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Yemenis Have Not Lost Hope: New Age Islam's Selection, 27 April 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

27 April 2016

 Yemenis Have Not Lost Hope

By Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak

 New Developments Offer Hope For Syria Diplomacy

By Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

 The Egyptian State And Its Youth: Who Is Afraid Of Whom?

By Mohammed Nosseir

 Undermining Syrian Opposition

By Osama Al-Sharif

 Can Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Transform The Country?

By Joyce Karam

 Analyzing Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030

By Patrick Ryan

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Yemenis Have Not Lost Hope

By Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak

26 Apr 2016

I was heading to the Yemeni peace talks in Kuwait last week when I received a message from a young lady that read: "Please don't come back without peace."

Later, this demand became a trend on social media that Yemenis launched to demonstrate their need to end the war. It is about time that we Yemenis realised how much we have lost in this terrible war. People have been suffering in silence for more than a year now; some lost their lives, some lost their homes, some lost their prospects, but they didn't lose hope.

Yemen talks: Useful start or doomed to fail?

For hope, good faith and strong will is what brought us here. It is about time that we, Yemenis, realise how much we have lost and will lose if this war continues.

In a little over a year, this war has managed to unravel a massive humanitarian catastrophe. It killed thousands of people and forced roughly 1.5 million people to flee their homes and embark on a journey of misery and despair.

The vulnerable groups are the ones paying the heaviest price; women and children. Damages to infrastructure, water supply systems, health facilities, electricity and schools are beyond recognition and beyond any common sense.

A Golden Opportunity

The peace talks that commenced this week in Kuwait offer a golden opportunity for all parties to end the people's struggle and end the cirsis. This could be achieved by the return to the agreed mechanisms: the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, the National Dialogue outcomes and the UN Security Council Resolution 2216 (2015).

All of which have provided the guiding principles for the Yemeni transition and the restoration of a functioning state.

The peace talks that commenced this week in Kuwait offer a golden opportunity for all parties to end the people's struggle and end the crisis.

The Security Council Resolution laid out the plan for the new solution, namely an end to the use of violence, withdrawal of Houthi forces from all areas they have seized, including the capital Sanaa, relinquishing all arms seized from military and security institutions, including missile systems, halting all actions that are exclusively within the authority of the legitimate government of Yemen and the safe release of all political prisoners, and all individuals under house arrest or arbitrarily detained.

Before the coup that spiralled into a full-fledged war and triggered the regional intervention, Yemenis had come very close to successfully completing the political transition.

The constitution drafting process had completed its first phase by submitting a draft constitution to the national body which was supposed to convene and revise it.

The draft constitution was exclusively based on the National Dialogue outcomes. It included progressive texts on rights and freedoms and ground-breaking provisions for the reinforcement of democracy and good governance.

Indeed, it was a true victory for all the advocates of human rights and participatory and engaging government. The draft empowered women and the youth and set out guarantees to bring the government closer to the people through the federal system.

But this came to the dissatisfaction of certain parties that sought not to maintain the status quo, but to drag Yemen backwards and throw it in the abyss instead of fulfilling the people's aspirations for change.

Force and Intimidation

The Houthi movement was engaged in all the political processes since 2011 although it is not a formal party. Indeed, it had endorsed the outcomes like everyone else. But all of a sudden, it decided that an inclusive government was not its thing and a peaceful approach was not the means.

So it stormed the capital and forced the president to once again opt for peace and sign an agreement that gave Houthis a share in government and state institutions.

They didn't stop there and they continued to march south and west, conquering one province at a time until they swallowed half the country by force and intimidation.

Looking back at the choices the government of Yemen was forced to make to address this enormous predicament, it seems that it was left with no option but to act. The decision was to stop a bloodthirsty militia from undermining the state and suppressing rights and freedoms.

The decision was to prevent Yemen from sliding back half a century in time just to please a group that thought it had a divine right to rule. This is a group that had no problem blowing up homes, shelling heavily populated areas, kidnapping people, shutting down the media and putting cities under siege.

Nevertheless, the government continued to show willingness to engage in peaceful solutions. It sent high-level delegations to Switzerland in June 2015 and then again in December 2015. It was agreed that a number of confidence-building measures will be applied to pave the way for future talks.

These measures included the release of prisoners, the end of siege and the implementation of a ceasefire. Weeks and months went by and the Houthis/Saleh loyalists showed no sign of positivity.

Today, the Yemeni government goes to another round of dialogue without any true guarantees regarding the Houthis/Saleh positions. It goes armed with only good intentions and determination to end the people’s sufferings.

Many things have changed since the last round, including major developments on the ground in favour of the government, beside the successful military campaign against AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) in Lahj, Abyan and Al Mukalla.

There have been notable understandings on the borders between the Houthis and the Saudis that may mark the beginning of a series of other understandings.

The government is the Yemeni people's tool to achieve what they want.

An Elusive Peace

What does the government want? The government is the Yemeni people's tool to achieve what they want. It is the end of war, the safety and stability, the respect for human rights and the implementation of the National Dialogue outcomes.

We can't afford to let the people down once again. But we can't also afford to trick them with an elusive peace or an unfair settlement. For that, we need guarantees that whatever is agreed in Kuwait will be implemented fully and comprehensively.

We also need to reach a comprehensive negotiated agreement on a number of issues, listed in the UNSCR 2216, in the correct sequence so as to prevent the process from collapsing because of delays or poorly planned transition.

If these peace talks ended with an agreement on a future plan, Yemenis will still have much work to do. Internally, the Yemeni communities will need to learn how to forgive and move forward.

The damage to the social fabric has been unprecedented, so the healing process will take time and we hope it won't consume Yemenis and frustrate them even more. There is, of course, the reconstruction and recovery processes that will require the support of our friends in the international community.

With hindsight, Yemen could have been spared all this misery if armed groups weren't blinded by their greed and ego. Yemen is a beautiful country that deserves a strong, responsive and inclusive government - and that is what we will always work for.



New Developments Offer Hope for Syria Diplomacy

By Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

26 April 2016

The Syrian conflict has not only ruined the country, killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions, but also fueled regional sectarian and ethnic tensions to unprecedented levels.

It would be difficult for peace talks to succeed without the backing of Saudi Arabia and Iran, yet there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries, which are involved in the Syrian conflict.

Meanwhile, last week US President Barack Obama visited Saudi Arabia to meet with Gulf leaders, and Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in New York during a UN climate-change summit.

Iran has complained of difficulties regarding implementation of the nuclear deal and access to the international banking system to encourage foreign investors.

“We do not stand in the way of foreign banks engaging with Iranian banks and companies,” Kerry said on Friday.

After Obama’s meeting with Gulf leaders last week, it is now possible for Iran and Saudi Arabia “to sit down at the table” and break the ice

If his statement helps Iran’s economy, that may help in finding a solution to the Syrian conflict and the future of President Bashar al-Assad.

Assad’s Fate

On Saturday, Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said Tehran had offered Assad’s family asylum in Iran, but Assad “declined,” saying his family “is like the rest of Syrian families and will remain in Damascus.”

This offer signifies important political changes in Iran and Syria, and that the Geneva talks can continue.

The Syrian opposition participated in the talks reluctantly, and based on their consultations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

If Obama’s visit last week satisfied his Gulf allies, Assad’s inclusion in a transitional government should not be a problem.

Obama told the BBC on Saturday that with just nine months left of his presidency he did not think the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) would be defeated.

However, he said the international community must continue to pressure all parties - including Russia, Iran and moderate opposition groups - “to sit down at the table and try to broker a transition.”

After Obama’s meeting with Gulf leaders last week, it is now possible for Iran and Saudi Arabia “to sit down at the table” and break the ice.



The Egyptian State And Its Youth: Who Is Afraid Of Whom?

By Mohammed Nosseir

27 April 2016

Power certainly strengthens entities and, consequently, people. Illegitimate strength, however, is not sustainable. This is what Egyptians should have learnt in the course of their genuine attempt to revolt against the autocratic regime on January 25, 2011. Once they had come together, the accumulation of tiny, weak cells (individual citizens) was able to break the power of the state, built over decades.

They define themselves as statesmen, persons who are willing to serve their country to the best of their knowledge. In reality however, because they have been ruled by the same regime for decades, Egyptians have come to confuse the regime’s politicians with state entities and authorities that are supposed to function independently of the ruling regime. On the other hand, Egyptian youngsters, who often proudly call themselves “the kids”, represent the large segment of society that has always been ruled by senior citizens (who only leave their positions upon their deaths).

The Egyptian state, in my view, has been notorious for its power that, in the absence of the proper application of rule of law, it uses only to serve its affiliates – and to demolish its opponents. Meanwhile, the youth, who benefit from greater international exposure, have been struggling to bring their ideas forward and to capitalize on their energies to modernize their country. These qualities are not really recognized by the state, which accuses the youth of importing western values that will defile our country and insists on using its outdated mentality to overcome challenges facing the nation.

The state believes that to remain united and strong, it needs to expand its muscle by acquiring more weapons, adopting harsher measures against protestors and inciting Egyptian citizens against their young

Our youngsters have been subject to state manipulation for decades. Their ideas have not been paid attention to; their energy has been used to serve the ruling class as they have watched the country deteriorate further. The state came to realize the power of youth only for a few weeks when they attempted to bring the country to revolt on January 25, 2011. At that time, the state, which has made a habit of scaring the society, was forced to flee the streets occupied by the youth. The state’s worst nightmare is the youth taking to the streets again.

Even as the youth demanded dignity, the events of 25 January damaged the state’s pride. Accusing a number of foreign countries of being behind the events of the day serves to soften the impact of the revolution on the state. The state believes that to remain united and strong, it needs to expand its muscle by acquiring more weapons, adopting harsher measures against protestors and inciting Egyptian citizens against their young. Meanwhile, the powerless youth are holding fast to their single, effective tool: thinking about when they will manage to protest against the state again.

Political Immaturity?

Egypt is currently in a state of complete political immaturity. The state doesn’t want to understand that it will never be able to bring back its repressive policies and manipulate its youth as it used to in the old days; the old tricks it used to employ to handle the youth have become obsolete. One example is the meetings between the president, and his affiliates, to which young people were invited. They had completely different demands (even though they were not allowed to express their opinions at the meetings). It was a kind of monologue that only strengthened the prejudice.

President el-Sisi is continuously warning Egyptians against the “Evil People” i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood. Now an outlawed organization, with thousands of its leaders facing prosecution in Egyptian courts, the Muslim Brotherhood today doesn’t represent a real threat to the state. The Brotherhood will make a deal with the state eventually – leaving the president and the state to face the real challenge of how to deal with the youth.

The Egyptian state is growing old and weak, but its egoism is preventing it from releasing this fact. The state’s current invulnerability could be broken at anytime. If it were politically mature enough, the state would work on integrating our youth’s ideas and energies into its political mechanism, with the aim of modernizing Egypt.

Reforming the state is our best option, but it is not the one foreseen by the state. This step might lead to discarding the current ruling regime, but it will develop and enhance the functionality of state entities and authorities. The alternative is the collapse of the state, the scariest scenario – and the one that, gradually and contentedly, we are moving towards.



Undermining Syrian Opposition

By Osama Al-Sharif

 27 April 2016

It is not surprising that the Geneva peace talks on Syria are on the brink of collapse following the opposition’s suspension of its participation and the regime’s refusal to discuss a transitional ruling authority with full powers.

From the outset it was clear that the Damascus delegation was not going to negotiate any proposal that would diminish the powers of President Bashar Assad or replace him entirely. This is something that UN envoy Staffan de Mistura never acknowledged. All his efforts to extend the lifespan of the talks were founder over this particular issue.

One reason why the regime is playing hardball is that it feels it is no longer under international pressure to give in on any point. The US has allowed Russia to lead on the issue of finding a political solution to the complex Syrian conflict.

President Obama made it clear that he does not favor a military intervention in Syria to topple Assad nor is he supporting a proposal to establish safe zones for displaced people on Syrian territory. His only goal now is to intensify military efforts to defeat Daesh; thus his decision to beef up Special Forces deployed in Syria.

And when it comes to Russia its goals and objectives have little to do with reaching a political deal that would end Assad’s rule and allow the opposition to take over. For one Moscow would like to see the Riyadh-based Syrian opposition alliance, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), weakened and replaced by the so-called Moscow and Cairo opposition groups, which include Syria’s Kurds and individuals who are more willing to cooperate with the regime. Discrediting the opposition will derail the current round of talks. Moscow continues to claim that the factions that make up the HNC include radical groups who are ideologically close to Al-Nusra Front.

Meanwhile, the fragile truce has already crumbled with the regime focusing its military operations in Aleppo and its surroundings.

Cutting off this important city from vital supply routes through Turkey will accelerate the process of its recapture. If and when this happens the regime would emerge more confident of imposing a de facto military solution. Russia’s military support of the regime has not waned even after Moscow’s surprise decision, last March, to wind down its operations in Syria.

The breakup of the HNC will be seen as a major victory for the regime and its allies. If the opposition does not return to Geneva soon, internal divisions will spread and Moscow’s argument that other opposition groups are ready to replace it will be proven right. The HNC’s choices are difficult; it will have to give up on one key condition, which is the fate of Assad, if it wants to remain relevant, but if it does just that it risks imploding from within, which will allow Moscow to offer a replacement.

Even though Obama has cast doubts over President Putin’s real intentions in Syria, he has failed to offer his Arab and western allies a clear view of what should be done to end the five-year civil war. Washington’s commitment to supporting the so-called moderate rebel groups is being questioned, giving the Russian-backed regime forces the opportunity to retake additional territory in recent weeks.

For the HNC the US position is baffling. While Washington says that there is no role for Assad in Syria’s future, its position is ambiguous over his function in the proposed transitional phase. This is one reason that the HNC is frustrated with the US and is suspicious of Washington’s understandings with Moscow on Syria.

And while the regime continues to enjoy Russian military support as it advances toward Aleppo, moderate rebel groups complain that they are severely under equipped. Again US military support of opposition groups appears to have stopped altogether, in contrast to what it is giving to Syrian Kurds who are fighting Daesh.

With Russia dictating the pace of the political process while boosting the regime’s chances on the ground, it seems inevitable that the Geneva talks will shut down soon. Moscow will blame the HNC and is likely to offer substitutes who are willing to accept a formula that does not exclude Assad and his regime from a political solution. This is now the most likely scenario and it is not far-fetched that Washington will tag along.

With the US abandoning the Syrian opposition it is difficult to see how it can hold together politically. Those who belong to armed groups, like Jaish Al- Islam and Ahrar Al-Sham, will be targeted by the regime and Russian jets and the areas they control will eventually be recaptured. Moscow’s intervention in Syria, while criticized by the Americans, appears to be achieving its objectives for now. But the cost for the Syrian people will be devastating and in the words of Tacitus “they make desolation and they call it peace.”



Can Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Transform The Country?

By Joyce Karam

26 April 2016

For Saudi watchers, the new plan “Vision 2030” is the most radical economic news coming from the country since the establishment of Aramco in 1933. However, its trajectory reverses the old economic pillars of the oil boom days, promising to rid the country of the petroleum dependency, while cutting subsidies and boosting the middle class.

Spearheading the plan and Saudi’s ambitious transformation is its youngest Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who since assuming his responsibilities in January 2015 has surprised policymakers in regional and Western capitals.

Foreign diplomats in Riyadh call him “Mr Everything” because of his large portfolio that includes the ministry of defence, the royal court and as chairman of the Council for Economic and Development affairs. Those who know and have worked with Prince Salman, describe him as "a bold thinker, a strong conversationalist and a very meticulous leader”.

Even before becoming the first of the Grandsons to assume the third most powerful position in the country, the 31-year-old has been a crucial aide to his father King Salman. He accompanied the King since age 17, and helped in both getting the family and the government priorities in order, angering and clashing at times with traditionalists and big spenders.

Ambitious And Workaholic

Other than his young age, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince’s approach to governance and openness to the media signal a break with the more cautious style of his predecessors. In the last six months alone, Prince Salman granted two lengthy interviews to The Economist and Bloomberg, and he gave an unprecedented 48 minutes televised interview to Al-Arabiya. Those who follow Saudi politics closely will pick up immediately on the more open and direct tone by the Deputy Crown Prince in speaking to both the Saudi public and the West.

In the three interviews, Prince Salman comes across as a detail-oriented planner who exhibits the knowledge and understanding of the economic changes, albeit unpopular, that Saudi Arabia should undertake.

His 16-hour working regimen, and surrounding himself with top tier economic experts and advisers who include the Secretary General of Public Investment Fund, Abdul Rahman Al-Mufdhi, is driving a sense of optimism in his agenda inside the country. A US visitor who met the Prince in Riyadh recently, described him as “great conversationalist, very smart and with a strong work ethic.”

Those who know and have worked with Prince Salman describe him as "a bold thinker, a strong conversationalist and a very meticulous leader”

In his Al-Arabiya interview, there is an embrace of big ideas that challenge economic old taboos in Saudi Arabia. A primary example is in Prince Salman’s pledge for transparency in the process of converting Saudi Aramco into a holding company, guaranteeing that all the financial information will be disclosed and that the new board will be elected.

“In this day and age, no country can afford to not be transparent”, Prince Salman (also known as MBS) told Al-Arabiya while decrying the “oil addiction” that Saudi has developed over the last century.

MBS’ message also takes note of the demographic changes in Saudi Arabia, with almost 51 percent of the population under the age of 25. Creating job opportunities and reforming the subsidies system, while leveling the field for women are echoed in his Bloomberg interview. Coming on the heels of a cabinet decision to reform and outline the powers of religious police, this new plan points in the direction of incremental changes in the country.

Pragmatic on Foreign Policy

In his meetings with US officials and Arab dignitaries in the last year, there is a strong impression that the Saudi deputy Crown Prince is “a good listener”, and not wed to ideological thinking or dogma in the foreign policy discussions.

He has a close working relationship with the United Arab Emirates, and has prioritized strategic long-term interest over current differences, as seen in his latest visit to Sochi where he met Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a more regional context, the new Saudi leadership has shown more signs of pragmatism in approaching the Muslim Brotherhood for example than the former leadership, while displaying a more hawkish stance against Iran.

Saudi officials see the war in Yemen as a direct response to a national security threat from Iran on their country’s border. In Syria as well, Riyadh is focused on the growing Iranian influence in the conflict. Over the course of his 16 months in office, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Salman has attempted to restructure Riyadh’s foreign spending.

There is a new pivot to Africa, peeling off Sudan from the Iranian axis, and drawing plans to open a military base in Djibouti. This is paralleled by scrapping funds to Lebanon and applying more political and economic pressure on Hezbollah.

Saudi’s 2030 vision and Prince Salman’s big ideas come at a critical juncture for Saudi Arabia. His success could turn him into Saudi’s Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese leader who transformed his country’s economy in the eighties, and helped turn China into the global giant that it is today.


Analyzing Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030

By Patrick Ryan

26 April 2016

It may be a case of, “Gentlemen, we have run out of money; it’s time to start thinking,” variously attributed to Winston Churchill and physicist Ernest Rutherford, but the need to reform Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy has actually been the subject of “thinking” for decades.

Thirty years ago the Fourth five-year development plan started the emphasis on boosting private sector growth and industrial sector efficiency. Twenty years later the Eighth plan added emphasis on foreign investment and renewed attention on Saudi human capital. While economic reforms in that era yielded results the current circumstances call for new, bolder action.

A December report from McKinsey, a leading consultancy to the government, noted the economy was at an “inflection point” following a decade of oil fuelled prosperity. “We see a real opportunity for the country to inject new dynamism into its economy through a productivity and investment-led transformation that could help ensure future growth, employment, and prosperity.”

The formal announcement of Saudi Vision 2030 heralded a dramatic retooling of the Saudi government’s objectives not only in the economy but also in social circles. The plan, approved at Monday’s Cabinet meeting, chaired by King Salman, will be implemented by the Council of Economic Development Affairs (CEDA), headed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The size and scope of the “Saudi Arabia Vision 2030” will require more study and feedback from those sectors directly affected by its provisions but one can expect there will be no shortage of strong opinions

Prince Mohammed has signalled elements of the Saudi Vision 2030 for months including expansive high profile interviews with The Economist and Bloomberg earlier this year and a first-ever television appearance with Al Arabiya News Channel on the occasion of the announcement. In the interview he said, “The ‘Vision’ doesn’t require high-spending but restructuring.”

A roadmap called the National Transformation Plan, a component of the “Vision 2030” is expected for release in coming weeks with more details on the initial phase.

New Approach

The restructuring, as described by Prince Mohammed, will include privatization of state assets – most notably an IPO for as much as 5 percent of Saudi Aramco, expansion of the Public Investment Fund to a goal of $2 trillion to serve as a holding company, slowing and in some cases redirecting subsidies, liberalization to attract foreign investors, improving economic efficiencies and attacking wasteful spending, and spurring expansion of the private sector.

The Vision 2030 is more than a roadmap for economic transformation as were earlier plans for commercial activities. In addition to marquee plans like the $2 trillion investment fund and multi-sector privatization like the Saudi Aramco IPO, the goals include broad social targets.

The Vision notes, “Our goal is to promote and reinvigorate social development in order to build a strong and productive society.” It addresses a wide swath such as education, healthcare, urban development, pride in Saudi “identity” and focus on Islamic roots, tourism, culture and entertainment, healthy lifestyles, promotion of family life and children’s character, modernized social welfare, spurring SME capabilities, empowering women, rehabilitating economic cities and more.

Supportive Population

The vision includes both generalized objectives and specific goals. The comments on women’s empowerment are indistinct, saying only that the “Vision” will “enable them to strengthen their future and contribute to the development of our society and economy.” The 2030 goals in other areas get very specific, for example, in the area of leisure activities: “To increase the ratio of individuals exercising at least once a week from 13 percent of population to 40 percent.”

In addition to the wider range of goals the “Vision 2030” offers a new approach in that CEDA will head the implementation rather than individual ministries each with a narrower focus. It also comes at a time when a wider segment of the population is supportive of transformation as the country faces a confluence of challenges. However, there will be resistance from conservative quarters.

The size and scope of the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 will require more study and feedback from those sectors directly affected by its provisions but one can expect there will be no shortage of strong opinions given the expansiveness of its provisions. There will be both support and acrimony expressed by differing communities.

Some will see it as timely and a necessary action by the government to address economic and social needs, as well as pushback from those whose core interests will be impacted by liberalization and modernization.

The Saudi Vision 2030 offers a roadmap that may not be new thinking in terms of the need for transformation but its extraordinary and wide-ranging objectives provide reform initiatives on a much grander scale than anything before and foretells a different future for Saudi Arabia.