New Age Islam Edit Bureau
02 March 2017
What King Salman Seeks In Asia
By Ankit Panda
Arab League Is the Only Platform for
By Ahmed Aboul Gheit
Compromise Is Key To Syrian Peace
By Abdulrahman Al Rashed
Facts, Lies and the Ballot Box
By Murat Yetkin
Turkey Acts Like An Elephant In A
Chinese Shop On FETÖ
By Barcin Yinanc
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
In the final days of February, Saudi
Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, flanked by a 600-strong delegation,
embarked on a month-long tour of the Asia-Pacific, where he is visiting
Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Japan, China, the Maldives, and, on his way back
to the Middle East, Jordan.
Saudi kings seldom undertake such ambitious
regional tours, but King Salman's undertaking is an extension of the kingdom's
more ambitious outreach to the Asia-Pacific since King Abdullah's death in
Saudi state media and the royal court have
portrayed the trip as primarily concerned with energy and investment matters,
but the broader geopolitical context motivating this rare month-long regional
tour by the king merits a closer look.
The king's trip can be bifurcated into two
tranches: China and Japan will fulfill one set of priorities while the trips to
Malaysia, Indonesia, and Maldives satisfy another.
China and Japan
First, while crude oil prices have somewhat
recovered from their nadir in late 2015 and early 2016, Riyadh remains
committed to its longer-term plan to reduce its dependence on oil revenues. In
this project, the kingdom will need willing partners and investors in the
The National Transformation Plan (NTP),
conceived by Mohammed bin Salman, the young and ambitious deputy crown prince,
has set out nearly 350 targets for Saudi governmental bodies that will require
solid foreign direct investment.
Indeed, King Salman's visit should be seen
as the culmination of moves that were put in place by the deputy crown prince
in mid-to-late 2016, when the NTP was announced, followed immediately by his
own visits to Japan and China in particular.
In Japan and China, the deputy crown prince
- who is also the defence minister - received assurances from Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping that their countries would promote
important inbound investment into the kingdom.
Tokyo and Beijing, meanwhile, as large net
importers of energy, see a good relationship with the kingdom as fundamentally
in their national interest. China overtook the United States as the world's
largest importer of crude in October 2016.
The deputy crown prince alone can
accomplish just so much, though. The crown jewel, so to speak, in the National
Transformation Plan for Saudi Arabia is the forthcoming initial public offering
for state oil giant Saudi Aramco.
Seeking out investment from Asian
heavyweights such as China and Japan in this endeavour merits the king's
attention; no surprise, then, that Salman's Asian itinerary includes stops in
the region's two largest economies.
With China, Saudi Arabia also sees an
increasingly significant geopolitical counterweight to the US, whose foreign
policy has grown uncertain since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president.
In particular, amid an intensifying
regional struggle against Iran, which took on a new character in early 2016
after Saudi Arabia executed the prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, the kingdom
has seen the value of courting influence in China.
Beijing's voice at the United Nations
Security Council and the global stage more broadly on matters ranging from the
implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the kingdom has strongly
criticised, to Tehran's broader regional moves, leaves it a valuable partner
for Saudi Arabia.
Beijing, however, won't play along
willingly with Riyadh's geopolitical plans for the Middle East. Since the 2016
nosedive in relations between the two regional heavyweights, China has sought
to play an even hand, keeping its ties with both states on good footing.
Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and
The second set of countries included on
Salman's itinerary - Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Maldives - are compelling
geopolitical targets for the kingdom in different ways.
First, all four nations are Sunni Muslim
majority, with Islam being the state religion in both Brunei and the Maldives.
(Indonesia is constitutionally secular. The Malaysian constitution, on the
other hand, leaves it officially secular while acknowledging Islam's prominent
role in society.) All are also members of the Organisation of Islamic
Viewing Saudi engagement with these
countries strictly through the lens of Islam, of course, would oversimplify the
extent of Riyadh's interests, but any time the Saudi King visits a
majority-Muslim country, pan-Islamic rhetoric features prominently on the
agenda and these four states are no exception.
Moreover, despite widespread perceptions of
and speculations on Saudi Arabia as having a role in enabling the spread of
global Sunni armed groups over the decades, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic
State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the kingdom has been working overtime to
cement its position as a counter terror powerhouse in the Muslim world.
Last year, under the deputy crown prince's
lead, Riyadh declared the foundation of a multi-country Islamic Military
Alliance, nominally uniting a wide-range of Muslim-majority states against the
ISIL. The deputy crown prince, in January 2016, met with the defence ministers
of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the deputy defence minister of Brunei to confer on
Maldives, as one of the highest per capita
contributors of foreign fighters to the ISIL, was included in the alliance.
Malaysia supported the alliance, but did not sign up for a military role.
Indonesia and Brunei, meanwhile, expressed support for the initiative.
The king will be looking to bolster
perceptions of pan-Islamic cooperation against terror in the region, while also
advancing the broader bilateral agenda.
With regional economic heavyweights
Malaysia and Indonesia in particular, King Salman and his coterie of advisers
will also be looking to advance economic cooperation in line with the
objectives of the NTP. Jakarta, which sees a Saudi king visit after a 47-year
break, expects up to $25bn in inbound investment.
The Saudi king's visit coincides with
concerns that Indonesian Islam is beginning to shed its historic reputation for
tolerance and moderation amid months of protests in Jakarta against the city's
incumbent Chinese-Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as
With the race for the Jakarta governorship
under way now, with tensions still hot from the popular outcry against Ahok for
perceived blasphemy against Islam, Indonesian Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung
expressed his hope that Saudi Arabia would promote moderate Islam.
Radicalisation in Indonesia remains
limited, but the country's authorities have grown concerned about the ISIL's
forays into the region after a January 2016 attack in Jakarta. Days before King
Salman's arrival in the country, another ISIL-linked attacker belonging to
Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, a local terror group, set off a small bomb in Bandung .
In this context, anti-Wahhabi moderate
Sunni Islamic Indonesian groups such as Nahdlatul Ulama have long complained
about Saudi-financed efforts in Indonesia to spread Salafi-Wahhabi, thought as
a source of the country's increasingly perceptible rise in hardline Islam.
In Kuala Lumpur, on the first leg of his
trip, Malaysian state oil firm Petronas and Saudi Aramco signed a $7bn
agreement that will see Saudi investment flow into an oil refinery and
While the investment ostensibly provides
much-needed relief to Petronas, which had been struggling under low oil prices,
Saudi investment in Malaysia has drawn public scrutiny since revelations that
the kingdom may have been involved in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal,
whereby Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is accused of appropriating nearly
$1bn from a state development company, claiming that the money was a gift from
As King Salman heads to Asia, it's worth
remembering that Riyadh's look eastward is not sudden, but borne of a strategic
plan incorporating the priorities of the NTP and Saudi Arabia's broader global
Saudi Arabia, like so many states in the
region, is betting on the centre of gravity in global affairs shifting away
from the West and towards the East in the coming years.
Riyadh's dramatic plans to overhaul its
economic model, paired with its historic bid to maintain its position as the
leader of the Sunni Muslim world, leave pursuing ties with Asia-Pacific states
Ankit Panda is a global affairs analyst and senior editor at The
Diplomat, where he writes on security, politics, and economics in the
March 1, 2017
The region requires a huge economic
recovery that grants opportunities to Arab youth to unleash their potentials.
I have a traditional bias to those who
swear to protect nations and sacrifice souls for their sake. I have a
deep-rooted conviction that military institutions were and still are one of the
essential elements of national fabric coherence in Arab countries regardless of
their political regimes and social formations.
If we tackle the issue from a strategic
angle, the Arab world is now in a defensive position as it has become a target
of attacks from more than one direction. The most dangerous types of attacks
ever are those that are home-grown, causing an unprecedented burden on security
and military bodies of the region's states. Complexity lies in the absence of a
single cause of events and crises.
My generation grew up when the Palestinian
cause was essential for having clear and definite dimensions. On the contrary,
today there is no cause of such an impact in the Arab world as a whole.
And, the Arab world will not witness
prosperity as long as there is chaos in any Arab country. The Arab League
continues to be the only platform for Arabism and the fact that its role hasn't
stopped throughout decades is a reflection of inter-Arab relations.
Risks that we are facing today have become
crystal clear for citizens - terrorism under the banner of Islam is no more a
theoretical idea or mental image but a reality full of tragedies and disasters
- a reality that has been rejected by the majority of citizens after their
experience with Daesh.
However, terrorism is not the only
challenge we are facing. There are a series of other challenges that are no
less dangerous. Some of them are geopolitical such as the failure to have a
central authority in Yemen, Libya and Syria, as well as the growing regional
greed of neighbouring countries including Iran and Israel.
Some other challenges are economic and
social, such as drop in oil prices, economic slowdown, and failure to achieve
Yet, Arab countries still lack
institutionalism and the ability to work collectively in confronting challenges
that require a joint strategy. For example, one of the faults in the Arab
system is the absence of a unified defense strategy.
The region requires a huge economic
recovery that grants opportunities to Arab youth to unleash their potentials.
Our societies must be able to generate wealth by improving highly productive
sectors and putting an end to dependency on oil resources as well as moving
towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The Arab League remains the only framework
that can fulfill these goals and face these challenges - it is true that the
League's work has been associated with political issues but its role is wider
Certainly, the collective movement of Arabs
through the league grants them greater power against other entities and ensures
cooperation among them.
Joint Arab work is now a must and not an
option. It is, in fact, a necessity for survival.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit is Arab League's Secretary-General.
Compromise Is Key to Syrian Peace
Geneva talks and other such efforts are futile
unless all parties yield ground and accept a power-sharing model
The US government tried to solve the Syria
crisis by suggesting three negotiations based on a balanced political proposal.
But the Damascus-Iran-Russia axis ruined all three conferences.
Russia, in turn, initiated two conferences,
one in Astana and the other currently being held in Geneva. However, this too
doesn't look promising. The beginnings confirm the end: a repeated failure.
This is despite the fact that Washington
has supported the solution and UN Envoy Steffan de Mistura had defended
Russia's stance. Moderate opposition factions were pressured to accept
solutions (that aren't up to their expectations), and others were barred from
participating in the talks. Geneva 4 conference hasn't ended yet, but it seems
that it is doomed to fail.
This clearly reveals lack of a clear
consensus that can be accepted by all, or one that can be imposed on everyone
through international support. Iran and Russia, on their part, have tried to do
this by supporting the Syrian regime on the people of Syria. But it's an utter
failure. The solution isn't acceptable to the millions of displaced, frightened
Russian and Iranian proposal is based on
keeping the regime in power, which means enforcing its policies of displacement
and cancellation of majority of the remaining residents inside Syria.
The idea itself can't survive even if all
factions agreed to it. It is a formula that aims to enable the regime to rule
most of Syria by force, like the West Bank under Israeli occupation, except the
fact that Israel has a strong powerful system, which allows it to control this
Russia has tried to convince a number of
opposing factions to join the regime, offering them positions in the government
in exchange. Yet to these factions and everyone else, this seems like
legalising rape and no one will accept such a solution. The previously proposed
political solution was rejected by both the Syrian regime and the opposition.
Still, it is the practical solution and reasonable alternative.
The solution suggests a joint regime and it
can now be developed by keeping the president but giving the security and
finance to the opposition or by changing the president and keeping sovereign
posts for the regime but within a framework of cooperation protected by
regional and international authorities.
Sharing can be based on a reasonable
balance formula that both parties have an interest in maintaining: either the
presidency or the presidency's jurisdictions, but not both. We have a standing
model - the Taif Agreement - that ended the Lebanese crisis, which was much
more complicated than the Syrian problem. It was based on creating a solution
in which all parties made concessions.
War calls sought to cancel the Christians'
right to presidency and its jurisdictions demanding it be equally distributed.
The dispute ended by redistributing jurisdictions with the president remaining
Christian by losing some of his jurisdictions for other parties.
Hadn't it been for the Taif Agreement, the
war might have continued and the Christians would have lost their shares.
If the Sunnis and Shi'ites had refused to
make concessions, the war would have resulted in more foreign interventions
that would have prolonged the war and deepened divisions within sects on the
Lebanese arena. The current political situation in Lebanon is neither perfect
nor great, but at least the country is stable.
Crisis in Syria is less complicated,
especially because the civil opposition accepts power sharing and the constitution
protects the rights of all minorities. Its system has a good example of that as
it involves all Syrians irrelevant of their religious and ethnic differences.
As for the armed opposition, most of its
factions are rejected by everyone because it has a religious and
internationalist agenda; none of which is acceptable to the Syrian population.
The failure of Astana and Geneva talks will
spur fights again even after denying armament for moderate opposition, some of
which had to form coalitions with terrorist groups to protect themselves after
running out of ammunition.
The repeated failure may lead the
uncompromising parties to think reasonably and rationally. Iran must realise
that it will not be allowed to take over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Iran achieved its incursion by benefiting
from the weakness of the former US administration. Its dominance threatens the
rest of the region's countries and the world.
It is a hazard because Iran uses its agents
as a weapon against its rivals, including Europeans and the US. Also, if the
unrest continues it would attract more extremists and threaten everyone.
Abdulrahman Al Rashed is the former general manager of Al Arabiya
television, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al Awsat and Al Majalla. He is
based in Dubai.
It is unfair to pin the whole blame on
Donald Trump and his election win in the United States on the new political
concept of “post-truth.”
Wikipedia gives the flowing definition for
the concept: “Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics) is a
political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion
disconnected from the details of policy and by the repeated assertion of
talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.”
The Oxford dictionary chose “post-truth” as
the word of 2016.
This is something much more than the
classical line which goes “perceptions matter more than realities in politics.”
It is rather close to the Turkish proverb which goes “if you say the same thing
40 times it becomes real.” In the post-truth, post-fact world, what you say 40
times need not be the truth as well.
For example, in an IPSOS-Mori study cited
by a Munich Security Conference 2017 report, this question was asked to
citizens in different countries: “Out of every 100 people in your country,
about how many are Muslims?”
The answers showed remarkable difference
between the facts and the perceptions.
In France for example, where the Muslim
population is about 7.5 percent, the respondents believed that there were 31
percent – something that explains the Islamophobic tendencies in politics. So
in France, if a politician comes up and says that France has been overwhelmed
by Muslims who are taking jobs from the hands of good Christian French men and
women, there is a chance that it could work.
In Germany the actual percentage is 5
percent but the perception is 21 percent. In the U.S., just 1 percent of the
population is Muslim, but the majority believes it is 17 percent. In Poland
where Islamophobia and actually all forms of xenophobia is on the ascent, the
Muslim population is less than 0.001 percent, but the perception is 7 percent.
And here is the surprise: In Turkey, the
Muslim population according to official records is 98 percent, but the majority
of people believe that it is only 81 percent. With such data in hand, any
Turkish politician could play the xenophobic card about the behind-the-scenes
power of non-Muslims and find support.
This is still within the realm of distorted
truth and replacing reality with perception. But there was a striking example
of fake news given by Gen. Petr Pavel, the chairman of NATO’s Military
Committee, during the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 18. He said news about
German soldiers raping a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl near their army barracks
was totally fake; it was spread through social media right after NATO’s
decision to send more troops, mostly Germans, in support of Baltic states.
The “post-truth” concept has been around
for some years already, but Trump’s fierce struggle with the Democrats allowed
many across the globe to perceive it better. Political commentators have
identified post-truth politics as being on the ascendancy in Russian, Chinese,
American, Australian, British, Indian, Japanese and Turkish politics for many
In Turkey another ballot box will be put
before 55 million plus voters on April 16 for a referendum to approve a
constitutional change for a shift to an executive presidential system. The
opposition arguments that it will lead to the one-man-rule of President Tayyip
Erdogan cannot find much place in the media. Erdogan says concentrating the
will of the people in one hand and ensuring it is not chained by any other
power, be it parliament or the courts, will be a more democratic and quicker
way of serving the people.
Such a politically polarized atmosphere is
extremely susceptible to manipulations including fake news, especially through
Social media has been a mess for many years
and is full of trolls either supported by the government, opposition groups or
interest groups. There have been restrictions erected against the mainstream
media by the state of emergency imposed after the foiled military coup of July
15, 2016. More than 120 journalists, writers and publishers are under arrest on
accusations of being linked to the coup attempt or different terrorist
In short, there is a global tendency of
“post-truth” politics and the state of emergency conditions together ahead of
the Turkish referendum and the shower of fake news, especially on social media.
Turkish voter will do their best to make
the best possible decision anyway. But we’ll continue to tiptoe amid this
delicate relation between fake news in this post-truth world and one of the
main pillars of a pluralist democracy, the ballot box.
Turkey Acts like an Elephant in a
Chinese Shop on FETÖ
Turkey was not vigilant enough in
monitoring border crossings to Syria in the initial two or three years of the
civil war there. The government was probably hoping that additional manpower
would contribute to what it expected to be the rapid fall of the Bashar
al–Assad regime. But once the issue of foreign fighters returning to their home
country became alarming, Turkey started to come under pressure from European
capitals to secure better control of the border.
The Turkish security forces cooperated with
their foreign interlocutors, but it can be fairly said that the government truly
started to take the issue seriously only after 2014, when the Islamic State of
Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) deadly activities became more visible, especially
after three foreign nationals of ISIL killed a Turkish police officer and
military officer in March 2014.
European capitals’ initial complaints about
lacking cooperation ceased over time, especially after several incidents
revealed that some extradited ISIL members suspects were not properly
investigated by the authorities of their country of origin, with some going on
to stage attacks after being released. The men who injured three soldiers in
Nice in 2015, for instance, were expelled by Turkey only a week before the
Western diplomats admit that it is not
always easy to cooperate with Turkish security officials, who are not generous
in sharing information. But that is not an approach specific to the Turkish
security and intelligence apparatus.
Some of the attacks staged by ISIL show
that even cooperation among EU member states is not at a satisfactory level,
and neither is cohesion among different institutions within the same country.
One additional difficulty specific to
Turkey has been the breakup of the alliance between the government and the
followers of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, which penetrated the
security and intelligence agencies. As the government started to target the
Gülenists following the December 2013 corruption operations against the
government, Turkey’s Western allies faced difficulties finding interlocutors in
the security institutions.
The anti-Gülen purge ramped up a gear after
the failed July 15 coup attempt, which must have created additional challenges
in bilateral cooperation. But European capitals seem to be relatively satisfied
with results on the ground. For example, nearly 180 French nationals have been
expelled to France over the course of the past two years.
However, there are complaints about
Ankara’s harsh criticism of Europe regarding security cooperation, while
officials fear that what happens at the bureaucratic level sometimes does not
reach up to the relevant parts of government. Recently, four ISIL members
returned by Turkey to the U.K. were tried and sentenced to nine years in jail,
but few know about this in Turkey.
Are members of the Turkish government left
in the dark by bureaucrats, or do they prefer not to know? After all, it suits
their interests to bash European capitals whenever they want, especially when
it comes to the extradition issue of suspected “Fetullahist Terrorist
Organization (FETÖ)” members.
Indeed, that is a number one priority issue
for the government, which has a position that can be summarized as follows: “We
deliver on ISIL; we expect the same on FETÖ.”
Unfortunately, some of the evidence
provided by the Turkish authorities does not comply with European standards on
criteria for extradition. In addition, claims of torture and mistreatment in
prison, as well as suspicions over a fair trial, are not making it any easier.
Turkish officials are too emotional and too
temperamental. One foreign diplomat said that at a time when Ankara needs to be
patient, “it is acting like an elephant in a China shop” on the FETÖ issue.