New Age Islam
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Islam and the West ( 25 Oct 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Dear Expat, Get Your Passport Back: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 26 October 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

26 October 2015

Dear Expat, Get Your Passport Back

By Mahmoud Ahmad

If the opposition is an illusion, then the Syrian army is a myth

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

What’s the difference between Moscow and Assad?

By Brooklyn Middleton

A call for action on U.S.-Arab relations

By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Stop the blame game!

By Khaled Almaeena

Way back to the future!

By Hussein Shobokshi

The Specter Of ISIL Over Turkey

By Gökhan Bacik

The ‘Mankurts’ of Turkey

 By Nuray Mert



Dear expat, get your passport back

Mahmoud Ahmad

Oct 26, 2015

THE issuance of a new set of rules by the Labor Ministry provides some great steps toward solving many problems between expat workers and Saudi sponsors and companies. These new set of rules are the ones we have all been waiting for. The surprise did not come gradually but it was divulged in one swift go. The Labor Ministry is finally putting the squeeze on abusive companies and sponsors who have been mistreating their employees, especially expats who are the weakest link.

One of the rules that are really in favor of the expatriates is that the passport has to be with the person on whose name it is. Now an employer or company cannot hold on to your passport anymore. We all know there’s this prevalent practice by companies and sponsors of holding expat workers’ passport, which by international law belongs to the holder. The reason for holding on to this document, which they claim, is to see that the workers do not escape. Escape what? Escape whom? In reality by holding this document the employer or sponsor uses it as a pressure card against the expat employee, in order to make them accede to their (employers/sponsors) wishes and conform to their ‘set of rules’, which are contrary to the ministry’s rules, whenever they want.

Now the Labor Ministry has acted to loosen their vise-like hold over the expat employees. For the ministry has imposed an SR2,000 fine for holding onto employees’ passports according to the new regulations. So I urge all expatriate workers to get their passport back and report the company to the Labor Ministry if they refuse.

I remember many months back writing an article, ‘Holding a passport hostage’, in which I explained that this practice by itself is illegal and there are laws against holding an expat worker’s passport, but the laws were not enforced. I hope these new regulations framed and released by the Labor Ministry will not be only ink on paper. With the new rules revealed, it is up to the ministry to enforce it on companies and sponsors at the earliest. And it should be strictly implemented. For implementation is the key here. Without strict implementation, these regulations will be worthless.

Another regulation that was disclosed is the imposition of a fine of SR5,000 on sponsors and companies who are not providing their workers with a copy of their contract. This abusive practice has put many expat workers on the defensive at work because at the end of the day they end up doing more than their share of work and for less pay. They, without the contract, cannot even voice their dissent about the load or type of work asked of them. This is basically cheating, wherein the employers take advantage of weak laws to do what they want thus exploiting the workers.

Other regulations include, a fine on companies if they delay the payment of salaries, force employees to work extra hours without overtime payment, or force them to work during official weekends and holidays. A fine of up to SR15,000 will be imposed on an employer who forces his workers to do jobs not specified in the contract or if he asks workers to bear those expenses which he is liable to pay. Fines will be imposed on employers who deprive workers of recommendation letters or if a company does not provide training to at least 12% of its Saudi employees, according to the regulations. Fines are to be imposed on companies forcing workers to work in the heat or in poor weather conditions without proper precautions.

The ministry also specified a fine of up to SR25,000 for companies violating safety and health standards. This also includes employing minors. The ministry also specified fines ranging between SR10,000 and SR20,000 on recruitment offices if they do not get a license from the ministry before any recruitment process or if they do not register the services they provide on the system of the ministry. Business owners will be fined SR25,000 if they provide false information to the Ministry of Labor and another fine of SR10,000 if they create problems in the work of the ministry’s investigation officers, and many more.

If, and only if, these regulations are strictly enforced then the work environment in the Kingdom would be among the best in the world. I know many expat workers who love Saudi Arabia for many reasons, including being close to the two holy mosques. But each one of them has a sad story to tell about his experience with his company or sponsor. It is time to put an end to all these negative practices. We do not want to see employees whose salaries are delayed for many months. The worst crime in the whole world is to force someone to do work and deny him/her payment. Such abusive companies who sponsor expat employees must never have heard of the expatriates’ families who are waiting to get the money from their sons, who traveled afar to provide for them. Or if they know then they do not care.

Cleaning companies should be aware now that delaying the salaries of poor workers would land them in a ‘fine’ pickle. The fine is to be imposed for each worker whose salary they delay, which means paying ten times than what they would have had to pay the worker. I also wish the Labor Ministry would review some of the contracts of the lowly paid workers and match them with the cost of living because some of the salaries they receive for a month is actually spent by an average family here in one day, if not more. The salary may be good if they received it back home, but here, it is a joke.

— Mahmoud Ahmad can be reached at Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng


If the opposition is an illusion, then the Syrian army is a myth

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

 25 October 2015

Statements on the Syrian Arab Army have resurfaced, and there have been recent Russian and Syrian reports on the army's battles against the opposition in Syria. In reality, the armed group these reports refer to is made up of a mixture of foreign powers who are carrying out most of the fighting in Syria on behalf of the Syrian regime.

These foreign parties mainly include members of the Lebanese party Hezbollah, of the Iraqi League of the Righteous and of the Iranian Quds Brigade. They also include Afghani Shiite Fatimid militias and others who have been recruited and trained to serve the Iranian regime’s aims of fighting in Syria and in other conflict zones in the Middle East. These are the parties comprising the Syrian Arab Army. This is the army the Syrian official statements have recently referred to and which the Russians claim they are intervening in Syria to support.

Where is the Syrian Arab Army?

The Russian foreign minister once taunted the Free Syrian Army, asking for its address to write to it. He did so to voice doubt it actually exists and to imply that those fighting Bashar al-Assad are terrorists and that everyone who belongs to the opposition is actually affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda. Two days ago, the Russian envoy to Saudi Arabia described the Syrian opposition as fragile. The Saudis confidently responded to that by asking Moscow to point to the Syrian Arab Army which they claim to be supporting on ground.

For more than a year and a half now, military experts have confirmed that there’s no trace of this army as many have either defected from its ranks since the revolution erupted or have been killed during the war. This is in addition to the fact that many of those who have continued to serve in the army have been marginalized because most of them are Sunnis whose loyalty to the regime is doubted, and are hence supplied with little amounts of fuel and ammunition as the regime fears they may defect and escape to the opposing camp.

Who is now in the Syrian Arab Army?

The Syrian regime has thus filled the vacuum by resorting to popular forces for defense – as per the Iraqi way. However this did not yield any fruitful results as most of these forces are not trained and are mainly formed of youths who belong to minorities, such as the Alawite sect to which Assad belongs. Most of these forces’ members have preferred to escape military service, and many of them have thus fled Syria.

Today, the Syrian Arab Army, or Assad’s army, is mostly formed of forces which are gathered and managed by Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani who spoke of the presence of 100,000 fighters that were brought to Syria to defend the Assad regime.

The opposition Free Syrian Army includes different parties and factions, and most of them are moderate and patriotic, and although it also includes religious extremist parties, none of these opposition parties include foreign fighters like ISIS and al-Nusra Front do.

The FSA was mainly born as part of the Syrian opposition project, which comes under the umbrella of the political coalition council that includes all of Syria’s religious and racial components. Sunnis, Kurds and Christians have served as its chiefs and its leaders include Alawites, Druze, Trukmen and others. However, Assad whom the Russians and the Iranians defend, no longer represents anyone, not even his small Alawite sect upon which he inflicted the biggest massacre against its sons as he forced them to engage in battles during the past four horrific years.

There are in fact Syrian traffic police in Damascus; however there’s nothing called “the Syrian army” in the sense which the Russians keep mentioning. Even their Iranian allies avoid using the term “Syrian army” as they consider themselves Syria’s armed forces.

When the different parties, i.e. the Gulf, Turkish, Russian, American and European governments, who are involved in the struggle in Syria talk about the future role of the Syrian army and security forces, they mean symbolic concepts of the state’s official institutions. There are now a few thousand soldiers and a few hundred officers and generals left in the Syrian army, which was once made up of around 250,000 soldiers.

Syrian security infrastructure has been destroyed

It’s not only the Syrian army which has evaporated. During the past four years of the war, the structure of the security forces’ institutions and intelligence apparatuses, which were once described as among the strongest in the world, have been destroyed. Therefore, the Russians and Iranians must not try and paint a false picture regarding what’s happening in Syria. The truth is no longer a secret due to the several parties fighting there. There is currently no state, no system, no legitimate president, no security forces and no army in Syria.

Above all, we are aware that the Iranians, and not the Russians, are the biggest winners from a Russian involvement in Syria which is mainly targeting Syrian opposition forces and not terrorists like ISIS.

The Russians are trying to create a balance by eliminating the armed Syrian national opposition so the world, including Turkey and Gulf countries, is forced to support the so-called regime in Damascus in order to fight foreign fighters in ISIS and other terrorist groups. This is the result which will finally serve the interest of Iran who, by then, will have seized Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and also have dangerous influence over the Gulf region.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.


What’s the difference between Moscow and Assad?

Brooklyn Middleton

 25 October 2015

Russian airstrikes reportedly struck a Syrian-American Medical Society-run field hospital, killing at least 13 people, including two medical staff members, in Sarmin, Idlib province on October 20th. Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova predictably dismissed the claims as “fake,” and launched a petty diatribe against the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights Director Rami Abdel Rahman, one of the people who initially reported the strikes. But the SOHR was not the only party that reported the carnage and the attack was not the first incident of Russia striking a medical facility in war-torn Syria.

Russia has reportedly targeted multiple medical facilities and hospitals – sites that should be sacred and untouchable to all warring parties despite Bashar al-Assad’s own history of destroying them.

Russia will not help end this bloody conflict

The outright denial by Moscow is only the latest claim in continued attempts to spread propaganda that utterly contradicts the apparent reality on the ground. In a new Reuters analysis, their team’s assessments concluded that a stunning 80 percent of Russian strikes have failed to target ISIS-held areas.

Moscow’s apparent inability or unwillingness to accurately report on the targets of its own attacks underscores the risk and foolishness of believing Russia will help end this bloody conflict.

According to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Russia has targeted at least seven medical facilities or hospitals since beginning its aerial offensive on 30 September in Syria. On 2-3 October alone, PHR reported that Russian jets bombarded three hospitals in Hama governorate, Idlib, and Latakia. According to a press release published by the same group, the airstrike that hit al-Burnas Hospital in Latakia destroyed the site’s capability to provide obstetrics and gynecology care and was since, “only able to provide some emergency services.”

The basic plea to acknowledge that the remaining medical facilities in Syria must be deemed totally off limits is one that Russia cannot disregard. The Assad regime attacks on health care workers and the sites at which they operate are well-documented; since the conflict has begun hundreds of medical personnel have been killed while the country’s health care system has unraveled. Such barbaric, criminal attacks cannot be conducted by yet another party involved in the conflict.

U.S. attack on Kunduz hospital

As documentation regarding Russian attacks on medical facilities comes to light, the United States must face its own deadly attack on an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The U.S. airstrikes that unjustifiably bombarded the hospital, killing at least 23 people, should be subjected to a thorough inquiry. But the important inquiry and the shame of such an attack should not prevent the U.S. from publicly pressuring Russia to halt its attacks. The U.S. should step up efforts to document and confirm the Russian strikes on Syrian medical facilities and demand that an independent investigation be conducted with UN oversight.

With an overwhelming number of reports detailing macabre scenes consistently emanating from Syria since 2011, the risk of collective empathy fatigue is real; but the potential horror of the remaining health care centers being obliterated or rendered useless should not be ignored.

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 call for action on U.S.-Arab relations

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

25 October 2015

The following is a speech by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor at the 24th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers’ Conference organized by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations at the Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington DC on Oct. 15, 2015.

I would like to start by thanking the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, led by Dr. John Duke Anthony – Founding President and CEO, for inviting me to speak at the 24th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers’ Conference. I thank you for having me.

In face of what is happening in our world, there could not have been a more relevant topic to discuss than the topic selected for this year’s conference: ‘the future of U.S.-Arab relations.’

The relationship between the United States of America and the Arab countries is at a turning point.

For decades, the alliance between the U.S. and the Arab countries, mainly the GCC States, has proven to be paramount for regional and global stability, prosperity and peace.

We recognize with gratitude, and cannot deny that we have greatly benefited from your knowledge for decades.

As per the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the volume of trade between the U.S. and the GCC countries is worth hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars every year.

Americans in the United Arab Emirates form one of the largest Western communities in the UAE; around 50,000 U.S. nationals reside in my country.

However, what the previous administrations have done to the Arab world in the last decade, particularly to the Sunni populations, leaves a dark stain on this great nation’s history.

America has nurtured the Ayatollah Khomeini to replace its former best friend the Shah of Iran.

Under false pretenses, the George W. Bush administration invaded Iraq.

When American troops pulled out, they handed Iraq to Iran on a silver platter, and this former great Arab nation, the Cradle of Civilization, was turned into a cradle for terrorism.

I cannot understand why the Obama administration is championing our common enemies and their expansionist agenda in our region.

Washington turns a blind eye to the Palestinian tragedy

Right now, we are witnessing the U.S.’s lack of decisive action against one of the most ruthless criminals of our century – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – and the empowerment of Iran, the patron of terrorism in our world, and most importantly, turning a blind eye to the continuous Palestinian tragedy.

The daily suffering of our Palestinian brothers and sisters is marginalized – it rarely makes the daily news.

But the U.S. State Department was fast to make a statement on Monday “condemning in strong terms the terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians which resulted in the murder of three Israelis”.

I never take the death of a human being lightly – any human being, whether Palestinian or Israeli.

But the fact of the matter is that Israeli forces are murdering Palestinian families in bulk on a daily basis, even burning them in their homes, and the American authorities have not once condemned those criminal acts.

I will not comment further on the Palestinian issue today. I leave this issue to you, ladies and gentleman, to consider what differentiates one man from another man? It is the decision making! It is the ability to make difficult choices when no one else can. That is what leadership is! And that is what is lacking right now!

Syrian refugee crisis must be dealt with at the source

We are currently facing one of the biggest challenges of our time, and that is the issue of refugees around the world.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the number of refugees and the internally displaced has reached its highest point since World War II.

The annual cost of this displacement, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, has reached almost U.S. $100 billion.

It is no surprise that many of these people are concentrated in the Middle East and in particular in Iraq and Syria. A third of the world’s refugees come from those two nations alone. Twenty-one percent of the world’s refugees are Syrians. More than 9.5 million have been displaced. That amounts to nearly half of the Syrian population – men, women and children. This is a human tragedy!

Hundreds of thousands of desperate Syrians have flooded to Europe, risking their lives for a chance of a better life. This tsunami of desperate people is unlikely to ease anytime soon. Do you think they want to leave their country? Their homes? Their family members? No! These people have no choice. This is a last resort, and they have given up hope completely.

Unfortunately, the reception the refugees are met with, in some parts of Europe, is not much better than the conditions they are running away from. And some of the European leaders are refusing to host Syrian refugees for fear of jeopardising Christian history.

It is a real disappointment to hear such statements from leaders in Europe in the 21st century. The fact that Syrians are being turned away based on their religious belief is totally unacceptable! The discrimination is blatant and unforgiving!

I am not here to point fingers, but rather to tell those who are fostering the hate feelings against those unfortunate refugees in camps that they are attacking the wrong enemy. Their enemy is not the women and children seeking refuge from a bloodthirsty leader.

I should take this opportunity to salute Pope Francis for his call for mercy for the Syrian refugees in Europe.

Instead of dealing with this escalating crisis, this human tragedy, why are we not dealing with the source of the problem? We are looking at solutions to deal with its ramifications, rather than eliminating it at its root.

If Bashar al-Assad was dealt with in 2011, or when he used chemical weapons in 2013 against the Syrian people, then we would not be dealing with a world epidemic.

Didn’t President Obama draw a red line to the Assad regime, and all the players on the ground, when sarin gas and other chemical weapons were being utilised?

I quote what President Obama said in 2013, “It’s about humanity’s red line. And it’s a red line that anyone with a conscience ought to draw.”

With all that is happening to Syrians so far, has this not crossed yet any “humanitarian red lines” for the U.S. and The World? Two years later, and after continuous use of chemicals weapons in Syria, the world still fails to take any action and materialize on its promise. Are five years not enough for the international community to intervene?

While world leaders are making plans to host refugees in their countries, all they offer is a temporary solution. But you must know that Syrians do not want to be refugees in Europe even more than Europe’s reluctance to host them! What they need is to go back home to Syria.

A ‘safe zone’ should be created within Syrian land, where Syrians can have a safe shelter from the butcher Assad while a solution is being found. A safe zone protected by the NATO.

And the criminal Bashar al-Assad should be led to the International Criminal Court. Assad cannot be negotiated with. He should not be allowed an easy exit! He should be tried for all the crimes he committed against his own people. Assad must pay for more than 350,000 innocent lives he has taken!

This is what the Syrian people need from you! If justice is not carried out against Assad, you will never be forgiven.

What will happen after sanctions on Iran are lifted?

Let us not forget Syria is not the only troubled country in the Middle East. Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen are not any better. And the common denominator in all these problems is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran’s malicious fingerprints are left all over the region by supporting terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, militant groups and destabilizing forces in Iraq, and most recently the Houthis in Yemen.

If Iran has managed to create all this turbulence and damage despite sanctions, what guarantees can ensure that it does not do more harm once sanctions are lifted?

Iran officially supports terrorism. It does not only back Shiite terrorist groups but Sunni ones, such as Al-Qaeda itself. This is not an assumption, but a fact stated in official reports prepared by the U.S. Department of State.

Most importantly, the Iranian regime, which regards the United States as the “Great Satan”, has for decades been involved in state-funded terrorism against America and its allies in the region. All that has happened despite the crippling economic sanctions over Iran. Imagine what will happen if the sanctions are lifted!

If an Arab country were perceived to be hostile to the U.S. or the international community, it would be attacked without hesitation. On the other hand, this administration is treating its ‘favorite enemy’ with a velvet glove instead of the iron fist it deserves.

Both the U.S. and Iran have displayed exceptional commitment to the nuclear deal, and now a nuclear framework has been agreed. It is easy to understand Iran’s willingness to compromise when sanctions have bit hard. But why the Obama administration has made supreme efforts to shake hands with America’s long-time enemy is perplexing.

The P5+1 – Iranian nuclear deal is set to enrich and empower Tehran once economic sanctions are lifted. President Obama says Iran’s new wealth will be used to improve lives in Iran, rather than to fund Hezbollah, the Shiite Yemeni Houthis, or other troublemakers under the Iranian wing. One needs to be naïve at best to believe that.

According to a Daily Telegraph report, Ali Khamenei – Iran’s Supreme leader, controls “a financial empire” estimated to be worth $95 billion. That alone should tell you that Iran has no intention of prioritizing the needs of its people over its regional troublemakers.

Iran’s ayatollahs have been oppressing religious and ethnic minorities ever since they took power in 1979. Look at how they have treated Ahwazi Arabs in the occupied province of Arabistan, that they now call Khuzestan.

Although Arabistan provides Iran with 80 percent of its oil requirements and half of its gas, Ahwazi Arabs are persecuted and oppressed on daily basis. They are not entitled to their basic human rights. Their identity is being destroyed. They are forced to study in Farsi if they are lucky enough to go to school – a meagre 50 percent chance for boys, and 20 percent for girls.

Over 30 percent of Ahwazis under the age of 30 are unemployed. They have no access to drinking water. Their streets are open sewers, and they are deprived of electricity and gas. And more often than not, Arab farmers are stripped of their agricultural land.

There is no country on earth, which oppresses its population underfoot, both politically and socially, while keeping over almost 11 million illiterate and 15 million struggling below the poverty line.

Meanwhile, Iran spends $15-30 billion every year to support terrorists across the region, according to a recent report.

Its proxy Hezbollah has hijacked Lebanon and turned it into a hub for terrorism in the Middle East. Whether it is the military or the political wing, there is no difference, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization created and nurtured by Iran to destabilize the Arab world.

It goes without saying that the United States is far better off on the side of its long-term and stability-seeking allies, the GCC countries. Contrary to Iran, our countries track down and punish terrorists and financers of such groups.

I would love to know why this entity, which has been hostile to Western powers and their allies since its inception in 1979, is being rewarded for its terrorist associations and its regional will to power! Or is this hostility between Iran and the West just a farce to fool us?

Unfortunately, America no longer inspires the world. I say that with deep regret.

When President Obama signed up to the Iran nuclear deal, he placed the Middle East and the Gulf in danger from an enriched, empowered, and legitimized Tehran.

Upcoming U.S. election

As the American people prepare to elect a new president, a man or a woman who will influence the future of the world, it is important that voters begin scrutinizing the presidential candidates through a new lens – one that is serious, positive, and objective.

Americans should stop judging a man by his cover and dig deep to see who possesses the necessary tools as well as life experiences. Voters should not care about their candidates’ personal lives, or what candidates do in their homes, behind closed doors. That is nobody’s business. Instead voters should look for a shrewd businessman, with economic know-how, a candidate who will create jobs for them.

Money is power, and money comes from smart and healthy economies.

Americans need employment. Americans need opportunities. They need investments in infrastructure. Most of all, they want to enjoy a healthy economy. They have tried the speakers who made empty promises or announced unrealistic policies – who have failed to return America to its former glory.

The U.S. is a powerhouse of leaders, but this time instead of selecting a politician for president, it is best to vote for a successful businessman with a positive approach to run the country.

Some might say that the presidential election is an American matter, and as an Arab, I should not interfere. Allow me to correct them! The choice of President, and his policies, will affect the whole world.

The world needs leadership. The American president needs to gain the admiration of your own people as well as ours. America’s light of truth and justice should shine bright again!

To conclude, I invite you to please join me for a moment of silence to honor the UAE military men and women who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty in Yemen recently. May God bless their souls.

A large number of our finest UAE soldiers were killed while defending their Yemeni brothers and sisters from Iranian-sponsored Houthi rebels. We Emiratis are a population tied together by tribal roots and family connections. Every single Emirati life is precious to us, and we will not forget the sacrifice of our heroes. Our shared grief has joined us together as never before. We are very proud of the martyrs, there are defenders of the oppressed.

I am very proud of my country. The United Arab Emirates never skirts its duty and has proved its courage time and time again. My country is committed to the region’s security and fighting terrorism. Our hands are always open to help our friends and neighbors, be it with financial support or assistance in preserving their freedom.

We are determined to prevail over the threat of the Iranian thugs. Our resolve to fight on the side of right will never falter. We will never permit terrorist plotters to be victorious when the future of our nations is at stake.

We extend our hands to our allies, and it is my deepest hope that the United States of America, our long-time friend and ally, stands with us again in our common fight against terrorism to make our world safe again.

God bless America. And God bless our troubled Arab World. Thank you very much.

Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.



Stop the blame game!

Khaled Almaeena

Oct 25, 2015

A full-page report appeared two days ago in a local Arabic daily paper which said that terror organizations entice youngsters to their ranks by means of the temptation of fame and dreams of Paradise.

Those interviewed stated that social media is the main culprit. Others said that the strict rules for acceptance by some universities made students apply elsewhere which often required them to live far from their homes.  I am always amazed at how we repeatedly blame factors that are totally irrelevant to the rise of extremism.

Let’s be very frank. The first cause is family upbringing. The lack of parental monitoring and family cohesion along with the absence of role models are main factors. Add to that self-appointed sheikhs who spew venom against community members of other sects and preach violence against them. I myself have on many occasions heard hatred being poured on others from the pulpit and have even complained about it.

Then, of course, there are those teachers who prey upon the minds of the young. Their deviant ideological narrative is spread in the classroom. A father once complained to me that his son’s physics teacher told the class that “those who listen to music will have their brains pierced with burning iron rods on the Day of Judgement”.

He removed his son from that school and sent him to the United Kingdom. However, not all families can do that. I strongly believe that the educational sector has a lot of “sleeping” extremist teachers. And over the years they have grown in number. The government is making efforts to remove them from the education system, but it will take some time to reverse the damage that they have done. A whole generation has suffered.

With sadness I have witnessed my own city of Jeddah slowly being transformed from a gentle, tolerant and accepting place to a harsher environment where bands of men, official and unofficial, roam the streets telling women to cover their faces and asking people if they have prayed or not.  They harass people with segregation rules that divide families and label normal interaction between respectable men and women as immoral behavior.

Who is to blame for all of this? We are!

Because we have kept quiet and accepted such uncivilized provocations, and we have not provided cultural programs and have deprived our youth of healthy entertainment. The result is mosques being blown up, people being killed and the agents of hate enticing the young and pushing them to commit murderous acts.

Parents should take charge of their own children, communicate with them and guide them. Communities should join together to offer sports and recreation services in their neighborhood. The media must engage the youth and address their needs.

Above all the words of tolerance and acceptance should be key in our daily lives. And please let us stop blaming outsiders; enough is enough!!

Khaled Almaeena is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena


Way back to the future!

Hussein Shobokshi

Oct 26, 2015

There is a grand celebration taking place to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the huge hit and popular movie “Back to the Future – Part II,” the movie series, which achieved over the years a cult-like following, managed to dominate the pop news item once again although this time from a completely new and different angle.

The movie, which belonged to the comedy genre, attempted to predict the future. Exactly the date it attempted to predict was Oct. 21, 2015.  Amazingly enough, the movie got many things ‘right’.

The movie predicted smart homes, robotic gas pumps stations that are being tested today and soon to be seen practically, movies that are being presented in IMAX 3-D and magnetic hover board technology is turning into a reality.

The movie was right in predicting drones technology, voice activated appliances, flat-screen televisions and video conferencing that are all realities today.

It is no secret that some of the most famous books and movies have been the inspiration to design the future. Works by Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan attempted to give views of how the next days would be like.  Dick Tracy, the famous comic detective as well as the Jetsons futuristic comic series all provided valuable imagination on how the future will look and feel like.

Predictions are all over the place on what the future will hold. It is clear that people will own few things and sharing will be more common. The car as the main mode of transportation is not going to be the case as mass transportation becomes smarter and more efficient (two Scandinavian capitals Oslo and Helsinki want to be car-less in 15 years).

Restaurants will be operated by a maximum of two people as automation becomes better and more reliable. Cashiers will be a thing of the past with mobile payments becoming the most reliable method.

Robotic systems will construct buildings and roads, which will last longer with fewer cars on them. Doctors will be something closer to a repairman using biometrics and data crunching to properly diagnose from the home. It will be amazingly different if all these futuristic dreams come true!


The Specter Of ISIL Over Turkey

By Gökhan Bacik

October 25, 2015

The specter of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is now visible over Turkey. From the very beginning, experts have been warning Turkey: It is coming! We all knew it would come. The Turkish public felt the symptoms of ISIL like a disease. However, Turkish politics underestimated it. This is one of the most mysterious items of Turkish politics. How did the Turkish political elites underestimate the inevitable arrival of the ISIL disease?

Now, the specter is here. It has killed more than 100 citizens in the middle of Ankara. ISIL is the group that committed the biggest terror attack in the modern history of Turkey. How did the government fail to stop this? The political gamble with this tragedy has been even worse. Turkish statesmen are still playing the “confusion game.” One, for instance, said, “It could be the [Kurdistan Workers' Party] PKK or the ISIL.” Unbelievable! Why does a member of the government put the PKK into a tragedy that was clearly the doing of ISIL?

The specter of ISIL is more critical when it comes to unknowns. For instance, last week, Turkish police raided an ISIL printing press in Gaziantep, where the group prints its money. How was that printing venue possible? How can such a group dare to carry out such a sophisticated project in a leading Turkish city? This is not just smuggling bread.

The specter is sitting squarely on the many questions about ISIL. How are many things possible? For instance, Turkish police have reported that more than 4,000 Turkish citizens are affiliated with ISIL. How is this possible? There are reports of ISIL training camps in Istanbul. Are they correct? The ISIL specter prevents us from learning the answers to such dangerous questions. The specter is big, dark and it obfuscates answers.

The ISIL bomber in the Ankara blast was the brother of the bomber who was behind the Suruç attack in June. What an intelligence fiasco! The details of the Ankara bombing, as I learn from the Turkish media, are likely to make our conspiracy theories come true! If it is an intelligence failure, then it should be said that it is a link in a perfect chain of many mistakes.

We have contending opinions. But an opinion has yet to clarify our understanding about the existence of ISIL in the Turkish context. Nobody knows the truth! But the specter proves that there must be something wrong. No doubts there: Something is certainly wrong with ISIL's presence in the Turkish context. Contending, confliction official statements now fail to be persuasive. Those listening tend to conclude that the statements are meant not to persuade but to hide.

Another mystery is the Turkish security operations regarding ISIS. Are these serious operations? Recently, a Turkish parliamentarian from the opposition said that the number of people arrested because they have tweeted critical opinions of the government is far greater than that of those arrested because they are linked to ISIL. What is the real story in the context of Turkey's fight with ISIL? Is Turkey really fighting ISIL? For example, I know what “fighting” means in Turkey when it is the struggle that goes on in the PKK context. But compare how Turkey fights against ISIL and against the PKK. According to the criterion of what “the fight against the PKK” means, one may argue that Turkey is not fighting against ISIL.

The Ankara bombing was proof that Turkey is surrounded by a critical threat. Therefore, Turkish statesmen should develop a new strategy and discourse towards ISIS that will disperse the ISIS specter currently over Turkey. Their ambiguous position and narrative are now meaningless. Obsession with Kurdish groups like the Syrian pro-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) should not lead Ankara into any illusions about ISIL.


The ‘Mankurts’ of Turkey

 By Nuray Mert


Nationalism, conservativism and right-wing politics in general have always been nativist in Turkey. But recently, they are on the rise along with xenophobia, anti-Westernism and anti-intellectualism. All societies in times of turmoil seek refuge in authoritarianism, always search for unity and become skeptical of domestic and foreign enemies. Anti-intellectualism is an essential aspect of authoritarianism, since intellectuals are perceived as the enemies of stability as long as they refuse conformism and defend freedoms and the right to difference and dissent. In this respect, Turkey’s story is no different than other epochs and examples of swings toward authoritarianism.

The most recent example of anti-intellectualism was President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attack on academics who signed a petition addressed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited Turkey, asking her not to support Turkey’s authoritarian rulers in exchange for a deal on Syrian migrants. In fact, I was among the signatories, but I did not think that it was very brilliant idea, or an important effort in our struggle for democracy. Nevertheless, I have no regrets since I support all efforts against authoritarianism in Turkey.

Besides, it emerged to be a new indicator of the extent of intolerance concerning dissent and freedom of thought. The president did not miss this chance to accuse “alienated intellectuals” of being “the fifth column” as pawns of foreign powers. This time, he used a brand new term: “Mankurt,” a term that, until recently, nobody knew meant “those who lose their mind and became robotic servants of their masters, who tortured them previously, to serve their needs.” The term is claimed to originate from ancient Turkic mythology.

All xenophobes think that they are unique in their skepticism against “others.” Nationalist and Islamist anti-Westernists think it is particular to Muslims of this or that particular nation. All nativists think that only they feel that their values are attacked by enemies of their community. Nonetheless, it is the banal story of xenophobic and conspiratorial narrow-mindedness and another simple example of fear from freedom and difference.

What is more interesting is that some of those so-called liberal democratic converts to the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) cause do not hesitate to feed that narrow-mindedness by accusing the petition’s signatories of being alienated from their own society and seeking refuge in the help of foreigners, or as being “the new seekers of the Western mandate.”

One of them was “clever” enough to use a more complicated term like “diasporic-mindedness,” by which he meant the mentality of those intellectuals resembles those who live in the diaspora and that their minds are shaped by enmity toward the AKP and Erdogan more than anything else.

The rise and promotion of narrow-mindedness is an alarming thing in itself for any society. Nevertheless, the rise of hypocrisy in the name of power worshipping and indirectly supporting authoritarianism in return for career opportunities is even more alarming, as it exposes the extent of moral decadence that authoritarian regimes always produce.