Is Russia trying to replace UN with Sochi talks after the USA tried for years to make UN an integral part of CIA? Not exactly and on the contrarily!
Russia seeks genuine results of Syria talks to end the long war there began as part of Arab Spring.
The claims that the Sochi talks were some kind of a rouge operation to knock the UN talks out of the box were a complete hoax, mainly because Russia was coordinating Sochi with the UN, publicly stating they were no attempt so replace the UN. But the problem with UN is its all efforts to keep the talks going nowhere by constantly demanding pre-conditions.
In fact the UN talks had been bogged down by the Saudi High Negotiation Committee’s (HNC). When the UN is helpless, Sochi was designed to get around that roadblock. Sochi meant against the small group of deal killers like the HNC, that the majority would not be held hostage to their demands.
The opposition’s strategy can clearly be seen as an attempt to stall the political talks to give the US coalition time to crank up some new chaos in Syria to have them die of crib death. But it seems that the Turkish military entry as a part of US invasion of Syria (and larger West Asia perspective) invasion is one finger of that ploy.
Of course, Russia cannot solve all problems in Middle East since USA has planned very meticulously to destabilize the region minus Israel. Thus the whole purpose of Sochi was not to solve all the problems, but get the process jump started and quite visibly so towards finding an end first and then move on to the UN. The concluding twelve point statement was a home run in that regard, and the cherry on top was to move the next step in the process back to Geneva where some of the key issues could be solved.
All this can in no way be claimed as excluding the UN from the process, and the 1600 participants established a large and diverse representation of those wanting to move forward.
Moscow also believes Syrian puzzle cannot be fully resolved without freeing Afghanistan from the clutches of foreign forces and nations that invaded, devastated and destabilized that South Asian nation on the pretext of Sept-11. The critical focus now for a successful resolution to the Syrian crisis is to maintain momentum with the political process.
Russia, Iran, and Turkey have been organizing peace talks for Syria in the Kazakh capital of Astana since January 2017. Together, the three countries have been acting as guarantor states for the peace process. They continue their sincere efforts despite the US-Israeli interferences to disrupt the peace process as they did in Mideast peace process where Israel regulates for disaster the US sponsored bogus talks with the besieged Palestinians. .
Capitalizing on the achievements of Astana, Russia on January 29-30 convened a high-profile meeting on Syria — the Syrian Congress of National Dialog — in Sochi. President Puitn sponsored it.
One Syrian opposition faction, directly controlled by USA, boycotted the meeting, and some non-political groups opposed to Damascus later accused the UN of “rewarding” Russia “upfront” by dispatching Special Envoy de Mistura to the event before securing concessions from Russia and the Syrian government.
West Asia is in the process of geopolitical change and USA is likely to b lose its any importance it thinks it has had in the region. In fact, USA is not welcome in West Asia but America doesn’t want to let Russia occupy its space in the region. Russia and Iran are Syrian government allies and USA opposes them.
In fact, Saudi’s now “alliance” with Israel is only a tactic move to isolate Iran in the region which looks impossible mainly because Tehran has already gone board with its sectarian policy arming and promoting the Shiia forces. As USA and Israel continue to target Islam and promote its divisions, the sectarian attitudes cannot simply vanish from the scene all together.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who also took part in Sochi dialogue, has rejected criticism of the world body’s participation at Syrian peace talks in the Russian resort city of Sochi, praising the outcome of the discussions. Speaking at a press conference at the UN headquarters New York, Guterres said the presence of UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Misturain in Sochi was based on a common understanding between the UN and the Russian Federation on the nature and outcome of the meeting and its contribution to the UN-mediated Geneva process.
Absentees and disagreements
With the USA having proven to be a fake mediator in regional conflicts, Russia has taken the lead. The Sochi summit revealed the impotence of Russia as the main arbiter of the Syrian conflict. The Turk-Russian alliance that led the Astana process did not complement Geneva but in a way was aimed to replace it.
With Russia that has become a formidable rival to the USA in the Syrian theater, with Turkey outraged by Washington’s support for the adversarial Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), and with Iran seen as a hostile element by the Trump regime, Geneva is becoming increasingly irrelevant to resolving the Syrian conflict.
Before the Sochi conclave, Russian President Putin had a telephonic conversation with the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The leaders stressed the importance of implementing the reached agreements aimed at the effective promotion of the Syrian political settlement process on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Putin and Erdogan also discussed Russia-Turkey coordination to ensure stable operation of de-escalation zones in Syria and interaction in the Astana format.
There have been disagreements among the participants of the summit as well. For example, 83 delegates from the Syrian opposition unexpectedly refused to sit down for talks under the official Syrian flag. They kept 1,511 other participants waiting for several hours on Jan. 30 and finally boarded the plane and flew back to Turkey.
The Syrian Kurds, outraged by Turkey’s Afrin operation, boycotted the meeting. Not only was the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) absent from Sochi, but also absent was its main rival, the Kurdish National Council — a pro-Massoud Barzani alliance recognized by Turkey. More interestingly, Abdel Basset Sieda, the former chairman of the Syrian National Council that Turkey formed and supported, not only refused to go to Sochi but also resigned from the Turkey-backed Syrian group. In sum, there was no real Syrian Kurdish representation in Sochi. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls a sizable swath of Syrian territory, was not in Sochi either.
The opening ceremony has been untypically chaotic for a meeting organized by Russia. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech was interrupted several times by members of the audience shouting slogans. Thus, the Sochi meeting was crippled from the very beginning because of Turkey’s military operation in Afrin and the alienation of the Kurds.
Nonetheless, Russia pushed forward — at the end of deliberations, a communique that the Russian media titled “Syrian Congress in Sochi brings war-torn country closer to constitutional reform” was adopted.
UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which envisaged a “Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition in order to end the conflict in Syria,” is to be realized in 18 months, but is long overdue. Indeed, the last part of the Sochi communique was a display of this helplessness. The communique said: “We agreed to form a constitutional committee comprising the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic delegation along with a wide-represented opposition delegation for the drafting of a constitutional reform as a contribution to the political settlement under the UN auspices in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254. … We appeal to the UN secretary-general to assign the Special Envoy for Syria for the assistance of the Constitutional Committee work in Geneva”.
If Turkey’s Afrin operation drags on with high civilian casualties that can’t be concealed from the attention of the international public for long, the endorsement of Ankara could turn out to be a liability rather than an asset for those actors in the Syrian theater. “We continue to monitor the developments in northern Syria, which are a matter of grave concern,” said Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, in an apparent change of tone that might be an indication of Russia’s position shift.
Sochi, by the last paragraphs of its communique, passes the ball to Geneva and implicitly declares the limitations of Russia in Syria. Indeed, Turkey, seeking genuine peace n the region, was quick to endorse the outcome of Sochi and link it to Geneva. In fact, Turkey has acted in a constructive manner about the Russian Federation’s Syrian National Dialogue Congress initiative from the beginning.
Observation: light the other end of tunnel?
The Sochi summit, ignored by USA and Israel that took place at the end of January, was designed to underline the successful achievements of Russia’s involvement in Syria and to consolidate the partnership among Russia, Turkey and Iran. However, the summit revealed the limitations of Russia’s Syria policy instead of Moscow’s growing influence across the Middle East.
The Sochi conference took place just days after the ninth round of UN-led Syria talks failed to achieve tangible results. That round was exceptionally held in the Austrian capital, Vienna, instead of its usual venue of Geneva. Around 1,600 delegates representing a wide range of Syrian political factions attended the Sochi talks. The event was boycotted by the High Negotiations Committee, which is based in and guided by Saudi Arabia.
The most important outcome of the congress was the call for the establishment of a Constitutional Committee and the selection of a pool of 150 candidates for this committee. The Turkish delegation, which was given the mandate to represent opposition groups that didn’t attend the congress, submitted a list of 50 candidates in consultation with the opposition.
The establishment process of the Constitutional Committee will be closely monitored by Turkey as the guarantor of the opposition.” Having decided on forming a constitutional committee comprising the regime in Damascus and an undefined but widely represented opposition delegation is only going back to square one: Geneva.
Syria welcomed the results of the event and stressed that its final statement affirmed that political progress in Syria cannot begin except under the Syrian leadership and without any foreign interference.
Turkey, seeking to remove Assad, is an ally of the Syrian opposition led by USA and backed by Israel. The collective efforts of the three countries – Russia, Turkey and Iran have significantly reduced fighting in Syria, have made an impact on the ground in the Arab country.
Thanks to its control over the Syrian opposition, Turkey definitely will have leverage in shaping the future steps of the resolution process. However, its military operation in Afrin and its ever-widening chasm with Washington are making Ankara more reliant on Moscow. The latest standoff in Idlib revealed this. The Idlib rift also implies how difficult it would be for Moscow to reconcile the differences among its partners in Syria.
While there is no visible opposition protests worldwide to US intervention in Syria- the real cause of war in Syria and West Asia- criticism is leveled against Turkish intervention in Syria to target the Kurds. That is to say USA and Israel can do any devilish nonsense and cause more serious problems, but Turkey cannot do that. US-Israeli fascist duo arranges protests against Turkey.
In contrast, a peace process held under the auspices of the UN — that in Geneva — has achieved little and hence the importance of Sochi. That has angered some Western and Arab governments opposed to the Syrian government and some groups of Syrian opposition backed by those governments. They insist that the Geneva process be given more importance despite its failure so far to make meaningful achievements.
Saudi Arabia, like Israel and USA, thinks it owns and controls the region and does not take any interest in solving the regional problems and it does not allow any other power to try that.
Guterres appreciated Russia’s engagement with the UN regarding the Syria talks. He highlighted the key subjects of the 12-point final Sochi statement, saying that the document embraced a vision of Syria for all its citizens and underlined the need for the formation of a Constitutional Committee under UN auspices.
Syria is likely to return to normalcy without or with Assad in power that, in order for his own survival, got thousands killed by the invading foreign forces, by the Opposition forces and by his own forces. Unlike President Saddam Hussein and Libyan leader Col Gaddafi, Sunni leaders whom USA murdered mercilessly, Assad is lucky to survive the US led attacks mainly because the CIA does not target his life but destabilization of Syria.
Meanwhile, President Putin is getting ready for the March elections, and Erdogan could call for early elections this coming summer. The partnership between the two men and the seemingly converging interests of the two countries constitute a strong connection to the domestic political calculations of both strongmen. Iran stands to benefit from both.
Eurasianism wins in Turkey even if ideologue loses election
He’s been in and out of prison during Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule and is running against the president in this weekend’s Turkish elections with no chance of defeating him and little hope of winning a seat in parliament.
Yet, Dogu Perincek wields significant influence in Turkey’s security and intelligence establishment and sees much of his Eurasianist ideology reflected in Mr. Erdogan’s foreign policy.
With Mr. Erdogan likely to emerge victorious from Sunday’s election despite the opposition posing its most serious challenge to date, Mr. Perincek looks set to be a winner even if he does not make it into parliament.
Messrs. Erdogan and Perincek seem at first glance poles apart. Mr. Perincek is a maverick socialist and a militant secularist whose conspiratorial worldview identifies the United States at the core of all evil. By contrast, Mr. Erdogan carries his Islamism and nationalism on his sleeve.
Nonetheless, Mr. Perincek’s philosophy and world of contacts in Russia, China, Iran and Syria has served Mr. Erdogan well in recent years. His network and ideology has enabled the president to cosy up to Russia; smoothen relations with China; build an alliance with Iran, position Turkey as a leading player in an anti-Saudi, anti UAE front in the Middle East; and pursue his goal of curtailing Kurdish nationalism in Syria.
Tacit cooperation between Messrs. Erdogan and Perincek is a far cry from the days that he spent in prison accused of having been part of the Ergenekon conspiracy that allegedly involved a deep state cabal plotting to overthrow the government in 2015.
It was during his six years prison in that Mr. Perincek joined forces with Lt. Gen. Ismail Hakki Pekin, the former head of the Turkey’s military intelligence, who serves as vice-chairman of his Vatan Partisi or Homeland Party.
His left-wing ideology that in the past was supportive of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PPK) viewed as a terrorist organization by the Erdogan government, has not stopped Mr. Perincek from becoming a player in NATO member Turkey’s hedging of its regional bets.
Together with Mr. Pekin, who has extensive contacts in Moscow that include Alexander Dugin, a controversial Eurasianist extreme right-winger who is believed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Perincek mediated the reconciliation between Moscow and Ankara following the Turkish air force’s downing of a Russian fighter in 2015. The two men were supported in their endeavour by Turkish businessmen close to Mr. Erdogan and ultra-nationalist Eurasianist elements in the military.
Eurasianism in Turkey was buoyed by increasingly strained relations between the Erdogan government and the West. Mr. Erdogan has taken issue with Western criticism of his introduction of a presidential system with far-reaching powers that has granted him almost unlimited power.
He has also blasted the West for refusing to crack down on the Hizmet movement led by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish imam who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, whom Mr. Erdogan holds responsible for an unsuccessful coup in 2016, in which more than 200 people were killed.
Mr. Erdogan has rejected Western criticism of his crackdown on the media and dismissal from public sector jobs and/or arrest of tens of thousands accused of being followers of Mr. Gulen.
Differences over Syria and US support for a Syrian Kurdish group aligned with the PKK have intensified pro-Eurasianist thinking that has gained currency among bureaucrats and security forces as well as in think thanks and academia. The influence of Eurasianist generals was boosted in 2016 when they replaced officers who were accused of having participated in the failed coup.
Eurasianism as a concept borrows elements of Kemalism, the philosophy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the visionary who carved Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire; Turkish nationalism; socialism; and radical secularism.
It traces its roots to Kadro, an influential leftist magazine published in Turkey between 1932 and 1934 and Yon, a left-wing magazine launched in the wake of a military coup in 1960 that became popular following yet another military takeover in 1980.
Eurasianism is opposed to liberal capitalism and globalization; believes that Western powers want to carve up Turkey; and sees Turkey’s future in alignment with Russia, Central Asia, and China.
Mr. Perincek’s vision is shared by hardliners in Iran, including the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who advocate an Iranian pivot to the east on the grounds that China, Russia and other members of the Beijing-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) were more reliable partners than Europe, let alone the United States.
The Guards believe that Iran stands to significantly benefit as a key node in China’s infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiative and will not be confronted by China on its human rights record.
Some Iranian hardliners have suggested that China’s principle of non-interference means that Beijing will not resist Iran’s support of regional proxies like Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, Shiite militias in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen in the way the United States does.
Their vision was strengthened by US president Donald J. Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran. China, Russia and Europe have vowed to uphold the deal.
Iranian empathy for Eurasianism has been reinforced by Chinese plans to invest $30 billion in Iranian oil and gas fields, and $40 billion in Iran’s mining industry as well as the willingness of Chinese banks to extend loans at a time that Mr. Trump was seeking to reimpose sanctions.
Turkey’s embrace of the Eurasianist idea takes on added significance after Russia and the European Union slapped sanctions on each other because of the dispute over Russian intervention in Ukraine. The EU sanctions halted $15.8 billion in European agricultural supports to Russia. Russian countermeasures prevent shipment of those products via Russia to China.
Mr. Perincek may, however, be pushing the envelope of his influence in his determination to restore relations between Turkey and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“The first thing that we will do after victory in the election is that we will invite Bashar Assad to Ankara and we will welcome him at the airport. We see no limitations and barriers in developing relations between Turkey and Syria and we will make our utmost efforts to materialize this objective,” Mr. Perincek vowed in a campaign speech.
More in line with Mr. Erdogan’s vision is Mr. Perincek’s admiration for China. “China today represents hope for the whole humanity. We have to keep that hope alive… Every time I visited China, I encountered a new China. I always returned to Turkey with the feelings of both surprise and admiration,” Mr. Perincek told China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
Bahrain’s Peaceful Gandhi might be executed
Tomorrow, Thursday, 21 June 2018, Bahrain’s High Criminal Court is expected to hand down the maximum sentence possible against the opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, which might be the death penalty. Sheikh Salman’s trial is politically motivated and based on fabricated and arbitrary charges of espionage. Sheikh Salman; detained in December 2014 in his capacity as the now-dissolved Al-Wefaq opposition bloc’s Secretary-General, was sentenced to four years on alleged charges of “inciting disobedience and hatred.”
However, in November 2017, he was shockingly charged for “conspiring with Qatar” to overthrow the regime. Bahrain’s Public Prosecution relied its accusation on the well-known telephone conversation between Shiekh Salman and the Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem, in 2011; which aimed to resolve the 14 February 2011’s unrest. This call, indeed, stems from an open and documented mediation attempt that was originally encouraged by the United States.
In April 2018, the U.S. State Department issued a report in which it expresses concern over the continued arbitrarily prosecution of Sheikh Salman. Urgently, the international community, the United States and the United Kingdom, mainstream media, press, human rights organisations, activists and all free people around the globe must pressure Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release Sheikh Salman as well as all other prisoners of conscience. In addition, the government must halt this political unfair trial and reinstate all arbitrarily dissolved political blocs.
It is worthy to mention that Sheikh Ali Salman was detained in 2014 due to his bloc; i.e. Al-Wefaq’s boycott to the parliamentary elections, then. Al-Wefaq has long complained the political and economic discrimination, lack of impunity and the absence of an independent judiciary. Interestingly, the bizarre allegations were raised once the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)’s states witnessed a diplomatic dispute with Qatar, since June 2017.
Bahrain’s Public Prosecution has called in March for the “maximum penalty” against Sheikh Salman and his two in absentia co-defendants, who are too figures in Al-Wefaq. The three could face capital punishment on politically motivated charges of establishing “intelligence links with Qatar […] to undermine its political and economic status as well as its national interest and to overthrow the political system.”
The Bahraini authorities have long suppressed the opposition particularly this time; prior the elections for the lower house of Bahrain’s National Assembly in November, which constitute a quite vivid and blatant violation of the fundamental rights to freedom, fair trial, free expression, and free association. In fact, this groundless trial and the ongoing clampdown have virtually left no political freedom in the country. Clearly, Bahrain has been openly violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Sheikh Salman is currently serving his 4-years sentence in Jau Central Prison, along with the rest of the opposition leaders. His co-defendant, in this unfair trial, Sheikh Hassan Sultan was publicly defamed in pro-government media, in June 2017. At the same time, the National Security Agency (NSA), repeatedly detained and tortured his son, in an attempt to coerce him into becoming an informant in order to target his father; who is exiled and has been arbitrarily stripped of his citizenship in 2015.
In 2016, Bahrain forcibly dissolved Al-Wefaq; seized its assets, blocking its website, and closing its headquarters. It has taken similar action against nearly all opposition groups, including Amal and leftist blocs Al-Wehdawi and Wa’ad. The government’s systematic campaign against the opposition has intensified despite the UN Universal Periodic Review’s recommendations, in May 2017, which called on Bahrain to “review convictions, commute sentences, or drop charges for all persons imprisoned solely for non-violent political expression.”
The Saudi-Moroccan spat: Competing for the mantle of moderate Islam
Lurking in the background of a Saudi-Moroccan spat over World Cup hosting rights and the Gulf crisis is a more fundamental competition for the mantle of spearheading promotion of a moderate interpretation of Islam.
It’s a competition in which history and long-standing religious diplomacy gives Morocco a leg up compared to Saudi Arabia, long a citadel of Sunni Muslim intolerance and ultra-conservatism.
Saudi Arabia is the new, baggage-laden kid on the block with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asserting that he is returning the kingdom to a top-down, undefined form of moderate Islam.
To be sure, Prince Mohammed has dominated headlines in the last year with long-overdue social reforms such as lifting the ban on women’s driving and loosening restrictions on cultural expression and entertainment.
The crown prince has further bolstered his projection of a kingdom that is putting ultra-conservative social and religious strictures behind it by relinquishing control of Brussels’ Saudi-managed Great Mosque and reports that he is severely cutting back on decades-long, global Saudi financial support for Sunni Muslim ultra-conservative educational, cultural and religious institutions.
Yet, Prince Mohammed has also signalled the limits of his definition of moderate Islam. His recurrent rollbacks have often been in response to ultra-conservative protests not just from the ranks of the kingdom’s religious establishment but also segments of the youth that constitute the mainstay of his popularity.
Just this week, Prince Mohammed sacked Ahmad al-Khatib, the head of entertainment authority he had established. The government gave no reason for Mr. Al-Khatib’s dismissal, but it followed online protests against a controversial Russian circus performance in Riyadh, which included women wearing “indecent clothes.”
The protests were prompted by a video on social media that featured a female performer in a tight pink costume.
In a similar vein, the Saudi sports authority closed a female fitness centre in Riyadh in April over a contentious promotional video that appeared to show a woman working out in leggings and a tank-top. A spokesman for the royal court, Saud al-Qahtani, said the closure was in line with the kingdom’s pursuit of “moderation without moral breakdown.”
Saudi sports czar Turki bin Abdel Muhsin Al-Asheikh said “the gym had its licence suspended over a deceitful video that circulated on social media promoting the gym disgracefully and breaching the kingdom’s code of conduct.”
Mr. Al-Sheikh’s sports authority moreover apologized recently for airing a promotional video of a World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., event that showed scantily clad female wrestlers drawing euphoric cheers from men and women alike.
To be sure, the United States, which repeatedly saw ultra-conservative Islam as a useful tool during the Cold War, was long supportive of Saudi propagation of Islamic puritanism that also sought to counter the post-1979 revolutionary Iranian zeal.
Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia’s more recent wrestle with what it defines as moderate and effort to rebrand itself contrasts starkly with long-standing perceptions of Morocco as an icon of more liberal interpretations of the faith.
While Saudi Islamic scholars have yet to convince the international community that they have had a genuine change of heart, Morocco has emerged as a focal point for the training of European and African imams in cooperation with national governments.
Established three years ago, Morocco’s Mohammed VI Institute for Imam Training has so far graduated 447 imams; 212 Malians, 37 Tunisians, 100 Guineans, 75 Ivorians, and 23 Frenchmen.
The institute has signed training agreements with Belgium, Russia and Libya and is negotiating understandings with Senegal.
Critics worry that Morocco’s promotion of its specific version of Islam, which fundamentally differs from the one that was long prevalent in Saudi Arabia, still risks Morocco curbing rather than promoting religious diversity.
Albeit on a smaller scale than the Saudi campaign, Morocco has in recent years launched a mosque building program in West Africa as part of its soft power policy and effort to broaden its focus that was long centred on Europe rather than its own continent.
On visits to Africa, King Mohammed VI makes a point of attending Friday prayers and distributing thousands of copies of the Qur’an.
In doing so Morocco benefits from the fact that its religious ties to West Africa date back to the 11th century when the Berber Almoravid dynast converted the region to Islam. King Mohammed, who prides himself on being a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, retains legitimacy as the region’s ‘Commander of the Faithful.’
West African Sufis continue to make annual pilgrimages to a religious complex in Fez that houses the grave of Sidi Ahmed Tijani, the 18th century founder of a Sufi order.
All of this is not to say that Morocco does not have an extremism problem of its own. Militants attacked multiple targets in Casablanca in 2003, killing 45 people. Another 17 died eight years later in an attack in Marrakech. Militants of Moroccan descent were prominent in a spate of incidents in Europe in recent years.
Nonetheless, protests in 2011 at the time of the popular Arab revolts and more recently have been persistent but largely non-violent.
Critics caution however that Morocco is experiencing accelerated conservatism as a result of social and economic grievances as well as an education system that has yet to wholeheartedly embrace more liberal values.
“Extremism is gaining ground,” warned Mohamed Elboukili, an academic and human rights activist, pointing to an increasing number of young women who opt to cover their heads.
“You can say to me this scarf doesn’t mean anything. Yes, it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s isolating the girl from the boy. Now she’s wearing the scarf, but later on she’s not going to shake hands with the boy . . . Later on she’s not going to study in the same class with boys. Those are the mechanisms of an Islamist state, that’s how it works,” Mr. Elboukili said.
Mr. Elboukili’s observations notwithstanding, it is Morocco rather than Saudi Arabia that many look to for the promotion of forms of Islam that embrace tolerance and pluralism. Viewed from Riyadh, Morocco to boot has insisted on pursuing an independent course instead of bowing to Saudi dictates.
Morocco refused to support Saudi Arabia in its debilitating, one-year-old economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar but recently broke off relations with Iran, accusing the Islamic republic of supporting Frente Polisario insurgents in the Western Sahara.
Moroccan rejection of Saudi tutelage poses a potential problem for a man like Prince Mohammed, whose country is the custodian of Islam’s two holiest cities and who has been ruthless in attempting to impose his will on the Middle East and North Africa and position the kingdom as the region’s undisputed leader.
Yet, Saudi Arabia’s ability to compete for the mantle of moderate Islam is likely to be determined in the kingdom itself rather than on a regional stage. And that will take far more change than Prince Mohammed has been willing to entertain until now.
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