New Age Islam
Tue Oct 27 2020, 01:06 PM

Middle East Press ( 12 Apr 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Hezbollah Transforming To a Juggernaut in Syria: New Age Islam's Selection, 13 April 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

13 April 2016

 Hezbollah Transforming To a Juggernaut in Syria

By Joyce Karam

 Diversity in Disunity in the Middle East

By Khaled Diab

 Muslims, Money and UK Elections

By Neil Berry

 A Strong Arab Coalition

By Osama Al Sharif

 Strengthening Strategic Ties

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

I f I Were an American

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Hezbollah Transforming To a Juggernaut in Syria

By Joyce Karam

12 April 2016

The Transformation of Hezbollah by Its Involvement in Syria


Conventional wisdom that Syria will turn out to be “Hezbollah’s mini-Vietnam”, and that the Iranian backed Lebanese armed group could encounter its gradual collapse in the conflict, is proving to be misguided three years into its involvement. While Hezbollah is losing manpower and assets in Syria, it is also expanding its foothold and leverage across the country and gaining military expertise.

One of the most intriguing stories from Palmyra after ISIS lost the city late March was a New York Times photo essay from the 2000-year-old ruins. The story's significance was not just in the headline or the photos documenting the archaeological and cultural damage incurred by ISIS, but also in how it came about.

It was eye catching that Hezbollah – a designated terrorist organization by the United States- escorted and guided the New York Times tour to the ancient ruins. This image encapsulates where Hezbollah stands today in Syria, overshadowing the regime and the opposition, and running its own show in Syrian territory.

Tactical and Strategic Advantages

Back in May 2013 when Hezbollah officially declared its entry to the Syrian war, a US official told me that "there is a silver lining over here", mainly in having two terrorist organizations bleed and fight each other in Syria. The official was referring to Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.

Three years later, however, this silver lining is heavily tainted by the fact that Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and the more notorious terrorist organization ISIS control large swaths of land and operate at large in Syria.

The notion that a safe haven will help bleed out terrorist organizations is a dangerous and naive myth that has backfired on the West in the long term. Some of the Brussels and Paris attackers spent time with ISIS in Syria, while Hezbollah is now a juggernaut with offensive capabilities and territorial gains across the country.

The notion that a safe haven will help bleed out terrorist organizations is a dangerous and naive myth that has backfired on the West in the long term

A visiting Israeli scholar told a Washington audience recently that the strategic picture is shifting regionally in Iran’s favor, and that Hezbollah has gained the upper hand in Syria without losing its stronghold on Lebanon.

This upper hand started in 2013 when Hezbollah tipped the balance in the conflict, helping the Assad regime retake the town of Al-Qusair and moving from there to Homs and to the South, while securing Damascus, training paramilitaries and then expanding presence to Aleppo in 2015.

Even with an estimate of more than 1200 fighters dead and reports about a serious financial crisis, Hezbollah's territorial gains in Syria have granted it direct access and supervision over some of the weaponry supply routes to its home base in Lebanon.

Tactically and as Nadav Pollak and Muni Katz illustrate here, Hezbollah is adding offensive capability and gaining firsthand fighting experience on foreign territory and against a military insurgency. It is almost a reversed role for a party that fought Israel defensively from its home turf in the 1990s and in a full blown war in 2006.

On the weaponry front, regional analyst Elijah Magnier recently reported that Hezbollah has acquired surface-to-air missile capability. Hezbollah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah regularly speaks of acquiring more sophisticated weaponry since 2006.

Changed Rhetoric & Perception

Hezbollah's own rhetoric and regional perception has also changed following its intervention in Syria. While the wrath in the Arab street against the party for supporting Assad, has completely shattered the party's image in 2006 as leading the fight against Israel, it has not affected its calculus.

Hezbollah who is now active in 3 military fronts outside Lebanon: Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, is promising a long involvement regionally. Nasrallah said in a recent interview that his party “will not withdraw from Syria even if the Iranians decide to do so.” The rhetoric channels this regional expansion, attempts at shoring up its base to win these conflicts while securing its military capability and playing politics in Lebanon.

Israeli media now portrays Hezbollah as “an army in every sense”, with an estimate of “45,000 fighters, including 21,000 standing forces, and more than 100,000 increasingly accurate rockets and missiles of which several thousands are mid and long range.”

Geopolitically as well, Hezbollah has improved its relations with Russia. A high level source in Beirut tells me that "Moscow and Hezbollah are coordinating very closely the military action plan in Syria." Russia's air cover was crucial in the Palmyra battle and in the fighting around Aleppo, both of which involved Hezbollah’s ground troops.

Even culturally, the Hezbollah effect is more visible in Syria. The Shiite Ashoura rallies have gradually grown in numbers in Damascus, and talk about Sunni-Shia population swaps between Hezbollah and the rebels now takes place openly in Syria.

For a party that entered the Syrian war to protect the "axis of resistance", it is slowly taking over this axis and replacing the Assad regime with its own troops and spheres of control inside Syria. This dynamic is an asset for Hezbollah, whose sole objective is to gain presence and influence, operating with impunity as a non-state actor, without being burdened by the Vietnam playbook.



Diversity in Disunity in the Middle East

By Khaled Diab

12 Apr 2016

In the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire, drawing inspiration from Persian and Islamic precedents, created what was known as the "millet" (nation or community) system which granted each recognised religion or sect a great deal of autonomy in managing its own affairs, from setting laws to collecting and distributing taxes.

In its heyday, the millet system - which was progressive by the standards of the time - enabled the Ottomans to prosper as a patchwork of languages and cultures.

However, under strain from imperial decline and growing nationalism, the millet system was creaking and seriously showing its age by the 19th century, prompting a series of reforms, known as "tanzimat", aimed at creating a uniform and equal Ottoman citizenship.

Across the region today - even in Israel - personal status and family laws are partially based on or inspired by the millet system. This means that, in the Middle East, we are destined - or doomed, depending on your perspective - to be born into a pre-determined religion or sect, regardless of what an individual actually believes.

With the exception of Tunisia, where identity papers do not mention religion, this accident of birth shapes the most intimate aspects of our lives, including marriage, divorce, inheritance and death.

Tough Environment

If you happily belong to your designated community and are satisfied to live by its religious laws, then your life will be a contented one.

However, if you reject some of the traditional tenets of your faith, such as Christians who believe in divorce or Muslims who believe in equal inheritance rights for men and women, then life may prove difficult.

Women, who are discriminated against by pretty much every religion and sect, are particularly vulnerable when disputes arise, such as Christian women battling husbands who have converted to Islam for custody of their children.

In addition, if you belong to an unrecognised religious minority, such as Hindus or Buddhists, then you may have trouble practising your faith.

Now if you don't believe in God, you are still stuck with the religious label attached to you at birth, and face the risk of prosecution or even persecution in some countries.

Fortunately, in Egypt, there is no law against atheism and atheists are coming out of the closet, despite piecemeal attempts at repression. Syria once allowed complete freedom of belief, including atheism, though it severely restricted political expression.

Borderless Nations

One curious effect of the millet system was that three neighbours and friends - for example, a Muslim, a Christian and a Jew - living in, say, Cairo might share the same language, culture and social reference points, yet officially belong to different "nations".

Conversely, Christians, Muslims and Jews from opposing ends of the empire, who would not be able to comprehend each other's speech and even culture, would be members of the same "nation".

The modern manifestation of the millet system also encourages institutionalised discrimination against minorities, by blocking minorities from the upper echelons of politics in many countries and enabling unscrupulous civil servants and security officials to mistreat those who are different.

In its early days, this system was workable in a vast and diverse empire confident in its variety, but in the contemporary, embattled nation-states of the region the modern vestiges of the millet system have proved an obstacle to forging a common national identity.

No matter how much nationalists insist that God is for the individual and the nation is for everyone, the confessional courts, even if they only deal with personal and family law, suggest otherwise, particularly in the minds of religious conservatives and radicals.

A Bitter Leftover

I would hazard to say that the religious and sectarian strife we are witnessing in the Middle East is, in part, down to these divisions. This is because defining a person's religion and sect from birth, and providing them with differential treatment because of it, leads to social rigidity, identity politics and the difficulty in forming hybrid identities.

A classic example of this is Lebanon, where religion and sect do not just govern issues of personal status, but define the country's political landscape, with its strict laws on which political positions go to which community. This perpetuates the small nation's divisions.

The modern manifestation of the millet system also encourages institutionalised discrimination against minorities, by blocking minorities from the upper echelons of politics in many countries and enabling unscrupulous civil servants and security officials to mistreat those who are different.

In extreme cases, it even facilitates persecution. For example, the religion field on Iraqi identity cards has been misused by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and other militias to target citizens who belong to other religions and sects.

Fortunately, there are reformers who are striving for change, and they have scored a number of recent successes. This includes the introduction of civil marriages in Lebanon and the removal of the religion field from Turkish ID cards.

It is time for Middle Eastern countries to remove all mention of religious and sectarian affiliation from official documents, and to abolish religious family courts.

This would not only be good for the freedom of belief - not to mention love and the equality of citizens - it would also reinforce a sense of common national identity among communities within a country, promoting a sense of unity in diversity.



Muslims, Money and UK Elections

By Neil Berry

13 April 2016

The hardening of European attitudes toward Muslims in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the attacks in Paris and Brussels is assuming a far grimmer aspect than it is comfortable for liberal opinion to acknowledge.

In France furious anti-Muslim sentiment now infuses public discussion across the whole political spectrum. Even attempts to understand terrorist violence are being denounced by left and right alike.

If attitudes have not hardened to quite this extent in the UK, it is perhaps only because there has not been a recent terrorist strike on British soil. They are already unsympathetic enough. As elsewhere, alarm about the migrant crisis and concerns about terrorism, border controls and national security are blurring into a single, hyper-inflammatory issue. The composite issue in question is looming large in the campaign to elect a new mayor of London that takes place, along with local elections, on May 5. It may loom larger still in the run-up to the historic referendum on UK membership of the European Union, which takes place on June 23.

Against this background, the fact that the front-runner for the London mayoralty, the former Labour government minister Sadiq Khan, is a Muslim, has assumed a special importance. The remarkable thing is that Khan has maintained a steady opinion poll lead, despite strenuous efforts by his chief opponent, the Conservative Party candidate, Zac Goldsmith, to smear him as a friend of extremists.

A savvy street-fighter, Khan has gone to great lengths to underline that he is extreme — extreme in the cause of the safety of the people of London. Mindful of his PR vulnerabilities, he has missed no opportunity to proclaim his determination to establish the closest possible relationship with the police and security services. Yet if Goldsmith has an apparent advantage over him when it comes to “security,” there is another respect in which Khan has what may prove a decisive advantage over his rival. For whereas Goldsmith is the son of a billionaire, Khan is the son of a bus driver, and in a time of austerity, with rough sleepers proliferating on the streets of London, his modest origins appear to be doing his campaign no harm whatsoever.

Zac Goldsmith’s wealth had the potential to be toxic even before the eruption into the news of the Panama Papers, the flood of data exposing the tax avoidance schemes of vast numbers of politicians and public figures, including the leader of Goldsmith’s own party, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron. Damaging to his government and the Conservative party, as well as to the campaign to keep the UK in the European Union that he is leading, Cameron’s initial reluctance to divulge his family’s past offshore financial arrangements is also damaging to Goldsmith’s bid to become London mayor.

The refrain of David Cameron and his colleague George Osborne as they have sought public backing for stringent retrenchment measures is that ‘we are all in this together’. It is a refrain that, in the face of ever-starker inequalities, is widely regarded as an insult to the public’s intelligence. It could be said that young Muslims, among whom unemployment is endemic, have particular reason to be sceptical about Conservative talk of togetherness. Indeed, if truth be known, the tearing apart of the wider social fabric is not least among the welter of factors making for radicalization. Yet this is an issue few wish to go near. Least of all is it addressed by the academic “experts” on “radicalization” with Muslim backgrounds who have become increasingly prominent in the British media. Loath to challenge the status quo, they seldom discuss larger ills: Socioeconomic divisions of staggering scale, the absence among the young of faith in the future.

Should he prevail in next month’s election, Sadiq Khan may prove neither willing nor able to press for a bigger, more candid debate about the UK Muslim community. Nevertheless, for him to become the first Muslim mayor of a major western capital would be a development of incalculable symbolic significance. For Muslims in London and beyond, much is riding on his success.



A Strong Arab Coalition

By Osama Al Sharif

13 April 2016

The historic visit by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to Egypt this week marks a major shift in post-Arab Spring geopolitical reality in the Arab world and the Middle East as a whole.

The visit has reinforced the foundations of a long-term strategic, economic and political, partnership between Riyadh and Cairo at a time when the Arab world is suffering from lack of leadership and a common direction. The destabilization of the region has passed through many important milestones in the past few decades. But one can argue that the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a particularly catastrophic development; one that triggered a series of events that ended up in enabling Iran to penetrate the heart of the Arab world, shifted attention from Israel’s occupation of Palestine, unleashed horrific sectarian conflicts and neutralized the historical roles of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. And finally the invasion of Iraq was the catalyst that led to the birth of militant radical groups that waged war in the name of Islam and ushered in a wave of global terror.

One can also argue that regional chaos, which deepened following the events of the Arab Spring, has benefitted powers that saw an opportunity to implement an agenda of expansion, polarization, political opportunism and siege. What is happening in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen leaves no doubt that Tehran has a vested interest in destabilizing the Arab world allowing it to force itself as an undisputed regional power.

Under the Obama administration, the US chose to lead from behind and give up its historical ties with the region. Certainly this policy has its critics, both in the US and abroad, but one cannot deny that it has allowed Iran to have a free hand in a region that is now suffering from a power vacuum.

With this in mind it was pivotal that Riyadh would take it upon itself to act on different fronts in order to build strategic alliances that would challenge Iranian ambitions and fill in for America’s strategic withdrawal. Aside from leading an Arab coalition in Yemen to restore a legal government and derail Iran’s attempt to create a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia remains a chief component in international efforts to bring about a just political solution in war-torn Syria.

It has assembled an Islamic military coalition to thwart threats to the region and in Cairo King Salman announced that an Arab anti-terrorism force will also be created. He noted that terrorism is today the region’s most immediate challenge. And by talking about terrorism, Saudi Arabia is keen to underline that it is not only Daesh that must be confronted but all groups that use religion and divisive sectarian ideologies to sow hatred and trigger religious in-fighting.

And in that sense one must address Iran’s role in backing and leading Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria that seek to kill and displace Sunnis and others.

The Riyadh-Cairo strategic partnership acknowledges the important role that a strong and stable Egypt can play in thwarting new and existing regional threats. Abandoning Egypt would have been a terrible mistake that would deepen the region’s problems and invite additional divisions. Saudi Arabia is well placed to lead a new Arab coalition that would ensure the stability of countries like Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco, and help others rebuild and heal such as Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Syria in the future.

Today the GCC remains the only viable grouping of Arab countries that has survived the geopolitical upsets of the last 15 years, which have wreaked havoc on the Arab world. Saudi Arabia is well positioned to reverse the destructive tide that is sweeping the region. By investing in a stable Egypt that country can assume its responsibilities as a regional power; providing counterbalance and re-engaging in the region’s political processes. The absence of Egypt from the region’s problems is being felt and its role must be restored.

The Saudi strategy is timely. With Iran having a free hand in many Arab countries and with the US quietly stepping down from its historical role, the challenge must be met by building a strong Arab coalition with a clear vision. Economic cooperation will stabilize countries like Egypt and Jordan, two states with close relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region. Their stability is paramount to a secure Gulf area. But that coalition must be expanded and the formation of an Arab force to combat terrorism is a move in the right direction. It will be important to see what steps will follow King Salman’s bold initiatives in Egypt.


Strengthening Strategic Ties

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

13 April 2016

The situation hasn’t changed much since Egypt was a monarchy during the era of King Fuad and then King Farouq and when it turned into a republic following a revolution and then became socialist. This was followed by the era of Anwar Al-Sadat and the Camp David Accord, and of Hosni Mubarak and Mohammad Mursi of the Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries have always considered Egypt a basic pillar in their strategic calculations.

When relations were once unstable for around five years in the 1960s, the entire region was disturbed. Relations, however, restored their historic path immediately after the 1967 War, as the region’s stability is based on Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

This explains the uproar stirred by the Egyptian opposition, particularly opposition figures who reside outside Egypt, and the parties allied with them prior to and during Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman’s visit to Egypt.

The opposition wanted to embarrass Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and the Egyptian government because it knew it could not prevent the visit, which turned out to be the most important one since King Faisal’s meeting with Gamal Abdel Nasser. That visit, in 1969, corrected and solidified the relations, which we see today. The opposition exaggerated its narratives about Saudi-Egyptian disputes regarding the region and resorted to these exaggerations to create doubts about the success of the visit.

The surprise, however, is that the agreements signed between the two countries were more significant than what we had expected. The agreements are unprecedented and they came as a surprise even to those who know how close the ties are between King Salman and President El-Sisi.

Most of the agreements are related to strategic projects of which the most important is building a bridge that links the two countries and the two continents, Asia and Africa, together. This bridge is no less significant than the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, the Turkish Bosphorus Bridge, which links Asia and Europe. After this bridge over the Red Sea is built, it will become the first geographic passage between Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The agreements also included power-related projects. There are 15 other agreements, which will enhance the relation between the two shores of the Red Sea. The Egyptian opposition and the rivals of Gulf countries, particularly of Saudi Arabia, have a short-sighted vision that aims to sabotage relations to serve their immediate interests. However, for Cairo and Riyadh, the relations between the two countries have been of strategic importance since 1936.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia do not allow disturbing the balance of these relations due to disagreements over minor bilateral stances or different points of view regarding regional developments or journalistic articles.

Wise politicians differentiate between what’s strategic and what’s minor, between higher aims and tactical initiatives, between disagreements and differences and when it comes to their calculations, they leave space to act and be diverse and to even disagree.

The irony is that most of the frequent complaints by both the parties — Egypt and Gulf countries — are related to the weaknesses in implementing the cooperation already agreed upon. Therefore, both parties want greater cooperation but the work mechanism often confronts obstructions that are not political at all.

Gulf countries want to increase their investment and economic projects in Egypt and the Egyptians also want that. What ruins collective efforts whether on the level of the governmental or private sector is old bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is the worse enemy than all other lurking enemies.

If Gulf countries’ huge financial investments and international commercial partnership team up with Egyptian firms and enter the biggest market in the region, they can turn Egypt’s developmental problems into traits and transform the overpopulation into an example to the power of Egypt and the region and thus put Egypt among the ranks of tiger economies. The financial surplus and overpopulation require brave political decisions to overcome the slow pace.

The Egyptians, the Gulf citizens and all the Arabs want to overcome this crisis of chronic failure. Truth be told, the ambitious agreements which King Salman and President El-Sisi signed express the hopes of the region’s people — hopes that they have a future that’s better than our current situation.

People want governments to focus on building, developing and meeting their needs and not to take political stances and repeat their statements. These promised projects represent the biggest program for work between two countries in the region.

All the Egyptian opposition wants is to thwart any cooperation to prove that the government has failed and thus corner it although most of the affairs discussed during King Salman’s visit were related to development plans that concern the present and the future of 100 million Egyptian and Saudi citizens. They aim to enhance their lives and their children’s future away from political tampering.

Egypt is a country with huge capabilities and it deserves everyone’s attention because the region stands strong when Egypt is solid. The US is encouraged by Iran’s openness and considers the latter a promising state although when comparing it to Egypt, it’s a very underdeveloped system. In response to the international project to make Iran succeed, we must bet on Egypt. This is what the Saudis, Emiratis and the rest who believe in developmental projects and not just military ones are doing.



If I Were an American

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Apr 13, 2016

AMERICANS in 2016 are in the throes of an election year. The US presidential elections are in full swing to determine who will be the next face in the White House come January 2017. And as most Americans go, they will fall into three categories. There will be some who will vote Democratic; there will be others who will vote Republican; and there will be a significant number who will decide to abstain from voting altogether.

In fact, only 57% of the eligible voters cast their ballots in 2012 with the majority among them deciding to keep Barack Obama for another four years, leaving an estimated 93 million US citizens who chose to ignore the whole process.

Now as presidents go, I believe that Obama has done a credible job for his country. He restored some of the glitter that was tarnished by the previous administration. Obama also assumed a country on the verge of financial meltdown and turned things around for the better for most Americans. But we are not speaking about Obama here, but rather about the face that will replace him come next January.

Americans intending to cast their vote have choices that have gradually narrowed down to four candidates running for the presidency today. Now why would I care who replaces Obama? I have no voice in their political process or any voting privileges. At best I am a sideline spectator watching the current circus of candidates each selling themselves to the American public.

But I do care. I spent some of my teenage and formative years in that country. I learned distinct survival skills that I have carried on till today and I am grateful for many other things learned or acquired during my times in the USA.

But more than anything I care because the President of the United States has a large impact on what happens in the region I live in through policies or actions taken by his administration. We painfully witnessed the results of the previous administration of George W. Bush and his cohorts, a government that was hell bent on wars and mayhem and whose misguided adventurism the world is paying a price today in the form of Daesh (so-called IS) and similar hybrids of murderous mutants. Even my country has not been spared from the scourge of terrorism.

Yes definitely I am interested in what happens during the Democratic and Republican conventions during summer and in the results that would follow come the first Tuesday in November of this year when the new president would be determined.

Today, on the Republican side you have two leading contenders — Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Right away I am going to tell you I do not trust Cruz. He’s slicker than a used car salesman, and changes into more colors than a chameleon. And he is not only bad for America with his distinctive divisive edge but unsafe for our region as well. In fact he is downright dangerous as I see it.

Trump on the other hand has been in the limelight for his outspoken views on just about everything including his abrasive and downright insulting remarks against Muslims. But Trump is a businessman and a pragmatic one. He is his own man and will not be bought easily. I have come to believe as of late that he would be a better Republican choice than Cruz once seated in the Oval Office. He will focus on the interests of Americans first and that is perfectly fine with me.

He said that that he as president would be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians while Cruz openly boasted to an AIPAC audience, “Let me be very, very clear, as president, I will not be neutral. America will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel.” Sorry Cruz, but I do not see that as being in line with the interests of the USA. You are dangerous, period!

On the Democratic side, you have Hillary Clinton versus Bernie Sanders. Hillary was previously a wife of a US president and a Secretary of State, but she is too locked in with self-interest groups and Super Pacs to do Americans any real good. I also suspect that with her at the helm, Americans will once again hear the beatings of new war drums and more military adventurism. She is too far indebted to the industrial military complex to do otherwise. She will be serving them and not the people. She will be a bad choice as President of the United States.

Finally we have Bernie Sanders, a US Senator and a Jew. Sanders is by far the most honest and fair politician of the lot in that he has maintained his stance towards the goodwill of Americans first beyond anything else during his tenure. He does not waffle like Clinton or is abrasive like Trump. Neither does he project a perilous uncertainty a Cruz presidency will likely usher in. On the domestic front, he stands for the concerns of the average Joe.

Sanders was against the US invasion of Iraq. He has constantly maintained an impartial stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and has even been bold enough to criticize the heavy-handed policies of the Israeli government against Israeli civilians. Jew or no Jew, he is an American first, and does not encourage an image of warmongering.

In my books, the United States of America would be best served by Bernie Sanders as the next President. And so would the region I live in.