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The Origin and Essence of “Palestine” and “Palestinians” as political entities (A)

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“Palestine” as a territory and “Palestinians” as a people are not mentioned in the Qur’an or in the Sunnah (Hadīth and Sīrah), or in the entire Islamic Scriptures, or all along Islamic history. This is the most important fact to understand the political issues today. If any, “Palestine” and “Palestinians” are not only new invention of the 20th century, but the origin of the names is not Islamic or Jewish or other local Middle Eastern source, but a British one, a name taken from the Roman period.

Moreover, if the name “Palestine” has any linguistic relation to the Roman name “Palaestina” that meant to erase the Jewish name, Eretz-Yisrael, the Land of Israel, after it was conquered, there is nothing whatsoever concerning the name “Palestinians” as a nation, politically, socially, or etymologically.

To add to this scientific truth and reality, Jerusalem is also not mentioned in the Qur’an or in the Sunnah (Hadīth and Sīrah). After it was conquered by the Muslims in 638, it was called by the Muslim invaders “The City of the Temple House” (Madinat Bayt al-Maqdis). Bayt al-Maqdis is translated in Hebrew, the Jewish Beit Ha-Miqdash.

To end the religious-historical-political debate, this territory is called in the Qur’an “The Land of the Children of Israel” (Ard Banī-Isra’īl); “The Blessed Land” of the Children of Israel (al-Ard al-Mubārakah); “The Holy Land” of the Children of Israel (al-Ard al-Muqadasah). No “Palestine” or “Palestinians”, but the Children of Israel.

From Islamic perspective, Allah has assigned the Holy Land to the Children of Israel until the day of Judgement (Sûrat al-Mā’idah, 5:21). “we made the people who were deemed weak to inherit the eastern lands and the western ones which we had blessed; and the good word of your Lord was fulfilled in the Children of Israel” (Sûrat al-A’rāf, 7:137). “And we said unto the Children of Israel: dwell in the land of promise; but when the promise of the Hereafter cometh, we shall bring you as a crowd gathered out of various nations” (Sûrat Banī Isrā’īl, 17:104). “We made the Children of Israel the inheritors of the Land (Sûrat al-Shû’arā’, 26:59).

By that, the religious argumentation is over for good. There is no “Palestine” as a territory and “Palestinians” as a people, but the Land of Israel alone. As for the historical side, it is also short and clear: the territory called “Palestine” is a new political invention of the beginning of the 20th century; and the name “Palestinians” is the name of a people beginning to identify themselves from the second half of the 20th century.

“Palestine” had no special geographic entity or political role whatsoever in the history of the region, and the “Palestinians” had no specific sociopolitical or cultural identity, but only after the creation of the State of Israel. “Palestine” has never been a territorial-cultural unit in history, let alone a political one, with its people as one recognized entity, struggling for independence among other political entities in the region.

There is nothing at all, in the entire Islamic literature or poetry, archaeological or scientific, from the 7th century to the 20th century that mention whatsoever “Palestine” and “Palestinians”. Indeed, this is a new creation of the 20th century. Moreover, had the British called the territory not “Palestine” but “Jupiter”, would we be hearing today of a Jupiterian people fighting to liberate their Jupiterian territory?

To set the scientific undoubted truth: this has nothing to do with the question whether there is a “Palestinian” people today. Contrary to the “Palestinians”, who refute and deny any connection of the Jews to their land, the “Land of Israel,” it has to be said: today there is a Palestinian people, a new and invented one, but still it exists. But, it is a new creation of the 20th century, and “Palestinianism” as a national identity, is the creation of the middle of the 20th century.

So far for “Palestine” as a territory and “Palestinians” as a people. From here we can debate the relevant issues honestly and correctly, without the bias of false propaganda. King David captured Jerusalem and made it a political and religious center for the Jews. His son Solomon bureaucratized the Jewish state and inaugurated the First Temple. Since the dynasty of David and Solomon, and after the destruction of the Second Jewish House by the Romans in year 70, this territory, the Land of Israel, was conquered and ruled by many empires in history, and still, except of the Crusaders’ “kingdom of Jerusalem,” there has never been an independent political entity with its unique nation living and residing in the territory of the Land of Israel.

To make it even clearer: since the Islamic occupation of the Land of Israel in 634 and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, there was never an Arab or Islamic independent rule or political regime in this territory. It was ruled independently in the first Jewish Kingdom, the Second Jewish Kingdom, and the State of Israel. This is a historical fact no one can deny scientifically.    

Bernard Lewis, perhaps the best Islamic and Middle East researcher, has made a comprehensive review of the issue, in which we can discern the following aspects. The word Palestine comes from Philistine, originally denoting the southern coastal region. In Hebrew that area was known as Pleshet, a Hebrew word. In the New English Bible, the Latin name Palaestina is replaced by Philistia in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the word Palestine does not occur at all.

The Babylonian conquest of the Land of Israel, and the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, culminated in destruction of the First Temple. The Roman conquest of the Land of Israel, and the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE, culminated in destruction of the Second Temple. At first, the Romans called the country “Provincia Judaea”. But after crushing the Bar-Kokhba rebellion in the year 135, the Romans changed the name to “Provincia Syria Palaestina”, part of its policy of divide-and-rule, with the intention of uprooting any memory of Jewish existence. In about 400 CE, Palestine was split into two provinces known as “Palaestina Prima” and “Palaestina Secunda”. Later, in 425 CE, “Palaestina Tertia” was added. The new Roman name for Jerusalem was “Aelia Capitolina”. The Jews continued to consider it as the Land of Israel and “The Promised Land”.

After the Arabs had conquered the country, Palaestina Prima became Jund Filastin, the military district of Filastin (the Arabic adaptation of the Roman name), administered from Ramla; Palaestina Secunda including Western Galilee, became Jund al-Urdun (Jordan military district), was administered from Tiberias. The Arab division of the country, like the Roman, was not vertical between east and west, but horizontal, with Filastin in the south and Urdun in the north.

During the Islamic Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, the country was treated merely as part of Syria (bilad al-Sham). For the Crusaders, the area was called “The Holy Land” or the “Kingdom of Jerusalem”. The end of Crusader rule in Jerusalem came in 1187, when Saladin (Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi) drove them out. After the Islamic re-conquest of the country, the term Filastin did not come back into use. The parts of the country were named after major cities (Jerusalem, Gaza, Nablus, and Nazareth). In various places, the area was sometimes called al-Quds Sahel, Jerusalem coast.

During the Ottoman Empire the Land of Israel was divided into three districts as administrative units (Sanjaks): Gaza, Jerusalem, and Nablus, with their provincial capital in Damascus. The country was known as “Southern Syria” (Suriyah al-Janubiyah). More specifically, the area from Safed to Jerusalem was part of the Vilayet (province) of Beirut. Indeed, Ottoman rule further emphasized the absence of any socio-cultural or political identity of the country in Arab and Islamic thought. For the population of the area, the territory had never meant more than an administrative sub-district, and had been forgotten even in the limited sense.

What was the social-political reality of the Land of Israel up to the end of the 19th century? Most documents and Christian travelers who visited the country described it as a land in decay. The common adjectives were “desolate” and “neglected”. “So abandoned that even the imagination cannot give it the splendor of life.” “The emptiness of a silent world.” The economy was primitive, the transportation wretched, and the roads dangerous. Jaffa and Haifa were described as “frozen, wretched life”.

According to all the demographic estimates, in the middle of the nineteenth century, there were about 300,000 persons, most of them a mixed multitude of recently arrived migrants. Arab Muslims were the majority of the population carried on a semi-nomadic way of life, and lived in the mountains of the Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. The Christians were concentrated in the holy cities, in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. The Jews lived mainly in Jerusalem, where they were a majority of the population, as well as in Hebron, and the Galilee cities of Safed and Tiberias .

Until the end of the First World War, Palestine was divided into several districts belonging administratively to Syria, and the inhabitants considered themselves part of Syria, broadly defined. British rule from late 1917, made “Palestine” the name of the formal political entity. Neither Jews nor Arabs consented to the name, however the Jews accepted it formally together with the name the Land of Israel, whereas the Arabs saw themselves as part of Syria and rejected it.

The best account of the period is still Porath’s analysis. The idea of a British mandate for a Jewish National Home stimulated the counter-notion of Palestine’s unity with Syria, with Damascus as its capital. This trend is attested by the recommendation of the King-Crane Commission that, “The unity of Syria be preserved, in accordance with the petition of the great majority of the people of Syria.” King and Crane recommended that Palestine be included in Syria.

From the beginning, the British were engaged on three separate political tracks. This multi-faceted policy bore crucial influence on the future of the Middle East. It began with official correspondence, ten letters written, starting in July 1915, between Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, and Sherif Hussein of Mecca, whom the British made spokesman of the Arabs.

According to Clayton, the British Director of Military Intelligence, Britain only wanted to keep the friendship and active assistance of the various Arab chieftains. McMahon never had it in mind to set up an Arab state, since the conditions throughout Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Syria did not allow such a scheme to be put into practice. To Storrs, the Oriental Secretary, the Hashemite demands were impossible, and Hussein’s borders were in fact tragi-comic. Moreover, Hussein had received no mandate whatsoever from his Arab counterparts, and the whole issue was premature and out of context.

All British officials maintained that McMahon had specifically excluded all the areas west of the district of Damascus, what they call Palestine. According to Lloyd George, McMahon was very convinced that the exclusion of Palestine was well understood by Sherif Hussein. Colonel Vickery, an expert Arabist, stated that he could affirm most definitely that Hussein’s demands were centered only on Syria. Hussein stated quite emphatically that he did not concern himself with Palestine at all, and he had no desires there. This was Clayton’s impression too.

The second British political track was the secret talks with France and Tsarist Russia, resulting in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, concerning the post-war division of the Middle East under European control and their respective spheres of influence. The region was to be divided into zones of direct and indirect British and French rule, while “Palestine,” the brown zone on the map, was to be internationally administered.

The third British political track was the Balfour Declaration, a letter from the British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, to Lord Rothschild, declaring that “His majesty’s government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.”

Much has been written about this commitment and its consequences. Essentially, the arguments are divided into four: a) strategic self-interest. The Jewish entity would be friendly to British interests in the region; b) self-deception: the Jewish people wielded enormous economic and political power that would help usher the US into the First World War, and would stop the Bolshevik revolution in Russia; c) religious idealism: the British Protestants believed it was the duty of Christianity to help the Jews return to Palestine, as a precondition for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ; d) admiration of the British leadership for Judaism and Zionism as conformed to the principles of national self-determination and the right of a nation to rule on a nation-state.

The British government was never consistent in its interpretation of the Declaration, and did not speak with one single voice. Yet, all agreed that President Wilson’s wartime Fourteen Points support the principles of self-determination, and the rights of small nations to independence, including the Jews.

Nevertheless, the Declaration was not published hastily or frivolously; nor was it formulated out of ignorance of the facts, in the words of Lord Amery, one of its authors. It is a striking fact that four drafts were drawn up, starting in July 1917, before the Declaration was published. Talks and discussions about the various approaches towards Palestine had already begun in Britain in 1915.

The following aspects are important for understanding the matter:

First, this was a step taken with deliberation, which the British government decided upon cautiously. It was an inseparable part of its policy. The government received the consent of all the major parties in Britain, and the decision was enthusiastically supported by policy-makers, particularly the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, and the foreign minister, Lord Balfour, admirers of Zionism and the advancement of Jewish interests in the Land of Israel.

Second, it suited the perceptions of British military men and statesmen who viewed the Jewish National Home in the Land of Israel as a basis for loyal manpower, a barrier to the French expansion southwards, from Syria and Lebanon, and an alternate base for the British presence in Egypt for defending the Suez Canal.

Third, Britain’s Principal Allies, the United States, France, Russia, and Italy, knew the contents of the Declaration before it was made public.

Fourth, inclusion of the Declaration in the Mandate over Palestine that Britain received gave it the force of law and a recognized international status.

Fifth, the Declaration had an attraction for public opinion in Britain and the United States, and it suited the spirit of the times that sympathized with national movements for attaining self-determination.

The goal of the British government was defined by the Foreign Office: to establish a state in its natural and historic boundaries, that constant immigration and economic development would make into a Jewish state. From Britain’s viewpoint, the greatest and oldest historical wrong done to the Jews was coming to an end.

There was no mentioning of a “Palestinian” people.

The Arabs argued that the Balfour Declaration was merely a statement of sympathy for the Zionist movement, however, this was not the issue. The historical context was worked out in the Agreement of Understanding and Cooperation which was signed on 3 January 1919 by Amir Faisal – ”the leader of the Arab uprising”, according to the King-Crane Commission, “the representative of the Arab national movement”, according to the British – and by Chaim Weizmann, representing the Zionist movement. The aim was defined as collaboration in developing the Arab state and a Jewish Palestine:

Relations…shall be controlled by the most cordial good will and understanding (art. 1)…the definite boundaries between the Arab state and Palestine shall be determined (art. 2)…carrying into effect the British Government Declaration of the 2nd November 1917 (art. 3)…all necessary measures shall be taken to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine in large scale” (art 4).

There was no mentioning of a “Palestinian” people.

In his famous exchange of letters of March 3-5, 1919, with Felix Frankfurter, Amir Faisal recognized that there was no distinguishable Palestinian nationhood, and declared “There is room in Syria for both of us.” However, Arab pressures on Amir Faisal showed their success in an interview in the Jewish Chronicle of October 3, 1919. He explained his views about the meaning of his agreement with Weizmann as follows: From the Arab viewpoint, Palestine is merely a district, and the objective was to set up an Arab state including Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine. The Arabs could not retreat from this position. The Jews are members of the Mosaic faith and are not a nationality. Moreover, the possible immigration of Jews is up to 1,500 per year. This territory would be a sub-district of the Arab kingdom under his kingship, in which the Jews would enjoy cultural rights. However, Jewish sovereignty is utterly rejected.

There was no mentioning of a “Palestinian” people.

With the opening of the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919, Amir Faisal presented a memorandum describing the demands and proposals of the Arab national movement. His proposals were rejected, but subsequent to the tension that developed between Britain and France, the president of the United States, Wilson, proposed sending an investigating commission to examine the attitudes of the inhabitants as to a desirable government. This commission, which in the end had only two members, American representatives, King and Crane, presented its recommendations in August 1919 in a detailed report: Syria (including Lebanon and Palestine) should be considered a single political unit, headed by Amir Faisal, and it should be guided by a mandatory power, but not by France. The commission proposed changing Zionist plan and preventing the turning of Palestine into a Jewish state. However, this report was filed away by the American administration.

There was no mentioning of a “Palestinian” people.

Meanwhile, the mandate principle was accepted in June 1919, in Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. In April 1920, at a session of the San-Remo Conference, it was agreed to grant the mandate over Syria and Lebanon to France, and the mandates over Palestine and Iraq to Britain. Included in the mandate was the Balfour Declaration as a document obliging political action. Thereby the Balfour declaration took on international validity.

The mandate was approved by the League of Nations on July 24, 1922, but it entered into effect only a year later, when the Churchill White Paper was included in it. Winston Churchill was the Colonial Secretary. His White Paper stipulated that the National Home provisions of the Mandate were not applicable to Trans-Jordan to the east. Thus, the Churchill White Paper cut away a major part of Palestine (35,468 square miles out of 46,339) in order to set up the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, known at that time as Trans-Jordan.

Still, there was no mentioning of a “Palestinian” people.

In the remaining years until the conclusion of British rule in 1948, the Jewish and Arab inhabitants lived in a country officially named “Palestine” in English, “Filastin” in Arabic, and “Palestina (E.I.)” in Hebrew, the initials E.I. standing for Eretz-Israel.

Therefore, in opposition to the Arab claims that Britain was characterized by blatantly inconsistent policy, by a zig-zag policy, there are ample proofs there was precisely a high degree of consistency in its policy, though there were disputes between policy-making officials in London and policy executing officials on the ground. Moreover, Kedourie is right in his brilliant study of in the Anglo-Arab labyrinth, saying that if there was a fraud, and if manipulations were performed, it was precisely the Arabs, masters at negotiating, who tried to change the circumstances of political history in order to dictate other political frameworks, so as to make reality turn in their favor.

If one closely examines British policy from the Balfour Declaration in 1917 to the MacDonald White Paper in 1939, he will note a drastic shift of British policy towards the Arab positions. Yet, it was not enough for the Arabs demanding an extreme pro-Arab policy, since they demanded all of the territory, out of total rejection to Israel, as they do today. Still, there was no mentioning of a “Palestinian” people.

So much for “Palestine”, but what about the “Palestinians”? Who are the “Palestinians”? The population now called “Palestinians” were a mixture of many peoples roaming and migrating around the region, from and through Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Arabia and even Sudan. The Syrian and Egyptian accents of Arabic are very conspicuous among the Arab population.

During the Ottoman period, the Arabs living in the country were known particularly by their religious affiliation. They did not regard themselves – nor were they regarded by others – as “Palestinians”.

All reliable history books clearly prove that the non-Jewish population of “Palestine” grew steadily by many groups from around countries after the Jewish-Zionist flourishing economy and its enterprises. The 11th edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, in volume 20, under the entry “Palestine,” provides a detailed information on the inhabitants, roughly estimates to be 650,000. They are composed of a large number of elements, differing widely in ethnological affinities, language and religion. There are no less than 20 foreign ethnicities other than the small native fellahin and the Jews and Christians living in the cities: Assyrian, Persian, Roman, Arabian, Nawar, Turkic, Armenian, Greek, Italian, Turkoman, Kurd, Bosnian, Circassian, Sudanese, Algerian, and others. It mentions that this complexity makes it no easy task to dwell on the ethnology of “Palestine.”

Therefore, if there were Palestinians and a Palestinian state existed, when was it founded and by whom? What were its borders? What were its capital and major cities? What was its language and its national emblem and currency? Who were its leaders, what were their interactions with other leaders, and where they are written in accords of the history of the region? There is nothing of the sort, and all are imagined and fabricated.

Indeed, the people called “Palestinians” are anything but generic Arabs collected from all over the regional countries. If they really have a genuine ethnic identity entitled for self-determination, why did they never try to become independent until the establishment of the State of Israel, and mainly the 1967 Arab defeat? The “Palestinians” have only one motivation: the destruction of Israel as a state and as a nation.

The first years of the Mandate saw their stubborn struggle to be part of Syria, to have a Syrian identity. The Arabs in the country began to use the name “Palestinian” only on account of the Zionist successes. Their identification as Palestinians came only after the establishment of the State of Israel, and it was purely crystallized after Israel’s victory in the 1967 war.

As late as 1945, the famous Arab historian Philip Hitti appeared before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry and vehemently claimed that there were no Palestinian people, and that no “Palestine” had existed in history. This was also the official position of the Palestinian Arab representatives. They stated that “Palestine” was part of Syria in the geographic sense, and its inhabitants belonged to the Syrian branch of the Arab family of peoples.

This was also the position of the Arab representatives who appeared before the UN General Assembly in 1947. They asserted that Palestine was part of Greater Syria, and that the Palestinians did not constitute an entity separate and distinct from the Syrians. The striking phenomenon that emerges here is the reference to the Arab population as Arabs, not Palestinians. All the international decisions spoke of Arabs. The refugees too were referred to in the 1950s and 1960s as Arabs. Even Security Council Resolution 242 spoke only of Arab refugees, not of “Palestinians”.

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Eurasianism wins in Turkey even if ideologue loses election

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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He’s been in and out of prison during Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule and is running against the president in this weekend’s Turkish elections with no chance of defeating him and little hope of winning a seat in parliament.

Yet, Dogu Perincek wields significant influence in Turkey’s security and intelligence establishment and sees much of his Eurasianist ideology reflected in Mr. Erdogan’s foreign policy.

With Mr. Erdogan likely to emerge victorious from Sunday’s election despite the opposition posing its most serious challenge to date, Mr. Perincek looks set to be a winner even if he does not make it into parliament.

Messrs. Erdogan and Perincek seem at first glance poles apart. Mr. Perincek is a maverick socialist and a militant secularist whose conspiratorial worldview identifies the United States at the core of all evil. By contrast, Mr. Erdogan carries his Islamism and nationalism on his sleeve.

Nonetheless, Mr. Perincek’s philosophy and world of contacts in Russia, China, Iran and Syria has served Mr. Erdogan well in recent years. His network and ideology has enabled the president to cosy up to Russia; smoothen relations with China; build an alliance with Iran, position Turkey as a leading player in an anti-Saudi, anti UAE front in the Middle East; and pursue his goal of curtailing Kurdish nationalism in Syria.

Tacit cooperation between Messrs. Erdogan and Perincek is a far cry from the days that he spent in prison accused of having been part of the Ergenekon conspiracy that allegedly involved a deep state cabal plotting to overthrow the government in 2015.

It was during his six years prison in that Mr. Perincek joined forces with Lt. Gen. Ismail Hakki Pekin, the former head of the Turkey’s military intelligence, who serves as vice-chairman of his Vatan Partisi or Homeland Party.

His left-wing ideology that in the past was supportive of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PPK) viewed as a terrorist organization by the Erdogan government, has not stopped Mr. Perincek from becoming a player in NATO member Turkey’s hedging of its regional bets.

Together with Mr. Pekin, who has extensive contacts in Moscow that include Alexander Dugin, a controversial Eurasianist extreme right-winger who is believed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Perincek mediated the reconciliation between Moscow and Ankara following the Turkish air force’s downing of a Russian fighter in 2015. The two men were supported in their endeavour by Turkish businessmen close to Mr. Erdogan and ultra-nationalist Eurasianist elements in the military.

Eurasianism in Turkey was buoyed by increasingly strained relations between the Erdogan government and the West. Mr. Erdogan has taken issue with Western criticism of his introduction of a presidential system with far-reaching powers that has granted him almost unlimited power.

He has also blasted the West for refusing to crack down on the Hizmet movement led by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish imam who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, whom Mr. Erdogan holds responsible for an unsuccessful coup in 2016, in which more than 200 people were killed.

Mr. Erdogan has rejected Western criticism of his crackdown on the media and dismissal from public sector jobs and/or arrest of tens of thousands accused of being followers of Mr. Gulen.

Differences over Syria and US support for a Syrian Kurdish group aligned with the PKK have intensified pro-Eurasianist thinking that has gained currency among bureaucrats and security forces as well as in think thanks and academia. The influence of Eurasianist generals was boosted in 2016 when they replaced officers who were accused of having participated in the failed coup.

Eurasianism as a concept borrows elements of Kemalism, the philosophy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the visionary who carved Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire; Turkish nationalism; socialism; and radical secularism.

It traces its roots to Kadro, an influential leftist magazine published in Turkey between 1932 and 1934 and Yon, a left-wing magazine launched in the wake of a military coup in 1960 that became popular following yet another military takeover in 1980.

Eurasianism is opposed to liberal capitalism and globalization; believes that Western powers want to carve up Turkey; and sees Turkey’s future in alignment with Russia, Central Asia, and China.

Mr. Perincek’s vision is shared by hardliners in Iran, including the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who advocate an Iranian pivot to the east on the grounds that China, Russia and other members of the Beijing-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) were more reliable partners than Europe, let alone the United States.

The Guards believe that Iran stands to significantly benefit as a key node in China’s infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiative and will not be confronted by China on its human rights record.

Some Iranian hardliners have suggested that China’s principle of non-interference means that Beijing will not resist Iran’s support of regional proxies like Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, Shiite militias in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen in the way the United States does.

Their vision was strengthened by US president Donald J. Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran. China, Russia and Europe have vowed to uphold the deal.

Iranian empathy for Eurasianism has been reinforced by Chinese plans to invest $30 billion in Iranian oil and gas fields, and $40 billion in Iran’s mining industry as well as the willingness of Chinese banks to extend loans at a time that Mr. Trump was seeking to reimpose sanctions.

Turkey’s embrace of the Eurasianist idea takes on added significance after Russia and the European Union slapped sanctions on each other because of the dispute over Russian intervention in Ukraine. The EU sanctions halted $15.8 billion in European agricultural supports to Russia. Russian countermeasures prevent shipment of those products via Russia to China.

Mr. Perincek may, however, be pushing the envelope of his influence in his determination to restore relations between Turkey and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The first thing that we will do after victory in the election is that we will invite Bashar Assad to Ankara and we will welcome him at the airport. We see no limitations and barriers in developing relations between Turkey and Syria and we will make our utmost efforts to materialize this objective,” Mr. Perincek vowed in a campaign speech.

More in line with Mr. Erdogan’s vision is Mr. Perincek’s admiration for China. “China today represents hope for the whole humanity. We have to keep that hope alive… Every time I visited China, I encountered a new China. I always returned to Turkey with the feelings of both surprise and admiration,” Mr. Perincek told China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.

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Bahrain’s Peaceful Gandhi might be executed

Sondoss Al Asaad

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Tomorrow, Thursday, 21 June 2018, Bahrain’s High Criminal Court is expected to hand down the maximum sentence possible against the opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, which might be the death penalty. Sheikh Salman’s trial is politically motivated and based on fabricated and arbitrary charges of espionage. Sheikh Salman; detained in December 2014 in his capacity as the now-dissolved Al-Wefaq opposition bloc’s Secretary-General, was sentenced to four years on alleged charges of “inciting disobedience and hatred.”

However, in November 2017, he was shockingly charged for “conspiring with Qatar” to overthrow the regime. Bahrain’s Public Prosecution relied its accusation on the well-known telephone conversation between Shiekh Salman and the Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem, in 2011; which aimed to resolve the 14 February 2011’s unrest. This call, indeed, stems from an open and documented mediation attempt that was originally encouraged by the United States.

In April 2018, the U.S. State Department issued a report in which it expresses concern over the continued arbitrarily prosecution of Sheikh Salman. Urgently, the international community, the United States and the United Kingdom, mainstream media, press, human rights organisations, activists and all free people around the globe must pressure Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release Sheikh Salman as well as all other prisoners of conscience. In addition, the government must halt this political unfair trial and reinstate all arbitrarily dissolved political blocs.

It is worthy to mention that Sheikh Ali Salman was detained in 2014 due to his bloc; i.e. Al-Wefaq’s boycott to the parliamentary elections, then. Al-Wefaq has long complained the political and economic discrimination, lack of impunity and the absence of an independent judiciary. Interestingly, the bizarre allegations were raised once the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)’s states witnessed a diplomatic dispute with Qatar, since June 2017.

Bahrain’s Public Prosecution has called in March for the “maximum penalty” against Sheikh Salman and his two in absentia co-defendants, who are too figures in Al-Wefaq. The three could face capital punishment on politically motivated charges of establishing “intelligence links with Qatar […] to undermine its political and economic status as well as its national interest and to overthrow the political system.”

The Bahraini authorities have long suppressed the opposition particularly this time; prior the elections for the lower house of Bahrain’s National Assembly in November, which constitute a quite vivid and blatant violation of the fundamental rights to freedom, fair trial, free expression, and free association. In fact, this groundless trial and the ongoing clampdown have virtually left no political freedom in the country. Clearly, Bahrain has been openly violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Sheikh Salman is currently serving his 4-years sentence in Jau Central Prison, along with the rest of the opposition leaders. His co-defendant, in this unfair trial, Sheikh Hassan Sultan was publicly defamed in pro-government media, in June 2017.  At the same time, the National Security Agency (NSA), repeatedly detained and tortured his son, in an attempt to coerce him into becoming an informant in order to target his father; who is exiled and has been arbitrarily stripped of his citizenship in 2015.

In 2016, Bahrain forcibly dissolved Al-Wefaq; seized its assets, blocking its website, and closing its headquarters. It has taken similar action against nearly all opposition groups, including Amal and leftist blocs Al-Wehdawi and Wa’ad. The government’s systematic campaign against the opposition has intensified despite the UN Universal Periodic Review’s recommendations, in May 2017, which called on Bahrain to “review convictions, commute sentences, or drop charges for all persons imprisoned solely for non-violent political expression.”

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The Saudi-Moroccan spat: Competing for the mantle of moderate Islam

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Lurking in the background of a Saudi-Moroccan spat over World Cup hosting rights and the Gulf crisis is a more fundamental competition for the mantle of spearheading promotion of a moderate interpretation of Islam.

It’s a competition in which history and long-standing religious diplomacy gives Morocco a leg up compared to Saudi Arabia, long a citadel of Sunni Muslim intolerance and ultra-conservatism.

Saudi Arabia is the new, baggage-laden kid on the block with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asserting that he is returning the kingdom to a top-down, undefined form of moderate Islam.

To be sure, Prince Mohammed has dominated headlines in the last year with long-overdue social reforms such as lifting the ban on women’s driving and loosening restrictions on cultural expression and entertainment.

The crown prince has further bolstered his projection of a kingdom that is putting ultra-conservative social and religious strictures behind it by relinquishing control of Brussels’ Saudi-managed Great Mosque and reports that he is severely cutting back on decades-long, global Saudi financial support for Sunni Muslim ultra-conservative educational, cultural and religious institutions.

Yet, Prince Mohammed has also signalled the limits of his definition of moderate Islam. His recurrent rollbacks have often been in response to ultra-conservative protests not just from the ranks of the kingdom’s religious establishment but also segments of the youth that constitute the mainstay of his popularity.

Just this week, Prince Mohammed sacked Ahmad al-Khatib, the head of entertainment authority he had established. The government gave no reason for Mr. Al-Khatib’s dismissal, but it followed online protests against a controversial Russian circus performance in Riyadh, which included women wearing “indecent clothes.”

The protests were prompted by a video on social media that featured a female performer in a tight pink costume.

In a similar vein, the Saudi sports authority closed a female fitness centre in Riyadh in April over a contentious promotional video that appeared to show a woman working out in leggings and a tank-top. A spokesman for the royal court, Saud al-Qahtani, said the closure was in line with the kingdom’s pursuit of “moderation without moral breakdown.”

Saudi sports czar Turki bin Abdel Muhsin Al-Asheikh said “the gym had its licence suspended over a deceitful video that circulated on social media promoting the gym disgracefully and breaching the kingdom’s code of conduct.”

Mr. Al-Sheikh’s sports authority moreover apologized recently for airing a promotional video of a World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., event that showed scantily clad female wrestlers drawing euphoric cheers from men and women alike.

To be sure, the United States, which repeatedly saw ultra-conservative Islam as a useful tool during the Cold War, was long supportive of Saudi propagation of Islamic puritanism that also sought to counter the post-1979 revolutionary Iranian zeal.

Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia’s more recent wrestle with what it defines as moderate and effort to rebrand itself contrasts starkly with long-standing perceptions of Morocco as an icon of more liberal interpretations of the faith.

While Saudi Islamic scholars have yet to convince the international community that they have had a genuine change of heart, Morocco has emerged as a focal point for the training of European and African imams in cooperation with national governments.

Established three years ago, Morocco’s Mohammed VI Institute for Imam Training has so far graduated 447 imams; 212 Malians, 37 Tunisians, 100 Guineans, 75 Ivorians, and 23 Frenchmen.

The institute has signed training agreements with Belgium, Russia and Libya and is negotiating understandings with Senegal.

Critics worry that Morocco’s promotion of its specific version of Islam, which fundamentally differs from the one that was long prevalent in Saudi Arabia, still risks Morocco curbing rather than promoting religious diversity.

Albeit on a smaller scale than the Saudi campaign, Morocco has in recent years launched a mosque building program in West Africa as part of its soft power policy and effort to broaden its focus that was long centred on Europe rather than its own continent.

On visits to Africa, King Mohammed VI makes a point of attending Friday prayers and distributing thousands of copies of the Qur’an.

In doing so Morocco benefits from the fact that its religious ties to West Africa date back to the 11th century when the Berber Almoravid dynast converted the region to Islam. King Mohammed, who prides himself on being a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, retains legitimacy as the region’s ‘Commander of the Faithful.’

West African Sufis continue to make annual pilgrimages to a religious complex in Fez that houses the grave of Sidi Ahmed Tijani, the 18th century founder of a Sufi order.

All of this is not to say that Morocco does not have an extremism problem of its own. Militants attacked multiple targets in Casablanca in 2003, killing 45 people. Another 17 died eight years later in an attack in Marrakech. Militants of Moroccan descent were prominent in a spate of incidents in Europe in recent years.

Nonetheless, protests in 2011 at the time of the popular Arab revolts and more recently have been persistent but largely non-violent.

Critics caution however that Morocco is experiencing accelerated conservatism as a result of social and economic grievances as well as an education system that has yet to wholeheartedly embrace more liberal values.

Extremism is gaining ground,” warned Mohamed Elboukili, an academic and human rights activist, pointing to an increasing number of young women who opt to cover their heads.

“You can say to me this scarf doesn’t mean anything. Yes, it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s isolating the girl from the boy. Now she’s wearing the scarf, but later on she’s not going to shake hands with the boy . . . Later on she’s not going to study in the same class with boys. Those are the mechanisms of an Islamist state, that’s how it works,” Mr. Elboukili said.

Mr. Elboukili’s observations notwithstanding, it is Morocco rather than Saudi Arabia that many look to for the promotion of forms of Islam that embrace tolerance and pluralism. Viewed from Riyadh, Morocco to boot has insisted on pursuing an independent course instead of bowing to Saudi dictates.

Morocco refused to support Saudi Arabia in its debilitating, one-year-old economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar but recently broke off relations with Iran, accusing the Islamic republic of supporting Frente Polisario insurgents in the Western Sahara.

Moroccan rejection of Saudi tutelage poses a potential problem for a man like Prince Mohammed, whose country is the custodian of Islam’s two holiest cities and who has been ruthless in attempting to impose his will on the Middle East and North Africa and position the kingdom as the region’s undisputed leader.

Yet, Saudi Arabia’s ability to compete for the mantle of moderate Islam is likely to be determined in the kingdom itself rather than on a regional stage. And that will take far more change than Prince Mohammed has been willing to entertain until now.

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