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Middle East Press on Arab Youth and US-Sudan deal: New Age Islam's Selection, 13 October 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

13 October 2020

• Arab Youth Survey Should Serve As A Wake-Up Call

By Chris Doyle

• Arab Music In Israel: From ‘Music Of The Enemy’ To Mainstream Popularity

By Linda Abdul Aziz Menuhin

• ‘A Slap in the Face’: 9/11 Families Say US-Sudan Deal Would Torpedo Two-Decade Lawsuit

By Elizabeth Hagedorn

• Does The World Still Need The West?

By Patrick Gathara


Arab Youth Survey Should Serve As A Wake-Up Call

By Chris Doyle

October 12, 2020


Lebanese students gather in front of the Ministry of Education during anti-government protests, in the capital Beirut, November 7, 2019. (AFP)


Should we be in the least bit surprised at the huge number of Arabs who want to emigrate from the region, particularly from the Levant? What is keeping young people in their home countries during wars, civil unrest, power cuts and economic crises, let alone the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic? It is a theme that everyone with friends in the region hears about anecdotally. The sense of frustration and despair is acute.

The 2020 Arab Youth Survey, which was published last week, confirms all of this and more. The 12th edition of this annual report reinforces the anecdotes with hard facts. Nearly half of young Arabs have thought about leaving, rising to 63 percent in the Levant. It is an even more remarkable figure given that the main survey of Arabs aged 18 to 24 took place between early January and early March, before the pandemic really hit. But the survey’s designers realized the unique circumstances and usefully backed up the main report with a COVID-19 pulse survey of 600 young Arabs in the middle of August.

This year’s survey has boosted the number of those polled from 3,300 to 4,000 and has continued to add new countries, with it now reaching 17 nations in the Middle East and North Africa. This year it featured Sudan for the first time, alongside the return of Syria after nine years. When considering the latter, bear in mind that more than 5.5 million Syrians have already left the country since the crisis began in 2011.

It is the Levant that stands out. In Lebanon, 77 percent of those asked wanted to leave — a figure that will surely have risen in the aftermath of the pandemic and the August explosion in Beirut. Of those who wanted to leave the Levant, 49 percent wanted a permanent new home country. The pulse survey found that 32 percent were more likely to leave as a result of the pandemic. The figures are high in North African states too, but considerably lower in the Gulf, where the standard of living is higher, with the UAE once again the favored Arab nation to move to.

What is driving this? Dissatisfaction is intense, which explains the lofty levels of support for protests in the region. Some 82 percent of youths from four nations that have experienced such protests — Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan — backed them. These four countries all saw their leaders turfed out of office last year as a result. The survey records great positivity toward the protests, with 82 percent of young Iraqis believing they will lead to real change in their country. Is this hope, desperation or a cast-iron belief that change will occur? Clearly, if so many want to leave, one figures it is unlikely to be the last of these.

Lack of economic opportunity is a key part of the distress. Youth unemployment remains painfully high at about 27 percent, which is double the global average, with the pandemic likely to increase the figure considerably. For example, take Jordan, where economists believe unemployment will rise to as high as 35 percent by the end of 2020.

The anger that energizes the protesters is rooted in the region’s widespread corruption and poor governance. This survey shows that 98 percent of Levantine youth and 95 percent of North African youth perceive high levels of corruption — figures that are extraordinary in such a poll. Tackling this is the top priority for most of those surveyed, alongside the creation of jobs.

The fact is that most young Arabs will not be able to leave. This is a privilege of the richer, better educated classes; those with connections. But even they will struggle to find new homes given the increased anti-immigrant feeling throughout Europe and in the US, with the building of walls and barriers to block their paths. Those without jobs and resources may find themselves trapped at home, likely with increasing personal and household debt. They may consequently be more likely to join the protesters lining the streets of capital cities such as Baghdad and Beirut.

The full impact of the pandemic has yet to be felt by Arab economies and societies. For sure, young people have suffered less from the medical impact of COVID-19, but it is they rather than the older generations who are going to live with the aftershocks and consequences for years, if not decades. Who wants to see them endure soul-crushing levels of poverty?

Resource-poor countries in the Levant and across North Africa will need to rebuild, but this will be on the flimsiest of foundations unless they rebuild a relationship of trust with their own populations. None of these countries can afford to lose the one major resource they benefit from: Human talent. If the brain drain accelerates, what chance does one give these countries of progressing? To do so, they will first need to tackle the pandemic and implement an effective strategy to cushion the population from its worst effects. Stopgap measures will not suffice.

Almost 10 years on from the start of the so-called Arab Spring in Tunisia, the elites in the Levant and North Africa in particular should be taking a hard look at this survey. They must listen to their people and call time on the sort of inept governance that has led to this state of affairs. A failure to do this will, in all likelihood, see the protests get more and more violent, while the virus of extremism may also have its own massive wave.


Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding.


Arab Music in Israel: From ‘Music of the Enemy’ To Mainstream Popularity

By Linda Abdul Aziz Menuhin

12 October 2020


Musician Iyar Semel plays an oud on his rooftop garden in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 13, 2017. (File photo: AP)


One Saturday in the summer of 1971, my aunt took me to her gym in Tel Aviv. The scene was familiar, like a Baghdad swimming pool in the sixties. I sat in a comfy chair and turned my little transistor radio to Voice of Israel, playing a song by Egyptian singer Umm Kalthoum. My aunt swiftly asked me to turn the volume down.

This was a surprise and a shock for me. I had been in Israel for only a few months after fleeing the hell that was Iraq at the end of 1970.

Since then, Arabic music in Israel has achieved great success over the last two decades. In 2020, Israel is a place where Arabic music, thanks to the impact of immigration, has succeeded in breaking through the barrier placed before it by Ashkenazi hegemony who viewed it as the music of the “enemy.”

Arabic was the spoken language of 850,000 Jews who came from different parts of the Arab world. Their broad contours of musical taste were somewhat similar: shaped by a scene dominated by Arab legends such as Umm Kalthoum, Abdel Wahhab in Egypt, and Salima Murad in Iraq.

The Arab-Israeli conflict placed a political burden on these romantic songs. This is how Jews from the East found their Arabic culture and music held hostage in their new homeland.

Part of the arts sector in Israel, Eli Greenfield said that “the real launch of Arabic music began with the arrival of Sapho, a French Moroccan singer to Israel in 1988, where she performed in the ‘Heichal Hatarbut,’ one of Tel Aviv’s grandest halls, singing Umm Kalthoum songs.”

I believe that Israel has gradually rid itself of its Arab complex over the years, especially after the signing of the peace accords with Egypt and Jordan, in 1979 and 1994, respectively.

Five years ago, the group Firqat Al Noor first showed up on the Israeli scene. The 25-member orchestra, directed by Ariel Cohen, of Moroccan origin, are standard-bearers for the traditional Arabic music once played on Voice of Israel radio.

No doubt, many Israelis have been exposed to the musical giants of Tarab - traditional Arab music that emphasizes long melodic notes - in the synagogue, after Iraqi-born Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef allowed religious hymns to be set to these melodies.

Festivals championing the cause of peace and coexistence in the Middle East have similarly helped the spread of Arabic music, especially Jerusalem’s annual Oud Festival—a huge pull for a large and diverse audience, including Israelis who do not have Eastern roots.

The popularity opened up the genre to mainstream platforms, including the grand elegant halls that typically play host to plays and musicals rooted firmly in the West.

The second generation of Jews from the Arab world do sing quite well in Arabic, especially in the Iraqi dialect. One new star is Ziv Yehezkel, of Iraqi descent, who has captured the hearts of the Arabs in Israel over the last few years.

Other Israeli musicians have reworking melodies of childhood into something more familiar to contemporary youth, along with reviving cultural classics for a new generation of listeners.

The Yemenite trio A-WA, made up of three sisters, is an example of this, as well as Neta Al Kayam, an artist who sings and performs in Moroccan Arabic.

Al Kayam is hosted by Al Firqa Al Maqdisiya Sharq Gharb, a band which distinguishes itself through a broad repertoire, a concoction of both classic and modern sounds.

The band is led by Thomas Cohen, in collaboration with Ravid Kahlani, who is of Yemenite roots, and one of the most famous Israeli artists performing internationally in Arabic.

Now, after Israel’s signing of the Abraham accords with UAE and Bahrain, we can expect to see new inspiration for Arabic music in Israel.

In fact, Firqat Al Noor has already recorded a cover of the song “Ahibak” by Emirati star Hussein Al Jasmi. The band said the performance was “in honor of the hope-inspiring peace agreement.”


Linda Abdul Aziz Menuhin is an independent journalist and expert in Arabic music in Israel. She established the NGO Kanoon to promote Iraqi Jewish music. She is also an activist in civil society for promoting peace.


‘A Slap in the Face’: 9/11 Families Say US-Sudan Deal Would Torpedo Two-Decade Lawsuit

By Elizabeth Hagedorn

Oct 12, 2020

Nearly two decades after 9/11, some victims’ relatives are worried that a Trump administration deal to take Sudan off the US state sponsors of terror list and grant its government immunity from prosecution could jeopardize their own lawsuits accusing Khartoum of abetting al-Qaeda in the attack.

Angela Mistrulli, whose father died in the World Trade Center’s north tower, called the State Department in May after she heard news of the potential delisting. She said officials claimed they were unaware the 9/11 families had active claims against Sudan. 

“At first, they were very like, ‘You guys have nothing,’” recalled Mistrulli. “It was a slap in the face from my own country.”

“It was absolutely shocking to me because we had been pursuing Sudan in court since 2003,” she told Al-Monitor.

In exchange for taking Sudan off the terror list — where it has sat since 1993 and remains alongside Iran, North Korea, and Syria — the State Department is requiring that Khartoum pay $335 million toward a court settlement reached in May with the victims of al-Qaeda’s embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

As part of the understanding, the State Department also negotiated an out-of-court settlement for the victims of the terror attack on the destroyer USS Cole in 2000. The agreement does not include compensation for 9/11 victims’ families.

Under the deal, the State Department has asked Congress to pass legislation restoring what is known as Sudan’s sovereign immunity. The families say this would in effect wipe out their lawsuits already filed under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, the same statute the Cole and Embassy families relied on to sue Sudan.

“When we first reached out to the State Department, they acted incredulous,” said Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died in the 9/11 attacks and now lobbies Washington on behalf of victims. She, too, said officials told her they weren’t aware of their lawsuits.

But Sean Carter, one of the lead attorneys representing 9/11 families, told Al-Monitor that his office had been in contact with the US State Department over the litigation for years. In February, he sent a letter to US Special Envoy to Sudan Don Booth, reminding Booth that his clients had “active and unsatisfied claims” against the Sudanese government.

The State Department declined to comment on conversations with the families, but a spokesperson told Al-Monitor that Sudan’s potential delisting and “ensuring that 9/11 victims have the opportunity to pursue claims against Sudan” are not “mutually exclusive.”  

Officials at the department told families they could pursue their claims against Sudan under a different legal statute: the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which allows Americans to sue foreign countries that aren’t designated state sponsors of terror.

“Our response [was] if JASTA is such a viable remedy, then why is that not being pursued by the other victims' groups?” Mistrulli said. “There is no reason that we should have to modify our current claims and pursue them under a novel law that has never been proven in court.”

To the 9/11 advocates who spoke with Al-Monitor, it seems as if the State Department is taking Sudan’s side over theirs. During a July phone call, Mistrulli, Breitweiser and two other victims’ relatives recall Booth telling them that if their activism were to derail Sudan’s delisting, they would be considered responsible for potential terror attacks that came as a result.

“It was very hurtful,” said Mistrulli. “It made me feel as though there was not a United States of America desk at the State Department.” 

Sudan is in the midst of a fragile transition to democracy, which proponents of the deal say offers the United States an opportunity to end Sudan’s international pariah status and ease the heavily indebted country’s access to foreign aid and investment. 

Last year, long time dictator Omar al-Bashir was overthrown amid popular protests and replaced with a civilian-led administration. Sudan’s new leaders deny the government ever played any role in supporting al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks against Americans.

After harboring Osama bin Laden for five years, Bashir’s government expelled him from the country and seized most of his local assets under US pressure by 1996, the 9/11 Commission report found.

“Sudan’s position on all of this is you can’t fault Sudan for what Osama bin Laden did years after he was kicked out of Sudan, any more than you could fault the US government for Timothy McVeigh’s bombing in Oklahoma City,” said Christopher Curran, Sudan’s legal counsel in the matter.

The Sudanese Embassy in Washington did not return Al-Monitor’s request for comment.

After Sudan failed to show up in court for nearly two decades, its lawyers in February filed a motion to dismiss the 9/11 litigation as based on “vague and conclusory” allegations. The lawyers also argue that the plaintiffs have not presented evidence demonstrating the participants in the 9/11 attacks had entered Sudan at all.

But the 9/11 victims argue that al-Qaeda would not have been able to pull off such a large-scale terrorist attack had Sudan not first provided the group with safe haven, as well as other forms of financial and material support in the early 1990s.

Al-Qaeda conducted the Cole, embassy and 9/11 attacks after bin Laden had been expelled from Sudan. The 9/11 families see little difference between their argument for Sudan’s alleged connection and the arguments put forth in the other cases.

“It is the same network,” Mistrulli said of the terrorists who planned all three attacks. “[Sudan] is where al-Qaeda is bred. That is where the training camps, the financing began.”

Carter said the 9/11 families are optimistic more documentary and testimonial evidence will emerge in court. They intend to seek the deposition of Bashir, who is currently in the custody of Sudan’s new government.

The litigation remains pending in the Southern District of New York.

Meanwhile, Mistrulli and others have the backing of at least two senior members of Congress, including Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who have argued the proposed legislation to immunize Sudan does not adequately protect the 9/11 families’ rights.

Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also took aim at the State Department last month for asking Congress to vote to implement the Trump administration’s agreement with Sudan, which, as of this writing, his office says hasn't been shared with him.

The proposal originally drafted by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., is now being renegotiated, including “how the Congress will resolve the issue of the 9/11 claims,” a congressional aide told Al-Monitor.

The 9/11 victims are hopeful the delay will give them further opportunity to make their case to lawmakers.

“We want accountability and we want justice,” said Breitweiser. “Right now, we have neither.”


Does The World Still Need The West?

By Patrick Gathara

12 Oct 2020

For several centuries, the countries of Western Europe and North America, led primarily by the UK and its colonial spawn, the US, have dominated the globe in economic, military and cultural terms. The West has made and remade the world as it saw fit and projected itself as the pinnacle of human achievement. “The developed world” it has vaingloriously referred to itself as, a model of enlightenment for the rest of “underdeveloped” humanity to follow. And the world it built was meant to reinforce this hierarchy.

Of course, much of the narrative of enlightenment was little more than myth – a convenient fable to cover up the brutal profiteering off the oppression and exploitation of other human beings and destruction of their societies. Still, sitting on the porch of its mansion watching over its global plantation, having grown fat off the wealth it had taken from others, the West came to believe its own rhetoric of racial and moral superiority.

However, the last four years have done much to draw back the curtain on the hypocrisy that has always lain under the pontification. Countries that just a few years ago were proclaiming the end of history and their triumph as beacons of democracy, liberalism and capitalism – nations that traversed the globe preaching the gospel of good governance, accountability and transparent government to the less fortunate denizens of corrupt, third-world banana republics – have themselves succumbed to the lure of authoritarian, right-wing populism. Gone are the heady days when they sought to enforce democracy through manufactured wars and devastating economic sanctions. Today, democracy seems just as endangered in the US (and in the UK) as it ever was in Kenya and elsewhere.

This has of course elicited great whoops of schadenfreude around the world. Throughout the current US presidential election campaign, and especially in the recent weeks following the tragicomic debate between President Donald Trump and his challenger, Joe Biden, the world has been given a front-row view of the unravelling of a narcissistic, if somewhat psychotic superpower. And it has not been a pretty sight, with violence in the streets, nearly a quarter of a million people dead from the coronavirus, its economy in the toilet, the credibility of its elections and institutions in doubt, and a personality cult around its leader that every passing day feels increasingly familiar to those who have lived under totalitarian dictatorships.

“We’re not a democracy” tweeted Republican Senator Mike Lee from Utah following the vice-presidential debate. And the spectre of violent coups, which was once thought to be restricted to “s***hole countries”, has reared its head in the US with the disruption of a right-wing plot to kidnap the Democratic governor of the state of Michigan and overthrow her government.

To a varying extent, similar problems with poor governance, authoritarianism, corruption and institutional decay are present in the UK and in other European countries. It is, however, unlikely that the West will face the same opprobrium and consequences that it has imposed on others whom it has deemed to have fallen by the democratic wayside. No sanctions, asset freezes or travel bans on its rulers, no resolutions condemning them at the UN, no threats of prosecution at international courts. It is unlikely that respected world leaders will be heading to the US to mediate its anticipated election dispute.

Still, the evaporation of Western prestige and hubris will have consequences for democracy in other parts of the world. For all their faults and hypocrisies, in much of the “developing” world, Western embassies and NGOs have been allies in the push to democratise governance. So much so that in much of Africa, authoritarian governments still deceptively refer to human rights and democracy as Western, rather than universal, concepts. There is a real danger that with their democratic credentials rubbished by events at home, it will be more difficult for the West to credibly support pro-democracy movements and efforts abroad.

That, along with the example set by the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, may also encourage rulers with an authoritarian bent to take more liberties, calculating that their oppression is unlikely to attract opprobrium or consequences from the West.

Nestled in among the dangers are also opportunities for the world to wean itself off the patronising grip of the West. In Africa, for example, the African Union has of late been doing much to try to shed its image as a club for dictators, taking forceful stands against military coups and incumbents who refuse to accede to election outcomes. It still has a long way to go before it can be described as a bastion of democracy but the withdrawal of the West has gifted it an opportunity to demonstrate that it can stand with the people rather than with the rulers.

Civil society groups too will now have to look for other benefactors. Already the role for Western embassies in supporting reform movements was much diminished in countries like Kenya compared with what it was 30 years ago. But the reliance on Western governments and organisations for financing continues to be the Achille’s heel of local groups – an easy target for governments when they seek to delegitimise them as agents of foreign interests or to starve them by introducing legal ceilings on how much they can raise.

In Kenya, social media, coupled with money transfer apps, have emerged as an effective avenue for local fundraising, one which even the government has not been ashamed to tap into. For NGOs working in the governance space, local donations would not only reduce their vulnerability to nefarious governments but, as a measure of popular endorsement, would arguably increase their clout. Needless to say, it would also be a great way to encourage a sense of local ownership of the reform agenda. And as the sun sets on the West’s time as self-appointed democracy police, that can only be a good thing.



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