New Age Islam Edit Bureau
05 February 2018
The ‘Of Course We Agree’ Conference In Sochi
By Mohamad Dughmosh
The Bitter Taste of Civil Wars
By Abdullah Bin Bijad Al-Otaibi
Time for Afghanistan to Change Its Counter-Terrorism Strategy
By Ajmal Shams
El-Sisi Should Look To Soft Power Over Security
By Mohammed Nosseir
Can Tehran’s Proxies Clinch Electoral Victories in Iraq and Lebanon?
By Baria Alamuddin
Turkish Foreign Policy: From Defensive to Offensive
By Shehab Al-Makahleh
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
The ‘Of Course We Agree’ Conference in Sochi
4 February 2018
At the beginning of the opening session of the Sochi conference on January 29, head of the session Ghassan Al-Qalaa, the president of Damascus Chamber of Commerce, called on members of what he called the “board of the chairmanship of the congress” to join him at the platform. He began reading the names out before the 1,300 invitees. It was clear that he has not seen these ten names before. At some point, however, he realized that everyone was staring at him as they were surprised by his sudden and unacceptable behavior so he went ahead and asked everyone to say “yes” if they approve of the committee’s members. It seems he asked this question upon a personal initiative. Dozens then answered in the Syrian dialect and said: “Of course we agree.” Qalaa then nodded and wrapped up this pledge of allegiance within minutes. He did not forget to make a hand gesture that implies underestimating the importance of the approval of all the Syrian society's’ “components” as Russia describes them.
The phrase “of course we agree” and lack of a single objection summed up the invitees’ national and historical tasks in Sochi as they will not be returning there later. Russia will not deploy its airplanes again to take them there and it will not celebrate them via welcoming banners at the airport or distributing bags that carry the conference’s slogan and which were given to them so they realize their important and sensitive role that’s represented in agreeing. This committee will play a major role in the future in reaching a political solution as per Russia’s vision. It will be more helpful to Russia despite the latter’s influence on the Syrian regime and opposition delegations. What we witnessed was the birth of a Syrian reference by Russia itself – a reference that gained the approval of 1,300 people. No Syrian conference had this significant number of approvals during the past seven years. This reference will be used for years and its work will not end at the artificial final statement.
The Syrian-Russian child
It was clear to us – the reporters who were there to cover the conference – that the majestic scene carried more significance than the mere fact that certain political parties were attending especially that Russia’s efforts to include the opposition were doubted as during its meetings with the Syrian Negotiations Commission in Vienna on January 25 and 26, it did not provide anything tangible to get the opposition to change its mind and only made threats if the commission did not participate. Moscow was also not hesitant in showing its indifference towards the final statement. Accordingly, Russia, in what seemed like an unprecedented flirtatious approach, renewed its political commitment to the UN’s role in terms of the Syrian constitution to De Mistura - who was present at the conference – to please him. This did not harmonize with the Assad regime’s stance as the regime delegation at Sochi showed their discontent and viewed this as a recognition of a UN mandate over Syria. However, their discontent did not last for long and they immediately went back to playing the role assigned to them and which is simply about agreeing.
The conference ended with a brief statement read out by De Mistura. He blessed the birth of the Syrian-Russian child and the 1,300 participants then went to a dinner which was held in their honor to appreciate their leading role in efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis. They headed to that dinner few hours before leaving Sochi..For good.
By Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi
All wars are bad but the worst and the most bitter and cruel are civil wars in which a brother kills a brother and a neighbour kills his neighbour. When it comes to civil wars, it’s not about empires’ glory, ethnicities’ distinctions or nations’ pride but it’s about people killing those close to them and destroying their own countries. These wars engrave the country’s memories with never-healing wounds.
There is a long list of destructive civil wars throughout history. Unlike wars among empires, ethnicities and countries, civil wars are based on conflicts that are related to what narrowly differentiates a category from another – such as religious, sectarian, racist, ethnic or ideological differences and so on.
One definition of civil war says: “War is an ancient social phenomenon that is about fighting among brothers.” Another said: “A civil war is an armed battle among the sons of the one country and it’s more than a mere rebellion or an armed disobedience.” These definitions give a clear perception of the meaning and horrors of civil war.
The world and the region have witnessed several civil wars that had horrible consequences. The most famous ones are the American civil war and the French civil war which was later dubbed a revolution. This is in addition to the Thirty Years’ War in Europe, the different European civil wars, the civil wars in Spain and Czechoslovakia, the civil war in Afghanistan which erupted after the Soviet Union exited the country and many others.
As for the region, there was the civil war in Lebanon and the civil war in Sudan, the latter being a separatist war that led to dividing the country. Today, we are witnessing civil wars in Syria and Libya and what looks like a civil war in Yemen as part of the war there is separatist, especially given last week’s Aden developments.
Lest we forget, we’ve seen a glimpse of the civil war atrocities in Iraq in the past and in recent days. However, concepts are redefined according to the size of political conflict and eventually contradictions are adopted in politics, slogans and stances.
Worst War In Modern History
The worst war in modern history is the Syrian civil war in which all international and regional parties have gotten involved. Their intervention represents all political contradictions. There is Russia with its powerful army and two military bases, Iran with its terrorist militias and expansionist ambitions, the Syrian regime that kills its people and defies the entire world by using internationally-prohibited chemical weapons under Russia’s protection that prevents condemning it at the UN, Turkey that militarily intervenes in North Syria under the excuse of confronting the Kurds and America which is looking for a stronghold that imposes its presence on the ground and which is trying to find solutions that are more reasonable than Russia’s. Meanwhile, Syria is a war-torn country that is full of terrorism, sectarianism and racist discrimination. There’s no glimpse of hope for a better future.
As civilization retreats, there are upcoming elections in several countries in the region. Some parties adhere to modern slogans and concepts related to democracy, human rights and equality not because they believe in them but because they want to employ them to serve this or that sectarian or fundamentalist project. Can these manifestations of democracy, i.e. elections, candidates and voters, be a form of civil war manifestations or a preparatory move for one?
The answer is yes and no at the same time. These modern concepts are being employed in battles that are completely irrelevant to them. Animosity and crimes are being hid under civilized slogans! Is what Iran doing in Iraq and Syria paving way towards freedom and equality? Can slogans like “resistance” hide all the terrorist and sectarian approaches that led to bloodshed and chaos in several Arab countries? Can they help establish stable countries in the future? This is not reasonable at all; however, it’s being marketed by media outlets, intellectuals and politicians as if people cannot differentiate between good and bad!
Nothing makes countries relapse like civil wars do. Civil wars harm the core of national unity to serve expansionist or ideological projects or strengthen narrow religious, sectarian or ethnic identities. A country loses its essence as loyalties shatter and divisions ensue. The national identity which once unified people loses its value. Then each group resorts to acts that strengthen its interests within these narrow identities. A new chapter of murder begins and all hell breaks loose.
Turkish Intervention In Afrin
The Turkish intervention in Afrin must be put within the context of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statements. Erdogan has continuously presented himself as part of a fundamental project where he is a new caliph of Muslims – a project that includes a strong alliance with Qatar, the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood and all terrorist political Islam groups. He always brings up the Turkish colonial era of the Arab world and sometimes delves into details of historical conflicts and events. He should not be engaging in such debates especially that he is the leader of a country that was established on secular basis by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. This state as established by Ataturk refuses the concept of Islamizing the state which Erdogan is calling for.
The intervention in Syria, building a military base in Qatar and another in the island of Suakin in Sudan and the hostile alliances and projects against Arab countries must be taken into consideration as they sound the alarm.
There is nothing worse than civil wars except those who market the latter as a means of salvation and survival when in fact they are the worst flavour people ever taste.
Time For Afghanistan To Change Its Counter-Terrorism Strategy
Jan. 27, 2018, was another bloody day in the Afghan capital Kabul, with more than 100 killed and about 200 injured in a suicide attack in one of the busiest areas of the city, just meters away from the old Interior Ministry complex. As usual, the victims were mostly civilians, including women and children. There was no hesitation from the Taliban in claiming responsibility for this deadliest of attacks. However, contrary to that claim, Kabul believes it was carried out by the Haqqani network based in Pakistan. Only a week before, Kabul was witness to another attack, when terrorists stormed the famous Intercontinental Hotel, which remains a beautiful attraction to both domestic and foreign tourists. The fight lasted for more than 12 hours and took the lives of dozens of Afghans, as well as international guests.
Public anger over such heinous and horrible attacks against innocent civilians is at an all-time high and the city’s residents fear similar attacks in the days ahead. President Ashraf Ghani, while condemning the inhuman acts of terror, referred to the enemies’ repeated failures in face-to-face fights against the Afghan forces on the battlefield, and hence them resorting to attacks against unarmed civilians. Afghan religious scholars and the political intelligentsia have strongly condemned the attacks, terming them un-Islamic and inhuman.
Regardless of whether these terrorist attacks are carried out by the Taliban, Daesh or the Haqqani network, the blood of innocent Afghans is being shed like water in an unstoppable fashion. When the capital Kabul comes under attack, it gets maximum coverage in both local and international media, but the wave of terrorism is spread across the country. Just days before the Kabul attack, the famous non-profit organization Save the Children’s office in Eastern Jalalabad came under a suicide attack, resulting in deaths and injuries to dozens of innocent victims.
While Afghans were still mourning the carnage of their fellow countrymen, Kabul hosted Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Jan. 29. It was the first time in more than 50 years that an Indonesian leader had visited Afghanistan. Widodo met Ghani and other high-level officials of the Afghan government in a visit that was politically significant for Afghanistan. Indonesia is the largest Muslim state and has a strong and booming economy; it can play a potential role in peace-making and the Afghan government is eagerly looking forward to a peace initiative from Indonesia. An essential component of Ghani’s foreign policy is to strengthen relations with the Muslim and Arab worlds and he has been quite successful in this regard.
As a first step in his diplomatic efforts in the aftermath of the Kabul attack, Ghani sent his interior minister and head of the intelligence agency to Islamabad to convey the Afghan government’s message and relevant evidence to the Pakistani civil and military leadership. Yet, such information has been shared with Islamabad in the past without any tangible results.
In reaction to the Kabul attack, Ghani stated his government will come up with a new strategy in the war on terror. He also mentioned that the blood of innocent Afghans will be avenged, adding that peace will be achieved through war. Unlike previous attacks, the Jan. 27 atrocity will have far-reaching implications for the Afghan government in dealing with the ongoing insurgency. Many Afghans now question the efficacy of the Afghan High Peace Council. Some even demand the dissolution of the council, considering it an extra burden on the national budget that is not producing any results. Yet the council claims credit for bringing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar back into mainstream politics — but this would not have been possible without strong political will from Ghani.
Islamabad argues that millions of Afghan refugees who remain in Pakistan are responsible for the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan and must return home. While Kabul has been making all possible efforts to encourage Afghan refugees to return and has been facilitating their repatriation, it doesn’t accept the Pakistani argument. On the other hand, the Afghan government questions who sponsors, funds and trains the insurgents.
US President Donald Trump, while condemning the Kabul attack, also rejected any peace talks with the Taliban and expressed his government’s resolve to defeat the militants. While Afghans are optimistic about the new US strategy for Afghanistan, they need to see results on the ground. The Afghan government must come up with a new strategy that will be more focused on strengthening the security agencies, enhancing the intelligence capacity of the Afghan forces and increasing pressure on the insurgents on the battlefield. While peace efforts will always continue, waiting for peace will no longer be the government’s priority. The new approach is based on the need “to put our own house in order” and that means enhancing our entire security system in terms of quality and quantity.
El-Sisi Should Look To Soft Power over Security
Leaders’ rhetoric matters. Their explicit messages provide clear indications about the course they intend to steer for their nations; while their implicit messages, and the emotions expressed, are for citizens to interpret. I found the short speech recently delivered by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi at the inauguration of a new gas field that will significantly boost Egypt’s resources, in which he described his strategy for his potential second presidential term, disturbing.
El-Sisi is a very determined president, who knows exactly what he wants and is not in the least distracted by the outlook of experts or international opinion. He has been Egypt’s president since June 2014, and he obviously expectsthat he will rule for a second four-year term. The rhetoric he used in his speech was clear; he said his people don’t really know him — a signal that he could easily extend and intensify the policies he has applied during his first term.
The president clearly intends to capitalize on the climate of fear, a tactic that he believes serves him best. In reality, however, rather than intimidate, fear works to stimulate El-Sisi’s opponents and the state’s enemies. If brandishing the stick of fear were an effective tool, it would have served him better during his first term in office, when Egyptians were truly afraid of terrorism and sought stability above all else. Today, Egyptians are polarized between those who benefit from the state, whom the president often addresses, and the growing number of marginalized people with nothing to lose.
El-Sisi is now considering asking Egyptians to repeat the scenario that took place at the time of the ousting of former President Mohammed Morsi and his ruling regime — i.e., to authorize him to adopt extraordinary measures to prevent the state’s downfall. This raises the serious question of what El-Sisi — who has been a fully authorized president for roughly four years, during which he has enjoyed a wide scope of effective authority — could do better in his second term.
We have been living with the devastating struggle against terrorism and the possibility of becoming a failed state for the past four-and-a-half years, reaching the stage where Egyptians are killing one another on the streets and in mosques and churches. The president is proposing to extend his mandate to fight Egypt’s enemies and ward off the failure of the state. I had expected him to send out a more positive and stimulating message, calling for building a peaceful and prosperous nation by applying a different policy.
The greatly debatable results of government mega-projects aside, Egyptians by and large are still living amid an economic stagnation that stimulates them to demand a change of leadership or, at least, of policies. The Egyptian state is expanding its economic projects at the expense of a clearly shrinking private sector, while the unemployment rate is rising and the poor are suffering more. This policy is making the majority of citizens less prosperous and favoring the small number of state affiliates.
We Egyptians should not take pride in sacrificing our security apparatus on the front line fighting terrorism, while refusing to explore any kind of peaceful solution. Advanced nations tend to measure their success by their ability to reduce the number and magnitude of crimes committed. We are working on fueling mistrust, pitting members of our society against one another — and eventually priding ourselves on the fallen martyrs of the security apparatus. We would be much better off as a nation if we lived together in peace.
Egypt certainly needs a leader who can reduce the hatred and in-fighting among some of its citizens that we have been living with in recent years. This is what motivated the few serious potential candidates who had intended to run for president but withdrew. Moreover, the fearful message that the president is striving to deliver does not work in a country where the vast majority are poor and illiterate, and could be easily misguided by erroneous religious interpretations.
The president, who believes that ruling Egypt is all about security, should consider tapping into the possibility of utilizing our soft power. El-Sisi, who defines himself as a non-politician, is occupying the premier political position in Egypt in an historical era where politics truly matters. He has stated that his fellow citizens don’t know him well and that he won’t allow another revolution to happen. He may be surprised by Egyptians, who are willing to pay a high price for peace and economic stability, and are not intimidated by messages of fear.
Can Tehran’s Proxies Clinch Electoral Victories In Iraq And Lebanon?
Within a week of each other this May, two elections will have decisive consequences for the balance of power in the Middle East. In both the Iraqi and Lebanese elections, Iranian-backed coalitions are currently the largest and best-organized forces, with strong prospects for increasing their share of the vote and consolidating control over the apparatus of government.
In recent months, I asked numerous former diplomats to Baghdad whether they saw paramilitary leader Hadi Al-Amiri as a future prime minister. Several saw the question as ridiculous, recalling Al-Amiri as a grizzled and unpolished militia leader with too much blood on his hands to be taken seriously as a senior politician. However, experts may be forced to rethink as Al-Amiri steams towards the May 12 elections heading a list representing the Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary forces.
Western leaders had staked their hopes on current Prime Minister Haider Abadi retaining his job. Abadi spent the past year promising all visitors that Al-Hashd militants would be forced to demobilize and stay out of politics. These promises have been broken. Instead, Al-Hashd’s Iranian patron Qassem Soleimani carefully cultivated Abadi. The two of them coordinated operations to push Kurdish forces out of central Iraq last October, and Al-Hashd forces duly occupied this vacuum. Abadi’s public statements became more supportive of Al-Hashd.
Immediately before the mid-January deadline for the registration of electoral coalitions, the shocking news emerged that — under Soleimani’s patronage — Abadi and Al-Hashd had agreed on a unified electoral list. Muqtada Al-Sadr (who had been widely predicted to join the prime minister in an anti-sectarian coalition) condemned Abadi’s union with Al-Hashd as “abhorrent.” For 24 hours, Abadi and Al-Hashd looked like a winning ticket as a stream of Shiite politicians rushed to sign up to this “Victory Coalition.” However, just hours after the registration deadline, Al-Hashd suddenly pulled the plug on Abadi.
Skeptical observers argued that Soleimani and Al-Hashd planned to abandon Abadi all along in order to sabotage his electoral prospects. If true, this strategy successfully discredited Abadi by treating the world to the unedifying spectacle of Iraq’s dovish prime minister grovelling for a deal with Iranian proxies, then being unceremoniously dumped after burning his boats with former allies.
Thus, the strongest and best-organized entity on the field is Al-Hashd’s Al-Fath coalition, which is expected to align with Nuri Al-Maliki’s State of Law list to dominate the Shiite vote. Al-Maliki and Soleimani have been discretely reaching out towards the two leading Kurdish parties and an alliance with either could almost guarantee Al-Hashd a working majority.
Fragmented and disorganized Sunni and Kurdish factions had staked their hopes on postponing the elections. Veteran Sunni politician Saleh Al-Mutlak predicted that holding elections in May would be “catastrophic,” with around three million Iraqis displaced by conflict. But Al-Mutlak also warned about Sunnis being seduced by calls for a boycott, which would allow sectarian forces to dominate the administration. Al-Hashd has a stake in keeping Sunni provinces in a state of turmoil through ongoing military operations to obstruct voting. In multiple provinces, Sunnis are prevented from returning home or have been terrorized back into exile. With even those Sunnis who are able to vote feeling disillusioned and marginalized by corrupt and dysfunctional Baghdad politics, large numbers look set to support a boycott, which would be disastrous for their interests.
Following Soleimani’s success in discrediting the prime minister, there is little to prevent Al-Amiri and Al-Hashd being the dominant force in May’s parliamentary and provincial elections. Why does this matter? Under Iran’s tutelage, Al-Hashd is consolidating its stranglehold over Iraq: It is omnipresent in the Shiite south and, through bouts of sectarian cleansing, has become a dominant force in Baghdad and central Iraq. Al-Hashd furthermore now controls Kirkuk, having beaten the Kurds all the way back to Irbil in the north. By surrendering the levers of government to Al-Hashd, there would be little to prevent it from accelerating its sectarianising policies into Sunni areas, which are already highly alienated from Baghdad; perhaps triggering new bouts of conflict and driving Iraqis back into the arms of extremists.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah successfully backed a new elections law last year, breaking the deadlock and allowing the first parliamentary polls since 2009. The new proportional representation system is expected to favour Hezbollah on May 6; the question is whether Hezbollah succeeds in forming sufficiently broad tactical alliances to gain a majority and construct a government. Disputes between its allies, President Michel Aoun (Free Patriotic Movement) and Nabih Berri (Amal), represented a setback, yet Hezbollah remains the best-organized force, with almost unlimited funds and a significant head-start in its campaigning.
Analyses of Hezbollah and Al-Hashd tend to focus on their military objectives, yet the long-term consequences of their political strategies may pose an infinitely greater threat. Military brute force is consistently deployed in the service of political agendas: Al-Hashd’s sectarian cleansing operations are centred on mixed provinces like Diyala, where demographic engineering has a meaningful electoral impact.
I have been unnerved by discussions with Western diplomats and policy experts, who appear relatively relaxed about paramilitary leaders like Al-Amiri acquiring leading roles. One official described Al-Amiri as “primarily an Iraqi nationalist” — despite him having lived much of his life in Iran (where his Iranian wife and family live); despite his well-documented complicity in sectarian cleansing; and despite his professed primary loyalty to Ali Khamenei. Officials complacently assured me that America would never allow paramilitary factions to seize control in Baghdad and Beirut, yet America and Europe have never appeared more disengaged than at this precarious moment, when the region’s future path will be defined.
Hezbollah and Al-Hashd exploit the democratic system but are wholly hostile to the values of democracy. We can be certain that, if they succeed, their first priority will be to manipulate the ground rules of the political system to perpetuate power in their hands. There would thus be little to prevent Tehran from converting Iraq, Syria and Lebanon into vassal states — creating a passageway through to the Mediterranean, the remaining Arab world, Israel, and even Europe.
With only three months to save Iraq and Lebanon from unchecked Iranian hegemony — and with the political forces that could stop them in chaotic disarray — why does it feel like the world isn’t paying attention?
The sectarianism, corruption and factionalism of Iraqi and Lebanese politics leave conscientious citizens unmotivated to campaign and vote; but this is precisely the intention of these same sectarian forces which subverted the democratic system in the first place. Instead of boycotting, civil society groups and responsible politicians should use the time available to mobilize, unite and bring people together from all communities in order to thwart the surge toward paramilitary dictatorship by a vanguard of Iran-backed sectarian extremists.
The world must also be unafraid to vigorously support the moderate and peace-loving aspirations of the majority against those who exploit the democratic system to stifle these nations’ democratic cultures.
3 February 2018
Turkey has sought to exploit the Qatar dispute with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to grab a historic opportunity in the region. The dreams of a strong, regional Turkey necessitate great financial capabilities that cannot be achieved in light of the decline of the Turkish economy and its suffering from several crises, especially with its strained relations with the USA. Thus, Turkish President Erdogan found his relations with Qatar and Russia a decisive solution to Ankara’s financial problems.
Turkey has maintained its footprint in the region and has expanded its influence in 2011, principally with the historical opportunity of the so-called "Arab Spring" in the Middle East, which was exploited by many countries including Turkey and Iran. As for Turkey, the Arab Spring has enabled political Islam Movements (Muslim Brotherhood) to jump to power in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and Ankara has become the major supporter of these movements. On the other hand, Iran has benefitted from the demonstrations in the Arab World to have a say in the region and to expand its influence as well.
Turkey has intervened vigorously in many regional crises in order to achieve its objectives and interests in the beginning with full support from the United States of America with which it has strategic relations until both Washington and Ankara had taken a new approach after Turkey had chosen to form its foreign policy that serve its own interests, deviating away from the course that was drawn for the country for many years.
Turkey's involvement in the Middle East has increased due to its effective use of soft power, such as the public debate between Erdogan and the then Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos a few years ago, the flotilla incident, and Turkey's support for some Arab demonstrations, including those of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt as well as Syria.
The Cold War has largely defined Turkey's strategic perspective vis-à-vis the Middle East in general and the Arab world in particular. Ankara's strategic perspective to limit the influence of the Soviet Union in the Middle East has been shaped. The Arab Nationalist trend was also a means of supporting the influence of the Soviet Union in the region. This view was formed according to the perspective of the Western Camp to ensure the flow of oil from the Middle East region in a safe way to world markets. At that stage, Turkey has adopted a Western Camp stand.
Two Political Tremors
Since the end of the 1980s, changes in Turkish politics have been clear as there have been international and regional transformation as well which had driven Ankara to change its foreign policy. This has affected Turkey's view of the Middle East after the end of the bipolar world in the aftermath of the Cold War. There were two political tremors that have affected the Middle East since 1980-1990s: The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Gulf crisis.
Turkey was deeply affected by these tremors, and the Gulf War increased Turkey's interest in the Middle East. Everyone is aware of the importance of the region; mainly Iraq and Syria for Turkey. The Turkish government has started to consider how to develop a new vision that better serves its interests in the Middle East.
Turkey has abandoned its defense policy after 2011, years after the adoption of "zero problems" policy. The godfather of this policy is Ahmet Davutoglu, former Turkish prime minister. Turkey is no longer waiting for the problems of the region to come to its borders, but rather it is acting to defend itself as the Turkish foreign policy stipulates. Davutoglu said on October 19, 2016: "As of now we will not wait for problems, we will not wait for the terrorist organizations to attack us, but we will attack the areas where these organizations are hiding, and we will destroy their bases over their heads and we will uproots of all parties supporting them."
That is the policy adopted for their attack on Afrin and even beyond Afrin that would take them to Idlib and east to the Iraqi borders. Turkey saw the attack as the best way to defend itself and contribute to the formulation of new maps instead of being imposed on Ankara, especially after the attempted coup d'état in mid-July 2016. This has been the justification for the Turkish parliament to approve military operations outside Turkish borders, chiefly in Syria and Iraq for an additional year.
The Turkish moves in the context of the Turkish foreign defense policy, which Ankara has adopted recently to protect its national interests, are based on its belief that soft power is no longer effective to achieve its external ambitions, especially in light of the competition between regional and international powers. Therefore, Turkey has incepted to activate its military tools for several reasons as follows:
First, the desire to open up new markets for Turkish weapons. Turkish military industries rose in 2015 to reach $4.3 billion, of which $ 1.3 billion was exported. Second, the new military tool aims to strengthen its presence in the Arab region and Africa by controlling the international crossings to protect its economic interests and national security interests from any regional or international interventions or sanctions that would be imposed in the future on Turkey as a result of its foreign policies. Third, the other motive is the desire to participate in the international coalition against terrorism not only to counter the threat of terrorists near its borders, but to stop the expansion of Kurdish movements in Iraq and Syria for fear of independence.
Moreover, Turkey has the intention to besiege its enemies in their areas of influence and to cut off all logistic support for them that some regional and international powers are extending. Besides, Turkey is keeping abreast regional and international moves towards the region in order to limit its future negative repercussions on Turkish power, particularly in light of mounting Iranian and Russian dominance.
These Turkish accounts would put Ankara in the circle of friction with Russia and the US at a time the world is passing through a new type of Cold War and the Middle East is passing through its Cold War as well with many alliances and axes being formed. On the issue of the Kurds, Turkey has a spat with Washington regarding the future of the Kurds in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. While Ankara is moving to prevent the Kurds from strengthening their power and influence, especially in the areas near Turkish borders, Washington regards them as a key ally in its strategy to counter extremism and terrorism; this justifies why the Americans provide the Kurds with weapons and help train them.
Lebanon’s Elections: Effective Majority despite the Contrary
By Eyad Abu Shakra
From now until elections day scheduled for next May, the Lebanese have to endure loud diatribes and vocal misrepresentations on TV channels, while concealing the real intentions.
To begin with, an electoral system based on Proportional Representations (PR) is the last thing Lebanon needed, given its tribalism sectarianism and political schizophrenia.
This system is alien in a country where religious sectarianism is now institutionalized, and has permeated parliament as well as all positions of government, be the civilian or military. In fact, the Lebanese have never practiced PR, and even those who pushed for its adoption disagree on its operational details, due to their mutual doubts, illusions and distrust of each other.
The simple fact is that sectarianism in Lebanon is today much worse than it was in 1975 when the Lebanese Civil - Regional War (1975-1990) broke out. Then, at least, there were:
1- Multi-sect parties and political groupings.
2- Clear-cut issues on which the Lebanese disagreed, such as the future of the political system, and how to deal with the Palestinian guerrilla organizations.
3- An ‘Arab regional system’ relatively capable of containing problems and sponsoring initiatives.
4- The climate of the Cold War which prevented open-ended sectarian wars, whether in the shape of classic armed conflicts or terrorist attacks.
Today, however, Lebanon is living a state of ‘vertical’ divisions where each encapsulates one sect, despite many claims to the contrary; hence, regardless of how vehemently they may deny it, the Lebanese are much more sectarian than they were before their Civil - Regional War. Secular and non-sectarian parties and organizations have all but disappeared, and many became weak and exploited ‘vehicles’ of various intelligence services in the post East-West confrontation.
‘Arab regional order’ has now collapsed in the light of mushrooming ‘failed states’ and horrific Arab setbacks in the face of ‘tri-partite’ ascendancy of Israel, Iran and Turkey.
Last but not least, after the West’s victory in the Cold War, the divided and disintegrating countries of Eastern Europe sought refuge in nationalism – in some cases, under Mafia-rule and outright racism.
Across the former ‘Iron Curtain’ Western leaderships mishandled the ‘New World Order’, and suffered almost the same malady; as winds of ‘Globalization’ brought about by the West’s historic victory created nationalist, racist and isolationist reactions that are re-defining the ‘nation-state’.
As a result, there are no more mechanisms capable of containing conflicts, and no serious and profound approaches to solve them, creating deteriorating hotspots all around the World.
Given the above, come next May, Lebanon will be jumping into the ‘unknown’. It is, since the only sure thing is that the expected ‘elections’ would not reflect clean vote free of fear, pressures and threats.
Some Lebanese chose to ignore the reality of submission to a local ‘disproportionate power’ backed by an even more powerful regional depth, so they claimed the need for ‘stability’ as a justification for accepting the status quo; and now that ‘submission’ has become a price worth paying to insure ‘stability’ the elections scenario will be a foregone conclusion.
A few days ago, I read a brilliant newspaper article written by the press advisor of a prominent Sunni political personality. The article says that Hezbollah, which has pushed for PR while exclusively keeping its military arsenal, is now claiming that it is only seeking – along with its ‘allies’ – one third of the parliamentary seats, which is enough to protect it from being marginalized by others. The truth, however, as the article explains, is that Hezbollah is shrewdly planning for an absolute majority through two sets of ‘allies’… ‘First Class’ and Second Class’!
Hezbollah, the article adds, is keen to spare the major players it seeks to help the ‘unease’ of joining its lists in order to portray them as ‘independent’ within their sectarian communities; thus giving them false credibility. This applies not only to the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) – founded by current President Michel Aoun, which is actually in some form of alliance with it – but also with the Future Movement of Prime Minister Saad Hariri which claims before its Sunni supporters that is willing to cooperate with every group except Hezbollah!
Indeed, this is precisely the strategy of Hezbollah backed by the Iranian regime, which is orchestrating the political and military actions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
‘Shadow Governmental’ Network
In Lebanon, Hezbollah is now so powerful, and its ‘shadow governmental’ network of organizations so sophisticated, that it is more than able to freely maneuver, while most of its political rivals have reached two conclusions:
1- Any direct confrontation is futile.
2- Iranian expansion, even its increasing demographic presence, would have been impossible with tacit international and Israeli acquiescence.
After the ‘July 2006 War’, many Lebanese later realized it was launched by Israel against the ‘Lebanese state’, ‘Lebanese people’ and ‘Lebanese economy’ rather than against Hezbollah, and its political and economic infrastructure. Even today most of Israel’s threats suggest its willingness to “bring back Lebanon – the whole of Lebanon – to the Stone Age”.
Furthermore, the tangible outcome of the 2006 War, which was supposed to keep Hezbollah’s military machine north of the Litani River in South Lebanon, away from the Israeli borders, was actually giving Hezbollah a free rein inside Lebanon since 2008 and inside Syria too since 2011.
This background is a must to understand the recent conflict between President Aoun’s FPM and Amal Movement led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, which has taken extreme religious overtones, and reached an unprecedented level of post-1990 agitation.
It is also a must to comprehend why Hezbollah has, so far. decided not to be directly embroiled; bringing back the historical quote of Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rasheed who looked at a winter cloud and said: “wherever you go, your rain will still fall on my vast realm”.
A third useful angle in reading Hezbollah’s ‘silence’ – if not concealed smiles – is how the spokespeople of the Future Movement continue to express their willingness to go into electoral alliances with everybody except Hezbollah!.
The fact is, however, that Hezbollah is quite aware that PR negated the need for traditional electoral alliances the Lebanese have grown accustomed to. Actually, the only ‘real alliance’ it wants from the Future Movement is merely co-operation under the pretext of ‘stability’ after retaining its strong Sunni electoral mandate.
In other words, Hezbollah’s core interest is in Aoun emerging as the strongest Christian representative, and Hariri as the stronger Sunni representative as long as both men – and their political vehicles – remain part and parcel of its definition of ‘stability’.