Middle East & Arab World in 2013 – 2014

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Alastair Crooke
You Can’t Understand ISIS If You Don’t Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia
Why should we be surprised then, that from Prince Bandar’s Saudi-Western mandate to manage the insurgency in Syria against President Assad should have emerged a neo-Ikhwan type of violent, fear-inducing vanguard movement: ISIS? And why should we be surprised — knowing a little about Wahhabism — that “moderate” insurgents in Syria would become rarer than a mythical unicorn? Why should we have imagined that radical Wahhabism would create moderates? Or why could we imagine that a doctrine of “One leader, One authority, One mosque: submit to it, or be killed” could ever ultimately lead to moderation or tolerance?
Part II
Middle East Time Bomb: The Real Aim of ISIS Is to Replace the Saud Family as the New Emirs of Arabia
The Saudi Ikhwani history is plain: As Ibn Saud and Abd al-Wahhab made it such in the 18th century; and as the Saudi Ikhwan made it such in the 20th century. ISIS’ real target must be the Hijaz — the seizure of Mecca and Medina — and the legitimacy that this will confer on ISIS as the new Emirs of Arabia. (5 September 2014)
Nahlah Ayed: How ISIS and Syria drove a stake through the Arab Spring
The rise of ISIS is a setback for reform in a region that is crying out for it
For years, in a variety of studies, Arab states were reminded time and again of how far behind they had fallen. How dissatisfied their youth had become. How desperately their nations needed political and economic reform.
How even extremist Islamists derived more legitimacy with every injustice dealt by the state.
(3 October 2014)

22 November
Opposition boycott looms over Bahrain’s first full election since Arab Spring
(AP) Voters in Bahrain cast ballots Saturday in the island kingdom’s first full parliamentary election since Arab Spring-inspired protests nearly four years ago, but a boycott by the country’s opposition overshadowed the vote and highlighted the sectarian-charged divisions gripping this strategic U.S. ally.
The country’s most organized Shiite group, al-Wefaq, and other opposition organizations urged supporters to stay away from the polls. They accuse the government of failing to enact political reforms and address other grievances that were at the heart of the February 2011 uprising that pitted an opposition movement dominated by the country’s Shiite majority against supporters of the Sunni monarchy.
24 October
sykespicotSykes-Picot drew lines in the Middle East’s sand that blood is washing away
(Reuters) For most of the period since World War Two, regime and country have been identical in the Arab world. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship by the United States’ 2003 invasion broke that connection and in so doing has led to the steady erosion of Iraq as a nation state.
War is often the midwife of new states. In modern Europe Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo only became states because of the wars of the 1990s.
More recently, East Timor and South Sudan are also new states that have arisen from conflicting former colonial territories. The danger is real that Syria and Iraq may yet give way to new states. What is certainly sure is that a return to strong Syrian and Iraqi states as imagined by Sykes and Picot is highly unlikely.
17 October
Shenaz Kermalli: Mr. Baird, how are Saudi Arabia’s beheadings different from Islamic State’s?
(Globe & Mail) What Mr. Baird needs to grasp immediately is the horrific impact executing Mr. Al-Nimr would have in fuelling sectarian violence in the region. Carrying out the sentence also gives zero credence to Saudi Arabia’s purported claim of opposing the militant group. Saudi Arabia already shares their extremist ideological roots in Salafism with IS and their love of decapitating people who don’t agree with them – won’t the execution of a prominent Shia cleric only encourage them to continue their persecution of religious minorities?
11 October
Conrad Black: Fixing the Middle East, for now and forever
Eventually, there will have to be some boots on the ground to make any sense out of Iraq and Syria in particular, but they should be Islamic boots. The West can’t occupy these countries and they can’t be too choosy about how they are governed. The Turks, Egyptians, and Persians have, in their past (and in the case of Turkey, not just in the mists of antiquity) some vocation to rule that area. We should try to unite the European Union, Russia, China, Japan and the North Americans to encourage them and the Saudis to rediscover that vocation. In the meantime, the West should supply the cutting edge to subduing Islamic State; on this, the government deserves our support.
9 October
ISLAMIC FINANCE CENTRES: Cities vie for sukuk leadership status
(Emerging Markets) Dubai wants to win the race to become the go-to financial hub for international Islamic finance but it has many rivals, including London, Luxembourg, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. EM takes a look at the runners and riders
Among the financial centres outside the Muslim-majority nations of the Middle East and Asia, the UK remains the focal point for the development of Islamic banking.
London’s credentials were enhanced in 2013 when it was chosen to host the ninth annual meeting of the World Islamic Forum — the first time that the event was held outside Asia or the Middle East.
According to a recent report published by TheCityUK, there are now six fully shariah-compliant banks operating in the UK, more than in any other European economy. The same report points out that Islamic finance has been used in the financing of London landmarks such as the Shard and the Olympic Village, as well as in the redevelopment of Chelsea Barracks and the iconic Battersea Power Station. More specific to the sukuk market, notable landmarks in London’s recent history include the listings on the London Stock Exchange of the GE Capital sukuk in 2009, which was the first by a US corporate, and of the issue from Kuveyt Türk, the first by a Turkish bank. In 2010, meanwhile, International Innovative Technologies (IIT) became the first UK corporate to list a sukuk in London.
3 October
The Destruction of Mecca
(NYT) The few remaining buildings and sites of religious and cultural significance were erased more recently. The Makkah Royal Clock Tower, completed in 2012, was built on the graves of an estimated 400 sites of cultural and historical significance, including the city’s few remaining millennium-old buildings. Bulldozers arrived in the middle of the night, displacing families that had lived there for centuries. The complex stands on top of Ajyad Fortress, built around 1780, to protect Mecca from bandits and invaders. The house of Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, has been turned into a block of toilets. The Makkah Hilton is built over the house of Abu Bakr, the closest companion of the prophet and the first caliph.
25 September
Brian Lee Crowley:The emerging civil war for the control of Islam
Who speaks for Islam?
What we must never lose sight of is that the Islamist threat to Western societies like Europe, Canada and the U.S., is a secondary battlefield in what is chiefly a civil war for control of Islam. The “religion of peace” that our leaders so often invoke is in fact one faction in the battle for Islam’s soul. We are taking sides over how that religion is to be understood.
It is right for us to do so. Who wins matters. The modernizers within Islam, with whom we ally ourselves, are the ones who want their religion to make peace with concepts like secularism, democracy, minority rights, equality of the sexes, freedom of conscience and so forth. They can adduce compelling evidence of the compatibility of the Islamic canon with these ideas.
But the radicals are no less able to find justification within that canon for their cruel and revanchist practices. Islam was no religion of peace when it spread itself by the sword for centuries, the tide in Europe only being turned back at the gates of Vienna in the 17th century. Plenty of non-believers met grisly fates in the face of the onslaught of people motivated by a vision of a divine mandate to spread the truth to every land.
18 September
HISHAM MELHEM: The Barbarians Within Our Gates
Arab civilization has collapsed. It won’t recover in my lifetime.
(Politico) The jihadists of the Islamic State … did not emerge from nowhere. They climbed out of a rotting, empty hulk—what was left of a broken-down civilization. They are a gruesome manifestation of a deeper malady afflicting Arab political culture, which was stagnant, repressive and patriarchal after the decades of authoritarian rule that led to the disastrous defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. That defeat sounded the death knell of Arab nationalism and the resurgence of political Islam, which projected itself as the alternative to the more secular ideologies that had dominated the Arab republics since the Second World War. If Arab decline was the problem, then “Islam is the solution,” the Islamists said—and they believed it.
At their core, both political currents—Arab nationalism and Islamism—are driven by atavistic impulses and a regressive outlook on life that is grounded in a mostly mythologized past. Many Islamists, including Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (the wellspring of such groups)—whether they say it explicitly or hint at it—are still on a ceaseless quest to resurrect the old Ottoman Caliphate. Still more radical types—the Salafists—yearn for a return to the puritanical days of Prophet Muhammad and his companions. For most Islamists, democracy means only majoritarian rule, and the rule of sharia law, which codifies gender inequality and discrimination against non-Muslims.
And let’s face the grim truth: There is no evidence whatever that Islam in its various political forms is compatible with modern democracy.
30 August
ISIS and other mid-east terror groups will soon attack Europe and the States, Saudi king saysshould be taken in context with following article
You Can’t Understand ISIS If You Don’t Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabiaisis-flag-1
By Alastair Crooke, Former MI-6 agent; Author: ‘Resistance: The Essence of Islamic Revolution’
(Global Post) Saudi Arabia’s internal discord and tensions over ISIS can only be understood by grasping the inherent (and persisting) duality that lies at the core of the Kingdom’s doctrinal makeup and its historical origins.
One dominant strand to the Saudi identity pertains directly to Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab (the founder of Wahhabism), and the use to which his radical, exclusionist puritanism was put by Ibn Saud. (The latter was then no more than a minor leader — amongst many — of continually sparring and raiding Bedouin tribes in the baking and desperately poor deserts of the Nejd.)
The second strand to this perplexing duality, relates precisely to King Abd-al Aziz’s subsequent shift towards statehood in the 1920s: his curbing of Ikhwani violence (in order to have diplomatic standing as a nation-state with Britain and America); his institutionalization of the original Wahhabist impulse — and the subsequent seizing of the opportunely surging petrodollar spigot in the 1970s, to channel the volatile Ikhwani current away from home towards export — by diffusing a cultural revolution, rather than violent revolution throughout the Muslim world.
22 August
How Isis came to be
Three years ago, Islamic State did not exist – now it controls vast swaths of Syria and Iraq. How did we get here?
(The Guardian) Principally, Isis is the product of a genocide that continued unabated as the world stood back and watched. It is the illegitimate child born of pure hate and pure fear – the result of 200,000 murdered Syrians and of millions more displaced and divorced from their hopes and dreams. Isis’s rise is also a reminder of how Bashar al-Assad’s Machiavellian embrace of al-Qaida would come back to haunt him.
Facing Assad’s army and intelligence services, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraq’s Shia Islamist militias and their grand patron, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Syria’s initially peaceful protesters quickly became disenchanted, disillusioned and disenfranchised – and then radicalised and violently militant.
The Shia Islamist axis used chemical weapons, artillery and barrel bombs to preserve its crescent of influence. Syria’s Sunni Arab revolutionaries in turn sought international assistance, and when the world refused, they embraced a pact with the devil, al-Qaida. (22 August 2014)
There’s No Sugarcoating. They’re In The News. They’re Terrifying. And We Should Know Who They Are.
Here’s Ezra Klein with a brief history of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), the group formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. (Video)
10 August
Vali R. Nasr: A Crisis a Century in the Making
(NYT Op-Ed) The Arab world today is the product of maps drawn by the British diplomat Sir Mark Sykes and his French counterpart François Georges-Picot in 1916, and sanctified at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. European rule over Arab states that were only nominally independent followed; this left these states struggling with legitimacy ever since. When the Europeans left, they were followed by dictators who talked of nationalism, but failed to convince their own citizens that they were important participants in the nation.
That was because the arbitrary boundaries had left these new Arab states open to perpetual internal clashes based on rivalries among tribes and religious sects. Their leaders spoke the language of modern nationalism, but their states never quite united. So they turned to domination by one tribe or sect over others.
The Ottomans, by contrast, knew how to manage diversity. Their decentralized model embraced a rudimentary pluralism that saw politics as the pursuit of a workable balance between differing tribes and religious communities. More often than they do now, these communities could tolerate and coexist with one another, despite differences.
31 July
Arab Leaders, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel, Stay Silent
instead of becoming more isolated, Israel’s government has emerged for the moment as an unexpected beneficiary of the ensuing tumult, now tacitly supported by the leaders of the resurgent conservative order as an ally in their common fight against political Islam.
(NYT) Battling Palestinian militants in Gaza two years ago, Israel found itself pressed from all sides by unfriendly Arab neighbors to end the fighting.
Not this time.
After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of the antagonists to reach a negotiated cease-fire even after more than three weeks of bloodshed.
“The Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam is so strong that it outweighs their allergy to Benjamin Netanyahu,” the prime minister of Israel, said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington and a former Middle East negotiator under several presidents.
24 July
What jihadists are doing in Syria and Iraq while Gaza grabs the headlines
(WaPost) The world is transfixed by the conflict in Gaza, as the death tolls of both Palestinians and Israelis killed in the fighting continue to rise. It has animated global public opinion and sparked protests in myriad far-flung cities.
But as the rockets and bombs fall, a deadlier war next door rolls on. The Syrian civil war has claimed 170,000 lives in three years; this past weekend’s death toll in Syria was greater than what took place in Gaza. By some accounts, the past week may have been the deadliest in the conflict’s grim history. Meanwhile, the extremist insurgents of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), have continued their ravages over a swath of territory stretching from eastern Syria to the environs of Baghdad, Iraq’s capital; the spike in violence in Iraq has led to more than 5,500 civilian deaths in the first six months of this year.
19 July
Islamic State’s support spreads into Asia
The Islamic State’s growing popularity in the Far East could pose a long-term threat, experts warn.
As the Islamic State group, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, continues its armed campaign in Iraq and Syria, its notoriety is drawing fans and fighters from as far as Asia and the Pacific.
Authorities and experts have warned that the growing popularity of the armed group in the Far East, driven in part by social media, could pose a long-term security threat to a region that has already been battling home-grown armed groups for decades.
“The security threat from Muslims travelling to fight in the Levant is already with us,” said Rodger Shanahan, national security and Middle East expert at the Australian National Universit
3 July
Report: Saudi troops deployed to Iraq border
(Al Jazeera) Saudi-owned TV station says 30,000 troops move to border after Iraqis withdraw, while evidence of Iranian aid emerges.Saudi Arabia has sent 30,000 soldiers to its border with Iraq after Iraqi soldiers withdrew from the area, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television says.
The country aims to guard its 800km border with Iraq, where Islamic State fighters and other Sunni Muslim rebel groups seized towns and cities in a lightning advance last month.
King Abdullah has ordered all necessary measures to protect the kingdom against potential “terrorist threats”, state news agency SPA reported on Thursday.
Fresh gains and new enemies for Islamic State in Syria
(Reuters) – Islamic State militants have taken control of most of eastern Syria as they build on the momentum of their advance through Sunni Muslim provinces of neighboring Iraq.
The jihadi group, which claims authority over Muslims worldwide, has seized weapons from arms depots in Syria and Iraq, money from bank vaults in cities it has overrun, and controls oil fields and farmlands.
In Syria, the three-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad is becoming a battle for supremacy among Sunni rebel groups, with the Islamic State in the ascendant. Its fighters drove al Qaeda’s Nusra Front from the Euphrates valley town of Albu Kamal on Syria’s border with Iraq this week, securing their grip over both sides of a colonial era frontier which they say is now consigned to history.
1 July
Baghdadi’s vision of a new caliphate
(AlJazeera)The Islamic State’s rallying cry promises ‘purer’ era of Islam, but its demand for allegiance has been derided by many.
30 June
Chris Patten: Organizing Middle East Peace
Western countries have been reluctant to face up to the region’s underlying realities, set out in a 2002 report by the United Nations Development Program. The Arab scholars and policymakers who drafted the report drew attention to the connections between authoritarian government, economic weakness, high unemployment, and excessively confessional politics. The more dictatorial politics in the region became, the more young men – denied both jobs and freedom of expression – turned to extremist and violent Islamism, the perversion of a great faith.
Baghdadi’s vision of a new caliphate
(AlJazeera)The Islamic State’s rallying cry promises ‘purer’ era of Islam, but its demand for allegiance has been derided by many.
Isis announces Islamic caliphate in area straddling Iraq and Syria
Jihadist group challenges al-Qaida as it changes name to Islamic State and pledges to free Palestine in video
(The Guardian) Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, an Isis spokesman, defined the Islamic state’s territory as running from northern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala north-east of Baghdad, a vast stretch of land straddling the border that is already largely under Isis control. He also said that with the establishment of the caliphate, the group was changing its name to the Islamic State, dropping the mention of Iraq and the Levant.
“The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organisations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph’s authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas,” he said in an audio statement posted online, AP reported. “Listen to your caliph and obey him. Support your state, which grows every day.”
Adnani said the group’s chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is the leader of the new caliphate and called on Muslims everywhere, not just those in areas under the organisation’s control, to swear loyalty to him.
The Road to Mosul: Searching for the Real ISIS
Fault lines in Iraq are widening as ISIS advances: Even as the Shiite government in Baghdad digs it its heels, the country’s Sunnis are losing their faith in a single nation and the Kurds are hoping for independence. But what is ISIS, really?
(Spiegel) … the signs in Iraq continue to point towards a decline. ISIS is behaving much more strategically than al-Qaida ever did. In Syria, the terrorist group is terrorizing and killing Sunni rebels who are fighting against Bashar Assad’s regime. In exchange, Assad’s air force had left ISIS alone, allowing it to expand its base of power in northeastern Syria.
But in Iraq, ISIS has left the Sunnis alone and has instead killed Christians and Yazidi in some places as well as Shiite soldiers with the government army. It’s the same terrorist organization and even the same fighters, but they are pursuing totally different goals in each of the countries. That’s not how fanatics generally operate. Foreign Minister Zebari: ‘Iraq Is Facing a Mortal Threat’
24 June
Cleo Paskal: Expert — Global Grand Alliance Needed Against Wahhabi Terror
Indian Strategist Prof. M D Nalapat, UNESCO Peace Chair and Editorial Director of the Sunday Guardian, has an unusually spot-on record for predicting trends in the Middle East. He was in New York City on September 11, 2001, having just warned that the U.S. was likely to be targeted. At the start of the Arab Spring, he was already predicting a ‘Wahhabi Winter.’ And he foresaw the current catastrophic situation in Libya from the early days of the conflict, as well as the potential for extremists spillover from Syria to its neighbors. This is what he has to say about Iraq.
23 June
Robert Fisk on the jailing of Al-Jazeera journalists: A proxy in the war between Qatar and Saudi Arabia
Just as rape is a vile tool of war, so is the jailing of journalists
let’s remember the Arab Gulf. Al Jazeera is a Qatari foreign policy project and Qatar supported the elected President, Mohamed Morsi, before Sisi rescued his beloved Egyptian people by chucking the bounder from power. And at one stroke, Egypt lost $10bn (£5.9bn) in Qatari funding – which makes Kerry’s half-billion look pretty tame.
The Saudis stepped in, of course, as they have with the Sunni chaps now threatening Iraq, to underwrite all Egypt’s debts (so long, of course, as Sisi leaves the Egyptian Salafists alone). And how to punish those pesky Qataris? Why, bang up their journos, of course. For “aiding terrorists”, for God’s sake.
Iraq_ISIS_Abu_Wahe_2941936b
Members of the Islam State of Iraq and Shaam (Isis) with senior commander Abu Waheeb

Isis annual report breaks down its bloody record
Isis reaches out to its supporters with annual report detailing executions and explosions funded by its donors
(The Telegraph UK) The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis) has developed a detailed reporting system in which it measures its “progress” in conquering territory and attacking its enemies.
Research by the US-based Institute for the Study of War shows that the group described its battle for control of Mosul and the surrounding area as its main effort in the second consecutive annual report published in March. The group swooped on Mosul last week and has pushed the Iraqi security forces out of a vast swathe of northern Iraq.
The report, called al-Naba, (the News), claims carried out 1,083 assassinations and perpetrated 4,465 car bomb attacks in Iraq in 2013 alone. Overall there were almost 10,000 operations carried out by Isis during the year in Iraq alone, although it also expanded rapidly in Syria in that year.
The group also revealed that it raised $8 million in revenues from Mosul.
“Isis progress in in its campaign to control territory in Iraq is visible in its reported statistics,” the Institute said. “The destruction of houses, establishment of checkpoints and claims to control cities speak directly to the control of territory.” (18 June 2014)

Tony Blair should be sacked as Middle East envoy, say former ambassadors
Former UK prime minister is tainted by Iraq war and his achievements for quartet are negligible, signatories of letter say
(The Guardian) The letter, written before Friday’s seventh anniversary of Blair’s appointment as the representative of the “quartet” on the Middle East, says the former prime minister’s achievement as Middle East envoy are “negligible” and he is guilty of seeking to please the Israelis. The quartet consists of the UN, the EU, Russia and the US.
The letter says: “We, like many, are appalled by Iraq’s descent into a sectarian conflict that threatens its very existence as a nation, as well as the security of its neighbours. We are also dismayed, however, at Tony Blair’s recent attempts to absolve himself of any responsibility for the current crisis by isolating it from the legacy of the Iraq war.
“In reality, the invasion and occupation of Iraq had been a disaster long before the recent gains made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis). The sectarian conflict responsible for much of the war’s reprehensible human cost was caused in part by the occupying forces’ division of the country’s political system along sectarian lines.”
20 June
ISIS-Caliphate Pro-ISIS social media accounts have shared this map which shows an Islamic caliphate covering the Middle East, North Africa and Spain.

Robert Fisk– Iraq crisis: Sunni caliphate has been bankrolled by Saudi Arabia
Bush and Blair said Iraq was a war on Islamic fascism. They lost
(The Independent) So after the grotesquerie of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 suicide killers of 9/11, meet Saudi Arabia’s latest monstrous contribution to world history: the Islamist Sunni caliphate of Iraq and the Levant, conquerors of Mosul and Tikrit – and Raqqa in Syria – and possibly Baghdad, and the ultimate humiliators of Bush and Obama.
From Aleppo in northern Syria almost to the Iraqi-Iranian border, the jihadists of Isis and sundry other groupuscules paid by the Saudi Wahhabis – and by Kuwaiti oligarchs – now rule thousands of square miles.
Apart from Saudi Arabia’s role in this catastrophe, what other stories are to be hidden from us in the coming days and weeks?
— The story of Iraq and the story of Syria are the same – politically, militarily and journalistically: two leaders, one Shia, the other Alawite, fighting for the existence of their regimes against the power of a growing Sunni Muslim international army.
— While the Americans support the wretched Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his elected Shia government in Iraq, the same Americans still demand the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his regime, even though both leaders are now brothers-in-arms against the victors of Mosul and Tikrit.
— The Croesus-like wealth of Qatar may soon be redirected away from the Muslim rebels of Syria and Iraq to the Assad regime, out of fear and deep hatred for its Sunni brothers in Saudi Arabia (which may invade Qatar if it becomes very angry).(12 June)

20 June
M D Nalapat: ISIS bribed its way to victory
(Pakistan Observer) Friday, June 20, 2014– As in 1996, when the (Clinton-backed) Taliban militia took over Kabul by the simple expedient of bribing rival commanders, the ISIS victory on the battlefield has been caused by bribing senior Iraqi military commanders, who ordered the forces under them to desist from resisting the extremists. Several of them paid for this folly with their lives afterwards, being killed in the most brutal way by ISIS. It would not be difficult to identify the money trail linking donors in Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to the ISIS. It would not be difficult to identify the money trail linking donors in Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to the ISIS battalions in the field in Iraq, nor would it be difficult to establish the provenance of the weapons and other supplies being used by the extremist militia to gain control of territory in Iraq. However, it is unlikely that CNN,BBC or Al Jazeera would do any reports of the sources of funds and weapons for ISIS, for the trail would lead to locations inconvenient for those who act as patrons for these news channels. Unless at least a few dozen of the individual donors to ISIS get identified and arrested in their countries of origin, which include the UK, Canada and France besides Qatar, Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the flow of money to that organisation will continue. Those monitoring developments in the region say that more than $4 billion has been funnelled to extremist groups in the region since 2011,much of it through regular banking channels. This explains the ease with which ISIS has thus far been able to bribe senior Iraqi commanders into running away from the battlefield, thereby leaving the people under their protection to the depredation of the extremists.
17 June
The Origins Of The Shiite-Sunni Split
(Parallels|NPR) “There is definitely an emerging struggle between Sunni and Shia to define not only the pattern of local politics, but also the relationship between the Islamic world and the West,” says Daniel Brumberg of Georgetown University, author of Reinventing Khomeini: The Struggle for Reform in Iran.
That struggle is playing out now in Iraq, but it is a struggle that could spread to many Arab nations in the Middle East and to Iran, which is Persian.
One other factor about the Shiites bears mentioning. “Shiites constitute 80 percent of the native population of the oil-rich Persian Gulf region,” notes Yitzhak Nakash, author of The Shi’is of Iraq.
Shiites predominate where there is oil in Iran, in Iraq and in the oil-rich areas of eastern Saudi Arabia as well.
(The Economist) A tale of two regions in 2014
Since the onset of the Arab Spring, the Middle East and North Africa has been divided, perhaps more starkly than normal, into the “haves” and “have nots”. Political unrest and war have had a detrimental impact on economic performances in some countries. More stable states—also typically oil-rich—have boomed on the back of fiscal stimulus and high oil prices. Yet in 2014 this trend should start to unwind. The oil-rich “haves”, which have sought to mute political dissent through fiscal largesse, will have to tighten their belts and rethink costly subsidies as oil prices soften. Meanwhile, North African “have nots” such as Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria will start to benefit from better growth in the euro zone. But recovery will not be easy, and as ever political risks will loom large.
Ban presses Iraq to open dialogue as conflict threatens to widen
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continues to press the Iraqi government to engage in dialogue, and he and other experts fear the sectarian conflict could go beyond Iraq. Vitit Muntarbhorn, who took part in a UN investigation, says: “We are possibly on the cusp of a regional war, and that is something we’re very concerned about.” Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)/Agence France-Presse (6/17), Reuters (6/17), Reuters (6/17)
19 March
Op-Ed: The unforeseen consequences of the Arab Spring
The serious and potentially explosive changes in power alignments and uncertainty over where they may lead in the always volatile Middle East could ultimately have consequences extending well beyond that troubled region, including for the Conservative government’s own pro-Israel policies.
(Ottawa Citizen) The much-publicized Arab Spring revolution three short years ago is now going through a further phase, with extremely important implications not just for that violence-plagued region, but also far beyond.
In the latest effect of the initial dramatic changes since December 2010, key areas of the region are re-aligning. Several countries are forming new alliances with unpredictable and important consequences not just for their own region, but also for other countries far removed from the Middle East, including the Conservative government.
In some cases, the changes are a reflection of existing divisions between Sunni and Shiite nations. In other instances, the changes arise primarily over different attitudes toward the Sunni-based Muslim Brotherhood and the dangers it is perceived to represent for the rule of Sunni-led governments in places like Egypt and some Persian Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia and its close allies Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Libyan parliament ousts prime minister, sets up interim administration
Ousted Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan fled the country after the Libyan parliament’s no-confidence vote Tuesday. Defense Minister Abdallah al-Thinni will serve as interim president for two weeks, with parliament then picking an interim leader until elections are held this year. Reuters (3/12), Al Jazeera/Agence France-Presse (3/12), The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (3/11)
9 January
The jihadists may have gone too far
(The Economist) From Baghdad to Beirut, a growing backlash against the most extreme of the jihadists may change the course of civil wars in Syria and Iraq
IN A region of opaque politics and oddly named actors, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) lives up to its title. The group that started as an al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq has prospered there since the Americans left in 2011, subduing much of the rural, Sunni-dominated north and pursuing an aggressive terror campaign against Shias further south. ISIS expanded into Syria in April last year; al-Sham denotes a Greater Syria encompassing—among swathes of what was the fertile crescent—Lebanon, Palestine and even Jordan. Better armed and financed, it has encroached steadily into areas freed from government control by other rebel groups, enforcing harsh, state-like authority along the Euphrates valley and across much of the north. But the group’s rapid rise may now be over.
Today ISIS’s fighters, who include as many as 7,000 would-be jihadists from across the globe, face battles on three fronts. In Syria a wave of disgruntlement with the group turned into a tsunami after December 31st when its men returned the torture-marked corpse of a doctor-cum-commander with Ahrar al-Sham, a Salafist rebel group which had hitherto been an ally. A final provocation came when ISIS abducted five employees of Médecins Sans Frontières, a French-founded charity that is one of the few aid organisations still willing to work inside Syria.
Since then, rebels of all stripes, including al-Qaeda’s slightly milder Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, other Islamist brigades and moderate Western-backed groups known as the Free Syrian Army, have joined forces, rapidly sweeping ISIS from strongholds across a swathe of northern Syria. In Raqqa, the biggest town wholly controlled by the opposition, most recently by ISIS, its fighters are now said to be holding out in a single building. The group is also said to have lost all but one of the border crossings to Turkey it once held, as well as its headquarters in the rebel-held half of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city.
Middle East Economist mapISIS is also under fire in neighbouring Iraq. Exploiting the simmering resentment among minority Sunnis in the country’s north and west against the Shia-dominated Iraqi government in Baghdad, ISIS on January 3rd seized parts of Falluja and Ramadi, the main cities of Anbar province, which abuts Syria (see our map). But this bold move may have played into the hands of Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.
Despite a year of unrest in Sunni areas and an intensified campaign of al-Qaeda bombs, Mr Maliki has shied so far from sending his Shia-dominated army into full-on combat. Now he has an excuse, as well as support from America which has promised to speed up its arms supplies, and also from remnants of the Sahwa, or awakening, a movement of Sunni tribesmen who turned against al-Qaeda to fight alongside the Americans in 2008. In anticipation of an army assault on Falluja, some 13,000 families have fled the city, says the Iraqi Red Crescent.
ISIS may have spread itself too thin by moving fighters from Syria to Iraq. Yet, if some reports prove credible, the group has opened a third Levantine front—in Lebanon.
8 January
Robert Fisk: Now it’s Middle Eastern Regimes Fighting al-Qa’ida, While the US Ties Itself Up in Knots
This is “Arab unity” as we have never seen it before. But watch out
And so, for the first time in recent history, it seems that the “war against terror” – and specifically against al-Qa’ida – is being fought by Middle East regimes rather than their foreign investors.
Sure, American drones still smash into al-Qa’ida operatives, wedding parties and innocent homes in Pakistan. But it’s General al-Sisi of Egypt, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran – even powerless President Michel Sleiman of Lebanon – who are now fighting “terrorists”.
It shows how powerful the bad guys have become that mutually antagonistic dictators and satraps can gang together against America’s enemy. This is “Arab unity” as we have never seen it before. The Ottoman Empire lives again. But watch out.
You need to put on a tin hat to avoid the ironies crashing out of the sky. John Kerry – now the most outrageously funny Secretary of State in US history, he who promised an “unbelievably small” airstrike against Syria – says America supports the secular rebels against Assad, who are fighting the Islamist rebels who are fighting against Assad even though the US still wants the overthrow of – you guessed it – Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile the Saudis are still pouring money into Syria to help the al-Qa’ida-associated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) – against whom Bashar and the secular Free Syrian Army are now fighting – while the Saudis also contribute billions to Sisi’s army in Egypt which is fighting identical al-Qa’ida-linked “terror” in Sinai and now, it appears, in Cairo itself. And if you are confused by all this, try Lebanon.

2013

3 October
Op-Ed: There is no single Islamic culture
Just as Christians are severed into countless sects and denominations, so are Muslims. In the same way that Catholics and Protestants differ and vary in some fundamental beliefs, so we shall find among the Muslims of the world.
A denomination is a group within a religion. Muslims are thousands of denominations, drastically varying in their beliefs and rituals. From unrelenting, unforgiving Qaramitah, who issue the death penalty to anyone for committing the smallest of sins, and condemning them to eternal damnation in the afterlife, to extremely liberal and forgiving Murji’ah, who say no sin is too big and everything can be forgiven. And from Ultraconservative Salafis who are extremely literal in their reading of scripture, to Batini Isma’ilis who seek out the hidden sub-meanings of scripture.

Embedded image permalink Stratfor: Dealing with the Shia-Sunni Divide
Scrambling to rally domestic and foreign support, the United States is finding itself disconnected from its key regional allies: Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
The United States wants to weaken the Syrian regime, Saudi Arabia wants to topple the Alawite government, and Turkey is still trying to decide what it cares about most. While the United States and Turkey fear creating a vacuum for jihadists, Saudi Arabia welcomes the undermining effect a vacuum would have on Iranian regional influence.
Unlike Turkey, Saudi Arabia does not share a border with Syria, so jihadists are a comfortable tool to be used against the Iranians and their Arab Shia allies. Both Saudi Arabia and Turkey will try to bolster their preferred rebel factions in pursuit of regional dominance, but the United States has the final word on the future of the Syrian regime. (5 September)

What does a ‘two-state solution’ mean?
By Reuven Brenner
It is not clear with whom to then even negotiate or about what, since nothing would be enforceable. What type of “state” is anyone talking about? What can one negotiate about, when one side cannot enforce anything? It is not even clear whether there is such a thing as a “Palestinian tribe”: There appear four rather distinct ones, with only one represented in the negotiation.
(Asia Times) In light of what is going on the Middle East, and the efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry to restart negotiations to reach a ”two-state” solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, it is worth briefly summarizing solutions I write about 30 years ago. (See also Unsettled civilizations: How the US can handle Iraq, Asia Times Online, June 23, 2004).
The efforts of the United States and Europe to bring about a “two-state” solution in the Middle East are incomprehensible.
A stable “state” must have one army – in Israel, that was Ben-Gurion’s, the country’s first prime minister – correct – and painfully delivered message when firing on Altalena in June 1948. He ordered the newly created Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to fire on the ship by that name, when fractions of the Irgun, a para-military organization, were unwilling to put down the arms and be absorbed into the IDF. Following that painful episode in Israel’s history – the idea of Jews shooting Jews few years after 6 million perished still shocks – the fractions of the Irgun put down the arms. The new state’s monopoly on force has not been challenged since.
Somehow this lesson has not sunk in elsewhere, the spread of failing states around the world notwithstanding: and they began failing when, rationalized one way or another, states started to tolerate military groups within their borders, in the Middle East in particular. At one time it was Jordan for a while (until the king’s army pushed out Fattah), Lebanon, and now Syria – to name just two.

Robert Landori: DEMOCRACY AND ISLAMIC LAW
The original schools of Islamic jurisprudence, which arose in the wake of the Prophet’s reign in Medina, permitted jurists to adapt the law to the changing needs of society, by a process of reflection known as ijtihad, or effort. Trying to introduce Sharia today therefore runs the risk of imposing on people a system of law designed for the government of a long since vanished community and unable to adapt to the changing circumstances of human life. Secular law adapts, religious law merely endures.
Should a nation be defined by language and territory, by ruling party or by faith, asks Roger Scruton in a most interesting article that appeared recently in BBC’s News Magazine. He is a writer and philosopher whose views coincide very much with my own.
… The result of imposing national boundaries on people who define themselves in religious terms is the kind of chaos we have witnessed in Iraq, where Sunni and Shia fight for dominance, or the even greater chaos that we now witness in Syria, where a minority Islamic sect, the Alawites, has maintained a monopoly of social power since the rise of the Assad family. (29 August)

The fallacy of the phrase, ‘the Muslim world’

Western media reinforces stereotypes by reducing a complex set of causes to the rage into an amorphous mass.
(Al Jazeera) The media should instead pay more attention to individual states, conflicts and leaders, since dictatorship and factionalism have been as essential in shaping politics in Muslim-majority regions as has religion. The current crisis demonstrates how corrupt parties use religion as an incitement to violence and a means to political gain. The Western media should not play party to their prejudices.

What is the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims?
(The Economist) CLASHES between Islam’s two big sects, the Sunni and the Shia, take place across the Muslim world. In the Middle East a potent mix of religion and politics has sharpened the divide between Iran’s Shia government and the Gulf states, which have Sunni governments. Last year a report by the Pew Research Centre, a think tank, found 40% of Sunnis do not consider Shia to be proper Muslims. So what exactly divides Sunni and Shia Islam and how deep does the rift go?
The argument dates back to the death in 632 of Islam’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad. Tribal Arabs who followed him were split over who should inherit what was both a political and a religious office. The majority, who would go on to become known as the Sunnis, and today make up 80% of Muslims, backed Abu Bakr, a friend of the Prophet and father of his wife Aisha. Others thought Muhammad’s kin the rightful successors. They claimed the Prophet had anointed Ali, his cousin and son-in-law—they became known as the Shia, a contraction of “shiaat Ali”, the partisans of Ali. …
while Sunnis rely heavily on the practice of the Prophet and his teachings (the “sunna”), the Shia see their ayatollahs as reflections of God on earth. This has led Sunnis to accuse Shia of heresy, while Shia point out that Sunni dogmatism has led to extremist sects such as the puritanical Wahhabis. (28 May 2013)
The Taliban Is Not Al Qaeda
(The Nation) … although the two organizations have ties, they are separate and distinct groups with different constituencies and different goals. And while it’s not possible to talk to Al Qaeda, talking and negotiating with the Taliban is eminently possible. Unfortunately, [Felix Kuehn] says, despite increasing reports that both the United States and the Afghan government want to open a dialogue with the Taliban, Kuehn says, “I do not see a serious approach by either the Afghan government or the international community.”
For at least three years, Kuehn and Alex Strick van Linschoten have lived and worked in Kandahar, where they’ve studied the two organizations, lived with Kandahar citizens, and met people of all political persuasions there, including Taliban commanders. Kuehn points out that the Taliban and Al Qaeda adhere to different strains of Islamic thought, the Taliban associated with Saudi-influenced, Wahhabi-style Hanafi beliefs, and Al Qaeda associated with the more radical, more rigid Hanbali school. The Taliban, of course, are Afghans, and Al Qaeda mostly Arab and almost entirely non-Afghan. Generationally, they are different, too, with most Al Qaeda leaders older than the young commanders of the Taliban, and whereas many Al Qaeda people are professionals and well educated, the Taliban are rural, unschooled, and grew up in places like Kandahar where newspapers were nonexistent and even radios were in the hands of only a privileged few. (16 May 2013)
Karbala: history’s long shadow
(BBC) Just like Bethlehem and Nazareth for Christians, Karbala is one of those places Muslim children hear about from when they are very young.
For many it takes on a mythical, unreachable status. … [The] battle of Karbala, in the 7th Century, in which [the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad] Hussein was killed, is often cited as the moment Shia and Sunni Muslims were cleaved apart. (25 May 2013)
Thomas Friedman: The Scary Hidden Stressor
(NYT) IN her introduction to a compelling new study, “The Arab Spring and Climate Change,” released Thursday, the Princeton scholar Anne-Marie Slaughter notes that crime shows often rely on the concept of a “stressor.” A stressor, she explains, is a “sudden change in circumstances or environment that interacts with a complicated psychological profile in a way that leads a previously quiescent person to become violent.” The stressor is never the only explanation for the crime, but it is inevitably an important factor in a complex set of variables that lead to a disaster. “The Arab Spring and Climate Change” doesn’t claim that climate change caused the recent wave of Arab revolutions, but, taken together, the essays make a strong case that the interplay between climate change, food prices (particularly wheat) and politics is a hidden stressor that helped to fuel the revolutions and will continue to make consolidating them into stable democracies much more difficult. (2 March 2013)
(CBC) The Turning Point – The panel explores the increasingly bleak situation across the wider Middle East. Part I and Part II (11 June 2013)

28 August
Michael J. Koplow: First They Came for the Islamists — Egypt’s Tunisian Future
(Foreign Affairs) An Islamist political party does well at the polls, and an authoritarian regime goes after it with a vengeance, killing its activists and arresting its leaders. The party is driven underground while secularists and other political groups applaud the government’s harsh measures, all taken in the name of eliminating a terrorist threat. Meanwhile, the regime and the non-Islamist parties assure the world that once the Islamists have been dealt with, the regular political process will resume again.
So it has happened in Egypt, but it is also the story of Tunisia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when hopes for a democratic transition were smashed after a campaign of repression that first targeted Islamists but eventually grew into a much wider effort to eliminate all political opposition. Tunisia’s experience offers a glimpse of what may be yet to come in Egypt — and suggests that Egyptian secularists should think twice before supporting the army’s efforts to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood.
Just after the election, The New York Times declared, “Tunisia is undergoing a transition from a one-man dictatorship to a much more open society with a sleight of hand that could furnish lessons for Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader.” The article went on to quote the head of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights saying, “I am absolutely certain of Ben Ali’s good will.”
As it turned out, though, the prospect of a strong Islamist opposition, and especially of an Islamist government at some point down the road, was too much for Ben Ali and the Tunisian state to bear. The government launched a brutal crackdown, killing 1,000 Islamists, jailing another 30,000, and forcing into exile the leader of Ennahda, Rachid al-Ghannouchi. The regime justified its actions by claiming that the Islamists were terrorists out to sow discord and tear Tunisia apart. Only because of the national security threat that they presented, Ben Ali argued, were the Islamists being targeted.
Even as the government’s campaign against Islamists turned violent and repressive, Tunisia’s secular opposition parties cheered it on. … The twist is that once Ben Ali finished with the Islamists, he trained his sights on the rest of the opposition as well. Even if his crackdown initially stemmed from a legitimate ideological fear of Islamism, once he started down the authoritarian path, it was only a short skip and a jump to viewing all political opponents as enemies. In early 1992, the government shut down secular newspapers and magazines, imprisoned liberal journalists, and passed a new law of associations that curtailed the actions of human rights groups.

15 July

Doha Qatar’s foreign policy — Change of tack
(The Economist)EVER the astute investor, Qatar is beginning to worry about throwing good money after bad. The tiny but mega-rich emirate had poured $8 billion in Egypt since the revolution two-and-a-half years ago and perhaps another $9 billion to bankroll Islamists in Libya, Syria and Gaza, the Palestinian enclave run by Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. But from Qatar’s point of view these places suddenly, since the fall of Egypt’s Islamist president, Muhammad Morsi, no longer look like the winning horses they once did. Loathe to see more money go to waste, Qataris now speak of a new mood of pragmatism among their leaders. Words like “reassessment”, “recalibration” and “corrections” pepper Qataris’ discussion of their foreign policy.
A change at the top has facilitated the debate.
25 June
Qatar: 12 things you need to know
(The Guardian) Not only does the emirate have a new emir, it has money – and gas – to burn. We’re going to hear a lot more about this country in the coming decades. In the meantime, here are some starters
Eighteen years after he deposed his father in a bloodless coup, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, the emir of Qatar, has announced that he will now depose himself. The new emir, to nobody’s surprise, will be his own son, Sheikh Tamim bin Khalifa al Thani. At 33, he is young enough to see in 200 years of the Al Thani family’s dominion over Qatar, which they have ruled without interruption since the mid-19th century. Here’s the rest of what you need to know about the only country in the world that begins with Q.
1 It is very, very, very rich
10 They own everything — In London alone, it owns Harrods, the Shard, the Chelsea Barracks site, the US embassy and the Olympic village site, among many others. It is also the largest shareholder in Sainsbury’s, with just over a quarter of the business. And it co-owns Miramax Films after purchasing it from Disney with a group of other investors. (Al Jazeera) Qataris praise smooth transition
16 June
Iran to send 4,000 troops to aid President Assad forces in Syria
World Exclusive: US urges UK and France to join in supplying arms to Syrian rebels as MPs fear that UK will be drawn into growing conflict
Washington’s decision to arm Syria’s Sunni Muslim rebels has plunged America into the great Sunni-Shia conflict of the Islamic Middle East, entering a struggle that now dwarfs the Arab revolutions which overthrew dictatorships across the region.
For the first time, all of America’s ‘friends’ in the region are Sunni Muslims and all of its enemies are Shiites. Breaking all President Barack Obama’s rules of disengagement, the US is now fully engaged on the side of armed groups which include the most extreme Sunni Islamist movements in the Middle East.
11 June
Largest navy drill in Gulf ‘highly successful’

Maritime security, infrastructure protection included in war games
(Gulf News) A major international navy drill, the largest of its kind in the Gulf, has been hailed as highly successful.
The International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2013 (IMCMEX 13) that brought together more than 40 nations concluded at US Naval Forces Central Command in the Bahraini capital Manama on Thursday after two weeks of seminars and training operations in a wide spectrum of defensive operations designed to protect international commerce and trade.
Over 6,500 service members, 35 ships, and three Task Forces operated the length of the Gulf, through the Strait of Hormuz, and into the Gulf of Oman.
23 May
Troublemaking Powerful Women of the Middle East: What Gives With Their Nonviolence?
(MarcGopin.com) I think it is interesting that in just a few days we heard from the daughter of Emir of Qatar that MENA radical intervention into Syria was turning into a ruination of a legitimate struggle because of the violence and barbarism of the religious extremists. Then we heard from the daughter of Khomeini, father of the Iranian Revolution, that the current leaders may be ruining the revolution and replacing it with a dictatorship. What’s up with the new daughters of MENA? These women are not radicalized hippie eighteen year old children of farmers from the countryside. They are from the top elite of each country’s leadership. What gives with these women’s preference for nonviolence? Could this be a kindler, gentler effect of the Arab Spring? Or perhaps the culmination of longer processes at work?
9 May
Western hostages freed in Yemen after Oman pays ransom
Finnish couple and an Austrian man were taken hostage in capital Sana’a in December 2012
(The Guardian) The source told Reuters the trio were freed on Wednesday night after an intervention by authorities in neighbouring Oman. “The Omani authorities led mediation efforts and paid a ransom to free the Austrian and Finnish hostages,” the source said. “They were handed over to the Omani authorities.” He declined to specify the ransom amount.
[Background] 22 December 2012
Kidnappings of foreigners on rise in Yemen
Capture of an Austrian man and Finnish couple highlight security dangers in capital city of the strife-torn country
The kidnap of three foreigners in broad daylight, in one of the busiest and most secure streets in Sana’a, is a sign of the growing lawlessness in Yemen’s capital.
An Austrian man and a Finnish couple became on Friday the latest victims of abductions in the strife-torn country. Witnesses said the three were taken by masked gunmen as they made their way to a tailor’s shop in central Tahrir Square at about 4pm, during the busy afternoon shopping period.
3 May
David (Jones) War on Terror: History, Scripture Tell Us that Islam Is Not a Religion of Peace
Historically, Islam has been a religion of war. Its swords conquered the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and parts of Europe. The much-denounced European “crusades” were not directed at conquest, but rather were counterattacks — efforts to regain locations such as Jerusalem, sacred to Jews and Christians for 2,500 years.
vs
David Kilgour War on terror: Actions of radicals don’t symbolize what Islam is all about
Islam is a religion of peace in many parts of the world. The Qur’an contains extracts of violence — as does the Old Testament, by the way — but does not incite violence as its first or only recourse. Patience, self-discipline, and forgiveness are attributes of the vast majority of the world’s Muslims. The actions of radicals will never symbolize what Islam is as long as the Prophet’s words and the Qur’an are followed properly.
26 April
Christopher M. Davidson: Why the Sheikhs Will Fall
The Gulf monarchies were once thought immune to the uprisings sweeping the Arab world. Not anymore.
(Foreign Policy) The contrast between now and summer 2012, when the British edition of my book After the Sheikhs went to press, could not be starker. Back then, there was little, if any, mainstream discussion outside the Middle East itself of the prospect of serious political unrest in the Gulf monarchies. Academics and policy wonks, at least in the monarchies’ Western allies, had for the most part set these states apart as somehow exceptional and aloof from the Arab Spring movements sweeping the region. … By winter 2012, Western media had begun carrying articles foreshadowing either monarchical collapse — or at least some serious impending turbulence. Reports on protests, trials, growing poverty, and cyberspace activism in the Gulf states became commonplace — even leading U.S. think tanks broached the topic of “Revolution in Riyadh.”
The international commentariat seemed to have finally become aware of the rising discontent among large swathes of Gulf nationals, and better plugged into regional grassroots campaigns and emerging opposition groups. The world was starting to pay attention to the struggle between the people of the region and their increasingly authoritarian and reactionary elites.
18 April
Middle East: Hope springs eternal for negotiated peace
By David Jones
(Yahoo!News) The Political Science 101 answer is well known: Jerusalem as a shared Israel-Palestinian capital with land swaps in the West Bank preserving the largest Israeli settlements while withdrawing penny-packet Israeli outpost-settlements. But nobody wants an achievable peace badly enough to make the dangerous sacrifices (politicians remember Sadat and Rabin were assassinated). So there will be no peace in this time.
Middle East: Despite obstacles, sustainable peace is feasible
By David Kilgour
(Yahoo!News) Despite obstacles, President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel last month offers real hope for a resuscitated and ultimately successful peace negotiation in the Middle East.
There has already been a return to normal relations between Turkey and Israel, thanks to effective diplomacy by prime ministers Erdogan of Turkey and Netanyahu of Israel, urged on by Obama. The best reason for optimism about the wider region is that most affected peoples would benefit strongly from a sustainable peace, including victims of increasing lawlessness in Sinai.
Realism is still needed more than ever, however, and first among the ongoing would-be spoilers of any peace agreement are Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, and several aspects of Israel itself.
OP-ED: Ian Henderson and Repression in Bahrain: A Forty-Year Legacy
By Emile Nakhleh
(IPS) – Ian Henderson’s death announcement Apr. 15 in Bahrain brings to an end the life of a British expatriate who was the architect and supervisor of the harsh internal security policies of the al-Khalifa ruling family since the early days of independence over 40 years ago. … The past two years have clearly shown the regime tactics of fear, intimidation, and terror have failed to silence demands for reform, equality, and democracy in Bahrain. Equally, Henderson’s legacy has made Bahrain less secure and the legitimacy of the ruling family and its long-term control of the country more precarious. …
The colonial mentality of the past two centuries, which was brought by the Al-Khalifa family to bolster their rule, no longer works in the 21st century. Like their Arab counterparts, Bahraini youth and pro-democracy advocates have used the new social media and their sheer determination to face down the regime.
10 April
U.S. upgrading Fifth Fleet base despite Shi’ite revolt in Bahrain
(World Tribune) The United States has sustained military programs despite the Iran-backed Shi’ite insurgency in Bahrain.
The Shi’ite revolt, said to be supported by neighboring Iran, has not targeted the U.S. presence in Bahrain, which includes 4,000 personnel. But the sources said the Fifth Fleet, which oversees more than 40 ships in the Gulf, was regarded as an Iranian target should war erupt between Teheran and Washington.
20 March
Galvanised by Arab revolutions, WSF 2013 begins in Tunisia
Honouring the Arab Spring revolutions, this year’s World Social Forum is being held in its epicentre, Tunisia
… WSF 2013 started on 26 March and is scheduled to last until 30 March. Sessions are bring held at Tunisia’s Al-Manar University and tackle issues of social justice, fair distribution of resources, equality, minority rights, and imperialism, among other issues.
This year’s forum is taking place amidst negotiations by Egypt and Tunisia with the IMF in the hope of securing several billion dollars worth of loans. As post-revolution governments continue to adopt economic policies that the forum’s participants have always opposed, signified by economic measures that typically accompany IMF facilities, the forum reflects a growing movement against post-revolution Arab governments.
20 March
Jordan’s King Abdullah Flames Out in Atlantic Interview
(The Daily Beast) Abdullah knew just how to talk to an American reporter, but what he said could be disastrous for him in the Middle East. Christopher Dickey on the royal F yous the king doled out.
In a long profile based on several conversations Goldberg had with the monarch over the last four months, Abdullah disses other Middle Eastern leaders, dumps on his own spies, disparages his tribal supporters, and puts down his siblings. He’s got this vision, you see, of modernity and democracy, and these people around him just don’t get it. Or so he says, again and again.
24 January
Dr. Charles G. Cogan — Algeria: The Land of No Quarter
(HuffPost) Algeria, it has often been noted, has escaped the Arab Spring. This is because it had its own, and extremely bloody, Arab Spring throughout the decade of the 1990s. An estimated 200,000 people were killed after the Islamic Armed Group (GIA in the French acronym) rose in rebellion when the Algerian army cancelled the second round of parliamentary elections which the Islamist political party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) seemed likely to win.
Unlike the more recent uprisings in the Arab World, the GIA failed, and the Islamists were driven into southern Algeria and beyond. After renaming itself as the Salafist Armed Group for Preaching and Combat, and then as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghred (AQIM), these Algerian terrorists, whose ranks were swelled by those of other nationalities, settled into northern Mali, in the so-called Sahel, or savannah, area south of the Sahara, subsisting through a cycle of kidnappings and ransoms of mostly French expatriates, and coexisting with other dissidents, chiefly the Berber-origin Tuaregs, a number of whom had fought under Gaddafi and after his fall moved southward into Mali.
22 January
Understanding Jordan’s parliamentary election
(Al Jazeera) Encouraged by uprisings in neighbouring countries, Jordanians have taken to the streets to demand political reforms and a more representative parliament. They want a constitutional monarchy, where the powers of the King become limited, and the Prime Minister is elected as the leader of the largest parliamentary bloc rather than appointed from outside parliament by the monarch.
The opposition’s main problem with elections is the electoral law that’s been in place since 1993. The law only allows each person to vote for only one candidate. The opposition says that vote usually goes to the candidate running from one’s tribe rather than to someone with a solid political platform.
18 January
What to expect from Jordan’s elections
(Foreign Policy)  On January 23, Jordanians will return to the polls to elect a new parliament. Among the many questions surrounding these polls, of course, is this: Does it matter? Both the 2007 and 2010 elections were marred by extensive charges of rigging, and each produced a lackluster parliament that was disbanded long before its term was up. …  Yet the Jordanian regime has been emphatic that these elections are different. Jordan is different. In my own meetings with King Abdullah, he has consistently argued that Jordan is carving a unique path through the regional Arab Spring: that it is a case of a regime reforming itself. The regime has emphasized that Jordan is at a key turning point, including a shift toward a truer parliamentary system of governance. In an effort to engage public debate and encourage voter participation, the king has even begun publishing a series of brief political treatises. The latest of these, issued this week, addresses the transition to a more parliamentary government.
14 January
Saudi Royal Family Politics and the Arab Spring
(Foreign Policy) For almost two years, since February 17, 2011, Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province has seen a protest movement inspired by the Arab Spring that called for democracy, dignity, and more rights for Saudi Arabia’s disenfranchised Shiite minority. The killing of protesters and the arrest and shooting of key oppositional clerics have spurred three cycles of protests. …
The appointment of a new governor to the Eastern Province … offers the possibility of some political change after two difficult years. But little in the behavior of the Saudi regime suggests that the mindset has fundamentally changed. Security concerns continue to predominate, as does antipathy toward Shiites and activists calling for political reform and a constitutional monarchy. The new governor would do well to work toward a genuinely new start if he hopes to avoid replaying the same old patterns of protest, repression, and frustration.
12 January
OP-ED: The Arab Spring at Two: What Lessons Should We Learn?
(IPS) – As the Arab Spring enters its third year, new Arab democracies and the international community should reflect on several critical lessons from the past two years.
Thinking about these lessons and learning from history, no matter how recent, could help us understand the trajectory for the next stage in Arab politics and regional stability. Some of the key issues raised in the questions below are also highlighted in “Global Trends 2030″, the recent publication of the U.S. National Intelligence Council.
Lesson 1. Domestic turbulence and the struggle for governance resulting from the toppling of dictators could take at least two to three years to abate.
Lesson 2. Understanding complex, diverse Middle Eastern Muslim societies requires policy and intelligence analysts outside the region to acquire deep expertise in the cultural, historical, political, and religious dynamics of Arab societies.
Lesson 3. The emergence of Islamic politics in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere, is fueling a serious conversation about whether Islamic political parties are moderating and whether political pragmatism will in the end trump religious ideology. Arab liberals and secularists and civil rights advocates are rightly concerned about the future trajectory of political Islam and governance in Egypt and elsewhere.
Lesson 4. If Washington remains oblivious to human rights abuses in Arab countries, including those that are close allies of the United States, autocratic repression will continue unchecked. Consequently, we should expect that popular anger at the U.S. perceived hypocrisy and double standard would be directed at American interests and personnel in the region.
Violence rages in Syria, and while the world focuses on the Assad’s waning days, human rights abuses continue in other countries. Yet, the Arab Spring has resulted in democratically elected governments in four Arab countries.
The Arab Spring is a work in progress and requires the international community to remain vigilant regarding unlawful regime practices against peaceful protesters.
Lesson 5. As job creation and entrepreneurship will be critical for the success of democratic transition, Arab governments will have to adopt creative economic policies to promote economic growth. Failure to do so will hinder their ability to build modern economies.

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