Middle East & Arab World 2015-16

Written by  //  December 12, 2016  //  Middle East & Arab World  //  1 Comment

Brookings Middle East and North Africa
Carnegie Council: Perspectives from Inside a Tumultuous Middle East: Syria-Iraq-ISIS-Russia and Iran
Foreign Policy: Forget Sykes-Picot. It’s the Treaty of Sèvres That Explains the Modern Middle East.
Ninety-five years ago today, Europe carved up the Ottoman empire.
That treaty barely lasted a year, but we’re feeling its aftershocks today
Brookings: Five books you should read to better understand Islam

12 December
After the Islamic State
As the caliphate crumbles, rival movements struggle for the soul of Sunni jihadism
By Robin Wright
(The New Yorker magazine – December 12 issue) Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, the commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, estimated in August that forty-five thousand fighters had been “taken off the battlefield” in the Islamic State. Although that count may be high, other U.S. officials told me, the Islamic State’s losses have been staggering. It has surrendered fifty-seven per cent of its territory in Iraq and twenty-seven per cent in Syria—more than forty per cent of its total caliphate.
The Islamic State is now fighting to hang on to its two most valuable properties. On October 17th, Iraqi forces launched the long-awaited offensive to liberate Mosul, the largest city under Islamic State control, with two million residents. On November 6th, rebels in the Syrian Democratic Forces launched Euphrates Rage, an operation to free Raqqa, a city of some two hundred thousand. …
Across the Middle East, the political kaleidoscope is spinning at a vertiginous speed. The Islamic State has been both a cause and an effect. Wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen wrack the region, and virulent forms of extremism threaten all the other states. Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey are confronted with unprecedented humanitarian crises. From the Mediterranean to the Gulf, countries are fragile, regardless of the size of their security forces and arsenals. In the century since modern borders were delineated, the premises of power and politics—various forms of Arabism, oil wealth, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict—have been upended. The big secular ideologies, from Nasserism to Baathism, are defunct. The Palestinians, whose factions offered a variety of ideologies, have been sidelined. Intellectual energy has been sapped on campuses, in parliaments, and in what little is left of public discourse. A demographic surge has produced a generation with limited job opportunities; up to a third of the young people across more than twenty Arab states are unemployed. Instability over the past six years has left a region in severe economic distress—costing Arab economies more than six hundred billion dollars, the United Nations reported in November. After past wars, societies eventually absorbed the shocks and got back to business. Now the long-term sustainability of some Arab states is in question. …
The rival movements now compete for franchises. In two years, the Islamic State has won the allegiance of thirty-seven provinces, or wilayats, in eight countries. Pledging and gaining allegiance, or bayat, is a formal process in the world of jihadism. … Al Qaeda, for its part, has for more than a decade cultivated five transnational branches—in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, South Asia, the horn of Africa, and the Levant.
The Islamic State could eventually lose control of Raqqa, but it is expected to regroup in remote areas, such as Al Bukamal and Al Qaim, along the Syria-Iraq border. The movement may be disrupted, but … the quest for a caliphate goes on. “Al Qaeda might lay claim to it for a moment, and the Islamic State may lay claim to it, but there’s always been this dream of recapturing and bringing back the caliphate,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official told me. “Who’s going to tap into that next?”
14 November
For Iraq’s Kurds, it’s not about independence any more
Apathy and cynicism pervasive in Iraq’s Kurdish region as an unending series of crises and scandals unfolds.
(Al Jazeera) a festering dispute between Baghdad and Erbil over illicit oil sales has meant that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has not received its 16 percent share of the Iraqi budget for months. Once a post-war boomtown for foreign investors, the Kurdish region today is a ghost town. And the public sector salary crisis, which began in late 2014, has now taken its toll.
13 November
The Man Who Created the Middle East by Christopher Simon Sykes – review
A sympathetic biography of the Edwardian diplomat Sir Mark Sykes by his grandson can’t disguise his bumbling role in carving up the Arab world
(The Guardian) The Man Who Created the Middle East is an attempt by Christopher Sykes to overturn “preconceived notions” about his grandfather, Sir Mark Sykes, a man whose name epitomises colonial arrogance and aristocratic ignorance. But can he save one of the most tarnished reputations in the Middle East?
… by the end of the book the title seems almost justified: Sir Mark Sykes did not create the modern Middle East, but he did play a large, bumbling part in creating the circumstances in which injustices have festered and conflict has thrived. Just before he died, he laid out his postwar vision of a world without secret diplomacy, but with “justice, reparation and security”. These are things that people in the Middle East have been fighting for ever since he drew his lines across their part of the world.
20 October
Petraeus says there’s a bigger challenge to come once Iraq retakes Mosul from ISIS
(PBS Newshour) … the most complex human terrain in all of Iraq is to be found in Mosul and the province of which it is a capital, Nineveh, biblical Nineveh.
There are Sunni Arabs in the majority, but there are also pockets of Shia Arabs. There are Turkmen, Sunni as well as Shia. There are Kurds, and they come from several political parties that they’re not always in agreement with each other. There are sizable numbers of Christians that were treated horribly under the Islamic State and want to get back to their areas. There are Yazidis. There are Shabak.
And all of these want to get back from whence they came, and they want to play a part in governance that follows. And all will want to be represented and want that government to be responsive to them and guarantee their minority rights, if they’re not the Sunni Arabs, in addition to, of course, the Sunni Arab majority rule.
17 October
Matthew Fisher: What happens after Mosul falls will set the new status quo for region
Iraqi, Kurdish, U.S. and Canadian generals in Iraq are all predicting victory against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the most reviled terrorist group of modern times. However, they warn after quick initial gains in open terrain and villages on the outskirts of what was once the country’s second largest city, the battle will likely become a ferocious slog across an urban maze of tunnels, booby-traps, suicide bombers and well-hidden snipers.
Left unsaid, although hinted at, is worry over what will happen once Mosul falls.
The biggest elephant in the room is Kurdish independence, but tensions could surface quickly if ISIL’s resistance suddenly collapses, and fighters try to flee across the desert to Syria, where its other redoubt, Raqqa, is besieged by Russian and Syrian forces and coalition warplanes.
Among the competing interests are members of the Kurdish peshmerga, who are itching to seize more land for what they hope will be a Kurdish state. Another possibility is the territory that evolves north and east of Mosul is so autonomous, it will be independent in everything but name.
Shia militias want into Mosul to extract revenge on the estimated one million Sunnis who stayed on and, in many cases, initially supported fellow Sunnis in ISIL because they did not like the Shia-led government in Baghdad.
But ISIL’s draconian interpretation of Shariah law eventually became too much for them and an underground resistance evolved that has been fighting back against the jihadists. They do not want the peshmerga and the Shia militias to enter the city, let alone govern them.
The Iraqi government — and its forces, who ran away rather than fight for Mosul in June 2014 — wants to restore its battered prestige and the status quo, with Baghdad in charge. More than anything, they do not want the Kurds to gain any advantage.
Mosul’s large Christian minority, now mostly scattered across Kurdistan, simply wants to be able to return home in peace, as do the Yazidis, whose women were forced en masse to become sex slaves.
As always in Iraq, complicating everything is who gets to tap the rich oilfields surrounding Mosul.
13 September
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad: Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism.
The Saudis have spent billions exporting this extremist perversion of theology. It must stop.
11 August

Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart
By Scott Anderson
Photographs by Paolo Pellegrin
(NYT Magazine) ) This is a story unlike any we have previously published. It is much longer than the typical New York Times Magazine feature story; in print, it occupies an entire issue. The product of some 18 months of reporting, it tells the story of the catastrophe that has fractured the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq 13 years ago, leading to the rise of ISIS and the global refugee crisis. The geography of this catastrophe is broad and its causes are many, but its consequences — war and uncertainty throughout the world — are familiar to us all.
It is unprecedented for us to focus so much energy and attention on a single story, and to ask our readers to do the same. We would not do so were we not convinced that what follows is one of the most clear-eyed, powerful and human explanations of what has gone wrong in this region that you will ever read. – JAKE SILVERSTEIN, EDITOR IN CHIEF

17 May
Iraq’s Shi’ite rivalries risk turning violent, weakening war on Islamic State
(Reuters) A power struggle within Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim majority has intensified as attempts to form a new government flounder, threatening to turn violent and ruin U.S.-led efforts to defeat Islamic State.
For the first time since the U.S. withdrawal at the end of 2011, Shi’ite factions came close to taking arms against each another last month, when followers of powerful cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stormed the parliament in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
Rival Shi’ite militiamen took up positions nearby, raising the specter of intra-Shi’ite fighting similar to events in the southern city of Basra in 2008, in which hundreds of people were killed.
A Wave of Bombings in a Single Day
Bombing attacks killed dozens of people in three Baghdad neighborhoods in a single day. The deadliest assault occurred in Sadr City, a predominantly Shia neighborhood, where a car bomb exploded. The number of casualties is not yet clear, and the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for at least one attack.
The Arab Revolt: A war of unintended consequences
The centenary is a good opportunity to reflect on the unintended consequences of the Arab Revolt.
(Al Jazeera) One hundred years ago this week, in the middle of World War I, an uprising erupted at the axis of the Islamic world, in Mecca. Encouraged by the British, the ruler of the holy city, Sharif Hussein, launched a revolt against the Ottoman Turks.
14 May
Destruction in Arab worldEurope and America made mistakes, but the misery of the Arab world is caused mainly by its own failures
(The Economist) WHEN Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot secretly drew their lines on the map of the Levant to carve up the Ottoman empire in May 1916, at the height of the first world war, they could scarcely have imagined the mess they would set in train: a century of imperial betrayal and Arab resentment; instability and coups; wars, displacement, occupation and failed peacemaking in Palestine; and almost everywhere oppression, radicalism and terrorism.
In the euphoria of the uprisings in 2011, when one awful Arab autocrat after another was toppled, it seemed as if the Arabs were at last turning towards democracy. Instead their condition is more benighted than ever. Under Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt is even more wretched than under the ousted dictator, Hosni Mubarak. The state has broken down in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Civil wars rage and sectarianism is rampant, fed by the contest between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The jihadist “caliphate” of Islamic State (IS), the grotesque outgrowth of Sunni rage, is metastasising to other parts of the Arab world.
… If the Lebanese civil war of 1975-90 is any gauge, the Syrian one has many years to run. Other places may turn ugly. Algeria faces a leadership crisis; the insurgency in Sinai could spread to Egypt proper; chaos threatens to overwhelm Jordan; Israel could be drawn into the fights on its borders; low oil prices are destabilising Gulf states; and the proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran might lead to direct fighting.
1 May
Sykes_Picot_Agreement_Map_signed_8_May_1916The Middle East’s fading frontiers/“The end of Sykes-Picot”
By Thanassis Cambanis Globe Correspondent
(Boston Globe) ONE OF THE Islamic State’s first gestures after conquering a vast portion of the Syrian and Iraqi deserts was to bulldoze the sand berm delineating the official border between the two states. In one of its first propaganda videos from the summer of 2014, “The end of Sykes-Picot,” a bearded fighter walks solemnly through an abandoned checkpoint in the former no-man’s land. “Inshallah this is not the first border we shall break,” the fighter declares in English.
Many Westerners taking their first notice of the toxic Al Qaeda offshoot were mystified: Wait, the end of what? But the historical reference was not obscure in the Middle East, which for exactly a century has suffered the consequences of borders drawn by two diplomats who had orders from the top but weren’t considered the best informed Middle East experts in their respective governments — Sir Mark Sykes, an Englishman, and his French counterpart François Georges-Picot.
Since then, the Middle East has suffered a profound cognitive dissonance between the official state, often demarcated by unnaturally straight borders, and the human geography of how people live and who wields power in the lands stretching from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Indeed, the Sykes-Picot agreement has been blamed for many long-running catastrophes, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the violently thwarted national aspirations of many Kurds, Arabs, and other groups.
30 April
How the Curse of Sykes-Picot Still Haunts the Middle East
By Robin Wright
(The New Yorker) The Sykes-Picot Agreement launched a nine-year process—and other deals, declarations, and treaties—that created the modern Middle East states out of the Ottoman carcass. The new borders ultimately bore little resemblance to the original Sykes-Picot map, but their map is still viewed as the root cause of much that has happened ever since.
May 16th will mark the agreement’s hundredth anniversary, amid questions over whether its borders can survive the region’s current furies. “The system in place for the past one hundred years has collapsed,” Barham Salih, a former deputy prime minister of Iraq, declared at the Sulaimani Forum, in Iraqi Kurdistan, in March. “It’s not clear what new system will take its place.”
The colonial carve-up was always vulnerable. Its map ignored local identities and political preferences. Borders were determined with a ruler—arbitrarily. At a briefing for Britain’s Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, in 1915, Sykes famously explained, “I should like to draw a line from the ‘E’ in Acre to the last ‘K’ in Kirkuk.” He slid his finger across a map, spread out on a table at No. 10 Downing Street, from what is today a city on Israel’s Mediterranean coast to the northern mountains of Iraq. …
Yet the premise of American policy (and of every other outside power) today—in stabilizing fractious Iraq, ending Syria’s gruesome civil war, and confronting the Islamic State—is to preserve the borders associated with Sykes-Picot.
14 April
The Hell After ISIS
Even as the militant group loses ground in Iraq, many Sunnis say they have no hope for peace. One family’s story shows why.
(The Atlantic Magazine) After a dozen years of war, the Sunnis are split not only between tribes but within them as well. Many tribes now have two paramount sheikhs, one in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and one in Baghdad. The fractures run down the line, too: Away from the sheikhs’ luxurious villas, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Sunni who has kind words for his or her leaders.
While the Sunni community is in disarray, ISIS itself is hardly faring better. Popular enthusiasm for its rule in places like Hit is long gone, meaning it has been unable to hold territory or advance on Baghdad. Under military pressure from the Iraqi army, Shiite militias, and U.S. air strikes, the Islamic State is slowly withering: In December, it lost Ramadi. In March, Iraqi forces began advancing into Hit.
But many Sunnis will tell you that even if this campaign succeeds in toppling ISIS , it will have done nothing to address the fundamental divides that helped produce the group in the first place. Those rifts are the result of decades of American policy and misrule by Saddam, and they will likely remain long after ISIS is gone.
The Sunni refugees I met have little hope for a peaceful Iraq; whatever ideas they may have had about reclaiming their place in Iraqi society or undoing Shia-dominated rule have come unraveled, replaced by the most basic imperative of all: Stay alive.
The attack was part of the grinding, anonymous toll on Shiite civilians from ISIS car bombs and suicide attacks—the Islamic State’s strategy to terrorize Shiite communities and deepen the country’s sectarian rift, which is the group’s lifeblood. If ISIS were to somehow capture Baghdad, the threat to Shias would be existential. This suggests that behind the rise of Shiite chauvinism, the militias, and the abuse of Sunnis lies the raw logic of survival. Take one example: In 2014, militias captured Jurf as-Sakhar, south of Baghdad, from ISIS and banned all Sunni civilians—meaning thousands lost their homes and possessions. But over the following year, car bombs originating in the area plummeted.
29 January
Why is Hariri back in Lebanon?
(Al-Monitor) Several Lebanese media reports linked Hariri’s visit to different issues, including the extensive financial crisis he is facing. The French Le Point reported the 56,000 employees of his construction firm, Saudi Oger, haven’t been paid for months.
Other reports speculated that Saudi Arabia abandoned him because, occupied with its own financial crisis, the kingdom couldn’t afford to bankroll his business as well. Still other reports implied his return reflects a Saudi decision to confront Hezbollah via Hariri, as the key Sunni leader. Yet no one seems to rule out that problems within the Future Movement might have necessitated his return, in an attempt to restore Sunni leadership.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Future Movement parliament member Ammar Houri said, “The security risks that prompted Hariri to leave Lebanon still exist. Yet the constitutional, political, security and economic risks have, altogether, formed the key motive for his return.”
29 January
(World Post round-up) The tragic outcome of the Arab Spring doesn’t get any less bitter with time. The repercussions of that pan-Arab rebellion five years ago are still traumatizing the region and the world.
As Amira Yahyaoui wrote from Tunis earlier this month, even in Tunisia a counterrevolutionary narrative of “it was better before” is taking hold as virulent protests against the lack of jobs have erupted. Egypt has gone from repressive autocracy to revolt to democratic elections back to repressive autocracy. The self-described Islamic State is establishing bases in the post-Gaddafi vacuum in Libya. Assad’s ruthless resistance to the revolt in Syria has devastated that country.
From Greece to Denmark, political reaction to the influx of refugees fleeing the carnage poses the most serious challenge yet to the decades-long advance toward an integrated Europe with open borders.
Writing from Cairo on the anniversary this week of the Egyptian uprising against then-President Hosni Mubarak, Walid Akef says his country today is like “hell” after the “paradise” of the Arab Spring.  In an interview, Egyptian historian Khaled Fahmy recalls the excitement of the Tahrir Square protests and his support of, and then disillusionment with, the Muslim Brotherhood. His great regret, like so many others, is that “we didn’t transform this energy into something more durable.”  Additionally, we look at the stories of 12 activists and journalists who have been silenced by the Sisi regime.
Iyad El-Baghdadi, a prominent Arab Spring activist, senses insecurity on the part of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during this week’s anniversary. Menna Elnaka wonders now whether Egypt is really ready for democracy.
Former U.N. arms inspector Scott Ritter scores the illusions of both the Bush and Obama administrations, which based their misplaced hopes for Western-oriented regime change on the digital prowess and narrow social base of rebellious youth while underestimating the power of the centuries-old practice of Friday sermons at the mosques. In the end it was the holy book of Islam, not Facebook, that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in democratic elections before they in turn were overthrown in a military coup. Writing from Al-Zarqa, Jordan, Duha Sa’fan welcomes the spirit of the Arab Spring, but laments the consequences. “Jordan has suffered a lot because of them, ” she says, referring to the revolutions and the mass of refugees who have fled to her country as a result.
World Reporter Charlotte Alfred tells us why Tunisians are protesting five years after the revolution. Tunisia’s former Deputy Finance Minister Boutheina Ben Yaghlane sees economic progress as the key to preserving his country’s fragile democracy. “One in six Tunisians currently lives below the poverty line and unemployment is nearly 29 percent among graduates of higher education,” he writes.

Middle East religious25 January
The Truth About SectarianismBehind the Various Strands of Shia-Sunni Discord
(Foreign Affairs) In fact, there are three broad kinds of sectarianism at play. Some groups and states have integrated sectarian themes into the very fabric of their political, cultural, and educational systems. Sectarianism, in other words, has been institutionalized. The most prominent example is, of course, Saudi Arabia and its centuries-old antagonism towards Shiites. … Another example is Iran. Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian Revolution and later Iran’s supreme leader, developed a theory of Islamic government known as “governance of the jurists.” He argued that Muslims should live under a regime overseen by legal scholars, and in particular, those trained in his Shiite tradition, who are skilled in interpreting Sharia law.
Even some non-state communities, such as the Salafists, have institutionalized their sectarianism. Salafists claim that their conservative version of Sunnism adheres to a literal understanding of the faith that the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers practiced. They thus consider Shiites apostates. …
At the other end of the sectarian spectrum, incidental sectarianism, as its name implies, does not involve a deliberate effort to implement a sectarian agenda. Sectarianism does not play a central role in a state or group’s objectives, even if there are overtones of it. The most pertinent example is the Syrian civil war. …
Finally, there is exploitative sectarianism, a category that characterizes the tactics and nature of many of the most violent actors in the region. ISIS, for example exploits the local power vacuum in order to build up its capabilities and amass territory. A number of Syrian opposition groups, such as Ahrar al Sham and al Nusra Front, also push a sectarian narrative in order to achieve their political goals, whether it’s to turn Syria into their version of a stable Sunni state or simply overthrow Assad. …
This three-tiered classification system is also a useful guide for understanding how players in the region behave. Institutional sectarians such as Saudi Arabia and Iran can also act exploitatively, that is, inject a layer of “incidental sectarianism” into an otherwise non-sectarian conflict, as we’ve seen in Syria and Yemen.
9 January
(Quartz) The forgotten victim of the Saudi-Iran spat. The breakdown in relations between Tehran and Riyadh, prompted by the Saudis’ execution of a prominent Shia cleric, roiled the Middle East this week. But few paid attention to Yemen, site of an Iran-Saudi proxy war, which, Bobby Ghosh argues, will suffer the brunt of the collateral damage.
2 January
Saudi Arabia stews in policy hell: Spengler
(Asia Times) Last week’s mass executions in Saudi Arabia suggest panic at the highest level of the monarchy.
Saudi Arabia finds itself isolated, abandoned by its longstanding American ally, at odds with China, and pressured by Russia’s sudden preeminence in the region. The Saudi-backed Army of Conquest in Syria seems to be crumbling under Russian attack. The Saudi intervention in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has gone poorly. And its Turkish ally-of-convenience is consumed by a low-level civil war. Nothing has gone right for Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia’s execution of prominent cleric sparks outrage across Shia world
Leaders of Iran and Iraq among those to condemn killing of Nimr al-Nimr, one of group of 47 people put to death by Saudi regime in one day
The execution of a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family has caused international outrage and a serious escalation of diplomatic tensions in the region, with unrest predicted in Shia-majority areas.
British politicians and the leaders of Iraq and Iran were among those who condemned the killing of Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia cleric opposed to the Riyadh regime who was among 47 people executed on Saturday by the Saudi Arabian Sunni authorities.
No information was released about the execution method used, but the country’s normal policy is to behead condemned prisoners with a sword.
Yemen called the execution a flagrant violation of human rights and there was further criticism from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Lebanon’s Supreme Islamic Shia Council condemned Riyadh’s action as a grave mistake.


28 November
Educated, progressive Muslim youth a reason to be hopeful about Middle East’s future: author
(National Post) In spite of the bad news coming out of the Middle East everyday, political scientist Bessma Momani says there are reasons to be optimistic about the region’s future. For her new book Arab Dawn, Momani, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, spent time in popular hangouts in the Middle East and interviewed youth from across the region about their lives and worldview. She argues that Arab youth, who are increasingly university educated and Internet savvy, are developing a cosmopolitan outlook, want democratic governments and thirst for better job opportunities in a region that has the highest rate of youth unemployment in the world. The National Post’s Alia Dharssi spoke to her about why she thinks the younger generation will drive change in the region.
19 November
Does the West want democracy in the Middle East?
(BBC) The contradictions are now most pressing in Syria. Western governments are still calling for the downfall of President Assad but hesitate to do much to bring it about for fear of what his departure might bring.
What would a post-Assad Syria look like? What would Syrian elections bring? Might Sunni Islamists come to power? How would that suit the West? And Israel?
That the West has been unable to transform the yearning for democracy, freedom and security in the Middle East into defeats for IS and al-Qaeda is in part a result of the contradiction inherent in arguing for democracy but fearing its results.
18 November
Perspectives from Inside a Tumultuous Middle East: Syria-Iraq-ISIS-Russia and Iran
Interview with Rami Khouri,  founding director and senior fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, and he is a nonresident senior fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard. He also serves as editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper, and as a syndicated columnist for Agence Global syndicate, USA, and the Daily Star
(Carnegie Council) … what has happened is that a century of development has stalled and started to go back. Corruption, mismanagement, abuse of power and autocracy, and incompetence have come to define a large section of governance in the Arab world. Not every Arab government is like that, but many of them are, and ordinary people’s lives have hit a wall. You have a terrible, terrible sentiment of vulnerability, of real fear for the future and total helplessness and hopelessness by millions and millions of people.
The consequences are what we see—warfare, polarization, sectarian conflicts, civil wars, retreat of central governments, collapse of national authorities, mass migration, whether it’s legal or illegal, millions and millions of refugees, and a rather bewildered international response which still heavily focuses on militarism and doesn’t address the underlying political issues, with the continued impact of the oldest and most destabilizing and radicalizing process in the region, which is the Arab-Israeli conflict, which started about the same time as the Arab century. Around the 1920s you started to get the first Zionist-Arab conflicts in Palestine, and it hasn’t stopped, and it continues to be a radicalizing force, and foreign militarism, and ecological stress.
All of these things together have converged, but in the last 15-20 years there has been a speeding up of the deterioration, and this is why we are in this terrible situation.
11 October
Robert Fisk: The West rightly condemns Isis vandalism of ancient sites – but not when the Saudis do it
Saudi Arabia’s grotesque destruction of Muslim history is directly linked to Isis’s own purgation of the past
9 October
Tunisian national dialogue quartet wins 2015 Nobel peace prize
Coalition of civil society groups wins highest-profile of the six Nobel awards
(The Guardian) A disparate coalition of Tunisian unionists, employers, lawyers and human rights activists has won the 2015 Nobel peace prize for helping to prevent the Jasmine revolution from descending into chaos like the uprisings in other Arab spring countries.
The quartet – made up of the union federation UGTT, the employers’ institute, the Tunisian human rights league and the order of lawyers – brokered talks between the different forces and got them to agree a roadmap that included compromises on the constitution, a technocratic caretaker government and an independent election commission.
Reading the citation, the new committee chair, Kaci Kullmann Five, said the Tunisian coalition had helped bring the country back from the brink of civil war in 2013, and had made a “decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy”. The prize was intended to reward and bolster such efforts in Tunisia and beyond.
1 October
Iran death toll from Hajj doubles as anger at Saudi grows
Iran says 464 of its pilgrims killed at Hajj disaster – double previous count – in claim likely to intensify row over Saudi ‘cover-up’ of scale
(The Telegraph via EIN) It was not immediately clear how the rise in Iran’s death toll, based on a Hajj department statement posted on the website of Iranian state television, would affect the overall toll from the Sept. 24 disaster near Islam’s holy city of Mecca.
Saudi Arabia’s Healthy Ministry reported on Saturday that the crush and stampede killed at least 769 pilgrims and injured 934. Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Iran all have said the toll may be higher.
26 September
Russia steps up Syria support ‘to stop fall of Assad’
EU foreign affairs chief says Russia is boosting its military backing to halt “imminent” fall of government.
15 September
Are Syrian refugees a security threat to the Middle East?
Many of the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees arriving in Europe were previously living in camps and cities across Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. They are now leaving these countries because life there has become increasingly untenable: diminishing aid funds have left refugees with scant resources to buy food and other necessities; opportunities for work, study and accessing basic services are declining, and life has become more dangerous because of tension with the local populations.
But Syrian refugees are not the security threat that they are feared to be.
The refugee crisis could contribute to instability in Syria’s neighboring countries in other ways, namely if residents of the host communities are not given adequate help to deal with the refugee influx. Because of insufficient funds and planning, the poorest Jordanians are not receiving the help they need to deal with the higher cost of living and lower wages that are linked to the refugee crisis. If people in these relatively underdeveloped areas continue to feel abandoned by their government and the international community, they could resort to behavior that destabilizes the region.
13 September
Well, that makes everything fine and would appear to support the argument put forward in the Speisa piece immediately below it .
Saudi Arabia offers Germany 200 mosques – one for every 100 refugees who arrived last weekend
(The Independent) Saudi Arabia has reportedly responded to the growing number of people fleeing the Middle East for western Europe – by offering to build 200 mosques in Germany.
Syria’s richer Gulf neighbours have been accused of not doing their fair share in the humanitarian crisis, with Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the UAE also keeping their doors firmly shut to asylum-seekers.
It would be unfair to suggest that the Gulf Arab states have done nothing to help the estimated four million Syrians who have fled their country since the start of the conflict in 2011.
Just this week, the al Hayat newspaper reported that 500,000 Syrians had found homes in Saudi Arabia since the civil war began – as workers, not refugees.
There have also been significant contributions from rich individuals towards the upkeep of refugee camps round the Syrian border, estimated by the BBC to total around $900 million (£600 million).
tent camp near MeccaSaudi Arabia Takes Zero Refugees Despite Having 100,000 Tents Able To House 3 Million People
By Paul Joseph Watson
(Dhaka Tribune) While European countries are being lectured about their failure to take in enough refugees, Saudi Arabia – which has taken in precisely zero migrants – has 100,000 air conditioned tents that can house over 3 million people sitting empty. … as the Washington Post reports, wealthy Gulf Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and others have taken in precisely zero Syrian refugees.
This giant Saudi Arabian tent camp is empty
(Speisa) Did you ever wonder why these countries won’t help their fleeing Arabic Muslim companions?
One word: Hijra. Hijra is the Arabic word for “migration”, used to besiege new territories, as the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his followers did when they besieged Medina in the year 622, and the same way 56 nations have become Islamic until now.
Now Europe is up for grabs.
(emphasis added)
Saudi Arabia denies not giving Syrians sanctuary
Foreign ministry official says nation has received nearly 2.5 million Syrians since 2011, amid criticism of its efforts
(Al Jazeera) None of the six states that form the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, has signed the UN convention on refugees, which has governed international law on asylum since World War Two. But Gulf states say they have taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrians since the civil war there began in 2011, just not as refugees.
“[Saudi Arabia] gave whoever chose to stay in the kingdom, which are in the hundreds of thousands, proper residency … with all the rights that are included like free health care and engaging in the workforce and education.” The kingdom has also provided about $700m in humanitarian aid to Syrians and had set up clinics in various refugee camps, the statement by the SPA said.
The official source said more than 100,000 Syrian students were receiving free education in the kingdom.
The country has also provided humanitarian aid to countries hosting Syrian refugees and through international relief organisations.
10 September
Daniel Benjamin: The King and ISIS
Will our partners of seven decades, as U.S. officials like to refer to the Saudis, join in the fight against extremism and not just its terrorist end-product? Don’t count on it: Saudi Arabia has avoided taking such steps for decades, and there is no reason to think the kingdom can’t stay on its current course for decades more. As for the United States, it will remain saddled with tactical imperatives that prevent it from addressing the bigger mess. And so Washington will muddle forward against the jihadi threat.
(Brookings) One commentator who did dwell on the deep dissonance in the relationship was Thomas Friedman, in a New York Times column published just before King Salman’s arrival. … “Nothing has been more corrosive to the stability and modernization of the Arab world, and the Muslim world at large, than the billions and billions of dollars the Saudis have invested since the 1970s into wiping out the pluralism of Islam … and imposing in its place the puritanical, anti-modern, anti-women, anti-Western, anti-pluralistic Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam.”
Friedman is on target in arguing that Saudi Arabia’s contribution to Islamist extremism has far outstripped Iran’s. …  Although systemic misgovernance is the Arab world’s deadliest disease, Saudi Arabia’s energetic propagation of Wahhabism — which began as a response to Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 — has been central to the rise of violent extremism, from Indonesia to Mali.
Wahhabism has been a devastating invasive species in Islam’s enormous ecosystem — it’s the zebra mussel, the Asian Tiger mosquito, and the emerald ash borer wrapped into one. The consequences have been fateful: A solid line of causation from the slaughter in Islamic State-controlled Iraq and the tragedy of 9/11 traces back directly to Saudi evangelization and the many radical mosques and extremist NGOs it spawned.
Friedman’s explanation for why the United States has never challenged Riyadh is crude — in both senses of the word. “We’re addicted to their oil and addicts never tell the truth to their pushers,” he wrote.
This is too easy; if oil were the only vital U.S. interest binding it to the kingdom, dealing with the export of extremism would be vastly easier. What Friedman and almost everyone else misses is the increasingly pivotal importance of counter-terrorism cooperation in the U.S.-Saudi relationship. That may set heads spinning, but when it comes to tactical counterterrorism — uncovering conspiracies and disrupting them — Saudi Arabia has become an invaluable partner, one of the very best Washington has.
8 September
Migrant Crisis: Where Have the Gulf States Been?
Why a region with $2 trillion in annual income can’t seem to spare much for the neighbors
(The Atlantic) Where have the rich Arab countries been over the last few years, as the Syrian civil war has raged and millions of refugees have fled to neighboring countries? The only Arab countries to have accepted Syrian refugees are Jordan and Lebanon, two weak economies with very limited means. To be sure, rich Arab countries have sent some aid to refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, but no major plan has even been offered that would appear to be aimed at making a serious difference.
6 September
Refugee crisis: Where are the Gulf countries?
The humanitarian crisis raises questions about the nature of politics and leadership in the Arab and Muslim world.
By Afzal Ashraf, consultant fellow at Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI). He served in the UK Armed Forces and was involved in developing a counterinsurgency strategy and in the policing and the justice sectors in Iraq.
(Al Jazeera opinion) Hardly anything has been reported in Europe from any Middle Eastern leaders on the topic. But ordinary people from the region are voicing their shame and frustrations via social media. …
Why are some Muslim governments seemingly indifferent to this plight, and why are people from the region fleeing to Europe for safety and prosperity?
It is not because regional countries lack the capacity to cope with the problem. The region has unimaginable wealth. … no shortage of space or jobs. Millions of professionals and labourers are imported from across the world.
… the apparent failure of Muslim governments to look after fellow Muslims is being exploited by extremists’ propaganda. On various social media posts, they allege this is further evidence of current Muslim rulers’ “apostasy” and disdain for the “ummah”, arguing that only their Islamist state or caliphate can provide for Muslims’ welfare.
Whatever Western countries do for the refugees, it will only be a sticky plaster solution. The number of refugees is already too large for a viable resettlement programme outside the region. The rate of the flow from current conflicts and the likely new sources from the Libyan and Yemeni wars could transform the crisis into a catastrophe in the months to come. …
4 September
The Hijrah Into Europe — “Refugees” colonize a continent
Approximately 104,460 asylum seekers arrived in Germany during the month of August, setting a new record. That makes 413,535 registered refugees and migrants coming to Germany in 2015 so far. The country expects a total of around 800,000 people to seek asylum in Germany this year. And that’s just Germany. The entire continent of Europe is being inundated with refugees at a rate unprecedented in world history. … … This is a hijrah. To emigrate in the cause of Allah – that is, to move to a new land in order to bring Islam there, is considered in Islam to be a highly meritorious act.
Evidence that this is a hijrah, not simply a humanitarian crisis, came last February, but was little noted at the time and almost immediately forgotten. The Islamic State published a document entitled, “Libya: The Strategic Gateway for the Islamic State.” Gateway into Europe, that is: the document exhorted Muslims to go to Libya and cross from there as refugees into Europe. This document tells would-be jihadis that weapons from Gaddafi’s arsenal are plentiful and easy to obtain in Libya – and that the country “has a long coast and looks upon the southern Crusader states, which can be reached with ease by even a rudimentary boat.”
17 July
Senior Saudi prince accuses cousin over alleged drugging and abduction
Sultan bin Turki files criminal complaint in Switzerland over kidnapping he claims took place just outside Geneva in 2003
Members of the Saudi royal family have sometimes faced scandals and lawsuits in the past but this is the first time such a senior member has accused another of such a serious criminal offence in a European court.
3 July
Robert Fisk: Iran nuclear deal: America has taken Iran’s side – to the fury of Israel and Saudi Arabia
Obama hailed a ‘more hopeful world… an opportunity to move in another direction’
Iran is now on course to put on the dead Shah’s mantle as Policeman of the Gulf. Middle East seismologists should get ready for the earthquake.
(The Independent) However much Bibi Netanyahu of Israel and the Gulf sultans rage at the Vienna agreement, the Arabs at least will suspect the truth: that the Americans have taken the Shia Muslim side in the Middle East’s sectarian war.
That’s not how it was represented by the great and the good, of course. The headlines were simple. The Iranians agree to jam the breaks on their nuclear programme, pack up their centrifuges for a decade and cut back their uranium stockpile. All this in return for an end to the sanctions, financial goodies and bank transfers that Washington, the EU and the dear old United Nations had variously imposed on and witheld from the nation which that bearded old prelate Ruhollah Khomeini founded as an Islamic Republic 36 years ago.
10 May
Robert Fisk: Al Jazeera plays a dangerous game in Egypt
Mohamed Fahmy’s theme at his press conference will be that “journalism is not political activism”
(The Independent) Al Jazeera’s position in this bleak affair is no secret. Fahmy, a Canadian citizen – along with fellow journalists Peter Greste and Bahr Mohamed – was sent to prison, falsely accused of supporting the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood after Field Marshal and now elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi deposed the equally elected Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. In jail, Fahmy discovered dozens of ardent student supporters of the Brotherhood who described to him, he says, how they had been given camera equipment and helped by Al Jazeera’s Egyptian offshoot, Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr (“Al Jazeera Egypt Live”) to film protest demonstrations in the Cairo streets.Even more damaging, according to Fahmy, is that the Egyptian franchise – loathed by el-Sisi’s military administration, which almost immediately banned the channel – also used, in Arabic translation, his own reports from Al Jazeera’s international English-language channel, despite his protests that to do so would invite his own arrest and that of his colleagues.
8 May
Dr Anthony Billingsley: The crisis in Yemen: Let’s listen to the Yemeni people
(OpenCanada) The avalanche of propaganda from Washington and some Gulf capitals has clouded the issue and the reality that there were no Yemeni attacks on Saudi Arabia before the Saudi bombings began and there was no threat to international peace and security. Instead, we had a civil war in which the Houthis were seeking to change a flawed governance reform deal, the so-called Gulf Initiative imposed on Yemen in 2011 by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states after the fall of President Ali Abdallah Saleh. The Houthis never intended to take over the whole country. …  Resolution 2216 acknowledges that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been benefitting from the Saudi attacks. Indeed, the Saudis seem to be carefully avoiding Al-Qaeda targets in their bombings. Senior US military officers have described the Houthis as one of the few groups effectively challenging Al-Qaeda in the area. …
The American role in the crisis is deeply cynical. President Obama must overcome domestic opposition to the nuclear framework agreement between Iran and the five Security Council members plus Germany. Saudi Arabia had been one of the more strident opponents of any agreement but after the deal was announced and following a conversation between King Salman and Obama, the Saudi government gave cautious approval of the deal. In return for Arab endorsement of the Iran agreement, Obama has provided support for the Saudi attacks on Yemen.
8 April
Yemen war: Saudis prevented Russian evacuations by air, bombed Moscow’s spy center in Aden
Saudi Arabia has gone head to head with Russia as Iran’s ally in Yemen.
Moscow claims to have evacuated hundreds of Russian nationals from Yemen by an air lift running out of Sanaa airport, but debkafile’s exclusive intelligence and military sources reveal that not a single Russian plane has taken off from any Yemeni airport since March 27. … According to debkafile’s sources, the [Russian consulate in Aden] was in fact completely demolished in order to dismantle Russia’s regional intelligence-gathering center which operated out of the consulate building and fed Iranian intelligence with data on military movements in the neighborhood.
US among 26 countries asking India to help citizens escape Yemen
(Al Jazeera) Most embassies have closed and service from the major airports has been cut off, leaving potentially thousands stranded
12 Powerful Photos That Show The Utter Devastation In Yemen
2 April
Oman From the Economist’s Chief Economist:
The sultan has held power since 1970, prompting rising concerns about whether political stability in Oman will survive an eventual transfer of power. That the country has managed during the sultan’s extended absence is a sign that it could, but doubts remain—particularly as the succession plan is an untested one involving a secret envelope. … the recent steep fall in oil prices highlights Oman’s lack of economic diversification: the hydrocarbons sector accounts for just under 50% of GDP.
A highly controversial view
Gwynne Dyer explains why terrorism is overblown and why Islamists want western countries to attack the Islamic State
“This is not going to emerge as a global threat,” Dyer insisted. “Whatever happens in the Middle East, rather as in the case of Las Vegas, will remain in the Middle East.”
(Strait.com) Don’t panic. Terrorism is a very small problem. And any western president or prime minister who thinks they’ll severely damage ISIS by dropping bombs on its fighters is terribly mistaken.
28 March
Arab leaders agree joint military force
(AFP) – Arab leaders agreed on Sunday to form a joint military force after a summit dominated by a Saudi-led offensive on Shiite rebels in Yemen and the threat from Islamist extremism.
What they won’t admit at the Arab Summit
Don’t expect Arab leaders to take responsibility for the dreadful situation they helped bring about.
By Marwan Bishara, senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.
The one concrete conclusion of the Arab Summit is the call for the establishment of a joint Arab military force even though the whole region is suffering from an excess of violence that’s affecting and even destroying the lives of countless people. How will this force be assembled; who will finance it and what are its objectives is not clear in the absence of any blueprints. But what is clear is that there’s no precedence for such a joint force, and the Arabs don’t have the means, experience or expertise to put in motion the kind of sophisticated logistical and operational plans that allow different militaries to work jointly.
And since this force is not expected to confront Israel or Iran on the battlefield, one assumes it’s meant to fight the kind of asymmetrical wars as in Syria or more specifically, Yemen where the Saudis intervened, or Libya where Egypt is so keen to intervene. That is sure to plunge the region into an ever more protracted war.
Saudi Arabia’s Big Gamble
With a new king and a young, untested defense minister, Riyadh has plunged headlong into war in Yemen. At stake is nothing less than the kingdom’s position of leadership in the Arab world.
(Foreign Policy) … events in Yemen … are central to the balance of power within the Arab world, to tensions within Islam, and are at the core of fears in the global oil market. The new leadership of Saudi Arabia, whose military launched airstrikes on Iranian-backed Houthi rebels on March 26 and which has been steadily securing its grip on power, is the key player in shaping the course of this volatile new war in the Middle East. …
The big question is the extent to which the Houthis are backed by Iran — and whether Tehran regards the Houthi takeover as having been a strategic goal, or a fortuitous consequence of events. Certainly, Iran knows how to play on Arab phobias.
Saudi Arabia _Iran
Alastair Crooke: Why the Conflicts in Tikrit and Yemen Signal a New Middle Eastern War
In short, yet again inflamed radical Sunni jihadi groups will become the policy tool of choice in the region. In reality, it is about the only tool which Yemen’s fugitive President Hadi and his patrons have available. This will constitute a major reverse to Washington’s hope to contain and degrade groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS.
With the Iranian involvement against the Islamic State in the assault on Tikrit, and the Saudi invasion of Yemen to stem the tide of Iranian influence, we have entered a new Middle Eastern war.
Tikrit has become something of an augury and symbol of ISIS’ prospective fate. The suggestion in much of the commentaries is that the Iranian-directed offensive in Tikrit has stalled.. …
Tikrit, and the Iranian involvement in the war on ISIS (now with U.S. air support, ostensibly provided to Iraqi forces) is directly linked to the Saudi-led coalition attacks on the Houthis (Ansar Allah) in Yemen.
On the one hand, the Gulf states are muttering about withdrawing from the coalition fighting ISIS (owing to Iran’s prominence), and Saudi Arabia may be expected, Henderson speculates with regard to Yemen, to deploy “the full Saudi diplomatic toolbox — money, arms supplies and perhaps even a blind eye to actions that would be described anywhere else as terrorism — to block Tehran.”
Saudi Arabia and Iran Compete in Yemen
(Stratfor) While the al-Houthi movement struggles to manage multiple regional challenges to its north, its rise to power in Yemen is a setback for Saudi Arabia on its southern flank. After the fall of the Yemeni government, Riyadh will have to capitalize on the al-Houthis’ need for political and financial support to re-establish its influence in the country. But because Iran is trying to fill that support gap, too, Yemen has become another battleground where the two sectarian rivals will struggle against one another.
24 March
Yemen over the edge
No matter who wins in the end – Hadi, Saleh or the Houthis – AQAP will still be in Yemen
Up until a week ago, there was a slim margin of hope that Yemen might somehow avoid civil war, and that there was a political solution to the ongoing power struggle between President Abd-Rabbou Mansour Hadi, its democratically elected leader, and the Houthi rebels. It certainly wasn’t from a lack of trying, with Hadi himself, the United Nations and the Gulf States all pushing hard to get the Houthis to the negotiating table.
The Houthis, members of the Zaidi branch of Shia Islam, shocked the world last September when they seized the capital city of Sanaa and brought the Hadi government to its knees. They forced the prime minister to resign, and then refused to accept Hadi’s first choice to replace him.
Yemen cartoonMillions in U.S. military equipment lost as Yemen heads down Syria’s path
(Reuters Analysis) U.S. foreign policies relative to the Middle East have resulted in declining U.S. influence, increased militarization throughout the region, and the precipitation of failing states since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. In Yemen, U.S. support for its long-time dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has been based on narrow counter-terrorism interests with no regard for how this support would affect Yemen’s economy, human rights record, or other aspects of development.
Analysis: Can GCC military intervention save Yemen?
The Houthis will definitely react forcefully to any potential GCC military intervention.
6 Match
Who can the Saudis trust when they find themselves on Netanyahu’s side?
John Kerry’s reassurances over the US-Iran deal will settle few nerves in the royal palaces, writes Robert Fisk
In their golden palaces, the Saudis fear.
They fear the Iranians. They fear the Shia. They fear Isis and al-Qaeda. They fear the Muslim Brotherhood. They fear American betrayal and Israeli plots. They even fear the “power” of tiny Qatar. They fear their own Shia population. They fear themselves. For where else will the revolution start in Sunni Muslim Saudi but within its own royal family?
5 March
Saudi king aims for new Sunni bloc vs. Iran and Islamic State
(Reuters via Euronews) – Saudi Arabia’s deep-seated mistrust of the Islamist group is unchanged, diplomats say. But King Salman’s approach to it is more nuanced than that of his predecessor King Abdullah and may include being more indulgent of allies who allow its members space to operate. … Riyadh’s bigger concern is Shi’ite Iran. Its fears about the rising influence of its main regional enemy have grown recently as Tehran’s Houthi allies seized swathes of Yemen and its commanders have aided Shi’ite militias fighting in Iraq.
1 March
Egypt’s ‘terrorist’ labelling of Hamas prompts protests
Palestinians across Gaza denounce ruling and reject Egypt’s accusations that the group is aiding armed forces in Sinai
Hamas accused of aiding armed groups who have waged string of deadly attacks in the Sinai
Hamas’ armed wing was already designated a “terrorist” group by Egypt several weeks ago
20 February
UN envoy: Yemen groups agree to transitional process
Yemen’s political groups have agreed to form a temporary legislative council to transition toward a new government, said Jamal Benomar, the United Nations envoy to Yemen. The plan calls for the council, which will include an unspecified number of women and youths, to replace the traditional upper house of representatives. “This progress is not a (final) agreement, but an important breakthrough that paves the way towards a comprehensive agreement,” Benomar said. Reuters (2/20), Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription model) (2/20), Bloomberg (2/19)
13 February
The Middle East That Might Have Been
Nearly a century ago, two Americans led a quixotic mission to get the region’s borders right
(The Atlantic) King and Crane’s quest was to find out how the region’s residents wanted to be governed. It would be a major test of Wilson’s belief in national self-determination: the idea that every people should get its own state with clearly defined borders.
Today, many argue that a century of untold violence and instability—culminating in ISIS’s brutal attempt t0 erase Middle Eastern borders—might have been avoided if only each of the region’s peoples had achieved independence after World War I. But as the King-Crane Commission discovered back in 1919, ethnic and religious groups almost never divide themselves into discrete units. Nor do the members of each group necessarily share a vision of how they wish to be governed. Be sure to check out the interactive map showing the King-Crane proposal
The WorldPost sums up the week’s events with some useful inks
In light of its February anniversary, Mahmood Delkhasteh remembers the democratic sentiments of the “Iranian Spring” in 1979 as the Shah was overthrown — but before the ayatollahs took over.
As Jordanian jets pound ISIS positions in Syria, Prince Hassan writes from Amman that promoting human solidarity is a better strategy than seeking revenge. Writing from Beirut, former MI6 agent Alastair Crooke says that the aim of the brutal immolation of the Jordanian pilot was to light the fuse of polarization in the pro-American kingdom that has a peace treaty with Israel. Pakistani activist Farheen Rizvi laments the waning enthusiasm for fighting jihadis in her own country. In a joint appeal, Felix Marquardt, Anwar Ibrahim, Tariq Ramadan and Ghaleb Bencheikh call on “Muslim democrats” around the world to unite.
WorldPost Middle East Correspondent Sophia Jones reports from Istanbul on the worldwide social media outrage over what appears to be a hate crime against Muslims in North Carolina.
12 February
Ban: Yemen on the edge of civil war
Yemen is close to civil war and the United Nations needs to “do everything possible to help Yemen step back from the brink and get the political process back on track,” said Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general. The unrest is giving al-Qaida an opening to grow stronger in the region, says Jamal Benomar, Ban’s special envoy to Yemen. Reuters (2/12), ABC News/The Associated Press (2/12)
6 February
What’s Happening in Jordan Today Shows How the Arab World’s Strengths Are Also Its Weaknesses
(World Post) When things return to normal, Jordan will once again have to confront the big issues that its citizens have long debated, such as the central role of the security sectors in national governance and decision-making, whether or not the elected lower house of parliament accurately mirrors the views and interests of the entire citizenry, how development funds are managed, or why the parliament has no oversight of military-security spending in the national budget.
Once Upon a Revolution: The Broken Dream of Tahrir Square
(Spiegel) On the fourth anniversary of the revolution, jailed blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah weighs 72 kilograms (159 pounds). It’s the 84th day of his hunger strike. Former Muslim Brother Moaz Abdelkarim has fled to Turkey. And architect Basem Kamel plans on running for parliament this spring.
After the military unseated Muslim Brother Mohammed Morsi as the country’s first elected civilian president in July 2013, the brief phase of freedom came to an abrupt end.
Today there are even fewer avenues for dissent than there were before the revolution. No public gatherings are allowed; the secret police exerts a tighter grip than ever; parliament has been disbanded; and the media cheers on President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
26 January
Yemen mapYemen on brink of collapse, but does anyone care?
Without a coordinated effort to solve the crisis, violence in the Arabian Peninsula nation may spin out of control.
(Al Jazeera) The latest spate of violence in the capital Sanaa and the ongoing political impasse stand as a reminder that the country could disintegrate if its political leaders fail to agree on a roadmap for the remainder of the transitional period.
And this is the crux of the matter; Yemenis are so divided that they may never be able to strike a deal without regional and international support.
23 January
Houthi fighters on alert as Yemen power vacuum emerges
No official position taken by Shia Muslim group following resignation of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Sanaa.
King Abdullah embodied the wickedness of Saudi Arabia’s regime
Change may be looming for Saudi Arabia, but reforming a country where torture, corruption and judicial murder are commonplace won’t be easy
Who is the new Saudi king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud?
Those hoping he will bring a new era of reform to Saudi Arabia after the death of King Abdullah are likely to be disappointed
21 January
Shiite rebels, Yemen’s president reach deal to end standoff
(AP) — However, the late-night deal left unanswered who really controls the country and how much power is still held by Hadi, a key ally in U.S. efforts to battle Yemen’s local al-Qaida branch. Questions, answers on Yemen as rebels, president strike deal
14 January
A look at the writings of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi – sentenced to 1,000 lashes
(The Guardian) Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website that championed free speech in the autocratic kingdom. His blog, the Saudi Free Liberals Forum, was shut down after his arrest in 2012.
Ian Black analyses extracts from his key published Arabic writings that show a man who risked his freedom to question some of the basic tenets of life in Saudi Arabia – especially the central role of religion

One Comment on "Middle East & Arab World 2015-16"

  1. Kimon Valaskakis November 20, 2015 at 1:46 pm ·

    I believe that in the Middle East quagmire we have to choose the least of many evils.
    My reading is that to continue the status quo is accepting a new 30 Years War as Leon Panetta put it. The original 30 year War was as you know, also a religious war which ended with the Treaty of Westphalia the cornerstone of the present international system.
    What we need is a Peace of Westphalia for the Middle East. This treaty must involve all the actors except ISIS which is intended on creating chaos. Read their Mein Kampf which is a 2006 paper called the Management of Savagery. They don’t want accommodation at all. They want to destroy the world in fulfillment of ancient prophesies to accelerate the return of the IMAM.
    For this reason, Daesh must first be eliminated. A combined force of Turkish, Russian and French troops, the three most recent plaintiffs against Isis could do the military job quite quickly. Daesh has no chance in pitched battles. The US might be morally obliged to join in.
    Once Daesh is out of the way, a new Westphalian Peace could be negotiated and, after that, hopefully the flow of refugees can be slowed or even reversed.
    The problem has to be solved now not later. KV

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