A public apology by a prominent Salafi scholar sheds a light on Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s version of ‘moderate Islam,’ his effort to shape the Middle East and North Africa in his mould, and the replacement of religion with hyper-nationalism as the source of his legitimacy.
Claiming to speak in the name of the Sahwa or Awakening movement, Aidh al-Qarni, one of the kingdom’s most popular religious scholars, broke with the Muslim Brotherhood-linked group’s past call for political reform and instead wholeheartedly endorsed Prince Mohammed’s undefined notion of an Islam that would be free of extremism.
“I would like to apologize to Saudi society for…the extremism, the violation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, the violation of the tolerance of Islam, the violation of the moderate and merciful nature of Islam. I support today the moderate and open-to-the-world Islam that has been called for by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman,” Mr. Al-Qarni said, wearing a Salafi-style chequered red and white headdress.
More than simply a declaration of support for the Saudi leader, Mr. Al-Qarni’s apology provided ideological justification for Prince Mohammed’s so far only partially successful efforts to ensure that regional states are ruled by governments of his liking, refusal to condemn assaults on Islam like in China’s north-western province of Islam, and crackdown at home that potentially has put some of his past colleagues on death row.
Mr. Al-Qarni was not among Islamic scholars that have been detained, many of them in a crackdown in September 2017. Those arrested and potentially facing execution included some of the kingdom’s other most popular reformist preachers such as Salman al-Audah and Mr. Al-Qarni’s namesake, Awad al-Qarni.
Charges against the two men, as well as author and broadcaster Ali al-Omari, include stirring public discord, inciting people against the ruler, public support for imprisoned dissidents and alleged ties to the Brotherhood and Qatar. A Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led alliance has been boycotting Qatar economically and diplomatically for the past two years.
Mr. Al-Omari, a former United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Youth and Humanity, is a member of the Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars founded by controversial scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Mr. Al-Qaradawi is widely believed to be a major spiritual influence within the Brotherhood.
Mr. Al-Qarni’s endorsement of Prince Mohammed and reports that two of his colleagues may be executed came as Human Rights Watch rang alarm bells about the fate of Murtaja Qureiris, an 18-year old who could face a similar fate.
Mr. Qureiris was arrested when he was 13 for participating in 2011 in a bike protest in eastern Saudi Arabia three years earlier when he was 10 years old.
Mr. Qureiris was charged with belonging to a terrorist group, helping to construct Molotov cocktails, shooting at security forces and participating in a protest at the funeral of his brother, who was killed in an allegedly violent demonstration.
Mr. Al-Qarni didn’t do his former colleagues any favours by asserting that Qatar was funding Saudi scholars. “Of course, people get money… Saudis went there (Qatar),” Mr. Al-Qarni said, refusing to identify who he was referring to.
‘Qatar Papers,’ a recently published book in France, purportedly based on hitherto unpublished documents, asserted that the Gulf state was funding numerous mosques and individuals in Europe associated with the Brotherhood.
A TV series broadcast during this year’s Ramadan, when programs get their highest ratings, provided background music for Mr. Al-Qarni’s apology.
Rewriting history through the eyes of a Saudi family, Al-Asouf (Winds of Change) blames the Sahwa for some of the region’s most momentous events, including the 1979 Iranian revolution, the occupation by militants of the Grand Mosque in Mecca that same year, and the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat because of his signing of a peace treaty with Israel.
In line with Prince Mohammed’s assertion that Saudi Arabia embraced a more moderate form of Islam prior to the events of 1979, Al-Asouf suggests that Sahwa’s ultra-conservatism bolstered by its hostility towards the West, misogynist attitudes towards women and intolerance, influenced a generation of Saudis.
Adding to Mr. Al-Qarni’s apology and Al-Asouf’s messaging, Adil al-Kalbani, a former imam of the Grand Mosque and often straight-talking member of the kingdom’s ultra-conservative religious establishment, who has seven million followers on Twitter, made a 180 degrees U-turn on his past statements that supported severe restrictions of women’s rights and denounced Shiites as apostates.
Challenging one of the kingdom’s major taboos, Mr. Al-Kalbani denounced gender segregation in mosques as “a kind of phobia,” arguing that in the era of the Prophet Mohammad, men and women prayed together.
“Now unfortunately we’ve become paranoid to the level that in a mosque, a place of worship, it’s as if women are in a fortress,” he said. “They’re completely isolated from the men, not seeing or hearing them except through microphones or speakers.”
Drawing red lines, Mr. Al-Qarni sought to provide religious justification to Prince Mohammed’s policies. The crown prince’s concept of moderate Islam, involving absolute obedience to the ruler, was one red line. The interests of Saudi Arabia as defined by Prince Mohammed was another.
“I went and pledged allegiance to the King and swore on the Qur’an and the Sunnah. I went on the night of the 27th (of May) to Mecca and pledged allegiance to Mohammed bin Salman. You pledge allegiance for better or for worse… I declare here that I am now one of the swords of the state,” Mr. Al-Qarni said.
Asserting that Saudi Arabia was being targeted by Iran, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Al -Qarni’s definition of the kingdom as a red line appeared to break with Sahwa and the Saudi past religious embrace of Islam’s concept of the ummah, the global community of the faithful.
In the words of Saudi Arabia scholar Raihan Ismail, Mr. Al-Qarni was rejecting the notion of the ummah because it “undermines the primacy of the nation-state.”
In doing so, Mr. Al-Qarni was attempting to provide religious cover for Prince Mohammed’s apparent endorsement during a visit to Beijing earlier this year of China’s crackdown on Turkic Muslims and his apparent support for a US plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is widely believed to favour Israel and deny Palestinian aspirations.
Anwar Gargash, the minister of state for foreign affairs of Saud Arabia’s closest ally, the United Arab Emirates, hailed Mr. Al-Qarni’s apology as an important step “as we close the door to the stage of extremism and the employment of religion for political purposes.”
Mr. Gargash’s comments put a finger on differences in the approaches towards Islam of Emirati crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed and his Saudi counterpart.
Viscerally opposed to political Islam, UAE Prince Mohamed rather than the Saudi crown prince has been the driver in support by the two Gulf states of anti-Islamist forces across the Middle East and North Africa.
In fact, Prince Mohammed’s notion of moderate Islam, although projected as a break with Saudi Arabia’s past propagation of ultra-conservative strands of Islam that critics charged contributed to breeding grounds of violence, amounts to a form of conservative political Islam that is designed to bolster his autocratic regime rather than reform the faith.
Similarly dissident Saudi scholar Madawi al-Rasheed asserted that the kingdom’s decision to recently convene three Gulf, Arab and Islamic summits during Ramadan in the holy city of Mecca was “nothing but utter Islamism.”
Ms. Al-Rasheed argued that the summits exposed “the contradiction in the recent Saudi push to ban and criminalise Islamism. The three conferences are not being held to discuss theological matters, but to seek support for Saudi Arabia’s king over serious, controversial and divisive political crises,” she said.
The secret behind Trump’s moves in eastern Deir ez-Zur
Trump’s desire for Syrian oil has led observers to consider it as the beginning of occupying oil wells in other countries, including Libya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab states.
The obsession of the U.S. president with money and oil is obvious for everyone and that is why U.S. military commanders have used this temptation by Trump to persuade him to keep some troops in Syria.
On October 28, Trump said, “We are keeping the oil — remember that. Forty-five million dollars a month? We have secured the oil”.
Last week, news sources reported that the U.S. president has agreed to develop military missions to protect oilfields in eastern Syria.
The Turkish Anadolu Agency reported that the U.S. has established a new military base in the oil-rich parts of Deir ez-Zur in Syria.
In this regard, Trump announced the settlement of some U.S. companies in Syria’s east to invest in and exploit oilfields. It was a move that drew Russian backlash.
Russian opposition to Trump’s oil ambitions
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a statement in late October that the Syrian oil is the focus of U.S. attention. In a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Lavrov said it was important to refrain from “steps undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Syria.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov also said, “This, what Washington is doing now — capturing and maintaining control through the use of arms over oil fields in eastern Syria — that is, to put it simply, international, state-sponsored banditry,” DW reported on October 26.
Konashenkov said tank trucks guarded by U.S. military servicemen and private military companies smuggle oil from fields in eastern Syria to other countries.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin also pointed to U.S. efforts to reinforce its presence in Syrian oil-rich lands, calling it an illegal act by Washington. Vershinin also said that Moscow will never accept the policy that the U.S. is pursuing in Syria.
The Russian Defense Ministry in recent weeks has also released satellite images of some areas in Syria showing that U.S. troops have created security guard to smuggle Syria’s oil. Earlier, images of eastern Syria were released documenting oil trucks were traveling across Syria-Turkey borders, an action which reveals the goals of those countries which support terrorism in Syria.
Syria’s oil reserves
In terms of oil reserves, Syria is in 32nd place after Malaysia and ahead of Argentina, with 2,500,000,000 barrels. Syria’s known oil reserves are mainly in the eastern part of the country in Deir ez-Zor, the second largest Syrian province after Homs. The rest of reserves are in other provinces such as Hama, Ar Raqqah and Homs.
Before the beginning of civil war in 2011, Syria was extracting 385,000 barrels of light crude oil with an approximate value of €3 billion, which were being transferred to Homs via pipeline. 89,000 barrels of the extracted oil were being refined and used for domestic uses. The rest was being exported through port of Baniyas.
Lebanon has uncovered some oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean. Syria can also explore some of these reserves as it has long coasts along the Mediterranean if it invests in its territorial waters.
U.S. actions in eastern Euphrates
Now that the defeat of terrorists is clear to everyone, the U.S. is seeking to create an economic crisis in Syria by using oil as a tool against Damascus. This is the reason why it is seizing the country’s oil reserves and also pressures Damascus to accept Washington’s conditions.
From our partner Tehran Times
Middle Eastern protests: A tug of war over who has the longer breath
Mass anti-government protests in several Arab countries are turning into competitions to determine who has the longer breath, the protesters or the government.
In Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq, countries in which the leader was either forced to resign or has agreed to step down, authorities appear to be dragging their feet on handovers of power or agreed transitional power sharing arrangements in the hope that protesters, determined to hold on to their street power until a political transition process is firmly in place, either lose their momentum or are racked by internal differences.
So far, protesters are holding their ground, having learnt the lesson that their achievements are likely to be rolled back if they vacate the street before having cemented an agreement on the rules of the transitional game and process.
Scores of recent arrests on charges that include “harming national unity” and “undermining the morale of the army” have failed to deter Algerians who refuse to accept the military’s proposed December 12 date for elections.
Lebanon enters its second months of protests with the government going through the motions but ultimately failing to respond to demands for a technocratic government, a new non-sectarian electoral law and early elections.
An effort to replace prime minister Saad Hariri with another member of the elite, Mohammad Safadi, a billionaire businessman and former finance minister, was rejected by the protesters.
“We are staying here. We don’t know how long – maybe one or two months or one or two years. Maybe it will take 10 years to get the state we are dreaming of, but everything starts with a first step.” said filmmaker Perla Joe Maalouli.
Weeks after agreeing to resign in response to popular pressure, Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul Mehdi appears to be increasingly firm in his saddle.
Much like what prompted US President George H.W.. Bush to first call in 1991 for a popular revolt against Saddam Hussein and then give the Iraqi strongman the tools to crush the uprising, Mr. Mehdi is holding on to power in the absence of a credible candidate acceptable to the political elite to replace him.
Mr. Mehdi’s position is strengthened by the fact that neither the United States nor Iran wants a power vacuum to emerge in Baghdad.
Backtracking on Mr. Mehdi’s resignation and refraining from appointing a prime minister who credibly holds out the promise of real change is likely to harden the battle lines between the protesters and the government.
The tugs of war highlight the pitfalls protesters and governments need to manoeuvre in what amounts to a complex game with governments seeking to pacify demonstrators by seemingly entertaining their demands yet plotting to maintain fundamental political structures that anti-government activists want to uproot.
Meeting protesters’ demands and aspirations that drive the demonstrations and figure across the Middle East and North Africa, irrespective of whether grievances have spilled into streets, is what makes economic and social reform tricky business for the region’s autocrats.
Its where what is needed for sustainable reforms bounces up against ever more repressive security states intent on exercising increasingly tight control.
Sustainable reform requires capable and effective institutions rather than bloated, bureaucratic job banks and decentralisation with greater authorities granted to municipalities and regions.
Altering social contracts by introducing or increasing taxes, reducing subsidies for basic goods and narrowing opportunities for government employment will have to be buffered by greater transparency that provides the public insight into how the government ensures that it benefits from the still evolving new social contract.
To many protesters, Sudan has validated protesters’ resolve to retain street power until transitional arrangements are put in place.
It took five months after the toppling of president Omar al-Bashir and a short-lived security force crackdown in which some 100 people were killed before the military, the protesters and political groups agreed and put in place a transitional power-sharing process.
The process involved the creation of a sovereign council made up of civilians and military officers that is governing the country and managing its democratic transition.
Even so, transitional experiences have yet to prove their mettle. Protesters may have learnt lessons from the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Yet, this time round, protesters lack the broad-based international empathy that 2011 uprisings enjoyed and are up against more than domestic forces backed by conservative Gulf states.
Powers like Russia and China make no bones about their rejection of protest as an expression of popular political will.
So has Iran that has much at stake in Iraq and Lebanon, countries where anti-sectarian sentiment is strong among protesters, even if the Islamic republic was born in one of the 20th century’s epic popular revolts and is confronting protests of its own against fuel price hikes.
Iran’s next parliamentary election hinges on economic problems, US sanctions effective
It seems any faction focuses on solving the economic problems, has more chance for victory in the parliamentary elections.
The eleventh elections of the Islamic Parliament in Iran will be on Feb 21, 2020 across the country. Seyed Salaman Samani spokesman of Interior Ministry said in an interview that has published on the official website of the ministry.
About 4 months have remained to the elections, but the politicians and parties have started to organize their campaigns and planning for victory.
The current parliament was formed from 41 percent Reformers and Moderates, 29 percent Principlists, 28 percent Independents and 2 percent Minorities, according to the ISNA News Agency.
In Tehran, capital of the country, all seats were gained by the Reformers, but some important cities such as Mashhad as the second city in the country, the Principlists were decisive winners.
But the majority of people and political activists are serious dissatisfactions concerning the function of the parliament, even some experts have emphasized on the famous slogan that says: “Reformer, Principlist, the story is over.”
This situation has formed, while Iran`s Parliament has been under control between two parties in the past years. So, some experts seek up the third faction for improving the country’s position, but so far the third faction has had not a leader and specific structure.
Due to the Reformers supporting of President Hassan Rouhani in the last presidential elections and lack of his rhetoric realization, the position of the Reformers has weakened increasingly. For example, Rouhani said during the contests of the presidential elections about 2 years ago in Iran television that If Iranians reelect me, all sanctions even non-nuclear sanctions will be lifted. But now, the sanctions against Iran have increased and the economic situation of the people has hurt extremely.
But recently, many celebrities of Iran have regretted concerning supporting Rouhani like Ali Karimi the former football player and Reza Sadeghi the famous singer, they demonstrated their regret on social media. So, some suggested that the victory of Principlists in the elections is certain.
“The Principlists need not do anything; they are comfortably the winner of the next parliamentary elections.” Sadegh Zibakalam, an Iranian academic reformist said in an interview with Shargh Newspaper.
“We have no chance for parliamentary elections and next presidential elections unless a miracle happens,” he added.
The Iranian Principlists are closer to Iran`s supreme leader and guard corps than the Reformers. A political face in the right-wing like, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf with the slogans “New Parliament ” and “Neo-Principlism ” has recalled young people to receive their ability to provide the elections list. Ghalibaf launched his third presidential campaign for the Iranian presidency on April 15, 2017, but on May 15, 2017, Ghalibaf withdrew, but he supported Ebrahim Raisi who is the current chief of Iran`s judiciary.
Another face is the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad. Some experts say Ahmadinezhad has a great plan for the next elections but so far he has not spoken about it. Recently he criticized toughly from the government of Rouhani and Iran’s Judiciary. Recently, some of his close activists arrested by Iran’s Judiciary, and they are in Evin Prison now. Some analyzers say Ahmadinezhad has high popularity, just as the people have welcomed warmly lately on his travels across the country.
JAMNA or “Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces” is another chance for Principlists in the next elections. JAMNA founded in late 2016 by ten figures from different spectrum of conservative factions, in the end, the party elected Ebrahim Raisi as a candidate for the presidential election but Raeisi defeated.
But Reformers are not hopeless, Mohammad Khatami as the leader of the Reformers, who served as the fifth President of Iran from 1997 to 2005 has said statements recently. He has wanted from the government to qualify the Reformers candidates for participation in the political event.
One of the Reformer’s big problems in the history of Iran `s elections has been the disqualification by the Guardian Council. According to Iran constitution, all candidates of parliamentary or presidential elections, as well as candidates for the Assembly of Experts, have to be qualified by the Guardian Council to run in the elections.
Some Reformers in reformist newspapers state that they will take part in the parliament elections on this condition the majority of Reformers’ candidates will be qualified by the Guardian Council.
Some analysts said the Iran parliament has not enough power in order to improve the country’s situation. Just as the parliament has approved the bill of “United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime” by a 126 vote in last year, but the Guardian Council has disagreed with it and its fate shall determine by Expediency Discernment Council, while the government has frequently emphasized on the bill. The government believes the approving the bill will cause to reducing the bans about the economic transaction with the world.
Generally, Iran`s economic position is very critical currently, tough sanctions by Trump administration and the defeat of the nuclear deal (JCPOA) has caused that Iranians to be under serious problems. The stuff prices and inflation are at the highest level since Iran`s revolution in 1979. So, it seems any faction that focuses on solving the economic problems, has more chance for victory in the parliamentary elections. Also, the more important issue is the participation rate of people. If dissatisfactions about economic problems will be continued, hope and joy between people would reduce the rate of Participation in the next elections. Some experts say based on experiences in Iran, when the rate of participation in the elections is reduced, the Principlists has a more chance for the victory, because the gray spectrum that is not black or white, usually has a willing to the Reformers. the spectrum includes younger people even teenagers in the urban society.
Some political observers say the gray spectrum has not very willing to participate in the next elections. Some suggested that the future situation, especially in the economic field is very important to make the willingness about the gray spectrum to participate.
Analysts said the winner of the presidential elections 2 years later is the winner of the parliamentary elections on Feb 21, 2020. The majority of the next parliament will affect the political space across the country. This procedure in Iran has precedent. Like the victory of the Reformers in the last parliamentary elections that it caused the Rouhani victory about 2 years ago.
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