New Age Islam Edit Bureau
26 September 2015
The World Must Not Fail the Syrians Twice
The Ultimate Fate of Syrian Tyrant
By Jamal Doumani
In Myanmar, Peace for Ethnic Rights
By MAUNG ZARNI
The world must not fail the Syrians twice
25 September 2015
Most Europeans know that their countries have some of the best social-security systems in the world – and many outside the wealthy economic bloc know it too.
That includes those roaming in search of safety inside Syria – an estimated 7 million of them. They find themselves stuck between the firepower of the Assad regime, bombarding and destroying cities held by rebel forces, and ISIS, which controls large swathes of Syria’s countryside.
And an estimated 4 million Syrians are choosing to leave the war-torn country in search of a better future for their children and families, even if that means making the unsafe journey by sea, or on the highways of Europe, to get to safety.
The European nations should not fail Syrians a second time, when called to take in people fleeing the conflict.
Many in refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan are constantly weighing their options. Their dilemma is whether to stay in camps – which offer them less and less every day, with international funds depleted after years of conflict – or to make a final run and seek asylum, with all the danger that entails.
The crisis in Syria has so far left more than a quarter of a million Syrians dead and more than a million injured, maimed, tortured or imprisoned.
Some Syrians with families in the Gulf states were allowed to settle in the region, despite the firm immigration rules in those nations. They were given access to education, healthcare and the right to work.
Any Syrian would be pushed towards the desperate choice to migrate or seek asylum. It is not because they are greedy, or hold anyone responsible for the war in their country. It is because after more than four years, their savings are running out, some of their children are not getting an education, and the healthcare they have been provided with by charitable organizations may soon run out.
A new chapter
On top of this, it is clear to many that the conflict has recently entered a new chapter with the arrival of Russian troops.
For years, Lebanese Hezbollah militia, with guidance from Iran, have tried to help the Syrian regime crush the uprising – with fighters from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan joining in.
On the other hand, opposition Syrian fighters received funding and military hardware from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and even the United States.
All of this made it evident to civilians in Syria that tipping the balance towards peace is next to impossible in the foreseeable future, given the complex mix of international players involved in Syria’s many conflicts. It is a war between the regime and its people, as well as between Iran and the core Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. It is a hidden war between Arabs, the Turks and Persians; it is part of the global war on terror; and it is a war between the U.S. and its European allies against Russia, over the Ukraine issue.
For all these reasons and more, Syrians are fleeing, hoping for a better future, even if it means crossing Europe’s barbed-wire fences.
For the Europeans in the north such as the Germans or Swedish, or the smaller southern and eastern nations of Hungary, Macedonia and Greece, the surge in refugee numbers is alarming.
Yet migration is as old as the world, with those seeking better, richer and safer lives having been moving around the globe for millennia.
Along with thousands of Syrians, refugees include Kurds, Iraqis, Palestinians from refugee camps in Syria and other Arab nations, Iranian Kurds or other minorities in Iran, and Afghanis. And the newcomers also include Africans fleeing conflicts or poverty in nations like Somalia and Eritrea.
Immigration an old theme
The issue of immigration has been ongoing in Europe for decades, with many refugees, migrants or economic migrants receiving generous state benefits since well before the Syrian crisis.
This was witnessed in Europe with the Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts. Even when the EU was moving to include new states in Eastern Europe, we heard loud voices from the ultra-right parties, objecting to countries such as Poland or Romania being allowed to join. This saw the issue of immigration become a main theme of manifestos of many political parties in Europe.
All of the above needs to be considered when it comes to discussing the policies and means to deal with Syrians hoping for asylum. The Syrians are simply following a basic survival instinct and the human trait to seek a better existence.
The mechanisms of multilateral international organizations have been in place to prevent conflicts similar to what is happening in Syria today. But it seems these same mechanisms is failing hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
And so these European nations should not fail Syrians a second time, when called to take in people fleeing the conflict – whether you call them migrants, immigrants or asylum seekers.
Mohamed Chebarro is currently an Al Arabiya TV News program editor. He is also an award winning journalist, roving war reporter and commentator. He covered most regional conflicts in the 90s for MBC News and later headed Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London.
The ultimate fate of Syrian tyrant
By Jamal Doumani
25 September 2015
Every cloud, as we say, has a silver lining. Does the cloud that has been hanging over Syria since its civil war erupted five years ago has one. Looks like it.
A majority of Syrians have already given up on their country. We’ve seen them in recent weeks, in the tens of thousands, streaming across Balkan and Central European countries, on their way to seek safe haven — for many of them probably a permanent one — in places like Germany and Sweden. The images are gut wrenching, but also telling.
Syria’s is no garden variety conflict that has triggered, as traditional garden variety conflicts do, the exodus of a handful of refugees anxious to escape being caught in the cross-fire and fleeing to surrounding countries to await imminent repatriation. Syria’s conflict is a calamity of monumental proportions. Four million Syrians have already fled home and homeland and, now five years into their exile, still live desperate lives in refugee camps in Lebanon (where they comprise 25 percent of the population) and in Jordan (where they comprise 10 percent) as well as in Turkey, Iraq and elsewhere.
No less than 8 million others are internally displaced. They have faced malnutrition, acute food shortages, potable water and medical supplies. Those who stayed put, in besieged towns held by rebels, unable to flee for fear of risking their lives, are compelled at times to dwell in the open fields in partial return to the manner of a beast. From Duma, for example, outside Damascus, to the northern city of Aleppo, men, women and children, the old, the sick and the infirm, spend their days foraging for food and burying the victims of indiscriminate barrel bombs dropped on their homes, market places, mosques and fields, by government helicopter gunships.
In Duma, where last month alone 550 people — 123 of them children — were killed, four out of 5 residents have already left their once bustling town of half a million. Aleppo is a ghost town, much of it resembling a latter-day Dresden. In between, Syria lies in ruins. This is what happens when the rules that define a government’s moral compass are let off the leash. It’s also the time when something must give. Someone must find a solution.
This is why the news, that President Putin of Russia, who is expected to address the General Assembly on Sept. 28 during the United Nations annual heads of state gathering, may meet with President Obama to discuss the Syrian conflict, is welcome.
Of course, next to Bashar Assad, Putin, who has steadfastly supported the Syrian regime financially, militarily and diplomatically since the outset, bears great responsibility for the calamity in that sad land. Without that support, the regime in Syria — a country that represents Russia’s last military outpost in the Middle East — would not have survived. Russia is clearly complicit. What is equally clear is that for there to be a solution both Washington and Moscow should be involved.
President Obama has had little to do with the Russian leader since Russia invaded Ukraine last year, and is reportedly weary of the man’s intentions. Obama is no George W. Bush who, in June 2001, at his first summit meeting with Putin in Slovenia, claimed that “I looked the man in the eye, and I was able to get a sense of his soul.” And Obama no doubt recalls John Kerry’s trip to Moscow last May (and later Sochi) where the Secretary of State sought, and failed, to get the Kremlin to ease up on its support for the Syrian dictator.
Today while Russia remains rigid on the terms of what to do with Assad, Washington — which remains fixated on Daesh — has shown flexibility: Kerry proposed in London last Friday that Moscow and Washington find “common ground,” perhaps the formation of a “transitional government” in Damascus that would keep the Syrian president in power for an “agreed period of time” during that transition.
Meanwhile, the US should be clear that its obsession with Daesh does not trump its commitment to see the Syrian dictator ultimately and definitively ousted — this is a man, after all, who has waged full war on his own people and killed no less than 250,000 of them.
One has to be optimistic. Russia has already agreed on the need for an “equitable solution,” including the need for a transitional government, and thus though a compromise may not, at first blush, seem obvious, it is nevertheless possible.
As the New York Times editorialized last Monday: “America should be aware that Mr. Putin’s motivations are decidedly mixed and that he may not care nearly as much about joining the fight against Daesh as propping up his old ally. But with that in mind there is no reason not to test him.”
In Myanmar, Peace for Ethnic Rights
By MAUNG ZARNI
SEPT. 24, 2015
For months, the government of Myanmar has been touting progress on a nationwide cease-fire deal, claiming it is a major step toward ending the country’s long-running armed conflicts. But the latest summit meeting on Sept. 9, attended by President Thein Sein and representatives of more than a dozen ethnic armed groups, ended inconclusively.
Some groups have refused to sign the agreement unless the government allows all of them to join it. The Kachin Independence Organization, the second-largest of the groups, is recalcitrant because three of its closest allies, which are still actively fighting the Myanmar Army in the country’s northeast, are being sidelined.
Thura Shwe Mann, speaker of the lower house of Parliament, was removed as chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party by President Thein Sein and his military backers.Op-Ed Contributor: In Myanmar, a Soft Coup Ahead of an ElectionSEPT. 11, 2015
Working out an accord acceptable to all the guerrillas was always going to be difficult given their differing interests. Some groups, like the Karen National Union, view the cease-fire as an economic opportunity, because it would open up access to the Asian Highway network that is being built; others, like the Kachin, are worried it will bring unwanted dam projects, excessive jade mining and more deforestation, and undermine their calls for a more federal system.
Yet the greatest obstacle to finalizing a comprehensive deal actually is the one thing these minority groups share: deep distrust of the Myanmar military, which they see as an occupying force with a neocolonialist mind-set.
They are right. I grew up in Mandalay in an extended military family. Like the vast majority of Myanmar’s people, we are Bamar and Buddhist, and have been imbued with a dominant culture that is distrustful of Muslims and condescending toward ethnic groups. For many minorities, Myanmar’s independence from Britain in 1948 was less a moment of emancipation than a shift to another form of oppression. Colonial subjugation morphed into centralized rule under a chauvinistic majority.
Almost seven decades later, Myanmar politics is inherently sectarian, and when the government isn’t downright exploitative of minorities, it is paternalistic and domineering. Small wonder that our military leaders, who see themselves as the guardians of national sovereignty, feel little need to pursue genuine peace with ethnic armed groups. Or that even those ethnic groups that seek peace are wary of the government’s recent overtures.
The commander-in-chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, did not attend the summit meeting in early September; he was in Israel then, touring military facilities. Even as participants in the talks were gathering in Naypyidaw, the capital, the military was attacking Brigade 3 of the Kachin Independence Army, apparently unprovoked.
Gen. Gun Maw, the K.I.A.’s second-in-command, has said it is a pattern of behavior for the military to stage offensives at the same time that negotiations are underway. He seems to be correct: The army has also been attacking areas controlled by the Restoration Council of Shan State, even after the group publicly said it would accept the cease-fire deal regardless of whether all armed groups could join it.
That the army is waging strikes while the president is talking about peace does not reflect a split between the military and the executive branch; it is just the government’s version of playing good cop/bad cop. And the government’s attempt to leave some groups out of the nationwide cease-fire agreement — for instance, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Arakan Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army — is a ploy to divide and conquer the ethnic opposition.
With the ethnic armed groups understandably skeptical, the only way to make real progress toward peace is for the government to offer them some significant military and political concessions, and fast.
The army should immediately halt all hostilities and allow humanitarian relief to get through to war-trapped communities, especially in the Kachin and Shan areas. The government must also drop its demand that outlier groups sign bilateral cease-fire agreements as a precondition to their being included in the comprehensive accord. And the commander-in-chief must publicly declare that the military will abide by the addendum to the proposed cease-fire. The addendum has not been made public, but according to senior advisers to one major ethnic group that has been involved in the negotiations, it provides that the security sector will undertake reforms — including allowing some parliamentary oversight — before the ethnic groups are asked to disarm.
To overcome the distrust of minority groups, the government must also devolve more power to the ethnic areas. Both the commander-in-chief and the government should commit now to ending the current practice by which the president handpicks chief ministers for the country’s 14 regions and states. Text should be inserted into the addendum of the cease-fire deal stating that the authority to select chief ministers will be transferred to local legislatures, including in ethnic-majority areas.
These recommendations may seem like a tall order, but the moment is right. The government appears determined to arrange a signing ceremony for the ceasefire accord before the general election in November, partly to shore up its popularity with both voters and international donors, which dwindled after it took a series of controversial moves: The government has prevented the opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, from running for president; sacked the relatively liberal head of the ruling party; banned statements critical of the military in state media during the campaign; and stripped Rohingyas, a Muslim minority, of their voting rights.
The government’s current vulnerability is a precious opportunity for Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups. They must stand together, and hold out on signing the nationwide cease-fire until all of them are included in the deal and they have secured concrete military and political concessions. If the government is as serious as it claims about wanting peace, it must let go of its oppressively majoritarian mind-set and recognize ethnic minorities’ legitimate aspirations for more autonomy.
Maung Zarni, a political activist from Myanmar, is a nonresident scholar with the Sleuk Rith Institute in Cambodia.