New Age Islam Edit Bureau
28 January 2016
For Israel, ISIS Is Too Close For
Comfort - But So Is Iran
By Yossi Mekelberg
By Nawar Fakhry Ezzi
No Magic Wand To Solve Tunisia's
By Hisham Aidi
Looking In The Wrong Direction
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Anti-Women Municipal Council Members
By Samar Fatany
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Since ISIS announced itself on the
turbulent stage of the Middle East, in a most horrid and gruesome manner,
Israel and the jihadist organization tread very carefully with one another.
October last year was the first time the organization released a YouTube video
threatening the Jewish state with annihilation. However, Israeli decision
makers see ISIS neither as a high risk nor an immediate threat.
Rhetorically Israeli leaders have found
ISIS a rather useful point of reference with which to implicate and associate
any other elements of militant Islam with whom they are in conflict; exploiting
the obvious global revulsion toward ISIS’ actions for their own purposes. It is
quite a mystery why ISIS leadership has refrained from including Israel more
frequently in their propaganda.
Identifying the ‘Zionist entity’, at least
verbally, on their list of targets, ostensibly would not do any harm to their
cause among their supporters and those who they would like to recruit. One
theory is that the organization is fearful of Israel and would like to keep it
out of any coalition against them.
As long as ISIS is bogged down in Syria and
Iraq, Israel is bound to be less of a priority
This hypothesis was also fuelled by a
recent interview with Jürgen Todenhöfer, a journalist and a former German
Parliamentarian, who visited territories held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq. He
claimed that prominent militants among them told him that the one country ISIS
fears is Israel.
According to his account ISIS perceives
U.S. and UK ground troops lacking in experience in urban guerrilla warfare and
short of counter-terrorism strategies. On the other hand, they perceive Israel
as a much more credible enemy, vastly experienced in such situations.
Considering that ISIS faces not only one
coalition, but one led by the U.S. and another by Russia, fear of Israel might
be exaggerated, even if it contains an element of truth. As long as ISIS is
bogged down in intense battles in Syria and Iraq, Israel is bound to be less of
That said, in the last few months there are
signs of ISIS propaganda targeting Israel as well. It indicates ISIS still
considers Israel a potential ‘trump card’ which they make use of under severe
military pressure and on the verge military defeat. In their YouTube video, a
masked ISIS militant dressed in military fatigues and holding a rifle,
threatens in Hebrew that “we will enter al-Aqsa mosque as conquerors, using our
cars as bombs to strike the Jewish ramparts,” until there will not be a single
Jew left in the country.
For the Israelis the issue is way more
multifaceted, considering the complexity and diversity of the forces and
interests involved in the civil war in Syria. Until recent years Syria was
potentially Israel’s most dangerous and powerful military threat. This threat
no longer exists. Paradoxically, the strength of the Assad regime also
guaranteed that the border between Israel and Syria was peaceful because it was
also in the interest of the regime in Damascus.
Yet, as the neighbouring state from the
north was disintegrating and the regime needed Iran’s help for its survival,
Israeli interest in Assad staying in power lessened. Israeli Defence Minister
Moshe Ya’alon put it very clearly last week that if he was to choose between
Iran and ISIS he would prefer ISIS.
There is an implied admission by Ya’alon
that Israel has little impact, if at all, on who will eventually gain the upper
hand in Syria. Moreover, if neither of the sides is regarded as preferable for
Israeli interests, then the option of both sides exhausting themselves in
battle is the one Jerusalem is bound to favour.
Choosing The Enemy
For obvious reasons Israel is concerned
with having Iranian Revolutionary Guard combatants so close to its border and
the potential of Hezbollah growing in strength. However, its obsession with
Iran, which sees only risks and never opportunities, might lead it toward
underestimating the threat from ISIS. In terms of military capabilities and
geographical proximity, ISIS is far from posing a serious threat at present.
Nevertheless, the presence for instance of
the Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade who swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the
self-proclaimed caliph of ISIS, close to the Israeli border, is not a
development that Israel can afford to ignore.
Israel is concerned with having Iranian
Revolutionary Guard close to its border and the potential of Hezbollah growing
Moreover, on the border between Egypt and
Israel in the Sinai another jihadist movement affiliated with ISIS, Wilayat
Sinai, has already been involved in lethal attacks on Egyptian military targets
and was allegedly behind the downing of the Russian Metrojet airplane last
October. More recently, a voice recording of al-Baghdadi appeared threatening
that he and his lieutenants plan to attack Israel and, more worryingly for the
Jewish state, are already operating inside Israel.
An unexpected verification of Baghdadi’s
claim was done by the usually level-headed president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin,
who said few days ago that “the Islamic State is already here, that is no
longer a secret. I am not speaking about territories bordering the State of
Israel, but within the State itself.” President Rivlin exaggerated the level of
the support of ISIS among Arab Israelis, intending to underline the importance
of improving the status and living conditions of Israeli Arab citizens.
Yet, it also points to the danger of the
allure of ISIS as an appealing idea as for young people, especially in
societies where there are many unresolved social, political and economic
issues. Concentrating solely on the challenge presented by Iran could blind
Israeli decision makers from taking the need to contain the ISIS-type menace
Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North
Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House,
where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution,
including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International
Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where
he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London
and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international
relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and
international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee
of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee.
Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range
of international issues
Jan 28, 2016
Belonging to a group provides a unique
sense of security where individuals give their allegiance to the group they
belong to and trust in return that they will be protected by the group they
pledged their loyalty to. However, as countries transform from homogeneous
societies into diversified nations, individuals’ allegiances increase as the
groups a person belongs to overlap creating a conflict of loyalties if disputes
should arise between these different groups. This is why the concept of
tribalism has evolved, in most places, into nationalism or better yet
patriotism in order to bond people’s allegiances to their love of their
homeland regardless of how many different allegiances they may have.
However, conflict still occurs especially
when people’s beliefs and religious traditions constitute a significant part of
their identity and way of life. The conflicted allegiances most Catholic and
Protestant minorities suffered from throughout the power struggle in Europe
during the 16th century demonstrates a sad example of the consequences of
sharing the same beliefs of the enemy, which can be compared to the current
case of Sunni and Shia minorities who live among the opposing majority in the
Nowadays, Muslims who live in the West seem
to be the personification of conflicted allegiances where their loyalty is
constantly doubted and scrutinized even without any reasonable doubt. Their
only crime sometimes is sharing the name of the religion that Daesh (the
self-proclaimed IS) and many terrorist groups claim to belong to. As a result,
some people have become wary of Muslims to the point of paranoia leading to the
rise of hate crimes and persecution in many Western countries.
Some writers have compared the current
situation of Muslims to the persecution of Jews in Europe before and during
WWII, but the comparison is inherently flawed since the circumstances and the
causes are completely different. The comparison is actually rather closer to
home because it echoes the early days preceding the forced exodus of most
Mizrahim or oriental Jews who lived in the Arab world during the time of the
creation of Israel. Around one million Jews lived among Arabs for hundreds of
years considering themselves to be as native to the countries they lived in as
any of their Arab neighbours. By 1976, only 5,000 Jews were living in the Arab
world with very few having left willingly or having betrayed the Arab countries
they lived. The majority were forced into exodus suffering yet again from a new
kind of diaspora after it had become almost impossible to live in a mostly
hostile society, most of whose members has turned against them for the mere
reason that they shared the religion of a new enemy turning a political
conflict into a religious one.
The situation of Muslims has not escalated
to this yet because of the relatively increased awareness and
anti-discrimination laws in many countries in the West even though Islamophobia
is on the rise and some violations of people’s civil liberties have been
committed. However, people like Donald Trump in the US give bigots a platform
and the courage to voice and act upon their prejudices and ignorance. If he
ever became president, then Muslims living in America could face a holocaust.
Rabbi Joshua Stanton has already pointed out the similarity between Muslims and
Jews who lived under Fascist regimes in his wonderfully written article titled,
“Register me, too, Mr. Trump”, in response to Trump’s outrageous suggestion of
creating a national registry of all Muslims living in the United States.
Some people who belong to a religious
minority do betray their communities and countries, such as some of the
Mizrahim Jews as well as some of the Muslims who live in the West. However,
usually only a few do so while the rest stay loyal and long to live in the
homes they grew up in. Sadly, they still suffer simply because of sharing the
beliefs of their nations’ enemy. It seems that whether people live in an
oppressive dictatorship or in a liberal democracy, at time of danger, many
people seem to prefer to stick to those who share their heritage, culture,
ethnicity and beliefs. So is the existence of a multicultural society where
people’s differences and civil liberties are respected and appreciated at all
times a wonderful idea yet a naïve dream that works only in times of peace?
Let’s hope the answer is no, but we will have to wait and see how the situation
28 Jan 2016
On Monday morning, the Tunisian government
shortened the curfew imposed last Tuesday, saying the security situation had
stabilised. The North African state has witnessed a tumultuous 10 days.
On January 14, Ridha Yahyaoui, a young man
from Kasserine, a small town in the country's interior, committed suicide - by
electrocuting himself - in desperation
over his economic plight. Over the next two days, protests in solidarity with
Yahyaoui spread to the nearby towns of Siliana, Kairouan, and Sidi Bouzid
(where in December 2010, the street vendor Mohamed Boazizi had set himself on
The demonstrations spread to 16
governorates and eventually to the capital Tunis. On January 16, after a day of
clashes, the government declared a curfew - in addition to the state of
emergency imposed in mid-November after a deadly bus bombing in the capital.
Hopes Of A Better Life In Tunisia Hang
By A Thread
Aware that it was protests in southern
Tunisia, and subsequent unrest nationwide, that triggered the downfall of the
Zain Abidin government in January 2011, the Tunisian government this time
struck a sympathetic tone.
"These protests are legitimate and
evidence that Tunisia respects its constitution," said the president, Beji
Caid Essebsi, though he added. "We understand these movements, but they
should not be exaggerated."
First Arab democracy
Tunisia is often hailed as the first Arab
democracy, the lone success of the Arab Spring. The Nobel Peace Prize of 2015
was awarded to the coterie of lawyers, activists and politicians who negotiated
In Tunisia, the Ennahda Movement's
strategic decision to allow hundreds of Ben Ali regime officials to participate
in the political process ended a dangerous political gridlock and allowed for a
peaceful transition (in contrast to Egypt, where former Mubarak officials,
excluded from government, helped launch the counter-revolution that toppled the
Morsi government). Ennahda lost the 2014 election to Nidaa Tunis, a secularist
party that includes officials from the ancient regime.
The North African state has thus had to
turn to its colonial master for assistance.
What the recent unrest shows, however, is
that while Tunisia's political transition may have been skilfully orchestrated,
economic policy has not been as prudent. Inequality remains dangerously steep.
Inflation rates have been high - one young activist quips that "all we got
out of this uprising was inflation".
Unemployment is at 15 percent - with a
third of jobless youth being university graduates. The country's tourism, a critical
source of revenue, has been reeling from multiple attacks, claimed by the
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, including an assault on the
Bado National Museum last March, that left 22 dead.
Economic disaffection has led to strikes and
sit-ins. In 2015, 64,000 teachers went on strike, and protests by workers in
southern Tunisia in May 2015 in four towns brought phosphate production, a
major export, to a standstill.
The urban centres along Tunisia's northern
coast have since the colonial days been more developed than areas inland.
"Unemployment exists everywhere in
Tunisia, with a rate of 15 percent, but why is it 10 percent higher in
Kasserine?" tweeted Mohamed Haddad, a Tunis-based reporter. "Why is
life expectancy at birth seven years lower in Kasserine than in the
Residents of these marginalised areas claim
to have seen little improvement since Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was deposed. On
December 17, 2011 - on the first anniversary of Bouazizi's death - Tunisian
politicians visited Sidi Bouzid, promising jobs and development projects. A
year later, the President Moncef Marzouki was heckled off stage and had rocks
thrown at him.
What is striking about this latest wave of
unrest is that even the police - who are the frontline in the fight against
Islamic militants - have joined in, with police officers marching yesterday on
the presidential palace demanding higher wages.
"We are looking to improve our
situation like other sectors, especially as we are the frontline in defending
the country," Chokri Hamada, a police union spokesman, told Reuters.
"We don't have any trust in the government after all their promises."
The government has indeed issued
conflicting statements. On Wednesday, the prime minister's office announced
that 5,000 new public sector jobs would be created. But Zied Ladhari, the
employment minister, swiftly rejected this statement, claiming the government was
unable to provide thousands of public sector jobs.
With revenue from tourism dwindling, and
little financial support coming from the Gulf states - who are unhappy with the
Ennahda movement and the ruling secular coalition - the Tunisian government has
found itself turning to the West for economic assistance.
In May 2015, Essebsi visited Washington,
and the State Department reiterated its call to Congress to double US
assistance to Tunisia to $138m to promote economic development and greater
security. Congress approved an aid package of $50m, with most of the funds
earmarked for improving security along the Libyan border.
The North African state has thus had to
turn to its colonial master for assistance. On Friday, Francois Hollande said
that France would provide one billion euros ($1.1bn) in aid to Tunisia over a
five-year period, "to help poor regions and young people [with a focus] on
After the November 13 attacks in Paris,
French authorities are wary of violent extremism among North African youth -
and a number of French public figures have called openly for greater French
support for the Tunisian government.
While meeting with Hollande, Habib Essid,
the Tunisian prime minister, said that the situation in Tunisia was "under
control"; but then he told French media: "We have no magic wand to
solve the unemployment problem."
Hisham Aidi is a Harlem-based writer. He teaches at Columbia University's
School of International and Public Affairs.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has
intensified his efforts in recent days to hold the promised Geneva conference,
is trying to attain concessions that eventually — and following a long journey
of negotiations — will lead to a political solution to the Syrian tragedy.
This is a noble task, but insisting on
marginalizing the real nationalistic Syrian opposition and accepting that
Bashar Assad stay as president will only yield failure, even if a preliminary
agreement is signed in the upcoming negotiations.
No solution can be accepted if Gulf
countries and Turkey do not support it, as they are the only ones that most
Syrians trust because these countries have stood by them since the start of
their ordeal. Therefore, the key to the solution is in the Gulf and in Turkey,
not in Geneva.
It does not make sense for these countries
to sign and defend a deal that keeps Assad in power. Most of the Arab world
will reject this because it considers him the worst criminal the region has
known. Gulf states know it is suicide to leave Syria to the Iranian regime,
which is expanding in their region like cancer.
Perhaps it is useful to remind Kerry what
the picture looks like from the Arab angle. The US has lifted sanctions against
Iran, and granted it access to $50 billion in long-frozen assets. They are
cooperating militarily in Iraq, and Washington is turning a blind eye to
Tehran’s management of multinational militias fighting in Syria.
The US not only accepts to deal with the
Assad regime, but also keeps silent over Iran’s forgery of the Syrian
opposition, as it wants to impose a list of figures and parties that it claims
are opponents of the Syrian regime, when in fact they are part of it. In other
words, Assad would be negotiating with himself through them. In the history of
conflict resolution, we have never known of a party telling the other party who
should represent it.
Even if they drag the opposition all the
way to the river, they will not be able to force it to drink from it. If a deal
that stipulates the formation of a unity government is signed, like Tehran
hopes, it will not even be able to collect trash — let alone stop the fighting,
gather arms, work on refugees’ return home and foster national reconciliation —
as no one will recognize its legitimacy.
However, the Syrian people may still be
forced to accept a government in which a regime they hate is included. They may
do so out of their desire for peace, but it makes no sense to ask them to
accept that the man who murdered more than a third of a million people
continues to govern them. I rule out the possibility of Gulf governments and Turkey
accepting such a solution, as they know it will only escalate war in the
The segregation rule imposed on the two women
elected to the Jeddah Municipal Council was the topic of discussion during a
Baladi campaign event that attracted a large group of academics, career women,
opinion leaders and media personalities. Supporters of Dr. Lama Al-Sulaiman and
Rasha Al-Hifzi criticized the male members of the Municipal Council who have
refused to meet with their female colleagues to discuss Municipal decisions and
matters of concern claiming that sitting at the same table with women is
against Shariah law. These men apply their extremist ideology to marginalize
the role of these women and obstruct their equal participation in the decision
making process. The two capable women
explained their role in the Municipal Council and how their presence at the
same table provides them the opportunity to discuss and share the
responsibilities, duties, obligations, tasks, etc. They asserted that work in
the Municipal Council includes a lot of communication measures with
stakeholders, citizens and officials. “If we are not sitting at the same table
in the general monthly meeting, then we will not be able to sit in the
workshops, committee meetings or meetings with the public, and that will
greatly marginalize our role.”
The women in the audience felt equally
frustrated and angry about the treatment of their elected members and all
agreed to sign a petition rejecting the insult to the honor and stature of the
two women who are decent members of society. The idea that their presence is a
sin is unacceptable and can no longer be tolerated by any respectable women in
our country today.
Meanwhile, Jamil Farsi, prominent columnist
and opinion leader, created a hashtag on Twitter calling for the support of our
sisters for their right to an equal seat at the meeting table and urged
followers to activate the hashtag. The hashtag went viral with demands for the
resignation of those Council members who are against the presence of women at
the meeting table. Supporters were also critical of this negative attitude
toward women which does not represent the people of Jeddah who do not prescribe
to the extremist ideology that discriminates against women.
The official rule stipulating that our
society is governed “according to Shariah law” is very vague and allows many to
deliberately misinterpret the law to discourage the participation of women. The
question is: Does Shariah law specifically ban the mixing of genders? According
to moderates, it does not. The widely accepted interpretation in all Muslim
communities around the world and according to moderate scholars of Shariah is
that the mixing of genders does not go against Shariah law. The mixing is only banned
if a woman is not in her Hijab or not dressed modestly and if a man and a woman
are alone in one room. Therefore, this does not apply to women who are in their
Abayas and are in a meeting with men to debate official matters of concern.
Women mix with men every day on the road, in shopping malls, in hospitals,
airplanes and everywhere on the planet because both genders are inhabitants of
this earth. Women have had enough of this extremist nonsense.
Prior to the Municipal Council elections,
women were equally insulted over circulated news about prison sentences and
fines for any woman who was found in the company of men during the election
campaign. Women candidates were forced to present their programs through a male
representative who would speak on their behalf. For how long are we going to
put up with this absurdity?!
The social and ideological conflict between
the progressives and the extremists who advocate the discrimination against
women has got to end. The negative attitude toward women is a source of
frustration to many citizens in our society and an embarrassment for Saudi
Arabia in the international community. The presence of women among men should
not be labelled “a sin”. In fact woman should be welcomed and shown more
respect just as the Prophet (peace be upon him) did fourteen hundred years ago.
It is really so sad to see the preaching of our Holy Prophet (pbuh) being
twisted and abused. A passive civil society, rigid religious scholars and an
ineffective media have failed the women of this country and have allowed
hardliners to spread a rigid interpretation of Shariah law that questions the
morality and decency of women. Enacting a strong fatwa to end the segregation
ban is long overdue. It is time we marginalized the extremists among us and
adopted a more moderate lifestyle that accepts the presence of women in public,
in government and in all walks of life.
King Salman continues to support the
empowerment of women. Nineteen women were officially elected as equal members
in the Municipal Councils. There is no room for anti-women extremists who
undermine government policies and block the path of progress.
Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer.