New Age Islam Edit Bureau
08 February 2018
Holocaust Envelops Palestinians
By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
Saudi Youth Not Above Starting From 'Zero'
By Fahad Nazer
Hezbollah Contains Its Christian Ally and Keeps Lebanon under Control
By Diana Moukalled
Kurds Should Stop Being Scapegoats
By Christiane Waked
Ten Observations On The Margins Of The Arab Crises
By Ahmed Abul Gheit
On The State Of Shock for Christians in Lebanon
By Ali Al-Amin
Raising Fuel Prices Still a Challenge
By Wael Mahdi
French Racism, Anxiety and Love for Post-Colonialism
By Wandia Njoya
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
7 February 2018
It has been more than 50 years since the unlawful Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These are Palestinian lands the Israelis control through repression, institutionalized discrimination, murder and systematic abuse of the Palestinian population’s rights.
Human rights organizations have periodically highlighted major violations of international human rights laws and humanitarian laws that illustrate the occupation: unlawful killings; forced displacement; abusive detention; the closure of the Gaza Strip and other unjustified restrictions on movement; and the development of settlements, along with the accompanying discriminatory policies that disadvantage Palestinians.
Israel always explains away its abusive practices in the name of security. “Whether it’s a child imprisoned by a military court or shot unjustifiably, or a house demolished for lack of an elusive permit, or checkpoints where only settlers are allowed to pass, few Palestinians have escaped serious rights abuses during this 50-year occupation,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Israel today maintains an entrenched system of institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied territory – repression that extends far beyond any security rationale.”
The Israelis have killed more than 3,000 Palestinian civilians in the last three Gaza conflicts alone. Mind you, these were civilians whose only crime was living peacefully on their land. In the West Bank, the Israelis routinely use “excessive force in policing situations, killing or grievously wounding thousands of demonstrators, rock-throwers, suspected assailants, and others with live ammunition when lesser means could have averted a threat or maintained order.” When called to investigate what amounts to crimes against humanity, Israeli officials have failed to hold the abusers accountable, with rare exceptions.
Since 1967, the Israeli government has been sanctioning the illegal settlements that have sprouted on Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In 1967, Israel established two settlements in the West Bank: by 2017, Israel had established 237 settlements there, housing approximately 580,000 settlers, all of them illegal by international codes. Israel applies Israeli civil law to settlers, affording them legal protections, rights, and benefits that are not extended to Palestinians living in the same territory who are subjected to Israeli military law. “Israel provides settlers with infrastructure, services and subsidies that it denies to Palestinians, creating and sustaining a separate and unequal system of law, rules and services.”
Over the years, Israeli authorities have illegally expropriated thousands of acres of Palestinian land for settlements. Discriminatory burdens, including making it nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits in East Jerusalem and in the 60 percent of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control (Area C), have effectively forced Palestinians to leave their homes or to build at the risk of seeing their “unauthorized” structures bulldozed. For decades, Israeli authorities have demolished homes on the grounds that they lacked permits, even though the law of occupation prohibits destruction of property except for military necessity, or punitively as collective punishment against families of Palestinians suspected of attacking Israelis.
Israel has also arbitrarily prevented hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from living in and traveling from the West Bank and Gaza. Israel has also revoked the residency of over 130,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and 14,565 in East Jerusalem since 1967, largely on the basis that they have been away too long.
In perhaps the most glaring example of crimes against humanity, for the past 25 years, Israel has tightened restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip in ways that far exceed any conceivable requirement of Israeli security. These restrictions affect nearly every aspect of everyday life, separating families, restricting access to medical care and educational and economic opportunities, and perpetuating unemployment and poverty.
Israeli authorities have imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Palestinians since 1967, the majority after trials in military courts, where the verdict is known before the trial begins, and conviction is the order of the day. Moreover, hundreds every year have been placed in administrative detention based on trumped up or undisclosed evidence without charge or trial. Some have been detained or imprisoned for engaging in nonviolent resistance to the Israeli appetite for illegal encroachment. Israel also jails West Bank and Gaza Palestinian detainees inside Israel, creating near impossible restrictions on family visits and violating international law requiring that they be held within the occupied territory. Many detainees, including children, face harsh conditions and mistreatment.
In recent times, Palestinian children, some not more than 10 years old, have become the tragic target on a daily basis of armed Israeli settlers who have shown no remorse in killing children in cold blood. It is said that this philosophy of targeting defenseless Palestinian women and children is to break the will of the resistance to their occupation.
Human rights organizations have been pressing governments to “use their leverage to press Israel to end the generalized travel ban on Palestinians from Gaza and permit the free movement of people and goods to and from Gaza, subject to individualized security screenings and physical inspection.” These apartheid and racist policies are reminiscent of what the Nazis exercised in the last century.
In a region awash with tensions, with Arabs killing Arabs and Muslims turning on Muslims, Palestine has unfortunately become a victim.
The Vision 2030 plan that was announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016 is an ambitious package of economic and social reforms that seeks to effect structural changes to the economy by reducing Saudi Arabia's dependence on oil. This has entailed the implementation of dozens of new programs and initiatives that aim to reduce the size of the public sector — which still employs about 70 percent of the Saudi labour force — and provide incentives for the private sector to become the engine of the economy. Even prior to Vision 2030, Saudi labour officials devised a nationwide plan of “Saudisation” that sought to create thousands of private sector jobs by replacing the estimated nine million expatriates who dominate the private sector with Saudis.
The government has used both incentives and penalties to encourage Saudi businesses to hire more citizens. In addition, the Ministry of Labour has restricted certain jobs to Saudis. Last month, the ministry announced that, from the beginning of the next Hijri year — approximately in September of the Gregorian calendar — 12 types of job in the retail sector will also be restricted to Saudis. These include employees at stores or dealers selling clothing, appliances, electronics, furniture, watches, eye glasses, medical devices, pastries and cars. Saudi economists seem to differ on the number of jobs that could be created, but conservative estimates put the number at 200,000, while others project that number to exceed one million.
As Saudisation has moved forward, some business leaders, economists and outside observers have wondered whether Saudi men and women would be willing to fill some of the less lucrative, relatively low-paying, blue-collar jobs that have been performed primarily by non-Saudis for many years. Though most did not say it directly, the implication was that some Saudis have a “sense of entitlement” and did not believe that they needed to “start from zero.” Others framed it differently, claiming it was not so much a sense of entitlement but rather the notion that certain jobs were considered too “menial” or even “aaeb,” the Arabic word for “shameful.” That is clearly not the case.
In recent years, the Saudi media, both in print and on television, has shined a spotlight on the willingness of Saudis of both genders to start their careers very modestly. In fact, a program called “From Zero” that aired on a Saudi satellite channel last Ramadan was a big hit, as it chronicled the journeys of successful Saudis who became pioneers in their field from very modest beginnings. Among the many who spoke proudly about their journey, former Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi stood out, as he has long spoken frankly about his rise up the ranks of the national oil company, Saudi Aramco, and the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources?
One particular case demonstrates this reality in dramatic fashion. In 2015, Saudi Arabia’s most famous fried chicken franchise, Al-Baik, decided to open its first branch outside of its base in the western region of Hejaz. When the first store opened in the city of Buraidah in the region of Al-Qassim, two things happened. One, given the popularity of the restaurant and the many years people outside of western Saudi Arabia had waited for Al-Baik to come to them, hundreds of people showed up at the grand opening, requiring the police to order the store to close early. More importantly, the all-Saudi staff at the restaurant was the featured story in a leading Saudi newspaper. Not only did the young staff speak with pride about their jobs, but they posed for a photograph dressed in caps and gowns, signifying the commencement of their careers.
Vision 2030 makes it clear that, in order for it to succeed, it has to be a collective endeavor in which each citizen plays a role. It is also clear that young Saudi men and women have fully embraced a simple truth: There is nothing shameful in making an honest living.
A growing number of young Saudis are now publicly expressing their pride in starting from “zero” and paying their dues, saying it fills them with a sense of honor. Whether it is car mechanics, Uber drivers, factory workers or women opening small coffee shops, Saudis are finding ways to compete and prosper in the private sector. That bodes well for Vision 2030 and the future of Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon has managed to overcome a verbal clash between its Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil, who is supported by his father-in-law and President Michel Aoun, and the Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is backed by Hezbollah. The clash started when Bassil described Berri as a “bully” in a video that was leaked last week, triggering a mini street war.
In two days of partisan and media incitement, people spilled out on to the streets and showed the extent to which the alliance between the Amal Movement and Hezbollah on one side and Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement on the other side is abnormal in the Lebanese context.
The hysteria mobilized youngsters from the Amal Movement to take to the streets with the aim of attacking the FPM headquarters. The FPM’s supporters have allowed such behavior in the past, when they opened the roads to these youngsters and removed all barriers in previous moments of anger. They allied with them during the elections and contributed to an occupation of the centre of Beirut. But the alliance ended, and this was the supporters of the Amal Movement saying that they are the masters of the street and that the authority of President Aoun ends as soon as they decide. They say that the security forces are mere observers.
In spite of the populist blackmailing, which was performed last week through the emoting of the crowds and media campaigns, the tension was eased and overcome. Hezbollah even announced its continued commitment to its 12-year-old alliance with the FPM. It seems Hezbollah tolerated Bassil’s statements, in which he said: “Unfortunately, Hezbollah is taking options which do not serve the interests of the Lebanese state, and all of Lebanon is paying the price for that.” Hezbollah had already tolerated another statement by Bassil, in which he said “we don’t have an ideological dispute with Israel.”
So why did Hezbollah tolerate what was said by its Christian ally? And what if another Lebanese faction used the same words as Bassil; for example, what if Prime Minister Saad Hariri had said that? He and any other politician would have been accused of national betrayal, to say the least. Hezbollah had mobilized its media arsenal to incite people against a movie by Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri, accusing him of normalizing Israel by filming there, but it tolerated everything that was said by Bassil.
This presumed indulgence hints that some changes must have obliged Hezbollah to smooth over one of the most dangerous moments its alliance with Aoun has seen. Hezbollah intervened and the outcome of the clash between Bassil and Berri was decided in favor of the minister. This indicates that Hezbollah wishes to suggest that its alliance with Aoun doesn’t mean a complete adherence to its positions.
This change in Hezbollah’s direction serves two purposes: The first is external in light of anticipated new American sanctions against Lebanon due to the insistence of the international community, and Europe in particular, that the government distances itself from Hezbollah’s regional agendas. The second purpose relates to the upcoming general election, as Bassil is expected to harvest votes as he challenges his opponents on their messages focusing on the weapons of Hezbollah.
There are some indications that there isn’t an essential conflict between the two sides, and that Hezbollah gave Bassil the green light in order to provide the president with a wider margin of manoeuvre — especially given that Lebanon is on the verge of further US sanctions that will not distinguish between Hezbollah and the Lebanese economy. What enhances this probability is that there is an overwhelming international desire to develop a Lebanese direction that diverges from that of Hezbollah and Iran, but it seems that we have not yet reached that moment and Lebanon is still under control.
February 7, 2018
The American president, Donald Trump, surely does not have a clear roadmap to lead Syrian Kurds to safety.
Unlike the Kurds from Turkey, Iraq and Iran who have a real history, legitimate rights and geographical spread in these countries, those settled in Syria arrived between 1516 and 1922 during the Ottoman period. The Kurmanji-speaking Kurdish tribals were deported to areas of northern Syria from Anatolia.
The Treaty of Sèvres signed on August 10, 1920, stipulated that Ottoman Kurdistan which included the Kurdish inhabited areas of present Syria was to be given autonomy within the New Turkish Republish. However, the victory of Kemalism implemented by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk that gave Turkey subsequent territorial gains led to the renegotiation of this treaty and the Treaty of Lausanne was signed in 1923 with no mention of a future Kurdish state.
And the Turks have realised that they have international immunity when it comes to the Kurdish issue. The situation could be compared to Gibraltar. The world knows that historically it belonged to Spain but since the international community acknowledged it as British, it now belongs to Britain. Again, Catalonia to the eyes of the world is still Spanish. Any movement that results in the arming of separatists in these countries is considered a terrorist act.
Back to the Syrian Kurds, the truth is that disunity amongst themselves has understandably worked against them and they have been used as proxies by various governments at various points in history. What is obvious now is that they have been used as a tool to fight the Daesh. And they are looked upon as a scapegoat by the Americans who want the Turks to pay for their alliance with Russia and Iran.
Nevertheless, it is not too late for the Kurds in Syria to play their cards wisely and take the example of the Kurds in Iraq. The Kurds were later granted a proto-state by the Iraqi constitution in the north of Iraq, constituting the country's only autonomous region.
The world soon acknowledged the Kurdistan Regional government with Erbil as its capital though Masoud Barzani's call for an independent referendum did not receive the same reaction.
The Kurds must learn when and how to bargain. They must look at the bigger picture and play their cards strategically. Despite promises made by the US, international favour is against them with Turkey forbidding any sort of expansion of the Kurds coming from the Zagros-Taurus mountains. To be fair, the international community should hail the heroic combat that Kurds led against the Daesh.
The American president, Donald Trump, surely does not have a clear roadmap to lead Syrian Kurds to safety. It is up to the Kurdish leadership to negotiate and pull itself out of the American project before it is too late and more blood is drawn.
Soon, Syria will be ready for elections, and it is up to the Kurds to make their presence felt and convince the international players through serious bargaining and negotiations.
Ten Observations on the Margins of the Arab Crises
The Arab citizen is right to feel wary of the new year and what it holds in store for our countries. He is right due to the mounting dangers of crises, rising tensions in rivalries and establishment of popular currents that are reforming politics in many influential countries.
Amid all this, we find the Arab world in the position of defending its existence and vulnerable to threats to its interests and very identity. This was recently demonstrated in the crisis created by the American administration after it recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This sparked real concerns among the Arab people over the fate of one of the most fundamental issues that define the Arab identity.
The Arab crises have become so severe and so numerous that the people have grown accustomed to them and they are now seen as a norm in the region. This is a very dangerous situation where the belief is that those in power are steering the crises, not resolving them, and that the people should grow used to this reality instead of tackling the roots of the problems. Managing the crisis is not a sufficient strategy to extinguish the raging fires. If we do not take immediate action to douse them, then they will spread to their surroundings and to new farther regions.
It is not my intention in this article to list the dangerous crises in the Arab world and detail their developments. I am here to present the concerned Arab reader with ten observations on the margins of these crises. I noted them through witnessing various joint Arab meetings over the past year. I will list them below, hoping that it would prompt the readers to engage in an open dialogue:
One: Though they may seem unconnected geographically, the Arab crises are similar in their nature, have the same players and are united by common factors. The majority of these crises are a direct result of “strategic vacuum” that emerged in the aftermath of the 2011 developments. These events led to a number of dangerous conflicts that weakened and toppled governments, political entities and security systems that used to control a massive number of people and large areas of lands.
The conclusion was the emergence of a dangerous vacuum on the security and political scenes in the heart of the Arab world and its margins. This vacuum is at the core of current regional conflicts because politics cannot tolerate vacuum and security cannot exist without a ruling authority.
The race to fill this strategic void gave the opportunity for regional, neighbouring and international powers to clash over establishing a foothold in the area. This gave free rein for ambitions to redraw the region and reap “rewards.”
Two: The 2011 cataclysm took place at a time when the Arab system was not at its best. In fact, – and there is no better way to describe it – it was divided on itself and between various rival fronts. The conflicts that erupted after 2011 widened the divide and developed into proxy and armed conflicts involving many parties from within and beyond the region. The conflicts have become so complex that it is difficult to ascertain the interests of each player. This situation could have destroyed the Arab world had the Arab policies continued in their state of fragmentation.
Three: The Arabs have not stood idly by and observed the chaos. Instead several Arab people and leaderships realized the need to regain the initiative and form an Arab front to confront the most dangerous challenges facing the national state. An agreement gradually began to emerge between the main Arab countries on how to label the danger and identify its threat. This, in my opinion, was the real starting point for resolving this crisis.
The Arab countries realized that the danger was not directed against the interests of this country or that, but it was directed against the very concept of the modern national state. The threat, therefore is comprehensive and dangerous in its scope. Confronting it requires a united plan of action and coordination between Arab countries.
It has become clear in the Arab world to witness those who are loyal to the national state and those who oppose and do not recognize it. These sides instead are loyal to the rivals of the state and hide behind “religious politics” or “politicizing religion”. They also do not hesitate to mix political practices with violence.
This image became clearer after 2014 amid the unprecedented emergence of terrorist groups that was embodied in ISIS’ success in controlling vast territories in the region. This situation, despite its catastrophe, helped unify the vision between the vast majority of Arab countries over their common fate.
Four: Despite this consensus among the main Arab countries in determining common threats, and despite the success in confronting some of these dangers, starting with ISIS, I can say that a “united strategy” in dealing with them is still absent. A clear agenda that unites all Arab countries is still unavailable.
For example, we do not have what we can call an “Arab policy on the Syrian crisis.” Yes, there are resolutions issued by the Arab League that define the unanimous Arab position on this crisis, but a “strategic plan of action” is still missing. There are, unfortunately, Iranian, Turkish and Russian strategies on Syria, but not an Arab one. This can also be applied to Libya in that there are collective efforts exerted by countries to tackle the chaos there, but no collective Arab action to unify them.
Five: This unfortunate situation has therefore resulted in the lack of any serious collective and comprehensive discussions of strategic Arab issues. There are dangers that are being confronted by each state or by a number of states. These threats are dealt with individually and often as a reaction and not through an initiative. For example, an Arab capital may come under some threat and then the Arab League would be called to convene to issue a resolution on the matter. Such action, even though it is important, does not act as a comprehensive strategy to confront threats.
Six: The national Arab security is still being dealt with as a file from among many others. There is the file of combating terrorism, another on the ongoing Israeli occupation, a third on the Iranian threat, a fourth on Turkey’s ambitions, others on refugees…. This current approach of dividing files and issues impedes the possibility of collecting a united Arab force to effectively deal with any of these dangerous and pressing files. Instead, each Arab country or group of Arab countries are left to deal with what they perceive as a direct threat to it or their security, existence and interests.
National Arab security, from what I understand, is a single comprehensive file that includes several issues that should be dealt in connection to each other and not in increments. A mechanism should be reached that allows for frank discussions between Arab countries to set an agenda of priorities of Arab national security.
Seven: Regional adversaries are exploiting this situation in their interest and they are taking advantage of the flaws in the Arab body. Tackling this interference and these threats as a single file is the only way I see to effectively confront this meddling.
Moreover, the threat to Riyadh from Iranian-made rockets provided to the Houthis is in fact a threat against all Arab capitals, from as far away as Muscat to Rabat. Arab forces should be mobilized to confront this threat so that a clear message is delivered to adversaries that they are not facing a country or two, but a massive human, economic and military bloc.
For example, when a state such as Egypt, whose population makes up a third of the Arab people, has its water security threatened, then this issue should be addressed due to the major social and economic repercussions it may have. This threat is viewed as regional one and it should be dealt with as such.
Discussing all issues in this comprehensive and interlinked way is the only way that will allow each Arab side to frankly voice its concerns and, more importantly, specify what it expects from others. The best way to conduct this frank discussion is through the Arab League, which today is the only available way to achieve consensus and later united Arab action over any issue or cause. It is still the most capable organization to host such a discussion and work on developing and translating it into a work plan and strategy.
Eight: The effective way to deal with the regional threats and spiteful agendas against the Arab world, lies in filling the loopholes that the opponents have escaped through. Cementing national countries and resolving conflicts and internal clashes represent the best strategy to confront regional meddling that has found a place for itself in this mess.
Nine: The Arab scene is not completely ruined by destruction. There are some signs here and there that there is a will among several leaderships and peoples to end this “crisis of civilization”. For example, I will highlight the great efforts undertaken by the Gulf, Egypt and Maghreb to radically “change the social-economic situation”.
These efforts reflect a major desire to defy challenges and problems and join the current age. They are also focused on a fundamental truth that half of the Arab population is less than 24 years old, meaning we are living our future today. We should not deal with the present as an extension of the past, but it should be a short bridge to a future that is rapidly taking shape before our eyes.
While I do acknowledge the development efforts, I can honestly say that they will remain vulnerable to failure if we cannot provide the stable regional environment that will enable them to continue on growing. This is what I call “fortifying growth” and it cannot be possible without a collective security strategy that provides security to everyone. This will consequently defeat terrorism, eliminate extremism and reform the predominant culture of societies.
Ten: Coordinating Arab stances and reorganizing the Arab internal scene are no longer ideological visions or theoretical political ideas, but they are facts that impose themselves on the ground and challenges on the agenda of Arab work. It is my deep conviction that Arab countries are all in one boat: They either all reach the harbor of safety or, God forbid, they will lose their way together.
Arabism today is not a sentimental slogan, but a political and strategic necessity. It is the only idea that can unite all defenders of the national state in confronting terrorist groups, saboteurs, secessionists and advocates of sectarianism. Arabism in its new modern look is open and accepting of diversity without the need to eliminate the other.
It is the way to pull back together what has been fragmented and restore what has been lost. The rule of law, ensuring equal opportunities and respecting different identities within a modern state – a state for all of its citizens – are fortifications that protect the state itself from the dangers of fragmentation and chaos.
Finally, I say that frank dialogue between Arab countries on the crises and threats, whether internal, regional or international, is the only way to form a united and firm stance that would lead the Arabs to a position of power against their adversaries – and how many they are.
This will enable them to confront threats that do not jeopardize the state itself, but the entire Arab entity and its common identity, starting with the recent danger against the Palestinian cause and the city of Jerusalem. These blatant attempts to eliminate the cause should be a warning bell to all sides and it demands that we mobilize all of our energies in collective work.
Amid all of these dangerous challenges, I have never lost the hope that the Arab world will be able to treat its wounds, pull itself back together and catch up with this age. The darkest days are always followed by the rising dawn.
The confrontation that recently erupted between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement in Lebanon exposed the disharmony between allies, which has existed ever since the FPM joined the so-called March 8 coalition, or the resistance coalition which is led by Hezbollah and which was formed in 2005 when the Syrian army exited Lebanon.
According to the Memorandum of Understanding, signed between Hezbollah and the FPM which was then led by Michel Aoun in February 2006, the FPM would accept the strategic choices which concern Hezbollah on the regional and local levels (basically maintaining its arsenal) in exchange of supporting Aoun to become president.
The MoU also included the Christian concept of the alliance of the minorities as a source of security to Christians. Aoun led the project of establishing a Christian alliance in the Middle East with Iran thinking it will protect Christian presence in the region. This indicated that the source of threat is the Sunni majority in the Arab world. The agreement between Aoun and Hezbollah thus turned its back to the Arab structure and turned its face toward Iran.
Perhaps he and the group he represents thought that after Aoun becomes president, they will become a partner in the axis which Iran leads through Hezbollah in Lebanon. However, last week’s developments in Lebanon revealed the nature of the relation between the FPM and Hezbollah.
The confrontation erupted due to Aoun’s son-in-law, FPM leader and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who spoke against Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in a leaked video.
Ties between the two Shiite parties, i.e. Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, which is led by Berri, is based on a solid and strong base of interests, while relations between Hezbollah and the FPM do not, and they have a weak base that can collapse or disintegrate.
Ever since the conflict erupted, the FPM and Amal, Hezbollah stood by Berri while maintaining its role as the mediator to amend relations between them. Hezbollah, however, clearly said that its priority is Berri. When Berri’s supporters took to the street last week in predominantly Christian areas, Hezbollah did not object to this behavior which was much worse than what Bassil said about Berri.
Later on, Bassil’s interview with a French magazine expressed the Christian shock when he said that some domestic options adopted by Hezbollah harm Lebanon’s interest. What Bassil meant is that Hezbollah is not ready or does not desire to support the option of the state when this option conflicts with the interests of its allies who are involved in corruption. Bassil was indirectly talking about Hezbollah’s relations with Berri whom the FPM believes obstructs the option of the state.
The Christian shock within the FPM, which bet on the alliance with Hezbollah to restore respect to the state and to the Christians’ role, is not a result of Hezbollah’s interferences in other countries. Aoun actually defended Hezbollah’s role in fighting alongside the Assad regime and Bassil played his part in terms of defending Hezbollah and its arms.
As a foreign minister, he did what he had to do to serve Hezbollah’s interests at the Arab League, the UN and the EU. The shock is a result of the militant and violent deployment of Berri’s supporters in Christian areas. These developments last week made the Christians realize the size of “political Shiite” encroachment in the country.
This comes after the requirements of the agreement between Hezbollah and the FPM came to an end especially after Saad Hariri got involved in the settlement and given the stronger Iranian influence on the country. These developments showed that Hezbollah has succeeded in imposing what it wants since 2006.
Its arms were kept out of the authority’s debates and the party invested in the Christian cover to strengthen its influence within the state. The cover which the FPM provided has thus become less important than it was before especially that Hezbollah has become a reference that acts upon the power of the fait accompli.
The FPM was thus shocked when it realized that some Shiite politicians impose themselves in ways that lead to political and sectarian imbalances. This may have been accepted before Aoun became president; however, it’s shocking if it continues after he became president. Christians in the past 10 years mainly feared the Sunnis.
However, some parties close to the FPM said Hezbollah and Amal which engaged the country in foreign adventures via Hezbollah reflect the approach of “either I rule or there will be political vacuum,” i.e. everything must go their way. FPM officials are now discussing their role in the state and Hezbollah’s role in terms of restoring state institutions’ respect.
They’re also reconsidering their calculations given their fear of the results of the Shiite political encroachment especially that Hezbollah has directly and indirectly told the FPM that what it did to make Aoun become president was in exchange for what the latter did in terms of providing a Christian cover.
The challenges of building the state is another matter that does not obligate Hezbollah to stand behind Aoun. The Christians now feel that what they did in favor of the Iranian project against the Arab project led by Saudi Arabia did not provide them with security. Facts have revealed that there is a hostile demagogy ruling the Shiite street.
A Free Patriotic Movement official said the way Amal supporters took to the street marked an insult against the Shiites, adding that their behaviour does not suit the Shiite sect or the Parliament speaker’s status.
The problem which the FPM actually realizes is that having the Christians stand behind Iran’s project should have been followed with serious measures that make the Christians feel that that the road towards the state of institutions is smooth. These measures should have been taken by Hezbollah after it announced its victories in Syria and Lebanon.
Given the price which the Christians paid to break the Arab and Saudi project in Lebanon, they must be promised that the state will restore it role now that everyone, willingly or forcibly, accepted to serve Hezbollah’s and Iran’s strategic interests in Lebanon and its surrounding countries.
The Christians’ shock is still at the beginning. The parliamentary elections which will be held in May foreshadow a conflict in which Bassil is trying to stand before his rivals who bet he will be the loser since the fact that Aoun became president did not change and will not change the path of the state which is heading towards collapse.
THE issue of raising fuel prices will remain a challenge as the Saudi government plans to further increase the cost of all types of fuel. As part of fiscal reforms, the government will gradually raise prices until 2025, when all fuel in the Kingdom should be sold at prices similar to those abroad.
Starting on Jan. 1, fuel prices were increased for the second year in a row by 120 percent for octane-95 and by 84 percent for octane-91. Diesel prices will not be increased this year, to support the industrial activities that rely on the fuel.
After the second fuel hike, many people started debating the viability of such a move as the pain was felt at all levels of society. There are still those who favour the decision.
Below is a summary of the debate between those who favoured the move and those who opposed it.
There are many benefits for raising fuel prices in Saudi Arabia, as its proponents claim. Some of these have been highlighted by the Minister of Energy and Industry, Khalid Al-Falih.
First, the government can free up more cash for other developmental projects. Al-Falih once said the government estimated that about SR300 billion ($80 billion) is given in the form of energy subsidies and that if this money is directed to other areas, such as health care or education, the “wasted income” will be enough to build hundreds of schools and hospitals at home.
Second, consumption of liquid fuel will be cur- tailed. The Kingdom consumes about five million barrels a day (bpd) of liquids (crude oil, liquefied petroleum products, petroleum products, etc), with products making up almost 2.5 million bpd of that figure. As the Saudi population grows, there is a fear that without demand-side adjustments this figure may go up to eight million bpd, according to Al-Falih, and that will put pressure on the Kingdom’s resources.
Third, the Kingdom can free up more crude and products for exports, and will enable it to preserve its role as the world’s largest oil exporter and one of the top exporters for products after the addition of three new refineries. Saudi Arabia seems to be sticking to its current crude production capacity of 12.5 million bpd for many years — at least for the next five. Therefore, there is no way for the Kingdom to keep increasing its exports to meet global demand without cutting back on local consumption, knowing that it is now about to add a new refinery in Jazan by next year and plans another plant in Yanbu to process 400,000 bpd of oil directly into chemicals.
Fourth, there is an indirect benefit that again can be linked to consumption, which is limiting smuggling crude outside the country. There are no figures announced regularly on this, but the numbers are huge in many estimates. The reason for this is fuel arbitrage. Saudi fuel prices were lower than most in the region and that encouraged many to smuggle the crude to surrounding states, but now it might not be worth taking the risk as gasoline prices are similar almost everywhere. Diesel remains, however, prone to smuggling until the government raises its prices in the near future according to its plans.
Finally, there are efficiency gains expected since industries as well as residential users will rationalize their consumption and eliminate waste. The energy intensity in Saudi Arabia (energy used to produce every dollar in the GDP) is higher than that in the US and elsewhere, which shows that energy is not used wisely to generate national wealth.
First, the increase isn’t in favour of consumers as there is no viable public transport system in the country that can give people alternatives. Many people against the hike said they were not opposed to the move itself but only against the timing. It would have been better if the government had first completed the public transport network to which it committed itself before taking any action.
Second, also related to timing: The hike came at a time when the economy is facing major challenges. The overall economy contracted 0.5 percent in 2017 as the oil GDP shrank 4.3 percent and non-oil GDP rose 1.5 percent.
Third, another timing-related issue: The hike in fuel was implemented in parallel with the introduction of value-added tax. This has put a lot of pressure on Saudis' disposable income.
Fourth, many argued that the cost of producing oil and fuel in Saudi Arabia is very low compared with that in all major oil-producing countries outside OPEC and that sale prices should be matching the cost of production at home. Also, some argue that local fuel prices should not be linked to international reference prices since pump prices in all industrial countries are made up heavily of government taxes that can be at least 25 percent. Al-Falih even acknowledged that Norway charg- es higher prices because of the hefty taxes on products.
Fifth, some are arguing that cheap energy is the real competitive advantage for Saudi industries, and without it industrial expansion or attracting foreign investors will be difficult.
Sixth, cheap energy is a recipe for economic growth and without that it would be hard to see a high level of growth. China, for example, relies heav- ily on coal for electricity as its cost is very competitive with all other types of fossil fuel.
Finally, some are challenging the economic logic used when Al-Falih said the government is basing its judgment on prices its products can fetch when exported. This last point makes the topic change from cost of subsidies to cost of opportunity, and those are very different areas.
In all cases, the decision has been made, but it seems that Riyadh is open to modifying parts of the plans as necessary. The royal decrees to give away monthly allowances for one year to people to offset the rise in cost of living that followed the fuel-hike showed that the government is concerned not to harm its citizens, and that strikes a balance between those who are with or against. That sent a very posi- tive message to the Saudi people.
French Racism, Anxiety and Love for Post-colonialism
At this year's Paris edition of Nuit des idees (the Night of Ideas), Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made two remarks that caused a stir. The more widely publicised one was her gentle rebuke of interviewer Caroline Broue's question as to whether there are bookstores in Nigeria. Adichie replied, "I think it reflects very poorly on French people that you have to ask me that question."
The second statement provoked discussion among African academics. Asked by a member of the audience what she thought of postcolonial theory, Adichie answered: "Postcolonial theory? I don't know what it means. I think it is something that professors made up because they needed to get jobs."
African academics interpreted Adichie's comment on postcolonial theory as a dismissal of the theory as an important analytical tool or of the theoretical work of "Third World" scholars.
However, this interpretation misses the overall context in which these remarks were made - that of France wrestling with its Anglo-Saxon nemesis for cultural power on the global stage on the backs of people of colour.
Anglo-Saxons are racists, the French are not
France has always imagined itself as a country that is free of discrimination against black people. In the view of the French majority, that status of "racist" is reserved for the Anglo-Saxons. The French contrast themselves with Americans who, they say, are racist because of the violent segregation in their society. The French, on the other hand, are supposed to be "colour-blind".
Towards the end of the interview, Adichie actually referred to this popular idea in France. She pointed out that a French government official insisted in front of her that there is no racism in France, something many "Anglophone" Africans get told in France.
But French racism is no less disorienting than the American one. French racism constantly swings between universality and particularity, making Africans seem like they can never be rooted in one place.
Exemplified by Jean-Paul Sartre's famous work "Black Orpheus", the French intellectual tradition requires Africans to claim a universal human identity. But when the Africans do so, it demands that they reclaim their African culture. The African never wins in what Sartre called a "temporary dialectic", because once the African affirms an African identity, the African is told that that affirmation alienates them from human freedom.
Similarly, the Paris interview began with Broue's questions that required Adichie to express reservations about her work being considered "African literature" because often that tag reduces African literature from artistic to anthropological work.
But once Adichie talked about wanting to be seen as just a writer and a human being, the next set of questions swung her to the other extreme of particularity. Broue talked of Adichie growing up in Nigeria, speaking Igbo but writing in English, not being the "typical" Nigerian child, writing on the theme of military coups in her novels - all of which crystallised into the controversial question about whether there are bookstores in Nigeria or not. In other words, Adichie is both Nigerian and American, but at the same time neither Nigerian, nor American.
This confusing pendulum is a central theme of postcolonial theory.
Postcolonial theory vs pan-African thought
Postcolonial theory became popular in Western academia which glorified hybrid identities and multiculturalism. From their positions in prestigious American universities, migrant scholars from countries that suffered under imperialism could criticise an empire for its past, while avoiding materialist critiques of the continuing, exploitative relationship between the empire and the Global South.
Postcolonial theory confined colonialism's impact to the past and most of all, diluted nationalist struggles by claiming that the primary project of nationalists, such as anti-colonial theorist Frantz Fanon, was a cultural one: to reject essentialism and embrace a universal humanity.
The other benefit of postcolonial theory for the empire was that it alienated African-born scholars in the US from African American scholarship, given that African American scholars (unlike their migrant peers) were unwilling to play down the critique of material conditions of black peoples.
Despite these weaknesses, the popularity of postcolonial theory in the American academy spread to African universities. The theory gave African scholars in Africa a temporary reprieve in the continued American dominance of knowledge production, because scholars were excited to read rigorous critiques of empire by scholars of African and Asian origin. The scholars, therefore, missed the nuanced, but important distinction between the postcolonial thought and nationalist pan-African thought.
It is this aspect that makes postcolonial theory resonate in France. Both postcolonial theory and the French universal-particular pendulum entrench a feeling of rootlessness in African intellectuals, by endorsing the criticism of empire that is cathartic for the West, but not strong enough to inspire a pan-African intellectual tradition that supports both cultural and material liberation.
France's Intellectual Anxiety
One must also bear in mind that the Nuit des idees event with Adichie was held at the French foreign affairs office located at Quai d'Orsay in Paris. France has always targeted African intellectuals as part of their goal to assert French dominance in the world of ideas.
Successive French governments have been worried about the star status Francophone African intellectuals and their writings have gained in the United States. For instance, Frantz Fanon and Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Diop are more widely read in American academia, largely thanks to African American scholars. Several American universities host professors and writers from the Francophone world such as Manthia Diawara at New York University, Maryse Conde at Columbia University and Alain Mabanckou at University of California, Los Angeles.
In fact, in 2007, then presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy warned that France was losing its cultural influence because there were hardly any chairs for Francophone studies in France to "retain" the literary talent of people like Diawara, Conde, and Mabanckou. Sarkozy lamented: "The soul and the future of la Francophonie are less and less French, and paradoxically, more and more Anglo-Saxon. Francophonie saved by America? That caps it all!"
And so France still has a reason to worry. While on his African tour, newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron faced an increasingly hostile African youth and had to field questions from African students about the French treasury guaranteeing the CFA currency, and about justice for the pan-Africanist revolutionary Thomas Sankara.
In other words, Broue's interview of Adichie was a clear political project. Adichie's comment on postcolonial theory was on point, and the reaction to it exposed how the sibling rivalry between France and the Anglo-Saxons continues to fragment intellectual production by people of African origin and descent.