrate most.

"The stakes could not be higher," I wrote on January 16, 2011, in an opinion piece titled Tunisia: How the US got it wrong. “The 'Tunisian Scenario' could lead either to a greater democratic opening across the Arab world, or it could lead to the situation in Algeria in the early 1990s, where democratisation was abruptly halted and the country plunged into civil war when it seemed that an Islamist government might come to power."

It was clear that the sclerotic and despotic Arab governments would not go down without a fight, and would attempt to manipulate, co-opt and repress their publics in whatever combinations were necessary to retain control of the broader political and economic systems, if not of the direct political process itself.

Algeria was the obvious model because the "power" - the hazy group of senior army, intelligence and security personnel and their kinsmen and cronies - that has run Algeria for decades with the aid of massive petroleum revenues repressed the last great democratic uprisings in the region.

The repression led to a civil war that killed over 100,000 Algerians and included the rise of regional terrorist groups that ultimately became al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, one of the wealthiest and most feared radical groups on earth even after the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

It also occurred in the context of a transition from a more state-managed to a neoliberal economic order that would also play an important role in sparking the regional protests two decades later, particularly in Tunisia and Egypt.

Initial fears

While the first phase of the protests beginning in late 2010 were not marked by religion - although it wasn't absent either - it was clear that any democratic transition in the Arab world would be defined by the rise or increasing power of religious forces that until then had been either repressed or tightly controlled.

Whatever the ideological opposition to religious parties by existing regimes, their real danger lied in the fact that they evolved and functioned through their own political, economic and social networks that couldn't be controlled by the state.

In Algeria, strong evidence emerged that terrorist groups such as the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) were, if not straight out creations of the country's intelligence agencies, then a "bastard child" thoroughly penetrated and manipulated by the government in order to divide the opposition and ensure a high level of public opposition to the Islamists.

My fear was not merely that regimes today would engage in a similar level of dirty tricks to control and defeat opposition forces, although the actions of the Egyptian, Yemeni, and especially Syrian governments certainly rival - and in Syria's case exceeds the Algerian government's - in particular vis-a-vis their use of ISIL and similar forces as a tool to crush democratic opposition movements. That was to be expected.

Rather, I worried about two possible developments. First, that the United States and European benefactors of these governments would acquiesce to the governments' cracking down or manipulating democratic processes as they did a generation before, as was the case with the French and US governments' consent to the military coup and crackdown that led to the civil war in Algeria.

It seemed a safe bet that Western governments would not jeopardise their innumerable economic and strategic interests and relations with client regimes and support democracy movements that threatened to upend the status quo.

Second, I feared that after decades of propaganda against religious groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the younger, liberal-radical revolutionaries, when push came to shove, a large share of citizens would support the repression of these groups if governments decided to crackdown on them.

Despite the cost of the high levels of corruption and criminality that defined the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime in Tunisia, the Obama administration refused to call directly for a democratic transition until Ben Ali was on a plane to Saudi Arabia.

This lack of support for a democratic transition was repeated a few weeks later, when Obama refused to utter the "D" word until Egypt's Hosni Mubarak was gone as well. From Morocco to Bahrain the pattern has held, with the US and European countries refusing to sanction any of their allies, while moving far too quickly to support violence in countries like Libya and Syria where regime change did and could benefit them or their allies economically and strategically.

Transition failure

If the threats to a democratic transition were clear then, so were the steps necessary to ensure democracy would take hold. Chief among them was the ability of pro-democracy and revolutionary forces to sustain protests until democratic institutions were firmly established, and the power of the deep states that had run their countries for so long was opened to public scrutiny and challenged.

The Tunisian regime, while it was a combination security and mafia state, in fact was fairly shallow and brittle, which accounted for the success of the revolution to institute actual systemic changes in the system.

Most of the other states, such as Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and the ones in the Gulf, were far deeper and more resilient, which would make it much more difficult for pro-democracy and revolutionary forces to maintain pressure over an extended period of time.

And indeed, with the exception of Tunisia, regardless of the power and creativity of the movements, sooner or later governments have been able to push them back. I asked: If President Barack Obama and "other world leaders don't lay out the scenario to the Tunisian people and the elites still trying to contain them now, so everyone understands what the United States will do to support the people, what incentive will those seeking to retain power have to take another route?"

The solution was obvious, and remains so today. The US "should demand that every country in the region free all political prisoners, end all forms of censorship and political repression, and fully follow international law in the way they treat their citizens or the peoples under their jurisdictions".

This, coupled with free and fair elections and holding all countries across the Middle East and North Africa to the same standard, would at least have put US and European leaders on the right side of history and prevented a slide of the region towards violence and renewed authoritarian rule.

No hope

Of course, none of this happened. Not long after the Tunisian revolution, then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poetically spoke of regimes whose "foundations are sinking into the sand" and who would disappear unless reform occurs.

Those were, sadly, empty words. The Obama administration continued to support its clients and allies regardless of their actions, thus missing the suddenly accelerated curve of history of late 2010 - early 2011.

Its actions were emulated by Russia vis-a-vis its client Syria, helping to produce not just the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II and the destruction of some of the oldest inhabited places on earth, but giving the arms industry - which has donated more money to the Clinton campaign than any other candidate - even more political and economic power as the escalating conflicts generate even more terrorism by all sides. Not surprisingly, weapon manufacturers’ stocks rose after both the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.

Five years ago it seemed clear that the US foreign policy was in as great a danger of sinking into the sands as were the regimes of the region.

Tragically, little has changed in the ensuing half-decade, as Clinton's admonition for leaders to develop "a real vision for that future" has gone unheeded most everywhere besides Tunisia, from Washington to Manama.

As long as no one in power sees support for human rights, self-determination and democracy as core domestic or foreign policy goals, the sands will grow quicker and deeper.

Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle Eastern History at University of California, Irvine, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lund University.


Canada shows the way


Friday 18 December 2015

Just when you think there’s little hope for the world, something happens that restores your faith in humanity. Only those who have long suffered at the hands of their own, been driven from their homes and are desperately looking for refuge would truly value the gift Canada has offered to the Syrian refugees.

In comparison to its big neighbor, Canada has always known to be more generous and welcoming when it comes to immigrants and is decidedly more liberal in its policies in general. Yet nothing could have prepared anyone for the warm and generous welcome offered to the first planeload of Syrian refugees arriving in Canada last week. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who looks more like a young rock star than a politician, made it a point to be personally present at the airport in Toronto to receive the new arrivals. “Welcome, you are home!” he said to each one of them as he presented them with winter kits and toys for children.

“This is a wonderful night where we get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada is all about, but we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult situations,” Trudeau said.

“Tonight, they step off the plane as refugees. But they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada, with social insurance numbers, with health cards, and with an opportunity to become full Canadians.”

Can anyone beat that? And there are some who are asked to prove their loyalty and patriotic credentials all their lives even if generations of their ancestors lay buried in the country. A group of Canadian children even reportedly put together a special performance on this occasion, reenacting the song that young Ansar girls would sing 14 centuries ago to welcome the Prophet when he arrived in Madinah from Makkah.

The song went viral on You Tube and social media amid the buzz over the arrival of Syrian refugees despite the fact that the language is classical Arabic. But then love knows no barriers of language or man-made borders. Understandably, the Syrian refugees were incredibly moved by the welcome, with most of them teary eyed. After all that they have been through over the past few years and the death and dangers that they have braved to reach to safety in Europe, America and elsewhere with thousands of them perishing along the way, like Aylan Kurdi and his family, you could imagine their reaction on being welcomed the way they have been in Trudeau’s Canada. Or in Angela Merkel’s Germany which has agreed to accept nearly a million refugees this year.

No wonder Time magazine has chosen Merkel as its Person of the Year. This is truly leadership at its finest, responding to the calls and challenges of humanity and a globalized world. This courage under fire is all the more remarkable considering the sharply rising paranoia and intolerance of all things Islamic in the West and around the world. Islamophobia is at its highest peak right now.

If these aren’t the best of times to be Muslims, they are also perilous for anyone to stand up for them or even show them occasional sympathy.

The audacity of hope and generosity of spirit demonstrated by the Merkels and Trudeaus is therefore truly noble. May their tribe grow!

Clearly, leadership makes all the difference. Compare Canada’s response today with the hate and cynical scaremongering that had been peddled when it was led by Stephen Harper. Or compare it with the petty, incomprehensibly small-minded response of politicians in the great, rich land of opportunity south of Canada.

Last night, I stumbled across the Republican presidential debate on CNN. And it was truly a sobering experience to see all those worthies competing with each other to project themselves as the most combative commander-in-chief to beat the hell out of “Islamist jihadist terrorists” which in their view more or less all Muslims are.

If you thought Donald Trump is one looney exception, wait till you hear Ted Cruz, the Tea Party favorite, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, former New York governor George Pataki, Florida senator Marco Rubio or even former neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

You couldn’t have put together such mind-blowing combination of fire and brimstone and pure, unadulterated lunacy in one room even if you had sincerely tried. The only sane and moderate voices were those of Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, but then they are nowhere in the reckoning when it comes to winning the Republican nomination. If you heard any of these Republican hopefuls speak, you would think Islam, or “radical Islam” as they all insist, was the greatest threat and clear and present danger to America and the world right now and every Muslim out there is a Daesh extremist, only waiting to blow up the blessed land of the free.

Of course, none of them would dare to or care to show the other side of the reality. Like who or what created a monster like Daesh? Or how the catastrophic US and Western wars and their criminally reckless, lopsided policies have destroyed much of the Middle East and turned the Muslim world upside down, unleashing the chaos that is now beginning to touch their own lands. But of course we are not supposed to go there.

This vicious cycle of hatred feeding hatred, however, will only get worse in times ahead if there’s no sincere attempt to understand, by both sides, what is feeding it. Clearly, the US politicians and even those in Europe are tapping into the massive fear psychosis and ignorance that ordinary Americans and Europeans have developed after decades of hateful propaganda and blatant lies targeting Arabs and Muslims.

According to recent opinion polls, a significant majority of Americans thinks that their country is at its most vulnerable since 9/11. Many of them have convinced themselves things are down in the dumps and America is not winning, whatever that means, only because of the Middle East and Muslims!

No wonder politicians think the easiest way to win polls and power is by raising the bogey of “Islamist terrorism” or by bashing Muslims. In France, Marine Le Pen’s party has performed well in regional elections held after the Paris attacks. Other right-wing parties across Europe are also hoping to do well in polls ahead, playing on the fear of hordes from the Middle East invading the continent.

Unfortunately, all these years little has been done by Arab and Muslim countries to address these fears and concerns in the West. Notwithstanding substantial financial resources at their disposal, few of these have been invested in creating world-class media, think tanks or reaching out to Western public opinion and political establishment.

Given the fact this is a battle of ideas and perceptions, which by the way the West has mastered over the past few centuries, how could you face it with bare bodies and not even a stone in your hands?

Instead of earnestly praying for Hillary Clinton’s victory, couldn’t Arabs and Muslims be a little more proactive for a change? By the way, considering Hillary’s proximity to Israel and corporate sleazebags, she isn’t such an alluring option either.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf based writer.


Paris pact’s positive impact on GCC countries


Friday 18 December 2015

A historic and ambitious agreement to commit all countries to cut emissions, combat climate change and initiate actions and investment toward a low carbon economy and sustainable future was reached by 195 nations at the COP21 in Paris on December 12.

The Paris climate agreement, adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), is the first to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions, and it is partly legally binding and partly voluntary. Some aspects of the agreement, such as submitting emissions reduction targets and the regular review of that goal, are legally binding. However, the targets set by nations will not be binding. The pact will help to keep sustainable development on the right track and realize Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) no. 13: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” The key countries and blocs, including the G77 group of developing countries, the Arab group, the oil-producing countries, China, India, and Russia welcomed the balanced landmark agreement which is guided by the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities in the light of different national circumstances. Also, for the first time, a climate agreement has the United States and Canada on board.

Two key aspects of the agreement are:

l Keep the global temperature increase “well below” 2 degree Celsius and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels

l On climate finance, $100 billion per year will be given to developing countries by 2020, with a commitment on more finance in the future. This means the developing nations will not have to contribute any cash; the developed countries will have to give more money in the new deal and with greater predictability.

So, what does this agreement mean for the oil-rich countries? It sends a powerful signal that the world is fully committed to a low carbon future and that the transition to a low carbon economy is now unstoppable. In other words, it sends strong signals to investors and energy markets, which is likely to trigger a fundamental shift away from investment in coal, oil and gas as primary energy sources toward low carbon energy sources like wind and solar.

The structure of the new pact ensures that there will be regular five-year reviews, which will encourage global cooperation to find technological solutions to cut emissions and protect poor countries from the effects of climate change. This means that the agreement is of particular importance for the GCC countries because of the issue of fossil fuels, which form the backbone of the Gulf economies. All economic sectors depend almost entirely on fossil fuels. Therefore, any actions taken in line with the Paris climate pact may affect the demand for fossil fuels, the main source of carbon dioxide emissions, especially in countries that adopt laws and policies to reduce emissions. Thus, the agreement is a major challenge for countries that rely on fossil fuels as a major source of revenue.

On the other hand, the pact presents a key opportunity to GCC countries to speed up the process of economic diversification and invest more in clean and renewable energy sources, especially solar power. In fact, oil is unlikely to run out. As petroleum companies extract more and more from the earth’s crust, they have to reach deeper and deeper to reach new reservoirs. Eventually this will become very uneconomical while the unit costs of renewable energy forms decline. However, at least in the medium term, oil and gas will constitute one of the main sources of energy internationally. Currently, according to the IEA, oil and gas represent around 53 percent of the total global primary energy supply. This means that oil-rich countries have a good window of opportunity to use the wealth from oil and gas for investments in developing renewables technology.


An alliance against a radical ideology

By Manuel Almeida

17 December 2015

Following the Paris attacks last month, widespread demonstrations of sympathy generated criticism for supposed double standards in global reactions to terrorist attacks and their victims. According to these critics, nothing of the sort was seen after recent terrorist attacks in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. Tragically for the region’s inhabitants, deadly blasts and civilian victims have become the norm.

Recognizing that the phenomenon is first and foremost a threat to the Muslim world, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman announced on Tuesday an alliance of 34 Muslims nations to fight terrorism. Cooperation between members will include intelligence sharing and deployment of troops if necessary “on a case by case basis”, according to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

Its formation is also recognition that, as much as the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) requires close coordination between Middle Eastern and international partners, Sunni-majority states have a key role to play in efforts to eradicate the group.

Participating in this 34-nation coalition against terrorism are key Sunni-majority powerhouses such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Turkey. Also part are Sub-Saharan countries that have long grappled with the threat of terrorism such as Nigeria, with a population nearly equally divided in numbers between Christians and Muslims, or Somalia. In Asia, Malaysia and Pakistan were also listed as members of the alliance.

All 34 nations are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and there will be a joint operations center in Riyadh. Ten other states, including Indonesia, have expressed support for the initiative and openness to collaborate with it.


Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, as well as the regime of Bashar al-Assad, are naturally absent from the alliance. Also not included is Shiite-majority Iraq, where ISIS was born, and where concerns over Iranian meddling run deep, even among key Shiite figures such as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Oman is also not participating. That is unsurprising given its traditional foreign policy of balancing between Iran and Saudi Arabia and being a neutral mediator. Also outside the alliance is Algeria, which has cultivated close ties with Iran and often finds itself at odds with Sunni Arab states over various issues. Afghanistan, where the Taliban and ISIS vie for influence while both threaten the weak government, is also out.

The list of participants and notorious absentees indicates that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others are responding to the U.S.-led call for a greater Sunni role against ISIS and other radical groups. but also to a clear Iranian strategy to portray itself as crucial partner in the fight against ISIS while it accuses Sunni governments of sponsoring ISIS.

The Iranian strategy to use the fight against terrorism to justify its unconditional backing to the murderous Bashar al-Assad of Syria, or support for the expansion of a variety of Shiite militias in Iraq, thus faces a renewed challenge.


There is much speculation about the next steps and how to achieve them, as well as which groups other than ISIS, Al-Qaeda and their affiliates could be included as targets of the Saudi-led alliance. Jubeir explained during a press conference in Paris that there are still procedures to go through for countries to join the alliance, but the announcement was made "out of keenness to achieve this coalition as soon as possible.”

Nevertheless, much of its initial focus is likely to be on Syria and Iraq, where the core ISIS presence is. Bin Salman said operations in either country would be coordinated with major powers, international organizations and the international community.

The slight improvement of relations between Riyadh and Baghdad means there is room for cooperation, and Saudi ties to Sunni tribes in western Iraq could help in the Sunni mobilization against ISIS. In exchange, Baghdad would have to do more to guarantee greater Sunni inclusion, and security of Sunni communities against both ISIS and Shiite militias.

It is still unclear what the alliance can do until there is a deal for Syria among regime forces, the moderate opposition, and the foreign backers of both. Without a deal that includes the eventual departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, it is difficult if not impossible to foresee a full, united focus against ISIS and other terrorist groups.

Other areas of great concern include Libya, which experts fear might become a focus of ISIS as it gradually loses ground in Iraq and Syria, or Yemen, where the conflict and the collapse of government authority has provided an opportunity for Al-Qaeda to expand and ISIS to infiltrate.

In the longer term, a determination to cooperate against radical ideology and the conditions that allow it to thrive will prove more vital than the military and security responses the alliance can offer. Here could reside much of the positive impact of this coalition.

Manuel Almeida is a writer, researcher and consultant on the Middle East. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London of Economics and Political Science and was an editor at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He can be reached on @_ManuelAlmeida on Twitter.


A black-market mentality shapes Middle East politics

By Raed Omari

17 December 2015

“Before you can begin to think about politics at all, you have to abandon the notion that there is a war between good men and bad men.” - Walter Lippmann

Russia, Turkey and Syria suddenly began trading accusations earlier this month about who buys oil from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Indeed, such claims contradict, or betray, the international community’s anti-ISIS efforts but they show exactly why Middle Eastern politics are complicated, unreliable and unpredictable.

Still, the timing of such accusations is important - why did they wait so long to reveal such activities, which if true, make their anti-ISIS rhetoric hypocritical?

Russia has accused Turkey of smuggling 200,000 barrels of ISIS oil daily, with President Vladimir Putin describing the volume as “industrial.” He said Ankara shot down a Russian warplane to protect its trade with ISIS. Moscow displayed still images from a video showing convoys of fuel transporters on the Syrian-Turkish border, said to be carrying ISIS oil. Why were such images not shown or taken before?

Why no evidence before?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has angrily dismissed Russia’s claims, saying he will resign if they are proven true. He was quoted as saying a Russian-Syrian citizen has been buying oil from ISIS and selling it to the Syrian regime - Erdogan said this was confirmed by U.S. sources. Why did Ankara not reveal such evidence before?

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has accused Turkey of buying ISIS oil, but has not said how ISIS fuel transporters are able to travel through his war-torn country toward the border with Turkey.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has also entered this accusation ‘scene,’ saying most ISIS oil goes through Turkey, but he did not mention that it must have originated from Syria or Iraq.

The United States has said significant volumes of ISIS oil have been sold to the Assad regime, with some finding its way to Turkey. Why did Washington’s explanation only come after the eruption of the Russian-Turkish war of words?

But there is indeed a big question mark in all the charges each party has leveled against the other. In the case of Russia, the suspicion is over the very purpose of its large-scale military operations in Syria. If the Russians’ military build-up in northwestern Syria is to fight ISIS, as announced by the Kremlin, then why they did they wait this long to uncover the Turkish businesses with the ultra-radical group? And why did they wait until their fighter jet was downed by the Turks? Again, the answer for such mysterious questions lies in Moscow’s real objectives behind securing a military presence in Syria.

Whispered accusations

Turkey’s accusations have no doubt come in reaction to the Russian’s claims. For a long time, Turkey had been under suspicion of facilitating the entry of fighters to Syria, or being lax about the issue. But the accusations were whispered and never publicly talked about in part due to lack of evidence and also as they contradict Ankara’s anti-ISIS position. Regardless of the authenticity of Ankara’s accusations, what is indisputable is that they came as a reaction to Moscow’s claims. Erdogan might not have said what he said if his ‘war of words’ with Putin would have never erupted.

Assad, who is accused of buying ISIS’s oil, accused Turkey because his ally Putin did. In fact, Assad’s testimony mattered, but I am sure it fell on deaf ears simply because Syria is no longer a sovereign state.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s accusation to Turkey came only after Ankara’s deployment of forces near the ISIS-held city of Mosul and never before which, in fact, puts its authenticity on the line. But Abadi did not accuse Syria of buying ISIS oil or at least blame it for allowing the group to use its territory to smuggle it to Turkey. Were Iran and Russia in his mind when he said what he said? Seemingly yes.

No logic

Also remarkable was the U.S. announcement on illegal trade with ISIS. Washington was seemingly trying to ease off the tension between Moscow and Ankara in its cautiously-worded statement, saying there was “some” oil delivered to Ankara and “much” to Syria. If the Ankara-Moscow tension had not erupted, the U.S. Treasury Department official Adam Szubin’s statement would probably have never been made.

At the end, it is either that one of party or multiple ones really buy oil from ISIS or that is how Middle Eastern politics is managed and shaped – no certainties and logic. In both cases, it is disastrous and scandalous. The truth about ISIS’s oil business is now lost in who is receiving it, at the expense why and how.

The Middle East’s politics and the international handling of the region’s extraordinary affairs bear a certain resemblance to black-market gambling. There are no regularities or logical flow of incidents. As such, people should not be blamed if they link the rise of ISIS to a conspiracy theory and state sponsorship. Many conspiracy theories can be drawn from the Middle East’s politics and history.

But traces of black-market policies are in fact clear there in Syria, Turkey and on their borders – and of course, in Iraq and Iran until proven otherwise.

Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2


Muzzling silence-breakers damages Israeli democracy

By Yossi Mekelberg

17 December 2015

One of the prevalent Israeli myths is that regardless of the country’s policies toward the Palestinians, Israeli democracy is robust and unaffected. As with all myths there is a grain of truth in this assertion, but it shrinks rather rapidly. Even if Israeli society lived in complete democratic bliss, despite the oppressive nature of its occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, it would have not legitimized these anti-democratic actions in the slightest.

This illusion is further blemished by the creeping in of human rights abuses within Israeli society. It represents a constant and worrying erosion of pluralistic values. Harassment of human rights organizations - either by absurd legislation, abuse of police power, or vitriolic language by politicians - is turning from rare aberration to frequent occurrence.

Recently, an organization of former soldiers who served in the Israeli military since the start of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000, was on the receiving end of what allegedly seems to be heavy-handed police treatment and verbal attacks by politicians.

Exposing reality

For more than a decade, Breaking the Silence took it upon itself to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.” Its foremost aim is to stir public debate about the daily tasks handed to young soldiers, such as controlling civilian populations, and their impact on Israeli society and the soldiers themselves.

For those who live under an oppressive occupation, the continuous suffering and long-term harm is self-evident. Less obvious, though undeniable, is the psychological damage caused to those who serve as the long arm of the occupation’s brutality. Many live in a combination of collective and individual denial. For Israeli society, the state of affairs in the West Bank and Gaza is an inconvenient truth.

It is a story of young people, who in their naivety believe that by joining the military they defend their country, but in many cases end up subjugating civilian populations and depriving them of basic human and political rights. Upon returning to civilian life, they are not the same people, frequently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and bearing mental scars. The situation distorts young minds’ views about the use of force in the public and private sphere.

The organization’s list of recorded abuses toward Palestinians include killing, maiming, looting and destruction of property, bribing and the use of civilians as human shields, which are all denied by Israel’s government. For a long time, it was almost taboo in Israeli society to discuss any of the abuses or their impact on both sides of the border. This is routinely excused with the justification that Israeli security needs override Palestinians’ human rights.

On two recent occasions, the police were involved in stopping Breaking the Silence activist events from taking place. In the southern city of Beer Sheba, the Magistrate’s Court issued an order prohibiting a lecture by the NGO in a local bar, citing threats by far-right activists to use violence to disrupt its events. The order was issued by police request, claiming it would not be able to prevent an outbreak of violence against the speakers.

On another occasion, the police, according to the owners of a restaurant in Tel Aviv, tried to intimidate them from running an event with the organization. Though there is no claim that the activities of Breaking the Silence are illegal, the police are not prepared to protect its legal and natural right to express its views.

It is a clear case of handing victory to hooligans from the extreme right, who want to hush any public debate about the nature of the occupation, with the Israeli establishment’s at-least-tacit support.


Civil society groups as much as opposition parties are not formed to please governments. They are there to oversee government activities and ensure open debate. Muzzling Breaking the Silence has not been a solitary incident. Equally worrying, if not more so, is the newly-proposed bill presented to parliament that suggests imposing restrictions on Israeli NGOs that receive foreign funding.

This draconian legislation, if it passes, obliges all NGOs that receive at least half their funding from abroad to label their official documentation with the names of all foreign sources of financial aid, and requires their representatives to wear identifying tags when they visit parliament.

Ostensibly, since the law applies to all NGOs it is supposed to be fair. In reality, it is human rights and left-wing organizations that enjoy the lion’s share of support from formal international bodies, including governments. Right-wing organizations receive funds from private donors, who are not part of this legislation.

Though this legislation is called the Transparency Bill, and ironically was proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, it is a blunt attempt to intimidate the watchdogs of Israeli human rights’ violations.

Breaking the Silence’s activism, like that of other civil rights’ organizations such as B’Tselem, Gisha, Adhala, ACRI and many more, is holding a mirror up to Israeli society. This has angered some quarters of the Israeli political system because they do not like the image that is reflected in this mirror. Instead of breaking the mirror, the establishment needs to dramatically improve its image.

Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.


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