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The Humanitarian Crisis in the Middle East: Solutions and Consequences

Marwa Osman

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“Dialogando” (in dialogue) was back again this year in the beautiful city of Stintino, a coastal commune in the Province of Sassari in the Italian Island Sardinia. The municipality of the Italian city opened on December 4, 2015 in cooperation with the “Gulf Mediterranean Forum” the second edition of the Conference “Dialogando” discussing “the Humanitarian Crises in the Middle East: Solutions and Consequences”.

The conference featured participants from several countries in the Mediterranean region in search for solutions to the deepening terrorism crisis, which is claiming thousands of lives in the region.

Mr. Antonio Diana Mayor of Stintino opened the conference by welcoming the participants to his city and announcing his intention to create a “center for interfaith dialogue” in order to create a balanced dialogue between religions in order to find common ground in dealing with the aggravating refugee crisis on the one hand and the crisis of the terrorists on the other hand.

Mr. Diana concluded saying: “We wish to end a message from here, from Stintino, in an attempt to contribute to the solution of this crisis which we are all of suffering from.”

Dr. Hamzah Jammoul, researcher in conflict resolution and International relations and also one of the conference’s main organizers, stressed that “the crisis is a humanitarian crisis with political and legal dimensions”, proposing a number of questions: “What is the role of Italy in the face of this crisis? Is Italy’s role equivalent to that of China, Russia, and the US? Why did Italy do during the past years to contribute to the solution of this Mediterranean dilemma, especially for the Libyan and Syrian crisis?” Dr. Jammoul added that” Italy should assume a key role in the Mediterranean”, pointing out that this role should be of two parts, first to come up with a political framework to find a solution for the crisis in the affected countries and a second legal framework to find a solution to the influx of refugees to Europe and regularize their status.

Dr. Jammoul also pointed out to the ” absence of a clear vision on the issue of granting visas to refugees,” adding that “170 thousand refugees have arrived in Italy during the year 2015 where 450 thousand applied for asylum in Italy and the rest chose to move to other countries such as Germany and France, which indicated that Italy is also a transit country for these refugees”.

Meanwhile, Former Italian Minister of public instruction Mr. Luigi Berlinguer provided a different approach to the subject beginning with the need to “stop the terrorists by force, since the use of force in dealing with terrorists is part of the solution but it is not enough because they are in great numbers”. He also stressed that we should “rise up against this phenomenon … and we cannot allow history to write about our inability to find a solution to this humanitarian crisis.”

While Berlinguer called for an urgent solution to this crisis, he also pointing to the “the clash of interests between the rich and the poor.” He concluded by saying: “we have to find an immediate solution because the terrorists’ ability to recruit more is growing”.

For his part, Dr. Amer Al Sabaile, secretary general of the Mediterranean Gulf Forum, stressed that addressing the humanitarian crisis and reducing the phenomenon of asylum to Europe can only be part of a comprehensive plan to establish development and to fight terrorism. Within this framework, Dr. Al Sabaile highlighted that “counter-terrorism strategy cannot be a single strategy and bring about positive to this confrontation unless we have a unifying efforts rather than having multiple separated efforts. Confrontation with terrorism has reached a crucial stage that cannot be tolerated anymore, which requires a qualitative move towards bridging the gap between the international coalition and the Russian intervention, which has become a fait accompli and must be dealt with it according to the new political literature, which several US-led coalition member states are now dealing with on a reality basis”.

As for Mr. Henry Malosse, former president and member of the European Economic and social committee, he proposed the creation of a Mediterranean Union to follow up on the refugee crisis which concerns both the Arab Maghreb countries as well as the Middle East. Malosse also pointed out that with the deepening refugee crisis, the people of Europe have begun to lose confidence in their own governments, stressing that “the core of the crisis lies in the question: Are the European countries dealing with one another as a union? Or are they sustaining the notion of national sovereignty which is contrary to the concept of the Union?” He then pointed out that “Lebanon has received two million Syrian refugees while the total number of the Lebanese population is 4 million! If France would receive this percentage, the number of refugees in the French territory will be about 20 million refugees”, stressing the need to support the countries that host and receive the refugees.

For his part, the former Jordanian Information Minister Ali Alayed pointed out that the number of Refugees in his country amounted to twenty percent of the total population and that they live in a decent way and are engaged within the Jordanian society. The minister stressed that the Jordanian government is striving to ensure the needs of all refugees residing within its territory. He also called on Europe to play a greater role in order to find a radical solution, saying “we fight for peace and humanity…we fight for better conditions.”

Meanwhile, member of Italian Parliament and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Italian Parliament, Mariano Rabino that “a military solution cannot be the fundamental solution to the problem, but must be accompanied by a political solution,” stressing the need to “remove the Isis virus from Mosul and Raqqa”. He pointed to the existence of a problem “in the multifaceted European societies”, drawing attention to the fact that” those who are executing attacks in Europe should not be called upon as Arabs but on the contrary it should be noted that they had been brought up, received education and grew up in the European Environment”, concluding that “the problem is a social and cultural one, and the solution lies in the search for the roots of this problem”.

Ms. Elly Schlein, member of the European Parliament, for her part considered that “it is unfair to put the people escaping prison (refugees) in other prisons,” stressing the need to give them a margin of freedom. Schlein also called for “breaking down the network of smugglers who contribute to the deaths of hundreds per day out at sea” and continued to demand from the west “to stop their sale of arms which are ultimately used against us”. She finally concluded that “the time has come to put an end to policies that force us to buy oil from those who use the money to fund and support terrorists”.

On the same note, Dr. Hassan Jouni, professor of International Law, stressed that the West has to stop the exploitation of the wealth of the poor in the southern hemisphere while focusing on the need for a military intervention against terrorism because the political and negotiated solutions do not work with terrorists.

While, Dr. Sergio Giangregorio, president of the European center of orientation and studies, pointed to the close link between asylum and terrorism. He told a number of stories that he had heard from the refugees about the appalling conditions they experienced because of terrorists. He also drew attention to the large number of refugees who warned of the infiltration of terrorist into Europe under the pretext of humanitarian asylum.

He also said that “the goal of the arrival of these terrorists to Europe is to create radical movement of Islam”, holding Turkey the greater responsibility of asylum at sea and the infiltration of terrorists into Europe as well. He stressed that “the massacre of Paris proved that there is a center of evil in the world is planning to spread evil everywhere which has become an intellectual reference for these jihadists.”

Meanwhile, Admiral Mario Rino Me utilized his military experience in the Italian Navy to explain some of the details relating to the military and humanity aspects of the war on Syria. He said that the “Arab Spring awakened European countries, which expects to this spring to blossom freedoms”, noting however that “a vacuum of power produced by this spring was somewhat covered up by countries living within rival identities”. Admiral Rino Me concluded that “the surge of terrorism came along to initiate a sectarian conflict”, stressing that “what is going on has nothing to do religions and cultures, it’s rather linked to the issue of controlling the world.”

Ms. Marwa Osman. PhD Candidate located in Beirut, Lebanon. University Lecturer and host of the political show “The Middle East Stream” broadcasted on Al-Etejah English Channel. Member of the Blue Peace Media Network and political commentator on issues of the Middle East on several international and regional media outlets.

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Middle East

The fallacy of soccer’s magical bridge-building qualities

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Imagining himself as a peacemaker in a conflict-ridden part of the world, FIFA President Gianni Infantino sees a 2022 World Cup shared by Qatar with its Gulf detractors, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as the magic wand that would turn bitter foes into brothers.

It may be a nice idea, but it is grounded in the fiction that soccer can play an independent role in bringing nations together or developing national identity.

The fiction is that soccer has the potential to be a driver of events, that it can spark or shape developments. It is also the fiction that sports in general and soccer in particular has the power to build bridges.

Mr. Infantino’s assertion that if foes play soccer, bridges are built is but the latest iteration of a long-standing myth.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Soccer is an aggressive sport. It is about conquering the other half of a pitch. It evokes passions and allegiances that are tribal in nature and that more often than not divide rather than unite.

In conflict situations, soccer tends to provide an additional battlefield. Examples abound.

The 2022 World Cup; this year’s Qatari Asian Cup victory against the backdrop of the Gulf state’s rift with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt; the imprint the Palestinian-Israeli conflict puts on the two nations’ soccer; or the rise of racist, discriminatory attitudes among fans in Europe.

The Bad Blue Boys, hardcore fans of Dinamo Zagreb’s hardcore fans, light candles each May and lay wreaths at a monument to their comrades who were killed in the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s. They mark the anniversary of a riot during the 1990 match against Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade, their club’s most controversial match, as the first clash in the wars that erupted a year later and sparked the collapse of former Yugoslavia.

Fact of the matter is that sports like ping pong in Richard Nixon’s 1972 rapprochement with China or the improvement of ties between North and South Korea in the most recent Summer Olympics served as a useful tool, not a driver of events.

Sports is a useful tool in an environment in which key political players seek to build bridges and narrow differences.

The impact of soccer in the absence of a conducive environment created by political not sports players, is at best temporary relief, a blip on an otherwise bleak landscape.

The proof is in the pudding. Legend has it that British and German soldiers played soccer in no-man’s lands on Christmas Day in 2014, only to return to fighting World War One for another four years. Millions died in the war.

Similarly, Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites poured into the streets of Iraqi cities hugging each other in celebration of Iraq’s winning in 2007 of the Asia Cup at the height of the country’s sectarian violence only to return to killing each other a day later.

Soccer’s ability to shape or cement national identity is no different. In other words. football can be a rallying point for national identity but only if there is an environment that is conducive.

The problem is that soccer and the formation of national identity have one complicating trait in common: both often involve opposition to the other.

That is nowhere truer than in the Middle East and North Africa where soccer has played and plays an important role in identity formation since it was first introduced to the region in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Qatar has been in some ways the exception that proves the rule by plotting its sports strategy not only as a soft power tool or a pillar of public health policy but also as a component of national identity. That element has been strengthened by the rift in the Gulf and bolstered by this year’s Asian Cup victory.

Qatar’s efforts to strengthen its national identity benefits from the fact that the Gulf state no longer operates on the notion that Gulf states have to hang together. Today its hanging on its own in a conflict with three of its neighbours.

Soccer’s role in identity formation in the Middle East and North Africa was often because it was a battlefield, a battlefield for identity that was part of larger political struggles.

Clubs were often formed for that very reason. Attitudes towards the country’s monarchy in the early 20th century loomed large in the founding of Egypt’s Al Ahli SC and Al Zamalek SC, two of the Middle East and North Africa’s most storied clubs.

Clubs in Algeria were established as part of the anti-colonial struggle against the French. Ottoman and Iranian rulers used sports and soccer to foster national identity and take a first step towards incorporating youth in the development of a modern defense force.

Zionists saw sports and soccer as an important way of developing the New Jew, the muscular Jew. To Palestinians, it was a tool in their opposition to Zionist immigration. And finally, soccer was important in the shaping of ethnic or sub-national identities among Berbers, Kurds, East Bank Jordanians and Jordanian Palestinians.

In other words, soccer was inclusive in the sense of contributing to the formation of a collective identity. But it was also divisive because that identity was at the same time exclusionary and opposed to an other.

The long and short of this is that soccer is malleable. Its impact and fallout depend on forces beyond its control. Soccer is dependent on the environment shaped by political and social forces. It is a tool that is agnostic to purpose, not a driver or an independent actor.

Edited remarks at Brookings seminar in Doha: Lessons from the 2019 Asian Cup: Sports, Globalization, and Politics in the Arab World

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Syrian Coup de Grâce

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The Middle Eastern land has a diverse blend of history with conflicts and developments in knowledge. Where on one hand Baghdad was considered as the realm of knowledge on the other hand Constantinople was a symbol of power and domination. But now it seems that all has been shattered completely with conflicts.

The Middle Eastern landscape is facing its worst time ever: a phase of instability and misery. The oil ridden land is now becoming conflict ridden, from Euphrates to Persian Gulf; every inch seems to be blood stained nowadays.  The region became more like a chess board where kings are not kings but pawns and with each move someone is getting close to checkmate.

Starting from the spring which brought autumn in the Middle Eastern environment, now the curse is on Assyrian land where blood is being spilled, screams have took over the skies. The multi facet conflict has caused more than 400,000 deaths and 5 million seeking refuge abroad whereas 6 million displaced internally.

What began with a mere peaceful civil uprising, has now become a world stage with multiplayers on it. Tehran and Moscow are playing their own mantra by showing romance with Assad while Washington has its own way of gambling with kings in their hand. Involvement of catchy caliphate from 2014 is worsening the complexities of the Syrian saga. The deck is getting hot and becoming more and more mess, chemical strikes, tomahawk show, carpet bombing, stealth jets and many more, Syrian lands is now a market to sell the products exhibiting fine examples of military industrial complex. While to some, Syrian stage seems to be a mere regional proxy war, in reality it seems like a black hole taking whole region into its curse. One by one every inch of the country is turned into altar as the consequence of war. A country is now ripped into different territories with different claimants, but the question still remains as “Syria belongs to whom?”

The saga of Syrian dusk has its long roots in past and with each passing moment it is becoming a spiral of destruction. What is being witnessed in current scenario is just a glimpse of that spiral. It has already winded the region into it and if not resolve properly and maturely it can spread like a contagious disease that can take whole Middle East into its chakra.

With recent development in Iran nuclear deal which left whole world into shock; and house of Sauds forming strong bond with western power brokers and Israel, to counter Tehran (because kings of holy desert have so much engraved hatred towards shiaits, that they prefer to shake hands with Jews and establish an unholy alliance) is making matters worse. This all has the potential to push the region into further more sectarian rifts. With Syrian stage already set. The delicacy of the situation is not secluded from the palette of the world.

Despite the condemnations from across the globe, humanitarian watch remains blind and failed to address the issues in Syria leaving Syrians in long lasting agony and despair The symphony of pain and suffering continues in the Middle Eastern region while world watches like a vicious sadist, the region becomes a playground for major powers as ‘Uncle Sam” has their own interests in engaging, Kremlin have their own concerns same goes for every single actor who is party to the conflict.

The panacea to the Arabian pain is simple “a sincere determined approach” to the disease. Even if every party with draws from the conflict the situation can get worse due to the generated power vacuum and can make Syria a replica of Iraq. The Syrian grieve needs to be addressed through proper management skills, if not the curse is upon whole region.

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The battle for leadership of the Muslim world: Turkey plants its flag in Christchurch

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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When Turkish vice-president Fuat Oktay and foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu became this weekend the first high-level foreign government delegation to travel  to Christchurch they were doing more than expressing solidarity with New Zealand’s grieving Muslim community.

Messrs. Oktay and Cavusoglu were planting Turkey’s flag far and wide in a global effort to expand beyond the Turkic and former Ottoman world support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s style of religiously-packaged authoritarian rule, a marriage of Islam and Turkish nationalism.

Showing footage of the rampage in Christchurch at a rally in advance of March 31 local elections, Mr. Erdogan declared that “there is a benefit in watching this on the screen. Remnants of the Crusaders cannot prevent Turkey’s rise.”

Mr. Erdogan went on to say that “we have been here for 1,000 years and God willing we will be until doomsday. You will not be able to make Istanbul Constantinople. Your ancestors came and saw that we were here. Some of them returned on foot and some returned in coffins. If you come with the same intent, we will be waiting for you too.”

Mr. Erdogan was responding to an assertion by Brenton Tarrant, the white supremacist perpetrator of the Christchurch attacks in which 49 people were killed in two mosques, that Turks were “ethnic soldiers currently occupying Europe.”

Messrs. Oktay and Cavusoglu’s visit, two days after the attacks, is one more facet of a Turkish campaign that employs religious as well as traditional diplomatic tools.

The campaign aims to establish Turkey as a leader of the Muslim world in competition with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and to a lesser degree Morocco.

As part of the campaign, Turkey has positioned itself as a cheerleader for Muslim causes such as Jerusalem and the Rohingya at a moment that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Muslim nations are taking a step back.

Although cautious not to rupture relations with Beijing, Turkey has also breached the wall of silence maintained by the vast majority of Muslim countries by speaking out against China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the troubled north-western province of Xinjiang.

Mr. Erdogan’s religious and traditional diplomatic effort has seen Turkey build grand mosques and/or cultural centres across the globe in the United States, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Asia, finance religious education and restore Ottoman heritage sites.

It has pressured governments in Africa and Asia to hand over schools operated by the Hizmet movement led by exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen. Mr. Erdogan holds Mr. Gulen responsible for the failed military coup in Turkey in 2016.

On the diplomatic front, Turkey has in recent years opened at least 26 embassies in Africa, expanded the Turkish Airlines network to 55 destinations in Africa, established military bases in Somalia and Qatar, and negotiated a long-term lease for Sudan’s Suakin Island in the Red Sea.

The Turkish religious campaign takes a leaf out of Saudi Arabia’s four decade long, USD 100 billion effort to globally propagate ultra-conservative Sunni Islam

Like the Saudis, Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) provides services to Muslim communities, organizes pilgrimages to Mecca, trains religious personnel, publishes religious literature, translates the Qur’an into local languages and funds students from across the world to study Islam at Turkish institutions.

Turkish Muslim NGOs provide humanitarian assistance in former parts of the Ottoman empire, the Middle East and Africa much like the Saudi-led World Muslim League and other Saudi governmental -non-governmental organizations, many of which have been shut down since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Saudi Arabia, since the rise of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2015, has significantly reduced global funding for ultra-conservatism.

Nonetheless, Turkey is at loggerheads with Saudi Arabia as well as the UAE over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; Turkish support for Qatar in its dispute with the Saudis and Emiratis; differences over Libya, Syria and the Kurds; and Ankara’s activist foreign policy. Turkey is seeking to position itself as an Islamic alternative.

Decades of Saudi funding has left the kingdom’s imprint on the global Muslim community. Yet, Turkey’s current struggles with Saudi Arabia are more geopolitical than ideological.

While Turkey competes geopolitically with the UAE in the Horn of Africa, Libya and Syria, ideologically the two countries’ rivalry is between the UAE’s effort to establish itself as a centre of a quietist, apolitical Islam as opposed to Turkey’s activist approach and its support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

In contrast to Saudi Arabia that adheres to Wahhabism, an austere ultra-conservative interpretation of the faith, the UAE projects itself and its religiosity as far more modern, tolerant and forward looking.

The UAE’s projection goes beyond Prince Mohammed’s attempt to shave off the raw edges of Wahhabism in an attempt to present himself as a proponent of what he has termed moderate Islam.

The UAE scored a significant success with the first ever papal visit in February by Pope Francis I during which he signed a Document on Human Fraternity with Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the revered 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Muslim learning.

The signing was the result of UAE-funded efforts of Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to depoliticize Islam and gain control of Al Azhar that Sheikh Al-Tayeb resisted despite supporting Mr. Al-Sisi’s 2013 military coup.

To enhance its influence within Al Azhar and counter that of Saudi Araba, the UAE has funded  Egyptian universities and hospitals and has encouraged Al Azhar to open a branch in the UAE.

The UAE effort paid off when the pope, in a public address, thanked Egyptian judge Mohamed Abdel Salam, an advisor to Sheikh Al-Tayeb who is believed to be close to both the Emiratis and Mr. Al-Sisi, for drafting the declaration.

“Abdel Salam enabled Al-Sisi to outmanoeuvre Al Azhar in the struggle for reform,” said an influential activist.

The Turkey-UAE rivalry has spilt from the geopolitical and ideological into competing versions of Islamic history.

Turkey last year renamed the street on which the UAE embassy in Ankara is located after an Ottoman general that was at the centre of a Twitter spat between Mr. Erdogan and UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan..

Mr. Erdogan responded angrily to the tweet that accused Fahreddin Pasha, who defended the holy city of Medina against the British in the early 20th century, of abusing the local Arab population and stealing their property as well as sacred relics from the Prophet Muhammad’s tomb,. The tweet described the general as one of Mr. Erdogan’s ancestors.

“When my ancestors were defending Medina, you impudent (man), where were yours? Some impertinent man sinks low and goes as far as accusing our ancestors of thievery. What spoiled this man? He was spoiled by oil, by the money he has,” Mr. Erdogan retorted, referring to Mr. Al-Nahyan.

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