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Confronting a Pandemic of Crises, Few Middle Eastern Leaders Step Up

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A second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is raising its ugly head. It is putting Middle Eastern leaders at a crossroads as they struggle to contain the disease and tackle its economic fallout.

The question is whether they are getting the message: neither containing and controlling the virus nor economic recovery is a straight shot. Both are likely to involve a process of two steps forward, one step backwards, and no state can successfully tackle the multiples crises on its own.

The Middle East is a part of the world in which conflicts and problems are not just complex but inherently inter-connected. The pandemic poses not only political, economic, and social challenges. It also calls into question regional security arrangements that reinforce fault lines rather than create an environment that allows rivals to collectively manage disputes as well as diseases whose spread is not halted by physical and other boundaries.

At stake is not just regional but also global security. Focused on their own healthcare and economic crises, Western nations ignore Middle Eastern and North African instability at their peril. They risk waking up to threats that could have been anticipated.

Suspected Russian hopes that an end to the Libyan war would allow for the creation of a Russian military base on the southern shore of the Mediterranean that would complement facilities in Syria would be one such impending threat.

“Russia wants a foothold in Libya, and that’s a fact,” said Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military analyist at the Jamestown Foundation. US officials warned that a permanent Russian presence would enhance Russia’s efforts to weaken the already strained trans-Atlantic alliance.

The prospect of increased Russian influence in the Mediterranean coupled with China’s expanding sway over ports in the Eastern Mediterranean raises the specter of emboldening Turkey as it aggressively seeks to grow its control of energy-rich waters in the region in violation of international law.

“To avoid the worst outcomes for an already fraught region, there is no substitute and frankly no alternative to some form of cooperation among regional actors. . . . With the Middle East likely to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis more fragile and potentially explosive than before, a cooperative architecture that can build regional resilience is an imperative,” said strategist Steven Kenney and international relations scholar Ross Harrison in a just released Washington-based Middle East Institute report.

The economic part of the message is already evident: Putting an end to the pandemic and economic recovery will be a painful and long-drawn-out process.

Countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Lebanon, and Israel are witnessing first signs of the pandemic’s second wave.

Increasing the likelihood of a cancellation of this year’s Muslim pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca scheduled for late July, Saudi Arabia re-imposed a lockdown in the Red Sea port of Jeddah, the haj’s major gateway, after a spike in coronavirus infections. The lockdown involves a two-week, 15-hour curfew from 15:00 p.m. to 06:00 a.m.

A dramatic surge in infections in Iran, averaging 3,000 new cases a day, has rekindled the Middle East’s largest outbreak, weeks after the country appeared to have tamed the virus.

Israel closed dozens of schools and ordered any school reporting a virus case to shut down following a surge in coronavirus cases that swept through classrooms two weeks after they were allowed to reopen.

Mass social and economic protests in Lebanon, a country on the brink of financial collapse, have heightened the risk of a second wave of the pandemic.

The surge bodes ill for economic recovery.

Based on a survey of 1,228 CEOs, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce warned that a  staggering 70 percent of businesses in the emirate expect to close their doors within the next six months.

The warning came as the UAE government extended a nightly curfew following a doubling of infections after it eased lockdown restrictions.

Government-backed UAE carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways have since extended reduced pay for staff until September as they try to preserve cash.

Austerity measures threaten to bring the social unrest that has swept the Middle East and North Africa for the past decade closer to the Gulf.

“If it’s temporary, one or two years, I can adapt. My concern is that more taxes will be permanent — and that will be an issue,” said Mohammed, a Saudi government worker after his $266 USD a month cost of living allowance was cancelled and sales taxes were tripled as part of painful austerity measures announced by Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan.

Mr. Mohammed’s words were echoed in a rare pushback against the government by columnist Khalid Al-Sulaiman, writing in the Okaz daily, one of the kingdom’s tightly controlled media outlets.

“I was hoping [the minister] would say [the tax hike] would be reviewed after the coronavirus crisis is gone or contained, or when oil prices improve, but he did not say that. Citizens are feeling concerned that pressure on their living standards will last longer than the current crisis,” Mr. Al-Sulaiman said.

The challenges Gulf states face of an ongoing healthcare crisis and a painful, protracted, and complex road toward economic recovery, coupled with debilitating regional conflicts that not only fester but appear to be expanding, are almost insurmountable obstacles.

Kuwaiti efforts to resolve the rift in the Gulf and pressure by US President Donald J. Trump on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain to lift their three-year-old air embargo of Qatar have raised, perhaps prematurely, the hope of an end to the conflict. Although there is no public indication that the parties are willing to seriously engage.

The proxy war in Libya, in which the UAE-backed forces of rebel commander Khalifa Haftar are on the defensive, is extending into the Eastern Mediterranean as Turkey claims rights in energy-rich territorial waters in violation of international law.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi-based English language newspaper The National, despite UAE efforts to reduce tension with Iran, seemed, to stop just short of inviting Israel to attack an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ command and control center on the outskirts of the main airport of Damascus, the capital of Syria.

“For now, the Glass House remains unshattered,” The National said in a detailed expose of the center dubbed The Glass House.

Middle Eastern leaders are confronting the worst pandemic of crises since independence.

Addressing those predicaments requires regional and global leadership which looks beyond immediate survival and ideological and geopolitical rivalries; a leadership which recognizes that stability and solutions to shared threats must be vested in longer term managing and cooperation in tackling common challenges rather than maintaining conflict.

The problem is that few leaders seem willing or able to step up to the plate.

Author’s note: This story was first published in Inside Arabia

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Middle East

Call for International Community: A Story of Israeli Colonialism

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One of the biggest myths about the Israel-Palestine conflict is that it has been going on for centuries, that this is all about ancient religious hatreds. Truth be told, while religion is included, the contention is for the most part around two gatherings of individuals who guarantee a similar land. It really goes back about a century, to the early 1900s. Around at that point, the locale along the eastern Mediterranean we currently call Israel-Palestine had been under Ottoman Empire for a considerable length of time. It was religiously diverse, including mostly Muslims and Christians but also a small number of Jews, who lived generally in peace and it was changing two important ways. In the first place, more individuals in the area were building up a feeling of being ethnic Arabs as well as Palestinians, a national personality. At the same time, not so far away in Europe more Jews joining a movement called Zionism, which said that Judaism was not just a religion but a nationality, one that deserved a nation of its own. Following quite a while of mistreatment, many accepted a Jewish state was their lone method of wellbeing. They saw their notable country in the Middle East as their best trust in building up it. In the primary many years of the twentieth century, a huge number of European Jews moved there. After World War one, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the British and French Empire carved up the Middle East, with the British taking control of the region it called the British Mandate for Palestine.

At first, the British allowed Jewish immigration, but as more Jews arrived, settling into farming communes, tension between Jews and Arab grew. The two sides submitted demonstrations of brutality and by the 1930s, the British started restricting Jewish movement. Accordingly, Jewish civilian armies framed to battle both the neighborhood Arabs and to oppose British rule. Then, came the Holocaust, leading many more Jews to flee Europe for British Palestine, and galvanizing much of the world in support of Jewish state. In 1947, as sectarian violence between Arab and Jews there grew, the United Nations approved a plan to divide British Palestine into two separate states: One for Jews, Israel and one for Arabs, Palestine. The city of Jerusalem, where Jews, Muslims, and Christians, all have sacred destinations, it was to turn into a special international zone. The arrangement was intended to give Jews a state, to set up Palestinian autonomy, and to end the partisan viciousness that the British could not control anymore. The Jews accepted the plan and declared independence as Israel but on the other hand, Arabs throughout the region saw the UN plan as just more European colonialism trying to steal their land. Many of the Arabs states, who had just recently won independence themselves, declared war on Israel to establish a unified Arab. The new state of Israel won the war in any case, all the while, they pushed well past their fringes under the UN plan, taking the western portion of Jerusalem and a great part of the land that was to have been a piece of Palestine. They also expelled huge number of Palestinians from their homes, creating a massive refugee population whose descendants today number about 7 million. Towards the end of the war, Israel controlled the entirety of the region except for Gaza, which Egypt controlled, and the West Bank, which Jordan controlled. This was the start of the decades-long Arab-Israeli clash. In 1967, Israel and the neighboring Arab states battled another war. At the point when it finished, Israel had held onto the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan, and both Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.

Israel’s military is still occupying the Palestinians territories of the West Bank and Gaza, and this was when the conflict became an Israeli-Palestinian struggle. The Palestinian Liberation Organization, which had shaped during the 1960s to look for a Palestinian state, battled against Israel. At first, the PLO asserted all of what had been British Palestine, which means it needed to end the state of Israel altogether. Battling among Israel and the PLO continued for quite a long time, in any event, including a 1982 Israeli intrusion of Lebanon to kick the gathering out of Beirut. The PLO later said it would acknowledge isolating the land among Israel and Palestine, yet the contention proceeded. As the entirety of this was going on, something sensational was changing in the Israel-involved Palestinian domains, Israelis were moving in. these individuals are called pilgrims and they made their homes in the West Bank and Gaza whether Palestinians needed them or not. Some moved for strict reasons, some since they need to guarantee the land for Israel, and others are regularly financed by the Israeli government. Today there are few hundred thousand pioneers in an involved area even though the International thinks of them as unlawful.

Firstly, and most importantly to resolve any problem we must diagnose the real problem. It is essential to recall that there is no “Palestine issue” but instead an “Israeli colonial problem”. Problems are getting unbearable for Palestinians, however. Inside the West Bank, Palestinians were being surrounded by a somewhat-increasing number of settlements, which mostly respond with wars and now and then with barbarianism and so most clearly require ordinary lives. Within Israel however, the overwhelming majority have been unconcerned, as well as the repression usually holds the argument mildly excluded throughout their daily lives, despite snippets of short and surprising brutalities. There is almost no political desire for peace, no one really recognizes where the conflict is headed. A Third Intifada possible? There will be a collapse in the Palestinian Authority?  In either circumstance, everyone understands that scenario, as they are at present, will no doubt endure. Israel’s occupation over the Palestinians becomes too precarious yet to think permanent, so it would be a ton more awful, even if anything sensational shifts.

The overall creation of the whole situation must determine the outcome; two states or one bi-national entity. The continuing with speculation about the manifestation or duality of states is indeed not unnecessary; it may prove destructive and crippling.Through the past, facts are obvious that colonialism cannot continue until forever. Similar situation applies for Israel, Israel will also end its occupation similarly as every single major power ended theirs.The sooner the better for both Palestinians and Israelis likewise.

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When is usury usury? Turkish fatwa casts doubt on Erdogan’s religious soft power drive

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Turkey’s state-controlled top religious authority has conditionally endorsed usury in a ruling that is likely to fuel debate about concepts of Islamic finance and could weaken President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to garner religious soft power by projecting Turkey as a leader defending Muslim causes.

The ruling, issued by the Directorate of Religious Affairs or Diyanet that is part of Mr. Erdogan’s office, stated that interest-based home loans were exempted from the 1,400-year-old ban on interest as a form of usury, provided they were extended by a Turkish state bank for the purchase of real estate in a government housing project.

The ruling is widely being seen as serving the interests of Mr. Erdogan’s government rather than a reform of Islam.

“The fatwa is likely to be a hot discussion for a number of weeks or months… We’ll have to see if the fatwa will really increase Islamic mortgage markets. I assume that is the main reason why they made such a controversial fatwa… It will strengthen those opposed to Islamic finance,” said Indonesian Islamic finance scholar Fauziah Rizki Yuniarti.

The fatwa was issued in the wake of reports that Mr. Erdogan had pressured commercial banks to continue granting cheap loans to boost the construction industry. Responsible for the construction of affordable housing, the government’s Housing Development Administration has become an important driver of the Turkish economy that has fuelled an increase in home sales.

The fatwa came days before Mr. Erdogan rattled financial markets by reverting for the first time in two months to his tirade against high interest rates that he asserts bankrupt businesses and fuel inflation. In a surprise move, Mr. Erdogan appointed in November a new central bank governor and promised to adhere to more orthodox monetary policies that would include higher interest rates in a bid to stem a slide of the Turkish lira.

The fatwa, much like Mr. Erdogan’s hesitancy to criticize China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in its north-western province of Xinjiang, is likely to cast doubt on Turkey’s religious soft power efforts that involve not only voicing support for Muslim causes but also the construction of mosques in far-flung places across the globe as well as efforts to shape the religious and political beliefs of Turkish diaspora communities in Europe.

Turkish diplomats are likely to use the fatwa to counter mounting criticism in Europe from French President Emmanuel Macron and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz who have been leading a crackdown on political Islam and pointing fingers at Turkey because it supports groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

After swiping insults in recent months, Messrs. Macron and Erdogan have sought to dial down tensions. Mr. Macron last week responded positively to a New Year message in which Mr. Erdogan expressed condolences for several violent attacks in France last year.

The message was part of Turkish efforts to take the sharp edge off its multiple regional disputes that involve European nations as well as Israel and Saudi Arabia. The moves were in anticipation of US President-elect Joe Biden taking office and in advance of European Union and NATO summits that could censor Turkey.

“Turkey is an ally, that in many ways… is not acting as an ally should and this is a very, very significant challenge for us and we’re very clear-eyed about it,” said Anthony Blinken, Mr. Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, during his Senate confirmation hearing on Monday.

A Turkish plan to open three schools in Germany has run into opposition from conservative and left-wing politicians. Turkey argues that the schools would be responding to community demands that students have an opportunity to opt for Turkish as an elective alongside other foreign languages.

Markus Blume, general secretary of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), asserted that “we don’t want Erdogan schools in Germany.”

Left Party member of parliament Sevim Dagdelen charged that “it is fatal for the government to negotiate the opening of private schools in Germany while the Turkish autocrat drives the critical intelligentsia of his country into prison or exile.”

The school controversy came amid a heated debate about a plan to train imams of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), one of Germany’s largest Muslim associations that maintains close ties to Mr. Erdogan’s religious affairs directorate.

The training would compete with a similar course at the University of Osnabruck that has been endorsed by Germany’s Council of Muslims whose 15-20,000 members include Muslims of German and Arab as well as Turkish descent.

The government has pressured DITIB, which operates close to 900 of Germany’s 2,600 mosques and employs 1,100 Turkish-funded and trained imams, to opt for German-educated clerics who in contrast to their Turkish counterparts are fluent in German.

The government stopped subsidizing DITIB in 2018 while Germany’s intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, reclassified the group as a nationalist rather than a religious organisation.

It will take more than a fatwa on interest to counter increasingly deep-seated Western distrust of Mr. Erdogan even if Western elites may read the ruling as an indication that the Turkish president potentially is mellowing.

Mr. Erdogan may, however, have to explain his apparent willingness to opportunistically break with religious norms to a Muslim world in which he ranks as one of the most popular figures despite widespread elite hostility towards him.

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The leading causes behind today’s unstable Iraq

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Nawshirwan Mustafa, Southern Kurdistan’s leader, writer, historian and a prominent head of the region’s leading opposition party who passed away four years ago had in one of his books portrayed Iraq to be “The museum of nations”. In the book “Rotating in circle, the inner side of the events: 1980-1984”He inscribed that the country is a hub of numerous nations including Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, Assyrians as well as numerous religious groups as of Sunnis, Shiites, Yazidis, etc. In other words, he believes that Iraq was initially comulsively constructed irrespective of the intentions of who lived in it in a manner that met the economic and political interests of the superpowers of that era. By era, he is referring to post ottoman period that was succeeded by the creation of a number of states incorporating Iraq in 1932.

Those various nations and groups have always caused clashes and challenges for the country known as an Arab state to an extent that since it’s inappropriate formation, It has never had a long term political, security and economic stability if we are to ignore social aspects. The country had always hosted war, coup d’état and crisis, conquered countries and countries conquered it.

Surpassingly, if we now encounter someone from any ethnic and/or religious folk, they would reveal their keen on owning a state, a region with its parliament, president and military. We should therefore wonder how come in a such non-homogenous country, with multiple ethnicities (each owning their cultural and accentual traits), and multiple religions, their people can be tolerant, preserve peace, embrace diversity, thereby become democratic for which the United states invaded it.

In a state where is forcefully annexed, we should not be astonished that it will always remain divided, living together will be a serious challenge, and worse than all, external powers will utilize the diversity of the ethnicities as they had always done and the outcome of these are what we are witnessing now.

Consequently, we notice that in Iraq occurs sectarian conflicts, Al-Qahida emerges, ISIS appears, almost each party is associated with a foreign agenda (the latter phenomenon somehow is in Kurdistan as well based on analytical descriptions). On the other hand, a recognized US think tank believes that Iran has always been intervening in Iraq alongside bolstering different militias.

Moreover, according to political analysts, Turkey is also a recognized player in the country. In the excuse of Turkmens, securing borders and ties with a few political factions, it treats Iraq as if it is still a former colony of their elder empire. The United States in addition will never evacuate it as it invested in it with a war that estimates its cost to be four trillion dollars. We may not have space to highlight other industrial western countries as well who consider Iraq as a tray covered with cakes due to its unique natural resources, each trying to take a peace from it.

Among numerous evidences for the geopolitical divisions of the country, the most recent one to be spotted is those soldiers of the Militia group known as “Hasaib Ahl Alhaq”, an externally backed and trained group whom in a recorded video threatened the government of Iraq to release their soldiers who were caught by the administration of the new Iraqi premier Mustafa Kadhmi. The soldiers the group was calling their freedom were five men caught and incarcerated by the Iraqi government following the strategic agreement signed between the United States and the Iraqi government, a deal that limited the authority of the paramilitary groups in Iraq and contained some other military and security points.

The aforementioned fighters were caught for their involvement in an attack on the US embassy in Baghdad on December 20 of last year. In the video they shouted, called for the freedom of their friends and revealed that they were religious fighters, fought against American imperialism and is now ready to fight as well. They also spoke out that “any touch on a religious fighter is a touch on every one of them, they are only awaiting order from their leader ‘Qais Xaz Ali’.” Qais is the leader of the group ‘Hasaib Ahl Alhaq’.

That incident was huge in Iraq, took the attention of the mass media outlets, social media and the people to an extent that same night the prime minister went out to the streets of Baghdad driving a car himself, giving the message that Iraq is safe and they save the security of the country.

The stability of any country relies on the security and military forces. Lack of stability can ruin life and the people pay huge prices. The toughest challenge of the series of the post 2003 Iraqi governments were their failure in spreading security and stability for the country. As a result, the region became a stadium of civil war, the birth of terrorist groups as well as the international interventions. Kadhmi’s government has been enormously repeating that they would secure the country, and bring about a stable and calm life for Iraqis, but they are yet to do so.

The military groups that were highlighted above are known to be one of the essential factors for why we are witnessing an unstable, corrupted and ruined Iraq. They are armed, militarily trained, financially supported and do not obey the government, making it almost impossible for the government to control and disarm them. The Sunni religious groups on the other hand are also to take a great share for the political, security and economic flaws of their country. Sunnis are still seriously concerned for the loss of their power before the invasion and are dreaming of taking it back. More importantly, they have always been marginalized by the majority Shiite based governments, resulting in their backlash of bolstering groups like ISIS and Al-Qaida.

To conclude, to save Iraq from those unfavorable catastrophes and providing it with a structure of a proper, peaceful, and stable country,  we would go back to the beginning of our writing and that is the root from which the country is constructed. Iraq is a forcefully combined country, created without taking into account the real intentions of its diverse ethnic and religious groups. The European colonial powers of that era-post ottoman period- designed its borders with a pen according to their political and economic interests. Therefor, ever since its creation, the country had been hosting political conflicts, coup d’états, civil war, terrorism, anti-homogeneity, conquerence and invasion. The Kurds say whatever you plant, you will cultivate it. Indisputably, it is that annexation and combination that resulted in a such politically, economically and socially unstable Iraq and only recreating the country on a foundation that reflects the intentions and considerations of its own entities can cure it from those challenges. US president elect Joe Biden is known to be the owner of the project of dividing Iraq into three regions: Sunnis, Kurds and Shites. He believes that implementing such a project would save Iraq from those struggles that the country had been suffering from for years!

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