New Age Islam Edit Bureau
09 February 2016
Yemen Revolution: 'Our dream was sold'
By Atiaf Alwazir
Geneva talks died when Russia entered the war
By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
Saudi-led troops to Syria — why not?
By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
Syria continues to bleed
By Linda S. Heard
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Yemen Revolution: 'Our Dream Was Sold'
By Atiaf Alwazir
08 Feb 2016
This is the season for nostalgia for a time when we once stood together, different people with one cause, armed with nothing but our sheer numbers. If I close my eyes I can still see people clapping to the tune of 'The people want an end to the regime'.
There are as many reasons as there are players that led us astray. Yet, the role of regional and international powers is often missing from the discussion. If you thought regional and international interventions began in March 2014, you haven't been paying attention.
Of course this does not mean that the sole problem lies outside Yemen. Yet, the international community needs to stop pretending it does not have anything to do with how we got here, or how its policies helped exacerbate the situation.
In November 2011, the European Union delegation and the G10 diplomatic group, composed of the five permanent UN Security members and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, sponsored a power-transfer deal.
The GCC initiative was signed by President Ali Abdullah Saleh at a ceremony in Riyadh. It involved the transfer of his powers to his vice-president Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi in return for immunity from prosecution.
In the name of pragmatism, our dream was sold. In the name of security, justice was forgotten. The people in the streets were excluded from the negotiations and hence this agreement fell short of the comprehensive changes they were demanding and mass protests continued.
President Hadi came to power in a one-man "election" that cost $5m in a country where at the time more than 10 million people were going hungry - since March 2014 that number has risen to 13 million.
Although this "election" was legal, it was hardly legitimate. Some groups including the Houthis and the Southern Movement boycotted the vote. A national unity government was then created, evenly divided between the formal opposition alliance - many of whom were part of Saleh's inner circle - and the ruling party.
In Yemen, there is a side that is focused on winning battles, but there is also a side that is focused on winning life.
The G10 countries informally assigned themselves the role of "facilitators of the GCC Initiative". For example, the French were to lead work on constitutional reform, and the Americans on security and military restructuring.
Some Yemenis expressed concern that "external actors taking on these roles might bring their own particular preconceptions to bear".
On paper, the UN-supervised National Dialogue Conference (NDC) was a good step; yet, the government appeared to be more concerned about winning the favours of the international actors than serving its own citizens. A week before the heavily financed NDC convened, I asked a woman in a village near the city of Hodeida: "What do you think of the National Dialogue?" I was met by a blank stare.
I proceeded to tell her about the NDC, and then asked her which priorities she hoped would be discussed. "Our stomach," she replied. "We are hungry and we need jobs." The perspectives of these ordinary Yemenis were not included in the process, and hence a new social contract for Yemen could not take place.
In addition, prior to the start of the NDC, the technical committee recommended the implementation of '20 points' that were meant to rebuild trust between groups that were previously in conflict with the government. Yet even after the end of the NDC, only a few of these points had been implemented.
"We once stood together, different people with one cause, armed with nothing but our sheer numbers" [EPA/YAHYA ARHAB/EPA]
Since no trust mechanisms were applied, mistrust and old rivalries resurfaced. Confrontations in the north turned violent.
Due to the insistence that the Yemen model was a success, NDC sponsors turned a blind eye to what was happening outside the conference halls.
After months of deliberations, Hadi extended his own tenure without an election and suddenly announced a federal system with six regions, with no consensus among NDC members or any decision in support of the move.
In July 2014, the government complied with the demands of the International Monetary Fund and lifted all fuel subsidies, increasing prices by between 60 and 90 percent overnight without notice and with no measures to ease the shock. Spontaneous protests erupted. Different groups, including the Houthis, capitalised on these grievances and recruited more members.
Houthi fighters extended their territorial control, and in September 2014 took over Sanaa after days of clashes. A new UN-sponsored agreement was not honoured leading to a series of escalations that culminated in Hadi's exile to Riyadh, the same city that once played host to Saleh.
Hadi, as well the international community, used the pretext of "legitimacy", just as Saleh had used the pretext of "constitutional legitimacy" in 2011, to attack protesters.
Today, war is being waged on Yemen by the same countries that protected Saleh and gave him his last life-line. The regional struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran has also played out in the tussle for influential in Yemen. Given the complexity of countries and agendas involved, more conflict is likely to happen.
So, while parts of the country are ravaged by a civil war, the greater war is clearly not just between two Yemeni sides as the mainstream narrative suggests.
Today, Yemeni civilians bear the brunt of a vicious war, with 8,000 civilians killed, thousands displaced, and millions suffering from blockades. This, in a country where wheat imports dependency is about 95 percent. It is essentially a death sentence on an entire population.
Before the war, anti-depressant pills were sold in great numbers. With no hope, no change in their employment status, no accountability, corruption on the rise, and a humanitarian disaster, many even took their own lives.
In 2012, the Ministry of Interior published a report citing a dramatic increase in suicide rates, especially among 18 to 35-year-olds. This has only increased with time. The war, of course, exacerbated this situation and led to Yemen becoming the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Nevertheless, despite this awful reality, my father, a man in his 80s who has experienced wars and imprisonment, still has hope.
In Yemen, there is a side that is focused on winning battles, but there is also a side that is focused on winning life. Yemen has had many conflicts throughout its history, but it has also possessed exceptional political and social survival and negotiation skills. If left alone, we would thrive.
Atiaf Alwazir is a Yemeni researcher
Geneva Talks Died When Russia Entered The War
By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
8 February 2016
The Geneva Peace Talks for Syria have been suspended. And by the looks of it, they will never open again. The representatives of the rebels are pulling out of the talks and are trying to use this as leverage to get the West re-engaged. At this point it is the best they can do.
However, it would be a mistake to think that it is the rebels that are scuppering the peace talks. The peace talks died the moment Russia entered the war last year – if indeed they were ever alive to begin with. With the recent ground developments, where the Assad forces – mostly on the back of the Russian war effort – are overturning the rebels on virtually every front and are getting ready to retake Aleppo. Everyone at this point knows that the notion of negotiations is dead.
Whatever happens, more massacres seem likely to follow. There is no reason at all to suppose that Assad will be magnanimous in victory. And let us not forget that he remains responsible for the most civilian deaths in this conflict by far.
In order to have successful negotiations, both parties need to have an incentive to get around the table and make a deal. Three years ago, before the rise of ISIS and when the Assad forces looked overwhelmed, it was the rebels and the West who saw no need for negotiations. Now it is Assad and the Russians. The rebels do not have the fire and manpower to win this, and the West no longer has the stomach to back them properly.
But Assad and the Russians seem bent on finishing this, and doing so quickly.
In this situation, the opposition knows it is doomed, unless they can find some way to get the West back on board. The attempt to draw attention to their grievances by withdrawing from the talks is feeble. Realistically, it was never going to work. But it probably is all they could have done.
Target: Assad or ISIS?
The West it seems has finally decided that ISIS is their top target and that it is willing to tolerate Assad if that is what they must do to finally destroy the group in the Levant. Or at the very least, they are not willing to risk direct fighting with Russia to topple Assad. So Assad will get to stay. And if Assad stays, the fighting will continue for as long as there are Sunni fighters left.
The situation is thus truly dire. One can even ask what will happen to these fighters once the rebel strongholds are overrun by government forces. Will they surrender? Will they flee? Maybe even to Europe, with the rest of the wave of refugees? Or will they join the ranks of ISIS?
Whatever happens, more massacres seem likely to follow. There is no reason at all to suppose that Assad will be magnanimous in victory. And let us not forget that he remains responsible for the most civilian deaths in this conflict by far. He will be keen to make sure that the spirit of the population in the re-conquered areas is well and truly broken. But even though the humanitarian situation will likely go from catastrophic to even worse, the whole thing will very like be whitewashed.
Once Assad manages to get rid of the Free Syrian Army – his biggest obstacle – he will then, at long last, turn his guns on ISIS.
As he does so, a massive propaganda campaign will follow, especially in sympathetic foreign media (think Russia Today), where he will be presented as having fought ISIS all along and as the only actor in this conflict who can now protect all the minorities (so long as they are not Sunni), defeat ISIS and keep the country as a single, unified state.
The West will have to find creative ways to disguise their shame and embarrassment, so we can expect a lot of “this is all very regrettable, but at least this is better than ISIS” arguments from our leaders. And the rest of us will have to continue to read about body counts and be bombarded by news of the European migration crisis, presented, of course, as a separate issue to the conflict.
Azeem Ibrahim is an RAI Fellow at Mansfield College, University of Oxford and Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim
Saudi-Led Troops To Syria — Why Not?
By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
Feb 9, 2016
Walid Al-Moallem, Syrian regime’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, had warned Saudi Arabia against sending ground troops to fight Daesh in Syria without getting a permission from the “Syrian government,” first. He regarded any unauthorized military presence as an invasion and promised to send the Saudi soldiers home in “wooden coffins.”
Mohammad Ali Jaffari, Iran’s head of the Revolutionary Guard, showed more sympathy! He advised the Saudis that any such intervention would be suicidal, especially because Saudis haven’t finished their war in Yemen, yet! He expressed doubt about the Saudi ability’s to tilt the balance in terms of the Syrian army’s advances on all fronts, claiming that the Saudis are not “brave enough,” to follow through with their aggressive rhetoric.
“Their troops will be wiped out in Syria if they dare to invade the country,” he asserted, and “professionally” explained, “They have a classic army, and history tells us such armies stand no chance in fighting irregular resistance forces,” predicting that “their fate is sealed.”
I told the Al-Hurra TV interviewer that such statements amaze me. You wonder if Iran and the Syrian regime have suddenly become so concerned for the safety of Saudi soldiers, or their concern is exclusive for the wellbeing of Daesh. Since both, Al-Moallem and Jaffari, are wishing us hell, and promising to send us back in coffins, it could only be the care for Daesh.
This begs the question: Both countries, and Russia, are “supposedly” sworn enemies of Daesh. They have been fighting it for years, with no success. If that was the case, they should be appreciative for any help, even from “enemies.” But they are not at all happy! Why not?
It becomes more interesting when we consider that Saudis are fighting Daesh in Syria with the US-led International alliance. The Americans, French, Kurds and Turks have already sent ground troops — if limited — to support the aerial campaign. In addition, the Iranians and Russians, in addition to Lebanese, Pakistani, Afghani, Iraqi and other Shia militias have been joining the fight with and without the regime permission.
The other camp (Daesh and Al-Qaeda) is inviting foreign fighters from all over the world — without a visa!
Still, Al-Moallem could only point out his Sunni Muslim neighbours, the Saudis and Turks, for trespassing! Why?
If Syria, is truly concerned about its sensitive Arab dignity and national sovereignty, how come his allied foreigners are calling the shots in Syria — representing it in negotiation, fighting on its behalf and running the government business? If non-Muslim Russians and non-Arab, non-Sunni Iranians, Pakistanis and Afghanis, who are not even neighbours, are welcome to do so, why can’t Arabs and Sunni Muslims offer help in fighting a “common enemy”?
Besides, parts of Syria that the international alliance is working on are not under the Syrian regime control! In fact only 14% is under Bashar’s administration; the rest is either under Daesh, the Kurds or the opposition groups.
It is clear that the main concern of the Farsi-Russo axis is protecting its “illegitimate child” — “Daesh-Al-Qaeda” monster. They never fought each other, or Israel, because the monster’s real purpose is to give a pretext for axis intervention! By linking Sunni Islam with terrorism, and confusing the Syrian resistance with the terrorists, the regime and its masters could claim legitimacy and purpose.
The Yemeni government with the support of the Saudi-led alliance is winning in Yemen. A year ago, it was the other way around. The militia was on the verge of capturing Aden. Today, Sanaa is on the verge of being returned to the legitimate government.
More than 90 percent of Yemen is now under President Hadi’s rule. The development and rebuilding of the country has already started with the help of neighbouring Gulf States. That is more of a success than what NATO could claim in Afghanistan, the US in Iraq and the International Alliance in Syria.
With such track record, Saudi Arabia and allies could go on with a good chance of success to fight terrorism in Syria. They suffered a great deal and had enough of terrorists. Daesh and Al-Qaeda had never attacked Iran, Russia, Israel or Bashar’s regime. In fact, Al-Qaeda headquarters have been based in Iran since 2002. Before and after, they have attacked Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries repeatedly.
With or without the “axis of evil” permission, the world community will come together strong and united. Whether the “mothership” of terrorism (Iran) likes it or not, the international community will take the fight from its backyard to that of Daesh.
Once the cover is blown, the terrorist group’s sponsors will find it hard to explain their annihilation of civilians. The world attention would focus then on their criminality and demand they stop and leave. Only then would Syria be clean and free for Syrians.
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah
Syria Continues To Bleed
By Linda S. Heard
9 February 2016
Like a neglected cancer that could have been cured had it been caught in its early stages, Syria has been abandoned to destruction; an entire traumatized generation is bereft of mothers, fathers, siblings and proper education.
Almost half the population forced to leave their homes and possessions. This is the worst human catastrophe since the evils of World War II, yet apart from dropping bombs, the world has done little to quell this madness.
Mistake after mistake on the part of the international community, combined with a lack of will to rescue the Syrian people from regime barrel bombs, the bestiality of terrorism and starvation, is responsible for the impasse existing now.
The so-called superpower hesitated for too long and, although it was well known that air strikes alone can’t cut it, the use of ground forces was off the table and remains so. The United Nations could only drag the unwilling to useless conferences without result.
Europe only woke up to the tragedy when hundreds of thousands desperate Syrians inconveniently fled to its shores and only now it’s prepared to fork out billions of Euros to countries hosting refugees on condition they stem the flow while threatening to close its borders to Greece, which cannot hope to cope with the needs of asylum seekers given its own economic woes and austerity cuts that have triggered social unrest.
And those poor Syrians who’ve braved every obstacle in the hope of finding a life worth living are being treated as unwelcome pariahs under suspicion of being terrorists or rapists in countries where the far right are gaining traction.
What remains of their homeland is a country torn and bleeding; its cities besieged, entire areas turned into rubble. Historic sites that have stood for thousands of years, no longer exist. Thousands of Syrian toddlers lost to the Mediterranean; millions under canvas in neighboring countries doing their best to scratch a living and keep themselves warm during a cruel winter, while hungry families send their children to beg in the cities of Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon where they are sometimes targeted by predators while their fathers and brothers are sporadically hired as cheap labor.
Let’s not kid ourselves that there are any actors wearing halos. The regime has one goal, which is to remain intact and in charge at all costs. The Takfiri militants, including Daesh, are out to create a caliphate where minorities will face oppression. Both sides have committed atrocities; both have the blood of innocents on their hands.
And now, what began five years ago as a budding “Arab Spring” revolution, which over time morphed into a civil war, has transformed into a proxy battleground for the Russian and American camps. Topping this hierarchy are geopolitical interests.
Neither side is willing to work together for the sake of the Syrian people. Instead, they flex their muscles and issue threats as the Doomsday clock ticks closer to midnight. Forget useless attempts to forge an understanding between elements of the regime and the political opposition. The keys to ending this mess rest with Moscow and Washington because as long as they pull apart in opposing directions and provide weapons to their proxies on the ground nothing will be gained.
They are the most military powerful players and the ones with the most influence.
If they can’t or won’t settle their differences and reach an accommodation how do they expect the parties directly involved in the conflict to come together? This terrible state of affairs has gone beyond winners and losers.
There are no winners. Just ask the parents of those drowned babies washed up on a Turkish beach or those who’ve watched helplessly as their once smiling kids waste away to bones before their eyes. Ask the wives whose husbands were burned alive or forced by Daesh to sit on bombs before they were detonated or the young women whose honor was brutally robbed by monsters hiding their crimes against humanity behind their own warped version of religion.
There are no perfect outcomes either. The day when the bombs stop falling and the weapons are put down will be just the first rung on the ladder toward healing minds and rebuilding this stricken land, a process that will take many decades.
It’s a day that can’t come soon enough but as long those countries who truly can make a difference continue to bicker, it will remain a distant vision.