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Arab Liberals Criticism on Arab Political Life and to Europe Denial (B)

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[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].

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Middle East

The Causes and Effects of the United States “Long Goodbye” to the Middle East

Lawrence Habahbeh

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A glance at a world map reveals one great reason why the Middle East (ME) claims the attention of great power centres of the world.  A roughly rectangular area stretching from the Adriatic Sea, East to the black sea ,and south to the Indus River.   The ME is a joining point of three continents, Europe, Asia, and Africa and one of the most vital crossroads on the planet.   It is the cradle of world civilization and the birth place of the three monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.    Further, it is rich in oil, gas, and other commodities.   According to British Petroleum 2019 (BP) Statistical review of World Energy, the Middle East holds 836 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, which constitutes 48% of world total.   In comparison to other regions of the world, it holds 3X the proven oil reserves of the U.S, Canada and Mexico combined, and 58X the proven oil reserves of Europe.   Likewise, the Middle East has the world’s largest proven reserves of Natural Gas (NG); standing at 38.3% of the world’s total, while the Common wealth of Independent States (CIS) holds the second largest reserves at 31.9%.

Historically, the strategic foundation for the U.S. involvement in the Middle East was shaped by several policy objectives reflecting both regional dynamics and U.S. interests.  These strategic interests centred primarily around protecting the reliable free flow of commodities and commercial activity through well known checkpoints in the Arabian Peninsula, especially the strait of Hormoz and Suez canal; supporting the security, stability, and prosperity of U.S. partners in the region, including the State of Israel; preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, countering Jihadist movements, and terrorism.  Since 2011, geopolitical tensions, trade disputes, and changes in the international security landscape have tested the US-ME relationship, and have caused the strategic pillars of the U.S. Involvement in the region to undergo a state of transition, hastened by three major factors: 

First; In a speech by former Secretary of Defence James Mattes at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies, January 19, 2018, he asserted” Great Power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security”.  Further, according to President Obama’s June 2015 National Military Strategy and also President Trump’s January 2018 National Defence Strategy  (NDS), they both acknowledged that the shift in U.S. strategic direction is driven by a return to great power competition with China and Russia, underlined by a rising trend in strategic cooperation between two countries on many issues across many regions of the world, In fact; this strategic cooperation can be seen taking shape in the economic and military spheres.  For example, according to various press reports, in September of 2019, Chinese and Russian troops took part in joint military manoeuvres; dubbed, “Tsentr-2019” to strengthen their military readiness.  Further, direct trade between the two countries is increasing.  According to data from statista, trade between Russia and China reached a record level, exceeding $100 billion compared to previous years.  Likewise, China’s natural gas imports from Russia more than doubled in 2019 subsequent to operating the “Power of Siberia”  gas pipeline with a total initial capacity of 5 Billion Cubic meters (BCM) of gas, and a targeted capacity of 38 BCM by 2025, which constitutes 13% of China’s 2018 demand.  Equally important; China’s expanding major economic development project, the Belt and Road (BRI) initiative.  The BRI initiative is an ambitious plan to build an open and balanced regional economic architecture connecting dozens of countries in Asia, Eurasia, and Europe by constructing six international economic corridors and an extensive rail network linking China to Europe through a “new Eurasian Land Bridge”.  In the same way, the project aims to construct economic corridors linking China, Mongolia, and Russia; also, China to west, central, and South Asia. 

The evolving dynamics of economic corridors connecting all sub-regions in Asia, and between Asia, Europe, and Africa is consistent with the ideas of the Eurasianist Aleksandr  Dugin’s, and the ideas advanced in his book published in 1997 titled “Foundations of Geopolitics”, in which he calls for the realization of a Unified Economic Landscape called Greater Eurasia.  Greater Eurasia refers to countries that are on the territory of the Eurasian continent across Asia, Europe and the Middle East.  It consists of two regions of energy consumption (Europe & Asia Pacific) and three regions of energy production (Russia and Arctic & Caspian & Middle East) in between.  It includes 91 countries, which represents two-thirds of the world population, exports of goods and services and GDP.

These evolving and developing geographic and economic integration projects based on strategic cooperation between Russia and China create a geographic mass of countries across, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East that are increasingly interdependent, and their interests are more closely intertwined than ever before.  Consequently; shifting geopolitics in Greater Eurasia driving the strategic convergence in economic power between Russia and China is posing challenges to U.S. leadership in the region and the world.   These interactions between Russia and China in the military and economic spheres demonstrate a growing trend in strategic cooperation between the two countries and may be driven by an ideological denominator, where both countries view the U.S. as the “Glavny Protivnik”.

Second; according to the U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States became the world’s largest producer of petroleum hydrocarbons and the largest producer of oil with a total production capacity of 12.7 million barrels of oil per day as of March 2020, surpassing the daily production capacity of both Russia and Saudi-Arabia.  In the same manner; according to BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy report, the U.S. is still the world leader when it comes to natural gas production, averaging approximately 920 billion cubic meters of gas in 2019, followed by Russia, Iran, and Qatar.  As a result, the United States is undergoing an oil and natural gas production renaissance that will likely continue to change the global energy landscape, and lead to wide-ranging regional and global geopolitical implications.   The Age of Abundance for the U.S is driving the change in relations with regional allies, which, in part, will be redefined based on relations that are built around competition in the global gas market, and the supply of cleaner energy sources, especially, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

Third; according to the CIA’s Global Threats Report  2019.  The ME region is highly vulnerable to changes in the frequency and severity of heat waves, droughts, and floods, and that combined with Poor Governance – leads to increased food and water insecurity.    As a result, it is very likely that there will be an increased risk of social unrest, migration and tension between regional State, and non-State actors.

It stands to reason that the U.S. views the strategic benefits derived from maintaining the  historical strategic pillars, and policy objectives in the ME vis-à-vis the strategic risks associated with such policy as costly and no longer viable because of the greater strategic threats posed by both Russia’s aggression towards its neighbours in Europe in consequence of Russia’s own economic, political, and social agenda, which opposes the international liberal order promoted, and protected by the U.S. since the second world war., and China’s expanding financial and economic influence, and strategic cooperation with Russia in multiple domains to amass political and strategic advantage through improved economic and energy connectivity projects in Europe, Eurasia, Middle East, and Asia pacific.  Therefore; U.S vital strategic interests lay elsewhere and the U.S. views Russia and China as a greater strategic risk than Iran and Al-Qaeda, and that requires the U.S. to “do less” in the Middle East.  In consequence, from U.S perspective the Middle East region is no longer a priority for the United States.  

The strategic implications of the ongoing U.S. long goodbye to the M.E. region over the past decade have shifted the regional geopolitical environment and caused the formation of a power vacuum where state and non-state actors competing in a multi-level and proxy executed competition to gain diplomatic, economic, and strategic advantage.  As a result, three regional spheres of influence emerged vying for control and power in the region, including the conservative wing, comprising Saudi Arabia (GCC, less Qatar), Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. The anti-American wing includes Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.  Lastly the Islamist wing includes Turkey, and Qatar.  Add to this complex geopolitical landscape, Russian and Chinese inroads through military, economic, and weapons sales to regional actors to increase their regional influence.  In fact; in recent years, Moscow has strengthened its military foothold in Syria and secured access to military bases on the Mediterranean Sea, in order to expand its regional political, military, and economic influence.  Moscow’s regional engagement has solidified since 2015 Russian intervention in Syria.  Moreover, Russia’s expanding military exercises and weapons sales with Egypt selling 2$ billion worth of aircrafts to Cairo.  Further, Moscow support and expanded ties with Khalifa Haftar in Libya,  talks to sell S-400 Missile Defence System to Qatar, cooperation with Saudi Arabia to stabilize global oil markets, and strengthening relations with Israel and Iran are clear indications of Moscow’s increasing influence in the Middle East region.

In the same way, China’s strategic cooperation with Middle Eastern countries is on the rise.  For instance, the region is China’s No.1 source of imported petroleum products.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, over 50% of Chinese Oil imports come from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq, and Iran, with Saudi Arabia providing 16% of Oil imports.  Further; Qatar, is the one of largest LNG suppliers to China.  Moreover, In July 2018, China and the UAE announced an upgrade to their 2012 strategic partnership to a “comprehensive Strategic Partnership”- China’s highest level of diplomatic relations, outlining cooperation in wide range of fields such as politics, economics, trade, technology, energy, renewable energy, and security.   Likewise, In Egypt, in September 2018 President Sisi visited Beijing and signed 18$ billion worth of deals with China including projects covering rail, real estate, and energy.  Again, Chinese construction firms are heavily engaged in constructing Egypt’s new administrative capital outside of Cairo and developing the Red Sea port and industrial zone.  Likewise, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt are important to China’s expanding BRI initiative.   The majority of Chinese trade with Europe passes through the Suez Canal, and China is expanding the cooperative zone around the canal by expanding the port and shipping facilities.   Finally, Jordan joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2015, and Israel high speed rail project with China that will connect Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean to Eilat on the Red Sea.  Clearly, the multitude of Chinese driven infrastructure projects in the region are an indication that countries in the Middle East are welcoming China’s economic investments, and if history is a gauge of future developments, then it is reasonable to conclude that China is likely to increase its political engagement and expand its military presence in the region to protect and secure its economic interest.

In 2017, during a visit by president Trump to Saudi Arabia, the Riyadh declaration was announced.  The declaration is a U.S. proposal for a multilateral regional arrangement between Gulf Cooperation Council nations (GCC), including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, in addition to Jordan and Egypt, dubbed the Middle East Strategic alliance (MESA).  The proposal centres on the idea of a regional system with shared security, economic, and political architecture.   According to data from the World Bank Development Indicators (WBDI) (2018), the MESA boasts a combined GDP of $2.3 trillion and represents a market of 175 million consumers.  The proposal joins an increasing number of regional alliances that exist across the globe, such as the three seas initiative (3SI), the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), among others.  Since its announcement, an ongoing dispute among the competing, regional spheres of influence, due to differences in their respective interests, capabilities, and threat perceptions has caused little progress in the future trajectory of this multilateral arrangement.

Finally, the reality is that the U.S. should not fully extricate itself from the region due to the U.S. great power competition with China and Russia, which the Trump Administration has placed at the centre of its national security strategy.   Instead, the U.S. should invest in its regional network of allies and partners to work together to maximize their strengths and address common challenges that are vital to U.S. national security and geopolitical stability.  The U.S. should push for and hasten the strategic convergence of the MESA member States by promoting deeper coordination and interaction among participants through multilateral cooperation in the economic, political, security, and energy spheres by calling to build the tools and the governing institutions to govern MESA operations and decision making such as a Middle East Strategic Alliance Council with prime ministers as members, the Middle East Strategic Alliance Economic Commission to manage the organizations day to day decision making activity, the Middle East Strategic Alliance Court system, tasked with managing disputes among member States, and a Middle East Strategic Alliance development bank and stabilization fund to support and drive integration efforts through regional lending and investment programs to boost, along an East-West axis, cross-border economic development, energy, water, transportation, and digital infrastructure connectivity projects.

As noted above, the U.S. should reposition itself at the helm of key Middle East dynamics, while simultaneously working with regional partners to balance Russian and Chinese inroads and expanding patterns of influence in the region.  Else, a lack of a clear, unified strategy for the Middle East, will perpetuate the current Hobbesian state of a bellum omnium contra omnes, which renders the whole Middle East system in a quantum state of neither at peace, nor at war, but, entangled in a super position of both states simultaneously; waiting for an observer; to implement the wrong policy option, resulting in the collapse of the state function; into a wilderness of tempestuous combustion; likely, paving the way, to the last age of Pax Americana.

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Middle East

Economic Crisis Does Little to Dampen Mohammed bin Salman’s Pricey Ambitions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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When Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan announced austerity measures in May, including an $8 billion USD cut back on spending on Vision 2030 — Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious plan to restructure the Saudi economy — economists and pundits assumed that was the death knell for trophy projects like NEOM, a $500 billion USD plan for a futuristic mega smart city on the Red Sea.

Economists and pundits may want to think again.

Plagued by questions about the project’s strategic value at a time when the kingdom is struggling with the economic fallout of a pandemic, the impact of an oil price rout, and controversy over the killing of a tribal leader who resisted displacement, NEOM last week sought to counter the criticism by hiring a US public relations and lobbying firm.

NEOM’s $1.7 million USD contract with Ruder Finn – a PR company with offices in the US, Britain, and Asia – was concluded as the kingdom sought to salvage another trophy project, the acquisition of English Premier League soccer club Newcastle United, beset by accusations that the Saudi government had enabled TV broadcasting piracy in its rift with fellow Gulf state Qatar.

The controversy proved to be a lesson in the reputational risk involved in high-profile acquisitions. Piracy was not the only thing complicating the acquisition of Newcastle. So was Saudi Arabia’s human rights record as a result of mass arrests of activists and critics and the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

With the publication of a damning report by the World Trade Organization (WTO), Saudi Arabia moved quickly to counter the criticism by removing boxes of BeoutQ, an operation that pirated sports broadcasts legally contracted by BeIN, the sports franchise of state-owned Qatari television network Al Jazeera. BeoutQ broadcasts were carried by Saudi-based Arabsat.

BeoutQ was taking advantage of the banning of BeIN in the kingdom as part of the three-year-old Saudi-UAE diplomatic and economic boycott of fellow Gulf state Qatar. Saudi sports cafes began broadcasting BeIN for the first time immediately after release of the WTO report.

Like the Saudi response to the WTO, NEOM’s contract with Ruder Finn seems to be an effort to repair reputational damage.

Ruder Finn’s mandate appears designed to counter the fallout of the killing in April of Abdulrahim al-Huwaiti, whom the government labelled a terrorist, and to project NEOM as a socially responsible corporation bent on engagement with its local community.

Taking issue with the suggestion that NEOM was in damage limitation mode, Ali Shihabi, a political analyst, former banker, and member of NEOM’s advisory board who often reflects Saudi thinking, argued in a series of tweets that project NEOM was about much more than refuting negative media reporting.

“There is much more substance to NEOM than ‘flashy projects.’ NEOM will be heavily involved in serious projects like advanced desalination, innovative desert agriculture and more use of solar and wind energy, etc. that are very relevant to the country and the region’s urgent needs. These have been very well planned/researched and some are already being executed,” Mr. Shihabi wrote, admitting that the company behind the project had yet to detail its plans.

Mr. Shihabi’s claims were seconded by Ruder Finn in its filing to the US Department of Justice as a foreign agent.

“NEOM is a bold and audacious dream,” Ruder Finn said. “It’s an attempt to do something that’s never been done before and it comes at a time when the world needs fresh thinking and new solutions.”

Ruder Finn’s contract was announced after NEOM said that it was taking multiple steps to demonstrate that it was being “socially responsible and [would] deliver . . . impactful, sustainable and committed initiatives.”

In lieu of Mr. Shihabi’s anticipated detailing of NEOM’s grandiose plans, Ruder Finn’s filing to the Department of Justice as a foreign agent, as well as NEOM’s announcements, seemed less geared toward projecting the futuristic city’s economic and environmental contribution and more towards repairing damage caused by the dispute with local tribesmen and the killing of Mr. Al-Huwaiti.

Mr. Al-Huwaiti, a leader of protests against alleged forced evictions and vague promises of compensation, was reportedly killed in a gun fight with security forces.

Mr. Al-Huwaiti predicted that he would be either detained or killed in a video posted on YouTube hours before his death. In the video, he claimed that whatever happened to him would be designed to break the resistance of his Huwaitat tribe to their displacement.

He denounced Prince Mohammed’s leadership as “rule by children” and described the kingdom’s religious establishment that has endorsed the Crown Prince’s policies as “silent cowards.”

An estimated 20,000 people are expected to be moved out of an area that Prince Mohammed once said had “no one there.”

NEOM declared earlier this week that it would be offering English-language lessons at its recently established academy and that some 1,000 students would be trained in tourism, hospitality, and cybersecurity.

At the same time, the government said that eligible Saudis would be compensated for loss of land with plots along the coast as part of a program to improve standards of living.

Online news service Foreign Lobby Report reported that Ruder Finn would produce informational materials, including a monthly video to promote NEOM’s engagement with the local community as well as visual materials highlighting the company’s fulfillment of its social responsibility.

Ruder Finn’s efforts were likely to do little to convince the kingdom’s critics.

Writing in Foreign Policy in April, Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s former Middle East and North Africa Director, and Abdullah AlAoudh, a Saudi legal scholar, dismissed NEOM’s grand ambitions. Mr. AlAoudh’s father Shaykh Salman Al-Odah, a prominent reformist religious scholar, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia since 2017 for advocating an end to the rift with Qatar.

“Whether the NEOM project is even remotely viable, given the global financial collapse because of the coronavirus and rising Saudi debt amid historically low oil prices, is highly doubtful,” Ms. Whitson and Mr. AlAoudh said. “The only result we’ve seen from this vision for a futuristic city is the promised destruction of a historic community and the death of a Saudi protester, using archaic means with no room for modern notions of rights and justice.”

Author’s note: An initial version of this story was first published in Inside Arabia

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Netanyahu’s plan to annex West Bank: Old and new problems

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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced plans to establish as of July 1 Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and over some areas of Judaea and Samaria, also known as parts of the West Bank and the River Jordan, which fell under the  control of Israel as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War. At present, about half a million Israelis reside in these areas. However, most countries, citing international law, consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal on the grounds that they pose an obstacle to clinching peace with Palestinians.

The announcement of the Israeli leader had nothing sensational about it. Israel’s policy, aimed at de facto annexing Palestinian territories and at legal acts regarding Israeli communities in the West Bank, undergoes no substantial changes. But this time, the issue under consideration is the legitimization, the establishment of the legal status of these territories as Israeli.

Ideas of this kind are constantly circulating within the ranks of the country’s right-wing politicians. Moreover, being a staunch Zionism maximalist and after 15 years in power, in the course of which he frequently enjoyed a parliamentary majority,  Benjamin Netanyahu could have easily secured this status. However, political caution and pragmatism held him back. That’s why the question is why these plans have acquired a clear-cut shape now, with even a date set for the start of the process.

There seem to be many reasons for this. Naturally, some are personal. At the peak of success, in connection with the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and Washington’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights, and also, following a triumphant recovery from the long-running government crisis, Benjamin Netanyahu is set on strengthening his positions, on winning the support of a maximum number of Israelis, particularly in the light of recent events, after his case went to court.[1]

But the main reason is overall support of Israel from the Trump administration. Never before were relations between Washington and Jerusalem that close.

Undoubtedly, what triggered the process was the ambitious and difficult-to-implement draft agreement proposed by US President Donald Trump to secure peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which, in the opinion of the White House, guarantees a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and puts an end to the more than 70 – year conflict in the Middle East.  The 180-page document stipulates that Israel maintains its sovereignty over the territory of the Jordan Valley, Judea and Samaria. In addition, Washington insists that Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands should be recognized as territory of Israel. That is, all Jewish settlements will remain in their places, including 15 remote settlements which are in no way connected to territories that will be handed over to Israel.

It’s no secret that the draft was developed by Trump’s officials within the framework of consultations with Israelis. The document, presented by Trump on January 28, 2020, was dubbed “the deal of the century”. After the presentation, Israeli and American teams got down to work to make maps of West Bank areas which Israel could annex first under the plan. Although, the American and Israeli positions do not always coincide.

Yet, the coming on the scene of the “deal of the century” and the Netanyahu plan are no accident. Times are changing.

Firstly, after a months-long political crisis in Israel a coalition government has been formed which will be run by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu for 18 months, and the remaining 18 months after November 17, 2021 (if nothing extraordinary happens) until the next elections – by Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz. Thus, the political instability at home has been neutralized.

The coalition agreement which has been achieved in Israel hinges on a document signed by Netanyahu and Gantz on behalf of their parties Likud and Kahol Lavan. This document regulates division of power, the functioning of the new government, and a detailed procedure of decision-making with the right of veto. One important reservation is that expansion of Israeli sovereignty (or annexation) can be proclaimed by Netanyahu and his party without the consent of Gantz, and accordingly, his party. This is the only political area which has such a reservation which abolishes veto.

What speaks of Netanyahu’s “resoluteness” is a changed role of Israel in regional and global affairs. Having integrated into the global economy, Israel, without any exaggeration, has achieved a lot, both technologically, and in terms of security potential. This was backed by progress in the demographic sphere (which is important for Israel), and in the economy. In 2000 the population of Israel was a little over 6 million, in April 2020 – 9,2 million. (At the time of the declaration of independence in 1948 Israel was home to 872 700). In 2000 per capita GDP totaled $ 21038, by 2020 it increased to $ 42823.

The hefty reserves of natural gas which were discovered on Israel’s Mediterranean coast in 2010 and which are already being developed form a foundation of the country’s energy independence and enable it to become a gas exporting country. All this contributes to Netanyahu’s confidence.

Israel’s position in the Middle East is changing as well. The Arab neighbors have become less adverse to it. Gulf monarchies, along with other Arab nations are getting closer and closer to Israel in their confrontation with Iran. Europe, preoccupied with migrant-related problems, is  less critical of Israel and  less protective of Palestinians. Meanwhile, Palestinian political institutes, just like Palestinian leaders, are split between the West Bank and Gaza, which makes them weaker politically.

On the whole, the Palestinian issue appears to be tiring for many actors in the  Middle East.

Therefore, a combination of positive factors, both subjective and objective, has set the stage for the  appearance of Trump’s “deal of the century” and led to the present announcement of the Israeli prime minister. 

US and Israeli leaders are in a hurry: November 3, 2020 – the day of the presidential elections in America – may become critical for the far-reaching plans of the parties concerned.

It needs to acknowledge, however, that if put into effect, the Netanyahu plan is fraught with severe consequences for Israel proper, and for the rest of the Middle East.

Undoubtedly, the initiative voiced by Prime Minister Netanyahu will prove explosive for the current political situation in the country, which is complicated enough without it. Protests are already rolling through Israel against the expansion of sovereignty to the West Bank. Even Netanyahu’s supporters are fully aware that the risks in the Netanyahu-proposed strategic game are extremely high. A great deal is put on stake: human lives, security, economy, the country’s international image. That is why voices against the plan are heard ever more frequently, demanding that the date of the start of the sovereignty declaration procedure be postponed.

Moreover, on June 9 the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice passed a ruling that could come crucial for the country and for the Israeli-Palestinian settlement process. The Court abolished a law under which Jewish settlements in the West Bank which were built on Palestinian territories illegally, can be legalized.

The Netanyahu plan boosts the risk of a new intifada, new terrorist attacks from radical Islamists. Naturally, Palestinians are highly adverse to the move. Deputy chief of the JAMAS “political bureau” Saleh Aruri has made it clear that a return of “armed confrontation” to the West Bank has become a possibility, “more probable   than some could imagine”.

A political storm at home will have a negative effect on Israeli economy and will undermine its defense potential, its power to confront JAMAS, Hezbollah and their ally – the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Tehran will get a good stimulus for activating anti-Israeli propaganda, for convincing its Arab neighbors of Israel’s wickedness, for expanding financial and military support of Palestinians in their struggle for a Palestinian state, for initiating a new phase of the hybrid war against the Jewish state.

The fledgling Israel-friendly architecture for the Middle East, which envisages a certain normalization of relations with Arab opponents, may crumble in a flicker of an eye.

Without doubt, Arabs will condemn the Netanyahu plan, though it may happen that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states, having joined the anti-Israeli chorus, will not risk jeopardizing cooperation with it.

Europe, which is a major trade partner of Israel, is against the Netanyahu plan. Israel is closely integrated with European cooperation programs, including in education, scientific research and innovations, which yield considerable mutual benefits. All this may now be put under threat. The position of the European Union on annexation is clear and consistent: the EU «does not recognize any changes of the 1967 borders, unless they are acknowledged by Israelis and Palestinians». The EU urges Israel to refrain from annexation.

China and Russia will adhere to their present positions, based on the resolutions of the UN Security Council and international law. Moscow and Beijing, while defending their views, will strive to prevent a deterioration of bilateral relations with Israel.

The Russian position on the Netanyahu plan was spelled out by Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov, who said that implementation of intentions to apply Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank seemed a very dangerous scenario. Annexation of Palestinian territories by Israel will cross out prospects for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and trigger a new upsurge of violence.

The ambassador reiterated a position in favor of a two-state solution on the basis of a commonly recognized international framework. He pointed out the need to secure an early resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians under the patronage of the United Nations in order to negotiate a final status and achieve a comprehensive peace settlement on the basis of UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.

Earlier (on May 20) Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking on the phone  with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, confirmed Russia’s readiness in tandem with other members of the Middle East Quartet (Russia, the USA, the EU, the UN) to contribute to the reset of a peace process by means of a dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis.

The Palestinian-Israeli problem is clearly a knotty issue which has been a point of unsuccessful talks for more than 70 years. It penetrates the political, diplomatic and military space of the Middle East, affecting the situation in different parts of the region. The putting into effect of the Netanyahu plan on expanding the Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and parts of Judea and Samaria, coupled with Trump’ “deal of the century”, will surely cause an explosive reaction worldwide, in Israel proper, and throughout the Middle East.

It looks like the only positive thing about Netanyahu’s and Trump’s controversial and dangerous plans is that these projects have yet again attracted the attention of the world community to the Palestinian problem, an acute issue of our day. But July 1 is just round the corner! 

[1] Reference: On May 24 the first session of the Jerusalem District Court got under way to consider three cases which were filed against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This is the first time in Israel’s history when an incumbent prime minister is officially accused of criminal wrongdoing. 

The first inquiry against the prime minister was held in 1999-2000. Back then, the police sued him on five charges – bribery, an attempt to embezzle state property, fraud, abuse of office and attempts to impede the inquiry. However, all lawsuits were closed before reaching court for lack of evidence.

The year 2016 saw a new inquiry which was conducted within the framework of three separate cases known in the press as «Case 1000», «Case 2000» and «Case 4000». On the basis of these cases the Israeli Prosecutor-General Avichai Mandelblit issued official charges against Netanyahu on November 21st, 2019. On  «Case 1000» and «Case 2000» the prime minister is charged with fraud and abuse of trust (Article 284 of the Criminal Code provides for a three-year imprisonment), on «Case 4000» he is charged with fraud, abuse of trust and bribery (Article 290 of the Criminal Code, up to 10 years in prison). On January 28, 2020 all cases were transferred to the Jerusalem District Court.

Benjamin Netanyahu denies all charges saying that all the cases against him have been fabricated for the purpose of removing right wingers from power.

From our partner International Affairs

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