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Middle East Press (02 Mar 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)


What King Salman Seeks In Asia: New Age Islam's Selection, 02 March 2017





New Age Islam Edit Bureau

02 March 2017

What King Salman Seeks In Asia

By Ankit Panda

Arab League Is the Only Platform for Arabism

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

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What King Salman Seeks In Asia

By Ankit Panda

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 2015.

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 Asia-Pacific region.

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 Maldives

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 Cooperation.

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 the matter.

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 "Ahok".

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 petrochemical project.

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 Saudi Arabia.

Looking Eastwards

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 agenda.

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 non-optional.

Ankit Panda is a global affairs analyst and senior editor at The Diplomat, where he writes on security, politics, and economics in the Asia-Pacific region.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/02/saudi-king-salman-seeks-asia-170228095334605.html

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Arab League Is the Only Platform for Arabism

By Ahmed Aboul Gheit

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 sustainable development.

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 than that.

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.

Source: khaleejtimes.com/region/mena/arab-league-is-the-only-platform-for-arabism

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Compromise Is Key to Syrian Peace

By Abdulrahman Al Rashed

March 1, 2017

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 Syrians.

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 anomaly.

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.

Source: .khaleejtimes.com/region/mena/compromise-is-key-to-syrian-peace

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Facts, Lies and the Ballot Box

By Murat Yetkin

March/02/2017

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 years.

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.

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 organizations.

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.

Source; hurriyetdailynews.com/facts-lies-and-the-ballot-box.aspx?pageID=449&nID=110345&NewsCatID=409

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Turkey Acts like an Elephant in a Chinese Shop on FETÖ

By Barcin Yinanc

March/02/2017

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 attack.

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.

Source; hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-acts-like-an-elephant-in-a-chinese-shop-on-feto.aspx?pageID=449&nID=110329&NewsCatID=412

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