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Britain’s ‘Learn English or Leave’ Policy Can Tear Families Apart: New Age Islam's Selection, 25 January 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

25 January 2016

Britain’s ‘Learn English or Leave’ Policy Can Tear Families Apart

By Yara Al-Wazir

Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis: a Priority, Not an Afterthought

By Brooklyn Middleton

Whither The Middle East after the Iran Nuclear Deal

By Hisham Melhem

Another Arab Spring Is Coming To Egypt

By Dr Mohamad Elmasry

Mishandling Of Syrian Crisis

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Britain’s ‘Learn English or Leave’ Policy Can Tear Families Apart

By Yara Al-Wazir

24 January 2016

Earlier this week, David Cameron announced his latest policy toward immigrants. The policy, which comes into effect in October 2016, requires all those arriving on a spousal resettlement visa to the UK to sit an English-language exam 30 months upon their arrival. Should they fail the test, they will not be guaranteed the right to stay in the UK.

In interviews that followed the announcement, Cameron focussed on why this policy is needed for Muslim women, as if the policy was designed and created due to a problem they have caused. He also focussed on how this policy would counter radicalisation and terrorism.

Cameron’s biggest shortfall is his continued attempts to make headlines with ludicrous buzzwords that end up stigmatizing the Muslim community in the UK. This has been exacerbated by poor attempts to justify the policy, claiming that if one cannot speak English, they will “have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message”.

Tearing Families Apart

What David Cameron is missing is the impact this policy would have on children and their families. If a child’s mother was taken away because her English was not up to Cameron’s standards, the child is left with one single parent to take care of them and guide them.

Considering that entering the country on a spousal visa requires an income of £38,000 it means that the hosting spouse must be in the top 20 percent of earners in the UK and therefore likely to work long hours. Under these circumstances, the child is likely to barely have a part-time parent.

What David Cameron is missing is the impact this policy would have on children and their families

With a parent taken away, children caught in these circumstances might start to resent the government for this situation. It will be even more difficult for a child who is bilingual because their mother speaks broken English and is forced to converse in her mother tongue. And what about a child who is not exposed to a motherly figure at all? Indeed this policy has the potential to tear families apart.

Moreover, the removal of a parent from their family for failing a language test can be considered a breach of the Human Rights Act of 2010. Article 8 of this Act protects the right to private and family life. It can be argued that the removal of a parent is damaging to the children’s wellbeing.

“False Premise”

While David Cameron addressed the impact of understanding the local language and its relevance to cultural integration, it is disappointing that, since 2011, he continues to use associate language proficiency with extremism.

It is indeed true that language is key to integration into the community; it builds bridges of understanding and therefore allows individuals to enter the marketplace, thus contributing to the economy and to greater economic well-being.

Could Britain’s growing labour force be the real reason behind Cameron’s new policy? May be, but his obsession with making the fight against terror seem like the be-all and end-all of his policies is toxic and a misrepresentation of what really matters.

Evidence supporting the importance of language integration and cultural assimilation exists when it comes to positive influence on the economy and cultural cohesion. This is what the prime minister should have lead with. There is no evidence linking a lack of English-language understanding with radicalization.

English for All

Although Cameron’s efforts to launch a £20 million program to teach Muslim women English is commendable, one must question why this fund is applied to Muslim women specifically. This is noteworthy considering Cameron government’s withdrawal of funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) fund in July 2015.

The message David Cameron is sending out is vague – does the government want immigrants to learn English and integrate, or does it want to continue to create policies that make immigrating to the UK more and more difficult, all the while using buzzwords that stigmatize the community?

Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories.



Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis: a Priority, Not an Afterthought

By Brooklyn Middleton

24 January 2016

Days ago, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a statement urging all parties involved to make renewed efforts to end the Syrian conflict and alleviate the dire humanitarian crisis in the war-ravaged country. Signed by at least 120 humanitarian organizations, the appeal called for several steps to be taken that would immediately address the suffering “in the name of our shared humanity.”

There is not one sentence in the statement that shouldn’t be immediately heeded by the barbaric Assad regime and its backers as well as all rebel groups. The statement comes as the conflict nears entering into its sixth year. According to Mercy Corps, half of the country’s pre-war population has been killed or forced to flee their homes. European states have tightened their borders while Arab states need to do far more to tackle the crisis.

Reports suggest the Geneva talks have already been derailed by Russia attempting to dictate who should attend

Over the last 72 hours, reports of at least 45 refugees – including 17 children – drowning to death in the Aegean Sea emerged while dozens of civilians were killed by Russian strikes in eastern Syria. As scores of refugees continue to die while trying to flee by boat and children are getting killed, who will enforce the basic humanitarian norms the world continues to call for in Syria?

Reports suggest the upcoming peace talks in Geneva have already been derailed by Russia attempting to dictate who should attend. It is worth noting that Moscow – which serves only to prop up the Assad regime and secure its rule – should have no influence over which parties should join upcoming negotiations and which should be barred from doing so.

Adopted Resolutions

Meanwhile, 48 hours before the talks were set to begin, the Syrian opposition rightly pointed to the absurdity of expecting negotiations to start, yet again, while massacres continue and previous agreements are being ignored. But if the latest round of talks does take place in the immediate term, they absolutely must focus on the concerns outlined in the UNICEF appeal. It is all but certain that the talks will fail to bring forth any long-term solution to the conflict at this stage.

The U.S. and U.N. representatives should reset the agenda during the negotiations and prioritize immediately to focus on ending the suffering. The four demands presented by UNICEF – that call for humanitarian organizations to be able to operate freely in all areas of need as well as for monitored ceasefires – should serve as an outline for broader humanitarian goals.

“There is no practical reason they could not be implemented if there is the will to do so,” UNICEF noted. The upcoming talks should seek to demonstrate this will and should focus on how to best implement the objectives the organization has outlined. It remains to be seen whether the talks will even take place on Monday in Geneva and, critically, whether or not the most important parties will attend.

Irrespective of whether they take place or not, previously adopted resolutions – including 2254 – should start to get enforced. Possible long term solutions to the conflict can only be discussed and implemented once these past agreements start to be honoured.

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.



Whither The Middle East after the Iran Nuclear Deal

By Hisham Melhem

24 January 2016

Those of us wordsmiths writing, thinking , wondering and obsessing about things Middle Eastern have a new phrase to ponder; ‘Implementation day’. On January 16, 2016 you could hear many people saying: rejoice, the day we have been waiting for is upon us, while others denounced it as a day that shall live in infamy. After the International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA certified that Iran had delivered on its initial commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the United States and the P5+1 and the IAEA announced that the implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran has begun on January 16, 2016.

In return for Iran’s dismantlement of more than two-third of the centrifuges it once used to enrich uranium, shipping 98 percent of its low-enriched uranium stockpile to Russia and rendering its heavy water reactor at Arak obsolete after removing its reactor and pouring concrete into it, ‘implementation day’ also triggered the suspension of a complex web of nuclear related sanctions the U.S. the European Union and the United Nations have imposed on Iran in recent years. The nuclear accord will allow Iran, inter alia, to retrieve at least $60 billion of its frozen assets and to return to the international oil market as a major producer. The nuclear deal is not open ended and does not eliminate Iran’s ability in the future to become a nuclear power, but if it is fully implemented it will severely restrict Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear device in the next 10 to 15 years.

The nuclear deal does not signal the emergence of Iran as the undisputed regional hegemon, for Iran lacks the economic and military requisites for such status. However, it signals the recognition of the United States and the other major powers of Iran’s rising importance as a state and a regional power with clout and interests that cannot be ignored or easily intimidated. What began as secret negotiations between the United States and Iran then developed into open and multilateral negotiations, remained restricted to the nuclear domain. And while American and Iranian officials did informally discuss other issues on the sidelines of the official talks, the U.S. and its allies, in a major concession to Iran did not seek to link the nuclear talks to Iran’s blatant interventions in the internal affairs of its neighbours, or for that matter, Iran’s blatant violations of the fundamental rights of its own citizens. For all of President Obama’s claims about supporting the struggles of the peoples of the Middle East for dignity, and political empowerment, his administration repeatedly failed Arabs and Iranians when they demanded these rights.

The Day After

The nuclear deal may have been a victory for those Iranian ‘bridge-builders’, as analyst Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace calls them, ‘people like President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif that want to build bridges with the West, with the United States,’ at the expense of ‘the saboteurs within the Revolutionary Guards,’ who don’t have much popular support, but yield much ‘coercive power’, but it remains a limited victory and not a panacea. The saboteurs and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made it clear by actions and words that the day after ‘implementation day’ of the nuclear deal does not signal a new beginning with the United States.

Even if Iran uses a tiny portion of its released frozen assets after ‘implementation day,’ it will be enough to sustain the financial burdens of the operations of the Quds force and Hezbollah in Syria

Missile tests were conducted in violation of U.N. resolutions, and American sailors who accidentally entered Iranian waters were publicly humiliated before they were freed. Recently, the Guardian Council, supposedly the body of the stern custodians of the purity of the revolution which is tasked with vetting candidates for next month's parliamentary elections decimated the hopes of the ‘bridge builders’ by disqualifying thousands of reformers. Finally, as if to extinguish any hope of a détente with the U.S. Ayatollah Khamenei warned Iranian President Rouhani to guard against American ‘deceptions’. To be sure, Iran has a large modern, war weary and mostly youthful constituency for re-integrating Iran in a globalized world, and ushering in a new beginning with the United States; but this constituency of peace is not about to forcefully challenge the hardliners and the ‘saboteurs’ who crushed the ideals of Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009.

Most states in the Middle East opposed Iran’s nuclear program, most vociferously Israel, the only country in the region with advanced nuclear weapons and delivery systems. A nuclear Iran would enhance its deterrence against Israel, while maintaining a significantly armed Hezbollah close to Israel’s borders. But for most of Iran’s Arab neighbors, the immediate threat is not a potential nuclear arsenal that could be used against them, but Iran’s considerable mastery of the art of conducting proxy wars to spread its regional clout, and its growing ability to influence and exploits the marginalized Shiite communities in Arab societies in its struggles with Arab governments. It goes without saying that those Arab governments that continue to alienate their Shiite populations end up pushing them deeper into Iran’s orbit.

The day after the ‘implementation day’, is essentially the beginning of President Obama’s last year in office, which is likely to be the year of living more dangerously than in previous years for the whole region. The nuclear deal with Iran, will renew the pre-existing real and imagined fears among America’s allies that the Obama administration has begun the long process of normalizing relations with an ascendant Iran, at a time when the U.S. is doing enough to keep the faltering Iraqi state from collapsing, and enough to ‘manage’ but not stop the wars in Syria, and Libya while kicking the hot cans down the road to the next president. Those Cassandras forecasting gloom and doom in 2016 and beyond can only point out to the collapsing prices of oil to buttress their dark prophesies of the great unwinding of the region.

Iraq, the Times of the Scavengers

The crashing oil prices, the mounting cost of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS), continued conflict with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over oil revenues, and widespread corruption will combine to create an economic perfect storm in Iraq this year, even though the country is producing more than 4 million barrels of oil a day. Politically and militarily the picture is grimmer. Turkey has informed the United States that it will not withdraw its military forces from Northern Iraq, a deployment ostensibly to fight ISIS is in fact designed to check potential greater Iranian encroachment into the Mosul region an area that was for centuries part of the Ottoman Empire. Northern Iraq is being treated by the claimants of the Ottoman and Persian Empires as a buffer zone under the nominal suzerainty of a weak authority in Baghdad.

Both Turkey and the KRG see Baghdad drifting further and further into Iran’s universe. Turkish, Kurdish and Gulf Arab officials believe that those who control whatever leavers of power left in Iraqi hands are the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), or al-Hashd al-Sha’abi, the Shiite paramilitary formations established in June 2014 to fight ISIS following its occupation of Mosul. While these units are nominally an integral part of the Iraqi security forces (ISF) joint command in Baghdad, they are answerable to Iraqi groups beholden to Iran, and ultimately controlled by the Quds Force, a branch of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a division tasked with external military and clandestine operations, and led by the ubiquitous General Qasem Soleimani.

The assessment of American diplomats and senior military officers in Baghdad and Erbil, regarding Iran’s grip on Iraq, is not that far from the assessment of the weary neighbours, according to recent visitors to Iraq. That gloomy American assessment of Iraq’s future from the heart of Baghdad is not reflected in the more upbeat and deceptive assessments one hears from officials in Washington in charge of what goes for U.S. policy in Iraq.

Ramadi as a Metaphor for Iraq

For all the talk about liberating Mosul from ISIS following the military campaign to oust ISIS from Ramadi, no serious analyst of Iraq expects that battle any time soon, and probably not this year, which means that Obama will leave Washington while Iraq’s second largest city which fell into the pretend Caliph al-Baghdadi’s hand on his watch, will remain in that twilight zone they call the Islamic Caliphate, with the Kurdish North under the control of the KRG, and Western Iraq under the beleaguered Sunni tribes, and a ‘central’ government with a weak writ over the Shiite lands stretching from Baghdad to Basra in the south. Long after Obama departs the White House and forgets his eloquent speeches about Iraq and the rest of the Middle East the scavengers of ISIS and the PMUs will continue to feed on Iraq’s carcass.

U.S. officials concede now that the battle for Ramadi was from planning to execution a wholly American controlled and directed operation. The battle’s outcome, which led to the ultimate destruction of the city, highlights America’s dilemma in trying to get regular Iraqi army ground units that include Sunni Arabs to fight and coordinate effectively with U.S. advisors and air power against ISIS controlled cities without relying heavily on the PMUs. In fact there were credible press reports that elements of the PMUs, the same elements that slaughtered Sunni civilians after routing ISIS fighters from cities like Tikrit, were involved in the fierce fighting at Ramadi. The liberated Ramadi is uninhabitable; it is estimated that rebuilding the city will cost $10 billion. To paraphrase that infamous quote from the Vietnam War; it became necessary to destroy Ramadi in order to save it.

Syria, the Perfect Storm Is Upon Us

The methodical killing of the Syrian state and society mostly at the hands of the Assad regime, before it was joined by ISIS and other radical Islamists, could not have been done so thoroughly and systematically without Iran’s active and direct involvement along with its sectarian Shiite proxies, particularly the Lebanese Hezbollah and other lesser known Shiite militias and non-Arab Shiite ‘volunteers’. With each phase of what American officials call the Syrian Peace Process, Iran and its proxies have deepened their grip on Syria. Long before Russia’s recent military intervention, it was Iran and its Shiite Lebanese Janissaries that saved the Assad regime from imminent collapse.

Even if Iran uses a tiny portion of its released frozen assets after ‘implementation day’ it will be enough to sustain the financial burdens of the operations of the Quds force and Hezbollah in Syria. Russia’s military intervention has so far widened the Syrian war, and made its resolution the more difficult, but Iran was and is the outside force with the most at stake in Syria, and the ultimate arbiter when it comes to the future of the Syrian despot Assad. Short of a fundamental shift in Iran’s policy towards Syria, and to a lesser extent that of Russia (such as dumping Assad and accepting a transition towards a more inclusive form of governance acceptable to most opposition groups outside ISIS and al-Nusra Front) the war will continue, no matter what happens at the peace fora at comfortable European hotels. And short of an equally fundamental shift in the policy of the United States towards ISIS (such as adopting a unified strategy to defeat the Caliphate in both Syria and Iraq, through the deployment of more U.S. special forces and limited ground units working with allied special forces moving up the Euphrates valley to retake Raqqa in Syria, as a prelude to routing ISIS from Mosul) ISIS will remain capable of bleeding Syria beyond the Obama years.

While the physical destruction visited on Syrian cities and infrastructures is immense – a testimony to the efficient brutality of the Syrian regime and its allies, including Russia- the pulverization of Syrian society, the murder of Syria’s best and brightest, the transformation of more than 4 million Syrians into refugees and double that number into internal exile is the real calamity that befell Syria in the last five years. Bridges, roads and schools can be rebuilt, but is it possible to rebuild the social and cultural bonds among Syria’s once rich and largely welcoming mosaic of religious and ethnic communities? Can the beasts of sectarianism and demonization be tamed any time soon, especially in the absence of a potential clear victor that will not exact retribution from the vanquished?

With Iran in a better position to support its Syrian satrapy centered on Damascus and the coastal region, the Syria we have known for most of the last century will continue to disintegrate into warring regions and factions. The perfect storm is upon us in Syria. Unless ISIS is defeated, and unless Iran’s ability to wreak havoc in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon is checked, the unravelling of the Levant and Mesopotamia will continue, but its reverberations will not be limited to a broken Middle East, and in the era of globalized sacred terror no one can be immune.

Hisham Melhem is a columnist and analyst for Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al Arabiya.




Another Arab Spring Is Coming To Egypt

By Dr Mohamad Elmasry

24 Jan 2016

Egypt's January 25, 2011 uprising is history, and - depending on how upcoming five-year anniversary protests play out - so may be the uprising's aspirations for "bread, freedom, and social justice".

Following the February 2011 ousting of dictator Hosni Mubarak, Egypt entered into a promising - albeit tenuous and difficult - democratic transition. Although the old political order maintained its essential character, several democratic elections and referendums, a new constitution, and unprecedented political inclusion and participation threatened Egypt's 60-year military dictatorship. The June 2012 election of a civilian president - the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi - was a significant achievement.

But Egypt's most deeply entrenched state institutions - the military, police, judiciary, and media - were never onboard with the 2011 uprising. Each institution worked to derail the democratic transition, aided at times by clumsy transitional governance by the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that swept Egypt's 2011-2012 election season, and an arguably anti-democratic liberal opposition.

Upfront - Arena: Is Egypt Better Off Under Sisi?

On July 3, 2013 - and with the support of large anti-Morsi protests - the Egyptian military, led by Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, carried out a military coup, arresting Morsi and assuming formal control of the state. Roughly one year after the coup, Sisi was elected president in a sham election.

Now five years removed from a democratic uprising, Egypt finds itself once again mired in authoritarianism. Perhaps remarkably, the state has managed to control public discontent enough to prevent the kind of mass protests that could put Sisi at risk.

How has Sisi managed to re-solidify an authoritarian order? How has he managed to subdue a motivated citizenry that has, in the past, appeared willing to die for freedom? Finally, how long will he be able to survive amid growing discontent?

Brute Force

Sisi has governed Egypt with a proverbial iron fist, intimidating, jailing and killing dissenters and manufacturing loyalty through fear. The police, military, judiciary and media have all played key roles.

Egypt's security forces, embarrassed during the country's 2011 uprising, seem to have taken one important lesson from their experiences - that the force they employed to protect Mubarak wasn't enough.

Following the 2013 coup, security forces arrested more than 40,000 people and committed several mass killings, killing more than 2,500 people in all.

Following the 2013 coup, security forces arrested more than 40,000 people and committed several mass killings, killing more than 2,500 people in all.

The violence seems to have worked - fear has reduced the size and frequency of anti-coup protests. Even when protests have been launched, security forces have set up security walls to prevent dissenters from gathering in large squares, and the government has effectively banned television coverage of marches. These measures ensure that a spectacle - the kind that galvanised the opposition in 2011 - doesn't take place.

The state has also used forced disappearance and torture as methods of intimidation. Amnesty International says torture has been "rampant" since the coup, while more than 300 cases of forced disappearance were documented over a recent two-month period.

Rather than investigate police and military abuses, the state has appeased both entities. Sisi has given multiple pay raises to military and police officers; erected a statue honouring police at Cairo's Rabaa Square, the site of the largest police-perpetrated massacre; and awarded the military a multi-billion dollar business contract.

The state has also unleashed a fierce hyper-nationalist propaganda campaign that frames police and military as victims, heroes and protectors.

Egypt has also passed dozens of draconian laws, including a law that criminalises protests. A new rubber-stamps parliament has already pledged loyalty to Sisi and the judiciary has aided Sisi at nearly every step. Judges have issued several mass death sentences, including one sentence against 529 people for the alleged killing of a single policeman.

Upcoming Anniversary Protests

Sisi has successfully crushed dissent in the short-term, but it is doubtful that his brand of governance can completely subdue opposition in the long-term.

Harsh brands of authoritarianism tend to give rise to violent resistance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, terrorist attacks have increased dramatically in the Sisi era and Egypt is now an ISIL recruiting ground.

There are signs that Egyptians are growing increasingly discontent. Although the state projects the president as universally popular, polls show Morsi's popularity on par with Sisi's, and that about half of Egyptians disapprove of the 2013 military takeover.

Sisi's government is clearly concerned about upcoming protests planned for January 25. An Egyptian security official told Reuters that the government has "taken several measures to ensure activists don't have breathing space and are unable to gather".

The government has recently arrested several dozen Facebook page administrators for allegedly "inciting protests", and sent directives to religious leaders to deliver sermons about patriotism and security. The security forces have also raided random homes to check Facebook accounts for signs of dissent.

Sisi is likely safe for now, but for how long? History and political science both suggest that another uprising is a matter of when, not if.

Mohamad Elmasry is an assistant professor in the Department of Communications at the University of North Alabama.



Mishandling Of Syrian Crisis

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

24 January 2016

Any refugee living on only $13 a month, as is the case for many Syrians in Lebanon, would want to immigrate to Europe, former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He added that the solution to the Syrian refugee crisis was not to increase aid to refugees, but to find a permanent solution to help them go back home. The price of this tragedy is greater than money — whole societies and political systems are involved.

Unless massacres are stopped, millions of Syrians will keep looking for safe havens.

They are escaping murder, hunger and cold. Lives are suspended in inhuman refugee camps.

This will not be solved soon because some politicians have concocted a solution satisfying Iran and Russia in Vienna and Geneva.

The enormous sums spent on security and care of Syrian refugees worldwide could have been saved if the international community had intervened against the Syrian regime in the last five bloody years.

Every time we criticize the international community’s inaction, some think we are calling for western troops in Syria, but our sole demand has been to let Syrians buy defensive weapons to counter fighter jets.

The international community has rejected military intervention and the provision of such weapons. With such a weak stand, it is normal that the crisis expanded regionally and even into Europe, which is separated from Syria only by Turkey.

Millions of Syrians are scattered across the region and beyond, and millions more displaced inside their country. The mishandling of the Syrian tragedy led to the rise of Daesh. There is currently no hope for a political solution despite all the talk of diplomacy.