Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Breau
18 November 2017
Why Hariri Resigned In Riyadh
By Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri
A Wary Return To Raqqa
By Yassin Al-Hajj Saleh
Syria: Between The American Anvil And The Russian Hammer
By Shehab Al-Makahleh
How Houthis Manage To Control Yemen?
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
The Evolution Of Turkish-Russian Relations
By Sinem Cengiz
The Patriarch’s Visit To Riyadh: Challenges And Consequences
By Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
By Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri
17 November 2017
For those observing and understanding the situation in our region, it is not difficult to understand Saad Hariri’s resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister. When he went to Riyadh and resigned from there, it was not only for his personal safety. He went there to save Lebanon and its people from Hezbollah’s dominance.
For 25 years, this militia has been in Lebanon under the guise and slogan of resistance against Israel. But this so-called resistance should be directed toward Israel only. What is happening in Lebanon is not like that, because Hezbollah’s weapons have been used against the state and the Lebanese people.
The same is true with any Iranian-sponsored militia in Arab countries, such as the Houthis in Yemen. Hezbollah is the first militia in the Arab world created by Iran to serve its regional expansion and greed. From the 1980s, Hezbollah began its terrorist actions in Lebanon and the Gulf in favor of Iran. It had a plan to assassinate Kuwait’s then-emir, which failed. It also carried out terrorist acts in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Today, we are witnessing Hezbollah’s evil very clearly in Syria by killing Syrian civilians who oppose Iran and the Assad regime. Tehran relies on Hezbollah to train more militias in the region and produce more and more fighters. It did that in Iraq after the US-led invasion, creating many terrorist militias loyal to Tehran. Before that, for many years Hezbollah trained Al-Qaeda members in Lebanon.
It is no secret that Hezbollah was behind the Houthi coup against the Yemeni state. Today, it is training the Houthis, smuggling Iranian weapons to them and launching ballistic missiles from Yemen with the help of Iranian experts. Just this month, Riyadh was targeted by an Iranian missile launched from Yemen, which was intercepted by the Saudi air defense.
Amid Hariri’s resignation in Riyadh, the missile attack was a message from Hezbollah to Saudi Arabia not to help Lebanon and its people. Riyadh for decades has directly supported Arab and non-Arab states and their peoples, not militias or sectarian groups as Tehran does. Iran has destroyed Arab countries and made them useless, while Saudi efforts are geared toward helping them.
Not only that, but Iran has used those countries against Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom and its allies, partners and friends are trying to correct the situation and counter terrorism by Al-Qaeda, Daesh, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and all other militias who bear arms against their countries and threaten our stability. These groups are trying to plunge the whole region into chaos and create more militias, so terrorism will spread not only regionally but globally.
Hariri came to Riyadh asking for help, just as Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi did for the struggle against the Houthis. Hariri resigned in Riyadh so he would not be in a place where groups allied to his government refuse to withdraw from other countries and refuse to stop doing Iran’s dirty work and terrorist acts. He will not cover for them.
Riyadh will support Lebanon as usual, and will not let it or other Arab countries be destroyed by Iran. The Kingdom will also take serious measures and decisive actions against Tehran’s targeting of it.
In mid-October, the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed, predominantly Kurdish militia with ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, “liberated” my hometown, Raqqa, from Daesh. Arabs, a majority of the region’s population, had little to do with Daesh’s ouster. In a city where locals have long been relegated to second-class status, the triumph of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — the Syrian branch of the PKK — has kindled fears that history is repeating.
Activists from Raqqa have long referred to our dilapidated city as an “internal colony,” owing to its long history of economic, political and social marginalization at the hands of Syrian governments. In the early 1970s, Raqqa — then small and poor — was nonetheless moving forward and flourishing. Schools were multiplying as attendance surged. Other public services were improving as well, and parents believed that their children would lead more prosperous lives than they and previous generations had.
This was certainly true of my parents, who sacrificed a lot to raise their nine children. They were not happy when, in the 1970s, their elder sons became communists, strongly opposing the brutal regime of Hafez Assad, Bashar Assad’s father. But this was not a shocking transformation in a city where people were assuming new identities — such as Nasserist, Baathist, Islamist, or communist — downplaying their regional and tribal origins.
But by the time I was arrested in 1980, as a university student in Aleppo, the future my parents once envisioned had begun to vanish. Five years later, another son was arrested, followed by a third six months after that, hardly exceptional for Syrians at the time. We were among many from across the political and ideological spectrum who were arrested and tortured for daring to oppose the Assad regime. Syrians suffered from extreme repression, with people denied the right to assemble or even to discuss issues publicly, and the country was reduced to a political desert.
Our mother died of cancer while the three of us were in prison. I did not get out of jail until 1996, when I was 35. Returning to Raqqa then, after 16 years behind bars, I was struck by what Assad’s regime — 26 years in power at that time — had done to my city. There was no trace of political life, no public debate, no young people talking about the books they were reading or the films they were watching. Before my arrest, Raqqa had three cinemas. By the time I was released, there was only one, used mostly for weddings.
The cult of Hafez had, by then, replaced Syrians’ free will. The elder Assad’s images were ubiquitous; among the first landmarks to greet me upon my release was a huge statute of the president. The walls were covered in vapid quotations from the hollow speeches of “the master of the nation.”
Raqqa was in rapid decline by then, and the city’s despair would intensify over the next decade. By 2007, even Abdullah Dardari, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs and a chief architect of Syria’s economic reforms (which were upended by the 2011 civil war), described Raqqa as a long-forgotten city. The arrival of Daesh only hastened the colonization of my ephemeral metropolis.
Sadly, even with Daesh gone, the sense of siege remains. Western forces and their proxy, the PYD militia, whose real loyalty is to their leaders in Turkey, now control Raqqa. One of the first things that our new PYD liberators/occupiers did after declaring victory was to display their own foreign identity by installing a huge portrait of the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan. Not a single Syrian symbol was offered in tandem. Worse, after a military operation that destroyed 90 percent of the city and killed some 1,800 residents, the city’s new rulers have not even begun to remove the bodies buried beneath the rubble. Instead, long-time residents have been prevented from returning to their homes.
For those of us with long memories, it is impossible not to draw comparisons with past rulers — the Assad regime and Daesh. What is different this time is the seemingly inevitable march toward ethnic conflict. The city’s previous victims are its latest victims as well. The exploited, impoverished, underrepresented, despised, and dehumanized population is living under even worse conditions, more marginalized than ever. The locals are being dealt with as tribes, according to the modern colonial model.
Raqqa’s “liberation” is not ours. The population is more estranged than ever. Our past struggles for freedom and justice are being ignored. The locals who fought against Daesh, and who were made to disappear at its hands (including my brother Feras, abducted in July 2013), are still missing. And Daesh has served as the ideal monster for many colonial occupiers eager to appear less villainous than they are.
It looks like that the international community has taken the final decision to put to an end the seven-year war in Syria with intensive conferences in the pipeline in November and December to reach a political settlement that secure the return of refugees to their homeland. However, both superpowers are right now strategically making counter moves, as Russia regards Iranian troops in Syria supportive and ancillary to the Russian forces and the Syrian army while the US considers Iranian troops, particularly those close to Jordan and Israel an existential threat to both countries.
Upcoming conferences in Astana, Riyadh, Sochi and Geneva prove the two superpowers had agreed on the final formula of the Syrian conflict. Albeit this could not have been achieved without the coordination of Moscow and Washington on the means to end the bloodshed and to silence the cannons, mainly with the Americans confirming that the future of Bashar Al Assad will be discussed after the transition period, while Russians insist on the principle that only Syrians have the right to select their leadership.
The forces involved in the Syrian conflict are now more aware that the war in Syria will be determined by the battle in Southern parts of Syria for its strategic importance today. The talk between Putin and Trump about the political agreement in Syria without prejudice to the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad means that there is a complete change in the American and Arab position regarding the terms of the future negotiation between all parties.
The expansion of the “de-escalation zone” in the south of Syria means that there is a tendency to resolve the Syrian crisis for fear of its repercussions on neighbors - Jordan and Israel - who are concerned about the expansion of Iranian forces and its factions along the Jordanian and Israeli borders.
Jordan has asked both the United States and Russia to pay more attention to its security concerns. This was raised by King Abdullah II in an interview with the Washington Post in April 2017. He was also the first to warn in 2004 of a Shiite crescent extending from Tehran to the Mediterranean through Iraq and Syria.
Riyadh is hosting a meeting for about 140 members of the Syrian opposition on November 22-24 at a time when the United Nations prepares to convene a new round of Geneva meetings between Syrian opposition and the government on November 28, and Russia announcing the postponement of the Sochi meeting from mid-November to December. All these are indicators that regional and international powers are striving to reach a settlement as the Middle East cannot stand another bloody year due to so many sectarian grudges that would be aggravating regional stability.
Riyadh Meet Crucial
The coming Riyadh meeting is very important as it will help pick about 80 members to represent the Syrian opposition to the coming Geneva meeting or to Sochi. A unified opposition will be stronger and will help better negotiate the future of Syria.
The 8th round of the UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva will focus on the next phase of Syria as the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said at the end of October that the “talks had reached a moment of truth”.
Turkey and Russia have agreed to focus on a political solution in Syria underlining the close coordination between the two countries that have played key roles in the Syrian conflict. That was clear in a joint statement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Teyyep Erdogan in Sochi on November 13, 2017. Moreover, the American President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart agreed during the Asia-Pacific Summit in Vietnam that “there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria,” calling on all parties to take part in the Geneva process.
It is known that the three countries now are arranging the next scenario for Syria, as they are the three guarantor countries which brokered a ceasefire in Syria.
The recent expansion of the de-escalation zones in Southern Syria by the Jordanian borders aims to pave the way for a political transition and the announcement of a new draft constitution before Jordan and Syria sit to discuss opening the two crossing points: Jaber- Naseeb and Ramtha-Dera’a which have been a lifelinefor both countries.
The Russians started to defend Syria to keep it unified and to keep the Syrian government in full control of the whole territories to avoid any regional spillover.
Competition and enmity between Russia and the United States still exist in spite of some breakthrough politically in some areas. The United States is opposed to the fundamentalist presence in power, supporting the opposition, trying to impose economic sanctions on the regime, trying to drain the regime and its capabilities in the crisis, as well as isolating and exhausting Russia and seeing the Syrian crisis as a quagmire that will trap Russian forces.
Russia has expressed its concern that Assad will become a playing card for Iran, which has become a major knot for the Russians and a card in the conflict in Syria. Moscow has realized that Tehran was sharing Russian interests in the region, which emerged, especially after the Russian call for the integration of Iranian militias into the regular Assad forces. However, Iran also cooperated with Turkey in this context, which contributed to the Iranian-Turkish rapprochement, enhanced by mutual visits and the development of economic relations in the field of gas.
When Turkish Prime Minister said that: “Turkey is Iran;s gateway to Europe, and Tehran is our gateway to Asia, and this guarantees us exceptional possibilities in the field of transport and logistical support,” by then the concerned regional and international powers had to take such statements into consideration that both countries will be joining efforts to have their joint agendas at the expense of other regional countries.
The question that arises is: Are we witnessing a solution for the Syrian conflict by year-end, or will this process last longer? The answer is in the coming three conferences which will be held before the end of the year and only a political solution will be suitable for the coming era.
Punish Men Who Harass Women!
By Ruqaya Al-Huwairni
I once saw an interview of a well-known Christian female television presenter with Sheikh Luai Al-Zoabi from Syria. The presenter had covered her hair in respect for the sheikh but she was shocked that the sheikh did not look at her and kept looking down throughout the interview. When she asked him why, he said that religion ordered men to keep their sight away from women who do not cover their hair.
This interview came to my mind when I read the statement of another Muslim sheikh who insisted that women invite harassment. In his opinion, he believes that women cause men to harass them when they do not cover themselves. He even called upon families to insure that their daughters covered up in order to avoid harassment.
Surprisingly, he did not hold men accountable for harassment and did not say anything against men as if he was implying that men should not be blamed if they harassed women who do not cover up and dress modestly.
I would like to remind this sheikh of the fact that Allah the Almighty ordered men not to look at women before He ordered women to cover up and dress modestly.
The sheikh’s statements are illogical and unacceptable and show that he does not understand the Shariah. He just wants to scare women so that they stay at home and do not go out on the street.
When the authorities announced that an anti-harassment law would come into force soon, many people were angry. They were angry because they have the same belief that the sheikh has: women should stay at home.
Harassers should be punished severely if they practice physical or verbal abuse against women. Repeated felonies should be punished even more severely with imprisonment, fines, public naming and shaming. No one would dare to harass a woman or a girl on the street if we had an anti-harassment law.
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
The Houthis are a small group that lives in North Yemen. Iran embraced them to confront Saudi Arabia and Sanaa’s government and as part of its project to plant regional agents like the Lebanese Hezbollah party. The group’s command has been linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards for more than 20 years now, and it’s nothing new like some think.
With time, the Houthis began to bear great resemblance to other Iranian armed groups in the region as they were trained on using weapons, organizing their ranks and spreading propaganda. Iran chose the group’s name and slogan.
The Houthis’ party is actually called Ansar Allah. Its slogan which is repeated on a daily basis is the same as Iran’s: “Death to America. Death to Israel. Damn the Jews. Victory to Islam.”
The Houthis’ are different from Hezbollah in the fact that they constitute a small number in Yemen, as they are less than 5 percent of the population. The Iranians sought to support them while relying on the more advanced Lebanese Hezbollah party.
Hezbollah is thus managing the Houthis’ affairs in Yemen and is making use of its long military, social and propaganda experience in Lebanon. It is preparing the Houthis to control Yemen. This is why we have seen the Houthis’ develop their skills in using weapons, including ballistic missiles, in the past three years.
This is in addition to forced recruitment operations as the Houthis do not hesitate to execute those who refuse to fight for them and to kill the parents of the escaped recruits.
A Yemeni friend told me that the Houthis assign local commanders in the areas they seize, recruit children between the ages 11 and 17 and execute those who reject recruitment as part of their intimidation policy to subjugate tribal areas which could not be controlled by any authority before.
He also said that the Houthis’ propaganda resembles the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ as they convince young people that by fighting Saudi Arabia, they would be fighting America and Israel. He added that the Houthis make small transistor radios available due to power outages and lack of television sets in rural areas.
The Houthis closed 15 dailies and 9 public and private television stations. They only kept two channels that are affiliated with them. Iran taught its recruitment and ideological experiences to its Houthi followers in Yemen and trained them on how to collect money and other financial resources. The availability of money is the secret to the Houthis’ capability to continue fighting.
Most funds are collected via checkpoints that are used to impose taxes on individuals, vehicles and merchandise on areas they control through the power of arms. They also control the Hodeidah port, which is Yemen’s major naval path, and own almost all oil filling stations.
Members of the Lebanese Hezbollah party handled the organization and planning process for their Houthi brothers, which are considered underdeveloped in in their structure as most of their middle leaders are illiterate.
Considering the small size of the group, the biggest challenge is related to extending domination via alliances, forced recruitment and ideologically convincing people, particularly young men, of their cause and letting them spread panic among people in areas they control.
The Houthis resemble ISIS a lot. Both are actually terrorist groups in terms of ideologies and practices. Their philosophy is based on submitting to leadership and propagating terror. We’ve previously seen how ISIS, despite its small size, seized control of heavily populated areas in Iraq and Syria and of cities whose population is more than 1 million, like Mosul.
It was not possible to liberate these cities without international military efforts. Targeting the Houthis via aerial bombardment alone will not end their threat and an effort will have to be made to study the organization’s nature and activities on the ground.
The past decade has seen considerable change in Russia’s Middle East policy, with greater involvement in regional crises and engagement in good relations with key countries and non-state actors. Russia’s policy at times converges with Turkey’s, and at other times challenges it. Turkish-Russian relations have survived several crises, the most severe being in November 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian jet along its border with Syria.
Neither Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan nor his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are easy leaders. Both have big ambitions and different approaches in the Middle East in order to realize their goals. Erdogan wants to turn Turkey into a greatly influential country in the region, while Russia wants to create buffer zones for itself there. The two leaders often meet in order to understand each other’s red lines and discuss common areas of cooperation.
On Monday, Erdogan met with Putin at the presidential residence in Russia’s coastal city of Sochi. It was their sixth meeting this year, and they often talk on the phone. This latest meeting reportedly lasted more than two hours. The positive atmosphere could be seen from their facial expressions and body language. Due to the prolonged meeting, Erdogan arrived late — at 1 a.m. — to his next destination Kuwait.
“We’ve agreed to deepen our relations,” he said during a press conference with Putin, adding that “intense” diplomacy will continue. But despite the warm atmosphere between them and the smiles on their faces, there are several issues that are challenging bilateral ties, despite there being several issues that necessitate cooperation.
One of the toughest issues is Russia’s approach toward the Syrian Kurds. Following Turkish objections, Moscow postponed a meeting on Syria that was scheduled to take place on Nov. 18 in Sochi with the participation of Syrian-Kurdish groups.
Ankara had objected to the invitation of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), considering them as extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The meeting was postponed, but whether those groups would attend is still unclear.
Russia’s policy toward the Kurds is not much different than America’s. In post-war Syria, Moscow wants to guarantee local collaborators, so it is pushing hard to include the Kurds in talks for its long-term goals: Countering Daesh, preventing Western dominance and preserving its military bases in Syria. So the Kurdish issue seems to remain contested between Moscow and Ankara.
Russia had been planning to launch a new initiative on the Syrian conflict during a two-day meeting in Astana on Nov. 30-Dec. 1. Moscow is being too decisive in saying the meeting will focus on “compromise solutions” to end the six-year conflict. It would be better to wait until the end of the month to see how the meeting between Erdogan and Putin will reflect on the upcoming one on Syria.
On the other hand, Ankara’s closeness with Moscow strengthens the former’s political leverage against the US and European countries with which Turkey does not enjoy good relations these days. Ankara’s procurement of Russia’s S400 missile system is not only a military move but also a diplomatic one, sending a strong message to its Western allies.
Turkey recently said the purchase had been completed, underscoring the contentious relationship between Ankara and the West. Turkey and Russia have not yet agreed on the technology transfer, yet the S400 issue was enough to raise eyebrows in the West.
Russian-Turkish rapprochement also helps relations between Ankara and Tehran. Iran, Turkey and Russia are the three guarantors of the Astana talks, which aims to solve the Syrian conflict politically.
But in international diplomacy, not trusting your partner limits the closeness of relations. This is the case with Russia and Turkey. Neither Erdogan nor Putin trust each other, but both are aware that a deterioration of relations does not serve the interests of either country.
Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai made a historic visit to Riyadh following an invitation by King Salman. The visit came amid the dangerous circumstances Lebanon is going through.
There have been dangerous developments that harm the essence of state institutions as Saad Hariri’s resignation has revealed political weakness in the country. Hariri and his party form the liberal, civil and modern movement within the Lebanese society while other parties compete over serving their interests and raise slogans of socialism or extremist radicalism.
Hariri and Samir Geagea are among those few politicians who defend civil values based on conviction, protect the republic’s bases and defend the state as the entity that guarantees others’ freedom.
The patriarch’s visit comes amid Iran’s arrogant belief that Lebanon is now under its control and that Hezbollah, which has the lion’s share of politics, geography and weapons, is the country’s real governor regardless of other figures’ political influence.
There is noticeable tension between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. This may have economic, social and political repercussions. Despite Saudi Arabia’s serious initiatives and efforts to bring back Lebanon into the Arab fold – considering it’s a founding member of the Arab League – it’s not possible to comprehend its transformation into an arena for Iranian military and political operations.
Saudi Arabia has also accepted difficult settlements like the Syrian-Saudi initiative, which late King Abdullah made. This is in addition to Hariri’s settlement with the Free Patriotic Movement and which led to election of a president. However, when the state is weak and fragile, an alternative is automatically prepared.
The state’s alternative is usually gathering gangs or mafia networks or extremist radical parties. Lebanese politicians could not understand the Saudi desire of wanting Lebanon to return to Arab institutions for two reasons. The first one is the true affiliation to Iran’s axis; thus the faith that this “resistant” axis will win, as they claim, in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Betting on this axis is thus safer. The second reason is fears that the party with arms in Lebanon will target politicians who operate within the Arab project which Saudi Arabia represents. The price for having a different opinion will thus be expensive. This is how the state gets paralyzed – unless a man with a loud voice and esteemed status finalizes the debate and controversy.
Saudi Arabia has protected the diversity of sects in Lebanon for over 50 years now. The patriarch’s visit is the first of its kind but there have been multiple diplomatic meetings between Bkirki and Riyadh through envoys and ministers which the king dispatched. What’s interesting this time is that the visit came upon a royal invitation.
There is a history of partnership and communication between Bkriki and Riyadh. Let’s recall the historic cooperation between Saudi Arabia and former Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir who played a huge role in protecting Lebanon from foreign interferences, whether the Syrian or Iranian ones, and who was a falcon of the Cedar Revolution and a symbol of the Lebanese civil state.
Injustice And Tyranny
Patriarch Rai is expected to help the Lebanese people win against injustice and tyranny. His voice heard in the society and among politicians can contribute to serious discussions about Iranian interferences, the fate of Hezbollah’s arms, the duration of Hezbollah’s interferences in the Syrian war and its sponsorship of terrorism in Yemen and violation of countries’ sovereignty.
This is a difficult task for the patriarch especially that he has never engaged in a frank discussion with Hezbollah. However, if we take a deeper look into his recent statements, we’d sense some balance which work can be based on to address the difficult problems Lebanon is suffering from.
Arab Christians have always had a real partnership with Muslims, and they’ve contributed to developing sciences, philosophy, ideas and language. This was before talks of extremism and bloodshed emerged.
In his book Christianity in the Arab World, Al-Hassan bin Talal writes: “When divisions happened between the churches of Constantinople and Rome, the churches in Sham and Iraq were under Islamic rule for almost four centuries. Only the Roman Orthodox and Catholic Christians in Egypt and Sham remained in support of Byzantium and they remained linked to it in politics and religion, just like they were before. However Copts and Jacobites and Nestorians in Iraq saw Byzantium as a source of oppression. Therefore, they saw in Islamic rule salvation from Byzantium’s injustice. They showed their willingness to cooperate with the Islamic rule from the start. Some say that Maronites were among the Christians who welcomed Islamic rule instead of Byzantium’s rule in Sham.”
There are major disputes between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon and they can be resolved among wise men through dialogue, discussion and practical measures to impose the state’s power. This facilitates cooperation. Without that, however, deteriorating relations may go as far as resulting in regret and sorrow.
As Al-Mutanabbi put it:
There is a long-standing friendship between us
Wish you gave it what it deserves
Abiding loyalty is a sacred trust
For those who honor a pledge
How often you try to find fault with me, yet to no avail
Your attempts are unbecoming
In the eyes of both God and the noble-hearted