Books and Documents

Middle East Press (20 Mar 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Implications for a Syrian Transition under Assad: New Age Islam's Selection, 20 March 2017

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

20 March 2017

Implications for a Syrian Transition under Assad

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 Is Afoot

By Raghida Dergham

Fear And Loathing On The Border

By Belen Fernandez

Angela Merkel Is Not the Great Progressive Messiah

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 Way

By Afyare Abdi Elmi

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Implications for a Syrian Transition under Assad

By Sultan Barakat

20 March 2017

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 inevitable.

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 office.

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.

Simultaneous processes

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 years.

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 forces.

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 effectiveness.

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 institutions.

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.

Reconstructing Syria

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 required.

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.

Uneven reconstruction

Fourth, the move of rebuilding under a protracted insurgency will lead to uneven reconstruction and development in Syria.

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.

Source aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/03/implications-syrian-transition-assad-170318122952744.html


On The Attempt to Assassinate Nabih Al-Barahim

By Turki Aldakhil

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 development projects.

Their aim is to disrupt peace, target security personnel and plant terror in the hearts of loyal patriots who defend the country’s unity.

Individual voices

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.

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/2017/03/19/On-the-attempt-to-assassinate-Nabih-al-Barahim.html


Reflections on A Revolution Betrayed

By Hisham Melhem

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 different sizes.

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.

Industrial-scale killing

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 state.

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 identity politics.

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

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/2017/03/18/Reflections-on-a-revolution-betrayed.html


Restoration of Traditional Saudi-US Ties Is Afoot

By Raghida Dergham

19 March 2017

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; and Syria.

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 Washington.

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 administration.

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 relations.

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 resisting concessions.

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 Science Academies.

Source: arabnews.com/node/1070991


Fear And Loathing On The Border

By Belen Fernandez

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 $21.6bn.

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 certain parts.

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 $19.5bn".

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 House."

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.

Criminalising existence

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 imperial hubris.

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.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/03/fear-loathing-border-170314090849582.html


Angela Merkel Is Not the Great Progressive Messiah

By Rachel Shabi

17 MARCH 2017

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.

Elevated expectations

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 politically .

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 to Turkey.

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.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/03/angela-merkel-great-progressive-messiah-170316111424138.html


Russia, Israel and Iran Braced For the Endgame in Syria

By Geoffrey Aronson

17 March 2017

Geoffrey Aronson is a specialist in Middle East affairs.

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 negotiating table.

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 war.

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 war's end.

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."

Approaching Trump

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 frontier.

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 region.

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 Brigade".

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 disappointed.

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 in Syria.

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.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/03/russia-israel-iran-braced-endgame-syria-170316080152634.html


What Did The UN Apartheid Report Expose In Reality?

By Mark LeVine

20 March 2017

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 groups.

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 the country.

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 coherent whole".

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 state.

Yet, however important historically and morally, comparisons with South Africa were, for the report's authors, beside the point.

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 Court (PDF).

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 people".

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.

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.

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 view.

Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle Eastern History at University of California, Irvine, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lund University.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/03/apartheid-report-expose-reality-170319141738753.html


Ending Famine in Somalia, The Turkish Way

By Afyare Abdi Elmi

20 March 2017

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 Committee.

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 necessary.

The model the Turkish government employed in 2011 and 2012 offers an innovative perspective. Therefore, donor countries must consider adopting it for Somalia.

Humanitarian response

Humanitarian agencies and international organisations have started rescue efforts by raising the awareness of the world community.

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 "collective failures".

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 2011.

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 Somalis.

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 improve.

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 country.

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 necessary.

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.

Source: .aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/03/famine-somalia-turkish-170319101255256.html


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