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Why did Turkey opt for emergency

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Western powers, trumpeting that everything is bad in Islamic countries, quickly criticized the emergency clamped by Turkey for a brief period meant to set things right and their complaint is that now the people in Turkey would not have the freedom to even to open mouths.. Strangely enough, those that criticize Turkey for its emergency are supposed to be Turkey’s close allies. They stand totally exposed as anti-Turkish and anti-Islamic nations.

They also expected entire world and global network of anti-Islamic media to follow their footsteps as usual to condemn “new” authoritarianism in Turkey. Such has been the usual strategy of the western anti-Islamic powers to belittle and insult Islamic world. After the Sept-11 the NATO rouge forces even attacked Afghanistan, among others. They don’t want Turkey to undertake measures to check any future coups by their agents in Turkey.

The failed coup officially by a section of military in Turkey was meant to dethrone or kill President Erdogan, other leaders of his government and ruling AKP party, but it reveals the hidden agenda of western powers. The coup, apparently enacted jointly by anti-Islamic and anti-Turkish sources, signaled an acute danger emanating from different directions from within and from abroad for the Islamist government in Istanbul to rise up to face it and weed out all traces of danger once for all.

No nation would allow the rogue elements to destabilize it, ransack its institutions. Neither USA, nor Germany nor their NATO was kind even to the so-called “suspected terrorists” and the way they torture the suspects is criticized as the worst form of human rights violation by the USA and NATO. But they also talk about “greatness” of their own democracy, condemn the rule of law in Muslim countries.

The power of the President to call up massive crowds of supporters has been on clear display in Istanbul’s Taksim Square every night since last week’s failed coup. “Work during the day, and come to the square at night” is the message put out by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “The threat is not over.”

Emergency is a global phenomenon

Emergency is a global phenomenon and not a Turkey special. The military coup is very serious matter, because the fence has tried to destroy the crops – Islamic crops. Turkey ahs face coups before.

Turks are no strangers to military takeovers. Turkey experienced coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980. In 1997 and 2007, there were further interventions via strongly worded memorandums from the army.

Each putsch inflicted huge damage on an already fragile democracy and led to widespread human rights violations. The 1980 coup was the worst of all — thousands were arrested arbitrarily and many tortured, while critics were sent into exile. When the governing Justice and Development party (AKP) came to power in 2001, it attracted support from liberals by promising to keep the army confined to military and security matters — the way it should be in any mature democracy.

The events of July 15-16, when the government foiled an attempted coup by elements within the military, must be read against this historical backdrop. It was a horrible night. By the time it was over at least 290 people were dead and more than 1,400 injured. It felt as if the country had gone back years.

Now the destabilization effort has been put down intelligently, President Erdogan is undertaking a series of measures to deny chances n future for such coups and to make Turkey safe and secure, ignoring all “counseling” from sworn foes enemies disguised, once again, as “well-wishers”.

To check institutional collapse

With military playing usual mischief, Turkey genuinely faces risk of institutional collapse and President Erdogan needs to set the things right so that Turkish economy is back on rails.

Turkish nation is yet to recover from the shock it was administered by the coup plotters. As AKP government was busy fighting several forces at the same time like the powerful ISIS, Kurdish forces, Syria, Israel and Russia, Turkish government possibly did not notice how the anti-Islamic forces in Istanbul sponsored by western powers were busy plotting against the Islamist government and Turkey itself in order to destabilize the former Ottoman Empire and establish, like Pakistan, Afghanistan Libya, Iraq, Egypt and elsewhere, a puppet regime in Ankara directly remote controlled by Washington.

The unexpected coup attempt by Turkey’s military establishment with a view to killing or arrest President Erdogan and his cabinet members, the AKP party leaders has been put down by person involvement by the Precedent of Turkey himself who cancelled his vacation and rushed to Istanbul. Maybe the plotters had expected President Erdogan to run away to USA, UK or some Arab nation.

Germany indirectly hinted that next time the coup in Turkey would succeed by correcting their errors in strategic planning of the coup.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in order to regain full control of the nation the nation attacked by the anti-Turkey coup plotters is clamping a three-month state of emergency in the aftermath of last week’s bloody coup attempt.

Before the announcement, Erdogan convened on July 20 with his national Security Council and council of ministers, the latter of which approved the state of emergency recommendation. “The purpose of the declaration of the state of emergency is, in fact, to be able to take the most efficient steps in order to remove this threat as soon as possible, which is a threat to democracy, to the rule of law and to the rights and freedoms of the citizens in our country,” Erdogan said, according to a government translation.

Erdogan, speaking later to a national television audience, said the state of emergency was not a threat to democracy. Governors will have expanded powers and the army will be under the command and control of the governors, the President said. Erdogan guaranteed that all the “viruses” in the armed forces would be cleansed during the period. “It is very similar to a cancer,” he said. “It is like a metastasis that is going on in the body that is Turkey. And we will clean it out.”

The President praised the popular anger and reactions to the coup attempt, in which 246 people died and 1,536 were wounded. “Every member of our nation came together as one,” he said.

Enemies of Islamist state and democracy

Unexpectedly for the enemies of Islam and Islamist Turkey, the coup failed and plotters have caught. Now the sponsors from abroad are deeply worried if the plotters caught would reveal the truth about who are behind the coup. So the Western media lords, seeking to shield the coup criminals, now focus on state reaction against the plotters, criticizing the government action against the plotters. Slowly they shift their focus to freedoms and democracy and criticize Turkey for not being kind to the plotting criminal gangs.

That is how the western media efficiently inspired by the strategy of Neocons targeting Islam and Arab nations, talk filth about Muslims, and their nations.

Turkey on Tuesday formally requested the extradition of Gulen from the United States, where he lives in self-imposed exile.

US President Obama has joined his European counterparts in warning Erdogan against over-reacting, and Erdogan supporters have suggested US complicity in the coup which they saw was organized by US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen. Turkey is seeking Gulen’s extradition.

USA and EU ask President Erdogan to just forgive the criminal plotters (and move on further) who wanted to kill and jail President Erdogan and allies and destabilize Turkey and hand it over r to enemies of Islam. USA has refused to arrest the Gulen and allies in USA and hand them over to Turkish government.

All that European states want is as Turkey would be busy with “soul-searching” after the failed coup, the coup plotters would regroup and stage another “perfect’ coup to remove the elected Islamist government.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said European criticism won’t stop Turkey taking steps it deems necessary after last week’s failed coup. He projected a more conciliatory tone toward the USA and Russia. “The EU is not the whole world,” Erdogan said in an interview with Al Jazeera before announcing a three-month state of emergency. “It is just 28 countries. The USA has the death penalty, Russia has it, and China has it.”

Why not punish the coup plotters?

Turkey has now fired or suspended about 50,000 people after a failed coup over the weekend as it intensifies its vast purge — battering the country’s security forces and many of its democratic institutions. In total, more than 9,400 people are being detained, the vast majority of them from the military. Teachers, journalists, police and judges alike have been caught in a net authorities are casting wider by the day, in what, according to the Western media lords, is increasingly looking like a witch-hunt to suppress dissent.

In order to present themselves as kind people on earth, USA and EU are pressing for no-punishment for the coup plotters in Turkey.

The Western powers that have murdered millions of Muslims in Islamic world calling them the terrorists want Turkish government to be very very kind to the coup plotters, betrays their secret efforts to support the coup and keep the plan very hidden from Turkey leaders.

The natural purge has gutted the leadership in the country’s security forces, with at least 118 generals and admirals detained, stripping the general-rank command of the Turkish military by a third, according to Turkish state broadcaster TRT. Authorities have also suspended 8,777 Ministry of Interior personnel, mostly police, as well as 100 Turkish intelligence service personnel, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Western leaders have urged Erdogan and his government to respect democratic principles and act within the law in response to talk of reviving the death penalty and heavy-handed punishments over the coup.

The coup efforts a rent new to Turkey but last time the plotters were caught and punished. The last executions in Turkey were in the mid-1980s and the death penalty was abolished in 2004. Erdogan said restoring capital punishment is being considered because of popular pressure, and the final decision rests with parliament.

Hundreds more have been suspended from the Prime Minister’s office and government bodies dealing with religious affairs, family and social policy and development. The total fired or suspended is around 50,000 people.

Anti-Islamic US-EU opposition to Turkey

The reactions from USA and EU reveal their essentially anti-Islamic joint hidden agenda against Turkey. They seek to destabilize the former Ottoman Empire. More than 9,000 people are currently in detention and are under investigation over the coup

It is unclear how many soldiers participated in the attack, during which two of Erdogan’s bodyguards were killed, and it is unclear how loyal the troops were, given that they were briefed on the coup so late in proceedings.

Asked if the extradition request would affect wider relations with the USA, Erdogan said “putting the two issues together is not the right thing to do.” “We have a strategic partnership, and we have to continue our solidarity,” he said. On Russia, Erdogan suggested that the two pilots who shot down a Russian jet on the Syrian-Turkish border in November may have been under orders from the coup plotters. The two pilots have been detained. “The judiciary must have their doubts because they are now in custody,” he said.

In order to ensure the safety of US nukes in Turkey is duty bound to take strict actions against the plotters. Rights group Amnesty International said that authorities had canceled 34 journalists’ press cards and called on Turkish authorities to not “arbitrarily restrict freedom of expression.” “We are witnessing a crackdown of exceptional proportions in Turkey at the moment,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher.

Will Gulen be extradited?

US President Barack Obama spoke with Erdogan after the failed coup about the coup and the status of Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania. Obama “strongly condemned” the coup attempt and “expressed his support for Turkish democracy,” a White House news release said, without explaining whether Gulen would be extradited.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has, as USA does to Pakistan, outrightly rejected the Turkish demand to extradite Gulen, saying USA wants proof. The Muslim cleric has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.

In order to be on the safe side, Gulen, in a statement released said Erdogan “once again demonstrated he will go to any length necessary to solidify his power and persecute his critics.” The reclusive cleric leads a popular movement called Hizmet, which includes hundreds of secular co-ed schools, free tutoring centers, hospitals and relief agencies credited with addressing Turkey’s social problems, now targeting Islamic rule.

USA claims that under the US-Turkey extradition agreement, Washington can only extradite a person if he or she has committed an “extraditable act.” Treason — such as that implied by Erdogan’s demand for Gulen’s extradition — is not listed as such an act in the countries’ treaty.

As Washington does not want to punish President Erdogan’s opponent Gulen, Kerry said in Washington that he told his Turkish counterpart: “Please don’t send us allegations, send us evidence; we need to have evidence which we can then make a judgment about.”

In the aftermath of the coup, the numbers of those detained, suspended or suspected has risen to the tens of thousands.

For his opponents, the fear is that it’s the start of a more sinister era of what they call Erdogan’s authoritarian rule, an opportunity to crack down further on any voice of dissent, an opening to push through constitutional and other changes that would give him greater powers.

In Greece, a court sentenced eight Turkish military personnel who fled there aboard a helicopter during the coup attempt to two months in prison for entering the country illegally.

Turkey has demanded their return to stand trial for alleged participation in the coup attempt. The eight, who deny involvement, have applied for asylum in Greece, saying they fear for their safety if they are returned.

Istanbul calm after storm

Turkey woke up to its first full day under a state of emergency on Thursday, imposed by the government the previous night. “Everything is looking normal” in the streets of Istanbul, a resident told journalists at 8 am (0500 GMT), with people commuting to work or taking coffees in the city’s cafes.

Away from the nightly Taksim Square celebrations there is a sense that people are going through the motions of daily life as if in a daze, conversations that invariably drift toward recent developments tend to still be preceded with exclamations. It appears there was a concerted effort to try to change the atmosphere of the square, even superficially, from a rallying ground for Erdogan supporters to something that stands more for the nation of Turkey itself. There are fewer political anthems lauding Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, the AKP, and more songs that are simply patriotic or popular; there are fewer banners with Erdogan’s image fluttering in the breeze, more Turkish flags. Voices at the microphones — mostly AKP members and supporters — deliver a litany of messages about Turkey’s strength, not forgetting the price the nation paid.

There are more sinister reminders, too, such as one man who, standing in front of a newly erected billboard with the names of the dead, held a bullet and reminded the crowd: “This on Friday could have hit anyone of you, it could have had your name on it.”

Turkey have been through coups before, the successful ones of the past were bloodless. This one — violent — did not succeed. The anti-Islamic sources say a part of the reason for coup failure was because the authorities got wind of it just in time, and the attempted takeover was poorly executed. But arguably the key reason for failure was that the coup leaders did not take into account Erdogan’s popularity and his people power.

Erdogan’s supporters have no qualms about the government’s reaction. Erdogan is their man, they have unwavering faith in his abilities and they have proven they will lay down their lives for him. And, one could argue, they did not take into account that, whether Turks love Erdogan or hate him, the vast majority of this country does not want to have a democratically elected government brought down in a military coup. That night resulted in rare unity among Turkey’s main political party leaders and among its population.

The aims of three-month nationwide state of emergency includes end of Gulen empire in Turkey by creating a “parallel structure” of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed for the coup, government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus said. Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek insisted the state of emergency would not curtail basic freedoms, including restrictions on movement, gatherings and free press. Parliament, dominated by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, was to meet on Thursday to review the state of emergency.

The government has rounded up or dismissed tens of thousands of civil servants, teachers, lawyers and soldiers. Government supporters have called for the death penalty for coup plotters. Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas told a crowd in the city’s Taksim Square this week the he had ordered a burial plot to be set aside for any dead coup plotters, to be called “the graveyard for traitors.” “Everyone visiting the place will curse them and they won’t be able to rest in their graves,” he was quoted as saying by Hurriyet Daily news late on Wednesday.

Some locals were celebrating the coup’s failure in the streets on Wednesday night, the resident said. But many people were also deactivating their social media accounts, she added, saying she thought they were afraid of a clampdown. “Three people were dismissed in my company yesterday and there are rumours of 15 more on the list,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Opposition politicians also expressed fear of reprisals. “Unfortunately, we are seeing a civilian counter-coup,” Lawmaker Ziya Pir of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party told journalists on Wednesday. Many opposition factions “are afraid of being lynched,” he said.

Under the Turkish Constitution, the emergency measures allow the government to “partially or entirely” suspend “the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms,” so long as that doesn’t violate international law obligations. Lawmakers can sanction a state of emergency for a period of up to six months.

In order to avoid reoccurrence of coups and escape being the target of accusations of becoming authoritarian by anti-Islamic nations, Turkey pres Erdogan has been moving strictly as per law. Turkish lawmakers declare three-month state of emergency allowing president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to ramp up his crackdown after failed coup without parliamentary approval. Parliament voted 346-115 to approve the national state of emergency, which will give Erdogan the authority to extend detention times for suspects and issue decrees that have the force of law without parliamentary approval, among other powers.

Observation

The coup is perhaps a stark reminder of how shaky Turkish nation is, of how for many a sense of security they had once taken for granted is more shattered than it already was, of how deeply July 15 — despite the failure of the coup itself — continues to unsettle this country.

Turkey has to reinvent the prestige and prowess of a big nation.

Erdogan, who had been accused of autocratic conduct even before this week’s crackdown on alleged opponents, says the state of emergency will counter threats to Turkish democracy. The main opposition Republican People’s Party, CHP, slammed the state of emergency move as going too far. A state of emergency has never been declared nationwide although it was declared in Turkey’s restive, Kurdish-dominated southeast between 1987 and 2002.

Since the July 15 coup attempt, the government has arrested nearly 10,000 people. In addition, over 58,880 civil service employees — including teachers, university deans and police — have been dismissed, suspended, forced to resign or had their licenses revoked, accused of being Gulen followers.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek defended the move, saying he hoped the state of emergency would be short-lived. He said it would be used to go after “rogue” elements within the state and that there would have been “carnage in the streets” had the military coup succeeded.

Turkey immediately said it was partially suspending the European Convention on Human Rights, allowing it more leeway to deal with individual cases, by invoking an article most recently used by France and Ukraine.

Countries around the world are keeping a close watch on developments in Turkey, which straddles Europe, the Middle East and Asia. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier advised Turkey that the state of emergency should only last as long as it’s “absolutely necessary,” thereby interfering with internal affairs of Turkey

Erdogan announced a three-month state of emergency to protect Turkey’s freedom and democracy, saying Turkey will work to cleanse the “viruses” within the armed forces and other groups.

Turkey’s people are still reeling from the shocking events of the weekend and it is vital that press freedom and the unhindered circulation of information are protected, rather than stifled. There is a general incredulity, with the weight of what happened only just beginning to sink in.

It is not just funny but very dangerous that EU member states try to intervene in Turkey’s efforts to punish the culprits. Meanwhile, EU leaders have said that Turkey’s negotiations to join their bloc will be terminated if it brings back the death penalty to the coup plotting criminals and have criticized the wave of arrests that followed the failed putsch. Erdogan said the arrests were the state “doing its job” and told French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to mind his own business given that France also introduced a state of emergency after last year’s attacks. “For 53 years, we have been knocking at the door and the EU leaders have kept us waiting, while others have joined,” he said. Turkey has no reason now to feel any urgency to be a part of EU, which has already shown signs of breakup following the Brexit.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP are pinning responsibility for the failed coup on a cabal within the army sympathetic to Fethullah Gulen, the exiled Islamic cleric. These accusations must be investigated and those who are culpable must be brought to justice. Gulenists were active in the police, prosecution service and judiciary, often pursuing their own agenda. Their unbridled lust for power ruined them in the end. Turkish liberals and democrats will never support the ambitions of the Gulenist army officers

Erdogan says death penalty could return to deal effectively with future plotters in Turkey, so that the people and government can surge ahead to revitalize economy and Islamic assets that are the target of the anti-Islamic forces globally.

With the coup having been failed, Turkey’s increasingly warm relations with Russia spell trouble for the USA at a time when the already strained ties between Ankara and Washington have been further complicated following the unsuccessful attempt to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Following the unsuccessful attempt to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is on its way to effect a dramatic shift in foreign policy from USA to Russia. As ties between the two countries normalize, Ankara could green light the Turkish Stream project, an initiative that Moscow has championed and Washington opposed.

Turkey’s new policy approach is based on its economic well-being which has been the basis of the weight and influence the country has been enjoying in the Middle East. Its economy had considerably gone down over the past few years and dipped further after its direct involvement in the war in Syria and Iraq

Every nation is duty bound to take revenge if there is a coup or grave subversive move by military and why not Turkey? USA still invades energy rich Arab nations blaming one Osama‘s terror attack on USA. Turkey is not a nation displaying its resilience in the face of a terrorist attack, as Turks have done in the past. This is not a nation that can bury the dead and try to move on. This is a nation in uncharted territory.

Turkey must now know who its real friends and foes are and criticize both USA and EU directly instead of taking an indirect route by criticizing only their tool Gulen or the military. Bur the coup plotters and those who help them achieve anti-Islamic agenda. That would make some sense to people in those countries.

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Washington and Paris play doubles against Iran

Mohammad Ghaderi

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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

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Who Controls Syria? The Al-Assad family, the Inner Circle, and the Tycoons

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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 Defectors

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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Middle East

Surrendering a Brussels mosque: A Saudi break with ultra-conservatism?

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Saudi Arabia, in an indication that it is serious about shaving off the sharp edges of its Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, has agreed to surrender control of the Great Mosque in Brussels.

The decision follows mounting Belgian criticism of alleged intolerance and supremacism that was being propagated by the mosque’s Saudi administrators as well as social reforms in the kingdom introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including a lifting of the ban on women’s driving, the granting of women’s access to male sporting events and introduction of modern forms of entertainment.

Relinquishing control of the mosque reportedly strokes with a Saudi plan to curtail support for foreign mosques and religious and cultural institutions that have been blamed for sprouting radicalism. With few details of the plan known, it remains unclear what the curtailing entails.

It also remains unclear what effect it would have. A report published last month by the Royal Danish Defence College and three Pakistani think tanks concluded that madrassas or religious seminaries in Pakistan, a hotbed of militant religious education, were no longer dependent on foreign funding. It said that foreign funding accounted for a mere seven percent of the income of madrassas in the country.

Like with Prince Mohammed’s vow last November to return Saudi Arabia to an undefined “moderate” form of Islam, its too early to tell what the Brussels decision and the social reforms mean beyond trying to improve the kingdom’s tarnished image and preparing it for a beyond-oil, 21st century economic and social existence.

The decision would at first glance seem to be primarily a public relations move and an effort to avoid rattling relations with Belgium and the European Union given that the Brussels mosque is the exception that confirms the rule. It is one of a relatively small number of Saudi-funded religious, educational and cultural institutions that was managed by the kingdom.

The bulk of institutions as well as political groupings and individuals worldwide who benefitted from Saudi Arabia’s four decades-long, $100 billion public diplomacy campaign, the single largest in history, aimed at countering post-1979 Iranian revolutionary zeal, operated independently.

By doing so, Saudi Arabia has let a genie out of the bottle that it not only cannot control, but that also leads an independent life of its own. The Saudi-inspired ultra-conservative environment has also produced groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State that have turned on the kingdom.

Relinquishing control of the Brussels mosque allows Saudi Arabia to project itself as distancing itself from its roots in ultra-conservatism that date back to an 18th century power sharing arrangement between the Al Saud family and Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, a preacher whose descendants are at the core of the kingdom’s religious establishment.

The decision, Prince Mohammed’s initial social reforms, and plans to cut funding notwithstanding, Saudi Arabia appears to be making less of clean break on the frontlines of its confrontation with Iran where support for ultra-conservative and/or militant groups is still the name of the game.

Saudi Arabia said last month that it would open a Salafi missionary centre in the Yemeni province of Al Mahrah on the border with Oman and the kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s ill-fated military intervention in Yemen was sparked by its conflict with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, a Zaydi Shiite Muslim sect with roots in a region bordering the kingdom, that dates to Saudi employment of Salafism to counter the group in the 1980s and early this century.

Saudi militants reported in the last year that Saudi nationals of Baloch origin were funnelling large amounts of money into militant madrassas in the Pakistani province of Balochistan on the border with Iran. Saudi-funded ultraconservative Sunni Muslim madrassas operated by anti-Shiite militants dominate the region’s educational landscape.

The money flowed, although it was not clear whether the Saudi donors had tacit government approval, at a time that Saudi Arabia is toying with the idea of seeking to destabilize Iran by stirring unrest among its multiple minorities, including the Baloch.

A militant Islamic scholar, who operates militant madrassas in the triangle where the borders of Balochistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet, was last year named a globally designated terrorist by the US Treasury while he was fundraising in the kingdom.

Algerian media reports last month detailed Saudi propagation of a quietist, apolitical yet supremacist and anti-pluralistic form of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism in the North African country. The media published a letter by a prominent Saudi scholar that appointed three ultra-conservative Algerian clerics as the representatives of Salafism.

“While Saudi Arabia tries to promote the image of a country that is ridding itself of its fanatics, it sends to other countries the most radical of its doctrines,” asserted independent Algerian newspaper El Watan.

The decision to relinquish control of the Brussels mosque that in 1969 had been leased rent-free to the kingdom for a period of 99 years by Belgian King Baudouin followed a Belgian parliamentary inquiry into last year’s attack on Brussels’ international Zaventem airport and a metro station in the city in which 32 people were killed. The inquiry advised the government to cancel the mosque contract on the grounds that Saudi-inspired ultra-conservatism could contribute to extremism.

Michel Privot of the European Network Against Racism, estimated that 95 percent of Muslim education in Belgium was provided by Saudi-trained imams.

“There is a huge demand within Muslim communities to know about their religion, but most of the offer is filled by a very conservative Salafi type of Islam sponsored by Saudi Arabia. Other Muslim countries have been unable to offer grants to students on such a scale,” Mr. Privot said.

The US embassy in Brussels, in a 2007 cable leaked by Wikileaks, reported that “there is a noted absence in the life of Islam in Belgium of broader cultural traditions such as literature, humanism and science which defaults to an ambient practice of Islam pervaded by a more conservative Salafi interpretation of the faith.”

Saudi Arabia has worked hard in the last year to alter perceptions of its Islamic-inspired beliefs.

Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, a former Saudi justice minister and secretary general of the World Muslim League, the group that operates the Brussels mosque and has served for half a century as a key funding vehicle for ultra-conservatism insisted on a visited last year to the Belgian capital that Islam “cannot be equated and judged by the few events and attacks, carried out because of political or geo-strategic interests. As a religion, Islam teaches humanity, tolerance, and mutual respect.

Mr. Al-Issa, in a first in a country that long distributed copies of the Protocols of Zion, an early 20th century anti-Semitic tract, last month, expressed last month on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that commemorates Nazi persecution of the Jews “great sympathy with the victims of the Holocaust, an incident that shook humanity to the core, and created an event whose horrors could not be denied or underrated by any fair-minded or peace-loving person.”

Mr. Al-Issa’s comments no doubt also signalled ever closer ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, who both bitterly oppose Iran’s regional influence. Nonetheless, they constituted a radical rupture in Saudi Arabia, where Islamic scholars, often described Jews  as “the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs.”

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