New Age Islam Edit Bureau
20 March 2017
Implications for a Syrian Transition under
By Sultan Barakat
On The Attempt to Assassinate Nabih Al-Barahim
By Turki Aldakhil
Reflections On A Revolution Betrayed
By Hisham Melhem
Restoration of Traditional Saudi-US Ties
By Raghida Dergham
Fear And Loathing On The Border
By Belen Fernandez
Angela Merkel Is Not the Great
By Rachel Shabi
Russia, Israel and Iran Braced For the
Endgame in Syria
By Geoffrey Aronson
What Did The UN Apartheid Report
Expose In Reality?
By Mark Levine
Ending Famine In Somalia, The Turkish
By Afyare Abdi Elmi
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
There are many remaining unknowns of the
Syria conflict but it is increasingly becoming clear that the situation is
moving into its final phases.
All indications are that there will be no
clear military victory and that some form of negotiated settlement is
The Syrian context has been transformed
since the failed coup in Turkey last summer and President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan's subsequent shift to consolidate his grip over the country.
This opening has led to the Astana process
and rejuvenated hopes in an "Eastern" solution, based on Turkish,
Russian and, to some extent, Iranian cooperation.
While Astana has presented the most durable
set of ceasefires so far in the conflict, it reinforced the inevitability of
Bashar al-Assad remaining central to the foreseeable future of Syria.
In public, the calls for his removal are
becoming fainter by the day, while in private, many, including some leading
figures of opposition, are actively considering their options with him in
A political settlement that includes Assad
will have far-reaching implications for Syria's long-term peace and stability.
In the immediate term, this will affect the efficacy of a transition on a
number of fronts.
First, given the likelihood that some
remnants of the armed opposition will neither be defeated nor incorporated into
a political settlement, any peace agreement is likely to uneasily coexist
alongside efforts to combat ongoing resistance.
Rejectionist rebels will likely regroup,
rearm, and fortify in the rural hinterlands with the aim of destabilising any
post-conflict transition in Syria. This is already happening to some degree in
Idlib, Daraa and elsewhere.
Similarly, the militias that fought for
Assad will continue to seek a role in the post-settlement era.
One of the major challenges will,
therefore, be the Demobilisation, Disarmament, and Reintegration (DDR) of tens
of thousands of fighters who have known nothing but war over the last six
Those not addressed will quickly disperse,
and be driven into the arms of new insurgent groups, most likely in the form of
a hybrid insurgency composed of the hardline anti-regime and or anti-settlement
Second, while the political process will
likely frame Syria as one unitary state with formal institutions, such as a
governing council or another transitional body, new parliament, or legal
system, informal aspects of the political settlement will constrain state
Given the nature of the conflict, backroom
deals must, out of necessity, be formed at all levels, whether to satisfy
Iranian ambitions, assuage the sectarian divisions, or reward Assad supporters
who will inevitably feel that they have won the war for him on the battlefield.
These unwritten, informal agreements, pacts
and alliances could prove to be an immense handicap on Syria's formal
Administratively, state revenue will be a
great challenge, in particular, the issue of local taxation, which is critical
to a sustainable funding base and also to reconstituting state-citizen relations.
Even with a potentially strong asset base,
it is likely that Syria will, for many years to come, generate symptoms of
state fragility and lack of financial resources.
Furthermore, the nature of political
transition will have a strong influence over the possibility for financing
reconstruction. The cost of reconstruction will be high, with estimates ranging
from $170bn to over one trillion dollars (PDF). Whatever way the numbers are
interpreted, Syria will be in need of vast amounts of international aid.
Yet, Russia cannot afford to foot the bill
for large-scale reconstruction and the United States President Donald Trump has
announced an end to the era of nation-building.
The biggest contributors will therefore
likely be the European Union and the Gulf states. However, under an
unreconstructed Assad regime, it is unlikely that the Gulf states will go back
to their prewar levels of support to Syria.
The EU has a clear interest in bringing
stability to Syria, in particular since Turkey can no longer be expected to act
as a buffer zone.
While the EU will have to hold its nose and
deliver the cash, it will expect its funds to be handled separately from the
Syrian state coffers.
This will involve the design of
sub-entities and parallel structures - some of which may bear the name of the
Syrian government - but under a high degree of international supervision to
ensure acceptable standards of accountability.
The move of rebuilding under a protracted
insurgency will lead to uneven reconstruction and development in Syria.
This poses dangers for Syrian ownership of
the reconstruction process and a long-term risk in de-capacitating the Syrian
state while it is in a process of state-building.
The inability to trust the government will
also mean that for the transitional phase reconstruction will be conceptualised
only in terms of incremental, small-scale, humanitarian-driven projects rather
than the massive economic and infrastructure reconstruction efforts that are
Furthermore, with sanctions, travel bans
and other punitive measures are likely to be put in place if Assad were to
continue his hold on power, and there is a risk of creating an isolated regime
in the mould of Eritrea or Sudan rather than bringing the country back into the
international fold of trade and development.
Fourth, the move of rebuilding under a
protracted insurgency will lead to uneven reconstruction and development in
In the absence of an effective state, the
private sector which in Syria has traditionally been efficient and effective -
in part because of the dependable inefficiency of the prewar Syrian state - is
likely to be welcomed back with open arms.
Yet, given its nature and drive to generate
a high return, its investments are likely to target areas where stability and
security have also returned.
This will create a situation with sharply
defined corridors of growth and a national development landscape that is operating
at two or three different speeds.
Such an imbalance would offer the
"warlords", who have thrived throughout the conflict, the opportunity
to launder their reputation into "reconstruction lords" in its
aftermath, with more or less consistently marginalised areas of Syria
continuing to pay the price.
Finally, although perhaps half of all
Syrians will accept Assad's rule, embarking on a reconciliation process would
be extremely difficult with him in power.
Given the launch of the international
commission into abuses as well as the numerous accusations that have and will
be made about the regime, transitional justice - particularly at the local and
village level where local communities have witnessed the worst atrocities - may
require imaginative forms of integrating religious and tribal justice
mechanisms to reach a degree of closure and heal the wider wounds caused by six
years of war and decades of repression.
Sultan Barakat is the director of the Centre for Conflict and
Humanitarian Studies, Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and professor at the
University of York, UK.
19 March 2017
Saudi engineer and former member of the
Qatif municipal council, Nabih al-Barahim, was the target of an assassination
attempt last week. People are still reacting to this attempt to assassinate
Barahim who is a patriotic man known for defending his land. This is a hideous
crime. Priot to that, Shiite judge Mohammed al-Jirani was abducted. And now
Barahim has now been targeted.?
These developments also point to the
importance of war against weapons which are not under the state’s control. In
Al-Awamiyah, there are groups of people which tried to defect from the state by
investing in smuggled and unlicensed arms.
There are incendiary terrorist cells that
can be described as the Shiite version of ISIS as they are not different than
the Sunni ISIS. Their aim is to disrupt peace, target security personnel and
plant terror in the hearts of loyal patriots who defend the country’s unity.
Their objective is also to hamper the implementation of economic and
Their aim is to disrupt peace, target security
personnel and plant terror in the hearts of loyal patriots who defend the
There are individuals have tried to silence
voices criticizing terrorism and tried to violate the law. But moderate Shiite
figures who criticize Shiite extremism from within will not be silenced by the
threat of arms.
Criticism of extremist Shiite and Sunni
ideas and legacies is mainly done by elites from within these two sects. This
yields results as their criticism is more accurate than others’.
Nabih al-Barahim has been steadfast against
violence. He embodies the homeland’s message and represents the spirit of
tolerance and unity. May God heal him and we hope he recovers soon.
Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He
began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the
Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily
Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio
correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He
proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news
channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya
talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab
and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also
owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in
Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad
Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and
advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.
Reflections on A Revolution Betrayed
18 March 2017
Six years ago, the Syrian people decided
after decades of oppression to cease being mere subjects and to seize a moment
of combined enthusiasm and wrath to become full citizens, and to finally
determine their destiny. And like all moments of revolutionary and
transformational changes, it was beautiful, and fleeting before it was
tragically and violently cut short.
Growing up in Lebanon in the late 1960’s
and early 1970’s, Syria culturally and socially was the closest Arab country to
Lebanon. Visiting Damascus and enjoying its cultural riches, its incredible
mosaic of peoples, histories, tastes, and sounds was an experience to behold. I
was 16 years old when I first visited Damascus, in search of a book of poetry
by Muhammad al-Maghut.
It was my first short pilgrimage. I was
enthralled after going through the famed Souq Al-Hamidiyah, and being
intoxicated by its smells, colors and cacophony of sounds, before finding
myself in the courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque. I still feel a shiver down
my spine every time I remember that first encounter with pure elegance. Little
did I know then, that decades later I would visit the exquisite Mosque of
Córdoba, Spain, another Umayyad treasure, at the height of Syria’s war.
This was immediately after the destruction
of the graceful minaret of Aleppo's old Umayyad Mosque, built in the ninth
century. In Córdoba, I wanted to experience the Mosque alone. Walking among its
beautifully proportioned columns and arches, and stopping to take in the incredibly
intricate art work particularly the ornate ceiling, I heard myself murmuring in
a state of trance: how refined, how refined.
It was then that the war in Syria jolted me
out of my hypnosis. Is it possible that the descendants of the Umayyads in
Syria are destroying the most beautiful structures their forefathers have built
centuries ago, while this splendid Umayyad Mosque in the heart of Spain, known
for centuries as Al-Andalus, is preserved and protected?
Six years and counting
After six long and lean years, Syria and
its people have been radically transformed in ways almost impossible to fathom.
Syria’s cities have been gutted, their streets in as much as one can call them
streets look like little valleys surrounded by mountains of rubbles, in many
places twisted metal and pulverized concrete make for ugly pyramids of
I often wondered that if hell has streets,
they would look as forbidden and scary as what goes for streets in many Syrian
cities. Even rural areas have been deformed. Six years of killings left half a
million Syrians dead, most of them civilians with large percentage of them
women and children. Five millions, including some of Syria’s best and
brightest, were reduced to refugees living in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and
scattered throughout Europe after traversing borders and walls and sailing to
distant lands on rickety boats the cruel cold waters of the Mediterranean
burying some of them in its watery graves.
Little did these refugees know that their
plight and presence would shake the very foundation of the European Union, and
the idea of a European Union whole, free, and diverse will be assaulted by
Russia’s autocratic president Vladimir Putin, and a confederacy of like-minded
and would be European autocrats wrapping themselves with the cloaks of
hyper-nationalism, with more than a tinge of anti-Muslim bigotry. More than
seven million became refugees in their own country.
No leader in modern times used these tools
of war to savage his own people as Bashar al-Assad did in the last six years.
A recent report issued by the UN children’s
agency UNICEF said that Syria’s children have suffered their “worst year” in
2016. During one week in September during the Assad regime’s assault on Aleppo
96 children were killed and 223 wounded. UNICEF estimates that 1.7 million
Syrian children are out of school. And six million Syrian kids depend on
international humanitarian assistance.
We are watching the making of a generation
of human wreckage; and the world after six years has become numbed to their
tragedy. A decade or so from now, the Middle East and the world will have a
different kind of encounter with Syria’s abandoned children, later angry, very
angry young men.
What began as peaceful, spontaneous protest
movement for reform, accountability and empowerment, was quickly transformed by
the brutal violence visited by the Assad regime on the peaceful activists. The
diabolical regime while brutalizing the protesters, calling them “terrorists”
serving “foreign conspiracies”, began to frame the rebellion as a Sunni
extremist movement bent on exercising sectarian revenge against the minorities
that only his regime is capable of protecting.
The release of hundreds, maybe thousands of
Islamist opponents in Assad’s prisons helped giving the rebellion an Islamist
façade early on. There is no doubt, that the regional powers helped “Islamize”
the rebellion, when they began to help various Islamist groups loyal or
beholden to them. The early rise of Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian off-shoot of al
Qaeda was the first ominous sign that the initial nationalist rebellion will be
hijacked by a hardline violent and sectarian force alien in its outlook and
practices to the majority of Syrians.
When the so-called Islamic State ISIS drove
Syrian rebels from Raqqa, in 2014 the die was cast. A new ill wind will sweep
the land. But for all the depredations of ISIS and al-Nusra in its various
metamorphoses, and for all the sick ways ISIS executed its enemies, it was the
regime of Assad that killed most of the civilians in Syria.
The war in Syria always reminded me of the
Spanish civil war (1936-1939) in which major European powers, in addition to
tens of thousands of volunteers from all over the world came to Spain to
determine the future of the country, and after 1939, the future of the world.
There was a method in Assad’s mass killings
of Syrians. He did so gradually, with one eye on his victims, and the other eye
on the then weary US president Barack Obama. When Assad realized that Obama’s
reaction will remain within the realm of righteous condemnation and
indignation, he began to escalate. Machine guns were replaced with artillery,
helicopter gunships gave way to large helicopters laden with barrel bombs, then
fixed wing aircraft bombers followed, which were supplemented by Scud missiles,
then special rockets armed with chemical weapons to be used as a weapon of both
terror, and mass killing.
Assad perfected in the twenty first century
the use of medieval tactics of siege warfare and starvation. No leader in
modern times used these tools of war to savage his own people as Bashar Assad
did in the last six years. Assad’s regime would have collapsed under its own
weight had it not been for the military intervention, of Iran and its Shiite
militia auxiliaries from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, and later the
deployment of Revolutionary Guard advisors and special units. But even this
intervention by Assad’s biggest regional ally was not enough, and in September
2015, after Russia realized that the Obama administration was essentially
retrenching from Syria, it dispatched dozens of warplanes to Northern Syria,
thus changing radically the balance of power in the country. From the
beginning, the tripartite alliance of Assad regime, Iran and Russia were bent on
imposing military facts on the ground while talking diplomacy, while the Obama
administration willfully dropped all its military options.
Even the American limited arming of some
Syrian factions, was never serious. America deprived itself of any leverage in
Syria. President Obama engaged in embarrassing and morally disgusting
dissembling about his intentions and actions and inactions in Syria. Former
secretary of state John Kerry became the American version of the Flying
Dutchman traveling from capital to capital, meeting and pleading with his
Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov who ran circles around him.
Syria as a war of all against all
The war in Syria always reminded me of the
Spanish civil war (1936-1939) in which major European powers, in addition to
tens of thousands of volunteers from all over the world came to Spain to
determine the future of the country, and after 1939, the future of the world.
For the war in Spain was the prelude to the Second World War. Just look at the
armies fighting in Syria today. Both the greatest military powers in the World
have forces on the ground in Syria, providing military and logistical support
for their proxies (this is the new form of warfare in today’s complex world).
The fact that the forces of the US and Russia are not considerable, the
political risks are. The US also is leading an international air campaign in
Syria against ISIS.
The three major non-Arab states in the
region: Iran, Turkey and Israel are fighting in Syria both directly and through
proxies. The Israelis conduct air raids to prevent the delivery of new arms
shipments from Iran to Hezbollah, and to keep Hezbollah and other armed
factions from establishing themselves in areas adjacent to the Israeli occupied
Syrian Golan heights. Turkey first opened its borders to would be fighters,
Jihadists and cutthroats joining the delirious killing marauders of ISIS, to
help topple the Assad regime, regardless of who would do that or what happens
the day after, then intervened directly and by proxies to defeat and/or contain
its enemies; the armed Kurdish groups, including those helped and supported by
the US Iran simply wanted to keep its Syrian satrap in power, so that it could
maintain its new status as a Mediterranean power, given its influence in Syria
and its huge military and political investment in Lebanon, through its proxy
Hezbollah which, for all intents and purposes has hiacked the hapless Lebanese
In the environs of the city of Manbij in
Northern Syria there are elements of the Syrian army, supported by the Russian
forces; they are deployed in the proximity of Turkish soldiers, who are not
that far from the newly arrived American Special Forces. Mapping Syria’s
Islamist opposition forces, the obvious disturbing truth is that, Jabhat
al-Nusra in its latest metamorphoses will dominate in the foreseeable future
all other factions that it is trying to subdue by force and intimidation.
Whither America in Syria and Iraq
The Trump administration is not developing
a political strategy to deal with the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, beyond
ratcheting up military operations. The US will likely deploy more modest
forces, maybe another thousand elements of special forces, after removing the
artificial caps on the number of US forces in Iraq (5000) and Syria (500)
imposed by the Obama administration. It is a question of time that ISIS will be
defeated in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria.
The problem is that there is no answer to
the question: what comes the next day, let alone the next decade by way of
governance. Given the current toxic sectarian dynamics the victories in Mosul
and Raqqa will likely be pyrrhic victories, and the real winner will be
President Trump believes that there is a
military solution to ISIS and radical Islamism, not realizing that there are
military options but not solutions to what ISIS and the other extremists
represent. Throughout the election campaign, candidate Trump kept calling for
the defeat of the “bad guys”. He is not the kind of leader who understand, let
alone practice strategic patience and pursue a long term strategy that answers
not only the question of what comes the next day, but attempts to answer, what
comes the next decade. Short of such a strategy, president Trump will
demonstrate once again the tragic limits of America’s military power, in
another Arabian desert.
Hisham Melhem is a columnist and analyst for Al Arabiya News Channel in
Washington, DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public
figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of
State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. He is also the
correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted
"Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on US-Arab
relations for Al Arabiya. Follow him on Twitter : @hisham_melhem
The Arab Summit due next week in Jordan
will come amid a qualitative strengthening of US-Saudi relations, accomplished
by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Washington this week. The
focus was on the following issues: Iran and its regional roles; Palestine; US
requirements regarding the Arab role in eliminating Daesh and similar groups;
The Arab Summit is unlikely to come out
with historical resolutions, because Arab countries are not key players in
shaping history in the region at this stage. This is a stage of managing
fragile realignments and U-turns. These include the shift in US-Saudi relations
under President Donald Trump, which has restored them to their state prior to
his predecessor Barack Obama.
So far this shift does not seem fragile,
judging from the climate following the meeting between Prince Mohammed and
Trump, and the security, economic, trade and political talks on its sidelines.
The Saudi decision is clear: Realigning the Kingdom in the direction of the
Trump administration’s policies in all areas. The US decision is also clear:
Welcoming the renewal of vital bilateral ties, especially in light of Vision
2030 for the Kingdom’s future.
According to signals from Washington, Trump
also wants to mend US-Egyptian ties, which were torn asunder by the Obama
administration. Clearly, the Trump administration will reverse the priority
assigned under Obama to appeasing Iran. It is also intent on trying to find the
optimal deal between the Palestinians and Israelis.
But it is unclear how the Trump
administration plans to deal with Turkey, whose president is fighting a bitter
public battle with European allies and playing the Russian card, presenting
himself as both an extraordinary friend and extraordinary foe. All these issues
will overshadow the Arab Summit, which may decide to ignore them instead of
drafting pre-emptive strategies to deal with them.
The snow storm in Washington delayed a
visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, scheduled initially for Tuesday. The
storm worked in Prince Mohammed’s favor. It gave him an opportunity to hold a
historic meeting with Trump in the Oval Office and have lunch with him. This
was ideal for the two to get to know each other personally, and to allow
chemistry to do its work for their countries’ relations.
Usually only heads of state are received in
the Oval Office, which makes the meeting with Prince Mohammed there that much
more special. The meeting, which was brought forward by two days, showed the
extent of preparations and readiness of the Saudi delegation before it reached
The delegation brought a number of key
principles it wanted the US shift to adopt. It was also well aware of Trump’s
priorities, from the quest to defeat Daesh to the wall on the Mexico border, to
which the Saudis can contribute their experience in constructing the
Saudi-Iraqi border wall.
The delegation was keen on toning down the
Trump administration’s position vis-a-vis the travel ban on citizens of six
Muslim-majority nations, and made sure to avoid characterizing it as a Muslim
ban, while showing understanding toward the measures adopted by the Trump
Trump has reversed Obama’s approach to
US-Saudi ties, restoring their traditional foundations instead of annexing them
to US-Iranian relations. Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin
Salman agreed to counter Iran’s destabilizing regional activities, while
continuing to strictly assess its implementation of the nuclear agreement.
A high-level adviser to Prince Mohammed
even spoke of the similarities between the boldness of Vision 2030 and Trump’s
“Make America Great Again” promise, saying the convergence between the two
constituted a shared policy. The adviser spoke of the opportunities to be found
in the countries’ “massive” trade and investment relations, praising a positive
climate that he said would not have been possible without Trump’s efforts.
This was echoed by the White House when a
US official, in his briefing on the meetings, underscored that expanding
economic cooperation could create a million direct jobs and a million indirect
ones for Americans in the coming four years, as well as jobs in Saudi Arabia.
The US official said Trump expressed support
for developing a new US-Saudi program to promote up to $200 billion worth of
initiatives in energy, manufacturing, infrastructure and technology, via direct
and indirect investments in the next four years. This is in addition to
supporting US investment in Saudi Arabia and facilitating bilateral trade.
The two sides agreed on a permanent
strategic partnership built on shared interests and a joint commitment to the
stability and prosperity of the Middle East. Trump and Prince Mohammed
instructed their teams to explore the next steps at all levels. This all boils
down to one thing: Trump has reversed Obama’s approach to US-Saudi ties,
restoring their traditional foundations instead of annexing them to US-Iranian
Trump and Prince Mohammed agreed to counter
Iran’s destabilizing regional activities, while continuing to strictly assess
its implementation of the nuclear agreement. They also agreed on military
cooperation against Daesh and other terrorist groups that threaten the two
countries, with implementation details to be worked out by experts and
commanders on both sides.
In a reversal of Obama’s policies, now the
main partner in the war on Daesh is no longer Iran but Saudi Arabia, and its
spheres of influence in Iraq in particular and Syria where possible. The
Kingdom will take part in the war on Daesh and Al-Qaeda directly, as part of a
joint strategy with the US. Details of how and when will come later, except
what we already know about additional measures to prevent funding by Saudi
citizens of radical Islamic groups.
One question with an unclear answer is: How
does the Trump administration intend to curb Iran’s ambitions in Iraq, Syria,
Lebanon and Yemen? Perhaps the easiest link will be Yemen, where US-Saudi
policies are being drafted requiring a change in war tactics and political
approaches, including vis-a-vis President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who has been
The US priority in Yemen is to fight
terrorism, especially Al-Qaeda, prevent Iran from threatening American interests
in the strategic strait of Bab Al-Mandab, and secure the Saudi border with
Yemen. The Saudi priority is not much different, with one key departure being
the fate of Houthi rebels.
Washington wants Saudi Arabia to modify its
war tactics in Yemen so they do not amount to obstructions. The two sides agree
on the need to find an exit strategy for the Kingdom, and to head off Iranian
ambitions through the Yemeni gateway.
Syria is different. Raqqa is a priority for
the US. The Trump administration wants to crush Daesh there under any
circumstances, even if that requires deploying US ground forces. Saudi Arabia
is ready to meet any US requests in Raqqa, including military participation.
What is still unknown is how the Trump
administration intends to keep bridges open with Russia — if not a special
relationship, as desired by Trump, with his counterpart Vladimir Putin — in
light of Moscow’s clear commitment to a special relationship with Iran and its
interests in Syria.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s fate is up
for discussion for Trump, meaning there is no current insistence on his
departure. This was communicated by Trump to his Saudi guest. Iran is a
priority, but it is still ambiguous how Iranian ambitions in Syria will be
dealt with in the absence of a well-defined strategy.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict was
present in the US-Saudi talks, bearing in mind that Trump is resolved to
finding a solution where successive US administrations have failed. The Trump
administration has implemented measures to end the stalemate, inviting
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Washington and dispatching his envoy to
meet Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to explore prospects
for a deal.
What the Trump administration wants is a
marriage between the necessary Arab umbrella for action on the
Palestinian-Israeli issue, and the Israeli-Palestinian bilateral track that is
the crux of any solution. Trump has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner to lead
the efforts, which means he now has a personal stake in the challenge.
Saudi Arabia is crucial to his efforts,
because it was the country that proposed the Arab Peace Initiative. But the how
and when are once again a mystery, because the Trump administration is still
finding its way and has yet to propose a comprehensive policy.
All these issues require the Arab Summit
not to limit itself to waiting for developments and further clarity on
Palestine, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. Arab summits must seize the initiative, adopt
pre-emptive strategies and tell the Palestinians to stop seeking small
victories and end their major internal differences.
The current juncture is of major importance
to the entire Arab region. To tackle the regional balance of power, it is high
time for a clear Arab strategy at a time of US ambiguity, Turkish stumbling,
Iranian apprehension and Israeli vigilance.
• Raghida Dergham is columnist, senior diplomatic correspondent and New
York bureau chief for the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper since 1989. She is dean of the
international media at the UN. She is a member of the Council on Foreign
Relations, and an honorary fellow at the Foreign Policy Association. She served
on the International Media Council of the World Economic Forum, and is a member
of the Development Advisory Committee of the IAP — the Global Network of
17 MARCH 2017
As Donald Trump's sordid vision of a
"big, beautiful wall" on the United States-Mexico border begins to
take shape, The Guardian has revealed that - of the more than 600 companies
currently vying to get in on the wall-building action - 10 percent are
identified as "Hispanic-American-owned" businesses.
Posing a greater ethical dilemma, perhaps,
is the potential opportunity for Mexican cement manufacturing giant Cemex to
profit handsomely from manic border fortification efforts. The firm has seen
its shares leap in value since Trump's election in November.
Of course, there's little room for ethics
when gobs of money are at stake. According to Reuters, an internal US
Department of Homeland Security report puts the price-tag of the wall at up to
Indeed, in a world ever more committed to
walls, barriers, and the profitability of exclusion, it seems ethical
boundaries are the easiest to knock down.
Not just a wall
While Trump would have his followers
believe that the US-Mexico border was itself dangerously nonexistent prior to
his ascension to the presidency - with Mexican "rapists", and other
figments of his own imagination, flowing unencumbered into the country en masse
- reality tells a very different story.
Frequently lost in all of the "big
wall" talk, for example, is the fact that there is already a wall on the
US-Mexico border and that it happens to be quite big.
A recent AJ+ video notes that the wall in
its current form covers 1,051km and was erected at a cost of $3m a kilometre in
But the wall can't be measured in units of
distance alone, encompassing as it does a vast border security apparatus
involving everything from helicopters and drones to blimps, watchtowers, and
gunboats, not to mention an ever-evolving number of armed personnel.
In an email to me, Todd Miller - author of
Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security -
remarked that the number of US Border Patrol agents has "increased
five-fold from 4,000 to 22,000" over the past 25 years, with "annual
budgets for border and immigration enforcement rising from $1.5 to
In reference to the intense build-up of
border machinery, Miller observed: "All of this Trump had at his disposal
without any executive order and before he ever set foot in the White
Now that Trump has two feet planted firmly
therein and xenophobia has not only been catapulted into the realm of political
correctness, but also embraced as a mark of national pride, you might say we've
definitively crossed the border into a state of upbeat sociopathy.
The increasingly militarised landscape of
the US-Mexico frontier serves a variety of pernicious functions.
For one thing, the obsession with border
"security" helps to sustain the notion that the US is somehow under
attack by migrants from Mexico and Central America, many of whom have either
been forcibly displaced from their livelihoods by US-engineered free trade
agreements and other punitive economic measures or are fleeing violent contexts
the US itself has played no small role in creating.
The effective criminalisation of migrants
for pursuing a dignified existence translates into an existential hazard, and
an untold number of travellers have perished at the mercy of the elements while
endeavouring to navigate the border region's hostile terrain.
Beyond the actual physical barrier, there's
also a significant psychological dimension to the wall, which operates as a
conferrer of value upon human life and skews the results in favour of those
lives north of the line.
Migrants also run the risk of being
kidnapped, murdered, raped, extorted, and otherwise abused in transit - a risk
that exists purely because, as global have-nots, they're denied many options
for "legal" movement between countries and thus rendered even more
vulnerable to exploitation.
According to a 2013 Amnesty International
report on US-bound Central American migrants in Mexico, "it is believed
that as many as six out of every 10 migrant women and girls experience sexual
violence during the journey".
But who in the US has time for empathy when
our country is under migrant siege?
Cake and more cake
Since the border wall is designed to block
human movement in only one direction, I, as an American citizen, am permitted
easy access to Mexican territory.
From my present location on the Yucatan
peninsula, I can report that there are, in fact, certain Americans residing in
Mexico who apparently detect no irony in verbalising their support for Trump or
referring to undocumented Mexicans in the US as "illegals".
A bigger and better wall will no doubt
further facilitate the job of persons intent on upholding the standards of
Beyond the actual physical barrier, there's
also a significant psychological dimension to the wall, which operates as a conferrer
of value upon human life and skews the results in favour of those lives north
of the line.
Meanwhile, the climate of fear perpetuated
by militarisation schemes helps justify the schemes themselves, in addition to
distracting popular attention from national defects.
On a bus the other day, I chatted with a
Mexican American man who resented the idea that his mother -herself a resident
of the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo - could be deemed a security threat
and potential "invader" in the eyes of "Caligula", as he
referred to Trump.
The man reasoned that, were the US
concerned about invasions, it should perhaps stop invading other countries.
But that, of course, would cramp America's
style and ruin the good old tradition of having one's cake and eating it, too.
Unfortunately, cake and ethics don't mix.
Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman
at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.
Rachel Shabi is a journalist and author of
Not the Enemy: Israel's Jews from Arab Lands.
Another week, another world leader flies to
the United States to tackle President Donald Trump. This time it's the turn of
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel who has tried to set the tone for the
meeting by saying its slogan will be "one-on-one conversations are always
much better than talking about each other".
Truth be told, the two leaders have had
some things to say about each other. Trump laid into Merkel's migration policy
during his election campaign, predicting riots and declaring that the German
people would end up "overthrowing this woman".
Merkel, showing more spine that other world
leaders, tied German cooperation with Trump to "shared values".
Following his race-baiting, misogynistic, hate-fuelled campaign, Merkel
pointedly listed those shared values as: "democracy, freedom, the respect
for the law and the dignity of human beings, independent of their origin, skin
colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political position".
She also lambasted Trump's ban on refugees
and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries - unlike, say, Britain's
Theresa May, the first foreign leader to visit Trump.
Responding to the ban in January, Merkel
said the fight against terror "does not in any way justify putting groups
of certain people under general suspicion".
Merkel, who is standing for a fourth term
in Germany's September elections, takes a list of issues to the White House:
Russia, Syria, Ukraine, Nato as well as trade - the US is Germany's third
largest trading partner, after China and France.
Trump, with his protectionist claims of
"America first", his tirades against Nato and praise for Putin, also
seems to want the European Union to crumble. The brash billionaire is, in other
words, an affront to the values that Merkel holds dear.
Commentators who have followed her political
career portray an experienced pragmatist who knows how to handle Trump types.
The German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel
notes that she didn't exactly hold former Italian Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi - the billionaire media tycoon of "bunga bunga" sex party
fame - in high regard either, yet nonetheless got what she wanted from him
But the problem is that Merkel's White
House visit carries a weight of expectation far beyond her remit. That's
because ever since Barack Obama stepped down, many have cast Merkel as the new
"leader of the free world".
Leaving aside the anachronistic silliness
of this job description, it seems part snub to Trump as not fit for the job,
and partly the need for a superhero leader to stand up, on a global stage, for
the progressive values that Team Trump is so gleefully battering.
Obama's final presidential visit to Europe,
to see his "closest ally" Merkel, was read as a
passing-of-the-liberal-baton situation. Even then, the German chancellor
dismissed such claims as "grotesque and downright absurd".
Victory will come 'from the bottom up'
So it is worth pointing out - and it seems
the German leader would not object - that Merkel is not the great progressive
messiah of our time.
It's not just that she heads the Christian
Democratic Union Party, defined as centre-right. Try telling Greece, Spain or
Italy that Merkel's inflexible, austerity-as-law response to the euro zone
crisis was in fact prompted by progressive values.
In 2015, with Greece buckling under the
crushing austerity cuts demanded by Merkel, leading economists warned that such
medicine, imposed from Germany and Brussels, had "bled the patient, not
cured the disease".
The fleeting, feelgood factor of seeing
global leaders such as Merkel stand up to Trump is a diversion unless any hope
it generates is ploughed into something more substantial.
Meanwhile, those who praised the
chancellor's decision to accept a million Syrian refugees were far less
enthusiastic at her ill-fated deal with Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stop
migrants from reaching Europe - and returning any that had reached Greece back
You could argue that this absence of
progressivism, the inflexibility and a lack of collectivism on both the economic
and the refugee crises gave the far-right a convenient target on which to focus
their attacks against the European project.
In the face of a far-right surge, we crave
a progressive figurehead, an inspiring, charismatic type with rhetorical flair,
someone who will fight with fine words - if not in fine deeds - the wave of
xenophobia, nativism and illiberalism apparently sweeping the West.
In our desperation, it seems anyone will
do. This, presumably, explains why George W Bush - yes, the man responsible for
the Iraq invasion, torture and Guantanamo Bay - was cast as some sort of
liberal saviour when he said of Trump: "I don't like the racism."
But espousing left values while at the same
time promoting austerity is progressive in rhetoric alone: it doesn't bring
solutions to real economic problems and, worse, fuels alienation and resentment
by failing to doing so.
Our focus would be better placed in
politics at a community level, building the kind of solidarity and practical
networks that might allow genuinely progressive leaders to rise and promoting
necessary popular support for such figures once in power.
In this context, the fleeting, feelgood
factor of seeing global leaders such as Merkel stand up to Trump is a diversion
unless any hope it generates is ploughed into something more substantial.
A pushback against the far-right is a
longer, slower fight - and it is more likely to be won at community level, from
the bottom up.
Rachel Shabi is a journalist and author of Not the Enemy: Israel's Jews
from Arab Lands.
17 March 2017
Geoffrey Aronson is a specialist in Middle
There are many indications that the war in
Syria is entering a new and less vicious phase in the uneasy reconstitution of
a "New Syria".
Around al-Quneitra, only 60km southeast of
Damascus, however, and particularly along the nearby Golan frontier, contesting
parties are escalating efforts to control the agenda on the ground and at the
It is no accident that the region bordering
the Israeli-occupied plateau from Shebaa to the Yarmouk has been one of the
quietest and less destructive fronts of the war.
Israel's commanding presence in an area
that is peripheral to the interests of the war's major antagonists has muted
The regime, with its regional allies and
Russia on one side, and an opposition of all stripes on the other, have each
been more interested in fighting each other than the Israelis.
The ceasefire border established in 1974
between Israel and Syria, even without the presence of United Nations observers
on the "Bravo" [Syrian] side, remains the most sacrosanct of all
Syria's bloody frontiers.
Synchronising with Russia
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's one day
visit to Moscow on March 9 was the latest round in the ongoing coordination
established in September 2015.
The summit was conducted in a very positive
atmosphere. Russia's official news agency Tass gushed: "Israeli prime
minister hails Russia's role in fight against Islamic terrorism."
Netanyahu attaches great importance to
reaffirming the basis for "synchronisation" with Vladimir Putin, both
operationally and diplomatically, as the conflict enters the beginning of the
Unlike the Obama administration, Netanyahu
never believed that Russia's entry into the war was "doomed to fail".
Within days of the September 2015
announcement, Netanyahu was in Moscow. He was eager to coordinate, both
operationally in the skies above Syria where the Israeli air force has enjoyed
all but absolute freedom of action, and diplomatically to maintain Russian
support for explicit "rules of the game" that serve to accommodate
Israeli interests and deter efforts by any party - notably Hezbollah, Iran or
the enfeebled regime itself - to successfully challenge them.
On the eve of his fourth visit to the
Kremlin in two and one half years. Netanyahu declared Israel's agenda as the
endgame in Syria unfolds.
"One of the most important issues we
will discuss is Iran's attempt to make an agreement with Syria. With or without
Syria's agreement, Iran will attempt to establish a permanent military presence
in Syria, both on land and at sea.
"In fact, Iran is attempting to slowly
open a front with Israel in the Golan Heights.
"I will tell President Putin about my
extreme opposition to this plan, and about the possibility Israel will choose
to attack. I hope we will be able to come to the understandings necessary to
prevent as much as possible confrontations between Russian and Israeli forces -
just as we have been able to do until now."
Moscow is not the only address for
Netanyahu's effort to take the Golan out of play. In earlier discussions in
Washington, Netanyahu asked US President Donald Trump to recognise Israel's
1981 annexation of the Golan Heights.
And, as if on cue, one day before
Netanyahu's visit, Washington's UN ambassador Nikki Haley explained US concerns
as the negotiating track intensifies.
"This is very much about a political
solution now ... and that basically means that Syria can no longer be a safe
haven for terrorists. We've got to make sure we get Iran and their proxies out.
We've got to make sure that, as we move forward, we're securing the borders for
our allies as well."
Netanyahu's efforts to win unambiguous
Russian guarantees to limit Iran and its proxies are bound to be disappointed.
Israel has no interest in paying the price
for any diplomatic outcome to the war, particularly one that acknowledges an
Iranian or Hezbollah role anywhere in Syria, let alone along the disputed Golan
As the endgame unfolds, Netanyahu expects the
Russians to continue to keep Israel's enemies on a short leash.
Russian-Israel opposition to destabilising
the southern front has proved itself. But it is also the case that Hezbollah
and the Iranians get a vote in determining the shape of postwar Syria.
The Golan frontier
The Golan frontier has always loomed large
in their considerations.
Israel, however, has effectively pre-empted
a number of attempts in recent years to create a military infrastructure in the
Hezbollah considers all of Israel to be
within its range, with or without a Golan front in Syria.
Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan
Nasrallah has warned that the nuclear power facility at Dimona and chemical
installation in Haifa are within reach of his arsenal.
Nonetheless, Hezbollah sees particular
value in extending the "resistance front" east of Shebaa to the
Jordanian border - both as a deterrent and as a platform for confronting Israel
in the next war.
Iran, too, has a demonstrated interest in,
at the very least, testing Israel's opposition to the deployment of hostile
forces allied to Teheran along the border.
Within days of the Netanyahu-Moscow summit,
Harakat al-Nujaba, an Iraqi Shia paramilitary with operational links with
Hezbollah and Iran, announced the formation of its "Golan Liberation
The group was one of the first Iraqi
paramilitaries to send fighters in 2013 to Syria at Iran's direction. They have
been deployed principally in the Aleppo region.
The announcement is yet another signal that
Iran and its allies are increasingly focused on confronting the opposition in
the south, but only as the first of a two-stage effort to expand the "line
of confrontation" with Israel east from Shebaa to the Yarmouk river.
Damascus lacks the power to prevent this.
Iran, for its part, has yet to test the limits of Russia's opposition, or to
commit itself to such a policy.
A balancing act
Russia has forged strong operational ties
with Hezbollah and Iran but this does not extend to its endorsement of a
militant regional strategy against Israel, in the Golan or elsewhere.
Neither Moscow, nor Damascus for that
matter, is interested in empowering its wartime allies to create a military
infrastructure on the Golan with the capacity to independently engage Syria, or
Russia, in a war against Israel.
Nevertheless Netanyahu's efforts to win
unambiguous Russian guarantees to limit Iran and its proxies are bound to be
As the Syrian war winds down, Russia is
increasingly expanding its role as an arbiter among and between enemies and erstwhile
allies, a role that offers a compelling rationale for its continuing influence
Playing this role will exact a price,
however. If until now Putin has been able to contain the contradictions of a
policy that accommodates Israel as well as its enemies, in the next phase of
the battle this balancing act may not be so easy.
Geoffrey Aronson writes about Middle Eastern affairs. He consults with a
variety of public and private institutions dealing with regional political,
security, and development issues.
What Did The UN Apartheid Report Expose
By Mark LeVine
The most damning aspect of the new report
by the UN's Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), which
accuses Israel of being an apartheid state, is not the unearthing of allegedly
long-discredited equations of Zionism with racism and apartheid.
Rather, it's that the authors have used the
scalpel of international law and the seemingly moribund International Covenant
on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid to create a new
matrix of analysis of the occupation, its generative dynamics, and likely
future path that will prove extremely hard for even Israel's most ardent
defenders to refute in the coming years (PDF).
The report, Israeli Practices Towards the
Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid, immediately gained notoriety
when the head of ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, was forced to resign after the UN
Secretary General Antonio Guterres denounced the report and asked for it to be
removed from the Commission's website.
Khalaf, a Jordanian national with extensive
government and international experience who was a primary force behind the Arab
Human Development Report series which has been highly critical of Arab regimes
and the broader regional systems of governance, had to know that heralding the
report as the first ever UN one to explicitly describe Israel as an apartheid
and "racial state" would bring her downfall at ESCWA.
And indeed, not only was the report
disavowed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and, it seems, removed on
his orders from the Commission's website, Khalaf did resign shortly thereafter.
This begs the question of what she hoped to
accomplish by framing the report thus. Although it seems to be removed from the
ESCWA's website (only the executive summary is accessible), the full report can
be downloaded here.
As the journalist Ben White explains, the
new report is a detailed analysis of Israeli legislation, policies and
practices that enable Israel to "operate an apartheid regime" that
"dominates the Palestinian people as a whole" and as such is a
"crime against humanity under customary international law and the Rome
Statute of the International Criminal Court".
The report describes a panoply of practices,
techniques and legal and administrative mechanisms by which Israel maintains a
system that segregates Palestinians from Jews on both sides of the Green Line
and outside Israel/Palestine based on membership in specific ethno-religious
What makes the report even more
controversial is that unlike most accusations of apartheid-like behaviour,
which are limited to the Occupied Territories, it accuses Israel of engaging in
apartheid even against Palestinian citizens of the state and Palestinians outside
According to Virginia Tilley, professor at
the University of Illinois - one of the report's principal authors - her team
was mandated or tasked with understanding "if there was one regime that
was bringing all these policies [through Israel/Palestine and abroad] into a
Is Israel an apartheid state?
While accusations of apartheid still shock
the American ear, Israelis from Holocaust survivors to prime ministers have
long warned that the country was or risked becoming an apartheid state.
South Africans, too, have debated the
issue; while some prominent figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone, who
chaired the controversial report into the 2008-09 Gaza War, declared that
"in Israel, there is no apartheid", other scholars and activists,
from the Human Sciences and Research Council and Desmond Tutu to prominent
Jewish intellectuals such as Lisa Ohayon and David Theo Goldberg - one of the
world's pre-eminent theorists of race - have documented how "the legal
structures of apartheid and Israel map on to each other in very disturbing
ways" and have little hesitation labelling Israel's "separation
barrier" an "apartheid wall" in purpose and function.
I would invite readers to study the
voluminous final report of the South African Truth and Reconciliation
Commission and compare it to the regular reports on the occupation, not merely
by international human rights organisations but by the US State Department and
Israeli Jewish organisations' reports as well, and ask them to decide for themselves
how closely Israeli policies resemble those of the South African apartheid
Yet, however important historically and
morally, comparisons with South Africa were, for the report's authors, beside
The only "benchmark" that matters
today is whether Israel's actions fall within the parameters of the Crime of
Apartheid as defined by international covenant and the International Criminal
And the report argues "with clarity
and conviction that Israel is guilty of the international crimes of apartheid
as a result of the manner in which it exerts control over the Palestinian
The report provides a strong case for the
argument that the goals and conduct of the occupation are illegal, and thus
that states, international organisations, and civil society are obligated to
impose sanctions and other punitive measures to compel Israel to bring its
actions into compliance with international law.
More specifically, Tilley explains that
"the main finding was that what looks like different policies are in fact
part of one policy. The core purpose is to preserve Israel as a Jewish state,
and that requires an overwhelming Jewish majority to ensure that Palestinians
could never vote in any way that would alter the laws privileging the Jewish people
over other people in the state. And we found that the ways different segments
of policy work together … all coordinate that central core purpose."
Crucially, the report deploys a striking
new term, the "strategic [elsewhere: geographic and juridical]
fragmentation of the Palestinian people," to describe the main method
through which Israel imposes an apartheid regime, with Palestinians divided
into four groups who live in four "domains": Palestinian citizens of
Israel against whom 'civil law' is deployed to restrict their freedom;
Palestinians in East Jerusalem governed by ever more exclusionary 'permanent
residency laws'; Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who live under
belligerent occupation; and Palestinians living as refugees or in exile who are
precluded by law and policy from returning to their homeland.
Each group is oppressed through
"distinct laws, policies and practices" that together constitute the
larger regime of apartheid in Israel/Palestine.
Not surprisingly, Israeli officials were quick
to question ESCWA's credibility, given its membership of 18 Arab countries
excluding Israel despite its location in western Asia (unlike Tunisia, for
example) and the fact that the human rights records of most members are little
better than Israel's.
But hypocrisy is literally written into the
fabric of the UN, and is in fact on display every time the US vetoes a Security
Council resolution condemning Israel's prosecution of its interminable
occupation, or Russia vetoes a resolution that might force Bashar al-Assad to
stop murdering his people by the thousands.
This reality doesn't change the fact that
with the report now part of the UN record, the chances increase that the
General Assembly or other bodies will request a ruling from the ICC or
International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legality of the occupation.
Most strikingly, however, the report
concludes by calling explicitly for "broaden[ing] support for boycott,
divestment and sanctions initiatives among civil society actors".
In bringing BDS directly into the legal
conversation, the authors are opening the way for the ICC or ICJ to affirm the
legitimacy of such tactics under international law.
As Israel moves inexorably towards annexing
the West Bank, and with it the confrontation of apartheid in its barest form,
the questions raised by the report will become impossible to avoid.
In that regard, Rima Khalaf and the
report's authors have done Israelis, Palestinians and the world community a
favour by calling for a clear determination by the highest international
tribunals as to the nature of Israel's rule over some five million Palestinians
in the occupied territories and millions more living in the shadows of exile,
and its responsibilities going forward.
With such clarity at hand, a pathway
towards a just and peaceful future for both peoples might finally come into
Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle Eastern History at University of
California, Irvine, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lund University.
Ending Famine in Somalia, The Turkish Way
Jerome Jarre's viral hashtag,
#TurkishAirlinesHelpSomalia, was yet another attempt to draw worldwide
attention to the famine in the Somali peninsula, but the Somali people are in
need of both an organised, short-term as well as a long-term response to ensure
that this crisis is contained, and does not happen in the future.
In Somalia, the cycle of long droughts
followed by famines has been going on for many decades. Now, more than five
million Somalis need immediate assistance in order to prevent another famine.
"This drought has created the biggest displacement of people in the
country," said Adan Adar, the country director of the American Refugee
Somalis from all over the world, as well as
a large number of local and international NGOs, have been collecting and
sending in donations.
In order to save as many people as
possible, an immediate and large-scale humanitarian campaign effort followed by
a sustainable development strategy that can help build resilient state
institutions to control the negative effects of future drought occurrences are
The model the Turkish government employed
in 2011 and 2012 offers an innovative perspective. Therefore, donor countries
must consider adopting it for Somalia.
Humanitarian agencies and international
organisations have started rescue efforts by raising the awareness of the world
In early March, the United Nations
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, paid an unannounced yet timely visit to
Somalia in order to mobilise the international community to help rescue the
people who were affected by the drought.
In fact, in the past, Guterres has been a
consistent supporter of Somali people. For instance, when he was the
commissioner for the UNHCR, he pressured both Kenyan and Somali governments to
respect the human rights of the refugees.
As recently as 2011, Somali people have
experienced one of the worst famines in the Horn of Africa region, which killed
more than 250,000 people and displaced at least one million.
In their book Famine in Somalia, Daniel
Maxwell and Nisar Majid rightly characterised the responses to this famine as
In 2011, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current
president of Turkey, was the first high-profile figure who visited Somalia,
with the intention of raising the awareness of the international community.
At the present time, even though millions
of Somalis are on the brink of starvation, there has been a lack of attention
and support from the world community.
Therefore, the next few weeks are crucial
for controlling the damage of the drought. Perhaps, the countries of the Gulf
Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman
and Bahrain) are well positioned to lead the short-term humanitarian efforts in
Somalia because of their strong economies, geographic proximity, and cultural
and historical relations with the Somali people.
The Turkish model
In Somalia, because of the lack of a
functioning state, there are few mechanisms to control droughts from becoming
famines. In order to reverse this and establish functioning state institutions,
I believe, we can learn several lessons from the model that Turkey employed in
First, the Turkish model combined aid and
development. For instance, in 2012-2014, the Turkish Red Crescent managed the
Rajo camp for the 29,000 internally displaced people in Mogadishu (PDF).
At the same time, only a few kilometres
from the camp, the Turkish Development Agency and a private corporation brought
large construction equipment that built major roads in Mogadishu.
Second, Turkey provided direct and often
unconditional assistance to the Somali government. Unlike the Western donors,
Ankara gave direct budgetary assistance to the previous administration in
Mogadishu. Hopefully, it will do the same for the new government.
Being on the ground was perhaps the most
important factor that has helped Turkey to receive widespread support from the
Third, the Turkish model focused on
high-impact infrastructure development projects. For example, these included
hospitals, an airport and major roads.
Fourth, since the capacity of the Somali
institutions are low, Ankara has used public-private partnerships to deliver
most of the capital projects.
Turkish companies managed the Mogadishu
airport and port, and delivered the construction of the tarmac roads. The
Turkish Airways regularly flies to Mogadishu. With a new terminal in the airport,
hopefully, more airlines will fly into the country.
Even though some of these companies were
interested in making profits from their entrepreneurial adventures, Somalis
still benefitted from their presence.
Turkish companies forced Somali businesses
to compete. The more companies that arrive in Somalia, the more people that
will get jobs and choices. Prices will fall and the quality of service will
Finally, being on the ground was perhaps
the most important factor that has helped Turkey to receive widespread support
from the Somalis.
Turkish diplomats and aid workers stayed in
the country, which helped them understand the Somali people and their needs
better. For them, there was no need for mapping studies. Staying on the ground
has significantly reduced the administrative cost as well.
A sustainable strategy
Donor countries have provided billions of
dollars of assistance to the needy Somalis for the last couple of decades -
which Somalis appreciate.
Recently, the world community helped rescue
millions of Somalis from famine in 1991 and 2011. It is a fact that the
European Union, the United States and other donors have supported the Somali
people in many ways.
Indeed, besides contributing to the
recovery and the development of the country, the Somali diaspora in the Western
and Gulf countries are now on the frontlines of the rescue efforts in Somalia.
That said, to maximise the impact of the
billions of dollars of aid that the West, Gulf countries and others provide to
Somalia, the current aid paradigm must be revisited.
To date, few donors invested in the
infrastructure and long-term impact projects. As important as relief and
capacity building projects are, it is more useful to invest in major, capital
projects such as a tarmac roads, ports and hospitals.
The Turkish aid model opened new doors for
the Somali people. Western and Gulf donors should follow suit and invest in the
long-term projects that can help empower the state institutions, prevent
another humanitarian catastrophe and contribute to the economic growth of the
In short, hundreds of thousands of Somalis
are now on the verge of starvation. We must do all we can to rescue as many
people as possible through large-scale humanitarian efforts.
Hopefully, the GCC countries will lead this
campaign. In doing so, we must learn from the 2011 experience and the model
that Turkey employed. Simultaneous relief and development efforts are
Afyare A Elmi is an associate professor at Qatar University's Gulf
Studies Program. He is the author of the Understanding the Somalia
Conflagration: Identity, Political Islam and Peacebuilding.