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Middle East Press ( 11 Apr 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Scrap Projects of Destruction: New Age Islam's Selection, 11 April 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

11 April 2016

 Scrap Projects of Destruction

By Anu Muhammad

 Once Upon A Time In the Cosmopolitan East

By Hamid Dabashi

 Rouhani’s Diplomacy, Jaafari’s Actions

By Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

 Saudi Women Making Strides

By Talal Al-Harbi

 Manipulating the System

By Sabria S. Jawhar

 ‘Green Card’ For Expatriates in Saudi Arabia Is a Strategic Plan

By Khaled Almaeena

 Yemen: between Ending the Conflict and a Warrior’s Break

By Raghida Dergham

 A Blessing in Disguise

By Saad Al-Dosari

 Taking Saudi-Egypt Ties To New Heights

By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Scrap Projects of Destruction

By Anu Muhammad

April 11, 2016

I first visited Bashkhali in 1991, immediately after a deadly cyclone devastated the area. I could not walk without touching a dead body or its parts; I could not see even an inch of area which had not been destroyed by the natural disaster. In this coastal area, people live on and struggle with the Bay of Bengal; they live with its resources and also with its rage. With the growing risks of climate change, there is the possibility of even more destructive natural disasters, along with increasing sea levels. Since the lives of its inhabitants are highly vulnerable here, for them development means protection and safety; it means creating livelihoods that will be less vulnerable; it means a life without fear and uncertainty. Instead, the people of Bashkhali are confronted with a project which gives rise to more risks, fear and uncertainty. They were terrorised by the possible consequences of a coal-fired power plant, and felt outraged by the harassment and lies of the officials of the plant. They gathered to express their fear; they were answered with bullets.   

We feel sad, we feel angry too. If development means destruction of people's shelter, biodiversity, killing of river, forest and the people, we will continue to oppose this; we will call upon everybody on this earth to make this opposition stronger, to create momentum to bring a real change in development thinking. We will give strength to collective voices to bring the real vision of development to the political agenda.   

The recent tragic incident, which I may call 'development killing', in Bashkhali is a manifestation of state-business nexus. Ignoring public opinion, there was an unholy alliance between state officials and corporate groups. The killing of unarmed innocent people was perhaps an unexplained expression of their 'way of doing things'. 

The incident centred around a 1,224 MW coal-fired power project, jointly owned by S. Alam Group - a Bangladeshi business house - and two Chinese companies, SEPCOIII Electric Power and HTG, with whom they signed an agreement in 2013 to set up the plant. On February 16, 2016, the government of Bangladesh approved the deal and set a price to purchase electricity from the group at a rate of BDT 6.61 per unit. The group started to acquire 600 acres of land for this plant.

Surprisingly, all these steps were taken without any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and public consultation. There was no environmental clearance. Furthermore, residents of the area were sceptical and afraid, because of their experience with coercion and fraudulence in land purchasing. Lack of transparency and irregularities were quite noticeable from the very beginning of the project. The local administration had shown a total of only 150 households in the project area, but in reality the area has at least 7,000 households, 70 mosques, graveyards, a technical education institution, around 20 cyclone shelter houses, one high school, eight primary government schools, two Alia Madrassa, five Qawmi Madrassa, five markets, and one government hospital. Hiding the real numbers is a familiar practice to rationalise the project and also to ease the handover of khas (government) land to the private company.

Most of the people in this area are poor but hard working people engaged in salt farming, and various fish and agro-cultivation. For months, hollow promises packaged with assaults and threats had ensued. People had tried to negotiate over the choice of location of the plant, appealing to the authorities to spare them from a deadly project. On March 23, a peaceful gathering was organised in the area, with the presence of officials from the administration, in which around 30,000 people had participated. They demanded that the project be shifted elsewhere and their grabbed land be returned to them. However, it seemed as if nobody from the government or the concerned company really bothered to pay heed to their concerns, as they proceeded with the coercive measures.

On Aril 3, police arrested seven people from the village, accusing them of obstructing the company's work. That triggered discontent among the common people, bringing them together in a protest meeting on April 4, 2016, under the banner of “Boshot Bhita Rokkha Committee” (Committee to Protect Households). Meanwhile, some locals, allegedly paid by the company, called for a counter programme in the same location to wreck the event. Moreover, as an eyewitness described, while the angry protestors continued to gather on the spot, hired goons arrived there with 30 to 40 motorcycles. They began to fire on the unarmed villagers. Instead of stopping and arresting the armed miscreants, the police allegedly joined them in firing upon the poor, unprotected people. A large number of protestors were shot on the spot, and at least five were killed.

People did not gather to beat anybody or disturb peace. Their demands were simple: first, free the arrested villagers; and second, stop harassment of inhabitants by middlemen and goons who forcibly try to purchase and grab lands. They also wanted a transparent hearing process on the pros and cons of constructing a coal-fired power plant in the area. They had arguments on the possible environmental and social impacts of the power plant in the area; they were demanding satisfactory answers on why the location of the plant should not be shifted.

The role of the police and government administration appears questionable at best. Even after killing people, they filed cases against the villagers, continued arresting and terrorising them. They even arrested people with bullet injuries admitted to the hospital, and put them in handcuffs. Male villagers are forced to sleep in the open to avert arrest, and also to guard the area against any terrorist attacks.  

We would like to ask, if the state chooses to call it 'development', how come there is no space for public opinion? Why such atrocity? Why is the government so afraid of protests? Where is the EIA and clearance? What sort of democracy is this in which the police administration and armed goons jointly assault unarmed people? 

As long as the assaults, threats, land grabbing and eviction continue in the name of development, discontent will prevail. If the interest and consent of people are not prioritised, they will reject every so-called development project. People gave lives in Phulbari to save the country; they have been waging struggles to save the Sundarbans and have showed their readiness to sacrifice their lives to protect the future generation in Bashkhali.

The attitude of hiding, twisting and denying facts must be changed; the government should move quickly to conduct an independent inquiry to ensure exemplary punishment for those responsible for killing innocent villagers. It should also abandon this practice of pushing through questionable projects. Finally, the government must scrap projects of environmental destruction, along with projects embroiled in irregularities and corruption, and which pose a threat to human livelihoods, including coal fired power plants in Bashkhali and Rampal.



Once Upon A Time In the Cosmopolitan East

By Hamid Dabashi

10 Apr 2016

In the city of my childhood Ahvaz, in Southern Iran, where I was born and raised, a modest Armenian church and its adjacent school and community were gently woven into our neighbourhood in the old part of the city. The church was on Ardeshir Street, between what was then called 24 Metri and 30 Metri Avenues, near Jundishapour Hospital. I would pass by this church when going to school and can still remember the aroma of Armenian cuisine on my way back home.

I was recently reminded of this neighbourhood while reading Three Kisses of the Cobra, a delightful novel by ZT Balian about a fictional Armenian trader named Vartan who travels around the world before he eventually settles in Singapore.

Armenians Face Few Options In Syria

Armenians in my hometown and elsewhere in Iran, among them some of my own childhood friends very similar to the central character of this novel, were known for their amazing cuisines, legendary small cafes where they would serve Russian vodka and local beer with exquisitely wrapped mortadella and sausage sandwiches.

But their integration into our life, culture, and history was not limited to such delicacies.

Global Modernity

Armenians were integral to ushering in global modernity into Iran and many other parts of the region, along with European drama, pioneering stages of Iranian cinema, and some leading Armenian revolutionary activists were in fact among the leaders of the Constitutional revolution of 1906-1911.

Our communities were at once distinct and yet curiously connected. My mother had close Armenian friends who would join her on women-only religious festivities such as Sofreh Abolfazl in honour of a beloved Shia saint.

Set against the backdrop of the declining Ottoman and Qajar empires ... Three Kisses of the Cobra tells the story of Vartan Bantukhtian, an Armenian merchant who sails around the globe in search of his fortune.

Although Armenian and Muslim boys and girls were prohibited by their parents from befriending the opposite sex in their adjacent communities, I know of a few passionate love stories that crossed these borders like those two star-crossed Montague and Capulet (one of them actually between a Juliet and a Farhad), though without the dramatic ending.

Vartan: A Sailor Merchant

Set against the backdrop of the declining Ottoman and Qajar empires, and right during the ascendency of the European imperial domination in their respective territories, Three Kisses of the Cobra tells the story of Vartan Bantukhtian, an Armenian merchant who sails around the globe in search of his fortune.

The odyssey at the heart of this novel traces the adventures of Vartan very much on the model of a travel narrative, many historical samples and scholarly study of which ZT Balian has in fact studied to give her novel an air of authenticity and realism.

Born in 1800, Vartan Bantukhtian's narrative begins in 1858, when as a globetrotter entrepreneur he very much personifies the Armenian trading communities in the diaspora and around the world, from Madras to Singapore.

Balian is a gifted storyteller. She begins her novel by a fictive narrator receiving an email regarding a distant relative in Singapore who wishes to see her.

The bulk of the novel is therefore a story within a story, framing the travel narrative of one Khoja Vartan Bantukhtian as written down in "a mixture of ecclesiastical Armenian and . . . local Erzurum, or an Anatolian Armenian dialect" that had come down from the author to a distant relative of the narrator who has to travel from Beirut, where she lives, to Macau Singapore to receive it and immediately decides to translate it into English.

In this historical fiction, the full global spectrum of the Armenian worldly lives are put on stage, specifically in the early 19th century but with obvious roots extending much deeper around the globe.

The book thus navigates around the globe mapping out the life and adventures of this Vartan in the course of which we get to know about him and about a crucial period in mid-19th century navigational routes and commercial interactions.

Armenians in the World

Balian's wonderful and engaging novel could not be timelier, when the resurgence of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh is yet again a reminder of the horrors of ethnic nationalism wreaking havoc in the region.

For millennia, Armenians have been integral to the vast spectrum of territories extended from the Mughal to Russian, Safavid and Ottoman empires.

The presence of these Armenian communities - proud, robust, self-conscious, industrious, cultured and worldly - reflected in many other parts of the world, is the most potent metaphoric reminder of the cosmopolitan character of our cultures.

The roots of the Armenian communities in the region raging from the Caucasus to North Africa are of course very ancient, but it was in major cosmopolitan cities such as Isfahan, Istanbul, and Cairo that they assumed increased transnational significance.

Contradictory Thoughts

Reading Three Kisses of the Cobra, two contradictory thoughts come together to embrace the idea of being Armenian: a deep sense of belonging and a widening horizon of expansive geography.

It seems the wider that horizon, the deeper that sense of belonging. It is as if Armenians had to be dispersed around the globe to discover who they are, and allow the rest of the world to discover itself in their company.

In an enduring way, Armenians in their diaspora have discovered a new sense of belonging to the world that makes the world homely for everyone around them. They are the insider outsiders, the familiar foreigners, the friend who makes you feel at home in your - and their - habitat.

I took a piece of my homeland in which I had Armenian neighbours with me away from Iran and anytime anywhere in the world I meet an Armenian (just as I met Vartan in this novel) I feel doubly at home - at home with the sense of Iran I took with me when I left my childhood neighbourhood, and a sense of home that the Armenian diasporic experience has invested in all of us, the sense and assurances that must be the Armenian dreaming in our soul.



Rouhani’s Diplomacy, Jaafari’s Actions

By Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

11 April 2016

Ever since the nuclear deal was signed last year, Iran’s civilian leaders, especially President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, have expressed interest in dialogue with their neighbours.

However, Iran’s religious and military leaders have managed to frustrate such initiatives, by emphasizing their determination to continue to export revolution and incite sectarian violence, under the guise of safeguarding Shiite minorities’ interests.

While Rouhani has expressed interest in opening a new page with Iran’s neighbours, he has failed to clarify terms of reference for such a move. By contrast, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been quite clear, most recently at the summit held in Riyadh in December 2015, about such terms, which include Iran’s full adherence to international law and the United Nations Charter. Specifically, the GCC cited the need for Iran to respect sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity of its neighbours and to refrain from the use of force or threats thereof, and incitement of sectarian hatred and violence.

Iran’s hard-liners, who appear to drive its regional policy, are also clear and have nothing but disdain for Rouhani’s initiatives. On April 5, Gen. Mohammed Ali Jaafari, Commander of the Revolutionary Guard (formally, Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, known by its acronym IRGC), gave a major policy speech, his first in the new Persian year. His remarks, made before the Guards’ leadership, reported by Iran’s official media, was a mixture of bombast and threats against his internal and external foes, ridiculing “diplomatic and political means” and asserting “the military option.”

One can perhaps dismiss his threats against the United States as intended for local consumption, when he said that Iran’s military plans were premised on expecting a “total war” with the US in which Iran would emerge “decisively victorious.”

However, his threats against Iran’s neighbours must be taken seriously. He said that the IRGC have completed preparations to act against neighbouring countries, naming Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen, among others, and stating that he was “awaiting orders for appropriate action” against those countries.

As for Yemen, Jaafari said that Iran’s intervention was aimed at making “Ansarullah (Houthis) swords sharper,” pointing most likely to Iran’s plans to provide them with military advisers and weapons, in clear violation of UNSC Resolution 2216 (2015), which imposed an arms embargo on Yemen and put in place an inspection and verification system to enforce it.

In fulfillment of that UNSC Resolution, US, Australian and French navies, among others, have recently intercepted in the Arabian Sea near Yemen large quantities of weapons destined for the Houthis.

On March 28, the coastal patrol ship USS Sirocco “intercepted and seized” a cache of weapons, 5th Fleet spokesman Commander Kevin Stephens said in a statement. The shipment included 1,500 AK-47s, 200 RPG launchers and 21 .50-caliber machine guns. The guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely assisted in the seizure after the weapons were discovered by Sirocco’s boarding team, Stephens said. The dhow carrying the shipment and its crew were allowed to depart once the weapons were seized, as per the rules of engagement in that area. The weapons were in US custody, Stephens said.

On March 20, the French navy destroyer FS Provence seized a shipment of arms that included nearly 2,000 AK-47s, 64 Dragunov sniper rifles and nine anti-tank missiles.

Similarly, the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Darwin intercepted a dhow on Feb. 27 carrying another large cache of arms.

These hauls took place over just a month, coinciding with the progress UN special envoy was making in his mediation efforts in Yemen, making it clear that the IRGC wanted to frustrate those efforts. It is intensifying its efforts during the period leading up to Yemen talks scheduled for April 18 in Kuwait, intending to sway Houthis and their allies away from the political solution sought by the UN and Yemen’s government.

As for the nuclear deal, which President Obama considers the crown jewel of his foreign policy, Gen. Jaafari expressed scorn for Rouhani’s government for signing it, saying that the deal was “no cause for pride, not in our country’s interest, and was signed against our people’s will.” He accused the deal’s supporters of trying to “humiliate the Iranian people.”

On Iran’s missile program, Jaafari stressed Iran’s determination to continue to develop and mass-produce ballistic missiles, with greater accuracy and larger payloads, dismissing international protests.

Almost everywhere in the region, Iran appears to escalate its destabilizing activities, sharpening the contrast between those who call for dialogue and hardliners who continue business as usual.

Such contradictions between Rouhani’s conciliatory speeches and IRGC’s bellicose actions explain GCC scepticism about his calls for dialogue, asking to see actual confidence-building measures first.



Saudi Women Making Strides

By Talal Al-Harbi

11 April 2016

Ideally a university should serve as a platform that helps an individual polish his/her skills and to excel in a profession. A university also serves as the stepping-stone to the professional world. Fortunately, King Saud University is one of those top institutions, which fully prepares its students for future challenges.

Recently, the university organized an event “The King’s ambition for the nation’s future” and this writer availed of the opportunity to attend the contest. Held under the patronage of the Riyadh emir, the competition was limited to female participants who are determined to serve their faith, nation and to build a strong future.

The daughters of the nation presented creative ideas on the occasion.

Their products were the outcome of women empowerment and development process to help them play their due roles in the advancement of a knowledge-based economy. The event was in line with the current trend to create communication channels between the universities, inventors and investors to increase investment opportunities and make effective use of our youngsters who have huge potential and the necessary skills to present their ideas creatively.

It was really an honour to witness those girls compete in expressing their love to their homeland. Behind their veils, they were similar in their dignified figures but from the inside, they were full of belief and ambition.

What was noticeable in the event was that the private sector was missing to provide the required mechanisms of support so that those girls could continue their projects.

Public-private partnership is very important for the realization of our national dreams. The event also showed that the Saudi women are not ignored or marginalized. They are full of innovative ideas and working to prove their mettle to their world in every sphere of life. Be it business or any other field, Saudi women are making progress.

We hope to see more of such events in future, as they help boost confidence in the participants and give them unique exposure to the outside world.



Manipulating the System

By Sabria S. Jawhar

11 April 2016

Despite laws to protect women in Saudi Arabia, there remain instances in rural areas where families manipulate the system with success to further their own personal prejudices.

A 25-year-old Saudi woman filed a complaint in the court alleging her father was committing “adhel,” an Islamic term in which a man uses his guardianship authority against a woman’s will to prevent her marriage to a good suitor.

With the help of her brother and mother, the woman proved in court that her father had committed “adhel.” Her father had abandoned his daughter and her mother 20 years ago.

The court ruled in the woman’s favor and issued a document that stated she was the victim of “adhel” and that guardianship duties were transferred to her brother. The brother permitted his sister to marry the man she wanted.

But the woman’s paternal uncles objected to the marriage and crashed the wedding party in an attempt to prevent the woman from leaving with her husband. The brother sneaked the woman and her new husband out of the wedding hall. The couple began their new life. The husband is in the Saudi Army and is serving his country in the war in Yemen. Before he left for his assignment, his wife became pregnant.

While the husband was away at war and the woman was eight months pregnant, the father’s family sought a divorce in a different court with a judge who was a member of the same tribe as the father's tribe. Taking advantage of the husband’s absence, the father’s family convinced the judge to divorce the couple. A divorce decree was issued.

Race inequality is said to have been the determining factor for the divorce, although the judge never considered the baby about to be born who now has the blood of both his mother and father running through its veins.

I have great confidence in the future of our judicial system, but the lack of legal codification is doing significant harm to families in which tribes can manipulate the system to achieve their own agenda. Further harm is committed against Saudi society because in this case the husband and wife love each other, are having a child together, and the divorce was granted when the husband was absent and not represented in court.

In a video statement released by the woman, she pleaded for help to keep her marriage intact and to protect her unborn child. Fully covered and clutching her husband’s jacket as she spoke, it’s clear the woman is devout in her faith, truly loves her husband and her baby, and deserves to have her life returned to her.

There is no doubt that if her plea reaches the proper authorities, they will intervene and nullify the divorce. But in the meantime she faces not only giving birth to a child without a husband, but also is exposed to danger because she is an unmarried mother subjected to the whims of a vengeful family.

Saudis must consider whether this incident means that every single marriage contract approved by the court can be overturned based on personal interests. Divorce in Islam is the least liked among the permissible things by Allah, yet tribal prejudice and loyalties appear to take precedence over religion.



‘Green Card’ For Expatriates in Saudi Arabia Is a Strategic Plan

By Khaled Almaeena

11 April 2016

The “green card” plan disclosed by Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, in an interview with Bloomberg, has been welcomed by many expatriates. The plan will help expatriates ease away from the tight hold of sponsors, many of whom have been exploiting both white and blue-collar workers.

Though the modalities of how to attain this “green card” needs to be framed carefully, there are essentials that the future card holders will be required to do or get once obtaining the card. They’ll have to pay zakat and value added tax, and they can own property and undertake commercial, industrial and other related activities.

The plan was welcomed by expatriates especially who have been in the country for three or four decades and whose children were born and bred in the Kingdom. One Indian told me “this is home”. A Filipino engineer living in Riyadh since 1988 said that with the plan more cohesion between expatriates and nationals will evolve.

Over the years, I have been writing on the contribution of expatriates to the Kingdom. I was privileged to be in contact with them due to my stint as editor in chief of both the English language dailies from 1982 to 2014. They (the expatriates) would approach us to voice their grievances, fears, aspirations and quest for justice.

With great changes happening all over the world and globalization at its highest peak we too should avail of the expertise available

Working in a foreign land, braving heat and cold and at times being subjected to harsh treatment by heartless sponsors their only voice were the English-language media outlets in the Kingdom. Many, after years in the Kingdom, did aspire to gain a residential status in Saudi Arabia. Some did propose similar systems whereby the Saudi government would be the sponsor. Even Arab expatriates would write to us expressing their problems and their requests.

Philosophy of the Founding Father

Our editorials reflected our belief that this country is a heaven for all who live and participate in its development irrespective of their caste or creed. This was the philosophy of its founding father King Abdul Aziz.

With great changes happening all over the world and globalization at its highest peak we too should avail of the expertise available. The greatness of America, an already advanced nation, was enhanced by the acceptance and inclusion of Asians who came and added value to the economic and social system. We too can gain from their system. As we try to boost our non-oil sector we would be requiring all available experienced hands.

Yes, Saudisation is a goal but we can’t implant bodies in systems that require a high calibre of professionalism. Many tactics have to be improvised in order that a total strategic plan is evolved for competing in a highly competitive and fierce business environment. The “green card” plan is one of them.



Yemen: between Ending the Conflict and a Warrior’s Break

By Raghida Dergham

11 April 2016

The coming week is poised to see significant shifts in the Yemeni, Libya, and Syrian issues midwifed by the three UN envoys in charge of searching for political solutions to these conflicts, in which many local, regional, and international factors overlap and interact.

In Syria, with the approach of the real plan, the Western countries, particularly the US and Britain, seem to be caving in to the fait accompli represented in the insistence of Russia and Iran on Bashar al-Assad fighting the presidential battle to the end, because, in his view, he is part of the political process until it ends in 18 months with presidential elections.

In Libya, resolve is making its way to conciliatory international attitudes regarding the centrality of controlling the capital Tripoli and the centrality of having an official request made by the national accord government that would enable the US, Britain, France, and Italy to create an alliance against ISIS and al-Qaeda there, similar to the coalition working with the Iraqi government at present.

In Yemen, the recent Saudi engagement with the Houthi rebels is coinciding with notable changes in the government announced last week, with both military and diplomatic implications. They also coincide with an international understanding of the new military and political facts on the ground, on the basis of which the peace process is being pushed forward.

Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi took a surprising decision to sack his deputy and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah from both posts, appointing General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar vice president and Ahmed Obeid ibn Dagher as prime minister.

Appointing Ahmar raised questions about the intentions of Saudi Arabia, particularly since he has a history of brutality and bloodiness. The sacking of Bahah also caused tension between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and Ahmar’s appointment also caused anger as the man is seen as a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate.

Sources familiar with Saudi thinking downplayed the concerns that Ahmar could become president of Yemen, even if Hadi dies, given his difficult history and the implication for the secession of South Yemen.

What about his affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood? The sources say that some in Riyadh see him as part of the Muslim Brotherhood, but a “lighter shade” thereof. Ahmar, the sources said, is not ideological, and is cut of the same cloth as former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Therefore, he should be seen as the military counterpart of Saleh, and this is the main reason he was appointed, in addition to the fact that Hadi is convinced Ahmar’s presence along his side guarantees he would remain in office.

The advantage Ahmar brings with him to those who support him in the kingdom is that he has formidable military and tribal assets. Therefore, he has the ability to accommodate a large segment of northern tribes, and to rally and boost the morale of the Yemeni army, as well as win over part of the army forces that defected in favour of Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Other informed sources said the Saudi support for the pro-Riyadh Yemeni president’s moves is a message to the Houthis and the supporters of Saleh: Either engage in lasting peace, or continue the fierce war this time with Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar at the helm.

These sources quoted what the Saudi side told UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to communicate to the Houthis: Do not misread or miscalculate, and come to mistakenly believe the kingdom is fatigued and would not be able to continue the war. What is at stake is its strategic interests for which no price is too high. We want peace with you, but not from a position of weakness or intimidation.

The Houthi Challenge

In the opinion of some, it is what happened on the ground in the Yemeni war that has prompted the Houthis to reconsider and seek peace with the Saudis. A source put it this way: The Houthis were born and have grown old in the space of a single year. They concluded that Iranian assistance under the table would not be sufficient to fight a ferocious war, and that Iranian support would not be enough to cover the burden of the war in Yemen, which is why they decided to distance themselves to an extent from Tehran.

The Houthis agreed to engage with Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that their request for them to be recognized as an equal to the legitimate government of Hadi was rejected. The Houthis found an opportunity through the UN envoy to discuss a settlement based on resolution 2216, which is backed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, led by Russia and the US.

They understood that these countries accepted Saudi Arabia’s insistence on its own arrangements at its southern border and its desire to reach a political settlement after eliminating the threat at the border. Now there is a different dynamic after the gains on the ground.

In Yemen, the recent Saudi engagement with the Houthi rebels is coinciding with notable changes in the government announced last week, with both military and diplomatic implications

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed will build on this dynamic, after the ceasefire, which starts on April 10, is consolidated, at the negotiations scheduled for April 18 in Kuwait. Ould Cheikh will seek support from the UN Security Council for the five axes he declared and which he wants to implement through five teams working in parallel: Withdrawals; handing over weapons to the state; temporary security arrangements; resumption of the political process; and mutual release of detainees.

These breakthroughs may amount to a quantum leap towards ending the conflict in Yemen, but it could be merely a “warrior’s break” before resuming the fighting even more ferociously. It depends on several unpredictable considerations, especially since the pace of the war has become part and parcel of the pace of negotiations.

To be sure, the Ali Abdullah Saleh factor remains a key part of the equation, even if some are now claiming he is marginal and others are saying he would not be able to get any deal after the Houthis abandoned him. Some believe Saleh has become an obstacle to the political process, and that there can be no safe exit for him because the conditions for that are impossible. Indeed, his funds and assets he wants to remove from Yemen makes his exit difficult.

Perhaps it is the fatigue factor that will allow Yemen to end its many wars, and the same could apply to Libya’s bloody conflict, where now there seems to be finally a willingness to stop the bleeding. The head of the UN-backed Libyan national accord government Fayez Sarraj arrived in Libya with international support, with the UN pledging to continue to support the government to impose its authority in the capital.

The Secretary-General’s envoy Martin Kobler made a first visit to Tripoli, as a number of countries said their ambassadors would be returning to the Libyan capital. In other words, there is a bare minimum level of security guaranteed in Tripoli, in what could indicate the militias that controlled the city have endorsed the national accord government. This government has received economic and political support as well, as municipalities, the central bank, the national oil company, and the Libyan investment authority all endorsed it.

The Western governments, with Russian support, want the Sarraj government to be stable in order for this to lead to address two main threats: the expansion of ISIS in the Libyan interior and into Africa and Europe; and illegal migration via Libya’s shores to Europe. What the West wants is for the Libyan government to authorize a Western intervention in Libya against terrorism and illegal migration.

Security Control

The first challenge is to consolidate security control over the capital and the country. This requires equipping the army and the police. Indeed, current capabilities make the talk about the government tackling the likes of ISIS out of the question, as the UN Security Council continues to implement an arms embargo on the Libyan government. For this reason, there are agreements being sought to pass exceptional resolutions that would sanctions arms deals with fast approval.

The primary beneficiary of any arms deal would be Russia. The Libyan air force’s equipment is primarily Russian and Eastern European. Meanwhile, Britain and Italy could take the lead on restricting the army and police.

What Libya needs is not just mobilizing its army and police to fight against ISIS and similar groups. Help must also be extended to the government to get rid of militias and merge them into the national institutions, in addition to allowing the army and police to procure the right weaponry.

The national accord government will not be able to work as long as the militias refuse to hand over their weapons and be assimilated. The government will not function unless experienced political and administrative cadres are brought in. There is now an opportunity, provided that local, regional, and international decisions are combined to effect radical changes and launch a serious effort for institution-building in Libya. Stopping the bleeding may be the result of fatigue, but reconstruction needs more than tactical measures.

The Syrian issue needs more than one last paragraph. What is certain, however, is that the moment of truth is now challenging all sides to be honest with themselves and with others, but this is still elusive amid the quest for deals and amid wishful thinking. The main obstacle is the fate of Bashar al-Assad, and this is the key to a breakthrough in the transitional political process in Syria, which is supposed to culminate with presidential elections 18 months after the start of negotiations.

The onus of proving good intentions falls primarily on the duo Kerry and Lavrov, not Bashar al-Assad. Assad is clear in that he intends to fight the presidential battle even if atop the ruins of Syria. But others, especially the sponsors of the presumed political solution, are still hiding behind their fingers and dodging the issue.



A Blessing In Disguise

By Saad Al-Dosari

11 April 2016

There are two ways of looking at the events the Kingdom had to face last year or so — challenges that we had to stand up to and sail through or opportunities with promises of change and development. I would say that we’d selected the latter over the former.

In the political arena, we had to deal with the chaos beyond our borders. In Yemen and Syria, it was a direct involvement. The track of events in those two countries dictated such an action; things were getting out of hand threatening not only our borders, but also the stability of the entire region.

This turn of events was the first signal that Saudi Arabia is going through a transformational phase in its foreign policy; it is a new era in which the country is using its political, economical and military clout to seek the best for the country itself and its neighbourhood.

The direct intervention in Yemen and being part of the international coalition in Syria were meant to protect the Kingdom but also for the people of those countries. In a world where military interventions are usually frowned upon and looked at suspiciously, the step the Kingdom decided to take was a bit different. It was not an act of war, although it uses the same tools, it was more an act of “governance,” and I am here using the same term Michael Mandelbaum used in his book “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era” when he described the US foreign policy in the recent decades.

From the bits and pieces, I have read about the ideas in this books through the article written by Thomas Friedman in The New York Times about the book, I truly think that some of those ideas applies to Saudi Arabia more than the United States. However, the Kingdom is trying its best to help its interventions succeed by avoiding the traps the US had fallen into along the way. One of those traps or mistakes is uprooting the political institutions of the countries. That is why the whole operation in Yemen was carried out with the help of the elected government, and the situation in Syria is being dealt with through the international community and with an unbending insistence to remove the current political system that has ruined the country.

For that, while “The military missions that the United States undertook succeeded. It was the political missions that followed, the efforts to transform the politics of the places where American arms prevailed, that failed,” as said by Mandelbaum, Saudi Arabia is working to make both its military and political missions succeed.

The other clear sign of change in the country is happening in its economical arena. The drop in oil prices, although extremely challenging for a country that is dependent on oil, presented itself as a reminder that we needed to reshape our economy, to break free of our dependence on oil and try to find and exploit the potentials the country has in different areas. That is why we are witnessing and hearing a lot of new strategies and plans to facelift the Saudi economy.

This changing journey will come with its own price and lessons, we need to deal with them, to live through them, the journey is just starting. Along the way, we will need a lot of change in the mindsets as well, we need to change and grow as persons to cope with the changes the country is going through. It may start with the way we work and do business and won’t end with the way we raise our children.



Taking Saudi-Egypt Ties To New Heights

By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

11 April 2016

Visits of Saudi officials to Egypt or Egyptian officials to the Kingdom are a routine thing since the day King Abdul Aziz laid the foundations of modern-day Saudi Arabia.

However, in view of the current regional situation the ongoing visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to Egypt has gained historical importance.

Since the eruption of the so-called Arab Spring, almost the entire Arab world, including Egypt, has been facing immense problems.

It has been a very long time since the so-called Arab Spring took a hold in many countries and Egypt experienced the most chaotic period of its modern-day history. Egypt is a country with a lot of population and when things in Egypt start shaking for any reasons, then, the whole area is under threat. Saudi Arabia’s strategic relation with Egypt was seen and felt by the Egyptians for many years. Saudi Arabia stood by Egypt in many of its old time hardship. It was Saudi economic, military and investments in Egypt that had helped the country to come out of its many difficult times.

King Salman’s visit to Egypt has political, strategic and economic importance for both countries and the area. Both countries will benefit from the many strategic agreements that were singed by both King Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi that would strengthen the two countries alliance. These agreements include not only economic cooperation or investments, but will also be of strategic importance to Egypt and the area. One of the agreements was to expedite the development of Sinai Peninsula, which covers a very large area of Egypt, but is only the home of less than a million of the total Egyptian population of 90 million. It is an area that was lacking many basic developments and infrastructure. Most dangerously, Sinai became in the past few years a sanctuary of terrorist groups and outlaws. Saudi investments in Sinai will make it a very developed area with millions of Egyptians living there and thus easing the areas along the Nile River.

On the second day of the visit, King Salman announced the intention of building a bridge over the Red Sea. A connection between the two countries in the form of a bridge will definitely elevate the strategic bonding to new levels. The announcement came at a time when many analysts doubted the continuation of developments on the Egyptian side.

Just a few years ago, many politicians and analysts were forecasting economic woes and internal instability for Egypt, but it was Saudi Arabia’s siding with Egypt that gave many the hope and assurance of stability in Egypt. Saudi Arabia stood by Egypt during the many days of the Arab Spring, but, it was Saudi Arabia that took the lead to stand by Egypt and the Egyptians. And during that time, there was a political vacuum that could have resulted in more disturbances in the area and especially Egypt.

Saudi Arabia took many steps to help protect Egypt from the violent political unrest with massive financial aids and backing. This helped Egypt stand on its feet and stabilize its currency and get back the trust of the outside world.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt are both the main pillars of stability and prosperity in the region. Their strength might be a big factor in bringing peace and stability to the Middle East. The visit is a strong signal to any outside forces that might be willing to take advantage of the past political vacuum. Iran is one force that was challenging the area through its meddling into the internal affairs of some countries in the area. But, the Saudi and Egyptian strategic closeness will deter any outside forces from carrying out their evil designs in the area. Saudi Arabia stood by Egypt in the past and it will do in the future.

The visit by King Salman to Egypt will in the near future bring back stability in the region. And people in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the region and the world will remember King Salman, as the 5-day landmark visit is bound to change the geopolitical map of the Middle East