The horrors of today’s Syria – repression, civil war, barbarity – resulted from many developments; one of the most important occurred 50 years ago today.
That’s when the pedantically named “Military Committee of the Syrian Regional Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba’th Party,” whose leadership included Hafez al-Assad,
took power in Damascus in what has come to be known, again pedantically, as the “8 March Revolution.” The Ba’th (or Baath) party has ruled the country ever since, first under Hafez (1970-2000) and then under his son Bashar (since 2000).
Before the 8 March Revolution, Syria had been exceptionally unstable: since the country’s first military overthrow nearly 14 years earlier, in April 1949, it had experienced a string of coups d’état; indeed, the year 1949 alone witnessed three changes of regime.
Then came the heavy hand of the Ba’athists. Other than some internal reshuffling (the ‘Alawi coup of February 1966 and the Assad coup of November 1970), it’s been the same dreary, statist, totalitarian regime ever after, stifling individual and ethnic expression, corrupting minds, stunting the population’s entrepreneurship, and finally leading to the furies unleashed three years ago that have brought on the current conflict, one which could lead to the next totalitarian regime, that of the Islamists.
On this bleak anniversary, one might recall how easily a country can go off track and how very difficult it finds the return to sound policies and human dignity. (March 8, 2013)
China’s role to make FIFA 2022 Successful
Argentina won the World cup in FIFA Football World Cup held on 20 November – 18 December 2022, in Doha Qatar. FIFA 2022 attracted global attention and since the beginning Foot Ball lovers spared time, either to travel to Qatar and watch the matches or sit in front of TVs and watch live transmission. Big LED screens were used to attract Foot Ball Lovers worldwide. It was really a festival mode in many countries. Analysis, Debates, and Arguments also took place, regarding the expected Champion. French was pretty sure to retain its previous title “World Champion” which they got in FIFA 2018, held in Russia. Brazil, Germany, Argentina, and many other nations were keeping high expectations. Even, though some were guessing that Morocco to be World Champion, strong arguments were given that in FIFA 2018, actually, the French team consisted of many Morocco-origin players, with very few original French. As a matter of fact, France has attracted good players from its former colonies and offered them immigration, and used them in FIFA 2018, to win the Championship. There was certainly a strong argument that if Moroccan can make France World Champion, they can also possess the potential to become World Champions.
The FIFA World Cup, often simply called the World Cup, is an international association football competition contested by the senior men’s national teams of the members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport’s global governing body. The tournament has been held every four years since the inaugural tournament in 1930, except in 1942 and 1946 when it was not held because of the Second World War. The reigning champions are Argentina, who won their third title at the 2022 tournament. But the history goes back to Prior to the Lipton competition, from 1876 to 1904, games that were considered the “football world championship” were meetings between leading English and Scottish clubs, such as the 1895 game between Sunderland A.F.C. and the Heart of Midlothian F.C., which Sunderland won.
The World Cup is the most prestigious association football tournament in the world, as well as the most widely viewed and followed single sporting event in the world. The viewership of the 2018 World Cup was estimated to be 3.57 billion with an estimated 1.12 billion people watching the final match.
Seventeen countries have hosted the World Cup, most recently Qatar, which hosted the 2022 edition. The 2026 tournament will be jointly hosted by Canada, the United States, and Mexico, which will give Mexico the distinction of being the first country to host games in three World Cups.
It was a matter of great prestige and honor for Qatar to host FIFA 2022. It is the first World Cup held in the Arab world and Muslim world, and the second held entirely in Asia after the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan.
In 2010, the State of Qatar, having been awarded the rights to host the FIFA 2022 World Cup, embarked on remarkable projects in different fields to meet the expectations outlined in the bid document. It is worth mentioning that Qatar has a population of around 3 million and almost 1.5 million people from all over the world have visited FIFA 2022. A country’s preparations to host an international sporting event need serious consideration. Many aspects must have taken care of including but not limited to changing existing legislation, building infrastructure, workers’ rights and immigration, sponsorships, consumer protection, tourism, free trade, intellectual property (IP) rights, accessibility to stadia, taxation, counterfeiting, gambling, betting, to name but a few. Any country has to meet FIFA’s standards to host such an event. Qatar has the option of introducing new laws, amending existing legislation, and have concluded mutually beneficial bilateral agreements with FIFA. Qatar has directly employed more than 26,000 people to prepare the stadiums only. It is pertinent to note that in the wave of massive infrastructural developments legislation was not left out. Countries such as Russia and South Africa enacted new laws to meet FIFA’s standards and Qatar has also done similar measures to satisfy FIFA Organizing Committee.
The successful hosting of FIFA 2022, has projected and elevated Qatar in the global community, especially in the region. Direct and indirect, tangible and intangible impact of such a mega event will elevate Qatar’s stature and benefit its reparation in the days to come.
However, China was behind the success story as there were 10 ways in which China quietly worked behind the scenes at the Qatar World Cup:-
- World cup buildings got green electricity from a next-generation power station that harvests only solar energy, built by the Power Construction Corporation of China.
- People were taken where they need to go in a fleet of 888 fully electric buses, made by Yutong Bus, a Chinese firm that has quietly become, as far as I can tell, the world’s biggest bus maker.
- The main stadium was built by China Railway Construction Corporation: a firm that pops up in Africa and Europe and around the planet, known for its extraordinary ability to create infrastructure in difficult environments.
- What’s a sporting event without souvenir merchandise? It’s estimated that almost 70 percent of World Cup-related goods, from footballs to flags to jerseys to whistles, came from a single location in China, a southeastern city called Yiwu.
- A purpose-built extra-large reservoir provided clean drinking water for sports people and fans. It was constructed by the Gezhouba Group, from Wuhan.
- The stadium-building operations needed huge amounts of heavy equipment, from massive earth movers to cranes – nearly 100 of these were supplied by China’s Sany Heavy Industry, one of the world’s biggest construction firms.
- The most innovative venue was Qatar’s Stadium 974, which can be disassembled and reassembled anywhere. Designed by a Spanish architect, the 974 building blocks were made by China International Marine Containers.
- Notice all the LED floodlights everywhere? They came from the Unilumin Group of China.
- Most people say air conditioners are a must for survival in that environment – and China’s Midea Co supplied 2,500 air cons for the event.
- Last but not least, this was the most expensive sporting event in world history and needed a lot of support from businesses.
- Nineteen China firms signed up to sponsor the event.
Definitely, credit goes to China too.
The Chinese maritime theory of linking and networking the five seas in the Middle East
What mattered most to China regarding its three joint summits at the end of December 2022 with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries and the region, was the deepening of Chinese influence and maritime cooperation, especially with regard to the maritime side, and the emphasis of Chinese think tanks and research on the need for the success of the idea (connecting or networking the five seas in the region), namely are:
(The Mediterranean, Black, Caspian, Persian Gulf and Red Sea)
And that is with all that it entails politically, economically and socially to unify the efforts of the countries of these seas and achieve their interests, and thus confront the American and Israeli project that aims to fragment the region.
In this context, the Chinese White Papers document on defense, issued by the Politburo of the ruling Communist Party of China in 2013, stressed the need to develop the “Chinese naval fleet” in order to “defend the near sea and protect the distant seas”. China’s establishment of a Chinese military base outside its borders for the first time in the state of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, as well as the militarization of the Pakistani port of Gwadar, contributes to the growth of China’s military presence near important sea lanes in the region and the Arabian Gulf, especially in the Gulf of Aden and the Straits of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandab, and nearby From the Arabian Gulf region.
The Chinese-Saudi-Gulf summit comes with the expansion of China’s involvement in the Middle East region economically and diplomatically, and China’s attempt to deepen security cooperation.
Likewise, with China and its intellectual and research centers officially announcing in August 2019, regarding China’s intention to participate in a Gulf maritime security alliance, the beginning of Chinese thinking about a deeper level of military participation in the Middle East.
Chinese analysts believe that the alliance between China, Russia, the countries of the region, the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia in the face of the United States of America is getting stronger and more solid due to the impact of a “cold war” between the West and China, especially with the confirmation of Chinese Foreign Minister “Wang Yi” after the success of his tour in the Middle East. Clear signs that China intends to shift to play a pivotal role in the affairs of the region.
We cannot fail to emphasize the “Chinese approach to the Palestinian cause”, and its desire to play a pivotal role in that issue, and it is clear that China is launching something like a counter-diplomatic attack to penetrate the ranks of the allied countries of the United States of America in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf, in addition to China’s attempt to form political alliances. New ones to restrict US alliances in China’s regional and geopolitical strategic scope, such as the Okus nuclear defense agreement between Washington, Australia and Britain, and the Quad Quadruple agreement between the United States of America, India, Australia and Japan, to form a kind of bipolarity between China and Russia in the face of the United States of America. We find that after the Corona pandemic, the world officially entered the second Cold War, this time between the West and China.
Accordingly, the future US policy in the Middle East is linked to what will be the Chinese behavior in the region. With China’s attempt to rush to play new security roles, and seek hegemony in the Middle East and North Africa region.
Likewise, China’s desire to strengthen the security and military aspect of its relations with the countries of the Arab Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, by strengthening military cooperation and joint military exercises, and cooperation in combating terrorism, through comprehensive measures to address its roots. In addition to the Chinese desire to cooperate with countries in the region to confront what is known as non-traditional security threats, such as supporting the region’s efforts to combat piracy, continuing to send warships to the Gulf of Aden and the coast of Somalia to maintain international maritime security, and cooperation in the field of cybersecurity.
Therefore, the importance of these three joint Chinese-Gulf-Saudi summits is to greatly enhance China’s partnerships, economically, politically and commercially, with the countries of the region, especially in the Gulf region. Therefore, China today is emerging as a central player through direct investments, partnerships, trade and development.
Perhaps in the future, China will intervene militarily, or seek to have a security footprint in the region, as it did in the Horn of Africa through its military base in Djibouti.
Also, given the American influence in the Arab Gulf region, Beijing may change its security policies in the region, if Washington tries to obstruct the flow of oil to China, especially in the event that Chinese energy security or vital shipping lanes used by China are threatened, China may have to expand Its military naval presence in the Indian Ocean near the Persian Gulf.
Accordingly, the declared clear Chinese strategy has become to transfer the arena of competition with the United States of America to the Middle East and Africa, in order to avoid strategic competition with Washington and its allies in its immediate regional neighborhood. By analogy, the expansion of Chinese influence in the Middle East region is a challenge to the existing American hegemony.
Jinnah, Iqbal, and Pakistan’s Historical Opposition to Israel
There is a belief that Pakistan is solely opposed to Israel due to the latter’s post-independence atrocities against Palestine, which are attributed to the sizeable military mismatch between both Palestine and Israel – however this is not a complete picture. The reality is that Pakistan’s founders laid the groundwork for the nation’s pro-Palestine stance long before Pakistan or Israel gained independence. The founders were unequivocally opposed to a Jewish homeland fashioned at the expense of the Arabs. Due to such a robust foundation, one still sees the phrase “This passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel” written quite unapologetically on the Pakistani passport. The founders adopted this posture due to them witnessing Britain’s exploitation of Arab Muslims, Britain’s reneging on promises to the Arabs, favoritism towards the Jews, and the global powers’ support of Zionism on Palestinian soil.
Two of Pakistan’s founding fathers and undoubtedly the most integral ones were Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal. Pakistanis herald Mr. Jinnah as the father of the nation who overcame not only British imperialist designs, but also a Hindu-dominated Congress in India that was vehemently opposed to dividing the subcontinent. Mr. Iqbal, although he passed away before the independence of Pakistan, is credited as being the spiritual father of the nation. Popularly known as the Poet of the East, he uplifted Muslims of the subcontinent with his poetry and oration and dreamt of an independent Muslim homeland. Both Mr. Jinnah and Mr. Iqbal were pivotal parts of the All India Muslim League (AIML). The AIML was the primary political party safeguarding Muslim rights in British India, but during the 1920s the organization began taking a keen interest in global Muslim affairs as well.
Post-World War I
During World War I, the Ottoman Caliphate, which housed Palestine, was to be abolished and many of the territories of the once great empire were divided between the UK and France (see Sykes-Picot Agreement).
The British also reneged on certain promises after their triumph in WWI was assured. One of these was to the Emir of Mecca. To the Emir, they promised if the Arabs abetted Britain and France against the Ottomans, they would support the Arabs in self-rule (which the Emir envisioned as a pan-Arabic state from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen). One of the territories that the UK colonized was Palestine and thus began the age of Mandatory Palestine (1920-1948).
The Arabs and Muslims were betrayed, and in their stead, the Jews were supported. This was indicative by the Balfour Declaration in 1918 that promised British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It was a correspondence between UK’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community. The Balfour Declaration, conflated with Mandatory Palestine, made Muslims around the world cognizant of the profound implications of these events. As history would later reveal, the first seeds towards a Jewish homeland had just been planted.
The Muslim world was visibly dismayed by such machinations especially after undergoing the trauma of the Caliphate’s loss. Things continued to unfold tragically during the Arab Revolt in Palestine (1936-1939) that engulfed the region in violence. Seeing the British adopt ruthless measures to quell the Arab opposition, there was further Muslim uproar in India. In response, Mr. Jinnah in his presidential address to the AIML in 1937 stated, “Great Britain has dishonored her proclamation to the Arabs – which had guaranteed to them complete independence of the Arab homelands…After having utilized them by giving them false promises, they installed themselves as the mandatory power with that infamous Balfour Declaration…fair-minded people will agree when I say that Great Britain will be digging its grave if she fails to honor her original proclamation…”
The AIML leadership continually passed resolutions in support of the Palestinians, protested in the streets, and sent their delegations to display solidarity with the Arabs. Mr. Jinnah, known to be unrelenting, continued also to verbally berate the harsh and illegal treatment of the Palestinians. He asserted, “You know the Arabs have been treated shamelessly—men who, fighting for the freedom of their country, have been described as gangsters, and subjected to all forms of repression. For defending their homelands, they are being put down at the point of the bayonet, and with the help of martial laws. But no nation, no people who are worth living as a nation, can achieve anything great without making great sacrifice such as the Arabs of Palestine are making.”
In July 1937, the Peel Commission endeavoured to unearth the causes of unrest in Mandatory Palestine. The commission produced a report that recommended partitioning Palestine. This tragic recommendation for the Arabs, affixed with the immigration of Jews to Palestine exponentially rising during the third, fourth, and fifth aliyahs, traumatized the global Muslim psyche. In British Palestine, between 100,000-300,000, Jews immigrated to Palestine – a monumental demographic shift. The Jews also had for years bought and occupied Palestinian land marking a territorial shift in their favour as well.
The AIML protested against the British mandate and its anti-Arab policies, citing them as violating religious and human rights – thus warranting its abolition – but such proclamations fell on deaf ears. Miss Farquharson of the National League of England requested Mr. Iqbal’s views on the Peel Commission’s recommendations. Mr. Iqbal replied, “We must not forget that Palestine does not belong to England. She is holding it under a mandate from the League of Nations, which Muslim Asia is now learning to regard as an Anglo-French institution invented for the purpose of dividing the territories of weaker Muslim peoples. Nor does Palestine belong to the Jews who abandoned it of their own free will long before its possession by the Arabs.” The last sentence of the preceding unveils Mr. Iqbal’s view that Palestine was solely a Muslim issue – this emotion resonated with the Muslim masses of India and beyond. This sentiment is further highlighted by Mr. Iqbal’s statement in 1937 in an AIML setting, “The problem, studied in its historical perspective, is purely a Muslim problem…Palestine ceased to be a Jewish problem long before the entry of Caliph Umar into Jerusalem more than 1300 years ago. Their dispersion, as Professor Hockings has pointed out, was perfectly voluntary and their scriptures were for the most part written outside Palestine. Nor was it ever a Christian problem. Modern historical research has doubted even the existence of Peter, the Hermit. Even if we assume that the Crusades were an attempt to make Palestine a Christian problem, the attempt was defeated by the victories of Salah-ud-Din. I, therefore, regard Palestine as a purely Muslim problem.”
He espoused parallel thoughts in his poems as well, which were perhaps the most inspiring to the Muslims of India. His poem Sham-o-Falesteen (Syria and Palestine) poignantly proclaims:
Heaven’s blessing on those brazen Frenchmen shine!
Aleppo’s rare glass brims with their red wine.
—If the Jew claims the soil of Palestine,
Why not the Arab Spain?
Some new design must have inflamed our English potentates;
This is no story of oranges, honey or dates.
The second couplet is the most telling i.e. if Jews had a claim on Arab land because they were present there two thousand years ago, then the Arab Muslims certainly had a claim on Spain where they ruled for 800 years.
World War II
In 1938, Mr. Iqbal passed away before the onset of World War II but his message on Palestine was immortalized in his poems, statements, and speeches. The AIML continued to honor his legacy by not only pursuing the creation of Pakistan but also facilitating Palestine resolutely. When the war broke out, the British, characterizing shrewd but indignant behavior, cozied up to the AIML for their support in WWII. This was primarily because the Hindu-dominated Congress’ support was not forthcoming.
During the war, many pro-Palestinian actions were undertaken. For example on the AIML’s call, Palestine Day was observed on the 26th of August 1938 across the subcontinent. In 1939, Mr. Jinnah sent senior AIML members Ch. Khaliquzzaman and Abdur Rehman Siddiqui to meet with the Grand Mufti of Palestine to assist with the Palestinian issue. In July 1939, the British government prepared and issued a white paper unilaterally. The White Paper of 1939 called for the establishment of a Jewish home within an independent Palestinian state in the next 10 years and rejected the Peel Commission’s recommendations. In simpler words, it recommended a one-state solution for the Arabs and Jews. It also ordered that Jewish immigration be limited and would depend on Arab consent. Many Arab leaders thought such recommendations were untenable and rejected the proposal, as did the Jews. The latter became militant and incepted a violent campaign against the British.
Mr. Jinnah too was critical of the white paper – he criticized its recommendations and reiterated that the original promises made to the Arabs in WWI along with their demands should be honored. He wrote to Viceroy Linlithgow that the British “…should try and meet all reasonable national demands of the Arabs in Palestine“ as this was one of the prerequisites for AIML’s cooperation in the British war effort in India during 1939-40. Mr. Jinnah had also threatened “to call out the Muslim Ministries in the Provinces“ on the issue of British injustices towards Palestinians.
Mr. Jinnah also pledged his support to the Supreme Arab Council of Palestine. He ramped up the pressure domestically and reaffirmed to the British how important Palestine was spiritually for the Muslims. Furthermore, he created a “Palestine Fund” to raise and dispatch money for Palestinian families who lost their relatives in the struggle for freedom. Despite his constant struggle towards the creation of Pakistan, he remained adamant about the Palestinian cause as well.
Post-WWII: Creation of Pakistan and Israel
The post-war scenario looked bleak for the Palestinians. For the Indian Muslims too it was a difficult time due to the intensifying question of partition. Despite this critical juncture (around 1946) and the Indian Muslims requiring all their energy, Mr. Jinnah and the AIML did not vacillate vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue. On 20th April 1946, The Anglo-American Committee report was published – it recommended that 100,000 Jewish immigrants persecuted by Nazis be allowed to immigrate to Palestine immediately (among other things). Upon hearing such, Mr. Jinnah remarked that this was the “grossest betrayal of the promises made to the Arabs” and he was distraught at how the great powers had only leveraged the territory of Palestine to accommodate the Jews at the Arabs’ expense.
The Grand Mufti of Palestine Muhammad Amin-el-Husseni himself recognized Mr. Jinnah’s unyielding struggle towards the Palestinian cause several times. On one such occasion in 1946, the Grand Mufti wrote to Mr. Jinnah, “Muslims of the world would remember how the League under leadership of Jinnah favored and cared for the affairs of the Muslim countries like Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Western Trablus, Indonesia and all other countries of North Africa.”
In 1946, the US, which had replaced the UK as the dominant global power, and its dalliance with Israel began to blossom further – this was evidenced by the US President’s policy of supporting a Jewish state in Palestine.
On 14th August 1947, Mr. Jinnah’s long and tedious struggle to create an independent nation for the Muslim Indians was finally successful. Although a momentous occasion for the AIML and new Pakistanis, the Palestinians were not as lucky as they became anguished due to the UN’s deliberation on how to partition Palestine. When the partition plan was accepted by the UN in November 1947, Mr. Jinnah, then the Governor General of Pakistan, wrote to US President Truman and asserted, “The decision is ultra vires of the United Nations charter and basically wrong and invalid in law… The very people for whose benefit this decision is taken—the Jews, who have already suffered terribly from Nazi persecution—will I greatly fear, suffer most if this unjust course is pursued…”
Talking to Robert Simson of the BBC, he expressed that the decision was “unjust and cruel” and pledged to aid the cause “of the Arabs in Palestine in every possible way.” In the aftermath of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine that aimed to divide the territory into an Arab state, a Jewish state, and a Special International Regime for Jerusalem and Bethlehem, war broke out internally as well as between the nations of the Arab League and Israel. The result was almost a complete Israeli victory with the new state not only controlling their area proposed by the UN but also occupying around 60% of the area proposed to the Palestinians. Israel also took control of West Jerusalem, which was meant to be an international zone. The state of Israel was born on 14th May 1948.
History, the greatest of writers, inscribed poetically how Pakistan and Israel both came to be within the space of 9 months – perhaps the only two nations to be created in the name of religion. Both nations are marked with territorial disputes as well, which remain unresolved and pose a threat on a global scale. Mr. Jinnah passed soon after on 11th September 1948.
A few months ago if someone asked me if Pakistan would ever recognize Israel regardless of the strong Israel-US nexus, my answer would be a no. However, in recent months the elites of Pakistan have trapped the country in an almost-unwinnable situation after Imran Khan’s ouster. Pakistan is desperate for money, for its loans to be waived, and for inflation to come down. Terrorist attacks have also begun rising. Therefore, Israel, already on a high after the Abraham Accords, might see this as an opportunity to aid or pressurize Pakistan to recognize Israel, sell their nuclear weapons, or both. The murmurings of such Machiavellian machinations have been ongoing in the country’s power corridors as well as on social media for a while. In fact, when the relatively stable government of Imran Khan was governing, there were internal and exogenous pressures on him to recognize Israel. Now that a vapid and corrupt government marred with greater economic and political schisms has replaced his, those same burdens stand buttressed.
If Pakistan does become desperate or corrupt enough to recognize Israel, it would be to its detriment in the long run. Conversely, to “befriend” and perhaps denuclearize the only Muslim nuclear state with one of the strongest armies in the world would be a massive victory for Israel. Netanyahu himself is on record for stating that after Iran, Pakistan is the largest specter to the state due to its possession of a massive nuclear arsenal.
Pakistanis, as pro-Palestine as they are, are in a despairing situation, which will turn murkier still, I fear. The implication is that maybe the citizens (not all but some) could be convinced of the absurd move to recognize Israel or worse. I am completely opposed to this as the Palestine issue has always remained a red line for Pakistan – this much we must not obfuscate – and for the politicians and citizens to abandon this red line would be catastrophic, maybe not economically, but morally and spiritually.
We must remember that in British India, times were tougher for the Muslims than what Pakistan is facing currently but the founders did not compromise on their scruples even with their backs against the wall. For example, Mr. Jinnah, known even by his rivals as incorruptible, was made several enticing offers from Gandhi, Viceroy Mountbatten, and others to become the first PM of a united India if his demand for Pakistan was renounced – but he never accepted. Mr. Iqbal, as unwavering himself, expressed his fiery passion for Palestine in a letter to Mr. Jinnah, “The Palestine question is very much agitating the minds of the Muslims… Personally I would not mind going to jail on an issue which affects both Islam and India. The formation of a Western base on the very gates of the East is a menace to both.”
Mr. Jinnah and Mr. Iqbal’s examples signify the indefatigable commitment towards Pakistan and Palestine that Pakistanis must exemplify now. Therefore, the country must follow in the steadfast footsteps of the founders and refrain from recognizing Israel – for recognizing Israel is to forsake Palestine and to forsake Palestine is to forsake Pakistan.
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