New Age Islam
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Middle East Press ( 2 May 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

'Yes Men' Taking Over As the Middle East Elite: New Age Islam’s Selection, 03 May 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

03 May 2016

'Yes Men' Taking Over As the Middle East Elite

By Khalid Abdulla-Janahi

The Dilemma of the Arab Policymaker

By Khaled Almaeena

Putin: Leader of the Orthodox Slavs

By Mshari Al Thaydi

Time for a Reality Check

By Nadeem Mumtaz Qureshi

Upholding Mandela’s Legacy

By Ramzy Baroud

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


'Yes Men' Taking Over As The Middle East Elite

By Khalid Abdulla-Janahi

3 May 2016

The middle class should account for a given population’s largest demographic, and define it as a society. Eroding the middle class effectively erodes a society’s existence as a people. Meanwhile, the elite are, traditionally, the leaders. They set the stage for the future, inspiring, setting direction, leading. Eliminating the elite effectively eliminates a society’s future.

Unfortunately, however, it seems the elite have been all but eliminated from our part of the world. They’ve been replaced by an almost comical army of “Yes Men”. This particular strain of parasite, as far as I can tell, is a relatively new one – and it seems to come in two versions. First, there are the lap-ies, who sit on the laps of powerful and agree with everything and anything they say – even when they know they shouldn’t.

The second version of this parasite has its own unique term in Arabic: the “tabaalla”. The role of the tabaalla (literally translated as “drummers”) is to bang on drums and make sure that the main act is noticed. It is a very loud but minor role, which has been around for a long time in many Middle Eastern cultures, traditionally existing exclusively in the entertainment industry. Today, however, it seems to have become a key role in every industry in the Middle East that I can think of.

The sage wisdom of the elite is being replaced, across the region, by the nodding agreement of lap-ies, and the comic fanfare of the tabaalla. In fact, the GCC might well have the highest number of lap-ies and tabaalla per capita in the world – a dubious honour, even if it could earn us a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Our elite today, at least the vast majority of them, no longer seem to meet any of the traditional, time-honoured criteria that defined the respected elite of the past

Our elite today, at least the vast majority of them, no longer seem to meet any of the traditional, time-honoured criteria that defined the respected elite of the past. Instead, they almost all seem to be Yes Man clones. They are no longer the ones that offer unique solutions to contemporary challenges; not the ones offering constructive criticism, or new ways of doing things; not the ones that inspire and lead; and certainly not the ones that question the status quo.

These nodding lap-ies and comic tabaalla Yes Men have taken over as our modern day elite, conforming, not challenging, following, not leading, all the while clapping comically and nodding blindly.

Parasitic Behaviour

This has to be one of the world’s oldest professions, but that it’s now taking over our elite is very concerning. Make no mistake - for some people it is definitely a profession. This, in turn, has been one of the key elements, and a powerful catalyst, in the major degeneration we’ve witnessed across the region.

I’m not talking about harmless flattery, or even genuine adoration that exists in all cultures, and may even serve a positive purpose. I mean the parasitic behaviour of certain individuals who attach themselves to people of power, feeding off their influence and giving nothing in return, just as a mosquito will draw blood from its host.

Such people exist merely to cement their own place in a social hierarchy, at the expense of everyone, including their masters. Most shameful of all, is that these bloodsuckers often come from the upper echelons of society, sometimes by birth, and other times through genuine achievement.

There are, of course, exceptions, but overall we seem to be taking backwards steps. We seem to be patting our lap-ies on the back, and celebrating our tabaalla, while punishing, persecuting or otherwise driving away our elite.

That, in my opinion, is something we should all be very concerned about because it doesn’t promise a very bright future. A disappearing middle class is tragic - but disappearing elite, that is truly terrifying.



The Dilemma of The Arab Policymaker

By Khaled Almaeena

3 May 2016

The Obama Doctrine expressed through an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the April issue of The Atlantic caused consternation and alarm to many in the Arab world. Many commentators, writers and those wielding political power were rattled. Social media was full of attacks by many trolls, including some who had never even heard of the magazine before.

Obama, as is customary with residents of the White House, has made farewell visits to Europe and the Middle East. This caused satisfaction to many who expressed gleefully that they had seen the last of him and that when he is gone, things will go back to normal and we will be the favorite allies of the US once again.

However, this is nothing more than wishful thinking and total naiveté. It seems that some of our policymakers and America “experts” have not learned anything in the past 50 years.

Things change, people and nations move on and geostrategies gather new dimensions and veer toward a totally strange paradigm shift. I advise the self-appointed political pundits in our area to have a look at what Aunty Hillary Clinton is saying and doing.

In speech after speech, she blares out her total support for Israel. She is on record as saying to AIPAC members: “One of the first things I will do in office is to invite the Israeli prime minister to visit the White House”.

Things change, people and nations move on and geostrategies gather new dimensions and veer toward a totally strange paradigm shift

She also said: “We will never allow Israel’s adversaries (meaning us Arabs) to think a wedge can be driven between us”. She also stressed that as president “I will vigorously oppose any attempt by outside parties to impose a solution including by the UN Security Council.”

This means that Israeli terrorists have a green light to kill burn and maim Palestinians. It also means that Israeli defiance and its interference in the Arab world, which is already battered by internecine fighting, lack of statesmanship and no political will, will increase.

The Trump Bump

And then, of course, don’t forget Trump who will truly give us a bump!! He has openly stated that he will not depend on oil from the Middle East, nor will he be bothered by threats. On the contrary, he plans aggressive action. With the political climate reaching a frenzied level and Obama hardly getting two lines in the first five pages of any publication, writers and political analysts continue pouring out words that are truly misleading.

How then do we deal with such a situation? Please don’t tell me to pour more money into the coffers of the sleazy PR firms that are hovering around us. And please do not bring up memories of the past friendship which does not exist in the minds of US policymakers. And don’t go running to American institutes and think tanks or ask reporters to write something good about us.

What we need is a totally different approach by politically savvy individuals, not necessarily from academia, who have an insight into the American political system.

And for a start we can have some new faces – from outside the beltway.

To those who are gloating about Obama’s departure, I would like to remind them that to the Arabs in this neck of the woods, Obama is the last Santa Claus.



Putin: Leader of the Orthodox Slavs

By Mshari Al Thaydi

3 May 2016

After Moscow’s intervention in Syria, things have changed noticeably on the ground. Russian President Vladimir Putin is behaving like a tsar, driven in Syria by religious and nationalist fervor, as well as by a desire for revenge against the United States and NATO, and to restore Russian dignity. Moscow also wants access to the seas of the Middle East for economic reasons.

We must be fully aware of the significance of the historical motivations that are moving Putin, motivations that he is not trying to hide. He recently told a Ukrainian Orthodox Church delegation: “Constantinople [present-day Istanbul in Turkey] must be returned to the Christians as per the aspirations of Tsar Nicolas II.”

During the Russian-Ottoman war, the tsarist state emphasized the role of Christian leadership and the resumption of the Crusades to ‘liberate’ the Holy Land, after the Catholic Church in Europe - led by the Vatican - abandoned this duty.

Russia wanted to ‘liberate’ the eastern capital of Christianity, Constantinople, as well as the birthplace of Jesus Christ. France and Britain joined forces with the Ottomans to repel the Russian threat.

We must be fully aware of the significance of the historical motivations that are moving Putin

Correcting History?

Putin’s actions in the Syrian city of Aleppo, and the tricks performed by his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov throughout the peace process, reveal that the Russian president is fighting with this period of history in the back of his mind.

Last year, he blessed the launch of Russian Orthodox TV channel Stari Grad. This name represents Constantinople. The patriarch of the Russian Church described Putin as a “miracle of the Lord” who has managed to lift his country.

All this is happening while US. President Barack Obama spends his last days at the White House enjoying a jazz party, or joking with his guests at the final correspondents’ dinner of his administration that his country may be coming to an end.



Time for a Reality Check

By Nadeem Mumtaz Qureshi

3 May 2016

The Gulf countries have responded with unprecedented speed and daring to the possible impact of oil crisis on their economies. Led by a new generation of leaders — especially in Saudi Arabia — they have crafted a sweeping new vision for the country as it seeks to wean itself off its addiction to oil.

The question we have to ask here in Pakistan is: Have we done anything? Many will say: Why should we? It’s not our problem. If oil prices fall from $120 per barrel to $30 why should we worry? In fact we benefit from the windfall savings in our oil import bill?

True but not the whole truth. Consider the following:

The mainstay of Pakistan’s economy is the remittances it gets from its overseas workers. A total of about $18 billion were sent home by our workers abroad. Of this some $11 billion was sent by workers in the Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia alone accounted for $5 billion in annual remittances.

Let’s be clear. It is these remittances that are propping up Pakistan’s stumbling economy. Industries have shut down. Value creation is virtually non-existent. Unemployment and poverty are rampant. Yet our imports far exceed our exports. Last year, according to the State Bank of Pakistan, we imported goods worth $41 billion, and exported goods worth $24 billion. The difference between the two numbers, our trade deficit of $17 billion, is made up entirely by the $18 billion in remittances from overseas workers.

Take away these remittances and our economy would no longer be able to finance our trade balance. A wrenching downward adjustment would need to be made in a very short time. And what is happening in the Gulf today suggests that this day of reckoning may not be far away.

The Gulf States are taking a range of measures to deal with the crisis. Non-essential projects are being cancelled. Efforts are being made to replace foreign work force with the locals. Taxes are being contemplated. These taxes would most probably be imposed on remittances by foreigners and possibly on their incomes.

The Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia known as the Shoura Council is taking up a proposal to tax expatriate remittances. Fees on residence permits and other licenses will rise. Subsidies on utilities are being axed. Fuel prices have already tripled in the Kingdom.

All of these steps will have an impact on Pakistan. The most serious of these will result from job losses as marginal projects are cut. Already, last week, one of the largest construction companies in Saudi Arabia, the Bin Laden Group, culled 50,000 expatriate workers. And this is just the beginning. There are an estimated 4 million Pakistani workers in the Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia alone is host to some two million of them. As the new reforms take hold more and more of the overseas Pakistanis will start to come home.

If taxes are imposed on their remittances, many Pakistani workers will find it difficult to support their families at home and might well opt to return voluntarily. This applies especially to blue-collar workers who represent the vast majority — some 90 percent — of Pakistanis in the Gulf region.

The upshot is that Pakistan will start to see a reverse exodus of workers returning from the Gulf countries. This will impact Pakistan’s economy in two ways. First, remittances will take a hit. And, second, hundreds of thousands of able-bodied returning workers will add to the millions of the already unemployed in Pakistan. This is the classic double whammy that may deal the deathblow to our already floundering economy. So it is surprising that this issue is not even being discussed in the government or political circles. Instead, the corridors of power seem infatuated with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is seen as some kind of rejuvenating elixir for our dying economy — a “game changer” as it is often called.

This is a dangerous illusion. Yes, CPEC is useful. But let’s not forget that it is a single project. And that too a Chinese project whose benefits will flow more to them than to us. A single project, however grand, can never be a substitute for an integrated and focused economic development plan and strategy for the country. And this is precisely what Pakistan lacks today.

The government thrashes about randomly implementing mega projects — a rail transit scheme here, a metro bus there, a coal-fired power plant elsewhere, and so on. All this without an overarching strategy or plan to pull Pakistan’s people out of their misery and put them on the path of sustained economic development.

We got away with this as long as the money flowed from the Gulf States. But that tap is about to be turned off. And this reality, not CPEC, will be the “game changer” that will matter.



Upholding Mandela’s Legacy

By Ramzy Baroud

3 May 2016

I had mixed feelings when I learned that Palestine has erected a statue of Nelson Mandela, the iconic South African anti-Apartheid leader. On the one hand, I was quite pleased that the unmistakable connection between the struggles of Palestinians and South Africans is cemented more than ever before. On the other hand, I dreaded that rich, corrupt Palestinians in Ramallah are utilizing the image of Mandela to acquire badly-needed political capital.

The six-meter bronze statue now stands in its own Nelsom Mandela Square in Al-Tireh neighbourhood in Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) headquarters are based. The PA is known for its endemic political and financial corruption. In some ways, its survival is both essential for the richest Palestinian class and also for the Israeli military occupation.

The statue was a gift from the City of Johannesburg, and its costs of R6 million was paid for by the people of that city, whose solidarity with Palestine is rooted in a long history, that of blood and tears, and the haunting cries of pain and freedom. At that, the gift is most appreciated.

But the Mandela that now stands erect in Ramallah has been incorporated into the zeitgeist of this city, particularly the rich and beaming neighbourhood of massive white-stone villas and luxury cars. It would have meant much more if it had stood in the centre of Gaza, a city that is withstanding an ongoing genocide; in the heart of Jenin, a town known for its bravery and hardship; in Al-Khalil, in Nablus or in Khan Younis.

Oddly enough, the main location of the Nelson Mandela Square and statue in Sandton City in Johannesburg is equally unsettling. I visited the place more than once, and despite my immense admiration for Mandela, it failed to move me.

The Mandela that is promoted by some in South Africa and their counterparts in Palestine is fundamentally different from the Mandela many of us knew about.

The name “Nelson Mandela” was a staple in my family, living in a dilapidated refugee camp in Gaza under military occupation and the constant threat of violence. We rushed to the television to watch whenever his name was mentioned in the news. The finest young men in camp were chased down, beaten, arrested and shot while trying to write his name on the decaying walls of our humble dwellings.

That was the Mandela I knew, and most Palestinians remember with adoration and respect. The one standing in Ramallah, unveiled by those Palestinians who speak proudly of conduction “security coordination” with Israel is a whole different Mandela.

He is a different Mandela because Abbas and his Authority do not, in the least, embody the spirit of Mandela the freedom fighter, the defiant prisoner, the unifying leader, the champion of a boycott movement. In fact, the Palestinian leadership as represented in the unelected government of Abbas in Ramallah is yet to endorse the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

Instead, Abbas’ PA has wasted 20 years over nonsensical and futile negotiations, collaborated with Israel, divided the ranks of Palestinians and are actively involved in suppressing Palestinian Resistance in the West Bank.

With his popularity falling to an all-time low among Palestinians, Abbas is desperate to concoct hollow victories and insists on presenting himself as a national liberation leader, despite all evidence to the contrary. But the bond between South Africa and Palestine is much greater than a photo-op in Ramallah, involving well-dressed men repeating insincere clichés about peace and freedom. I dare say it is bigger than Mandela himself, regardless of which legacy we insist on remembering him by. It is a link that has been baptized in the blood of the poor and the innocent and the tenacious struggle of millions of black and brown Africans and Palestinian Arabs.

I was fortunate enough to experience this for myself. In my last South African speaking tour a few years ago, I was approached by two South African men. They seemed particularly grateful for reasons that initially eluded me. “We want to thank you so much for your support of our struggle against apartheid,” one said with so much sincerity and palpable emotions.

It made sense. Palestinians saw the struggle of their black brethren as their own struggle. But the two men were not referring to sentimentalities. While the Israeli government, military and intelligence supported the apartheid government in many ways, the PLO had actually trained and equipped ANC fighters. Cuba and others did too, but to think that the then Palestinian leadership had the kind of political consciousness to extend a hand of solidarity to a nation fighting for its freedom, while the Palestinian people were themselves still enduring that same fight, filled me with pride.

Those men told me that they still hold onto their PLO-supplied military uniforms, even after all these years. We embraced and parted ways but, with time, I came to realize that the present struggle against apartheid in Palestine is not merely similar to that of South Africa. Both struggles are extensions of the same movement, the same fight for freedom and, in fact, against the same enemy.

When Nelson Mandela said, “We know all too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” he was not trying to be cordial or diplomatic. He meant every word.

Someday, we hope that a statue of Mandela, one that represents the spirit of Resistance in Palestine, will stand tall amid the people who championed his cause and loved him most.