New Age Islam Edit Bureau
26 March 2018
Jews: The Forgotten Story in the Arab World!
By Hussein Shobokshi
Turkey’s Cruel Joke as Its Fighters Loot Afrin
By Diana Moukalled
Debate Over Intellectual Freedoms And Rights In Saudi Arabia
By Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
Abbas’ Deplorable Legacy: Beginning Of the End?
By Ramzy Baroud
Iran’s ‘Hitler’ Facing the Trump Storm
By Mohammed Al Shaikh
KSA and US to Get Down To Business in New York
By Frank Kane
New UN Envoy to Yemen Must Confront The Houthis
By Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
Is Egypt's Sham Election Made In The USA?
By Mohamad Elmasry
Lebanon Elections and Hezbollah’s Fearmongering about War with Israel
By Ali Al-Amin
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
THERE is a sensitive issue that does not get enough attention, and I know well in advance that this subject will evoke extreme emotional reactions. The subject, I dwell on here, is the rights of the Jews of the Middle East in their former countries. Irrespective of the immediate cynical responses, or not, the citizens should have their rights in their country first before we care for the others.
The Jews were part of pure Arab societies and the region was their home. They were forcibly driven out as a result of persistent harassment, questioning their loyalty. If the sustained pressure did not yield the desired result, their property was nationalized. They were subjected to systematic target often being accused of betrayal and disloyalty despite the fact that they were proponents of the arts, economy and civilization in the country in which they lived.
I recall a “famous” incident that happened to me (and was written about by the famous American writer David Ignatius in The Washington Post) when my daughter was preparing for a major surgery to remove a malignant tumor in the United States. I was in Jeddah attending Friday prayers. I objected to imam during an interval over the supplication on the Jews and Christians, telling him that the doctor who will perform the operation for my daughter was a Jewish surgeon. I also told him why to curse people who did not hurt me. Later on I began to find out situations of Jews in the Arab world. There is Serge Berdugo, who was Moroccan minister of tourism from 1993 to 1996, and who told me that the Jews in Morocco have full citizenship rights, and there is a famous dealer of electronics, the owner of the shop famous near Bab Al Bahrain, who told me about the respect of Bahrain for the rights of the Jews in it.
Apart from these two examples, there were tragic stories of stolen rights, humiliation racial treatment. Properties of the Jews were seized by force and coercion without any crime. These examples were known in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen. Iraq, where the family of Kadoorie lived and later fled to Hong Kong to establish the most ancient hotels (the Venezuelan), which with passage of time became a respectable chain around the world. The Sahati family also settled in Britain to become the leader of the advertising industry (Saatchi), and from Syria the Safra family went to Brazil to establish the most important financial empire, and from Egypt came out the family of the giant stores.
All these models were lost by the Arab economy and society, as it was not able to demonstrate tolerance in practice and eventually turned into an exclusionary model. Israel’s despicable crimes against the Palestinians do not justify the same type of action meted out to the citizens who have nothing to do with Israel but following the same Jewish religion.
25 March 2018
Hours after the Turkish army and its Syrian allies declared they had taken full control of Kurdish Afrin, it seemed like the war in Syria had entered a new phase. Pictures circulated on social media showing fighters inside Afrin tearing down and destroying the statue of Kawa, a mythological Kurdish hero, in a scene similar to when Daesh destroyed archaeological statues and gravestones in some regions of Syria and Iraq.
In fact, the war in Afrin did not end with the Turkish military taking control of the Kurdish province. Instead a second conflict broke out; this time a media war linked to the pictures and videos showing the desire for “vengeance” of Olive Branch fighters.
The destruction of statues is not new in the history of the war in Syria. Factions of the Syrian opposition have already destroyed the statue of Ibrahim Hanano, one of the leaders of the Syrian revolution against French occupation, in the city of Idlib and decapitated the statue of the poet Abu Al-Alaa Al-Maari in his hometown Maarrat Al-Numan.
Back then, Syrian opposition factions used the pretext that the fighters thought they were statues of Hafez Assad. The same excuse was used by the supporters of the Turkish operation as they claimed the fighters had assumed the statue was that of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan. They added that statues were an expression of the “sanctity” of idols and the renunciation of religion, and a symbol of pagan worship, in order to justify the act of destruction.
The video focused on the enthusiasm that was expressed the second the statue was brought down, as fighters declared their victory by shouting “Allahu Akbar” and other slogans encouraged by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to justify its military operation. These slogans were also adopted by groups allied with Turkey and by those who invaded Afrin and stole it, considering their act “the first Fatah Al-Islam” (operation embracing Islam) in the modern age.
Once again, Afrin is being dealt with as a city inhabited by Kurdish “infidels.” Thus, the motivations for revenge multiply and are introduced as having historic religious dimensions. This is exactly what Erdogan did when he linked the war on Afrin with expressions from the Qur’an such as “figs and olives.” The Turkish media focused on the statue, describing it as one of the pillars of the Turkish victory in Afrin and bragging about it.
The official Turkish acknowledgement of the robbing and looting operations by armed fighters who entered the town in the context of operation Olive Branch seemed like little more than a cruel joke. The fighters in the videos and pictures we saw — invading houses and stealing cars, livestock and everything they could carry — entered Afrin in the context of the Turkish military operation. The Turkish flags that were raised and the statue of Kawa that was destroyed took place under the eyes and ears of the Turkish leadership. Therefore, the campaigns launched by Syrian activists in solidarity with the Turkish military operation reflect a type of duplicity and hypocrisy, as these activists themselves have launched campaigns criticizing robbing and looting operations, but have also welcomed Turkey’s invasion of the Kurdish-Syrian town and its occupation.
The Riyadh Book Fair has reflected modern social phenomena, stirred debate among different movements and created a social, intellectual and media frenzy for over a decade and a half. The debate in Saudi Arabia is of a cultural nature, as the political situation has been settled through the royal family’s mandate that has enjoyed wide popular support and approval for about 300 years. The society has thus been spared of political chatter, unlike other Arab countries that are fruitlessly pre-occupied with it as they neither progressed on the developmental front nor changed on the political level.
The Riyadh Book Fair is much more than an event to sell books. It’s an annual event to showcase differences and discuss debatable matters. The fair’s events, for instance, included discussions on women’s work and driving of cars.
The fair also acts as a mirror that exposes new trends in society and expresses the crisis which it is going through to overcome backwardness. Some try to push the society backwards and fear Western progress and intellectual developments. In recent years, discussions have tackled issues like terrorism, the Islamic Sahwa movement, women and the limits of their presence and books and their critique.
However, this year’s debates are a bit different. The social media phenomenon pervades this year’s fair following its ingress into society and the world of the media. Reality has been hijacked by this social media phenomenon, thus imposing a serious debate about writing standards particularly after a “social media star” recently published a book and printed 10,000 copies of it. The debate is mainly about the freedom to write and whether such writings, which detail tweets or spin yarns, should be printed by publishing houses.
Writing books have always been an act carried out by an intellectual elite on the basis of their profound experiences. Man writes down experiences in his search for immortality. A book thus lives forever which is why many writers have voiced their desire to live longer to finish their work.
Cheering For Ignorance and Trivializing Theories
Many intellectuals defend social media “celebrities” who write books as they view the latter as a “product” which is released in the market and then declines as social interests change. They believe even ignorant people have the right to write books regardless of the content. They basically defend the “right to write” and not the quality of the content created.
There are thus two conflicting opinions: One that “sanctifies books” and believes they are the product of great knowledge and a culmination of a great existential experience and another that “sanctifies freedom” and believes that the former elite is outdated and has not kept up with the youths’ new interests.
There’s clearly a wave that trivializes everything, not just writing books. This is not just about the dangerous “social media phenomenon” and its products. Those who were once considered intellectuals fell into the trap of cheering for ignorance and despising knowledge either by trivializing theories or discussing matters, such as politics and culture, which require great deal of experience before one can address them. The controversy stirred by the “social media star” who published a book, comes within a general context of madness. The old saying “There will come a time when man’s mind will be crippled” is so true.
“May God demolish his home,” was one of the statements attributed to Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas in response to US President Donald Trump’s decision to defy international law and accept Israel’s designation of Occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘eternal and undivided capital’.
That was on January 14. A few days ago, Abbas referred to David Friedman, the ardent rightwing and pro-Israel US Ambassador to Israel as a “son of a bitch.”
Abbas feels beleaguered, disowned by Washington and a victim of an elaborate US-Israeli plot that has cost Palestinians precious time, land and lives, while leaving him with nothing but an embarrassing political legacy.
Abbas is not angry because the US has betrayed its role in the so-called “peace process”, but rather because he always perceived himself as a member in the American camp of “moderates” in the Middle East. Now, however, he matters little.
Abbas and his authority were paid billions of dollars which were never accounted for because of entrenched corruption among the Ramallah ruling elites.
The US, now run by the most pro-Israel administration in years, has no role for Abbas. They have disowned him and proceeded to imagine a ‘solution’ in Palestine that is purely in the interests of Israel.
A recent meeting chaired by leading pro-Israel officials in Washington, including Jared Kushner, was dubbed a “brainstorming session” on how to solve the Gaza crisis – without the involvement of a single Palestinian.
Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attitude toward Palestinians is reminiscent of the past. Not until the late 1980s did the US even acknowledge that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was a representative of the Palestinian people.
Since Abbas rested all hopes on Washington, he is left with no plan B. Even the Europeans – who are supposedly unlike the hawkish US administration – have neither the will, desire nor political clout to replace the US.
They have often served as lackeys to US foreign policy, and it would not be easy, if at all possible for any European government to replace the US as the new “honest peace broker.”
Lack Of Popularity
Abbas’ popularity and authority among Palestinians are negligible. In fact, most Palestinians in the West Bank want him to step down. However, at 83 and despite suffering from ill health, Abbas is holding onto what little power he has.
It may appear that during this time of political uncertainty and isolation, it would be advantageous for Abbas to reach out to his political rivals in Hamas and other groups. However, the opposite is true, as he has accused Hamas of an assassination attempt on PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah.
On March 13, while on his way to the besieged Gaza Strip, two 33-pounds bombs targeted Hamdallah’s convoy, of which one exploded.
Hamdallah was visiting Gaza through the Israeli border checkpoint, Erez, to open a large sewage treatment plant that, if allowed to operate regularly, will ease life for hundreds of thousands of Gazans, who have endured a debilitating and brutal Israeli siege since 2006.
Hamdallah’s visit was also seen as another important step in the reconciliation efforts between the two main Palestinian factions: Fatah, led by Abbas, in the Occupied West Bank and Hamas, led by former Prime Minister, Ismael Haniyeh in Gaza.
Although reconciliation efforts have for years, been half-hearted at best, the latest round of talks between both groups, held in Cairo in October last year, resulted in a breakthrough. This time, Palestinians were told that the two factions are keen on establishing unity, ending the siege on Gaza and revamping the largely dormant PLO institutions.
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were to join the PLO at some point in the future, leading to the formulation of a unified Palestinian political program. And, perhaps, this keenness at ending the rift has led to the attempt on Hamdallah’s life.
Last October, Hamdallah led a delegation of Fatah PA officials to Gaza to “end the painful impacts of divisions and to rebuild Gaza brick by brick.”
Since Israel destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure and thousands of homes in the summer of 2014, Gaza – already reeling under a hermetic siege and the impact of previous wars – has been in ruins. Hamdallah’s visit rekindled hope among Gazans and all Palestinians that respite is on the horizon.
Hamas’ insistent attempts to break from its isolation seemed to be finally bearing fruit. Abbas’ party also moved forward with the unity arrangements, although for its own reasons. Fatah has been dysfunctional for years, and the imminent exit of Abbas has inflamed intense rivalry among those keen to succeed the aging leader.
Supporters of Mohammed Dahlan who was ejected by Abbas years ago and is currently based abroad, would like to see him back in a position of power. The US and Israel are following these developments closely. They, too, have favorites and are vested in the future of Fatah to sustain the status quo.
Those who want Hamdallah dead are likely not targeting the Prime Minister for his own ideas or policies but for what he represents – a PA leader capable of achieving a long-term understanding with Hamas. Killing Hamdallah also means ending or at least, obstructing, the unity efforts, discrediting Hamas, and denying Abbas and his leadership the necessary political capital to secure his legacy.
Of course, there are those in Fatah, including in Abbas’ own office, who accused Hamas of trying to kill Hamdallah. Hamas did more than deny the accusations but, within one day of the apparent assassination attempt, announced that it had apprehended suspects behind the explosion. The main suspect, Anas Abu Khoussa was killed in clashes in a Gaza refugee camp.
Amira Hass noted, Hamas “could not have any interest in attacking senior Palestinian Authority officials on their way to inaugurate a sewage treatment plant that residents of the Gaza Strip have long awaited.”
One should, however, not undermine the seriousness of the still existing disagreements between Hamas and Fatah that have thus far derailed the implementation of the unity agreement.
The main point of conflict is over Hamas’ fighting force. Hamas refuses to compromise on the issue of armed resistance, and Abbas insists on the dismantling of Hamas’ armed group, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
Although Hamdallah survived, the bombing achieved some of its objectives. A senior PA official told AFP that “Abbas decided no members of Hamdallah’s government would travel to Gaza in the short term ‘due to the security problems.’” While this might not be the end of reconciliation, it could possibly be the beginning of the end.
Shunned by the US, relegated by triumphant Netanyahu, and incapable of forging lasting unity with Hamas or mobilizing Palestinians, Abbas’ legacy is reaching a humiliating end.
Considering that it was Abbas that empowered the US and Israel – through engaging in their political gambit and “security coordination” – he has no one to blame but himself. Nothing he could possibly say or do at this stage will alter his legacy or win him respect among disenchanted and angry Palestinians.
All indicators point to the fact that President Trump is determined to scrap the nuclear agreement signed by the P5 +1 with Iran. The most important sign in this regard is Trump’s sacking of Rex Tillerson from his position of US Secretary of State, and his appointment of the head of the CIA Mike Pompeo to the post. It is well known that Pompeo is a strong figure, familiar with Iran’s intentions and expansionist goals. He realizes how important this issue is for the security of US allies in the region. If the United States unilaterally drops out of the agreement, as is expected, it would entail the termination of this agreement.
Through this agreement, Iran was trying to improve its financial and economic conditions. As is well known, the US has almost complete control over monetary matters of the world. Thus, no Western company would dare hold any transaction with Iran, unless it is certain it has the approval of the United States.
Tehran’s Limited Options
In this context, one might ask: What options do Iranians have if the United States declares its withdrawal from the agreement? The answer is very simple: nothing but an escalating rhetoric threatening to destroy Israel, but these shall be empty words that’ll not change a thing.
As is known, Iran is currently facing a very difficult economic crisis. Waves of popular protests have hit the country more frequently in recent months. It is my assessment that the theocratic regime will be left with no option but to accept new US conditions seeking restricted Iranian intervention in neighbouring countries as well as curtailment of Iran’s development of ballistic missiles. Even though Iran has openly opposed fulfilling US demands, it will eventually have to come to terms with them. Towards the end of the war with Iraq, even Khomeini had to yield to similar conditions and had said that it was like drinking from the poisoned chalice.
Some analysts believe that if the United States would drop out of the nuclear agreement, Iran will create trouble, upset the security applecart and threaten the stability of the US allies in the region, particularly in Iraq, where for purely sectarian reasons, Iran has many cards that it can exploit against the United States. I don’t believe Iran has the same influence in Iraq today as it used to during the rule of its well-known agent Nuri al-Maliki. It is my view that the current Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has developed a popular base in Iraq after having purged the country from ISIS. His popularity will pave the way to his re-election as prime minister.
Iraq Needs Assistance of Gulf States, Not Iran
Abadi has on many occasions shown that he distances Iraq from Iran, or from what he calls the policy of axes. Iraq currently needs to reconstruct what was destroyed in the war and this can only be achieved with the support of the Gulf Arab states. Iran cannot salvage its own deteriorating economy, so it’s in no position to help reconstruct Iraq. Besides, appealing to a sectarian sentiment no longer affects the Iraqis, be they Sunni or Shiite, as it used to do in the past. Iraqis today want to live a secure and stable life, not a life ravaged by wars, terrorism and sectarian strife which almost fragmented the country and subjected people to tragedies for the past thirty years.
To conclude, the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear agreement has become certain. The mullahs have no options to confront this decision. In order to address their worsening domestic economic issues, they must accept Trump’s amendments to the agreement or face a popular backlash at home that would give a jolt to the Khomeinist regime. If people starve, ideological nourishment will not be enough for them to survive.
With the diplomacy and the statecraft nearly at an end, it is time to get down to the sharp end of business in commercial relations between the US and Saudi Arabia.
On Tuesday at the Gotham Hall in midtown New York City, the elite of the business leadership from America and the Kingdom will come together for a day of formal presentations, networking and deal-doing to give a concrete form to the new relationship between the two countries. It is the financial and economic equivalent of the political summits in the White House and other parts of Washington last week, as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues his tour of the US.
The Saudi-US CEO Forum is the second instalment in a series of annual events that began in Riyadh last May during President Trump’s first overseas visit since he entered the White House. That was regarded as a groundbreaking event, leading to deals or agreements worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
If the Riyadh forum was about establishing new relationships and cementing existing ones, the New York version will be about taking this to a new level, and actually doing some business. The theme — “An era of transformation: From vision to implementation” — says it all.
Specifically, the agenda for the one-day summit aims to enhance bilateral trade, break down barriers to enable closer economic ties and explore actionable partnerships and investment opportunities.
It is also a two-way learning process for the Saudis and the Americans in a relationship that under previous administrations was not always a smooth one. The other agenda aims are to exchange impactful ideas and experiences, facilitate best practices and expand cultural understanding and awareness.
Forum attendees will be welcomed by two of the countries’ top business leaders. Andrew Liveris, chairman and chief executive of the Dow Chemical company and a committed partner of the Kingdom, will be joined by Lubna Olayan, deputy chairperson and chief executive of Olayan Financing Company and a role model for Saudi Arabia’s aspirational women.
They will be followed by a keynote address by Mohammed Al-Jadaan, the Kingdom’s minister of finance. Delegates will be listening carefully to see if he adds any detail to his statement last week that the initial public offering (IPO) of Saudi Aramco, still expected in some form this year, is “on track.”
Subsequent panels during the day will address investment issues associated with “Generation 2030,” the young Saudi citizens who are growing up during the transformational era of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
There will be separate sessions on the growing economic power of Saudi Arabian women, the commercial opportunities of the Kingdom’s newly emerging sectors such as entertainment and culture, and a special focus on what are called the “giga-projects” — such as the planned urban centre Neom — which are intended to take growth to the next level.
But, as ever at these kinds of events, the real business will be done in the private bilaterals between the captains of industry and finance from the two countries. There is an imperative to get some signatures on contracts, and I expect some big deals to be announced or firm commitments signed on transactions that are so far at the “memorandum of understanding” stage. Here are some of the sectors that I think will be worth watching.
Oil and Gas
It is not just whether Saudi Aramco will give us any clearer hint as to which international market it prefers for an IPO at some stage, but also whether it will get involved in the big game changer in the energy world: US shale. The royal tour takes in Houston, Texas, the mission control for the booming shale industry, and there could be news of a formal investment by Aramco in the American energy business.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) is a 50/50 partner in a $40 billion investment vehicle with private equity firm Blackstone, a deal it clinched at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh last year. But there has yet to be a commitment of funds to an investment project. The US energy industry is crying out for infrastructure to get its product to the world’s markets, and it would not be surprising if the fund made a debut investment in this area.
PIF, and the SoftBank Vision Fund in which it is a big investor, have made no secret of their desire to be involved at the sharp end of robotics, artificial intelligence and autonomous transport. The royal tour also takes in the US West Coast, home to the country’s high-tech industry. Expect news from this area, and perhaps even some developments regarding PIF’s tricky $3.5 billion investment in Uber.
Entertainment and Leisure
A big part of the Saudi economic transformation consists of developing these sectors at home, to give citizens a more comfortable lifestyle and to encourage them to spend their vacations, and their riyals, at home. The Americans, of course, are the world’s great entertainers. There will no doubt be other deals done in defence, finance and other commercial sectors. Transport links between the US and Saudi Arabia could be strengthened. Banking ties also look ripe for consolidation. All in all, it will be a historic coming together at the Gotham Hall. It’s down to business.
New UN Envoy to Yemen Must Confront the Houthis
Martin Griffiths, the UN’s newly appointed Special Envoy to Yemen, arrived in Sana’a on Saturday on his first official visit to the country. He is expected to meet with a broad range of stakeholders, chief among them representatives of the Houthi rebels, to try to jumpstart the stalled peace process.
The envoy had earlier met with President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and other senior members of the government. According to Griffiths, the meetings were productive and “all agreed it is necessary to act urgently to address the crisis in Yemen.”
While the internationally recognized government of Yemen has been forthcoming and cooperated with the new envoy, the Houthis are yet to indicate their willingness to engage with the UN on the search for a political solution. Over the weekend, their leader Abdel Malek Al-Houthi sounded rather bellicose. He lambasted the UN, deriding its peace-making efforts, and attacked Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the US. He also accused Yemen’s religious minorities of working for Israel.
Confirming his Iranian credentials, the Houthi leader also tried to draw regional actors into the fray in Yemen. He claimed that Israel was bombing Yemen and vowed to fight alongside Hezbollah in the future.
The Houthis have imposed an Iranian-style delusional approach to governance based on the “inevitability” of their victory. They believe in a divine right to rule over Yemen, by force if necessary. They try to the use the same triumphalist rhetoric and messianic zeal that worked in the early years of the Iranian revolution.
The Houthis look at UN talks as a public relations exercise, which they try to manipulate to their advantage with no intention of implementing any agreement. To maintain deniability and reserving the right to annul any agreement, they have delegated handling UN talks to low-ranking officials who have no mandate to make any meaningful deal. That tactic was used following the successful talks held in Kuwait in 2016, and other rounds when the UN was able to narrow the differences between the parties.
Borrowing from well-worn Iranian tactics, the Houthis intend to drag the UN and all their adversaries into drawn-out, long-term talks that lead nowhere, but buy them time to smuggle in more weapons and funding from their Iranian backers. They will try to use the humanitarian crisis to weaken the resolve of Yemeni civilians under their control and sow divisions within the international community.
In his final briefing to the UN Security Council, previous Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed made it clear that the Houthis were the party responsible for the failure of UN mediation. He explained in detail how they frustrated his efforts time and again, but it was regrettable he waited until the last minute to disclose those facts. Let us hope that Griffiths does not repeat that mistake and is more transparent about the talks.
Griffiths arrives at a moment that is very conducive to making a deal. Yemeni body politic and the international community have never been so united in their views on the shape of a political settlement. Since the Houthis assassinated their former ally Ali Abdullah Saleh and attempted to dismantle Yemen’s largest political party, they have become deprived of the veneer of political mainstream they enjoyed when Saleh was alive and his party an ally of the Houthis.
The international community is also more united than before. The UN Security Council’s permanent and transient members now see the Houthis’ power grab for what it is, and most realize the malign roles that Iran and its proxies play in prolonging the conflict in Yemen. They also recognize the danger Houthis present to regional stability and international freedom of navigation.
Griffiths comes with an impressive resume, with decades of experience in international mediation. He possesses the tools necessary to break the deadlock. To improve his chances of succeeding, he plans to build on the achievements of his predecessors but also to avoid their mistakes. He plans to re-anchor his mission on the firm pillars of international law and the global, regional and national consensus expressed in Resolution 2216, the GCC Initiative, and the outcomes of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference — three documents that have laid very clear and quite detailed foundations for the future of Yemen.
The Houthis should not be under any illusion that they are legally or morally equivalent to the overwhelmingly elected and internationally recognized government. State sovereignty constitutes the bedrock of international law, based on which the Houthis, who have dislodged that legitimate government, have to retreat and leave the capital and other cities. Also, according to international law, the Yemeni state should have a monopoly over the use of force and armed militias should lay down their weapons. Together with the three previously mentioned documents, these two principles should underpin any agreement.
Griffiths should also insist that there is only one mediation, led by the UN and its special envoy. All others should work through that channel. In the past, there were too many cooks who had their hands in that mediation, bypassing and undermining the special envoy and giving the Houthis the delusion that they could outsmart the UN mediation process.
The new envoy should also be closely involved in the humanitarian efforts and those of recovery and reconstruction to give Yemenis hope for the future, if they opted for peace.
Finally, the UN should comment directly on the Houthi narrative, which tries to replace, by the use of force, Yemen’s representative and egalitarian system with a theologically-based caste system that Yemenis have repeatedly rejected in the past.
24 Mar 2018
The only real suspense in Egypt's upcoming presidential election - scheduled for later this week - is how close incumbent Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will get to securing 100 percent of the vote.
Sisi, who took over as Egyptian president shortly after carrying out a July 2013 military coup, has systematically eliminated opposition to his rule and paved the way for an easy electoral victory. Scholars and human rights groups have proclaimed the upcoming vote a sham.
Several would-be contenders for the presidency were arrested shortly after declaring their intentions to oppose Sisi, who, in the lead-up to voting, has taken totalitarian measures to ensure a singular media narrative.
The Associated Press reported late last month that the Sisi government delivered "guidelines" preventing news outlets from conducting polls about the election or asking Egyptians whom they plan to vote for. The report also noted that critical television journalists were "removed from the air".
Earlier this month, Sisi delivered a televised address, during which he said that he considers defamation of the police or army as tantamount to treason. Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities have recently called on Egyptian citizens to report media outlets critical of the Sisi regime.
Following recent arrests of a reporter and a cameraman in Alexandria, more than 20 journalists remain behind bars in Egypt, which ranks third in the world in imprisoned journalists. Earlier this month, Egypt's prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against photojournalist Mohmoud Abu Zeid, also known as "Shawkan".
The recent wave of political eliminationism and anti-media repression comes against the backdrop of an already repressive post-coup period. Between 2013 and 2017, Egyptian authorities massacred hundreds of unarmed protesters, banned rival political parties and organisations, shut down oppositional television networks, and blocked hundreds of news and NGO websites.
The regime has also routinely used mass arrests, forced disappearance, and torture to further consolidate power and intimidate opponents.
Ready-Made Election Results
The Egyptian election commission has allowed a single candidate, Moussa Mustafa Moussa, to remain in the presidential race, but he is widely viewed as a token figure whose candidacy is meant to justify a sham election.
Moussa is a Sisi supporter who, as recently as two months ago, helped gather signatures on behalf of Sisi's campaign. According to France 24, when Moussa announced his candidacy for president, his personal Facebook page "included a cover photo with Sisi's face and 'we support you as president of Egypt' written beneath it".
In practice, the upcoming election is likely to mirror previous votes held during the Sisi era. In 2014, Sisi won 96 percent of the vote in a presidential election characterised by government intimidation of potential candidates, pro-Sisi media propaganda, and widespread voting irregularities.
Egypt's 2014 constitutional referendum was marred by government and media propaganda and a basic lack of fairness. During that campaign season, thousands of billboard, television, newspaper, and radio advertisements encouraged Egyptians to "vote yes", while a few citizens who attempted to post small "vote no" flyers were arrested.
Similarly, the 2015 parliamentary elections were rendered farcical by draconian legislation and other forms of repression.
A Green Light From The US?
US administrations have generally embraced Sisi, some criticisms of his heavy-handed tactics notwithstanding.
Current US President Donald Trump has lavished praise on Sisi, referring to him as a "fantastic guy" and noting that the two men are "very close" and "have a good feeling between them". Comments such as these have been made as part of the larger context of Trump's proclamation that foreign allies' human rights records would not be a priority for his administration.
Former US President Barack Obama's relationship with Sisi was slightly more complicated. He showed a willingness to work with Sisi, but did criticise his human rights record.
The Obama administration reportedly attempted to talk Sisi out of carrying out the July 2013 coup that brought him to power, criticised human rights abuses committed by Egyptian security forces, cancelled a joint Egyptian-American military exercise, and briefly suspended Egypt's military aid package.
Nonetheless, Obama was, overall, supportive of Sisi, regarding him as a necessary strategic ally.
In particular, the Obama administration embraced the Egyptian military's post-coup roadmap, and made little, if any, attempt to use its leverage to prevent the Egyptian army's repeated massacres of civilians, which were carried out, at least in part, with American weapons.
For months after the coup, Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki consistently echoed Egyptian military propaganda about the alleged will of the Egyptian people, downplayed the fact that Sisi's deposed predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, was democratically elected, and deemphasised the importance of voting in democratic societies.
Shortly after the coup and several massacres of protesters, Obama's Secretary of State, John Kerry, refused the "coup" label outright and arguedthat Sisi had simply been "restoring democracy".
The Obama government's consistent refusal to officially label Sisi's power grab as a military coup was telling. The "coup" label would have required the US government to stop funding the Egyptian military - under American law, it is illegal for the US to fund a foreign government which has come to power via military overthrow.
Ultimately, the Obama administration proceeded with regular deliveries of Egypt's aid package, which has totalled about $1.6bn annually since the 1978 Camp David Accords, with the bulk of it going to the military.
I visited with US members of Congress in 2013 and 2014, discussing with them my own research on Egypt, US foreign policy, terrorism, and the Sisi regime's human rights record, among other things.
Consistently, I was told that, while Sisi's human rights record was problematic, supporting Sisi was good for America because it ensured Egyptian stability, which, it was argued, was essential for US interests in the region.
When I presented evidence suggesting that military coups and mass repression can lead to greater levels of instability, rather than stability, my comments were generally dismissed.
To be fair, some members of Congress did seem sympathetic to my arguments, and appeared concerned about the US government's apparent inconsistencies on foundational US concepts like democracy and human rights.
Notably, since the coup, some members of Congress have supported cutting off aid to Egypt. In July 2013, John McCain and Lindsey Graham wrote a Washington Post op-ed calling on Obama to both use the "coup" label and cut off aid to Egypt's military. McCain and Graham have continued to be highly critical of Sisi and the US government's relationship with him.
Last week, another US member of Congress, Jim McGovern, said he and congressional colleagues were working on a resolution "to address concerns" about the upcoming Egyptian election and the nation's human rights situation more generally.
Despite some congressional concerns, however, the prevailing policy in Washington has been to support Sisi.
It remains to be seen to what extent, if any, Trump's recent decision to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo will affect US policy towards Egypt. Tillerson had been more critical of Sisi than Trump, and generally refused to adopt Egypt's position on its blockade against Qatar, launched jointly in June 2017 with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Tillerson's position on the blockade - and larger differences with Trump on US foreign policy - likely contributed to his dismissal.
The Bigger Picture
To be fair, the US is not the only government to have supported Sisi. Arab dictatorships and other Western democratic governments have sometimes rolled out the proverbial red carpet for Sisi, with important countries in Europe and the Gulf offering the Egyptian leader key diplomatic support, financial aid, or both.
Moreover, and importantly, it would be wrong to place blame for Egypt's authoritarian turn squarely on the American government.
Egypt's descent into an authoritarian abyss is, first and foremost, the responsibility of Egypt's military, police, judiciary, and media apparatuses, and also those Egyptians who supported the July 2013 military takeover and its repressive aftermath.
But it would also be wrong to altogether downplay the American role, especially given the United States' historical interferences in developing countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
These interferences have included orchestrating and supporting military coups against democratic governments, and explicitly financing violent authoritarians, among other questionable foreign policies.
Given America's status as the world's only superpower, it arguably has a responsibility to affect change in nations like Egypt. If not, then, at a minimum, the US government should seek to live up to its lofty democratic and human rights principles. It is likely that a more consistent US approach would lead to the kind of global stability America's leaders often claim to desire.
Lebanon Elections and Hezbollah’s Fear mongering about War with Israel
Hezbollah’s election campaign for the upcoming Lebanese parliamentary elections in May heavily relies on fear-mongering about the possibility of a war with Israel.
Hezbollah has played a major role in formulating a new electoral law that helps it infiltrate parliamentary representation allotted to other Lebanese sects and gives it control over Shiite representation.
Hezbollah’s Poor Governance
However, it seems the party still faces problems with its support base. These problems mainly relate to the lack of economic development in areas under its control and there is growing criticism of its MPs for not improving the economic situation over the past nine years. Baalbeck and Hermel (located in the Beqaa Valley) which supported the party’s establishment in 1982 suffer from the worst forms of economic ills. They have been most neglected, although Hezbollah has represented them for more than 25 years. They suffer from serious social and economic problems in addition to a high rate of lawlessness and the spread of criminal gangs.
To overcome these objections, Hezbollah has resorted to intimidating people and is warning of a possible war with Israel, claiming it to be an imminent threat. Hezbollah is also issuing warnings of a possible ISIS threat, irrespective of the fact that its Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah announced the party’s victory against ISIS just a few months ago!
Hezbollah is thus incapable of objectively answering the questions of its supporters regarding the poor performance of its MPs in improving the situation in Beqaa. It has also nominated the same MPs, who are accused of dereliction and corruption, for the upcoming elections – a move closer to defiance. Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah thus warned of the election of MPs who are supported by ISIS and by those who fund the organization.
“If I have to visit each village (in Beqaa) to garner support for Hezbollah’s electoral list, then I will,” the secretary general said. This clearly shows that people in Beqaa no longer commit to the directions of Hezbollah and its secretary general like they did in the past. Therefore, there are fears that not all of Hezbollah’s candidates will win there, unlike what has happened since 1992 and until 2009.
In response to objections by the Shiite community, Hezbollah has resorted to tactics of intimidation and is fear mongering about an impending war with ISIS, which it claims is making a comeback.
It has also used its media outlets and social media pages to air and post large amounts of reports – both real ones and fabricated ones – about an imminent Israeli war against it. However, Israeli stances are the same and nothing has changed. Thus, there is nothing that justifies these reports.
To respond to citizens’ questions on livelihood and employment, all what Hezbollah has done is intimidate people. Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem has said that Hezbollah is confident about its list of candidates, which he believes will win particularly in Shiite areas and that the movement will also help its allies to win. This means that Hezbollah wants to guarantee itself a parliamentary bloc that has a solid Shiite base and MPs from different sects. Hezbollah aims to use this strong bloc to confront any constitutional or legal issues that may threaten its strategic and military role.
However, this does not mean that Hezbollah takes the constitutional process seriously. In 2009, when the March 14 coalition won the majority of parliamentary seats, Hezbollah negated this victory, thanks to the power of its arms, and shifted the parliamentarian majority in its favour. Hezbollah even succeeded in toppling the cabinet of Saad Hariri, the leader of the March 14 bloc, and replaced him with Najib Mikati. Hezbollah’s arms are thus enough to alter constitutional formulas in its favour.
At the same time, Hezbollah is greatly interested in the parliamentary elections. It helped prepare the new electoral law and followed through with the process until it was approved. It has struck alliances and now awaits the holding of elections because it wants to show everyone that it still enjoys popular support. Parliamentary elections, despite all their defects – especially amid Hezbollah’s power of arms and ability to forge results in some electoral districts that are under the party’s control like the case is in Beqaa and the south – reflect the people’s political opinions and how they have changed especially within Hezbollah’s strongholds.
Hezbollah is using all its might to fix electoral lists – not only its own but also its rivals! It’s using its political, financial and security influence to divide its rivals’ lists and politically infiltrate them.
Driving Wedge in Opposition
According to some sources, Hezbollah has to some extent succeeded in deepening the rift between Lebanese Forces and the Future Movement in Baalbeck, thus confusing the latter parties’ supposed allies in the Shiite community. This rift has also contributed in reviving Hezbollah’s hopes that its electoral lists will not be significantly infiltrated.
An activist who is working on forming an electoral list that opposes Hezbollah and that includes all the parties which have been victimized by it has said: “In addition to managing its own electoral lists, it’s also managing its rivals,” hinting that it’s not unlikely that Hezbollah has struck a deal with other parties “to prevent its parliamentary infiltration in the Northern Beqaa.” In exchange, Hezbollah will owe the other party a political favour.
The activist also claims that Hezbollah can go to any length to avoid embarrassment in the upcoming elections. Many of those who have a share in governance with it are willing to sell their prospects of victory for a cheap price by attempting to divide parties that oppose Hezbollah or weaken these parties’ via multiple electoral lists in several districts, particularly in northern Beqaa. This is the prospect Hezbollah is banking on ahead of the scheduled elections!