New Age Islam Edit Bureau
17 February 2018
Israel Is Not a 'Place of Refuge'
By Yara Hawari
The Syrian People Have Become Invisible
By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
The Back Story Behind Meeting of Mohammed Bin Salman And Trump
By Mamdouh Almuhaini
Egypt’s Outdated State Media In Need Of Reform
By Mohammed Nosseir
On Changing the Understanding of Political Secularism
By Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
Terrorism Returns to Afghanistan
By Abdullah Bin Bijad Al-Otaibi
US Must Accept the Reality in Syria
By Jeffrey D. Sachs
When Jacob Zuma Knew His Time Was Up
By Michael Cohen & Sam Mkokeli
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
By Yara Hawari
In early February, Israel started handing out deportation notices to some 20,000 asylum seekers, most of them from Eritrea and Sudan. More than 35,000 are expected to be deported or jailed indefinitely in the upcoming months.
The Israeli state has already made the necessary preparations for the operation. In early January, it advertised positions for 100 inspectors who will have the task to "locate, detain and monitor illegal persons". It also established the Assisted Voluntary Return Department, which offers a sum of $3,500 to those it has identified as "infiltrators" to return to either their countries of origin or a third country.
Meanwhile, mainstream media reporting on the deportations approached the topic from the perspective of Israel's foundational myth. Reuters reported on the issue, describing it as "a moral dilemma for a state founded as a haven for Jews from persecution and a national home". Then an oped in the New York Times went further and declared that Israel had "become a place of no refuge". Another oped in the Washington Post claimed that "Israel is betraying its history by expelling African asylum seekers."
But, contrary to these claims, Israel has not "betrayed" its history and "become" an intolerant place. It has always been this way. And this line of thinking - circulated especially among "progressive" or "leftist" Zionists - not only whitewashes Israel's historical record, but also ignores how the very foundation of the Israeli state reinforces racial hierarchies.
The First 'Infiltrators'
Israel's establishment in 1948 saw the forced expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians and the subsequent and continuing decades-long ethnic cleansing of the remaining indigenous population. As a result, today, some 6 million Palestinians live in exile outside of their homeland and hundreds of thousands are displaced within it.
Israel continuously denies their right to return to their cities, towns and villages of origin, and not only claims that maintaining a Jewish demographic majority is imperative to the country's survival, but also denies responsibility for their expulsion. As a result, the Palestinian refugees remain the largest and longest-standing refugee population in the world.
What happened in 1948 in Palestine can help understand the current situation in Israel, where black asylum seekers and immigrants are dehumanised to the point where they are called "infiltrators", held in open-ended detention in a desert prison and deported.
Leaders of the newly-established Israeli state first used the term "infiltrators" to describe Palestinian refugees who were attempting to return to their lands. Thousands of these returning refugees were shot and killed along the new border in the first half of 1949. In 1954, the Israeli Knesset passed the Prevention of Infiltration Law to legislate its practice of preventing Palestinian refugees from returning to their land. This was part of the settler colonial process, in which the driving force was and continues to be the elimination of the indigenous people.
Upon its establishment, Israel declared itself a Jewish state, clearly emphasising its exclusionary nature. The founding fathers of Zionism, all Ashkenazi, intended Israel to be a utopian, European settler colony. They soon realised, however, that they would need to include, first, Arab Jews (Mizrahi) and then, later, Ethiopian Jews to maintain demographic dominance over the indigenous people.
This inclusion would always remain partial, and the state would attempt to control the demographics of the non-white Jewish population. In the 1950s, for example, hundreds of Mizrahi babies were abducted from their parents and sent to live with Ashkenazi families in order to "de-Arabise" them.
More recently, the Israeli authorities admitted that Jewish Ethiopian women were injected for years with long-term contraceptives, which resulted in an almost 50-percent drop in the birth rate of the community.
Decades of formal and informal racist policies have kept Ashkenazi Jews at the top rung of Israeli society. As Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has argued, "the entire political, economic, legal, academic and even military leadership is made up of Ashkenazim, with a smattering of Sephardim as the exceptions that so remarkably prove the rule … [that] Israel is run by an ethnically pure elite."
It is, therefore, not surprising that the 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers and refugees, who are not Jewish, are facing deportation and imprisonment in Israel. A country founded on the legacy of displacement, ethnic cleansing and white supremacy cannot possibly treat people of colour otherwise.
Just as the term "infiltrators" referred to Palestinian refugees attempting to return to their lands, today it is in for those seeking refuge from other countries. In this sense, the issue of expelling asylum seekers is not a "moral dilemma" for Israel; nor is it a sign of the Israeli state growing "less tolerant". It is just a reflection of what it truly is: a racist, settler, colonial state.
Over the past week, the conflict in Syria has flared up again with the usual ferocity: hundreds of needless civilian deaths, new starvation sieges in so-called “de-escalation zones” as well as the systematic targeting of hospital and other humanitarian targets, reports of renewed chemical attacks, all on the back of another farcical round of diplomatic “negotiations”.
As if that was not enough, Israel is now becoming active in the conflict, with direct clashes between Israeli assets and Iranian and Syrian assets as far north as the environs of Damascus, and we have seen emerging reports that as many as 200 Russian-nationals mercenaries have been killed by American airstrikes.
Just as we thought the conflict was winding down in the wake of the collapse of ISIS in the east of the country, while the small number of rebel areas seemed on their last legs, things now look as perilous as they ever have. Syria and Russia have repeated the past mistakes of the US and the West: instead of suing for peace when they had a clear upper-hand, they have pushed for complete victory, and have encountered insurmountable resistance. At this point, it is difficult to imagine how either side of this conflict is not already completely exhausted, but here they all are, fighting as intensely as ever.
An Extremely Precarious Existence
In all this mess, it is hard to believe that there are still civilians left in Syria to bomb and to poison with chemical weapons, but there may be as many as 13 million people who continue to seek out an extremely precarious existence in the shadow of constant airstrikes from all sides. And these 13 million people have all but disappeared from the international discourse.
In a sense, this was to be expected. The utter failure of the international community in their responsibilities towards the Syrian people have become a given fact of life in the early 21st Century. It is also something that Western leaders might not necessarily want to attract to much attention to, given the heavy responsibility they bear for their repeated failures to intervene in Syria on humanitarian grounds: most infamously when the Obama administration has failed to enforce the chemical weapons red line.
But the most notable failure is perhaps that of the media. Perhaps they feel that the atrocity that is Syria has become too banal to give it the ongoing coverage the humanitarian situation deserves or perhaps they judge that the public has developed some kind of chronic fatigue of hearing about the never-ending suffering of people like themselves. It used to be that “if it bleeds it leads”, but it is not beyond conceivable that news editors are on to something: do we even have the emotional bandwidth to process the ongoing carnage, when there are so many similar humanitarian disasters going on elsewhere, like in Myanmar, or in Yemen, or in the Sahel?
But those 13 million people are another wave of refugees waiting to happen. If the fewer than 2 million people who have made it to Europe from Syria and other conflict zones have managed to produce the political upheaval on the Old Continent that they have already, imagine what another million or two might mean for the political future of the West.
The conflict is Syria concerns us directly. Whether we want to admit it or not. Whether we have the emotional energy to engage with its seriousness or not. It is not just the Syrian people who will suffer the consequences of our moral indolence. Sooner or later, we too will reap the consequences. The Syrian people may remain invisible for now. But the consequences of another migration crisis out of Syria will become painfully visible, and sooner than we might expect.
The Back Story Behind Meeting of Mohammed Bin Salman and Trump
By Mamdouh AlMuhaini
16 February 2018
When former US President Barack Obama said that America’s allies were enjoying a free ride, his comments provoked a wave of anger and criticism. But the truth is it was not a slip of the tongue even when he tried to justify it later. It was a direct message expressing his thoughts and his vision of the world and the international order in general.
Obama did not believe in traditional alliances, and was not convinced of the extraordinary US power, and considered it one of the world powers, along with other emerging powers such as Russia, India, China, Brazil and others.
This has been reflected in his foreign policies and behavior. He was bored and grumpy in foreign policy meetings, but his face reverberated when the talk turned to domestic politics and partisan machinations. He was a fierce internal fighter and a coward external affairs leader who surrounded himself with a circle who was interested in the breaking news in TV screens more than with Iraq or Afghanistan.
The former president was not interested in the liberal international order, and left it to collapse. The relationship with Saudi Arabia worsened. For decades, behind the calm and partial balance the region has enjoyed was because of Saudi Arabia’s alliance with the most powerful country in the world, despite all the subversive forces, the mad leaders and the terrorist groups.
With America’s withdrawal during the era of Obama, Saudi Arabia was forced to maintain regional stability, fighting Iranian-backed terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Houthis, and Sunni terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIS. Paradoxically, Saudi Arabia has maintained the international system inherited by America itself in the 1950s from Great Britain, and which was abandoned during the Obama administration. The latter allied itself with forces explicitly seeking to destroy the regime, such as Iran and even the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah. The United States deliberately turned a blind eye to Hezbollah terrorist operations such as the Casandra project until the nuclear deal was concluded.
In this global chaos, the meeting of Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump in March of last year was an important event in international relations, not only because it restored Saudi-American relations, but because it enforced the alliance between the two countries and thus restored power to the international system which is the safety valve for this bad neighborhood of the world.
The Riyadh anti-terrorism summit attended by Trump was the first American step to confront Iran, effectively ending the legacy of the previous administration. Historically, when large powers withdraw, they open the gate of hell to ethnic and sectarian conflicts, and encourage the rise of terrorist organizations and murderous leaders (ISIS and Assad). This gate of hell almost opened wide if it weren’t for this meeting that reduced the damage and restored stability to the region.
The American diplomat Dennis Ross wrote an article in the Washington Post stating that the administration should stand behind the Saudi crown prince, because his big positive changes would transform not only Saudi Arabia but the whole region for the better. But what he did not mention is that Washington’s standing behind Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the international level is so important to the people of this region of the globe who want to get out of this terrible nightmare carried out by Iran and terrorist groups, and the Qatari funds that represent the blood running in the veins of extremist groups.
Leftist propaganda has promoted that the Saudi-American relationship is based on security in exchange for oil, but it is a fallacy and a deliberate disregard for the importance of these international alliances to maintain the global order that has been the main cause of growth and evolution in recent decades.
But it is important to go back and analyze this system we lived in in order to understand the great danger of its collapse. This system originated from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 after the 30-years war broke down Europe, from which began the idea of respecting borders and avoiding invasion and wars between the forces of conflict. With such a new concept, the number of wars and conflicts will decrease, and thus the lives of people will flourish. Wars, of course, continued from Napoleon, who invaded Europe and even Hitler. But the basic idea has not died, and gradually developed, and circulated to large areas of the world. But this system needs protection, strength and states that believe in this concept, not necessarily for the noble goal but for the financial interests and free economy.
Great Britain with its sweeping fleet realized that expansion would mean more profits and money, and the world would open up to it. It wanted to create a world that suited its interests and its strength with striking power. But this British force began to collapse gradually.
Its collapse was over decades and for many causes. Its global manufacturing share was at its highest in 1870, when it was 30%, but it fell in 1910 to 15%, while US manufacturing increased to 25%. Its striking naval power, which was the Lady of the Oceans and Seas with its warships destroying all that stood before it, reached its peak of glory in 1883 but emerged from the competition in 1897 before the American fleet in the East and Japan in the West.
Strong Alliances of States
American power, with economic and military resources, inherited the responsibility of maintaining the liberal system. Its global economy which constitutes up to a quarter worldwide has not changed since 1969. Its $600 billion military power is the most powerful of all the world’s forces combined. They have the power to defend this world order, but strong alliances of states are necessary to keep it from collapsing.
Under this international system, the number of wars has fallen in an unprecedented manner in history, free markets that have driven millions out of poverty flourished (China, for example), and the technical sciences and communication and mobility movement have thrived and changed the face of the world forever. All this great development arose in a system that needs strong international forces and alliances, such as the US-Saudi alliance to protect it from the forces that seek to destroy it.
Imagine for a minute if this international system were to collapse, the scene would be terrifying. We would live poor and sick and trapped under the rule of militias and black flags. I am not exaggerating; Just think of Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Known to belong to a traditional society, Egyptians have for decades been well framed and politically mobilized by state media. Since its emergence, however, social media has constituted a clear challenge to routine state media practices. Although both channels work on the mission of mobilizing citizens, the state-owned media does its utmost to unite citizens in support of the government, while social media, which is substantially more appealing, can do no more than undermine the state’s efforts.
Familiarity with technology is the primary factor that sets apart the two common types of media outlet in Egypt. Citizens who are relatively comfortable using smartphones and tablets tend to make more use of social media channels, which offer a diversity of information and whose users are overwhelmingly young, professional people. State media, meanwhile, is left reaching out to an audience of tech-illiterate, poor and elderly citizens.
The challenges faced by the state-owned media and its private affiliates lie in the extremely dull material they generally offer, along with a largely obsolete political stance. And no wonder, as state media output is in keeping with the unimaginative outlook of the Egyptian bureaucrats who operate it. It has steadily lost the ability to reach the hearts and minds of its audiences — even through the entertainment programs that Egyptians now prefer to watch on regional TV channels.
State-owned media is known to be the government’s media arm, which complements its overall ruling mission. The advance or deterioration of the state’s ruling capabilities is reflected in its media outlets. Meanwhile, due to its widely fragmented nature, social media in Egypt has a single distinguishing attribute: It challenges the nonsense relayed by state media (which it is doing successfully). However, I beg to differ with the argument, espoused by many, that social media was behind the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution — what mattered at the time was that citizens had reached the tipping point and wanted to change the ruling regime.
The diversity of the minds behind social media and the current precarious political role it is playing are difficult for the state either to imitate or to challenge. Social media has a clear advantage over state-owned media, which, driven by singularly outdated views, unintentionally presents itself as a target; providing good material for social media to attack on a daily basis. The result is that the Egyptian state is left with the only option of threatening to shut down social media, which I doubt it could do permanently.
The Egyptian state’s most important media challenge is the new generation of Egyptians (including people with limited education), who use social media exclusively. In a few years, hardly any Egyptians will be watching state TV news programs; social media will have taken over completely. Egypt could learn from how advanced nations which have already experienced this shift toward social media addressed this challenge. However, the political dynamics of these nations are completely different to ours.
Should Egyptians be stimulated to take part in large demonstrations again, the state media, due to its incompetence, will not be able to help to stop, or even reduce, the impact of such an event. The Egyptian state probably knows it is wasting its financial resources on funding state media (which has been booking annual losses of billions of Egyptian pounds in recent years). However, it cannot boldly shut down state media channels and leave its supporters jobless — even knowing that their contribution is insignificant.
The state needs to adopt a completely new mindset in managing its media outlets and to employ the criteria of competency and credibility as the two main pillars of reform. Applying this approach to state media channels, with their thousands of cadres, will probably be difficult. Nevertheless, implementing this philosophy of reform on a single channel, or even a single program, would help the state media regain some degree of true audience attention. The independence of social media cannot be thwarted — but a more competent state media arm might successfully influence its content.
The concept of the state in Islamic heritage has been one of the most contentious issues greatly preoccupying the minds of our thinkers.
However, this concern has not led to the development of an alternative model of state different from the modern nation state concept, such as the secularizing European nation-state systems.
Secularism Isn’t Anti-Religion
Islamic radical movements have based their political ideology on the concept of the state, either by dreaming about the establishment of an Islamic state or restoring the caliphate and rule of imams. We cannot overlook Muslim concerns about the modern state which was established following the English Revolution and the French Revolution which came a century later.
Back then, the concept of secularizing the state emerged within a Christian religious context, but it later turned into an important governing principle that made political administration more capable of implementing the law and controlling differences among people.
The same circumstance applies to the concept of separation of powers which the modern state adopts today – it’s actually an old system that was inspired by the practice of Germanic tribes.
In this context, we should refer to Mohammed Arkoun’s who in his book Liberating Islamic Awareness, which analyzed the French revolution since it marked the beginning of modernization with the conflict between the Church and the bourgeoisie or between the secularists and the fundamentalists.
He cites historian Emile Poulat and refers to his books Church against Bourgeoisie and Modernist times within Catholicism. Arkoun warned of replacing religion with secularism. He states: “Secularism does not at all mean the radical elimination of religion as some or most people think. On the contrary, religions only prosper under secularism.”
Therefore, the concept of secularism must not be viewed as something that is exclusive to European experiences or that is just a ‘Christian’ precedent. It has actually developed throughout history. The secular experience in the 21st century is different than what it was three centuries ago. Each state has its own secular system.
Take France, Britain and Germany as examples. Differences between their systems are clear. The same applies to Turkey, India and Japan. Each state simply develops its own secular system according to its own society as well as cultural and economic circumstances.
A Different Take On Liberalism
It is thus important for Muslim thinkers to engage in a wider analysis regarding the stance on secularism. In his book The Nation, Group And Power: Studies In Arab And Muslim Political Thought, Radwan al Sayed discusses legitimacy within the political and social systems. He says: “Constitutive legitimacy existed within the nation and not within the political system. It has three pillars which are the unity of the group, of the society and of the authority.”
The stance of Muslim leaders, whether muftis and Islamic thinkers, on secularism and the concept of the state can be found in Charles Kurzman’s book Liberal Islam which is a collection of researches, statements and speeches. Over 700 pages long, Kurzman discusses in the book the problematic choice of its title as many of the Islamic figures he quotes are not liberals and are rather closer to extremism.
However, they have ideas that go beyond what’s known as Islamic tradition. Their revolutionist approach urges them to go beyond the bounds of doctrinal jurisprudence. This is where confusion happens in terms of describing them as enlightening or liberals.
Those cited in the book are diverse as Ali Abdel Raziq from Egypt, Taleghani from Iran, Mohammed Naser from Indonesia and Sadek Jawad Sulaiman from Oman.
In addition to addressing the problem of the concept of the state, the book addresses democracy, women and non-Muslims’ rights and freedom of belief. The book cautiously tackles these matters but some parts clearly veer towards accountability.
The book is valuable because the researcher addresses the problems which obstruct Islamists from accepting the meaning of secularism although it’s been more than 50 years since Ali Abdel Raziq, a judge at Al-Azhar University, published his book Islam And The Foundations Of Political Power, in which he considered Islam a message and a religion and not a state.
There’s now an opportunity to understand the concept and to overcome the conspiracy theories pertaining to the West and its concepts, particularly regarding secularism and its applications. Yahya ibn Adi (364 hijri) was quoted as saying: “People follow bad morals and despicable lusts, this is why there is poor reliance on good laws and policies.”
By Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi
The phenomenon of contemporary terrorism is one of the most dangerous phenomena in history as it contains hostility within a live ideology that’s protected by countries like Qatar and another regional country.
This ideology is also fully sponsored by the guardian of the jurist’s regime in Iran. It justifies its presence through the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam groups.
Terror attacks have currently increased in Afghanistan which has been calm for years except for few incidents. Terrorist operations have dominated the scene again via explosions targeting the Afghani state and its stability.
This has worried the entire world, and it raised many questions. Is it just a coincidence that terrorism went rampant in Afghanistan after ISIS was eliminated in Iraq and Syria?
Will it be strange that the road which Zarqawi and his followers took to Iraq after 2003 will be the same road which Baghdadi and his followers will take in 2018? Will it even be stranger that this road passes back and forth through Iran and falls under the supervision of the guardian of the jurist and the Iranian regime?
We should not be dragged behind rushed analyses and it’s good to learn from history and from our present to understand how the Iranian enemy, al-Qaeda and ISIS move and how they can overcome their major crisis by creating smaller crises.
The region’s countries, primarily Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have forced the world to practically deal with the phenomenon of terrorism. They exposed the Iranian regime’s role as the top sponsor of terrorism and boycotted the Qatari regime which is the largest financial supporter of terrorism.
This is in addition to a possible future confrontation with a regional country that supports terrorism – which when inspecting some aspects, it seems more dangerous than Iran and Qatar. This was seen via taking a strict stance against the terrorist Brotherhood Movement and political Islam groups and categorizing them as terror groups.
The region’s countries have voiced more determination and decisiveness to combat terrorism than most major countries across the world. This is due to several understandable political and economic reasons.
However, lack of decisiveness is tantamount to playing with fire as it’s never enough to close borders or regulate immigration laws to prevent terrorism from spreading. The more terrorism finds ways to exit its suffocating crises, the easier it gets for it to develop its operations and threaten international peace.
Some superpowers think that by allying with Iran or another regional country or Qatar, they can come up with solutions to resolve the region’s crises, such as the Syrian crisis. However, they miss the fact that they will not be safe from terrorism just because they found themselves a foothold within an international conflict to achieve some victories.
Muslim countries are the ones that are primarily concerned in the war against terror. This is why the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, which is led by Saudi Arabia, was established. The coalition is a strategic option for Saudi Arabia and its allies, and they cannot bargain over it.
International failure to support it and to fight the roots of terrorism, instead of just fighting terror groups, will give terrorism a great opportunity to rearrange its ranks and come up with untraditional and unfamiliar approaches.
The phenomenon of terrorism is of significant interest to the entire world and it will occupy it for a long time in the future. Any flexibility when confronting it will allow terrorist groups and organizations to strike again and again.
US Must Accept the Reality In Syria
February 16, 2018
The UN Security Council must take the lead for peace.
Much of the carnage that has ravaged Syria during the past seven years is due to the actions of the United States and its allies in the Middle East. Now, faced with an alarming risk of a renewed escalation of fighting, it's time for the United Nations Security Council to step in to end the bloodshed, based on a new framework agreed by the Council's permanent members.
Here are the basics. In 2011, in the context of the Arab Spring, the US government decided to bring down Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's regime, even though overthrowing another country's government amounts to a blatant violation of international law. We know that in 2012, if not earlier, President Barack Obama authorized the CIA to work with America's allies in providing support to rebel forces composed of disaffected Syrians as well as non-Syrian fighters. US policymakers evidently expected Assad to fall quickly, as had occurred with the governments of Tunisia and Egypt in the early months of the Arab Spring.
The Assad regime is led by the minority Alawi Shia sect in a country where Alawites account for just 10% of the population, Sunni Muslims account for 75%, Christians make up 10%, and 5% are others, including Druze. The regional powers behind Assad's regime include Iran and Russia, which has a naval base on Syria's Mediterranean coastline.
Whereas America's goal in seeking to topple Assad was mainly to undercut Iranian and Russian influence, Turkey's motive was to expand its influence in former Ottoman lands and, more recently, to counter Kurdish ambitions for territorial autonomy, if not statehood, in Syria and Iraq. Israel aimed to counter Iran, which threatens Israel through Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria near the Golan Heights, and Hamas in Gaza. Qatar, meanwhile, tried to bring a regime favourable to it to power.
The armed groups supported by the US and allies since 2011 were assembled under the banner of the Free Syrian Army. In fact, there was no single army, but rather competing armed groups with distinct backers, ideologies, and goals. The fighters ranged from dissident Syrians and autonomy-seeking Kurds to extremists.
While vast resources were devoted to overthrowing Assad, the effort ultimately failed, but not before causing massive bloodshed and displacing millions of Syrians.
Many fled to Europe, fomenting Europe's refugee crisis and a surge in political support for Europe's anti-immigrant extreme right. There were four main reasons for the failure to overthrow Assad. First, Assad's regime had backing among not only Alawites, but also Syrian Christians and other minorities who feared a repressive regime. Second, the US-led coalition was countered by Iran and Russia. Third, when a splinter group of extremists split away to form Daesh, the US diverted significant resources to defeating it, rather than to toppling Assad. Finally, the anti-Assad forces have been deeply and chronically divided; for example, Turkey is in open conflict with the Kurdish fighters backed by the US.
All of these reasons for failure remain valid today. The war is at a stalemate. Only the bloodshed continues. America's official narrative has sought to conceal the scale and calamitous consequences of US efforts - in defiance of international law and the UN Charter - to overthrow Assad. While the US vehemently complains about Russian and Iranian influence in Syria, America and its allies have repeatedly violated Syrian sovereignty. The US government mischaracterizes the war as a civil war among Syrians, rather than a proxy war involving the US, Israel, Russia and Iran.
In July 2017, US President Donald Trump announced the end of CIA support for the Syrian rebels. In practice, though, US engagement continues, though now it is apparently aimed more at weakening Assad than overthrowing him. As part of America's continued war-making, the Pentagon announced in December that US forces would remain indefinitely in Syria, ostensibly to support anti-Assad rebel forces in areas captured from Daesh, and of course without the assent of the Syrian government.
The war is in fact at risk of a new round of escalation. When Assad's regime recently attacked anti-Assad rebels, the US coalition launched airstrikes that killed around 100 Syrian troops and an unknown number of Russian fighters. In addition, Israel recently attacked Iranian positions in Syria. The US and its allies should face reality and accept the persistence of Assad's regime, despicable as it may be. The UN Security Council, backed by the US, Russia, and the other major powers, should step in with peacekeepers to restore Syrian sovereignty and urgent public services, while blocking attempts at vengeance by the Assad regime against former rebels or their civilian supporters.
Yes, the Assad regime would remain in power, and Iran and Russia would maintain their influence in Syria. But the US official delusion that America can call the shots in Syria by choosing who rules, and with which allies, would end. It's long past time for a far more realistic approach, in which the Security Council pushes for a pragmatic peace that ends the bloodshed and allows the Syrian people to resume their lives and livelihoods.
Late on the evening of February 4, Cyril Ramaphosa and the five other top leaders of South Africa's ruling party went to President Jacob Zuma's Cape Dutch colonial-style residence in the capital, Pretoria. They shared a dinner of chicken, rice, oxtail and salad.
The message was less pleasant: It was time for the 75-year-old leader to go. Zuma, in power since 2009, dug in his heels.
"President Zuma basically said to us: 'I'm not going anywhere, I'm not convinced by you guys, I'm not going to resign,"' Paul Mashatile, the African National Congress' treasurer-general, told mining executives in Cape Town on Feb. 6. "We tried to persuade him, we spent a lot of time. At the end we said that's fine."
But it wasn't fine. Zuma's immersion in a succession of scandals had caused immeasurable damage to the ANC, once revered for the leading role it played in vanquishing apartheid, and had ground Africa's most industrialized economy to a near-standstill. With elections looming in 2019, the officials, who'd been chosen seven weeks earlier to lead the party, were adamant that he wasn't going to finish his second term.
Now Zuma is gone, announcing his resignation Wednesday, and Ramaphosa was elected Thursday to replace him as president. The meeting at the presidential residence, it turned out, was a minor skirmish in a war whose victor had been decided in December.
This is the story of Zuma's downfall, and how his own No. 2 made it happen.
It began on Dec. 16, when more than 4,000 delegates descended on the Nasrec conference center in Soweto near Johannesburg for the ANC's national conference. Zuma's term as party leader was up and a new chief had to be chosen. With prosecutors circling to indict him on graft charges related to an arms deal in the 1990s, Zuma needed to ensure he had his successor's protection.
Party tradition dictated that the top job should go to Ramaphosa, 65, its deputy leader. He'd won international acclaim when he steered talks that ended apartheid and produced South Africa's first democratic constitution, and had served as the country's deputy president since 2014.
Instead, Zuma backed Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, his ex-wife and the mother of four of his more than 20 children. His confident demeanor in the lead-up to the gathering indicated that he thought she had the contest in the bag.
What Zuma hadn't counted on was three court rulings that disqualified about 100 of his allies from voting. Or on a decision by David Mabuza, a key power broker in the eastern Mpumalanga province, to switch allegiances shortly before the election. When Ramaphosa was declared the winner of the ANC presidency on Dec. 18 with 52 percent of the vote, Zuma sat stony-faced, pursed his lips and didn't applaud.
On Jan. 30, the ANC's top leaders tried to meet with Zuma on his return from Ethiopia. He kept them waiting for five days. Then two days before the scheduled state-of-the-nation speech, parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete dropped the bombshell that the speech would be postponed - due to fears of violent disruption, she said. The ANC then announced plans to convene an NEC meeting on Feb. 7 to discuss the transition of power, only to cancel it hours later after Ramaphosa had further discussions with Zuma. Ramaphosa issued a statement the next day saying the meeting had been constructive and the impasse would be resolved soon. The seeming detente lasted until Feb. 10, when the ANC's top six leaders held more late-night talks with Zuma. He again snubbed appeals to go graciously. The next day, Ramaphosa told a rally that the transition to a new administration would be finalized once and for all when the NEC met on Feb. 12.
That gathering, held once again at the Saint George hotel, lasted for 13 hours. The panel's members agreed that Zuma's time was up and Ramaphosa should replace him. Ramaphosa and Magashule left the gathering for an hour to meet with Zuma at his residence to inform him of the decision.
Zuma was awake when they arrived shortly after at 11 p.m and there were "very cordial" discussions, Magashule later told reporters. Zuma said that he didn't want to go yet. The request was denied and Zuma was given "time and space" to reflect.
On Feb. 14, the ANC's parliamentary caucus said it would pass a motion of no-confidence in the president the next day unless he quit. Zuma retorted: "I felt I am being victimised here," he said. "That is not the way we do things. You can't force the decision as it has been done now. Nobody has ever provided me with reasons. What is the problem?"
But faced with the inevitability that Parliament would vote him out if he didn't go voluntarily, Zuma announced his resignation in a televised address later that night.
"The ANC should never be divided in my name," Zuma said. "Make no mistake, no leader should stay beyond the time determined by the people they serve." - Bloomberg