New Age Islam Edit Bureau
8 september 2015
Weep, Arab World!
One Billionaire's Dream To Build A Refugee Utopia
By Khaled Diab
Mahmoud Abbas Succession Fever: Is There A Cure?
By Dr. Ghassan Khatib
Europe And The Misrepresentation Of Refugees
By Sharif Nashashibi
The Gulf And Syrian Refugees
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
An Unmitigated Humanitarian Disaster
Syed Mansur Hashim
Why Is Russia In Syria Now?
By Dr. Theodore Karasik
Weep, Arab World!
8 September 2015
The pictures in most newspapers in Europe and America are those of dead bodies washed up on Europe's shores. These are desperate Arabs mostly Syrians fleeing the war. It is a tragedy and crisis at Europe’s doorstep but the real tragedy is the Arab world. The heartbreaking image of the innocent toddler washed up on a Turkish beach after the boat he was in with his fleeing family capsized reveals the senseless brutality that is going on in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Arab world.
It is a picture that should shake the Arab world and especially the Syrian regime whose relentless assault has led to this humanitarian disaster. The murderous takfiris and jihadis who have created this turmoil have also paralyzed the Arab world, depriving it of its peace and security. The UN says that more than 2,500 people have died while attempting to reach Europe. Land travel is also fraught with danger crossing dangerous deserts. Attacked by merciless bandits and exposed to the elements, these desperate people are risking their most precious possession – their lives.
Some who reach the land mass of Europe are met with indifference, contempt and hostility. Hungary blocked thousands who were trying to transit the country to go to Germany, but the most criminal act was in the Czech Republic where authorities wrote numbers in indelible ink on the skin of refugees whom they had pulled off trains. The Czech Republic already known for its hostility to the aspirations of the people of Palestine (it was among the nine who voted against Palestine) continued its policy. The right-wing elements there showed no mercy.
However, the two most welcoming countries in Europe have been Germany and Sweden. Berlin is preparing for some 800,000 asylum applications this year and Sweden, with just two percent of the EU’s population, last year accounted for 13 percent of all applications and 18 percent of all successful ones.
There have been emergency meetings at the highest level among European states to study the influx of an almost unsustainable number of asylum seekers. A BBC correspondent asked me why Arab and Gulf states are not taking the refugees. I replied that Jordan and Lebanon have already taken about four million. The Turks also have accepted tens of thousands. As for the Gulf it is geographically difficult for them to cross this tract of land.
However, this does not absolve the Arabs from blame. Dictatorship and iron fist policies have led to this tragic situation. We watch as this tragedy of epic proportions unfolds daily in front of us. We criticize European nations for tightening their borders. We accuse them of not rising to the occasion and resolving a crisis or solving the humanitarian problem that is of our own doing. Decision makers in the Arab world have failed their people and they have proved their incompetence and their inability to come up with appropriate solutions to their problems. They continue to lack wisdom and are obsessed with power and control.
How long will the Arab world continue to suffer and when will the warring factions decide to call it quits? How many more children’s bodies will be washed ashore? How many more lives will be lost and how many refugee camps will the world have to produce? For how long will the forces of evil continue to threaten innocent Arab families? Are there no voices of wisdom left in the Arab world?
Weep, Arab world!
Khaled Almaeena is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena
One billionaire's dream to build a refugee utopia
By Khaled Diab
07 Sep 2015
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me."
This verse from the poem by Emma Lazarus titled " The New Colossus " was not quite the words used by Naguib Sawiris, but it seems to be what he meant. The Egyptian billionaire caused a tempest when he announced his wish to buy a Mediterranean island - possibly near Rhodes, where the original Colossus stood - to provide shelter for the region's desperate refugees.
"Greece or Italy sell me an island, I'll [declare] its independence and host the migrants and provide jobs for them building their new country," Sawiris tweeted . And this brave, new refugee republic would be named Ilan, the Egyptian tycoon later elaborated , in honour of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian child whose haunting image shook the holder.
With neighbouring countries unable to cope further with the influx of Syrian refugees and wealthy regional states doing almost nothing to take them in - while even contributing by proxy to the Syrian refugee crisis and directly in Yemen - Sawiris is the latest entrepreneur to step into the void. One prominent example was Turkey's yoghurt mogul, Hamdi Ulukaya, who pledged to give away more than half of his $1.4bn fortune to help Kurdish and other refugees.
Sawiris's proposal resonated so widely because it is an appealing and symbolic notion which tugs at the heartstrings. As untold thousands of refugees take to the sea to escape the shipwreck of failed and failing nation states, Ilan island will provide them with a safe haven from the storm, and a place where they can live in dignity, and not be "treated and used like cattle", in Sawiris' words.
The scheme, though extremely costly for the Egyptian billionaire, sounds impressively self-sufficient. Housing, educational and other infrastructure on the uninhabited island would be built, and presumably operated, by the refugees themselves, providing them with a shot at independence and dignity, rather than the marginalisation and unemployment that often greets those fleeing conflict.
Sawiris' implied faith in the refugees' abilities, work ethic and potential for productivity is an implicit jab at Europe's anti-immigrant right, who regard refugees and migrants as lazy layabouts and a threat to their way of life. It would also help boost Europe's capacity to absorb refugees by providing it with a purpose-built refuge.
That said, despite the presence of numerous candidate islands and the welcome income to the cash-strapped treasuries of Greece or Italy, it seems unlikely that either country will take enthusiastically to the scheme.
One major stumbling block is the question of sovereignty. Which European country would be willing to cede territory, which would be declared "independent", to the eccentric scheme of a foreign billionaire?
Even if they were to accept this or were to retain sovereignty, there would be the possible fear that, rather than serve as an alternative for refugees who would steer clear of the European mainland, the island would simply become a stepping stone to Europe, rather like the Italian island of Lampedusa or the Greek island of Kos. This would especially be the case if Sawiris' idealistic project ends up becoming little more than a glorified refugee camp, rather than a utopian republic.
But it is Sawiris' almost Platonic discourse of a just republic for refugees that is probably the most appealing to the Arab public's ear, especially if, against the odds and expectations, this idealised and idyllic oasis can succeed where Arab regimes have failed.
In fact, it would be extremely poignant - even poetic - if refugees fleeing murderous dictatorships and blood-thirsty non-state groups managed to construct a functioning and productive society which respects individual freedom and dignity. If successful, I imagine it would attract Arab immigrants, not just refugees.
In addition to the challenge of building an effective society from scratch by traumatised people from diverse backgrounds, one wonders whether Sawiris will have the commitment to carry through with such a feat.
It is true that Sawiris was a self-declared supporter (and fairly enthusiastic for a businessman who made the bulk of his fortune under Mubarak) of the 2011 revolution, helping set up the "Council of Wisemen" which was rejected by Egypt's revolutionary youth .
Can the rich help?
However, like with many Egyptians, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi spooked him, and the party he established, the Free Egyptians Party, backed Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi's campaign for president , despite the clearly undemocratic way Sisi got to where he was and his violent repression of dissent.
This raises the question of whether rich Egyptians and Arabs can help lead their societies down the path to freedom, justice, equality and prosperity.
Some Arab tycoons are joining the growing movement of billionaires committed to philanthropy. For example, Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has voiced his intentions to give away his considerable fortune.
Despite the undoubted value of philanthropy and the importance of interclass solidarity, the world's billionaires are more a part of the problem than the solution, especially when you consider that the richest 1 percent own more than the rest of the world, and 85 or so billionaires are worth as much as half of humanity.
This is the case in the Arab world, and perhaps more so. Not only is economic inequality massive, and widening, the region has become a living laboratory for unfettered neoliberal economics and a stronghold for crony capitalism.
The intimate links, both explicit and implicit, between the business elites, the military, and repressive regimes across the region mean that, no matter how well-meaning, the individual efforts of (relatively) enlightened tycoons are no substitute for systematic and fundamental change and reform.
More than greater philanthropy, the Arab world is crying out for greater social democracy, equity, solidarity, welfare systems, education and justice for all.
Khaled Diab is an award-winning Egyptian-Belgian journalist, writer and blogger. He is the author of Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land. He blogs at www.chronikler.com.
Mahmoud Abbas succession fever: Is there a cure?
By Dr. Ghassan Khatib
8 September 2015
Debate and speculation among Palestinians over who will succeed the Palestinian president have suddenly intensified. Foreign journalists and diplomats are instantly drawn to the topic. Leaks from those in President Abbas’ inner circle that he will resign, and the replacement of Yasser Abed Rabbo with Saeb Erekat as secretary general of the executive committee of the PLO have fed the discussion.
The main questions are, what would be the process of succession and will it be smooth? Moreover, which one of the various Palestinian leaders has the best chances of succeeding President Mahmoud Abbas?
In my view, there are powerful reasons to believe that there will be no successor to the current president. In fact, President Abbas is likely to be the final president of the Palestinian Authority as we know it.
The Palestinian constitution provides for succession through elections. The second point of Article 37 of Palestinian basic law is very clear in this regard. It stipulates that, “If the office of the President of the National Authority becomes vacant […], the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council shall temporarily assume the powers and duties of the Presidency of the National Authority for a period not to exceed sixty (60) days, during which free and direct elections to elect a new President shall take place in accordance with the Palestinian Election Law.”
The state of Palestinian internal politics, however, puts a huge question mark over the possibility of conducting such an election and throws into doubt whether the legal process of succession will play out. The Legislative Council (whose term, mind you, long ago expired) is not functioning. There has been no annual election of a council speaker as required by the council’s bylaws. The vast majority of politicians and political factions have justified not holding these elections on the basis that to do so would consolidate the rift that exists between Fateh (Abbas’ faction) and Hamas (which overran the Gaza Strip, administering it since 2007).
There is a chance that the leaders of the PLO -- comprised of several factions, the main one Fateh -- will decide to “agree” on a successor to Abbas as chairman of the PLO during the next National Council meeting (scheduled for the middle of this month) in order to avoid the need for presidential elections. (In this case, the anointed leader of the PLO would slip into the role of the president.) But clinical observation of the nature and behavior of faction leaders leads analysts to conclude that it is much more likely that they will compete as rivals and continue to disagree and clash. There is no single leader able to stand above the various divisions.
Lack of internal political momentum
The public opinion poll conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center in August, the first to pose this question to the public directly, revealed that none of the possibilities are very popular. The question asked was: “If presidential elections were to take place today and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) would not run again, whom you would vote for?” The response was revealing. Ten-and-a-half percent of respondents said they would vote for Fateh leader Marwan Barghouti, who has no chance of acting as president because he is sentenced to several life sentences in Israeli jails. Another 9.8 percent said they would vote for Ismail Hanieh, the deputy head of Hamas in Gaza and 5.1 percent chose former security chief Mohammad Dahlan, who was expelled from Fateh and is persona non grata in Palestinian Authority areas. Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the PLO executive committee, and Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas, each took 3.3 percent.
A clear-eyed look at these results finds that there is no real candidate for succession, and therefore makes it unlikely that an “agreement” on succession between the factions is possible.
This complex situation and the lack of any internal political momentum is very worrying. If the position of the president were to become vacant, for whatever reason, the Palestinian Authority can only be expected to deteriorate and then finally collapse in the resulting vacuum and infighting.
The only possible preventative measure for this dire scenario is for the president, while in power and still legitimate, to call for legislative elections. Such a step would ensure a legal and smooth succession -- whenever it is needed – halt the slow decline in governance and accompanying lack of accountability, and thus shore up the Palestinian political system and its future stability
Dr. Ghassan Khatib is Vice President for Development and Communications and lecturer of Cultural Studies and Contemporary Arab Studies at Birzeit University. Previously, he served as director of the Palestinian Authority Government Media Center (2009-2012), Minister of Labor in 2002 and Minister of Planning (2005-2006), founded and directed the Jerusalem Media and Communication center. He was a member of the Palestinian delegation for the Madrid Middle East Peace Conference in 1991 and the subsequent bilateral negotiations in Washington from 1991-93. Khatib holds a PhD in Middle East politics from the University of Durham in UK, and is author of Palestinian Politics and the Middle East Peace Process: Consensus and Competition in the Palestinian Negotiation Team.
Europe and the misrepresentation of refugees
By Sharif Nashashibi
7 September 2015
For weeks now, images and reports of those trying (and dying) to enter Europe have made headline news. However, despite round-the-clock debate by politicians and the media about how best to handle the situation, they are committing a fundamental error that could hinder a just solution. Their very description - a “migrant crisis" - is neither accurate nor fair, contrary to the basic tenets of journalism.
The U.N. high commissioner for refugees and other U.N. officials have made clear that most of those trying to enter Europe are refugees. The definition of a refugee is very different from that of a migrant.
According to the United Nations, migrants “choose to move not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons. Unlike refugees who cannot safely return home, migrants face no such impediment to return.”
Refugees, however, “are persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution. Their situation is often so perilous and intolerable that they cross national borders to seek safety in nearby countries, and thus become internationally recognised as ‘refugees’ with access to assistance from States, UNHCR [the U.N. refugee agency], and other organisations.”
In a nutshell, then, someone is a migrant by choice, but a refugee by force. Most of those heading to Europe are fleeing war-torn countries - primarily Syria followed by Afghanistan, but also Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria and Eritrea, among others. As such, it is not a migrant crisis but predominantly a refugee crisis.
Importance of terminology
To highlight the issue of terminology is not pedantic. “Conflating refugees and migrants can have serious consequences for the lives and safety of refugees,” the UNHCR wrote on Aug. 27. “Blurring the two terms takes attention away from the specific legal protections refugees require. It can undermine public support for refugees and the institution of asylum at a time when more refugees need such protection than ever before.”
Countries deal with migrants under their own immigration laws, but refugees are protected under international law. “One of the most fundamental principles laid down in international law is that refugees should not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom would be under threat,” wrote the UNHCR.
Other aspects of refugee protection include “access to asylum procedures that are fair and efficient; and measures to ensure that their basic human rights are respected to allow them to live in dignity and safety while helping them to find a longer-term solution. States bear the primary responsibility for this protection.”
As such, politicians and media figures who are anti-immigration are likely using the term “migrant” so governments can shirk their legal responsibilities toward refugees without a public backlash, given the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the European Union (EU), and the fact that countries are not obliged to take in migrants. It is also an attempt to deflect blame when those denied entry end up dying, as so many have.
Anti-immigrant sentiment, and the incorrect conflation of refugees and migrants, have given rise to high-profile hostility toward those trying to reach Europe. To take just a few examples from Britain alone, Prime Minister David Cameron and UKIP leader Nigel Farage have described them as a “swarm,” Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called them “marauding migrants,” and Katie Hopkins, a columnist for The Sun - the country’s highest-circulation newspaper - described them as “cockroaches.”
The misuse of terminology may also be down to ignorance and laziness, with some using the term “migrant” simply because it has caught on. However, that is as inexcusable as being motivated by deceit. News organizations use style guides, which - among other things - clarify the use of certain words, particularly regarding contentious issues.
Given the high-profile nature of the refugee crisis, it would be baffling if high-level discussions were not held, and directives not issued, about appropriate terminology. Furthermore, given the clear difference between migrants and refugees, it is equally baffling that media outlets continue to refer to refugees entering Europe as migrants.
The BBC, for example, has had the words “migrant crisis” in large letters on screen throughout its coverage. This despite its website containing an article by Ruud Lubbers, former U.N. high commissioner for refugees, who writes that refugees and migrants - “two distinct groups of people” - are “increasingly being confused, and increasingly being treated in the same way: with mistrust, even hatred and outright rejection.”
He concludes: “We have to be clear about who is a refugee and who is a migrant, and not sacrifice one to keep out the other.” This was written in April 2004, providing ample time for the BBC to get it right.
One can sense an element of racism in certain quarters regarding the choice of terminology. Syrians languishing in the Middle East are readily described as refugees until they reach Europe, at which point they inexplicably become migrants even though their circumstances have not changed.
In addition, anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe is often expressed specifically in relation to Muslims. Last month, Slovakia said it would only take in Syrian Christians, not their Muslim compatriots.
Last week, Hungary’s prime minister wrote in a German newspaper that it was important to secure his country’s borders from mainly Muslim refugees “to keep Europe Christian.” This despite the fact that up to August, the number of those who reached Europe so far this year constituted just 0.027 percent of the continent’s total population.
It would be preposterous - and deeply offensive - to describe European refugees during the two world wars as migrants. Present-day refugees should be afforded the same humanity and respect. We should be letting the media and politicians know - factually and firmly but politely - that their misrepresentation of the crisis is unacceptable, illogical, and does a grave disservice to the many who are suffering so greatly.
Sharif Nashashibi, a regular contributor to Al Arabiya News, The Middle East magazine and the Guardian, is an award-winning journalist and frequent interviewee on Arab affairs. He is co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. With an MA in International Journalism from London's City University, Nashashibi has worked and trained at Dow Jones Newswires, Reuters, the U.N. Development Programme in Palestine, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus, and the Middle East Times, among others. In 2008, he received the International Media Council's "Breakaway Award," given to promising new journalists, "for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting on the highly emotive and polarized arena that is the Middle East." He can be found on Twitter: @sharifnash
The Gulf and Syrian refugees
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
7 September 2015
The crisis of refugees - Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis and others - is everyone’s responsibility amid the international community’s failure to support them. No one, including Gulf countries, have an excuse to not support them. Arab Gulf countries have been recently criticized about this, but some critics have aims that are completely irrelevant to the humanitarian side of it.
Gulf countries must of course accommodate more people and grant more care to Arabs and Africans fleeing wars in their countries. However, it is important to look at the entire picture, not just rely on people who seek to serve their own interests, or reporters who only know part of the truth.
A big percentage of the funds spent by international organizations and received by governments who host refugees, such as Lebanon and Jordan, come from Gulf countries. The latter are thus one of the major funders of about 3 million Syrian and Yemeni refugees in different countries.
Almost all these funds spent on refugees come from Gulf governments, after charities and individuals decreased their activity due to suspicions over beneficiaries and fears that groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may be making use of the financial aid.
As to hosting refugees, ever since the Arab Spring erupted, Gulf countries have received thousands of them via family reunifications and quick employment programs. Riyadh has exempted Syrians from renewing their visas and from labor permits. There are currently more than 500,000 Syrians in Saudi Arabia, representing the third-largest community after Egyptians and Yemenis.
The number of Yemenis in the kingdom has increased to over 1 million since the war erupted in their country. All Yemeni refugees and Yemenis who illegally entered the kingdom have been granted legal residencies that allow them to stay and work.
Europe agreed to take in 250,000 refugees, and there is uproar regarding this number, although it is humble compared with the numbers who sought refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. It is even less than the number of refugees who quietly found their way to Gulf countries.
Despite that, we must thank countries such as Germany for their humanity, and note that Germans have always been one of the most welcoming to refugees since the Lebanese civil war erupted in the 1970s. Gulf countries must provide more space for refugees via the system that reunifies Syrians with their families who reside there, and by allowing more Yemenis to seek refuge there in addition to the 1.5 million already present.
Gulf countries are not selfish as some claim. They host some of the biggest foreign communities. All six Gulf countries have opened their doors for these communities to live and work, and some of these foreigners have fled persecution and wars from Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Afghanistan. These people were neither housed in tents nor categorized as refugees, and they mingled with society. This year around 1.5 million people, who sneaked into Saudi Arabia mostly from troubled countries, were granted residencies and work permits.
When taking into consideration the percentage of foreigners to citizens in most Gulf countries, there is a dilemma that prevents receiving more refugees. Foreigners make up more than 80 percent of the population in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, around half of Kuwait’s population, some 40 percent in Saudi Arabia and around a third in Bahrain.
You do not see such percentages in other countries, including in Europe, which complains about the number of foreigners on its land. The percentage of foreigners in Britain is 8 percent, and it is a similar percentage in Germany and Greece.
Trading accusations, and some people’s exploitation of a humanitarian cause to achieve personal or political aims, will preoccupy everyone with disputes instead of housing and feeding these poor, miserable refugees.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 7, 2015.
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.
An unmitigated humanitarian disaster
Syed Mansur Hashim
8 September 2015
Syrian refugees are crossing the Aegean in a bid to get to Europe and safety. They are pouring in through Greece, Serbia and Hungary, and countries that make up the European Union (EU) cannot agree on what to do with this sea of humanity. EU foreign ministers are set to gather in Luxemburg on September 11 and respective member nations are sending their home ministers to Brussels on September 14 in a bid to agree on a long term mechanism to deal with the massive influx of refugees Europe is witnessing presently.
While governments mull and talk about what to do about the unprecedented arrival of so many thousands of people on their doorstep, the United Nations has urged for a single policy to be adopted. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres stated, “Europe cannot go on responding to this crisis with a piecemeal or incremental approach. No country can do it alone, and no country can refuse to do its part.”
At a time when the neo-right parties are on the rise in Europe, opening the doors to the Syrian influx is not easy for any European government. There have been clashes reported in Greece, which is witnessing the arrival of as many as 5,000 migrants and refugees on a single day. Last week, the city of Kos was the stage of an attack on a group of refugees by a violent group of nearly 25 people shouting “go back to your countries” or other such racial slurs. Coupled with the shift in politics and the economic depression that Greece has suffered for years, refugees could not have arrived at a worse time. But then Greece, like Hungary and France, are all merely stops on a journey leading to Germany, the country of choice for most Syrians.
Germany expects to open its borders to as many as one million asylum seekers. Although the media in that country has been generally sympathetic to the plight of refugees, there have been violent clashes. According to data released by the German interior ministry, there have been nearly 340 assaults on refugee shelters since the beginning of the year, which is a jump of nearly 100 incidents from that of 2014. Germany, the strongest economy in EU, is proposing a quota system that will be under discussion during the emergency summit due to be held on September 14. Ms. Merkel has lashed out at other member countries and the UK for refusing to share the burden of the intake. The quota system proposed by Germans has received less than a lukewarm response from countries like Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and the UK.
With some four million Syrians displaced from their homeland since the beginning of the crisis in 2011, the UNHCR (UN's refugee agency) estimates that about 1.8 million have fled to Turkey, some 600,000 ended up in Jordan, and Lebanon, which has a population of four million, took in a million more. The rest are headed to Europe. European policymakers have much to ponder upon on September 14. A study by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs titled 'The Syrian displacement crisis and a Regional Development and Protection Programme: Mapping and meta-analysis of existing studies of costs, impacts and protection', published on February 4, 2014 had the following to say in its Executive Summary: “In a region already hosting millions of Palestine and Iraqi refugees, the unprecedented scale of the Syrian crisis is producing immense additional strains on the resources and capacities of neighbouring governments and the international humanitarian system.”
Amongst other things, impact assessments at various levels were done. Major areas of disruption for host countries included public health services, sharp rise in housing rent, a crisis in the labour markets and fluctuation of market prices for basic commodities and food. At the time of preparing the report, it was probably not thought that the “neighbouring countries” would witness a major shift from the Middle East to mainland Europe.
With no real end in sight to the Syrian conflict, there is major risk of Syrian refugees falling under the category of a “protracted” conflict, which according to UNHCR's latest Global Trends Report, means that the displaced Syrian populace may be in for a long period of forced displacement. This UN body's mandate is to help countries facing an influx of refugees. Apparently there are three categories: voluntary return or repatriation to home countries; resettlement to a third country; or integration into the host country.
As stated before, with the Syrian conflict increasingly looking “protracted,” it is unclear when displaced Syrian citizens can return to their homeland. And with the economic downturn in the EU becoming a harsh reality, to what extent host EU nations would be willing to accommodate “integration” in a politically-charged atmosphere is open to speculation. What is and should be at the forefront of European politicians' collective mindset is that the tens of thousands of Syrian civilians have to be accommodated on the grounds of compassion. They did not choose to endure a harrowing journey through hostile territory with their children and their old to be turned away at the gates of Europe because legislation dictates it so.
Syed Mansur Hashim is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.
Why is Russia in Syria now?
By Dr. Theodore Karasik
8 September 2015
News that the Kremlin is beginning to move military assets to Syria is now a foregone conclusion. The reasons why Moscow is sending advisors and equipment to Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad are multi-faceted. In the wake of the recent meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and three top Middle East leaders, and with the upcoming 70th U.N. General Assembly, the timing could not be better.
Moscow is already sending a wide array of equipment and personnel by ship to the Syrian port of Tartus. Russia has sent prefabricated housing units for hundreds of people to a Syrian airfield, as well as a portable air traffic control station. The housing will enable Moscow to use the airfield as a major hub for ferrying in military supplies to the Syrian government, or possibly as a launch pad for Russian airstrikes.
Moscow is also loading ships with equipment bound for Syria. The plan seems to be to deploy 2,000 - 3,000 Russian personnel, including advisors, instructors, logistics personnel, technical personnel, members of the aerial protection division, and pilots who will operate aircraft including over a dozen MiG-31s, according to a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) official.
Moscow has been sending supplies to Syria for the past four years through other means, most notably by airlift. In 2012, Russia’s then-Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said Russia had “military and technical advisers” in Syria. Jordanian sources say regular flights to Damascus from Russian deliver “black items.”
Moscow also provides plenty of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to the Syrian government via Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU. That the GRU is on the ground and working with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is undeniable.
The Kremlin sees Syria as part of Russia’s sphere of influence, and is keen on maintaining its place on the world stage and in the Middle East. In addition, the Russian Orthodox Church, which is closely tied to the Kremlin, sees involvement in Syria as necessary to protect Christians from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other extremists.
Russia’s deployments are part of its plan for transition in Syria. For the past few months, Moscow has been the center of diplomatic activity to settle the conflict. Russia successfully negotiated the removal of chemical weapons from Syria via the 2013 “Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons,” in order to avoid U.S. and allied airstrikes on the Assad government and its military assets. Arab governments see Moscow as more proactive than the West when it comes to the Syrian question.
Putin’s plan in Syria is clear. By deploying Russian assets to Syria, the Kremlin plans to be the force behind upcoming events in Damascus. A few days ago in Vladivostok, Putin said Russia was looking at various options for Syria. He said Damascus should be part of a new international coalition to fight terrorism and extremism, which should take place in tandem with a political process in which Assad should play a role.
“The Syrian president... agrees with that, including holding early elections, parliamentary elections, and establishing contact with the so-called healthy opposition, bringing them into governing,” said Putin. That is a pretty strong statement of events that are about to occur in Syria where the Kremlin is dictating to Assad.
Russia is preparing for a transition in Syria. The equipment and personnel being deployed are not only to protect Alawites, but also to develop a humanitarian aid campaign. That Russian assets are setting up in Assad’s heartland in Latakia is part of Moscow guaranteeing the president and his family’s security.
In addition, the Kremlin sees that it needs to conduct state building to reverse the destructive nature of U.S. wars in the Middle East. The key question is whether the West, and specifically the United States, will go along with Putin’s plan.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Gulf-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans.