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Belgium: Marking Syria’s 70 years of Independence

Marwa Osman

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Marking the 70th anniversary of the Syrian Independence Day from the French colonial power, nonprofit organization SOLIDALE, also named SOL.ID, organized a “Stand by Syria” conference against terrorism and imperial colonialism. To illuminate these matters, SOL.ID Belgium brought together renowned international experts for this conference in Antwerp on Sunday the 17th of April in the Belgian city Antwerp.

The participants agreed on the importance of the conference to show you reconciliation is happening all across the nation and how Syrians overcome the challenges of inhumane and hypocritical sanctions.

The conference also demonstrate how the Syrian youths are evolving the nation through culture, fashion and entertainment. And how religion is bringing Syrians together instead of tearing them apart by mobilizing their efforts to face the heinous war being waged against Syria with the aim of undermining the state and killing its people.

Several prominent guests participated on the event including a representative from the Syrian embassy Mr. Bassim Hanoun, consul-general of the Russian federation Mr. Evengy N. Egorov and from the Iraqi embassy counselor Mr. Muthana Alumayri. The attendees where a mix from Arab countries residing in Belgium and a vast number of Belgian citizens.

The event included speeches from a number of momentous speakers like Father Daniël Maes who leads the Mar Yakub Monastery close to Qara, Syria in which people of different ethnic and religious background have sought refuge. Father Maes spoke of his experience inside Syria before and after the war highlighting the devastation which the war brought upon the peaceful Syrian people.

Mother Agnes de la Croix who also leads the Mar Yakub Monastery close to Qara, Syria spoke to the attendees via Skype saying “when we were talking at the beginning of the Syrian crisis about the reality of what was happening inside Syria, our European friends would not believe. They would tell us that you are afraid to say the truth because you have a dictator. But we are religious and I am a nun who has lived her life in a monastery. I have no political choices. My choice is the truth and justice for the innocent and still no body believed us until they saw it in their own eyes.”

Also amongst the speakers was Sheikh Ali Abu Raya who is the current main preacher and scholar at the Imam Reda Islamic Center in Brussels (Centre Islamique Imam Reda). The Imam Reda Center was attacked in March of 2012, when wahhabi terrorist Rachid El Boukhari drove a car straight into the prayer hall, killing Sheikh Abdellah Dahdouh. Sheikh Dahdouh was known for working actively on good relations with Christians and Sunni alike. Sheikh Raya, who currently tries to fill the shoes of Sheikh Dahdouh, spoke about how the war in Syria has had a devastating impact on women. He said that the women are paying the price of war, terrorism and wahhabism. When women suffer, the entire society suffers Sheikh Raya emphasized. He also stressed that the ideal way to stop this terrorism will be to stop the Gulf money that is being funneled into Syria to promote terrorism.

Father Paulus Sati, an Iraqi priest to the Chaldean Church gave an inspiring speech as well. Father Sato who manages the Chaldean community in Antwerp and who has been on the forefront of the cause for Christians in the Middle East said that terrorism will not cease to exist unless the extreme ideology behind it is dealt with asap. He stressed that even if we eliminate Isis (Daesh), the ideology will produce more terrorists in the future. This is why we need religious men and women to stand together united to fight extremism, he said.

Representing the Secretary of the Council of Syrians in the Netherlands. Ms.Yvette Shamier emphasized that one of the main reason behind the Syrian refugee crisis is the economic sanctions imposed on Syria which only affects the public. Ms. Shamier stated that we should work on stooping the sanctions so that the refugees could have a viable country to return to. Malik Samoel who is also the President of the Council for Syrians in the Netherlands (CSN) and official representative for all Syrian expats in the country spoke about the bravery of the Syrian Arab Army in the face of terrorism and interventionists.

Ms. Rima Darious who is a Syrian activist and member of the Syrian Youth Council also reiterated in her speech the importance of the work being done by the youth of Syria in trying to lift the societies they live in which have suffered a lot as a result of the war. Ms. Darious explained how the Syrian Youth Council has organized several cultural events and competitions inside Syria for four years in a row up to this year to promote steadfastness and peace.

Amongst the guests as well was Sheikh Hasanain al-Hachami who is a young Ja’fari Muslim scholar and preacher originally from Iraq. Sheikh al-Hachami spoke about how terrorists are falsely labeling themselves as Muslims when in reality they don’t resemble anything related to the real Islam of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).

I thankfully also had a chance to give my thoughts on the fight Syria is waging against terrorism and imperial colonialism while being faced by the vilest enemies that roam the Earth, Wahhabi-inspired radicals who are supported by the US and its NATO and Gulf allies.

The conference represented the success of the peaceful ideology in the face of that of terrorism which has also recently struck several European states showing that takfiris have no borders to stop them and that humanity as a whole is their enemy.

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

US-Iran Tension: Avert any big disaster to humanity

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US-Iran tension is growing to a dangerous level. Irrespective of who is right and who is wrong, but everyone agrees that it is leading toward a big disaster. Human life and natural resources are at stake. Irrespective, who will suffer more and who will suffer less, but it is human life, which is the most precious thing in this world, is at stake.

Middle-East is an oil and gas-rich area and meets the major portion of world energy demand. Any disturbance in this region will have a severe impact on the global economy. Whether one is right or wrong, will be the victim of this crisis directly or indirectly.

This war will be not like the Iraq war or the Libya War. As at that time, there was only one superpower and the world was unipolar. There was no resistance from any corner of the world. US and allies, without any resistance, conducted the war and achieved their desired results. But a lot of resistance was witnessed in case of Syrian War. The whole scenario has been changed, the calculated results were not achieved yet. Finally, the US has decided to pull back its troops. Similarly, Afghanistan case is not ideal, after spending trillion dollars, and fighting for 17 years, not gains on the ground and finally has to pull back.

It may not be limited to only US-Iran but may engulf the whole region. As traditional rivals are waiting for an appropriate opportunity to settle their old disputes. Whether, it is Arab-Iran, or Israel-Iran, or Arab-Israel enmity, may it spread to a much wider sphere than expected. It is in control of a few countries to start or refrain the escalation, but once it has been broken, it may be beyond the control of either country.

Especially, Russia and China are not sleeping at this time. They are in a strong position to offer resistance. It should not be taken an easy task like Iraq or Libya war. It is difficult to predict the exact reaction of Russia or China, but anticipated resistance.

If we expect, US or Iran to avert this foreseeable war will be not a realistic approach. As if they were to avoid any disaster, they should not have created so hype and should not have moved to this stage. They may not accept total hegemony of the US in this part of the world. They have heavy stakes in the middle-East and cannot be spectators only.

Geopolitics has been changed, regional alliances have emerged, and nations have re-aligned themselves. Much more complex changes have been witnessed after the war on terror. Public awareness has been enhanced, maybe some of the governments in this region have a different outlook, but public opinion is much more realistic and may play a vital role in the days to come. Old time’s friends may stand on the other side of the table. Some radical changes may be visible on grounds.

UN role was ineffective in the past and a little is expected in the future. In fact, the UN has been hijacked and curtailed to a very limited role practically. While one of its major mandates was to resolve the disputes among nations and avoid wars or war-like situations.

Under this serious scenario, there is a hope that all peace-loving nations and individuals, may peruse the UN and International Community do something to avert this bid human disaster.  We all share one world, we have the responsibility to save this world. Any loss of human life in any part of the world is considered the loss to the whole of humanity. And the destruction of natural resources may be considered a loss to humanity. Any damage to Environment or ecology or biodiversity may be a net loss to humanity. We all are son and daughter of ADAM and share a common world, common environment, common resources. We need to protect humanity, environment and natural resources.

It is strongly appealed to the UN, International Community and all individuals who believe in Peace, must act, and must act now, and must act strongly, to avert any bid disaster to humanity.

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Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.

The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.

The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.

“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.

The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.

Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.

The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.

A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.

The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.

The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.

“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.

The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.

The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.

The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.

Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.

In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”

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Middle East

The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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