The history of humanity is, in essence, the history of wars, peace agreements, balances of power, and cycles of wars. Every time any protagonist attempted to achieve hegemony, other protagonists strove to prevent him from reaching that objective by adopting a policy of balancing through retaliation and alliances.
In the course of these struggles over hegemony, unipolar, a bi-polar or multi-polar international system crystallized, and this was determining factor for the shaping of the existing political borders and establishment of the present-day sovereign political entities.
However, Neil Ferguson (Foreign Policy, May-June, 2004) raises an important question: can international relations move towards an era in which there are no hegemonies and there is no balance of power? Does nature acknowledge a phenomenon of imbalance? And if so, what are the operative ramifications of that reality in an era of active transnational protagonists possessing radical world perspectives, and seeking to create a different international reality, as is the case with the Apocalyptic Islamic Global Jihad Groups.
Why is a possibility that an era of non-hegemony liable to develop?
The Weakness of the United States. Three impending crises undermining the United States ability to lead the free world: legitimacy, economic pressures, and isolationism. Our reality is characterized with hatred of the rich and the powerful, and the United States is afflicted with both of those, which manifests itself in profound hostility from both allies and enemies.
The problem with the US is that is seeks to establish a world order based on liberal-democratic regimes and by elimination authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. This has become a belief system, almost a religion. The US deeply believes this approach will facilitate moderation, promote freedom, and prevent wars.
However, the US is faced with external economic dependency; internal pressures for isolationism; and an attrition of its military might. It possesses enormous power but lacks the legitimacy to exercise it around the world. In that respect, Rousseau was right: “The powerful will never be powerful enough to sustain its domination unless he transforms power into a right and obedience into an obligation”. The US lacks both.
Bruce Bauer, in his “To Hate America,” claims that anti-Americanism is a chronic enmity. Studies indicate that it is not significant in Asia and Africa; more significant in South America and Europe and very significant in the Islamic countries. Lee Harris (Policy Review, December, 2002), notes that hatred of America is absolute anti-Americanism. To oppose America means to be on “the right and just side of history”. Hatred of America has become the “opiate of the intellectuals”.
Fareed Zakaria (Foreign Policy, September-October, 2004) stresses that in the post-modernist, which is a post-ideological era, anti-Americanism has become an extremely powerful trend, more powerful than any other country in history and that arouses extreme antagonism against it. However, a world in which the US will not take a global role is a world lacking a unifying adhesive political stability and unable to deal with the new dangers posed by the Apocalyptic Islamic Global Jihad Groups, a world of outlaw nations and pervasive violence.
Fuad Ajami deals with the fallaciousness of anti-Americanism. Everyone seeks to imitate America, but at the same time hate America. The most outstanding example is Saudi Arabia. Its policy expresses harsh anti-Americanism, though it depends on the US security belt and military umbrella. Saudi-Arabia is busy with an intensive active policy to spread its Wahhabi-Hanbali version of Islam around the world, by spending many billions of dollars, and at the same time, it pays other billions of dollars as “protection” money to Islamic organizations and terrorist groups around the world.
Bernard Lewis formulated this attitude regarding to the Arab-Islamic political culture: on the one side, an admiration and the desire to imitate the progressive West, but on the other, hatred and hostility.
The Decline of Europe. Evidence show clearly that Europe is old, multinational and multicultural, and in a fast process of collapse. This is the same old Europe, assuming new dimensions of a common union seeking to achieve economic power and to establish a different cultural system. At the same time, Europe is afflicted by new problems, which are liable to lead to its decline:
a) The severe trauma of two World Wars manifests itself in an unmitigated aspiration to maintain quiet, even if it is imaginary, and reflects a policy of hedonistic pacifism, a phenomenon that symbolizes lack of willingness to fight for basic national values. Europe despises the US, which is perceived as a factor that disturbs international order and interfere with Europe’s ability to hegemony, and expresses hostility towards Israel, as if were it to disappear the Middle East would cease to be a “keg of dynamite.” Pathological hatred for Israel has become the major generator of Europe policy. It believes that the cycle of terrorism and violence in the Middle East is due to Israel, which slaughters Palestinian children at will. For Europe, the problem is not the Islamic religious ideology to occupy the world, and Europe is the forefront, but the “ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Since Europe believes that “Islam and terrorism do not go together,” Israel has become the scapegoat to all European troubles and hardships.
b) The advanced age of the native European population, while the birthrate is negative (1.4 children per 1000 people, as opposed to a required even minimum of 2.1). By the year 2040, one of every three European will be over the age of 65, and at the same time the uncontrolled immigration of Muslims, with a birthrate three and four times that of the Europeans, causes severe social and cultural problems, and arouses fundamental questions of national identity. A reliable forecasts agree that in 2040, there will be a Muslim majority in several Western European countries.
c) Appeasement policy and political correctness as the primary strategy to attain quiet. The fear of arousal of widespread domestic violence, especially in the Muslim neighborhoods, who have no desire to assimilate, creates a “mental paralysis” in European public opinion and policy-makers. The expanding Muslim population poses the greatest threat to pluralistic democracy of the free world.
Samuel Huntington, in his The Clash of Civilizations, claims that the most significant division between the US and Europe is cultural. The United States is a religious country, and old Europe is secular. The Americans are devoted and patriotic to their country and to their religion, and define many issues in terms of good and evil; while Europe has a very low commitment to religion and nationalism. In a series of surveys, the countries were rated according to the level of their religiosity. The US was first with a ranking of 1.7; Ireland: 4.1; Poland: 5.2; Italy: 5.9; Britain: 11.6; Germany: 12.1. For Europe, there is a strong trend that transforms secularism and pacifism into a religion.
Jean Francois Ravel, in his “Europe’s Anti-American Obsession”, Europe believes that Americans are controlled by money, and their foreign policy is characterized by isolationism, and degenerate fascist politics. But it is specifically Europe, which invented the most repulsive ideologies, in which totalitarian regimes flourished, and it was precisely the US which rescued Europe from itself. Possessed by the obsession of their hatred, the anti-American fools forget that the US acts for world peace. It is specifically the security provided by the US that enables Europe to claim, paradoxically, that military might is no longer important as if they are residents of a post-historical world.
Economic Crises in Asia. Asia is seeking to become a significant factor in the International politics, by means of economic growth. In recent decades it was Japan, by employing a policy of competition through imitation. However, in the last decade it has slowed down, and local giants have begun to challenge it. Firstly, it was Korea, which followed the Japanese model, in the shadow of the North Korean military threat. Thereafter, China began its march, with an economic policy, which poses a substantial threat to the old world markets, and India, a nuclear power, which is also threatened by a neighboring enemy – Pakistan, aligns itself, like China, in more specific economic areas. China has the best chance, as within three decades its GNP surpasses that of the United States. At the same time, researchers claim that a severe economic crisis is threatening China, which will have dire ramifications and consequences throughout the world.
The significance of these three trends – the weakening of the legitimacy of the US; the continued decline of Europe; and the possibility of economic collapse in Asia in general and in China in particular – is that the world is not progressing towards a multi-polar world, but rather is liable to be a world without hegemonic power, a world without polarity. The upshot will be an era of declining empires and religious fanaticism, which will initiate processes of multi-dimensional decline: First, severe economic crises, which are liable to lead to a world-wide collapse; second, a dreadful rise of Islamic vicious terrorist groups on a world scale; third, an era of military crises, wars which will unfold over sources and resources. The result is likely to be political anarchy, to the withdrawal of civilization into fortified enclaves where chaos reigns.
To this future reality, a world of anarchy with no stabilizing world powers to enforce order and of continued trends of aggressive, fanatical Islamic terrorism – two scientific approaches have crystallized.
One approach, by Samuel Huntington, in his July 1993 article and his 1995 book, regarding the clash of civilizations. He proves that seven or eight civilizations exist in the world and Islam is at odds and antagonistic conflict with all of them throughout the world. Huntington claim, that “the Arab borders are blood borders” and this has brought The Economist to identify 32 major conflicts conducted in the world in the year 2000. 70% involved Muslims against others. Bernard Lewis in his April 1990 Atlantic Monthly article, determined that this was not a religious cold war between the Third World and the secular world, as Juergensmeyer claimed, but rather a genuine clash of cultures and was the first to coin the phrase “clash of civilizations”.
The second approach, is that of a “clash within Islam”, as expressed by Emanuel Sivan (A Confrontation within Islam), Moshe Maoz (YI, January 13, 2002), and other Israeli orientalists and Political Scientists, who claim that the primary, substantive clash is within Islam, between the moderate branch of Islam, who are the majority, and the extreme branch, who are the minority and will fail.
However, though all evidence clearly show that Huntington is by all means right, still, one can view these two approaches along the same continuum: In the first stage, the motto is activity within Arab-Islamic society. Fanatic Islam seeks to overthrow the existing Arab and Muslim regimes, which it refers to as the “New Jahiliyah, being the near enemy (al-‘Aduw al-Qarib), and in the second stage, it aspires to challenge the Western infidels, which it refers to as the “New Crusaders” or the far enemy (al-‘Aduw al-Ba’id).
This is the position of the religious exegetes of fanatic Islam, like Abu al-A’la al Mawdudi, Sayyid Qutb, Yusuf al-Qaradawi and many others, and this is the essence of the Islamic struggle: the genuine Islam according to the exegesis against both the New Jahiliyah (Arab-Muslim) and the New Crusaderism. In between they play a mix-operative terrorist strategy – against the West and Arab-Islamic countries.
When do empires decline? Quigley’s raises three trends: a) when they begin to squander their internal resources and do not turn to create new ones. b) When the mutual bond between the components of society weakens and the internal gaps increase. c) When ignorance spreads and the masses are drawn towards extreme religious fanaticism.
Huntington in the summary chapter of his Clash of civilizations, characterizes it as “cultural suicide”. The manifestations: a) an increase in the levels of crime, drugs and violence, which create a turbulent society with deep cleavages. b) A sharp decline in the institution of marriage and an increase in the rates of divorce and one-parent households. c) A decrease in interpersonal trust, with a rise in social alienation and anomic society. d) A slackening in the work ethic and in collective giving and enhancement of the trends of personal satisfaction. e) A decrease in the commitment to scientific intellectual activity for the continuation of progress and modernity. f) Absence of a unifying consensus and a decrease in national identification and loyalty. Multi-nationalism and Multiculturalism.
On the basis of understanding these dimensions one can assert that scientific and technological superiority does not override moral decay and political collapse of states. It was Jan Maserik, former Czech Foreign Minister who claimed: for a nation whose back is broken, it will be of no avail that each citizen has a tank in his yard and a warplane on his roof.” Indeed, a National strength can never persist without national honor, patriotism; commitment and determination to defend national interests, and adhesive common grounds. Defeatism, Douglas MacArthur stated, engenders a much more difficult and cruel war. There is not even one case in history in which defeatism has produced peace.
It is frightening to observe that the reactions in the free world today and the absence of a joint vision and common strategy regarding the threats stemming from the challenges posed by Apocalyptic Islamic Global Jihad Groups, reflect, in an astounding way, the international situation on the eve of World War II, and the absence of a uniform policy regarding Nazi Germany.
In May 1939, when it was clear that the clouds over Europe are leading to an all-out war, the influential British newspaper, The Times of London, published a harsh editorial, criticizing Churchill and his “belligerent, war-mongering” government, which was leading Britain into war, while a successful alternative exists, the “Munich Agreement”, which proves that it is possible to bring peace to Europe by means of diplomatic agreements. However, it was Churchill who was remarkably on target, in reacting to Chamberlain’s defeatist policy: “You have chosen shame out of fear of war and you have received both the shame and the war”. Indeed, these words are tantamount to the political situation today regarding Islamic onslaught to occupy the Free World.
The circumstances are that the world witness a violent aggressiveness of Islamic Bolshevism, according to Huntington, which will manifest itself in pressure to bring about changes in regimes and politics, massive immigration, but primarily attempts to gain control, first of the Dar al-Islam lands, from China to Spain, and after succeeding, to expand at the expense of the Dar al-Harb. World terrorism is primarily Islamic. More than 90 percent of world terrorism and more than 70 percent of world violence are Islamic. This religious fanaticism flourishes in societies that do not aspire to modernization and progress, which reject the basic values of democracy, pluralism, freedoms, open criticism, and equal rights.
The dominant idea in Islam, as defined by Islam itself, is absolute submissiveness and devotion to Allah and that humanity must respect the laws of the Islamic religion, while they have neither respect nor appreciation for other religions. Everything is perceived as legitimate self-defense, “the soul, religion, the land and Arabism”.
This phenomenon manifests itself in the syndrome: he hits me and he cried-out, he overtook me and grumbled (Darabni wa-Baka Sabaqni wa-Shtaqa). Aggression is perceived in the Arab-Islamic political culture as a routine and consensual phenomenon, while in contrast, any defensive action taken by its opponents in response to its acts of aggression evokes a severe reaction: “What did I do”? “Why am I being attacked”? “I, the miserable, the exploited one, who has done nothing, am standing against brutal belligerency and aggressiveness” Indeed, this is a deeply rooted cultural phenomenon: “the victimhood Syndrome.” They sincerely wholeheartedly believe that they are the pure victim and that all of their horrific vicious inhumane actions are merely justified acts of retaliation, in order to preserve their honor, their soul and their lands.
In contrast, Western culture acts as if it bears responsibility for being the victim. Everyone continues to declare that it is not a war against Islam in order to underscore his political tolerance. For Western leaders, in ignorance or cowardice, Islam is a religion of peace and there are only few extremist Muslims who hijacked the religion. It is even forbidden to put together “Islamic” and Terrorism.” For them, poverty and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the true cause, but not Islamic aggressiveness, terrorism, supremacism and brutality. No wonder the Free World is in a so deep mired situation, due to this shameless behavior.
However the truth is that the Apocalyptic Islamic Global Jihad groups have declared war against the Free World in the name of Allah. From their vantage point, it is their duty to control and occupy the world; that their religion is the only legitimate religion to impose on the entire humanity; and that it is a religious war and they are pretty sure Allah’s religion will prevail. This is the reason why we must stop apologizing and appeasing, and paying protection money, because we are fighting for our own lives, for our own existence. We fight to defend the Free World and all what have achieved against the epitome of evil and primitiveness. This is the “just war”, ever in history, as much as the Free World waged against Nazism and Communism.
However, the problem lies precisely in the cultural dimension, in the profound differences in cultural values, in the externalization of guilt syndrome. The Middle East is a greenhouse, unprecedented in its intensity, of authoritarianism, despotism, patrimonialism, corruption and incitement of hatred by the ruling political elite, while at the same time of poverty, exploitation and the misery of the masses.
The connection line between these two trends is in externalizing the guilt towards colonialism and imperialism, exploitation and racism against Western culture, which is hostile to Islam and the Arabs. However, Arab-Islamic political culture has no feelings of guilt or remorse; a culture that has no guilt conscience toward the other, and is unwilling to assume responsibility and self-criticism. This is a culture with the deep feeling that it is always right, and for that it externalizes the guilt and blames the “other” for that which transpires. It is essential to appreciate the significance of the phenomenon.
Jews and Christians internalize guilt. Jews turn one cheek in the sense of “we have sinned, we have transgressed, and we have committed crimes”; and the Christians turn the other cheek in the sense of “mea culpa”. In contrast, Arabs externalize guilt: “do I have a problem? You are guilty!” You will not find among them the phenomenon so characteristic to the Judeo-Christian culture: Doubts, guilt feelings and remorse, the agonizing conceptions perhaps we are not right, perhaps we should have acted or reacted differently? And what is our share of the blame? Western culture attempts to understand the other side; to learn his misery, to see the logic behind his actions and understand why he did what he did. All these are contrary to the Arab-Islamic political culture.
The Egyptian intellectual, residing in the US, Nonie Darwish has put it directly:
‘Arab’ means never having to say you are sorry. To expect Arab and Muslim leadership to apologize is a reflection of the West naïve and wrong expectations of Arab culture. In the Arab world to take responsibility and say sorry is taken as unmanly sign of weakness that may get a person into more trouble. Those who admit guilt, even it is accidental are given no mercy and may end up taking all the blame and being brutally punished.
It is a norm for the Arabs to deny a fact and to blame the other rather than admit to the wrongdoing and apologize. Honesty is not rewarded. Any admission of guilt is a sign of weakness. Yet, how can we expect them to apologize, when most of Arabs blame Israel for all the world wrong-doings, even September-Eleven? How can we expect the Arab countries to sincerely cooperate to end terror and its barbaric brutality. American should stop judging other cultures with American value system, and especially stop expecting Arab-Muslim culture to respond rationally according to Western standards.
Herewith the explanation of the Egyptian ‘Amr Ismail (Ilaf, October 30, 2004):
Why do we not see things the way the rest of the world sees them? Why do we always feel that someone is plotting and conspiring against us, and that they are the cause of our social and economic problems and our cultural backwardness? Why are we not capable of criticizing ourselves and we consider everyone who tries to do so a resolute enemy of our people and their principles? Why do we speak by means of rifles, bombs and car bombs and hurry to accuse all of our critics from within of treason and of being influenced by the West? Why are we the only nations in the world still using Islam as a religion in all aspects of life? Why are we slitting throats and detonating cars in the name of Allah, while at the same time protest when Muslims are described as terrorists? Why our brain is incapable of comprehending that democracy is the best regime and that it brought those who adopted it advancement and comfort?
The Egyptian writer, Sayyid al-Qimi (Roz al-Yusuf, May 5, 2005) blames that the responsibility for terrorism in Egypt lies with those who create a cultural atmosphere conductive to terrorism. The fight against terrorism requires combating extremist trends among Muslim clerics and in the Arab media. For him, a barrier separates the Muslim’s mind from the rest of the world around him, making him loose the capacity to distinguish Good from Evil. He only recognizes the values of Halal and Haram, permissible vs. prohibited. Muslims are burdened with many repressive restrictions. Freedom of thought and expression are fenced in by Islamic restrictions. He brings many day by day examples of Arab behavior and activity to prove his claims, declaring that terrorism had grown when the Arabs allowed Islamist thought to infiltrate Media and Schools. This is the legitimacy to kill and terrorize innocent people.
Valentine’s Day pinpoints limits of Saudi prince’s Islamic reform effort
Valentine’s Day in Riyadh and Islamabad as well as parts of Indonesia and Malaysia puts into sharp relief Saudi Arabia’s ability to curtail the global rise of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism the kingdom helped fuel at the very moment that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is curbing some of its sharpest edges in his own country.
To be fair, controversy over Valentine’s Day is not exclusively a Muslim ultra-conservative preserve. Russian and Hindu nationalists have condemned the celebration as either contradictory to their country’s cultural heritage or a ‘foreign festival.’
Yet, the Muslim controversy takes on greater global significance because of its political, security and geopolitical implications. Its importance lies also in the fact that it demonstrates that Saudi Arabia, after funding the global promotion of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism for four decades to the tune of $100 billion, has helped unleash a genie it no longer can put back into the bottle.
The contrast between, yes, a socially liberalizing Riyadh, and increasingly more conservative Islamabad; Indonesia’s Makassar, Surabaya and arch-conservative Bandar Aceh; and Indonesia and Malaysia’s highest Islamic councils could not be starker.
Banned for years from celebrating Valentine’s Day with shops barred from hawking anything that was red or mushy cards that hinted at the love feast, Saudis this year encountered a very different picture in markets and stores. This year they were filled with items in all shades of red.
One Saudi flower vendor reported that he had sold 2,000 red roses in one day with no interference from the kingdom’s once dreaded religious police.
Sheikh Ahmed Qasim Al-Ghamdi, the outspoken former religious police chief, in a reversal of the conservative religious establishment’s attitude, put Valentine’s Day on par with Saudi Arabia’s National Day as well as Mothers’ Day.
“All these are common social matters shared by humanity and are not religious issues that require the existence of a religious proof to permit it,” Sheikh Ahmed said in remarks that were echoed by religious authorities in Egypt and Tunisia.
While Saudis were enjoying their newly granted social freedoms that include the lifting of a ban on women’s driving, Pakistanis were groping with a second year of a Saudi-inspired ban, in part the result of the kingdom’s pernicious support of ultra-conservatism in the country for more than six decades.
The Islamabad High Court last year banned public celebration of Valentine’s Day on the basis of a private citizen’s petition that asserted that “in cover of spreading love, in fact, immorality, nudity and indecency is being promoted –which is against our rich culture.’
The ban followed a call on Pakistanis by President Mamnoon Hussain to ignore Valentine’s, Day because it “has no connection with our culture and it should be avoided.’
This year, Pakistan’s electronic media regulator ordered broadcasters not to air anything that could be interpreted as a celebration of Valentine’s Day.
Official opposition highlighted the fact that Saudi-inspired ultra-conservative attitudes have become entrenched within the Pakistani state and would take years, if not a decade, to dislodge without creating even greater havoc in the country.
While ultra-conservatism dominated attitudes in all of Pakistan, countries like Indonesia and Malaysia were engaged in culture wars with proponents of Saudi-influenced worldviews agitating against Valentine Day’s or imposing their will in parts of the country where they were in control or exerted significant influence.
In Indonesia, at least 10 cities banned or curtailed love feast celebrations. Authorities in Surabaya, the country’s second largest city, last week briefly detained some two dozen couples suspected of enjoying their Valentine’s Day.
Banda Ace in Ace province and Makassar on the island of Sulawesi upheld their several years-old bans. Last year, Makassar’s municipal police raided convenience shops on February 14 and seized condoms, claiming that they were being sold ‘in an unregulated way’ to encourage people to be sexually promiscuous on Valentine’s Day.
The actions were legitimized by a ruling in 2012 by Indonesia’s highest Islamic council that stipulated that Valentine’s Day violated Islam’s teachings.
The attitude of Malaysia’s state-run Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) based on a fatwa or religious opinion that it issued in 2005 is in line with that of their Indonesian counterparts. JAKIM annually blames Valentine’s Day, that it describes as a Christian holiday, for every sin in the book ranging from abortion and child abandonment to alcoholism and fraudulent behaviour.
Authorities have over the years repeatedly detained youths on Valentine’s Day on charges of being near someone of the opposite sex who is not a spouse or close relative.
Valentine’s Day is often but one battleground in culture wars that involve gay and transgender rights as well as the existence and application of blasphemy laws and the role of Islam in society. The vast majority of ultra-conservative protagonists have no link to Saudi Arabia but have been emboldened by the kingdom’s contribution to the emergence of conducive environments and opportunistic government’s that kowtow to their demands.
The culture wars, including the Valentine’s Day battlefield, suggest that Prince Mohammed’s effort to introduce a degree of greater social freedom and plan to halt Saudi funding of ultra-conservatism elsewhere is likely to have limited effect beyond the kingdom’s borders even though the kingdom with its traditionally harsh moral codes is/was in the Muslim world in a class of its own.
A Saudi decision earlier this month to surrender control of the Great Mosque in Brussels in the face of Belgian criticism of alleged intolerance and supremacism that was being propagated by the mosque’s Saudi administrators appears at best to be an effort to polish the kingdom’s tarnished image and underline Prince Mohammed’s seriousness rather than the start sign of a wave of moderation.
Brussels was one of a minority of Saudi institutions that was Saudi-managed. The bulk of institutions as well as political groupings and individuals worldwide who benefitted from Saudi Arabia’s largesse operated independently.
As a result, the Valentine’s Day controversy raise the spectre of some ultra-conservatives becoming critical of a kingdom they would see as turning its back on religious orthodoxy.
Washington and Paris play doubles against Iran
Last September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, we saw the joint work of Washington and Paris on how to deal with the nuclear question. Trump and Macron decided to launch and lead the “the JCPOA transformation process” using the U.S. Congress. Macron’s remarks on the “possibility of completion of the JCPOA” by including Iran’s missile armaments and new constraints on Iran’s nuclear program were the proofs of this bilateral agreement between the White House and the Elysée Palace.
Following Trump’s controversial speech on the nuclear deal and his two-month time limit to the U.S. Congress to review the JCPOA, Macron continued his negative maneuvers in dealing with Iran’s missile program. But the U.S. Congress could not reach consensus on the matter and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Trump administration and the Congress will continue cooperation to revise the JCPOA.
“Now, we’re also working with the Congress to arrive at a new agreement, a new set of conditions for sanctions going forward. The reality is that the nuclear deal was so ill-founded, because it did not deny that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon. Being a 10-year agreement, it virtually guaranteed that they would develop a nuclear weapon after that 10-year period. Whether we’ll continue to waive sanctions will be decided soon,” said Pence.
According to the Vice President, the Trump administration and the Congress are drafting a law stating that if Iran ever resumes its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon and missile to deliver it, all nuclear sanctions will immediately be imposed against Tehran. About three weeks ago, Emmanuel Macron explicitly stated that “the JCPOA” is unchangeable, but he still talks about completing the nuclear deal. What is certain is that completing the nuclear deal means altering this agreement.
Macron himself knows that an annexation, supplementary agreement or even a secondary agreement is a clear breach of the original agreement. In such a situation, the JCPOA will lose its value. There are some points in this regard that need to be addressed.
Firstly, the U.S. officials will first try to agree on a joint plan to “transform the deal”. Over the past two months, Tom Cotton and Bob Corker, two Republican senators, have made great efforts to persuade the Congress to address Donald Trump’s concerns, but they failed in this regard. According to the Cotton-Corker joint plan, Iran’s missile activities will be linked to the nuclear deal, and if the Islamic Republic prevents the IAEA from inspecting its military sites, the deal will automatically be nullified.
Also, according to their plan, the so-called sunset clauses will be removed, and the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program would be permanent. Democrat Senators believe that the plan will mean the withdrawal of the U.S. from the deal, and therefore they have not agreed with it. Some Republican Senators such as Ron Paul and Jeff Flake are also concerned. Nevertheless, the joint talks between the Congress and the White House on this project continue.
Secondly, the ةlysée Palace is still clinging to the term “completion” of the JCPOA. This is bizarre because Macron also states that the deal is unchangeable, while he wants to incorporate restrictions on Iran’s missiles into the deal. What is certain is that the slightest change in the nuclear deal means the other party’s failure to fulfill its obligations. In other words, it means the official withdrawal of the P5+1 from the nuclear deal. The insistence on this explicit and decisive stance by the Iranian diplomats can perhaps effectively counterbalance the U.S.-French designs on the JCPOA.
A third point is that it should not be forgotten that Washington and Paris are jointly trying to muck up the nuclear deal. We should not consider Paris and Washington’s game separately. Considering France as a “mediating actor” or “independent actor” would be a mistake. Paris is clearly against the JCPOA and acting as a supporting actor with the U.S. The softer tone of the French authorities should not deceive Iran.
It appears that the French president and his foreign minister are not going to behave in the same way as the previous governments of the country regarding the nuclear deal. Nonetheless, the French continue the same approach of former governments regarding peaceful nuclear activities in Iran.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
Who Controls Syria? The Al-Assad family, the Inner Circle, and the Tycoons
Ever since Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1971, the three pillars of the Syrian regime have been the Ba’ath Party, the Alawite minority and the army. The current Syrian elites were formed around these three forces. The tip of the pyramid is represented by the so-called inner circle: a small group of people most trusted by the head of state. Their influence on the decision-making process stems not so much from the posts they hold, as from their being members of – or otherwise close to – the al-Assad family. The inner circle has always included separate groups, which can compete against one another.
The military conflict in Syria has affected the structure of the inner circle. In particular, the decision-making process is now influenced by figures who have made their way to the top during the course of the civil war. At the same time, some of Bashar al-Assad’s former confidantes have been forced to flee the country and effectively defect to the opposition.
The latter include, among others, the influential Tlass clan of Circassian origin. Until his death in 2017, the Tlass family was headed by Mustafa Tlass, who was minister of defence from 1972 to 2004 and one of the closest associates of former President Hafez al-Assad. It was Mustafa Tlass who largely facilitated Bashar al-Assad’s inauguration following the death of his father, despite the fact that a portion of the Syrian opposition was calling for Bashar’s brother, Maher al-Assad, to become the new president.
The Tlass clan managed to become Syria’s second-most-influential family after the al-Assads. They were as significant as the Makhlouf clan, relatives of Bashar al-Assad’s mother. Mustafa Tlass’s son, Firas Tlass – one of the most influential Syrian magnates – had interests in many branches of the country’s economy. He was Syria’s second wealthiest person, after Bashar al-Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf.
Mustafa and Firas left Syria in 2011 and joined the opposition. Firas Tlass subsequently financed the Farouq Brigades operating in the Tlass family’s native district of Al-Rastan in Homs Governorate. Firas’s younger brother, Manaf Tlass, former Brigadier General of the Syrian Republican Guard’s 105th (other sources say 104th) Brigade, subsequently emigrated to Jordan and attempted to form an opposition military force intended to replace the Syrian armed forces. The project proved a failure.
One other member of the al-Assad family’s inner circle to have fled Syria since the beginning of the uprising is Ali Habib Mahmud, another former minister of defence (2009–11). Unlike the Sunni Tlass family, Mahmud is an Alawite. He may be viewed as the highest ranking representative of the Alawite minority to have pledged allegiance to the Syrian revolution. Mahmud initially led the operation to suppress the uprising, and was even subjected to sanctions for this. However, after losing his post he established contact with the militants and left the country.
There are reasons to believe that the Tlass family and Mahmud fled Syria not because of their support for the opposition, per se, but rather due to the alignment of forces within the Syrian leader’s inner circle. Bashar al-Assad’s relatives found a way to get rid of their most influential rivals, accusing them of sympathizing with the opposition and maintaining contacts with them, while criticizing their inability to stifle the uprising. In this situation, the Tlass family and Mahmud had nothing left to do but join the opposition.
The Tlass family and Mahmud may yet theoretically make a return to Syrian politics, as they are seen as acceptable politicians both by the opposition and by some of the Ba’ath functionaries. Everything will depend on the progress and direction of the peace process. If a national accord government is formed, then members of the Tlass family might be appointed ministers. They could even, under certain circumstances, lead this government.
The Explosion of July 18, 2012 as a Political Factor
Another important development that reshaped the inner circle was the explosion at the National Security headquarters in Damascus that took place on July 18, 2012. Liwa al-Islam (now known as Jaysh al-Islam) claimed responsibility for the attack. The blast killed several influential representatives of Al-Assad’s inner circle; the most prominent casualty was Assef Shawkat, husband of Bashar al-Assad’s sister Bushra, who had enjoyed significant clout with the Ba’ath leadership.
Shawkat had been on rather strained terms with some of the al-Assad family members. On the one hand, he was believed to be a close confidant of Bashar al-Assad since his return from London following the death of his brother, Basil Shawkat. On the other hand, Assef was in conflict with Maher al-Assad. According to some reports, Maher had fired a shot at Assef in 1999, wounding him in the stomach. Nevertheless, it was the trio of Assef Shawkat and the al-Assad brothers whom experts named as the central figures of the inner circle. Shawkat held senior official posts in the Syrian government: he was head of Military Intelligence in 2005–10, deputy chief of staff in 2009–11 and, from April 2011 until his death, deputy minister of defence acting as chief of staff of the armed forces.
Maher al-Assad and Rami Makhlouf at the Top of the Pyramid
The flight of the Tlass family and Assef Shawkat’s death promoted Bashar al-Assad’s younger brother Maher and his cousin Rami Makhlouf to senior roles within the inner circle. The two came to have a decisive say in the decision-making process, despite the fact that they do not hold key posts in the government.
Maher al-Assad is currently described as the second most important figure in Syria after the president. He is the de-facto commander of the 4th Armoured Division (Maher’s official military post is that of commander of the division’s 42nd Brigade, whereas the division is officially commanded by Major General Mohammad Ali Durgham), and also supervises the Republican Guard, the elite force charged with guarding government installations and defending the capital city.
Apart from holding command posts and being represented in the central committee of the Ba’ath Party, Maher al-Assad is a financial magnate. According to some reports, he earned up to $1 billion supplying food to the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, and further increased his wealth through a money-laundering scheme involving the Lebanese bank Al-Madina, which subsequently folded. Sources have indicated that Maher controls the Sheraton hotel network in Syria and certain media outlets, including Cham Press. This means that, in addition to the loyal 4 th Division and the Republican Guard, Maher al-Assad commands significant financial influence.
Maher is on rather difficult terms with Rami Makhlouf, another influential member of Bashar al-Assad’s current inner circle. The two may be partners on certain projects: it is known that they used to do business together in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates before the beginning of the Syrian civil war. In other situations, however, they may be seen as rivals.
One of Maher al-Assad’s important partners is believed to be Muhammad Hamsho, who represents his interests in the business community. The latter is involved in financing a range of pro-government media outlets, such as Addounia TV, and owns Hamsho International Group, as well as stakes in Middle East Marketing, Syria International for Artistic Production and Al-Sham Holding. Hamsho also acts as the middleman for the business structures of Maher al-Assad and Rami Makhlouf.
Overall, Maher al-Assad is a fairly independent actor. He can afford to openly express his disagreement with Bashar al-Assad’s decisions and is capable of imposing his own views on the president. Maher is the main advocate of the “party of war” in Damascus. He is also named as one of the key conduits of Iran’s interests in the Syrian leadership. Maher reportedly has contacts with the Iranian special services, and is reported to have voiced the idea to involve Iranian military experts in the early phase of the Syrian conflict. In addition, the military units under Maher’s control are being used to form branches of Shiite paramilitary forces. For example, the Shiite battalion Liwa Sayf al-Mahdi operates as part as the 4th Division.
Maher’s contacts with Iran previously provided grounds for rumours disseminated by pro-opposition sources about his conflicts with Bashar al-Assad. In 2016, reports began circulating which alleged that Maher al-Assad had been dismissed as commander of the 42nd Brigade, promoted to major general and assigned a secondary role within the General Staff. Sources explained that the “honorary exile” was the result of an alleged quarrel between the brothers. In January 2017, rumours emerged accusing Maher of an attempted military coup against the president with the support of Iran, allegedly over Maher’s disagreement with the Syrian leadership’s course towards joining the peace process and initiating talks with the opposition. However, in summer 2017, Maher al-Assad was sighted commanding the 4th Division during an operation in Daraa Governorate in the south of Syria.
Nevertheless, the very existence of rumours alleging a conflict between the al-Assad brothers does reflect certain concerns. Namely, that should the peace process reach a stage at which it will be necessary to form a national accord government, the hardliners and the Ba’ath conservatives maintaining contacts with Iran might roll out Maher as their candidate. Maher al-Assad has the necessary clout with the security agencies, commands serious financial resources and, most importantly, is prepared to make any sacrifice in order to secure his goals, as he has repeatedly demonstrated in the past, including in the form of cruel reprisals of civilians during the first phase of the Syrian revolution.
The next most significant and influential actor in Syria after Maher al-Assad is Rami Makhlouf, the country’s wealthiest person with an estimated fortune of $6 billion. Makhlouf co-owns Syria’s largest mobile network operator Syriatel and the corporation Cham Holding. The latter used to control the most profitable services in the country, including hotels, restaurants, tour operators and the air carrier Syrian Pearl Airlines. Makhlouf is also a major shareholder in a number of banking institutions, including International Islamic Bank of Syria, Al Baraka Bank, International Bank of Qatar, Cham Bank and Bank of Jordan in Syria. The Makhlouf family is known to have close ties with UK business. In particular, they have invested in the British oil and gas exploration and production company Gulfsands Petroleum. Rami Makhlouf also controls such media outlets as Al-Watan, Ninar, Dünya TV and Promedia. According to some estimates, he controls up to 60 percent of the country’s economy.
Despite the sanctions imposed against him, Rami Makhlouf is using his connections, influence and resources to seek ways for the al-Assad family and other representatives of the ruling circles to bypass the international sanctions. For this purpose, he has been using three Syrian companies linked to the government: Maxima Middle East Trading, Morgan Additives Manufacturing and Pangates International. Rami has also used the Panama-based legal firm Mossack Fonseca to open shadow companies in the Seychelles. He is also using his Eastern European companies, DOM Development Holding of Poland and Rock Holding of Romania, to the same end.
The Al-Bustan Association
An important component of the Makhlouf empire is the Al-Bustan Association, which was set up as a charity fund intended to address the humanitarian aspects of the Syrian civil war. The association is known to have received payments from UNICEF to the tune of $267,933. In reality, Al-Bustan has turned into the primary source of financing for different Shabiha paramilitary units unrelated to the official Syrian security agencies. In effect, Rami Makhlouf is using Al-Bustan to set up private military companies controlled by himself. The most prominent such units are Liwa Dir’ al-Watan (Homeland Shield) and the Fahud Homs (the Leopards of Homs) special units. It is believed that by bankrolling these forces, which are linked to the Air Force intelligence service, Rami Makhlouf has secured his own positions within the latter. He thus took advantage of the civil war to develop all the requisite attributes of personal influence, primarily financial resources and a personal army.
Rami Makhlouf may be characterized as a proponent of the peace process, as he is interested in having his frozen assets abroad released and the Western sanctions against him lifted, but this will only become possible if he makes a personal contribution to the peaceful settlement of the conflict. He has already filed an appeal with the Swiss courts. On the other hand, it is obvious that Makhlouf’s financial welfare will largely depend on whether the current Syrian regime stays in power.
The Father of the Desert Hawks
One Syrian actor worth mentioning among those who have managed to strengthen their positions during the course of the internal conflict and can influence the Syrian leadership’s decisions is Ayman Jaber.
An oil tycoon, Jaber used to control oil and gas extraction at most of the fields located in government-controlled territories, and held a de-facto monopoly on oil supplies to the state. He also chairs the Syrian council on metallurgy and is a shareholder in a number of businesses alongside Rami Makhlouf and other Syrian tycoons. To protect his field, Jaber runs numerous private military companies. Some of these have been turned into elite assault units, including Liwa Suqur al-Sahara (Desert Hawks) and the Syrian Marines. The two units were previously commanded by Ayman Jaber’s brothers, Mohamed (who also has a business in Russia) and Ibrahim. At some point, the independence enjoyed by these groups became excessive. In summer 2017, the Desert Hawks stopped a governmental convoy from entering an area under their control. This incident resulted in Ibrahim Jaber’s arrest. The Desert Hawks were disbanded and reassigned to the 5th Voluntary Assault Corps and to the Syrian Commandos, which are financed by Ayman Jaber.
Another influential Syrian oil magnate close to the country’s leadership is George Haswani, who owns the company HESCO. Haswani finances Dir’ al-Qalamoun (Qalamoun Shield Forces), which is a part of the Syrian Army’s 3rd Armoured Division. Turkey and Western powers are accusing Haswani of having sold oil extracted by so-called Islamic State from seized Syrian fields. He is also linked to Russian business circles and has contacts with Stroytransgaz and Gazprom. According to some reports, he holds Russian citizenship.
The Old Guard and the Special Services
Representatives of the so-called Old Guard (who were close to the previous president of Syria) and also special services continue to have a modicum of influence on the decision-making process within the country. One influential veteran of Syrian politics is 77-year-old Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid Muallem, who served as Syrian ambassador to the United States during the final years of Hafez al-Assad’s presidency.
Standing out from the other heads of Syria’s numerous security agencies is Ali Mamlouk, former head of the General Security Directorate (GSD). He retained his influence in the GSD following his appointment as head of the National Security Bureau, which coordinates the work of Syria’s entire intelligence community, in 2012. A number of sources report that Mamlouk is an experienced politician who manages to manoeuvre delicately between Russia and Iran and secure support for his initiatives from both countries. In addition, he is the only member of the Syrian leadership with whom the Gulf monarchies and Turkey are prepared to talk. Mamlouk is trusted to conduct sensitive talks behind closed doors with external opponents of the Syrian regime. These opponents view the head of the Syrian special services, who is also a Sunni, as a person with whom they can negotiate. It is noteworthy that Mamlouk visited Saudi Arabia in 2015.
Elements of Matriarchy
Women are also a force in the decision-making process in Syria. Anisa Makhlouf, the late mother of Bashar and Maher al-Assad, certainly played a significant part in keeping the ruling family in balance and mitigating disagreements between the two brothers. Some observers note that the relationship between the men started to deteriorate after Anisa’s death in early 2016.
Asma al-Assad, the president’s wife, is also believed to have had some influence on her spouse, but the level of that influence remains unclear. It is known, however, that Asma has founded numerous NGOs and funds used, among other things, to process money transferred by international organizations to support the victims of the Syrian conflict, despite the fact that she was under sanctions. Another influential woman in the al-Assad family, Assef Shawkat’s widow Bushra, also retains some influence and has business ties with Rami Makhlouf.
Possible Transformation of the Political Architecture?
All the main threats to the Syrian regime have been staved off by now. However, it must be noted that this was possible thanks exclusively to external interventions. Russia and Iran played a key role in keeping the al-Assad family and their closest associates in power. Without the participation of these two countries, the armed confrontation would most likely have resulted in the toppling of the regime.
On the other hand, the regime may wave won the war, but it has not yet won peace. All the problems that caused the revolution in the first place only worsened in the course of the war, including runaway corruption and the concentration of capital in the hands of a small group of people. Unless serious and comprehensive reforms are carried out in Syria, the country may well face collapse and a new wave of violence.
On the other hand, no actual reforms appear possible for as long as the al-Assad family remains in control. The only things possible are half-measures and window dressing. It therefore appears advisable to proceed from the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, including as applicable to the formation of a new executive body.
The most agreeable scenario might be to transform Syria into a parliamentary republic and strip the head of state of a significant portion of powers and access to administrative levers. Whatever the case, any positive change will be difficult to implement without the full involvement of the opposition, including armed opposition factions, seeing as there are otherwise no factors that might prompt the government to carry out tangible reforms.
First published in our partner RIAC
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