Middle East & Arab World 2017 – November 2019

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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.

Brookings: Five books you should read to better understand Islam

Al Arabia
Middle East & Arab World 2015-16
Saudi Arabia

26 November
Impossible math: protests in Lebanon spotlight the plight of Lebanese families
(PBS Newshour) A huge swath of Lebanese households are grappling with a crippling combination of high living costs, low wages and a government so financially indebted it can’t provide reliable public services. In a country where the minimum wage is $400 per month, baseline living costs have creeped up to levels that rival New York City, which has a monthly minimum wage that is six times higher.
Lebanon has not had the capacity to supply 24-hour electricity since the 1975 civil war. The bloody sectarian power struggle lasted 15 years and leveled much of the country’s infrastructure to rubble. Today, Beirut residents get only 21 hours of electricity a day.
According to a 2019 World Bank report, most households and more than 84 percent of businesses say they pay for a private generator to supply almost half of their electrical needs.

22 November
Mystery grows as Trump administration withholds more than US$100 million in Lebanon aid
(AP via Global) The Trump administration is withholding more than $100 million in U.S. military assistance to Lebanon that has been approved by Congress and is favoured by his national security team, an assertion of executive control of foreign aid that is similar to the delay in support for Ukraine at the centre of the impeachment inquiry.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday congratulated Lebanon as the country marked its independence day but made no mention of the hold-up in aid that State Department and Pentagon officials have complained about for weeks.

19 November
What’s next for Lebanon? Examining the implications of current protests
Editor’s Note: Jeffrey Feltman testifies before the House Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism on “What’s Next for Lebanon? Examining the Implications of Current Protests.” Read the full testimony below
(Brookings) I would like to open by reviewing how tiny Lebanon affects U.S. interests in big ways. Most obvious is Iran’s projection of its malign regional role via its most successful export, the terrorist organization Hezbollah with its advanced capabilities to threaten Israel and other U.S. allies. In addition, the risk of Sunni extremist groups and Al-Qaida or ISIS establishing strongholds in Lebanon has largely receded, thanks to impressive, sustained efforts by the Lebanese Armed Forces. But, as happened in Iraq, these gains can quickly erode, with international implications, without continued vigilance.
The history of Hezbollah and of Sunni terrorist groups demonstrate vividly why Lebanon’s overall stability is in our interest: Iran exploited Lebanon’s civil war, the post-2003 internal conflict in Iraq, and the more recent civil wars in Syria and Yemen to establish deep roots that prove difficult to eradicate. Civil wars, in other words, become vehicles for the expansion of Iran’s influence. Chaos is also a fertile breeding ground for Al-Qaida-type terrorists, as in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia.

17 November
Lebanon slips deeper into crisis after Safadi withdrawal
(Reuters) – Protesters waving Lebanese flags rallied in cities and towns in their thousands on Sunday to mark a month of protests against the ruling elite as politicians struggled to form a government and solve the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
Lebanon’s political troubles deepened further after the withdrawal of a top candidate for prime minister narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms.
Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late on Saturday, saying it was too hard to form a “harmonious” government with broad support.
Safadi was the first candidate who had appeared to win some consensus among Lebanon’s fractious sectarian-based parties since Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, pushed out by sweeping protests against the ruling elite.

11 November
Fear spreads among Iraqi protesters as government cracks down, keeps death toll secret
(WaPo) For more than a month, Iraq’s protesters have withstood bullets and stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons, as they chanted, danced and called for the ouster of the entire political system.
The political class scrambled, then it closed ranks, and with crowds now shrinking and state violence undimmed, tendrils of fear are creeping through the protest movement. Strange men appear in the demonstrators’ tents, take photographs and then leave. Police tell the activists they manage to arrest that it is in their best interests to inform on friends.
More than 319 people have been killed and 15,000 wounded since anti-government demonstrations began in Baghdad and southern cities on Oct. 1, according to the country’s human rights commission.
As crowds start to thin, a broader crackdown is starting. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested. Volunteer medics have disappeared on their way to Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, not heard from since.

8 November
Five questions with… foreign correspondent Robert Fisk
The longtime Beirut-based reporter, now the subject of a new Canadian documentary, reflects on his career in the field and the stories that are being missed in the region.
(Open Canada) An exploration of Robert Fisk’s work, as new documentary This Is Not a Movie shows, is just as much a window into one man’s life as it is a chronology of international crises over the last four decades and a deep dive into the evolution of foreign reporting.

4 November
Robert Fisk: The new revolutions of the Middle East are not the same, but they all share this one fatal flaw
(The Independent) …in Iraq and Lebanon and Algeria. In Baghdad and Kerbala, in Beirut and in the city of Algiers – and, once again, in miniature and briefly, in Cairo. The young and the educated demanded an end not just to corruption but to sectarianism, to confessionalism, to religious-based mafia governments of immense wealth, arrogance and power.
But they have all made the same mistake that millions of Egyptians made in 2011: they have no leadership, no recognisable faces of integrity. And – the greatest tragedy of all – they don’t seem to be interested in finding any.

3-4 November
Iraqis Rise Against a Reviled Occupier: Iran
The Islamic Republic’s heavy-handed interventions in regional affairs are provoking growing resentments, particularly in Shiite-led Iraq.
(NYT) On the streets and in the squares of Iraq’s capital, in the shrine city of Karbala — where protesters on Sunday threw gasoline bombs at the Iranian Consulate — in back alleys and university hallways, a struggle is taking place over who will shape the country’s future. Iraq, along with Lebanon, another heavily Shiite country that has been roiled by protests, is part of a developing revolt against efforts by Shiite-dominated Iran to project its power throughout the Middle East.
Those politicians who would like to work with the protesters recognize that the fundamental changes they are demanding — new election laws, new elections and ultimately a new Constitution — cannot be achieved overnight. Their methodical approach, however, frustrates protesters who are impatient to see changes start now.
Protesters block roads in Beirut, other parts of Lebanon
(Reuters) – Protesters blocked roads in Beirut and in other parts of Lebanon on Monday, pressing a wave of demonstrations that have paralyzed the country for more than two weeks.
Lebanon’s anti-government protesters return to streets after big pro-Aoun rally
(Reuters) – Lebanese protesters demanding the overthrow of their country’s elite poured back onto the streets on Sunday in the largest numbers since the government was toppled and hours after opposing supporters of President Michel Aoun staged a big rally. On Sunday evening anti-government protesters flooded streets in Beirut and north and south of the capital, rejecting Aoun’s attempt to position himself as the guarantor of the protest movement and its anti-corruption drive.

1 November
Robert Fisk: In Beirut, I can no longer get American dollars out of the ATM. This is what it tells me about Lebanon’s economy
The US is still trying to destroy the Assad regime in Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Is this what underlays the frightening economic undertow?
… the Lebanese government took out so many post-war loans – usually with the help of its old mandate ruler, France – that it ended up with a budget which effectively had to supply 80 per cent of its worth in servicing the national debt. Massive corruption over decades meant that huge amounts of money were spent on supplying basic needs to the Lebanese economic structure which, in sane countries, could have been realised with sensible taxes and restraints.
… Being a conspiratorial journalist, of course, I have other thoughts. The US is still trying to destroy the Assad regime in Syria. And the Islamic Republic of Iran. And Iran’s Lebanese militia asset, Hezbollah – once more, this week, accused of murder.
Is this what underlays the frightening economic undertow? Does fuel pass through Lebanon to Syria – as well as via an Iranian tanker to Banias? We all know that currency moves between Damascus and Beirut (after all, many Syrians are in fact Lebanese, and vice-versa).

30 October
Hariri ready to be Lebanese prime minister again but with conditions: source
(Reuters) – Saad al-Hariri is ready to return as prime minister of a new Lebanese government, a senior official familiar with his thinking said, on condition it includes technocrats and can quickly implement reforms to stave off economic collapse.

29 October
Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, Steps Down in Face of Protests
With no clear alternative to the current leadership and the economy veering toward collapse, his resignation only threw the country into further political uncertainty.
(NYT) Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon offered his resignation on Tuesday, bowing to a demand of the enormous antigovernment protests that have consumed the country and suspended daily life for nearly two weeks.
“I’m at a dead end,” Mr. Hariri said in a televised speech. “Jobs come and go, but what’s important is the country,” he added, echoing the words of his father, Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister who was assassinated in 2005. “No one’s bigger than the nation.”
But there were no signs of softening from the protesters, whose signature chant — “All of them means all of them” — encapsulates their fury at the entire political class. They returned to the demonstrations and roadblocks on Tuesday after the announcement, despite an attack on protesters earlier in the day that underlined the challenges of breaking up the existing sectarian power structure.
“This is a moment of political awakening for this country,” said Maha Yahya, the director of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center. “For the first time, people want to bring down the political sectarian system that’s been governing them, and this poses an existential crisis for political parties that rely on sectarian identities.”
Lebanese protesters celebrate Hariri resignation – but want more
(Al Jazeera) Demonstrators hail prime minister’s departure but promise to stay in the streets until all their demands are met.
Iraqi protesters pack Baghdad’s Tahrir square
Anti-government movement gathers momentum as protests against economic stagnation, political elite continue.
(Al Jazeera) Tens of thousands of Iraqis have marched on Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square as protests calling for economic reform and removal of the country’s political elite continued for a fifth successive day.
Tuesday’s gathering in the Iraqi capital came after an overnight curfew and was the largest of its kind since the eruption last week of a second wave of mass demonstrations this month against official corruption, mass unemployment and failing public services.

27 October
Crackdowns do not deter Iraqi protestersThousands of Iraqi protesters stood fast in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square on Sunday, defying a bloody crackdown that killed scores over the weekend and an overnight raid by security forces seeking to disperse them. Young men had erected barricades on a bridge leading to the capital’s fortified Green Zone against security forces who continued to lob tear gas canisters toward them. Medical and security sources said 77 people had been injured. “We give you our life and blood, Iraq,” they chanted. At least 74 Iraqis were killed on Friday and Saturday and hundreds wounded as demonstrators clashed with security forces and militia groups in a second wave of this month’s protests against Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government. About 231 people have been killed in October.

Beethoven’s Ode to Joy sang in Arabic by Lebanese protesters (video)

22 October
Lebanese army stops Amal, Hezbollah convoy heading to Beirut protest site
Both parties have denied they were behind the convoy of scores of supporters
The Lebanese army on Monday night moved in to break up a group of hundreds of men on mopeds driving through central Beirut with flags of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement chanting slogans against the mass demonstrations now in their sixth day.
Videos shared online show about 30 officers moving in with sticks and batons to turn back the moped riders, several of whom were detained. At least one officer with his weapon raised running towards the convoy as it quickly scattered up side streets.
The video shows the convoy heading down Beshara Khoury Street in central Beirut and heading towards Martyrs’ Square, the epicentre of the week-long protests.
Both Hezbollah and the Amal Movement quickly released statements denying that they had sent the convoy to the streets.
Convoys of political supporters, particularly the Shiite majority Hezbollah and Amal Movement, are not uncommon. In previous protests or during political tension, they have been known to instigate violence, often with impunity
‘Change the system’: Lebanese protesters tell the government
Rejecting reform promises, thousands continue protests for sixth day demanding the government resign and hold election.
(Al Jazeera) In downtown Beirut, thousands of Lebanese protesters gathered for the sixth day, despite sweeping economic reform measures announced by the prime minister a day earlier, calling for the government to resign.
Chants of “Peacefully! Peacefully! This is a peaceful revolution!” reverberated Lebanese capital’s Riyad al-Solh square a day after Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced a package of reforms that included a 50-percent reduction in salary for politicians and the establishment of an anti-corruption panel

Lebanon’s mass demonstrations are focusing political minds
By Roula Khalaf
(Financial Times) In this explosion of long simmering anger, a society that often seeks escapism to forget the civil war of the 1970s and 1980s collectively shouted that it had had enough of the corrupt and inept political class that has ruled ever since. My only surprise is that it has taken so long for the anger to spill on to the streets.
There’s been a fair share of rioting, looting and road blocking that have ground the country to a standstill. But even in the roughest of times, the Lebanese love a celebration and so, over the past week, they have raged against corruption and nepotism in a festive atmosphere.
People of all ages have borrowed a slogan of the 2011 Arab uprisings that translates as “the people want to bring down the regime”. The protests have been spontaneous, lacking leadership or organisation and, remarkably for a society divided along sectarian lines, they have been devoid of a sectarian tinge. Sunni and Shia, Christian and Druze have united in their opposition to decades of mismanagement.
If only there was a regime that could be brought down. But Lebanon is not a typical Arab state. It has a large measure of democracy but Christian and Muslims sects govern in an uneasy power-sharing arrangement. To bring down the regime would be to overthrow a whole political class. It would mean dismantling the sectarian system and building a national secular state. That is a worthy dream but not one that is likely to be realised anytime soon.
I think of Lebanon, my home country, as ruled by a group of mini dictators, who use patronage to capture the sectarian loyalties of their constituencies. Those who appear to rule, moreover, do not necessarily hold the levers of power. Although the prime minister, Saad Hariri, is a leader of the Sunni Muslim community, and Michel Aoun, the president, heads a Maronite Christian party, the Iran-backed Hizbollah, the Shia party that participates in government, is by far the most powerful group.

20-21 October
Facing protests, Lebanon approves emergency economic reforms
(Reuters) – Lebanon approved an emergency reform package on Monday in response to protests over dire economic conditions, but the moves did not go far enough to persuade demonstrators to leave the streets or investors to halt a plunge in its bonds. … Schools, banks and businesses were closed, and Banks are expected to remain shut on Tuesday.
Lebanon protests: Mass revolt continues as PM ‘agrees reforms
(BBC) Lebanon’s coalition government has reportedly agreed to a package of economic reforms as it attempts to quell the biggest protests in years.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets on Sunday for a fourth day of anti-government protests.
The protests were triggered in part by a plan to tax calls on WhatsApp and other messaging services.
The government quickly dropped the tax, but the protests have morphed into wider demands for reform.
The Lebanese economy is struggling with low growth and high debt. Austerity measures have sparked anger and deteriorating infrastructure has made power cuts and piles of uncollected rubbish part of daily life.
With debt levels soaring, the Lebanese government has been trying to implement economic reforms to secure an $11bn (£8.5bn) aid package from international donors.
Without economic reforms, Lebanon’s debt is forecast to balloon to more than 150% of GDP by the end of the year.
The economic crisis, and the Lebanese government’s handling of it, has ignited widespread anger, with many calling for political change.
Lebanon’s mass revolt against corruption and poverty continues
Dissent gains momentum with country’s largest protests since Cedar revolution of 2005
(The Guardian) The largest protests in Lebanon in 14 years are set to shut down the country for a fifth day on Monday, as a revolt against a weak government, ailing services and a looming economic collapse continues to gain momentum.
Demonstrators took to the streets of most urban centres on Sunday to rail against officials who they say are preventing badly needed reforms that would cut into the pockets of the ruling class, and are instead trying to recoup state revenues by taxing the poor.
Anger boiled over on Friday, leading to the ransacking of high-end shops in Beirut and the death of one man in the northern city of Tripoli. Since then, the protests have settled into large peaceful gatherings that have crossed sectarian and social lines and continued to grow in size and energy as Lebanese leaders struggled to formulate a response.
‘The people are one’: Lebanese unite against political elite
Hundreds of thousands take to streets in the biggest protests in four days threatening the coalition government
(Al Jazeera) The capital Beirut, the second-biggest city Tripoli in the north and the southern port of Tyre came to a standstill, with streets filled with protesters waving the national flag, chanting “revolution” or “the people demand the fall of the regime” resembling the 2011 Arab Spring. Big gatherings were also reported from Sidon and Baalbak cities.
A nationwide general strike has been called for Monday to demand an overhaul of the government despite pledges of reforms by Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and despite the resignation of government ministers on Sunday.
On Friday, Hariri gave a 72-hour deadline to his coalition partners to agree on a solution to the country’s economic woes without imposing new taxes.

18 October
Trump’s Middle East Meltdown
By abruptly ordering the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, President Donald Trump’s impulsive approach to foreign policy has triggered a broader unraveling in the Middle East. Worse, by trying to remove America from the regional equation, Trump has left the US less able to safeguard its interests.
(Project Syndicate) In this Big Picture, Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations tallies the far-reaching costs of Trump’s decision to abandon Syria and America’s Kurdish allies. Those costs were foreseen this summer, when Georgetown’s Charles A. Kupchan and Sinan Ülgen of EDAM argued presciently that a US withdrawal would trigger precisely the type of power shift that is now unfolding.
Meanwhile, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt concludes that, whatever the costs, it is time for all countries with a stake in Syria to start discussing a political resolution to the conflict. And former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami describes how Trump’s latest actions fit into a broader pattern of perfidiousness in the region, including his unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.

6 September
‘We’re at War’: A Covert Social Media Campaign Boosts Military Rulers
(NYT) Covert influence campaigns have become a favored tool of leaders in countries like China and Russia, where manipulation of social media complements strongarm tactics on the streets. In the Middle East, though, those campaigns are being coordinated across borders in an effort to bolster authoritarian rule and douse the kind of popular protests that gave rise to the Arab Spring in 2011.
The secretive Egyptian effort to support Sudan’s military on social media this summer by the company in Cairo, New Waves, was just one part of a much bigger operation that spanned the Middle East and targeted people in at least nine Middle Eastern and North African countries, according to Facebook.
The campaign was exposed on Aug. 1 when Facebook announced that it had shut down hundreds of accounts run by New Waves and an Emirati company with a near-identical name. Working in concert, the two companies used money, deception and fake accounts to leverage their audience of almost 14 million Facebook followers, as well as thousands more on Instagram.
In an interview, a Facebook spokesman said the company had not found sufficient evidence to link the operation to the governments of Egypt or the United Arab Emirates. But there were many hints of such a link.

5 September
Kushner’s Middle East peace plan drifts further astray as envoy resigns
(The Guardian)  Greenblatt may stay in the role until the publication of the long-delayed plan, which is now due to come out some time after Israeli elections on 17 September. However, if those elections bring about the fall of Donald Trump’s close ally, Benjamin Netanyahu, the plan could be shelved indefinitely.
Architect of Trump’s Middle East peace plan to depart White House
(Axios) White House special envoy for the Middle East peace process Jason Greenblatt will be leaving the Trump administration in the next several weeks to return to the private sector.
Greenblatt is a key member of the White House Middle East “peace team,” which consists of Jared Kushner, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Kushner deputy Avi Berkowitz. In June, the White House rolled out the economic component of its peace plan. It has yet to reveal the political component due to upcoming Israeli elections.
Trump’s New Mideast Point Man Is Jared Kushner’s Former Coffee Boy Avi Berkowitz

9 July
Neither Peace nor Prosperity: Jared Kushner’s Middle East Peace Plan Falls Flat in Bahrain
By Yaël Mizrahi-Arnaud
(Foreign Policy Research Institute) “A vision of what is possible with peace” was the theme reiterated by Jared Kushner … who organized the “Peace to Prosperity” economic workshop held on June 25-26 in the Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain. As the first step in the long-awaited “deal of the century,” the workshop’s purported goal was to shore up Palestinian and Arab support for the political components of the plan which aims to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by promising billions in investment in infrastructure, education, and tourism in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon.
… His delivery garnered tepid applause and skeptical glances from the audience, which included a cross-section of the region’s finance ministers and mid- and low-level diplomats from ten countries. While unimpressive in its concrete results, the workshop reinforced preconceived notions on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the perceived benefits and pitfalls of the Trump administration’s approach. After the warm and gracious welcome in Bahrain, Israelis now feel they can reap the rewards of normalized relations with the Arab Gulf states, without making any compromises to the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority (PA), meanwhile, understands that the U.S. is ready to move forward with its new formula for Middle East peace without them.

22 – 25 June
Economic Band-Aids Won’t Bring Peace to the Middle East
European leaders should not lend support to a Trump administration plan that dangles economic carrots to Palestinians while entrenching the Israeli occupation.
(Foreign Policy)
The initiative has faced strong resistance from Palestinians who doubt U.S. intentions. Nevertheless, the Trump administration has sought to enlist a mix of government officials and business leaders from the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. Many international partners have been lukewarm toward the initiative, however, including traditional U.S. allies, such as Egypt and Jordan. Their reticence makes sense: The idea that economic inducements can succeed where diplomacy cannot has had a pretty dismal track record over the last century.
White House Unveils Economic Portion of Middle East Peace Plan
The Trump administration said on Saturday that it hoped to raise more than $50 billion to improve the lot of the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors, releasing an economic plan titled, “Peace to Prosperity,” that reverses the actual sequence of its peacemaking efforts in the Middle East.
The blueprint sets the stage for a two-day economic workshop next week to be convened by the White House in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain. That gathering is meant to lay the groundwork for a subsequent diplomatic proposal to end decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

2 June
The Most Powerful Arab Ruler Isn’t M.B.S. It’s M.B.Z.
Prince Mohammed bin Zayed grew the U.A.E.’s power by following America’s lead. He now has an increasingly bellicose agenda of his own. And President Trump seems to be following him.
By David D. Kirkpatrick
(NYT) Thirty years later, Prince Mohammed, now 58, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, is arguably the most powerful leader in the Arab world. He is also among the most influential foreign voices in Washington, urging the United States to adopt his increasingly bellicose approach to the region.
For decades, the prince has been a key American ally, following Washington’s lead, but now he is going his own way. His special forces are active in Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Egypt’s North Sinai. He has worked to thwart democratic transitions in the Middle East, helped install a reliable autocrat in Egypt and boosted a protégé to power in Saudi Arabia.
At times, the prince has contradicted American policy and destabilized neighbors. Rights groups have criticized him for jailing dissidents at home, for his role in creating a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and for backing the Saudi prince whose agents killed the dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi.
Yet under the Trump administration, his influence in Washington appears greater than ever. He has a rapport with President Trump, who has frequently adopted the prince’s views on Qatar, Libya and Saudi Arabia, even over the advice of cabinet officials or senior national security staff.
Yet under the Trump administration, his influence in Washington appears greater than ever. He has a rapport with President Trump, who has frequently adopted the prince’s views on Qatar, Libya and Saudi Arabia, even over the advice of cabinet officials or senior national security staff.
Western diplomats who know the prince — known as M.B.Z. — say he is obsessed with two enemies, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr. Trump has sought to move strongly against both and last week took steps to bypass congressional opposition to keep selling weapons to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


17 October

A note from Karen Attiah, Global Opinions editor
I received this column from Jamal Khashoggi’s translator and assistant the day after Jamal was reported missing in Istanbul. The Post held off publishing it because we hoped Jamal would come back to us so that he and I could edit it together. Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen. This is the last piece of his I will edit for The Post.
Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression
I was recently online looking at the 2018 “Freedom in the World” report published by Freedom House and came to a grave realization. There is only one country in the Arab world that has been classified as “free.” That nation is Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait come second, with a classification of “partly free.” The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as “not free.”
As a result, Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed. They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change.

Saudi Arabia’s influence in Middle East is threatened by Khashoggi affair
By Jonathan Manthorpe
‘Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may well have to use his almost-total control of the Saudi armed and security forces to maintain power. That does not bode well for social stability in Saudi Arabia.’
(iPolitics) The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is shaping up to be the decisive moment when Saudi Arabia defeats itself in the war for power and influence in the Middle East.
In Washington, the Donald Trump regime is doing its best to broker a face-saving explanation for how and why the dissident journalist Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. But the Middle East and the world already know that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered in the most barbarous way on the orders of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
… Erdoğan is intent on making Turkey a major power broker in the Middle East alongside Saudi Arabia and Iran. And his goals have him leaning toward Iran these days. Erdoğan’s aims in the Syrian civil war, where Iranian troops and allies are major supporters of President Bashar al-Assad, are similar to those of Tehran, while Riyadh has supported some rebel factions.
Iran is facing economic pressures and internal social upheaval following Trump’s withdrawal from the deal on Tehran’s nuclear program, and the reimposition of U.S. sanctions. The next round of Trump sanctions will come into effect on Nov. 4 and will affect vital oil exports.
European countries are trying to devise a system to evade U.S. sanctions to continue trading with Iran. They also want to sustain the deal to limit Tehran’s nuclear development program, which is working as envisaged.
This is looking like the beginning of a significant shift away from Saudi Arabia and toward Iran by countries dealing with the Middle East. And for that, Riyadh has no one to blame but MbS. Oh, and Trump.

4 September
Thomas Friedman: Crazy Poor Middle Easterners
The Middle East could prosper if it would put its past behind it.
… with a few exceptions, this region has never been a bigger mess, had more people fighting over who owns which olive tree, had more cities turned to rubble by rival sects and missed its potential so vastly.
The region of the world that should be naturally rich has made itself poor by repeatedly letting the past bury the future and the region that is naturally poor [Asia] has made itself rich by letting the future bury the past.
Now President Trump says he wants to get out of the Middle East. But America’s real choices there are not stay or go, but be smart or dumb. And Trump has been dumb. He’s subcontracted order-making there to our allies Israel and Saudi Arabia and his pal Vladimir Putin. So now Trump is getting a lesson, as we speak, in what happens when America writes blank checks to allies and pals — who share some of our interests but also have extreme impulses of their own — and abdicates real diplomatic leadership.
Iran has far overstretched itself, extending its malign military and religious influence into Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, where it has reportedly partnered with the Alawite/Shiite regime of Bashar al-Assad to engage in the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from regions of Syria to be replaced by Shiites. It’s an ugly, ugly business.
Israel’s prime minister has smartly built a relationship with Putin over the last three years — with tens of meetings and phone calls — to ensure that Israel’s Air Force can operate against Iran in Syria and that Russia keeps the Iranians away from the Israeli border. But even with that, and even though the Israelis have so penetrated Iranian units that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards land supply planes full of missiles in Damascus at 6 p.m. and Israel blows them up by 8 p.m. — the Iranians keep trying to turn Syria into a forward missile base against Israel.

30 August
Robert Fisk: Lebanon is on a tightrope, balancing Saudi, Iranian and Western interests – its position is precarious
If Lebanon needs Syria more than Syria needs Lebanon, I suppose that Lebanon needs America more than America needs Lebanon. Either way, the country’s neutrality still protects it from itself
“When Lebanon is without a government for a month, you know the Lebanese are to blame,” a friend announced to me over coffee in Beirut this week. “When Lebanon is without a government for three months, you know foreigners are involved.” Armies have clanked through Lebanon for thousands of years, of course, but its current suitors are arriving with almost daily frequency. The Lebanese are being embraced by the newly victorious Syria, threatened by Israel, warned by the Americans, cuddled by the Russians and vouchsafed eternal love by the Iranians who pay and arm the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. And all this with an $80bn national debt, 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and electricity cuts – every day, without exception – since 1975.
In fact Lebanon’s neutrality also protects it from itself. The Sunnis receive massive funding from the Saudis, who loathe the Iranians, Hezbollah and the Lebanese Shias who support them. The Sunni Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri loves the Saudis – or rather, has to love the Saudis, since they support his premiership and because he holds Saudi citizenship and the Saudis believe he will do their bidding. Readers may remember the gentlemanly kidnapping of Hariri in Riyadh last year and his ghostly reappearance before Saudi television to “resign” his Lebanese premiership until president Macron rescued him from the clutches of crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, and spirited him to Paris where he mysteriously resumed his Lebanese premiership. Hariri, being an eclectic passport holder, is also a French citizen.

13 July
The SCO and Middle East: Expanding stakes and new approaches
(Al Arabia) Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates enjoy many advantages, such as wealth and good infrastructure, that generally lead to innovation. But they perform badly in a new ranking of innovation in 126 countries. Arab petro-states may enjoy Western levels of consumption but they lack Western levels of productivity. Their poor showing in the index is one indication of the mountain they have to climb to find non-oil sources of growth

4 May
(Globe & Mail politics briefing) On Sunday, Lebanon will go to the polls for the first time in nine years. Even though the country only has six million people, it is an important actor in a region in flux. Beyond the conflict in Syria, Iran and Israel find themselves at odds and Iran and Saudi Arabia wage a proxy war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia also was able organize the Arab Gulf in a ploy to isolate Qatar last year. Lebanon, which has found itself wedged between the regional power struggle of Iran and Saudi Arabia, is also the only Arab democracy in the Middle East, making it an important ally for the West. Indeed, both countries are backing different parties in the election. Hezbollah, which Canada and several other countries see as a terrorist organization, is being supported by Iran while Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s coalition is backed by Saudi Arabia.
The election will also see a record number of female candidates. Two women, Kholoud Wattar Kassem and Fatme Mouchref Hamasni, have been leading the efforts in a country where women have faced immense obstacles to holding elected office and where even the women’s affairs minister is a man. There are no women in cabinet and only four MPs in the 128-member parliament are women. Sunday’s election will see 84 women on the ballot.
Because of the varied and complicated political landscape, as well as the proportional representation system, some sort of power-sharing agreement will be needed. Almost certainly, however, current Mr. Hariri will emerge as the person in charge once again as the safe choice. The Globe’s Eric Reguly is in Beirut this weekend covering the election.

2 May
Analysis: Lebanon elections 2018: Politics as usual
(Al Jazeera) For Lebanese nationals living abroad, some polls opened on April 27. Already, almost 66 percent of 12,615 registered voters living in six Arab countries have cast their ballots, marking a first in Lebanese history, according to state-run National News Agency (NNA). …These elections will be the first after nearly a decade of turbulent politics. Since 2009, the Lebanese have watched their government collapse twice (in 2011 and 2013 ), the presidency sit vacant for 29 months (from 2014 to 2016), and their parliament extend its mandate several times.

29 April
U.S. pushing Saudis into war with Tehran: Iranian top leader
(AP via Globe & Mail) Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on his website that the “Americans are trying to put Saudis and some other regional countries before Iran. If they are wise, they should not be deceived by the U.S.”
Khamenei also claimed the U.S. wants to put the financial burden of confronting Iran on the shoulders of other Mideast countries, but warned “they will be hit and defeated if they confront Iran.”
He urged the U.S. to leave the Middle East, saying its military presence causes insecurity and conflict.
His remarks came amid a visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who expressed support for Israel and Saudi Arabia and said Iran “destabilizes this entire region.”
Saudi Arabia and Iran are longtime regional rivals, and back opposing sides in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen. Iran has expanded its footprint across the region in recent years by backing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and an array of armed groups. See also Mike Pompeo ratche[t]s up anti-Iran rhetoric after meeting Netanyahu

5 April
Robert Fisk:Journalistic predictions of Middle Eastern politics are – mostly – an exercise in futility
There will always be a margin of error, but after years of reporting on the region, certain things can be fairly accurately anticipated, such as the outcome of Arab elections

21 January
Jordan’s king delivers pointed public remarks to Pence in wake of Jerusalem decision
(WaPost) Jordan’s King Abdullah II told Vice President Pence on Sunday that he had repeatedly warned Washington about the risks of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that he hoped the United States would now “reach out” and find the right way to move forward.
At a meeting at his palace in the Jordanian capital, Amman, Abdullah said that he had been encouraged by President Trump’s commitment to bring a solution to decades of conflict by Israelis and Palestinians — but that Jerusalem is key to achieving peace. … Pence’s regional tour is partly aimed at smoothing over relations with U.S. allies in wake of President Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. …
The vice president said before he left for Egypt this weekend that he hoped that the U.S. Jerusalem decision would help rather than hinder a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. But the Palestinian leadership has reacted with anger to the decision and has refused to meet with Pence, while other regional allies have spoken out against the move.

18 January
Robert Fisk: The next Kurdish war is on the horizon – Turkey and Syria will never allow it to create a mini-state
Syria cannot countenance Kurdish presence on its territory and Turkey cannot tolerate a Kurdish enclave along its southern border, however secular, liberal and socialist it claims (not without reason) to be
Colonel Thomas Veale has had the unenviable task of announcing the first official Western attempt to partition Syria on ethnic-sectarian lines … the creation of another new and largely Kurdish force which will, in theory, control tens of thousands of square kilometres of Syria. Arab members of the same 30,000-strong “Border Security Force” will man checkpoints further south along the Euphrates river valley.
Turkey is right to suspect that the PKK controls local Kurdish fighters, Assad is correct in identifying the “Border Security Force” as an attack on Syria’s sovereignty – whoever rules the state itself – and Russia, no stranger to the partition of the Ukraine, knows how to recognise similar US skulduggery. Its origins go back to the start of the war, when the local Kurdish “People’s Protection Units” (YPG) were encouraged by the authorities in Damascus to oppose Isis, al-Qaeda (later Nusrah) and other jihadi groups who were trying to seize the Syrian state. The Syrian army handed the YPG thousands of weapons to defend themselves. In the early days, Assad himself even praised the Kurds for resisting the “terrorist” forces of Isis and al-Qaeda.


21 December
The Middle East and North Africa in 2018: Challenges, threats, and opportunities
Noha Aboueldahab, Tarik M. Yousef, Luiz Pinto, Nader Kabbani, Adel Abdel Ghafar, Mia Swart, Ali Fathollah-Nejad, Ranj Alaaldin, Beverley Milton-Edwards, and Kadira Pethiyagoda
(Brookings) From the diplomatic shakeups in the Gulf to the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq, the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) witnessed dramatic shifts in 2017. As the year comes to a close, Brookings scholars have come together to share their expectations for what the year 2018 has in store. Here are their brief outlooks.

4 December
Yemen Houthi rebels kill former president Ali Abdullah Saleh
Iran-backed militia says it killed Saleh, who sought peace with Saudi Arabia, as he fled the Yemeni capital, Sana’a
(The Guardian) Yemen’s civil war has taken a dramatic turn after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels killed the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, punishing him for switching sides and seeking peace with Saudi Arabia.
Pictures of Saleh’s corpse appeared on Houthi-run television after the militia said it had killed him as he fled the capital, Sana’a. He had ruled Yemen for more than 30 years and was forced to resign in 2011 as part of the Arab spring political revolution.
Houthi military officials said Saleh was killed as he was travelling with other top party leaders from Sana’a to his hometown of Sanhan. Houthi fighters followed him in 20 armoured vehicles, then attacked and killed him and almost all those with him. Gruesome video footage of his blood-spattered body were distributed on social media.
The violence between the Houthis and Saleh’s forces has led so far to the deaths of at least 125 civilians in clashes in the last last five days, according to the International Red Cross. The fresh violence comes after the sudden collapse of the political and military alliance between the Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Saleh. The two groups had held Sana’a for the past three years in an uneasy alliance.

28 November
Dominique Moisi: God’s Middle East Playground
Lebanon, having long suffered from a combination of domestic institutions that are too weak and neighbors that are too strong, now finds itself in the crossfire between Iran and Saudi Arabia. With the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria winding down, will the region’s main strategic rivals shift their proxy war to Beirut?
(Project Syndicate) In Lebanon over the past two decades, the Iranian-backed political party and militia Hezbollah has carved out a state within a state. And last year, it entered into a power-sharing relationship with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and President Michel Aoun. Against that backdrop, Saudi Arabia earlier this month seems to have used Iran’s growing ambition as a pretext to summon Hariri to Riyadh as if he were a misbehaved pupil. While there, Hariri accused Hezbollah of taking over his country, and then announced his resignation – a decision he has since reversed.
For many analysts, Hezbollah has become too powerful not just in Lebanon, but also in Yemen, where it is said to be helping Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in a proxy war against the Saudis. An escalation of the war in Yemen, then, may have been the starting point for Lebanon’s latest crisis.
With the war against ISIS winding down, a new round of violence in Lebanon – between pro-Saudi and pro-Iranian forces, or even between Hezbollah and Israel – cannot be ruled out. …
France cannot substitute for America. But geopolitics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and France does have unique historical and cultural cards to play in Lebanon. Moreover, its position toward Saudi Arabia and Iran is more balanced than that of the US. If the Saudis and the Iranians both recognize that it is in their interest to reduce tensions, they might just listen to a European interlocutor. Sadly, both sides seem determined to keep their blinders firmly in place, Lebanon be damned.

14 November
Gwynne Dyer: The Middle East: Not enough wars yet
“When all the Arabs and the Israelis agree on one thing, people should pay attention. We should stop this Iranian takeover,” said Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last month. So we’re paying attention now, and we even know where the next war will start: Lebanon.
That seems unfair, as Lebanon’s last civil war lasted fifteen years, killed around 200,000 people (out of a population of only 4 million), and only ended in 1990. Couldn’t they hold this one somewhere else? Unfortunately, no. All the other venues are taken.
Iraq is still fully booked. The fight against ISIS is almost over, but the struggle between the Arabs and the Kurds has only just got started again. It never really stops for long.
Bashar al-Assad’s forces, the Russians, and Shia volunteers from Iran and Lebanon are winning the war in Syria, but it will be at least another year before they suppress all rebel resistance.
Yemen’s airspace is too congested, with Saudi, Emirati, Kuwaiti, Jordanian and Egyptian planes bombing the living daylights out of the Houthi rebels who hold most of the country (and anybody else who happens to be nearby). No real room for another war there.
Both Saudi Arabia and Israel want to take Iran down a peg or two, and their efforts to get the United States to do it for them have not yet succeeded. Trump is not opposed in principle, but his current obsession is North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
So the war will have to be in Lebanon, at least at the start. The big Shia militia that controls southern Lebanon, Hezbollah, is closely allied to Shia Iran, and it’s a permanent nuisance along Israel’s northern border, so it’s a suitable place to start rolling back Iran’s influence in the region.

12 November
Saad Hariri says he is ‘free’ in Saudi Arabia
(Al Jazeera) Saad Hariri has rejected rumours he is being held in Saudi Arabia against his will and pledged to return to Beirut “very soon” to affirm his decision to quit as Lebanon’s prime minister.
Hariri made the comments from Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, speaking publicly for the first time since his shock resignation eight days ago.
Reading out his resignation in a televised statement from Riyadh, Hariri blamed interference in Lebanon by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah for his decision to quit, adding he feared an assassination attempt. His father, Rafik Hariri, was killed in a truck bomb blast in 2005.
But Lebanese officials have said Hariri is likely to be under either house arrest or in temporary detention in Riyadh.

4-5 November
Lebanese PM Saad Hariri resigns citing Iranian meddling
(Al Jazeera) Saad Hariri has announced his resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister and implicitly blamed Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, for his decision.
In a televised speech on Saturday, he said he suspected there were covert plans to target his life, but he did not elaborate.
Hariri, who made the statement during a visit to Saudi Arabia, said Iran planted “disorder and destruction” in the country and meddled in the internal issues of Lebanon as well as other Arab countries.
Referring to Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, Hariri said, “Iran’s arm … has managed to impose a fait accompli on Lebanon through the power of its weapons” in the last few decades.
Hariri, a leading Sunni politician, has been in office for less than a year, but previously served as prime minister between 2009 and 2011.
He assumed office as prime minister again in December 2016 in a power-sharing government headed by President Michel Aoun, a supporter of Hezbollah, whose members have been charged by the International Court of Justice with assassinating Hariri’s father, Rafik, in a 2005 bombing.
Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon’s Druze and the Progressive Socialist Party, said Hariri’s resignation could adversely affect the country.
He said it was the latest evidence of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran and urged intensification of diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions.
Lebanon’s power players
Fears of Lebanon sliding back into war as PM quits
(Sunday Times of London) His announcement — made in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia, where he met the powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud last week — was seen as a Saudi play for more influence in Lebanese domestic politics and a challenge to Iran, its regional rival.

20 October
Why Doesn’t the U.S. Support Kurdish Independence?
The Kurds are one of Washington’s closest and most reliable allies in the Middle East.
By Krishnadev Calamur
(The Atlantic) Regional reaction may, in part, be the reason why the Iraqi government acted in the manner it did. …  now that ISIS is all but defeated, the region’s dormant conflicts are resurfacing. Iran, Syria, and Turkey have significant Kurdish minorities and Tehran and Ankara, especially, fear that an independent Kurdish state would embolden Kurdish separatist forces in their own countries. Turkey, which traditionally has been close to the Barzani family, and Iran, which enjoys influence with the rival Talabani family (the two families have dominated Kurdish politics for decades), stepped in. Turkey called the referendum a “big mistake” and threatened to stop buying oil from the Kurds. Iran was more direct. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was in Iraqi Kurdistan last weekend, meeting with the Talabani-allied Patriotic Union of Kurdistan to mediate a resolution to the standoff. It appears to have worked. PUK fighters withdrew from Kirkuk this week, handing the city over to Iraqi government forces.
If there is one thing that is clear from the crisis in Iraq it is that 14 years after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam, Iran maintains a significant influence in the country—not only with the central government in Baghdad, which is dominated by its fellow Shia Muslims, but with the Kurds. This will especially be a factor as the U.S. continues to attempt to counter Iran, first by the Trump administration’s decision to send the nuclear deal back to Congress and then by imposing terrorism-related sanctions on the IRGC, the same group in which Soleimani is a senior commander.

18 October
Gwynne Dyer: The Fall of Kirkuk
The Kurdish dream of independence is at an end, and the Kurds will be lucky if they manage to keep even the autonomy they have enjoyed in Iraq since 1991.
Two big cities fell within 24 hours of each other last weekend. The fall of Raqqa in Syria, once the capital of all the territory ruled by ISIS, came after a five-month siege and was no surprise at all. The fall of the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk in Iraq took less than a day and came as a complete surprise.
Possession of Kirkuk was critical for the project of Kurdish independence, because it was the source of most of the oil that would have made an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq economically viable.
The Kurds of Iraq came tantalizingly close to releasing their dream of independence. Since the first Gulf War of 1990, five Kurdish-majority provinces in northern Iraq have been ruled by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which had American support because it opposed Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical regime. That American support continued even after the US invasion that finally overthrew Saddam in 2003.
Only months ago the Iraqi Kurds were fighting alongside the Iraqi army in the struggle to free Mosul from ISIS control, and the Syrian Kurds have been the main American ally in the fight to destroy ISIS in Syria. But once ISIS was defeated those alliances were bound to end: betraying the Kurds is a old Middle Eastern tradition. The only surprise is how fast it has happened, and how comprehensively the Kurds have lost.
There are about 30 million Kurds, but they live on territory that belongs to four of the most powerful states in the Middle East: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. They have been seeking an independent Kurdish state for a century now, but all the countries that stand to lose large amounts of territory if it ever actually happened are profoundly opposed to that outcome.

16 October
Krishnadev Calamur: The Battles After ISIS
Iraqi forces face off against the Kurds in a potential harbinger of conflicts to come.
Renad Mansour, a research fellow at Chatham House,  told me he believed that, in particular, Kirkuk’s inclusion by the Kurdistan Regional Government within the borders of a hypothetical independent Kurdistan set the Kurds “on a very dangerous path.” Kirkuk accounts for about 12 percent of the total oil produced in Iraq, and its status is considered disputed between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government. …
It’s not just Arabs and Kurds facing off in Kirkuk; the dispute has also pit one Kurdish faction against another. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is one faction; it is allied with Iran and the U.S. and more open to reconciliation with Baghdad. Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which organized the independence referendum and opposes Iraqi control of Kirkuk, is another.

29 September
Kurdish independence: Self-determined
The pro-independence movement scored a resounding victory in the secession referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan earlier this week. Now comes the hard part: turning the result into reality. The Kurds’ neighbours, not to mention Iraq’s government, are hostile to the Kurds’ hopes for independence. America and Iran, as well as the Kurds and Iraq’s Arabs, have been fighting on the same side against Islamic State. That could change
(The Economist) CALLING a referendum on Kurdish independence in Iraq was the easy part. The difficulty after the vote on September 25th concerns the route ahead. The vote took place in the three provinces that make up Iraqi Kurdistan, and in the contiguous Iraqi regions that Kurdish forces took from Islamic State (IS). It was a resounding success for the pro-independence movement, with the electoral commission claiming that 93% of the 3.3m votes cast were in favour. But though billed as a step towards statehood, the result is non-binding. Iraqi leaders, who had previously agreed to negotiations on the status of the territory, now reject them on the grounds that the referendum was unilateral, unconstitutional and divisive. On September 29th the Iraqi government stopped international flights from using the airport in Erbil. Iraq’s neighbours are also vowing to torpedo any Kurdish attempt to go it alone. Iran has stopped flights to the region and Turkey has closed one of its crossings to the landlocked territory, which relies heavily on imports. Western countries, fearing that the broader alliance against IS could unravel, have said they will not rush to the Kurds’ defence. As they aspire to statehood, could the Iraqi Kurds—as Haider al-Abadi, the prime minister in Baghdad, has threatened to ensure—now lose everything?

27 September
What Did the Kurds Get Out of the Referendum?
“For statehood to arise, a people’s right to self-determination and their desire to exercise it must be matched with possibility.”
(The Atlantic) On September 25th, the Kurds of Iraq indicated for the second time in 12 years that they wish to be free of the rest of the country.

22 September
Iraqi Kurdish referendum: UN warns of ‘destabilising impact’
(BBC) The UN Security Council has warned of the potentially destabilising impact of a planned referendum on independence for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
The 15 member states said Monday’s non-binding vote could hinder efforts to counter so-called Islamic State (IS) and help displaced Iraqis return home.
It called for “dialogue and compromise” between the Kurdistan government and the central government in Baghdad.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said the referendum is unconstitutional.
Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have never obtained a permanent nation state.

1 September
Jonathan Freedland: There’s a disaster much worse than Texas. But no one talks about it
In this story America is not the victim. Along with Britain, it is on the side of the perpetrator – helping to cause the world’s worst humanitarian crisis
(The Guardian)  In July the UN determined that it was “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis”. If you think it’s hard to get westerners interested in flood victims in Nepal, just try talking about Yemen.
The scale of the suffering in the Arab world’s poorest country is clear. Since it became the site of a proxy war in March 2015, 10,000 people have been killed, with 7 million made homeless. The UN is especially anxious about cholera, which has already killed 2,000 people and infected more than 540,000. It threatens to become an epidemic. That’s no surprise, given that sewage plants have been among the infrastructure bombed from the sky. The Saudi-led coalition has kept Sana’a airport closed, which means food and medicines cannot get in and the sick cannot get out for treatment. Pictures of gaunt children, listless babies and starving mothers recall the worst of Africa’s famines – but this disaster is entirely human-made.
Nor is this a remote story utterly unconnected to us. On the contrary, the Saudi government is armed to the hilt with weapons supplied by the UK and the US: £3.3bn worth of British firepower in the first year of this vicious war alone. And yet Yemen has barely registered in the western consciousness, let alone stirred the western conscience
The Guardian view on Yemen: stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia

24 August
Qatar restored full relations with Iran, deepening a feud with its Gulf neighbors.
(NYT) Qatar restored full diplomatic relations with Iran on Thursday, the latest volley in an 11-week-old geopolitical feud that has set the tiny yet fabulously wealthy Persian Gulf nation against its neighbors and rattled a previously placid part of the Middle East.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry announced that it was sending its ambassador back to Tehran after a 20-month hiatus that started in January 2016, when Qatar broke off relations after attacks on two Saudi diplomatic facilities in Iran.
The Qataris gave no explanation for the sudden move. But the timing suggested a purposeful snub of Saudi Arabia, which along with three other countries began a punitive boycott of Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and having a too-cozy relationship with Iran

1 August
Peace in Libya: The start of something
(The Economist) Last week Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, invited two big players in Libya’s sprawling civil war, Khalifa Haftar and Fayez al-Serraj, to talk peace in Paris. Expectations were low, but the pair agreed to a ceasefire and to hold elections. Yet vast areas of the country are not under their control, and many more militias must be convinced. The deal, though encouraging, is unlikely to end the conflict, writes our Middle East correspondent

2 July
Wealthy Qatar Weathers Siege, but Personal and Political Costs Grow
(NYT) A young business executive had to cancel a $150,000 family vacation in Saudi Arabia. Another woman grumbled that deliveries of designer fashions from the internet store Net-a-Porter were taking several days longer to arrive.
Others said they disliked the taste of the new Turkish milk in stores, preferring the old Saudi variety, but a tycoon offered a solution: He intends to fly 4,000 cows to Qatar, in what may be the biggest ever bovine airlift.
Qatar has been under a siege of sorts for the past month, but the immensely wealthy Persian Gulf nation is, so far, feeling little pain.
When four Arab nations blockaded Qatar’s airspace and shipping channels last month in a bid to force it to drop its maverick foreign policy and shutter its influential TV station, Al Jazeera, there was an initial burst of panic as some supermarket shelves emptied. But that quickly subsided, and since then the gas-rich nation has deployed its formidable treasury to keep its 300,000 people in the luxurious comfort to which they are accustomed.
… even if they appear to be winning the economic standoff so far, the Qataris are feeling the pinch in other ways. And the deepening crisis is having worrisome effects that are rippling across the gulf and battering political unity. Experts warn that the crisis could destabilize the broader region if it persists for months, or longer, as many fear.
The feud over Qatar has already extended beyond the gulf, sucking in Turkey, which is backing Doha, and Russia, which is trying to steer a middle course in the dispute. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Saturday that he had spoken with the leaders of Qatar and Bahrain in a bid to stimulate dialogue.

27 June
Qatar-Gulf crisis: All the latest updates
The latest news after some of the Gulf states and Egypt cut ties with Qatar and imposed a land, sea and air blockade.
Saudi Arabia says Qatar demand list non-negotiable
Qatar’s foreign minister to meet counterpart in Washington
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Washington on Tuesday.

24 June
The Gulf’s Demands on Qatar Look Designed to Be Rejected
As Washington loses patience with the Gulf crisis, the Saudi-led campaign resorts to extreme measures.
(The Atlantic) On Thursday evening, news reports surfaced of 13 demands from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and four other nations that, if fulfilled by Doha, will resolve their ongoing standoff with the tiny Gulf nation. Among the more onerous demands appearing on the list, which may or may not be official, are that Qatar sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements in the Middle East, downgrade diplomatic relations with Iran, close all Al Jazeera affiliates and several other Qatar-funded media outlets, pay an unspecified sum in compensation for loss of life and damage caused by Qatari regional policies in recent years, and submit to regular monitoring for up to 12 years to ensure compliance.
By producing their list of demands, the Saudis and Emiratis are hoping to regain the momentum that they may have felt was slipping away. Placing so much emphasis on Qatar’s alleged ties to terrorism, they calculate, will play well with the White House, if not at State or the Pentagon.
Yet, the extent and scale of the demands appear designed to induce a rejection by Qatar, and a possible justification for a continuation, if not escalation, of the crisis. The list, if accurate, represents an intrusion into the internal affairs of Qatar that would threaten its very sovereignty. Because Qatar forms a cornerstone of the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, America has a stake both in its domestic security and regional stability. So, too, do the emerging and industrial economies around the world that rely heavily on its liquefied natural gas exports, whose security would be imperiled in the event of a full-blown crisis in Doha.
What is behind the campaign against Al Jazeera?
Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries imposing a blockade on Qatar are demanding the closure of the Doha-based network.

15 June
Trump Authorizes $12 Billion Arms Deal With Qatar Despite Accusations
President Donald Trump authorized a $12 billion arms deal with Qatar days after he accused the country of sponsoring terrorism.
The Qatari ambassador to the U.S. announced the finalization by tweeting a picture of his country’s defense minister meeting with American Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
“The nation of Qatar unfortunately has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” Trump told reporters last week, according to Reuters.

8 June
Simon Baptist, The Economist: As a desert country with few resources apart from natural gas, Qatar cannot long survive a blockade if Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE keep borders closed. This means that we can expect Qatar to be forced into making enough moves to placate them, at least partially. The situation highlights the growing political risk in the region. Iran’s emergence is creating a new centre of power at the same time that low oil prices are putting many governments under domestic pressure. With both of these factors likely to continue, expect more incidents like this in the Middle East in the next five years.

6 June
Trump weighs in on Qatar rift with Gulf neighbours
US President Donald Trump throws his weight behind efforts to isolate Qatar over claims it supports ‘extremism’.
(Al Jazeera) US President Donald Trump has weighed on the ongoing diplomatic dispute with Qatar and neighbouring Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia, saying his trip to the Middle East is “already paying off”.
In a series of posts on Twitter on Tuesday, Trump referenced Qatar when he said leaders of the Middle East have stated that they “would take a hard line on funding extremism”.

5 June
Qatar diplomatic crisis: All the latest updates
(Al Jazeera) The latest news after Arab Gulf countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and suspended Doha-bound flights.
Politics in the Gulf: A family feud
(The Economist) Today Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain said that they were severing diplomatic relations with Qatar as well as cutting air, sea and land links with the country. Saudi news outlets say the measures are reprisals for Qatar’s support for terrorism. But broader and older grievances are at play, rooted in geopolitics and the place of Islam in politics. For decades, Saudi and Emirati officials have blamed Qatar, which protrudes like a sore thumb from the western Gulf, for breaking ranks with the Saudi-dominated six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC).
Qatar is one of three GCC states that still maintains cordial relations with Iran (Kuwait and Oman are the other two). Its emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was quoted expressing reservations about Saudi Arabia’s increasingly belligerent posture against Iran. Qatar also sponsors and provides sanctuary to the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly irking the UAE, which deems the Brotherhood a terrorist group. And it also funds and hosts Al Jazeera, a broadcaster that offers a platform to Arab dissidents everywhere but in Qatar, and which fanned the flames of revolution and armed revolt during the Arab Spring.
Gulf plunged into diplomatic crisis as countries cut ties with Qatar
(The Guardian) The Gulf has been hit by its biggest diplomatic crisis in years after Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of destabilising the region with its support for Islamist groups.
The countries said they would halt all land, air and sea traffic with Qatar, eject its diplomats and order Qatari citizens to leave the Gulf states within 14 days. Shoppers in the Qatari capital, Doha, meanwhile packed supermarkets amid fears the country, which relies on imports from its neighbours, would face food shortages after Saudi Arabia closed its sole land border.
Social media reports from Doha showed supermarket shelves empty as nervous consumers began to worry that stocks of food and water would run out. As much as 40% of Qatar’s food comes over the Saudi border.
The coordinated move dramatically escalates a dispute over Qatar’s support of Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and its perceived tolerance of Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, Iran. The dispute is the worst to hit the Gulf since the formation of the Gulf Co-operation Council in 1981.
The tiny island nation of Bahrain blamed its decision on Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities, and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain”.
In a sign of Qatar’s growing isolation, Yemen’s internationally backed government – which no longer holds its capital and large portions of the country – joined the move to break relations, as did the Maldives and the government based in eastern Libya.

30 May
The Powerful Anti-Terrorism Ad That’s The Hit of Ramadan
The month of Ramadan is a time of peak TV consumption in the Arab world, and in turn, peak TV ad budgets. So the Kuwaiti telecom company Zain decided to make to the most of the holy season with a powerful three-minute musical spot urging Arabs to reject suicide bombings.

21 May
Robert Fisk: Donald Trump’s speech to the Muslim world was filled with hypocrisy and condescension
Despite claiming he wouldn’t give a lecture, the President did just that, displaying a blatant anti-Iran bias intended to appease the nation with whom he’d just signed a multi-billion dollar arms deal at the expense of the truth
There were no words of compassion, none of mercy, absolutely not a word of apology for his racist, anti-Muslim speeches of last year.
Even more incredibly, he blamed Iran – rather than Isis – for “fuelling sectarian violence”, pitied the Iranian people for their “despair” a day after they had freely elected a liberal reformer as their president, and demanded the further isolation of the largest Shiite country in the Middle East. The regime responsible for “so much instability” is Iran. The Shiite Hezbollah were condemned. So were the Shiite Yemenis. Trump’s Sunni Saudi hosts glowed with warmth at such wisdom.

16 May
Robert Fisk: Even when wars end in the Middle East, superbugs and aggressive cancers caused by conflict fight on
In one example, tissue samples from the three-week 2008-2009 Israeli-Hamas Gaza war show remnants of heavy metals in the wounds of Palestinians which can lead to cancers
The details were horrific. Outside the besieged city of Mosul, 13,000 wounded civilians are today waiting for reconstructive surgery – from just this one seven-month battle. Another 5,000 Iraqi police militiamen are waiting for the same surgery from recent military offensives, in their case to be cared for by the Iraqi ministry of interior. But the health infrastructure that exists in the whole of Iraq cannot look after these wounded. As a result, some are turning up in Damascus – amid the frightfulness of the Syrian war – for the surgery they cannot obtain at home. A new graft in Damascus costs $200.
In the balmy early summer of Beirut this week came these detailed new horrors of Middle East war. For beside the state-of-the-art American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) in the city, doctors from across the region, from Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Palestine – along with the International Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres – came to discuss their fears for the wounded and the sick and their conviction that drug-resistant bacteria are growing in hospitals in the Middle East. Just how to deal with this may be within the knowledge of the military medical authorities – but not within the hands of civilian doctors.

2 February
Failures in Yemen: Last week, a U.S. military raid in Yemen resulted in the deaths of a Navy SEAL and multiple Yemeni civilians, including children, as well as the destruction of a $75 million aircraft. The White House, however, is claiming the raid was “highly successful,” having achieved its object of gathering intelligence in spite of the loss of life. That’s a grossly optimistic assessment, and it speaks to an ongoing resistance to uncomfortable truths that may make it hard for Trump to govern. But when it comes to Yemen, the problem may be bigger than one botched raid: As military historian Andrew J. Bacevich asks, what are U.S. forces doing in Yemen in the first place

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