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Middle East under Trump: New Age Islam's Selection, 02 December 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

02 December 2016

Middle East under Trump

By Dr. Amal Mudallali

Yes, I Would Marry A Woman Who Does Not Cover Her Face!

By Muhammad Al-Osaimi

Westernization Is Not a Conspiracy to Undermine Our Culture

By By Abdullah Al-Aqeel

Legalising PMF in Iraq: Why It's Not All Bad News

By Ranj Alaaldin

Human Potential Is the Middle East’s Greatest Resource

By Madeleine Albright

Iran’s Uproar

By Mshari Al Thaydi

At 45, the UAE Deserves a Global Round of Applause

By Faisal J. Abbas

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Middle East under Trump

By Dr. Amal Mudallali

2 December 2016

The Atlantic Council released its Middle East Strategy report during an event attended by a large number of foreign policy experts from almost every think-tank in Washington. The council would like its report to be “a road map that the new administration will look at” — something every think-tank in Washington aspires to with an incoming new administration.

The report is bipartisan and is one of the most comprehensive and representative of the views of the region that Washington has seen. The Task Force making the report was headed by Stephen Hadley, a Republican and former National Security Adviser to President George Bush, and Madeline Albright, a Democrat and former secretary of state in the Clinton administration. It gives a voice to the region, its leaders and people. It has good ideas and offers a positive and hopeful outlook despite the current turmoil and conflict.

The report talks about partnership and not dictates and, unlike the recent approaches to the region, it does not focus on security alone. It focuses on the broad issues and challenges that the region faces, from governance and state-society relations, to economic recovery, religion and identity, countering violent extremism, rebuilding societies, reconciliation and refugees. All these issues were tackled through separate working groups and multiple trips to the region as well as hundreds of interviews with officials, intellectuals, activists, and ordinary people.

Stephen Hadley, who has been rumoured as a possible Trump administration appointee, said this strategic approach that emphasizes partnership with the region, calls for winding down the civil wars in the region with focus on Syria, and expanding the US led military operation against Daesh and Al-Qaeda. In doing so, though, Hadley said it is “a mistake to make a common cause with the Syrian government.” He said: “We have to increase the humanitarian protection for civilians and to help the moderate opposition.”

Hadley pointed to important prerequisites to “winding” the wars, saying a “just resolution to the Syrian conflict will contain Iran’s efforts to disturb its neighbours.” While helping Saudi Arabia to reach a political solution to the conflict in Yemen requires that the “Houthi military operations around the Saudi border stop,” and “the counterterrorism efforts against Al-Qaeda in Yemen continue.”

The report calls on countries in the region to release their most valuable resource, their people, through education and reform and an “updated social contract.” It also talks about a “regional development fund,” in which the region takes the primary responsibility, and a “new compact between the region and the outside powers.”

Albright said the region needed outside help but it is a different kind of help because “the days of an outside power’s dictates to the Middle East are over.”

There was so much emphasis that things should be in the hands of the region and people has to step up and take their future in their hands. The crowd that attended the release of the report looked like a Who’s Who in the Washington foreign policy establishment.

But it was a Who’s Who outside the new administration that will take over on Jan. 20 next year. It is a “parallel universe” to the one that is descending on Washington with President-elect Donald Trump. The foreign policy establishment was not cordial to Trump during his campaign and a large number of foreign policy experts denounced him or called for stopping him. There was the famous letter by 50 Republican foreign policy experts that called candidate Trump “dishonest” and vowed not to vote for him or serve in his administration. This is now colouring the relationship between the two groups.

The feeling in the think-tank world and in foreign policy circles is one of disconnect and of being left out by the new administration. People here joke that the foreign policy establishment is in exile. Ask any foreign policy expert or analyst in Washington about what President-elect Trump will do about the Middle East, Russia, China or any other part of the world and the answer is “Nobody knows,” or “Only Trump knows.”

But Trump, to his credit, has been considering very moderate, thoughtful and experienced hands on the Middle East like Gen. David Petraeus, former CIA director, and Gen. James Mattis, former head of Central Command, as well as his most prominent critic during the campaign, Mitt Romney, for the position of secretary of state which signals openness to different ideas and to a moderate approach on foreign policy. Until he announces his secretary of state and makes the views of his administration on the Middle East known, things will remain very much a guessing game.

That is why the question that was on everybody’s mind in the audience at the Atlantic was whether President Trump would be open to this report.

Hadley said: “We don’t know. We have to give him time to put his feet on the ground and to put his team in place and decide what his initiatives are. But there are points in the report that coincide with his views,” like making fighting Daesh a priority, and no massive military intervention. But there are many more things in the report that are at odds with the president-elect’s, or his national security team’s, thinking on the region.

Hadley held the hope that presidents could change their views; he said: “Presidents have preconceptions but events matter. Events drive them in certain directions.”

But when someone asked if they would reach out to the Trump team to present the report, Albright said: “I am not the one to walk in there!” to the laughter of those present who remember her saying to women during the campaign “There is a special place in hell” for women who don’t help each other, meaning if they do not vote for Hillary Clinton. That endorsement of Clinton is hardly a winning ticket if you want to convince the Trump team to read your report. The president-elect is, however, surprising people every day with something new and different from his campaign rhetoric. Maybe the foreign policy establishment will be surprised as well.

 Dr. Amal Mudallali is an American policy and international relations analyst.



Yes, I Would Marry A Woman Who Does Not Cover Her Face!

By Muhammad Al-Osaimi

Dec 2, 2016

SOMETIMES I just do not believe how some people can ask naïve questions, such as: Would you marry a woman who does not cover her face? I read this question the other day on Twitter and it keeps popping up every now and then on social media websites as if it were a really important question. However, the truth is that there are some who attach great importance to such an issue and refuse to marry a woman who does not wear niqab.

When I read the hashtag, I answered: “Yes, I would marry her.” I explained my answer by saying that women should not be judged by whether they cover their faces or not, but on their ethics and morals and character. I have no doubt in my mind that the person who asked this question deprives women of their right to decide for themselves whether to cover their face or not. This is a person’s right and only a woman is entitled to make the decision. After all, it is her face.

I was surprised when someone asked this question on Twitter. He even went as far as asking me to put the photo of my wife online to show it to everyone as a sign that I do not have a problem marrying a woman who does not wear niqab. Such a person, in my opinion, seems to be some kind of misogynist who is obsessed with the face of women. Moreover, he seems to have no respect for women and believes that men should decide issues for women and that women have no right to make decisions for themselves. By the way, my wife wears a niqab because she wants to, although I believe strongly and am convinced that women are permitted to uncover their face.

Men who attempt to control women should realize that women are adults and can make their own decisions and bear the responsibility of the consequences. I do not know when such men will stop exercising their authority over women by making decisions on their behalf.

We should all understand that men and women complement one another. They should share the decision-making process. Men and women are equal in this process; they should not impose their decisions on each other.

My message to naïve men who seem to be obsessed with such issues is to focus on how to help society to be more creative and productive and enable both men and women to play a more efficient role in developing society.



Westernization Is Not a Conspiracy to Undermine Our Culture

By Abdullah Al-Aqeel

Dec 2, 2016

MANY people refuse to be influenced by a different culture and choose to protect their own culture, traditions and religious views. It is natural for people to protect their own identity. However, we, as Arabs, need to stop thinking that Westernization is a conspiracy plotted against us.

In order to understand what Westernization means, we should realize that strong civilizations naturally influence civilizations that are weaker. Civilizations that view themselves as weaker or less important than the stronger one will accept to be influenced in this way and will want to imitate stronger civilizations.

I do not understand why some of us think that we are the only society that has been influenced by Westernization despite the fact that most countries have been influenced by Europeanization or Westernization, especially in terms of what they eat, what they wear and how they live. Let us take Japan, for example. Japanese people have great pride in their identity. Nevertheless, they are influenced by Westernization. If you visit Japan, you will see Western restaurants everywhere. Japanese love to wear Western clothes, listen to Western music, and exercise the Western way.

If we study the history of the Arabic-Islamic civilization, we will realize that it influenced many other civilizations both near and far. The Arabic alphabet is a good example. The letters of the Arabic alphabet are the official letters of the Urdu language in Pakistan and they were the official letters in Turkey for hundreds of years. The Persian civilization, which is considered ancient, still uses the letters of the Arabic alphabet today. Other examples are Islamic architecture, Arab clothes, Arabic words, etc. Even Europe was influenced by the Arab civilization. Whether we are for or against Westernization, we should realize that the influence of stronger civilizations on those that are weaker is not something new. I think it is wrong to describe Westernization as a conspiracy plotted by intelligence officers in order to target and undermine our culture and civilization.



Legalising PMF in Iraq: Why It's Not All Bad News

By Ranj Alaaldin


On November 26, Iraq's parliament passed a law that formally integrated the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) into the security forces. The umbrella militia organisation comprises a number of disparate militia groups and will now formally function in parallel to the Iraqi military.

These militias rose to prominence because of their battlefield successes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) after the collapse of the Iraqi army in 2014. More than 100,000 Shia fighters (and some Arab Sunnis) mobilised to fill the security vacuum and were helped by a religious edict from Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the leading Shia cleric in Iraq.

The move has been criticised because it is seen as undermining the sectarian reconciliation process and because the PMF has been accused of sectarian atrocities.

Yet, its institutionalisation was a long time coming. The PMF has had long-standing interactions and overlap with the Iraqi state and has worked with federal security forces during the course of the anti-ISIL campaign, including the current operation unfolding in Mosul.

The Emergence of Shia Militias

Although some of their key components only nominally report to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the PMF was already a government-sanctioned force and around half of its militias are closely aligned with the federal government.

Some of the most powerful (and autonomous) of the militias, such as the Badr Organisation, was established in and by Iran in the 1980s but have been heavily integrated into state security forces over the past decade. Badr head Hadi al-Amiri has held ministerial posts, as have other senior members of the Badr leadership.

These actors thrive when the Iraqi state is dependent on working with sub-state armed groups or where it is unable to constrain the space for violent armed groups to function.

However, the problem is that these militia groups cannot be militarily defeated, not when this will bring greater costs than benefits to a war-ravaged society and weak Iraqi state. Furthermore, they are not going anywhere, any time soon, given their entrenchment in the Iraqi society.

Broadly speaking, two categories of militias dominate the Iraqi political and security climate: militias that were formed in opposition to the former Baath regime in the 1980s and 1990s and who have dominated the Iraqi state since 2003 (such as Badr) and those militias that emerged from the chaos and vacuum that followed the 2003 war (such as the Sadrist movement's Mahdi Army and its splinter groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq).

While the latter category of militias have been dismissed as criminals and Iranian proxies by the media, commentators and by their rivals in Iraq (including the Shia political class), the fighters and members of these militias come from the generation of destitute Shias whose political consciousness was shaped by the 1990s era of Baathist brutality, anti-Shia policies and extreme poverty.

They were mobilised and given an outlet for their grievances by the Sadrist movement, established by the charismatic Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, whose son Muqtada now leads the movement.

The making of these militias is the disorder of the post-2003 political order. The collapse of the state after 2003 paved the way for localised security structures. Communities needed protection, services and leadership. When the state failed after 2003, the Sadrist movement stepped in by establishing local Sadrist offices and local patrols as well as social and religious services.

Numerous Shia militia groups in Iraq are splinters of the Sadrist movement, which imploded after 2003 as a result of disagreements among the Sadrist leadership as well as organisational and administrative challenges.

Despite the splintering of the movement, the Shia militias that have emerged from the movement assert the same moral authority: It was them and their communities that resisted the Baath regime while the Shia opposition and political class enjoyed a life of luxury abroad and returned to Iraq off the back of American and British tanks.

In other words, these militias see themselves as the rightful heirs to the new Iraq.

Needed PMF integration

The institutionalisation of the PMF could help bring some order to Iraq's atomised security structures by helping to establish limits to their powers. Moreover, a formal integration of Shia militias into the Iraqi state will help to establish a social dialogue and contract that could breed trust and goodwill.

In its absence, there is little to constrain armed groups who have and will continue to acquire fighters and supporters, as well as weapons and money - with or without integration into the state.

Moreover, they will continue to have a patron in Iran that has historically looked to use fragmentation and division as a means of control and influence in Iraq.

Integrating the PMF into the state does not mean the end of Iraq, even if it signals the death knell for the Iraqi military, which has historically suffered from misuse, a credibility deficit and rampant corruption.

The Iraqi state still has plenty going for it. Its counterterrorism forces (known as the Golden Division) have won widespread acclaim across Iraq's ethnic and religious spectrum. Its 10,000 fighters derived from Kurdish, Arab Sunni and Shia communities have emerged as symbols of national unity and have spearheaded every major battle since ISIL came to the scene two years ago.

Further, guns and money can only do so much for Shia militias, who are looking to national elections in the coming years as a way of acquiring legitimacy and support.

The emergence of ISIL and the PMUs has dramatically altered the political and security configurations in Iraq but has also produced a series of frontline interactions between different forces that are both state and non-state-aligned and between Iraq's various communities. These can go a long way towards fostering stability, national unity and a national identity. All is not yet lost for Iraq.

Ranj Alaaldin is a Visiting Fellow at Brookings Doha Centre. He specialises in Iraq and the modern history of the Middle East and holds a PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science.



Iran’s Uproar

By Mshari Al Thaydi

1 December 2016

The commanders of Khomeini’s guards are in a state of uproar which has reached unprecedented levels on the political and military fronts.

They are preparing themselves to lead the world, inherit America and swallow up oceans and seas. Their small military boats are harassing US aircraft carriers in Gulf waters.

Iranian Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, who is a top military adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said his country is heading “towards establishing a global Islamic government to succeed American hegemony and western domination in the world.”

Yes, he made these statements while in command of his full mental faculties. His statement came two days after Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Mohammed Bagheri said his country is preparing to create military bases outside Iran and specified creating such bases in Syria and Yemen.

Imagine that! Engulfing seas, leading the world, establishing an Islamic government. What about the emergence of the Mahdi? What will his role be in all these Khomeini-style military preparations?

We also do not know what the role of Russia, their allies, in this Iranian despotism will look like. Will Russia be their partner in this “caliphate” according to the standards of Khomeini’s version of Islam, or a follower or a rival? We bring this up amid increasing indications of a Russian-Iranian dispute in Syria due to conflicting interests and different visions. Recently, Major Safavi said that the former Russian empire “stole” Iranian lands and he lamented the Qajar state’s inability to stand up to Russia because it “did not plant the spirit of martyrdom” among its people and he particularly noted treaties such as the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813.

While meeting with Iranian naval force officials last Sunday to discuss enhancing Iranian influence in international waters, Khamenei said: “The capacity of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s naval power must suit the Islamic system and the nobility of this country.”

Meanwhile, Houthi militias and forces loyal to deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh formed a new government all by themselves. They assigned the ministry of transportation to Houthi military figure Zakaria al-Shami. Many think the aim is to coordinate smuggling operations, via land and sea, to Saleh and the Houthis, the agents of Iran.

Gulf countries are aware of these threats. This is why in 2014, they began establishing a joint Gulf naval committee and important naval exercises were held in Bahrain last March.

I think Iran – in line with Khomeini style propaganda - is just yelling like thugs in an alley. They don’t have any real capabilities but their yelling is harmful and calls for full vigilance. We now wait to see how the new American president will deal with this Khomeini style terrorism near the Hormuz Strait, near American fleets. By the way, when it comes to such issues, Operation Decisive Storm is absolutely necessary. This is just a reminder!

Saudi journalist Mshari Al Thaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Al Thaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists.



Human Potential Is the Middle East’s Greatest Resource

By Madeleine Albright

30 November 2016

There is something exciting happening in the Middle East. While many in the United States and elsewhere see only war and crisis, there is bigger change afoot that has the potential to break the current cycle of conflict.

Over the past eighteen months we have been engaged in a bipartisan initiative seeking to identify a new and better approach toward peace and prosperity in the Middle East. We visited with and listened to people from the region. We consulted the region’s experts. We sought voices from all levels of society, from refugees and students to business leaders and monarchs. What we found was a sense of confidence and determination, even amidst all the challenges that the region now faces.

At the heart of the Arab uprisings in 2011 was the idea that people in the region wanted the chance to define and pursue their own vision for the future. Where governments sought to suppress these aspirations, war and instability broke out, destabilizing not just the region but also setting off massive refugee flows and terrorist movements that have upended Western politics.

Yet in other parts of the region, governments took the uprisings as a signal that they needed to provide more opportunity for their people. In some cases, like Tunisia, this meant corrupt leadership being forced to step aside to let the people chart their own course. In others, like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, governments have sought reforms within the system, striving to put young people front and centre in helping to shape their countries’ futures. While they still have much progress to make, they are moving in an encouraging direction.

Harnessing the Power of Youth and Technology

We heard about young people eager to build their own businesses rather than relying on government to provide employment. We learned that 36 percent of Arab youth aspire to start their own companies, and are using the power of new technology to do so. We also found that one third of these Middle East start-up founders are women—more than ten times the rate of female founders in Silicon Valley.

This is a population that is full of ingenuity, using their resourcefulness to solve problems where their governments have failed them. Syrian refugees in Jordan are harnessing the power of 3D printing to build prosthetics for victims of violence. And in cases where people don’t yet have the necessary skills to accomplish their goals, they are using tech-enabled education tools to learn what they need to know, even in the absence of formal classrooms.

We believe that this vast human potential is the Middle East’s greatest resource. However, despite their growing self-confidence and capabilities, the people of the region still need help for these positive efforts to take root.

The single biggest barrier standing between the Middle East and a prosperous future is the continuing instability generated by the civil wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq. Regional actors have proven themselves as yet unable to bring these wars—and their worst atrocities—to an end. At the same time, they are more willing than ever to try, including through devoting their own resources to the effort. A relatively modest amount of leadership and assistance from the United States and other concerned members of the international community could go a long way toward helping to begin to wind down these conflicts.

‘Outsiders Will Not Make The Efforts’

But we should make no mistake here. The days when outside powers could dictate events in the region are over—if they ever existed in the first place. The days of massive troop deployments or military occupations by any outside power are past. Instead, outside help and support must be focused on empowering and enabling the people of the region and their leaders to chart and achieve their own vision for the future. The region needs more local initiatives that gain regional and global support.

Outsiders will not make these efforts, however, if the people and governments of the region are not taking the kinds of actions that will lead to sustainable peace, prosperity, and stability. For without such action by the region, outside efforts will be losing investments. What we learned from the region is that its governments need to make real progress toward transparent, accountable, effective, and fair governance free of corruption. They need to deliver for their people—for all of their people—regardless of gender, sect, tribe, religion, or family connections. And they need to create opportunities for their people not only through better education but also through regulatory reforms that can encourage and enable entrepreneurship and innovation.

If these changes take place, they can become a New Compact for the region—one which improves not only relations between regional states and outside powers, but also redefines how the states of the Middle East interact with each other and, most importantly, with their people.

There is a pathway out of the current regional crises. But our efforts of the past year and a half have taught us that a new strategic approach is required. The Middle East must bet on its people and on a new partnership among the international community, the states of the region, and their people. Only in this way can the Middle East realize its vision of a more peaceful, prosperous, and stable future.

Madeleine K. Albright was the 64th US secretary of state and first woman to hold the position. Stephen J. Hadley served as national security advisor for President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009. Sec. Albright and Mr. Hadley are co-chairs of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force, and released their final report on November 30, 2016.



At 45, the UAE Deserves a Global Round of Applause

By Faisal J. Abbas

2 December 2016

On one side of the globe, the rise of the far-right has left a whole continent shaken and uncertain about its future. This is accompanied by a surge in racism, hate crimes and xenophobia as innocent people are being attacked — even murdered — based on ethnicity, political or religious views. In that part of the world, neighboring nations are threatening to exit a union that was meant to eliminate borders, boost trade, enhance ties and create everlasting peace.

Compare all this to what is going on in a different part of the world, where a young country — which celebrates its 45th National Day today — is becoming an internationally acclaimed beacon of tolerance and diversity, and has been recognized by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as the world’s largest donor of foreign aid.

This country is also a crucial part of a cooperation council that, while having not yet achieved its full potential, has every reason to succeed and become stronger and more effective in the near future.

Anyone reading the above paragraphs would probably not believe that the first part refers to Europe, and the second refers to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Frankly, I do not know what is happening to Europe, but it has become evident with the infamous UK “Brexit” vote that the continent seems — sadly — destined to take a dip into the dark side.

Regarding Brexit, one has to emphasize that the will of the British people has to be respected, and that they have a right to have their say. However, the fact remains that they were misled by the leave campaign’s false promises, inaccurate representation of the threats posed by foreigners, and the exaggerated costs of being in the European Union (EU).

There is also no denying that “remain” MP Jo Cox was viciously murdered because of her political views, and that since the vote, the ratio of hate crimes against foreigners has increased. Of course, what happened in the UK was just the tip of the iceberg, and there are more alarming signals occurring in the EU.

Europe is facing the extremely likely prospect of a French far-right president in May, embodied in Marine Le Pen. Over the next few days, Austria may very likely have a populist president embodied in Freedom Party (FPO) candidate Norbert Hofer. If he wins, Hofer would be the country’s first far-right leader since World War II. He holds staunchly anti-immigration views, and is an outspoken critic of the EU.

Should all this happen, particularly if “liberal” German Chancellor Angela Merkel is unable to secure a fourth term next autumn, this may signal the end of Europe has we have known it for decades.

While the EU is trembling, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations are having serious talks spearheaded by a new generation of young, dynamic, savvy leaders who seem keen to enhance the situation in their own countries, and see greater value in strengthening their ties on a regional level.

As noted recently by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, “the GCC — as a bloc — has the potential to become the sixth largest economy in the world if it acts wisely in the coming years.”

Saudi Arabia, with its religious clout, economic influence and recently launched, all-encompassing Vision 2030 reform plans, definitely has an interest in empowering this bloc as a force for the good of both its own people and the Arab world as a whole. This will most likely be on the Saudi leadership’s agenda as it embarks on a Gulf tour that begins tomorrow in the UAE.

The UAE also has a crucial role to play. It is on various fronts a living example of what a modern, prosperous, peace-loving Arab state can look like. While populism is on the rise in Europe, this young Gulf country celebrates the fact that it is home to more than 200 nationalities, and that these expats can enjoy their lives, practice their religion and work without fear, particularly given the strict laws against discrimination and racism.

As mentioned, the UAE has also been a major global donor in terms of humanitarian aid, and has embarked on impressive initiatives to empower youth and women, as well as support science and technological advancement for peaceful purposes.

Is there nothing to criticize? Of course there is, and the Emirati leadership has shown no signs of being satisfied in stopping at what has been achieved in their country so far. However, one only has to look at what is happening in neighbouring Iraq and Syria to see how wealth, natural resources, history, and most importantly human capital can be wasted and destroyed. As such, the UAE at 45 deserves a global round of applause!

Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News.



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