[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap] audi columnist, Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Latif Aal al-Sheikh: The ideology of the al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah movement is similar to, or even worse than the Nazi ideology. Both Jihadi-Salafi and Nazism are based on hatred and physical elimination of the other. Both ideologies share hatred of the other and eliminating through his physical extermination – and they have many other common denominators as well.
After the ruin, destruction, and bloodshed that Nazism brought upon mankind, the number of its victims reached tens of millions, the world arose to fight against this murderous ideology, and all steps were taken on the ideological, cultural, and political levels, to prevent this ideology from spreading anew.
The question arises is why, in light of the similarity between these two ideologies, we haven’t learned a lesson, and why we are not fighting against the foundations of al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah, its religious scholars, its theoreticians, and its preachers, just as we deal with criminals, murderers, and robbers? The concept of jihad has become a destructive terrorist concept, a call to murder.
In his next article titled “On the Contrary, They Are Worse than the Nazis and Stray More from the Right Path,” al-Sheikh writes: The terrorists have sullied Islam with blood and tarnished its name through violence, killing, explosions, and destruction, it is the obligation of clerics and everyone involved in Da’wah before anyone else to defend the religion and the peaceful people from among the Muslims and others. Have the clerics of our times fulfilled their duty? The most direct answer is: Sadly, no!
Imagine that the way of dealing with statements by al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah is comparable to the West’s way of dealing with Nazism, would TV channel, like the Qatari al-Jazeerah dare to spread this ideology and demand ‘freedom of speech’? Everybody knows that this channel in particular has had the greatest media impact on the shaping, spreading, and strengthening of this dangerous trend, and that it provides it with wide space to express its ‘acts of heroism’, its statements, and its videotaped operations, to the point where it has become the primary platform of [al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah] as is happening today in Iraq.
Therefore, one of the primary missions of the international community today is to repeat its experience with Nazism and to deal with this dangerous barbarian culture exactly as it dealt with the Nazi culture. If this does not happen, the near future is liable to bring consequences of which will be far more severe for all of humanity than [the consequences] of World War II (al-Jazeerah (Saudi Arabia), July 10, 2005, and July 24, 2005).
Umran Salman, a Bahraini journalist living in the U.S., criticizes the Sunni silence over the extermination of the Shi’ites in Iraq: Aren’t the Arabs Ashamed When Some of Them Massacre Iraqi Citizens?
When the Jordanian terrorist, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, declared war against the Shi’ites in Iraq, to blow up children, women, and the elderly, none of the Arabs uttered a word and none shed a tear for the thousands of Iraqis being murdered. Don’t the Arabs feel sense of shame when some of them kill and massacre Iraqi citizens? Don’t they feel pangs of conscience when they try to come up with excuses and justifications for the murderers and criminals whom they call the ‘resistance?’ How can they be silent and ignore declaration of the extermination of millions of people because of their sectarian affiliation? How is one to [describe] the Arab silence in light of the murder of Shi’ite Iraqis and their intimidation in the most despicable and base of ways? The murderers declare their positions publicly and consider them Jihad for the sake of Allah. How is one to explain [the silence of] politicians and members of the media?
What can we say in light of the attitude of the Arab media and the Arab satellite channels in particular, which report the killings, the slaughters, and the suicide bombings among Iraqi citizens coolly. The war being waged by the terrorists against the Shi’ites in Iraq is among the acts of collective extermination, which is rare in modern history.
There has been no case in the past in which somebody has declared a similar war against a race or a group as a whole, except Nazi Germany against the Jews. Muslim scholars in Arab countries have issued dozens of Fatawa about current political issues, but have not issued even a single fatwah declaring bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, or al-Zarqawi to be infidels. The world is witness that the Arabs and the Sunnis are silent and standing idly by, and some are even welcoming, the cold-blooded murder of the Shi’ites. They will bear this mark of shame for all eternity.
The Sunnis have persecuted the Shi’ites, declared them infidels, and continue to treat them in their countries as second-class citizens and have returned today to complete what they started in previous centuries. In the 21st century they are continuing their massacres and crimes against them, in full view of the world. Do these people not feel the shame and disgrace that shroud them? (www.elaph.com, October 15, 2005: MEMRI, no. 1010, October 21, 2005).
Saudi author, Badriyya al-Bishr, a lecturer in social sciences at King Saud University, in an article titled: “Imagine You Are a Woman”.
Imagine you’re a woman. You always need your guardian’s approval regarding each and every matter. You cannot study without your guardian’s approval, even if you reach a doctorate level. You cannot get a job and earn a living without your guardian’s approval. Imagine you’re a woman and the guardian who must accompany you wherever you go is your 15-year-old son or your brother. Imagine you’re a woman and you are subject to assault, beatings, or murder. In the event that your husband is the one who broke your ribs [people will say] that no doubt there was good reason for it.
Imagine you’re a woman whose husband breaks her nose, arm, or leg, and when you go to the Qadi to lodge a complaint, he responds reproachfully ‘That’s all?!’ In other words, beating is a technical situation that exists among all couples and lovers. Imagine you’re a woman and you are not permitted to drive. Imagine you’re a woman in the 21st century, and you see Fatawa by contemporary experts in Islamic law dealing with the rules regarding taking the women of the enemy prisoner and having sexual intercourse with them, even in times of peace.
Imagine you’re a woman who writes in a newspaper, and every time you write about [women’s] concerns, problems, poverty, unemployment, and legal status, they say about you: ‘Never mind her, it’s all women’s talk’ (al-Sharq al-Awsat, October 9, 2005: MEMRI, no. 1012, October 24, 2005)
The liberal Bahraini journalist, ‘Umran Salman, explains Arab-Muslim hatred. Hatred in the Arab and Muslim world is a general phenomenon that is not limited only to the Americans. It is possible that the Arabs and Muslims hate each other no less than they hate others. In the 1990s, over 200,000 citizens were killed in Algeria, most of them by extremist Islamic groups. What was the response of most of the Arabs and Muslims?
Presenting justifications for the murderers and terrorists. During those years, the Taliban movement also abused Shi’ites, Azeris, Tajikis, and other minorities, and no one did anything to stop it. In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, occupied it, and expelled its residents. What was the response of the Arabs and Muslims? Nothing. On the contrary: Most Arabs and Muslims supported Saddam. And in 1991, Saddam murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shi’ites and Kurds, and Arabs and Muslims did not condemn it.
These days, Arab militias, supported by the Khartoum government, are continuing their racist campaign of annihilation against the African Muslims in Darfour. In Iraq, al-Zarqawi and the terror groups affiliated with him are slaughtering Shi’ites and blowing up their mosques and their schools, after declaring war on them. In both cases, none of the Arabs or the Muslims are acting to prevent this, or even to condemn the deeds.
In total, during a single decade alone no less than half a million Arab and Muslim victims were murdered by Arabs and Muslims. In addition, the religious, ethnic and national minorities in the Arab world, Shi’ites, Isma’ilis, Jews and Christians have been subject to humiliation, persecution, as characterized by racism.
The United States response to terror attacks of September 11, 2001, was aimed at accomplishing three goals:
First, to strike a crushing blow against the al-Qa’idah’ and its allies in the Taliban in Afghanistan. This goal was accomplished;
Second, to destroy the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein and of the fascist Ba’th party in Iraq. This goal too was accomplished;
Third, to spread democracy and freedom in the Middle East. This project will continue for decades to come, but will it succeed?
The first blow infuriated the Islamists; the second blow infuriated the pan-Arab nationalists; and the third blow infuriated the Arab regimes. Gradually, an unofficial alliance emerged between these three parties, with the long-term goal to thwart the new American policy.
Since this alliance is too weak to respond militarily, it responds in the media, the educational systems and the mosques with propaganda, as to distort the image of the U.S. in order to make the Arab citizens loathe everything American. This [propaganda] machine operated at full power in order to brainwash the Arab citizens, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in order to fan the hatred against the U.S. (Mideast Transparent, October 25, 2005: MEMRI, no. 1016, November 2, 2005).
The Liberal Tunisian Dr. Iqbal al-Gharbi, in an article titled “Whither the Arabs and Muslims in the Age of Forgiveness and Pardon?”
The Muslims must take responsibility for their past, must stop blaming others, and must be self-critical. We still insist that we are always the victims, and that we are always innocent. Our history is angelic, our imperialism was a welcome conquest, our invaders were liberators, our violence was a holy jihad, our murderers were Shuhada’, and our defective understanding of the Qura’n and the daily violation of the rights of women, children, and minorities were a tolerant Shari’ah.
Since our societies have known, to date, only a culture of resentment, of hatred, and of seeking vengeance [the question arises] whether we are capable of reconsolidating cultural, moral, and humane relations with the other? Is it possible for us to abandon our current cultural heritage that is full of great illusions and of denigration of the other? There is no doubt that aggression, invasions, and wild acts of annihilation are engraved in human history and widespread across the globe amongst both Muslims and non-Muslims.
But what differentiates us today from others is the extent of our awareness of history… and the extent to which we justify in the name of Islam. What is happening today is an attempt to falsify our history in line with the extreme Islamist movements that call for a return to the illusion of the purity of the era of the first caliphs.
This comes at a time when the historical facts show clearly that the [early Islamic] state that we ennoble with an idyllic nature was a state of civil strife. Why are we hiding the facts and misleading our children? Why don’t we call things by their name, and set them in their historical context? Why do we insist on beautifying our history and on living outside it?
The new ideological atmosphere obliges us to adopt human rights, and to treat these rights as a cultural value and as an achievement – not as merely a tactical maneuver, waiting for a change in the international balance of power, or for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. We must take a number of practical steps: we must renounce, once and for all, the Islam that is awash with accusations of unbelief and treachery that divides the world into the camp of Islam and the camp of unbelief, the camp of war and the camp of peace.
This division destroys any serious dialogue between religions and cultures. We must renounce the dhimmi laws, and apologize to the Christian and the Jewish minorities. We must put an end to our changing of the facts, and to the miserable fabrications that we created in an attempt to prove that these minorities enjoyed a high status in the Islamic state. We must assess Islamic history objectively, and issue an historic public apology to the Africans who were abducted, enslaved, and expelled from their homes.
The Arabs and the Muslims played a sizeable role in this loathsome trade. They alone caused the uprooting of 20 million people, from among the victims of the slave trade. We must apologize to the religious minorities and the small schools of Islamic thought, such as the Isma’ili, the Bahai, the Alawi, and the Druze, for the humiliation and denigration they suffered. Why don’t the Sunnis ask forgiveness from the Shi’ites for the slaughter at Karbala, and for the assassination of Hussein [the grandson of Muhammad], so as to bring to an end the painful past.
By bearing responsibility for our deeds and mistakes, we will abandon our narcissistic self-aggrandizement. Psychology teaches us that every person and every cultural group becomes more mature as it moves from the stage of placing responsibility and blame on others to the stage of self-examination and self-criticism (Metransparent, October 17, 2005: MEMRI, no. 1019 – November 4, 2005).
Regarding its years-long policy of granting safe haven to Muslim extremists; enabling them to spread their ideas in schools, mosques, and the media; giving them legal protection, in the name of freedom of expression and individual rights; and increased criticism of the “silent Muslim majority” and “moderate Muslim intellectuals”, who capitulate to Islamist pressure and do not speak out decisively. Europe must change its lenient treatment of Muslim extremists. Saudi intellectual Mashari al-Dhaydi wrote:
The time has come for those who turn a blind eye to notice that the enemies of freedom have, unfortunately, exploited the atmosphere of freedom provided by the European countries, to spread religious fanaticism everywhere. People who disseminate the ideological and political platform of bin Laden are the greatest enemies of the freedom that the European countries defend. Fundamentalist terrorism knows no borders, and it also threaten the West (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 12, 2005).
‘Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed, director-general of the al-‘Arabiya TV channel, called for the expulsion of Muslim extremists:
For over 10 years now, we have warned against the dangers of leniency, not tolerance, in handling the extremism that is now spreading like a plague among Muslims in Britain. We were never understood why British authorities gave safe haven to suspicious characters previously involved in crimes of terrorism. Why would Britain grant asylum to Arabs who have been convicted of political crimes or religious extremism, or even sentenced to death? The terrorist groups make the most of freedom of speech and movement, by spreading extremist propaganda.
The time has come for British authorities to be realistic and resolute regarding extremism, before complete chaos is unleashed onto British society. In the past, we told you: ‘Stop them!’ Today, we tell you: ‘Expel them’ (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 9, 2005).
Incitement on the Internet must be stopped. One terrorist group murders and a group of extremists justify the act, incite, and recruit others. The Internet has become a main tool for the terrorists. This is the most important and effective medium in corrupting Muslims’ thinking. The source of intellectual danger today is the media, as a whole, including the Internet. It must be censored (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 18, 2005).
Arab columnist Diana Mukkaled writes that The BBC ”Panorama” special dealt with Islamic leaders in Britain who expressed their support for suicide operations against Israeli civilians yet condemned the London attacks. The questions that preoccupy Europe today is who are the enemies living among us; why do they label others as infidels; and why do they hate us?
British Muslim leaders expressed their viewpoints with the belief that ‘We are the believers and the people of paradise and they are the unbelievers and the people of hell’. Such is a language that is present on a daily basis and hardly any [Arab] broadcasting channels are free of such dispute. Yet within the minds of those who propagate these acts, lies the belief that the world will not heed their message when repeated in Arabic on Arab broadcasting channels.
These people will use different terminology when speaking in English on foreign television networks. The world is closely watching of what is written and broadcast in all Arab media. Therefore when a Muslim clerics referring Jews as “grandchildren of monkeys and pigs,” it is inevitable that such words will reach millions of people around the world. The problem does not lie in what the BBC said, but rather in what we say (al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 1, 2005).
The Islamist’s answer to the liberals’ criticism came from British Islamist Dr. ‘Azzam al-Tamimi. On August 29, 2005, he argued that Muslim critics are Islam’s worst enemies, whereas support from non-Islamic sympathizers is Islam’s greatest asset. He calls these liberal writers “traitors” and says that without their help, “Blair and Bush, and the leaders of Australia and New Zealand, would not have dared to act impudently toward Islam and the Muslims… but for the traitors among us,” who help them in a “frenzied attempt to destroy Islam.” In a BBC interview al-Tamimi stated: sacrificing myself for Palestine is a noble cause. It is the straight way to pleasing Allah, and I would do it if I had the opportunity” (BBC interview: November 2, 2004. al-Quds al-‘Arabi, MEMRI, September 7, 2005. No. 980).
al-Tamimi’s argument echoes a similar accusation by sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, the head of the Islamist al-Muhajirun movement in Britain, who was deported to Lebanon. He termed “the notorious fundamentalist” by the London Arabic-language daily al-Sharq al-Awsat. In his interview, Bakri said: “The Muslim community in Britain allows itself to join the British intelligence, security, and army. Therefore, I consider them responsible before Allah…” He also said, “I accuse those recruited by the British government, and they must account for their actions before Allah.”
There is no doubt that the forces of the extreme right and the racist movements and the Zionist lobby in this democratic system have been full of rancor and hatred, and that these events gave them the opportunity to spew their venom. while they justify the violations of human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law, under the pretext of fighting Islamic extremism and terrorism. Despite their small numbers, they are widespread, and the danger posed by those traitors, who reside in the liberal democratic countries is even higher than the rulers of Arab countries. These traitors are a far cry from the giants of the British left, Ken Livingstone and the fighter George Galloway who has allied himself with Muslims. The traitors are a small group full of envy and rancor. In our long-term war of defense against injustice and aggression, we will find in our midst leaders, politicians, writers, and academics standing in the other camp against us. They are the enemy (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 30, 2005).
The Director of MEMRI Reform Project, has summed up the situation of the few Arab Intellectuals and reformists, stating that they are under threat by the Islamists. The restrictions placed on intellectuals’ freedom of expression in the Arab world and the death threats from Islamists are hampering the activities of reformist, secular, and moderate Arab intellectuals. Many of them have found asylum in Western countries, and are attempting to impact Arab and international public opinion from there. Some have stopped writing; others have been forced to request protection from the authorities (MEMRI, November 23, 2005, no. 254). This horrific situation has much worsened through the years to 2016:
Muhammad Sa’id al-‘Ashmawi, an Egyptian judge and author, threatened for his interpretation of Quoraanic verses according to their historical context, which was perceived by Islamists as undermining their religious validity.
Dr. Ahmad Al-Baghdadi, a reformist author who teaches political science at Kuwait University, published a public request for political asylum in a Western country. Accused of contempt for Islam, after he wrote in June 2004, in a Kuwaiti paper, that he would prefer his son study music rather than Qur’an. Claimed that there is a connection between studying Islam and reciting the Qur’an, and terrorism and intellectual backwardness.
Lafif al-Akhdar, accused of an anti-Islamic book defaming Muhammad. He issued a call urging civil society organizations around the world, and especially human rights organizations, to take legal measures to protect him. His chief accuser is Rashed al-Ghanushi, one of the extremist Islamists who enjoys political asylum in Britain, incites extremist Islamists to kill al-Akhdar.
Sayyed Al-Qimni, an Egyptian reformist author and researcher received death threats from Islamists, announced in July 2005, that he was retracting everything he had written in the past, and would no longer write or appear in the media. He had been spared a fate similar to that of the assistant editor of the al-Ahram, Ridha Hilal, who disappeared in August 2003 and the Egyptian security services have been unable to locate him or to discover what befell him.
Arab intellectual reaction to this was: what is the difference between killing a man with a gun and issuing a fatwah permitting his killing? We all know how these stories end: somebody accuses someone else of heresy and a third person, seeking reward in the hereafter, physically eliminates the one accused of heresy. The clerics who incite to terrorism are inciting the Muslim youth to carry out suicide acts and to murder innocent people. This is an incitement to murder the free intellectuals who call for democracy, secularism, and modernism. This is a religious terrorism.
Dr. Shaker al-Nabulsi accused Arab governments, which cannot do anything when it comes to clerics who sanction bloodshed. What have the Arab authorities done about Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi? What have the Western governments done about Rashed Al-Ghanushi, who lives in London? And what has Saudi Arabia done about the 26 clerics who published a fatwah legitimizing jihad in Iraq, which is, in essence, pure terrorism?
The international community should establish an international tribunal to try these people. The terror against the intellectuals reveals the cultural bankruptcy of the Arab regimes and of the Arab peoples. By Allah, the West should not be condemned for thinking that every Muslim is a terrorist, when it sees all these shameful deeds and the Muslims remain as silent as the dead.
The martyrs of free thought are such as Farag Foda [an Egyptian intellectual who was assassinated by fundamentalists] Hussein Muruwwa and Mahdi ‘Amel [Lebanese intellectuals who were assassinated by fundamentalists], Mahmoud Taha [a Sudanese intellectual who was executed by Hassan al-Turabi], Ahmad Al-Baghdadi [a Kuwaiti intellectual who was jailed for his views].
The leading causes behind today’s unstable Iraq
Nawshirwan Mustafa, Southern Kurdistan’s leader, writer, historian and a prominent head of the region’s leading opposition party who passed away four years ago had in one of his books portrayed Iraq to be “The museum of nations”. In the book “Rotating in circle, the inner side of the events: 1980-1984”He inscribed that the country is a hub of numerous nations including Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, Assyrians as well as numerous religious groups as of Sunnis, Shiites, Yazidis, etc. In other words, he believes that Iraq was initially comulsively constructed irrespective of the intentions of who lived in it in a manner that met the economic and political interests of the superpowers of that era. By era, he is referring to post ottoman period that was succeeded by the creation of a number of states incorporating Iraq in 1932.
Those various nations and groups have always caused clashes and challenges for the country known as an Arab state to an extent that since it’s inappropriate formation, It has never had a long term political, security and economic stability if we are to ignore social aspects. The country had always hosted war, coup d’état and crisis, conquered countries and countries conquered it.
Surpassingly, if we now encounter someone from any ethnic and/or religious folk, they would reveal their keen on owning a state, a region with its parliament, president and military. We should therefore wonder how come in a such non-homogenous country, with multiple ethnicities (each owning their cultural and accentual traits), and multiple religions, their people can be tolerant, preserve peace, embrace diversity, thereby become democratic for which the United states invaded it.
In a state where is forcefully annexed, we should not be astonished that it will always remain divided, living together will be a serious challenge, and worse than all, external powers will utilize the diversity of the ethnicities as they had always done and the outcome of these are what we are witnessing now.
Consequently, we notice that in Iraq occurs sectarian conflicts, Al-Qahida emerges, ISIS appears, almost each party is associated with a foreign agenda (the latter phenomenon somehow is in Kurdistan as well based on analytical descriptions). On the other hand, a recognized US think tank believes that Iran has always been intervening in Iraq alongside bolstering different militias.
Moreover, according to political analysts, Turkey is also a recognized player in the country. In the excuse of Turkmens, securing borders and ties with a few political factions, it treats Iraq as if it is still a former colony of their elder empire. The United States in addition will never evacuate it as it invested in it with a war that estimates its cost to be four trillion dollars. We may not have space to highlight other industrial western countries as well who consider Iraq as a tray covered with cakes due to its unique natural resources, each trying to take a peace from it.
Among numerous evidences for the geopolitical divisions of the country, the most recent one to be spotted is those soldiers of the Militia group known as “Hasaib Ahl Alhaq”, an externally backed and trained group whom in a recorded video threatened the government of Iraq to release their soldiers who were caught by the administration of the new Iraqi premier Mustafa Kadhmi. The soldiers the group was calling their freedom were five men caught and incarcerated by the Iraqi government following the strategic agreement signed between the United States and the Iraqi government, a deal that limited the authority of the paramilitary groups in Iraq and contained some other military and security points.
The aforementioned fighters were caught for their involvement in an attack on the US embassy in Baghdad on December 20 of last year. In the video they shouted, called for the freedom of their friends and revealed that they were religious fighters, fought against American imperialism and is now ready to fight as well. They also spoke out that “any touch on a religious fighter is a touch on every one of them, they are only awaiting order from their leader ‘Qais Xaz Ali’.” Qais is the leader of the group ‘Hasaib Ahl Alhaq’.
That incident was huge in Iraq, took the attention of the mass media outlets, social media and the people to an extent that same night the prime minister went out to the streets of Baghdad driving a car himself, giving the message that Iraq is safe and they save the security of the country.
The stability of any country relies on the security and military forces. Lack of stability can ruin life and the people pay huge prices. The toughest challenge of the series of the post 2003 Iraqi governments were their failure in spreading security and stability for the country. As a result, the region became a stadium of civil war, the birth of terrorist groups as well as the international interventions. Kadhmi’s government has been enormously repeating that they would secure the country, and bring about a stable and calm life for Iraqis, but they are yet to do so.
The military groups that were highlighted above are known to be one of the essential factors for why we are witnessing an unstable, corrupted and ruined Iraq. They are armed, militarily trained, financially supported and do not obey the government, making it almost impossible for the government to control and disarm them. The Sunni religious groups on the other hand are also to take a great share for the political, security and economic flaws of their country. Sunnis are still seriously concerned for the loss of their power before the invasion and are dreaming of taking it back. More importantly, they have always been marginalized by the majority Shiite based governments, resulting in their backlash of bolstering groups like ISIS and Al-Qaida.
To conclude, to save Iraq from those unfavorable catastrophes and providing it with a structure of a proper, peaceful, and stable country, we would go back to the beginning of our writing and that is the root from which the country is constructed. Iraq is a forcefully combined country, created without taking into account the real intentions of its diverse ethnic and religious groups. The European colonial powers of that era-post ottoman period- designed its borders with a pen according to their political and economic interests. Therefor, ever since its creation, the country had been hosting political conflicts, coup d’états, civil war, terrorism, anti-homogeneity, conquerence and invasion. The Kurds say whatever you plant, you will cultivate it. Indisputably, it is that annexation and combination that resulted in a such politically, economically and socially unstable Iraq and only recreating the country on a foundation that reflects the intentions and considerations of its own entities can cure it from those challenges. US president elect Joe Biden is known to be the owner of the project of dividing Iraq into three regions: Sunnis, Kurds and Shites. He believes that implementing such a project would save Iraq from those struggles that the country had been suffering from for years!
Middle East futures: Decade(s) of defiance and dissent
If the 2010s were a decade of defiance and dissent, the 2020s promise to make mass anti-government protests a fixture of the greater Middle East’s political landscape. Protests in the coming decade are likely to be fuelled by the challenges Middle Eastern states face in enacting economic and social reforms as well as reducing their dependence on energy exports against the backdrop of a global economic crisis and depressed oil prices and energy markets. Complicating the challenges is the fact that youth that often constitutes a majority of the population have lost or are losing confidence in government and religious establishments at a time that social contracts are being unilaterally rewritten by political elites.
Pressure on the Middle East’s autocratic rulers is likely to increase with the departure of US President Donald J. Trump, a staunch supporter of strong man rule and the coming to office of President-elect Joe Biden. In contrast to Trump, Biden has suggested that he would emphasize democratic values and freedoms. In doing so, Biden could contribute to renewed public manifestations of widespread discontent and demands for greater transparency and accountability in the Middle East and North Africa.
Autocrats get some things right
The second decade of the 21st century has been bookended by protest. The decade was ushered in by protest across the globe, from student rallies in Chile to Occupy Wall Street to fuel price demonstrations in Jakarta. The 2011 popular revolts that toppled four Arab autocrats grabbed the headlines and provided drama.
The 2010s ended with similar drama. Protests in Chile resulted in a vote for a new constitution. A coalition of opposition parties challenged the legitimacy of the Pakistani government. Racism and the killing of people of colour by police sparked massive protests in the United States not seen since the 1960s. And like ten years earlier, demonstrators toppled Arab leaders in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq, uncertain whether this would secure the aspired change.
The 2020s promise to be no different, nowhere more so than in the Middle East. A global public opinion survey conducted by Edelman, a US public relations firm, in the United States, Europe, and Asia showed a significant drop in trust in governments as a result of their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in the worst global economic downturn in decades. Saudi Arabia, alongside Japan, were the two countries that witnessed only a minimal drop.[i]
Nevertheless, global mismanagement of the pandemic has hit hard in countries that are wracked by war, like Syria and Libya, nations with perennially weak economies that host large refugee populations, such as Lebanon and Jordan, and Gulf states, which have seen energy prices tumble with prospects dim for a quick recovery of oil and gas markets. Shifts towards greater autocracy in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere bode ill at a time in which populations with a youth majority are not necessarily clamouring for greater freedom but are increasingly gloomy about governments’ ability to deliver jobs and other public goods.
Delivery was already a daunting task prior to the pandemic. The World Bank reported that the number of people living below a poverty line of US$1.90 a day in a region with the world’s highest youth unemployment had more than tripled from eight million in 2011 to 28 million in 2018 and that the extreme poverty rate had doubled from 3.8 per cent in 2015 to 7.2 per cent in 2018.[ii]
Facing significantly dimmed economic prospects, the region’s autocrats, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his UAE counterpart, Mohammed bin Zayed, have, nonetheless, so far relatively successfully managed the political and social environment they operate in, judging by the responses to recent public opinion polling.[iii]
Both men have to varying degrees replaced religion with nationalism as the ideology legitimising their rule and sought to ensure that various countries in the region broadly adhere to their worldview.
“I know that the Saudi government under MbS (Prince Mohammed) has put in a lot of effort to actually do its own public opinion polls… They pay attention to it… They are very well aware of which way the winds are blowing on the street. They take that pretty much to heart on what to do and what not to do… On some issues, they are going to make a kind of executive decision… On this one, we’re going to ignore it; on the other one we’re going to…try to curry favour with the public in some unexpected way,” said David Pollock, a Middle East scholar who oversees the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s polling in the region.[iv]
The two crown princes’ similar worldviews constitute in part a response to changing youth attitudes towards religiosity evident in the polls and expressed in mass anti-government protests in countries like Lebanon and Iraq. The changes attach greater importance to adherence to individual morals and values and less focus on the formalistic observance of religious practice as well as a rejection of the sectarianism that is a fixture of governance in Lebanon and Iraq as well as Saudi religious ultra-conservatism.
The problem for rulers is that the moorings of their rule potentially could be called into question by a failure to deliver public goods and services that offer economic prospects. At the same time, social reforms needed to bolster development go hand in hand with the undermining of the authority of religious establishments. Increased autocracy that turns clerics and scholars into regime parrots has fuelled youth scepticism not only towards political elites but also religious institutions.
For rulers like the Saudi crown prince, the loosening of social restrictions – including the disempowerment of the kingdom’s religious police, the lifting of a ban on women’s driving, less strict implementation of gender segregation, the introduction of Western-style entertainment and greater professional opportunities for women, and in the UAE a degree of genuine religious pluralism – are only first steps in responding to youth aspirations.
“Youth have…witnessed how religious figures, who still remain influential in many Arab societies, can sometimes give in to change even if they have resisted it initially. This not only feeds into Arab youth’s scepticism towards religious institutions but also further highlights the inconsistency of the religious discourse and its inability to provide timely explanation or justifications to the changing reality of today,” said Gulf scholar Eman Alhussein in a commentary on the latest Arab Youth Survey,[v]
Youth put a premium on reform
Middle Eastern youth attitudes towards religion, religiosity and religious leadership mirror their approach towards material concerns. Their world is one that focuses on the individual rather than the collective, on what’s in it for me? instead of what’s in it for us?. It is a world that is not defined by ideology or politics and does not see itself reflected in the values and objectives espoused by elites and governments. In their world, the lingua franca differs substantially from the language they were raised in.
Two-thirds of those polled by the Arab Youth Survey believe that religious institutions need to be overhauled. They question fundamental religious concepts even if they define religion as the most important constituent element of their identity. “The way some Arab countries consume religion in the political discourse, which is further amplified on social media, is no longer deceptive to the youth, who can now see through it,” Alhussein said.[vi]
“Arabs know what they want and what they do not want. They want their basic needs for jobs, education, and health care to be attended to, and they want good governance and protection of their personal rights,” concluded James Zogby an Arab-American pollster with a decades-long track record of polling in the Middle East and North Africa.[vii]
Michael Robbins, director of the Arab Barometer, another pollster, and international affairs scholar Lawrence Rubin concluded that the youth in post-revolt Sudan had soured on the idea of religion-based governance because of widespread corruption during the region of toppled president Omar Al-Bashir, who professed his adherence to religious principles. Robbins and Rubin cautioned, however, that religion could return as the catalyst for protest if the government fails to cater to youth aspirations.
“If the transitional government can deliver on providing basic services to the country’s citizens and tackling corruption, the formal shift away from Sharia is likely to be acceptable in the eyes of the public. However, if these problems remain, a new set of religious leaders may be able to galvanize a movement aimed at reinstituting Sharia as a means to achieve these objectives,” Robbins and Rubin warned.[viii] It is a warning that is as valid for Sudan as it is for much of the Arab and Muslim world.
Saudis empathetic to protests
Asked in a recent poll conducted by The Washington Institute whether “it’s a good thing we aren’t having big street demonstrations here now the way they do in some other countries,” a reference to the past decade of popular revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq and Sudan, Saudi public opinion was split down the middle. 48 per cent of respondents agreed, and 48 per cent disagreed.[ix] Saudis, like most Gulf Arabs, appear less inclined to take grievances to the streets. Nonetheless, the poll indicates that they may prove to be empathetic to protests should they occur.
Saudi attitudes towards protest take on added significance in an environment in which governments in the energy-rich Gulf have seen their ability erode to invest in infrastructure and cradle-to-grave welfare states. The need to diversify economies away from dependence on oil and gas exports to create jobs against the backdrop of depressed energy prices and markets as a result of the global economic downturn means changing expectations and rewriting social contracts that offered economic security and well-being in exchange for the surrender of political and social rights. In May 2020, The Dubai Chamber of Commerce provided a foretaste of problems to come. Based on a survey of 1,228 CEOs, the chamber warned that a staggering 70 per cent of businesses in the emirate expect to close their doors within the next six months.[x] Analysts added to the gloomy prospects by reporting that non-oil growth in the UAE pointed toward a contraction of the economy.[xi]
The challenges Gulf and other Middle Eastern states face are compounded by the pandemic and a painful, protracted and complex road towards economic recovery, coupled with the toll of debilitating regional conflicts. They are also complicated by an apparent conditional willingness to accept belt-tightening and the unilateral rewriting of social contracts.
“If it’s temporary, one or two years, I can adapt. My concern is that more taxes will be permanent – and that will be an issue,” said Saudi government worker Mohammed according to a report by Bloomberg after his USD 266 a month cost-of-living allowance was cancelled and sales taxes were tripled as part of painful austerity measures announced by finance minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan.[xii]
Mohammed’s words were echoed in a rare pushback against the government by columnist Khalid Al-Sulaiman, writing in the Okaz daily newspaper, one of the kingdom’s tightly controlled media outlets, who wrote: “Citizens worry that the pressure on their living standards will outlast the current crisis. Increasing VAT from 5% to 15% will have a big effect on society’s purchasing power and will reflect negatively on the economy in the long term,”[xiii]
The surveys leave no doubt that even before the economic crisis sparked by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic the Middle Eastern youth was first and foremost concerned about its economic future. Asked what had prompted the wave of protests in 2011, 2019 and 2020, respondents pointed to unemployment, personal debt and corruption. 35 per cent of those polled in the latest Arab Youth Survey reported that they were mired in debt compared with 15 per cent in 2015.[xiv] A whopping 80 per cent said they believed Arab regimes were corrupt.
“This evinces a realization that the past decade of revolutions has borne rather bitter fruit: civil war, humanitarian distress, the rise of powerful extremist elements, and the collapse of governing restraints… Today, rather than seeking to change the world, most Arabs (especially the younger generation) demonstrate that mere improvements in their material condition would suffice,” said Middle East scholar Michael Milstein.[xv]
Voting with their feet
If the surveys suggest one thing, the streets of Algerian, Sudanese, Lebanese and Iraqi cities suggest something else.[xvi] Protesters in those four countries appeared to have learnt lessons from the failed 2011 revolts in Egypt, Libya and Yemen. In contrast to 2011, protesters in 2019 and 2020 refused to surrender the street once a leader was forced to resign. Instead, they maintained their protests, demanding a total overhaul of the political system,[xvii] which led to the formation of a governing transitional council in Sudan and a referendum on a new Algerian constitution.
Feeling outmanoeuvred by the military and political elites, Algerians voted with their feet. While the new constitution won in the referendum with a two-thirds majority, less than a quarter of eligible voters cast their vote.[xviii] “Algerian youths do not see the ‘New Algeria’ that lives in the president’s speeches. Activists are jailed for social media posts and memes, and the entire nation feels abandoned by both the political establishment and the traditional opposition,” cautioned Algerian scholar Zine Labidine Ghebouli.[xix] In Sudan, the jury is still out on whether the council will satisfy popular demand. In Lebanon and Iraq, the protesters also insisted on the removal of the sect- and ethnic-based political structures that underpin the two countries’ political systems.[xx]
Like in Algeria, protesters in Lebanon and Iraq confronting police violence and the impact of the pandemic was at an inflexion point. That was graphically visualised in late October 2020 with the reopening of a key bridge in Baghdad and the clearing out of tents from a sit-in in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the anti-establishment protest movement that erupted a year ago to demand basic services, employment opportunities and an end to corruption.[xxi]
Few doubt that the combination of repressive law enforcement, politics rather than engagement and a public health crisis at best buys elites a reprieve. The writing is on the wall, with intermittent protests erupting in Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Iran and war-ravaged Syria. “For political transformation to happen, you need a generation,” noted Lina Khatib, head of London-based think tank Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa programme.[xxii]
The question is not whether another wave of protest will occur, but when and where.
“The most dangerous people in any society: “When you look at the poor economic growth, when you look at the very high demographic growth, what you see is a region that has a lot of challenges ahead of it. There are very few things that are true for every country in the world. But one of those is that the most dangerous people in any society are young men. Testosterone is a hell of a drug. There are lots of young men in this part of the world that don’t have avenues to channel their innate aggression into productive, constructive forms. They are attracted to destructive avenues,” said former CIA acting director Michael Morell.[xxiii]
“The essential situation is that this mass of citizens has reached the point of discontent but (of) desperation and therefore has done the only thing it sees as available to it other than immigrate, which is challenging their state openly in street protests. Something has to give between these two forces,” added veteran journalist and Middle East scholar Rami Khouri.[xxiv]
Give and take seems, however, for now, a way off. The immediate reality is a stalemate. Protesters have demonstrated their ability to topple heads of government but have so far failed to force elites, determined to protect their perks at whatever cost, to address their fundamental concerns, let alone surrender power. Aggravating the stalemate is the breakdown in trust between significant segments of youth populations and governments as well as traditional opposition forces fuelling demands for reforms that replace existing elites rather than exploring ways of finding common ground.
“Arab governments’ long suppression of the development of inclusive, democratic, and effective institutions has left a vacuum of leadership among regime and opposition forces alike. That vacuum is acutely felt today… with no trusted institution in the region who could carry out people’s rightful demands for more effective management of their countries, the endgame is unclear,” said Marwan Muasher, Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan.[xxv]
In a swath of land that stretches from the Atlantic coast of Africa into Central Asia, trends and developments no longer are sub-regional. They reverberate across what increasingly looks like the Middle East’s expanding borderlands as was evident in the 2020 Caucasus war between Armenia and Turkey- and Israel-backed Azerbaijan with Iran walking a fine line despite its empathy for the Armenians. Russian security forces and analysts predict that the fallout of the war is likely to compound a combustuous mix that will spark social unrest in the North Caucasus.
Aslan Bakov, a prominent political analyst from the Kabardino-Balkaria region, warned that Muslim civil society groups were likely to lead anti-Russian protests, taking local authorities as well as the government in Moscow to task for mismanaging the pandemic and reducing financial support of the North Caucasus. As a result, the region suffered a higher Covid-19 related death rate per capita of the population and has seen employment rates soar as high as 40 per cent. Muslim non-governmental organizations have stepped in where increasingly authoritarian local governments have failed to deliver, fuelling widespread lack of confidence in state authority. Describing the situation as “ideal conditions for a social explosion,” Baskov cautioned that the unrest could escalate into ethnic and border conflicts in a region in which frontiers have yet to be definitively demarcated.[xxvi]
A catalyst for reinvigorated protest?
Much like US President Jimmy Carter’s support for human rights in the 1970s boosted popular resistance to the Shah of Iran and helped pave the way for the Islamic revolution,[xxvii] President-elect Joe Biden, with his emphasis on democratic values and freedoms,[xxviii] could contribute to renewed public manifestations of widespread discontent and demands for greater transparency and accountability in the Middle East and North Africa.
Supporters of a human rights-driven foreign policy juxtapose the emergence of an anti-American regime in Iran with the rise of post-revolt democratic leaders in Chile, the Philippines and South Korea. US President Barack Obama and his Vice-President Biden struggled almost a decade ago with how to handle the 2011 popular revolts.
Critics accuse Obama of enabling the Muslim Brotherhood to gain executive power in the aftermath of the revolts. The rise of the Brotherhood sparked a counter-revolution that led to a military coup in Egypt and civil wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen.
“The cases of Chile, South Korea, and the Philippines, along with a few others, are often cited…by foreign policy elites arguing that American human rights advocacy needn’t come at the expense of American interests. And yet, as we can see in…harsh Monday-morning quarterbacking of Obama’s policy toward the Egyptian uprising against Mubarak, for example, this argument still faces a steep uphill climb,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, a Middle East scholar who coordinated US democracy and human rights policy as the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Cofman Wittes was referring to Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader who was forced to resign in 2011 after 30 years in office.
Biden has pledged to “defend the rights of activists, political dissidents, and journalists around the world to speak their minds freely without fear of persecution and violence. Jamal’s death will not be in vain.” Biden was referring to Khashoggi, the murdered Saudi journalist.[xxix] Biden has also said he would convene a global Summit for Democracy in his first year in office as part of an effort to confront authoritarian regimes and promote elections and human rights. The summit would be attended not only by political leaders but also including civil rights groups fighting for democracy.[xxx]
Campaign promises are one thing, enacting policies once in office another. As a result, the jury is out on how a Biden administration will handle potentially sustained protest in the Middle East and North Africa. To be sure, taken together the most recent surveys of public opinion paint a picture of a youth that has shifted in much of the region from optimism at the time of the 2011 revolts to deep-seated pessimism if not despair about its future prospects and a lack of confidence in the ability and/or willingness of most governments and elites to cater to its social and economic needs. That makes predictions of civil unrest all the more real.
Fact is also that the lesson of the last decade for the coming one is that political transition sparked by waves of protest is not a matter of days, months or even a year. It is a long, drawn-out process that often plays out over decades. 2011 ushered in a global era of defiance and dissent, with the Arab uprisings as its most dramatic centrepiece.
The 2020s is likely to be a decade in which protests may produce at best uncertain and fragile outcomes, irrespective of whether protesters or vested interests gain an immediate upper hand. Fragility at best and instability at worst is likely to be the norm. To change that, protesters and governments would have to agree on economic, political and social systems that are truly inclusive and ensure that all have a stake. No doubt, that is a tall order.
Author’s note: An earlier version of this article appeared in Orient.
[i]  Edelman, 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, January 2021, https://www.edelman.com/sites/g/files/aatuss191/files/2021-01/2021-edelman-trust-barometer.pdf
[ii]  World Bank Group, Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2020: Reversals of Fortune, 2020, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/34496/9781464816024.pdf
[iii]  ASDA’A BCW, Arab Youth Survey, 2020; Arab Center Washington. https://www.arabyouthsurvey.com/findings.html / Arab Opinion Index 2017-2018, 2018, http://arabcenterdc.org/survey/2017-2018-arab-opinion-index-executive-summary/
[iv]  Interview with the author, 14 October 2020.
[v]  ASDA’A BCW, A Voice for Change, 2020, 2020, p. 44, https://www.arabyouthsurvey.com/pdf/downloadwhitepaper/AYS%202020-WP_ENG_0510_Single-Final.pdf
[vi]  Ibid.
[vii]  Interview with the author, 24 August 2020.
[viii]  Michael Robbins and Lawrence Rubin, Sudan’s government seems to be shifting away from Islamic law. Not everyone supports these moves, 27 August 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/08/27/sudans-government-seems-be-shifting-away-sharia-law-not-everyone-supports-these-moves/
[ix]  David Pollock, Saudi Poll: China Leads U.S.; Majority Back Curbs on Extremism, Coronavirus, 31 July 2020, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/fikraforum/view/saudi-poll-china-leads-u.s-majority-back-curbs-on-extremism-coronavirus
[x]  Natasha Turak, 70% of Dubai companies expect to go out of business within six months due to coronavirus pandemic, survey says, 21 May 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/21/coronavirus-dubai-70percent-of-companies-expect-to-close-in-six-months.html
[xi]  Al Jazeera, Egypt and Saudi business conditions improve, while UAE’s worsen, 3 November 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/3/bbegypt-and-saudi-business-conditions-improves-while-uaes-wors
[xii]  Vivian Nereim and Sylvia Westall, Crisis Austerity in Oil-Rich Gulf May Test Political Balance, 2020.
[xiii]  Khalid Al-Sulaiman, Will the Finance Minister Do It? (هل يفعلها وزير المالية ؟!), Okaz, 1 September 2020, https://www.okaz.com.sa/articles/authors/2026288, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-03/austerity-experiment-in-oil-rich-gulf-may-falter-post-crisis?sref=3XwG50X1
[xiv]  ASDA’A BCW, 7th Annual ASDA’A Burson-Masteller Arab Youth Survey, 2015, http://arabyouthsurvey.com/pdf/whitepaper/en/2015-AYS-White-Paper.pdf
[xv]  Michael Milstein, Ten Years Since the ‘Arab Spring’: Despair Has Not Become More Comfortable, 27 October 2020, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/fikraforum/view/arab-spring-despair-comfortable
[xvi]  James M. Dorsey, The Tumultuous Decade: Arab Public Opinion and the Upheavals of 2010–2019, 2020, New Books Network, 5 September 2020, https://mideastsoccer.blogspot.com/2020/09/the-tumultuous-decade-arab-public.html
[xvii]  James M. Dorsey, 2019 was a decade of defiance and dissent. The 2020s are likely to be no different, 1 January 2020, https://mideastsoccer.blogspot.com/2020/01/2019-was-decade-of-defiance-and-dissent.html
[xviii]  Al Jazeera, Algerians back constitutional reforms amid low voter turnout, 2 November 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/2/low-voter-turnout-hits-algeria-referendum-amid-boycott-calls.
[xix]  Zine Labidine Ghebouli, Requiem for a Revolution, , Newlines Magazine, 1 November 2020, https://newlinesmag.com/essays/requiem-for-a-revolution/
[xx]  James M. Dorsey, Countering civilisationalism: Lebanese and Iraqi protesters transcend sectarianism, 1 November 2019, https://mideastsoccer.blogspot.com/2019/11/countering-civilisationalism-lebanese.html
[xxi]  Al Jazeera, Baghdad’s Tahrir Square cleared, Jamhuriya Bridge reopened, 31 October 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/31/iraq-clears-tahrir-square-a-year-after-mass-protests-began
[xxii]  Jared Malsin, Middle East Protesters Try to Avoid Mistakes of Arab Spring, 2020.
[xxiii]  CBS News, Biggest factor in U.S.-Middle East relations is perception that U.S. is withdrawing, 6 January 2021, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/biggest-factor-in-u-s-middle-east-relations-is-perception-that-u-s-is-withdrawing/
[xxiv]  Wilson Center, Ten Years of Pan-Arab Protests: Understanding the new Dynamics of Change, The Wall Street Journal. 20 January 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/middle-east-protesters-try-to-avoid-mistakes-of-arab-spring-11579530280
[xxv]  Marwan Muasher, Is This the Arab Spring 2.0?, 30 October 2019, https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/10/30/is-this-arab-spring-2.0-pub-80220
[xxvi]  Paul Goble, Year 2020 in Review: Pandemic Exacerbated Problems Across North Caucasus and Set Stage for More Conflict, Eurasia Daily Monitor, 5 January 2021, https://jamestown.org/program/year-2020-in-review-pandemic-exacerbated-problems-across-north-caucasus-and-set-stage-for-more-conflict/
[xxvii]  Tamara Cofman Wittes, Iran’s revolution and the problem of autocratic allies, Brookings, 24 January 2019, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2019/01/24/irans-revolution-and-the-problem-of-autocratic-allies/
[xxviii]  Joss Harrison, There are signs that as president, Joe Biden could adopt a proactive human rights approach similar to Jimmy Carter’s, LSE US Centre, 3 July 2020, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2020/07/03/there-are-signs-that-as-president-joe-biden-could-adopt-a-proactive-human-rights-approach-similar-to-jimmy-carters/
[xxix]  JoeBiden.com, Anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder – Statement by Vice President Joe Biden, 2 October 2020, https://joebiden.com/2020/10/02/anniversary-of-jamal-khashoggis-murder-statement-by-vice-president-joe-biden/#
Reigniting Chaos in Syria
Syria has been the nexus of brutality and terror for almost a decade now; with more than 6 million natives who have already fled and numerous displaced over the territory itself, the region casts a ghastly shade that has only turned grimmer with time. Although the conflict seemingly raved its catastrophic footprint in early 2000, the root cause arguably always ends up to be the infamous ‘Arab Spring’ that actually tuned the Syrians against their very own regime. Something to compare and contrast that communal unity acted in Iraq’s benefit back when USA invaded the territory to avenge the 9/11 Attacks in 2003 while casted a fiasco in Syria when invaded in 2014. Large scale protests and rampaging violence gradually morphed into a series of relentless efforts to first deter Bashar Al-Asad’s efforts to first peacefully and then collaboratively resolving the raging unrest. Some would say it was inspired by the historical besiege of Libya and the subsequent execution of the Libyan prime minister Muammar al-Gaddafi as an ensue of that revolution yet Bashar Al-Asad proved a far more tensile force to overthrow. Such tumultuous turn of events, lead Syria to first economic sanctions followed by severe isolation in the global community opposing and downright rejecting Assad’s actions to curb the political tremors. Yet intermittent interventions, both implicit and explicit, by the western powers and their counter-parts have defined the region more as a battle ground of mercenary motives instead of mere efforts to safeguard human rights and ensuring regional peace.
Since 2011, three core actors have remained active in skirmishes that have more oftener than not transformed into battles of gore and toil and sometimes even full-fledged wars that have not only dismembered the expanse of over an 185,000 km2 of land into mounds of dust and rubble with terror now crawling over the lanes but have even shuddered the immediate vicinity. With the downfall and perpetual dissipation of ISIS, losing much of its occupied land to active contenders, Assad’s militia and Kurdish forces remain the helming competitors along with a smattering of other oppositions like Jaish al Fateh and Nusrta Front. The conflict between the Kurdish forces backed by the US regime against ISIS and then eventual betrayal on the Turkish front had been a matter of contentions in the latter part of 2019; Kurds making it abundantly clear to harness the borders they surmise to be rightly theirs while Turkish policies, especially under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have been outright fearless and needless of any other inference regarding their austere stance over the issue; claiming their bordering territories and inferring stern response in case of any dissension caused by the Kurds.
However, the outlining threat in the recent time can be perceived at a novel yet a totally realistic stage, where proxy wars no longer remain the ground reality of armed unrest in Syria. This notion has arisen since harsh words were exchanged between Moscow and Ankara; the metropolis’ of the neighbouring giants: Russia and Turkey respectively. A glimpse in the historical scaffolding of the entire Syrian conflict, Russia has always backed Assad’s regime despite its initial block over Syrian policies revolving over strategies to deal with the blooming protests in the early tremors of the Arab Spring who’s effects had started to resonate in the entire Middle East following up on Ground 0, Tunisia. The vantage point of Russia, however, shifted when the political paradigm was drastically nudged by the terror-driven escalation of ISIS after severe US blunders and baffling retreat from Syria that even threatened the sovereignty and security of the region following their besiege of the state of Raqqa, establishing ISIS as a looming concern, thereby aligning the aims of both Russian reign and Assad’s regime, ultimately inciting a continued alliance. Turkey, on the other hand, being the northern neighbour to Syria also contended as a root protagonist in economic isolation of Assad’s government, imposing stringent financial sanctions that tightened the bottlenecks and eventually led to the deterioration of their financial virility that already staggered after sanctions and embargos placed by both EU and USA.
This conflict that permeates in the north-western terrain of Syria lilts an innuendo that a spark may be brewing between the two nations. The besieged province of Idlib exudes the source of the strife; an area that has witnessed countless Turkish troops slain by Assad’s forces in cross-border disputes; close to seven Turkish soldiers were recently killed in a thorough retaliation of Syrian forces in the de-escalation zone, much to Turkey’s dismay. However, the Russian involvement in backing the Syrian government in their dissent in Idlib and heavily bombing of the territory with artillery servers as a link to presumably leading a head-on conflict between Russia and Turkey; hinted by Erdoğan that any effort made in the region will not go answered, clearly warning the Russian forces to avoid any transgression that could cause fatality to their personnel. The people of Syria, blended with the rebels, look in the eye of a dead end; bombardments to deter the tyrants have shredded their innocent bodies similar to the incursions in Eastern Ghouta and with no one on their side but with ulterior incentives, they are left with no choice but to see Turkey as a savior. To any sane mind, however, its not really a complex interface of modes and interests involved. With clash of alliances, historical narrative of both the world wars fought, coherently brings about the model of war despite a never-ending argument at whim. Without contesting any theory by any analyst, its imperative to gauge at the systematic progression of the tensions flowing yet not mitigating. Turkey being stranded from its western allies and Arab assistance in wake of the murder conspiracy and being locked in a bound-to-doom NATO relation with Russia, the outcome of this steady conflict can bring about equal amount of damage yet in lesser of a decade and more pandemic effects.
Recent Israeli airstrikes targeted the Iran-linked elements in Syria. One of the biggest attacks even in at least half a decade period of relative dormancy in the region hint at the start of something gruesome. The attacks pointed Iran-backed sites like Al-Bukamal in intensity, riddling the city that acts as a focal point to Iran’s influence over and beyond the borders of Baghdad and Damascus, as well as paving way to militants from the fore stretch of Lebanon. The attacks reportedly served as an active Israeli position against the Irani militants and revolutionary guards, casting a heavy presence in the core hit areas of the province of Dair al Zor, claiming 57 casualties. The attack assumes a step-up stance of Israel picking up from a cold targeted strike within Iran, months back, eliminating the crucial scientific figure of Iran, that earned promises of retaliation both from the military leads and the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
These attacks nurture an underlying message of Israel following on the shadow war footsteps dictated under the premiership of Mr. Donald Trump. Now, with his nefarious exit from the presidential office following the riots at US Capitol and Mr. Biden’s ascension to power just days away, Israel insinuates its true deterrence of Iran’s growing influence and hostility in the expansive areas of Southern, North-western and Eastern regions of Syria. With US intelligence cultivating the Israeli position in Syria while Iran enriching its plans of Nuclear power along with backing militias under the lead of Lebanese force of Hezbollah, a possibility of another proxy clash is re-emerging in the peripheries of Syria. Now as Israel continues to welcome Arab nations to set camp around Syria to end Tehran’s influence, US faces a tough choice in over a decade to either exit the war before it even flames or repeat their interference regretted since the Arab Spring to jump headfirst into another round of decade long destruction.
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