New Age Islam Edit Bureau
09 November 2016
All Is Not Quiet On the Libyan Front
By Osama Al Sharif
Final Saudi Observations On The US
By Faisal Al-Shammeri
Does America Matter To The Arab
By Khaled M. Batarfi
US Elections: Why Iran Could Prefer
Trump Over Clinton
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
By Osama al Sharif
9 November 2016
Libya has not been much in the news lately
but that does not mean that all is good. Five years after western powers
intervened militarily in that country — in the height of the so-called Arab
Spring — resulting in the collapse of the regime of autocratic leader Muammar
Gaddafi and his subsequent murder by rebels, Libya continues to be embroiled in
political divisions, internecine infighting, financial crisis and institutional
Successive governments and parliaments have
failed to secure national consensus and prevent secessionist trends, especially
between the western and eastern parts of the country.
Today the likelihood of a civil war
erupting between loyalists of the Tripoli-based, UN-backed Government of
National Accord (GNA), headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj, and supporters of the Libyan
National Army chief Gen. Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi is stronger than ever. Many
observers believe that clash is imminent, especially since Haftar’s forces took
over the oil-rich region last month, cutting off vital revenues to the Sarraj
government and the ailing Presidency Council.
Meanwhile, the “legitimate” parliament in
Tobruk, whose term has ended, continues to deny Sarraj’s cabinet its approval
and insists on altering the political agreement reached in Skhirat in Morocco
last December. That UN-mediated agreement brought about the Presidency Council
and the GNA, both of which lack parliament’s support. To make things worse the
Tobruk legislature has created its own parallel government, under Prime
Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni who refuses to recognize Sarraj and the Tripoli
administration. Sarraj has other problems following last month’s seizure by
militia groups of government buildings thus denying access to national accord
ministers. The militias appear to be backing the unrecognized,
Islamist-supported government of Khalifa Ghweil.
The real victims in this chaotic situation
are the Libyan people. The economic situation has become so dire that western
powers, meeting in London last month, appointed a “supreme expenditure council”
to take charge of the Libyan economy and back Sarraj who is at odds with the
head of Libya’s Central Bank governor. Libya’s oil exports have fallen
drastically since 2014 and the World Bank warned in October that the country
was on the brink of collapse.
The West’s main interests in Libya are
twofold: It wants to have access to the country’s huge oil and natural gas
reserves while hoping that a strong government will check the daily flow of
illegal migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan countries, who use the country’s long
coasts as a departure point to European shores. But following the West’s
military intervention, there has been little interest to address the
deep-seated suspicions among various tribes and the need to incorporate as many
local players as possible in any political agreement.
Critics of the Skhirat accord say it was
forced by UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler who had failed to take into account
political sensitivities especially between tribes in the West and those in the
eastern parts of the country. Haftar’s future role in the Libyan Army has
become a bone of contention as well. This is why many believe that the Skhirat
agreement needs to be renegotiated in light of the current political deadlock.
Kobler is refusing to budge.
Adding to Libya’s piling problems is the
fact that Arab countries have failed to appreciate the larger picture and opted
to choose sides in the current standoff. While western countries object to
Haftar’s current role and future ambitions, a number of Arab countries, such as
Egypt and Jordan and some Gulf states, have supported him. Not surprisingly,
the Arab League has no role in ending the crisis and has not proposed an
alternative road map. Even Libya’s immediate neighbors have failed to take
measures to bring stability to the beleaguered country.
One positive sign coming from Libya is that
the threat of Daesh, whose fighters, mostly locals, were expanding their
control at the beginning of this year, appears to have been thwarted. Forces
loyal to Sarraj— assisted by US airstrikes — were able to clear the terrorist
group from most of Sirte recently. But a possible military confrontation
between government backed forces and Haftar’s Libyan army over the oil crescent
could create a vacuum that militants could use to regroup.
Libya’s failure as a country is a real
possibility and its breaking up remains a looming threat. Such scenarios will
undoubtedly destabilize North Africa, threaten Egypt’s western borders and
increase the flow of migrants to Europe. Understanding Libya’s inter-tribal
tensions is key to providing a flexible political framework that the Libyans
can subscribe to and support. Engaging all players, including the Islamists, is
the only path forward, but by the end of the day it is the Libyan leaders who
must find a common base to keep them together.
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.
Final Saudi Observations on the US
8 November 2016
The current election for the next President
of the United States is nearing its end. In this final stretch there is now a
legitimate opportunity to take a look at what has transpired so far and make
some observations with hindsight.
What began with nearly two dozen candidates
in the primaries for both parties has now become a contest of two. It goes
without saying that this will be a decision that will affect not just the
United States but throughout the global community. The outcome of critical
events such as Ukraine, Syria, ISIS and other terrorist organizations, Iran,
Yemen, and the South China Sea (just to name a few of many ongoing events of
global importance) will all take their final shape based on who becomes the
The United States is the only country in
the world which has the ability to decisively influence events anywhere by its
mere presence in any given situation. Neither Europe, Russia, or China have the
same economic capacity, military potential or influence that Washington has.
Assessing Strengths and Weaknesses
How these factors are utilized and just as
important how Washington will prioritize its use of them will have profound
effect on the United States and the world at large. The purpose here is not to
advocate for either candidate, assess their strengths or weaknesses but to
provide a general assessment based on where we are at and a look into
conventional thinking at the moment.
One candidate, Hillary Clinton, has been
referred to as the most accomplished and qualified to ever seek presidency. For
assumptions sake let’s agree with this. After all it would be a flattering
thing for people to say and would provide a formidable basis for any candidate
in direct competition to have to overcome.
If this is so why has there not been any
decisive separation in the polls from their opponent and a maintaining of any
substantial lead over an extended period of time during the election cycle?
Would it not be reasonable to think that at
a time where there is more global uncertainty, with more dangerous potential
flash points than ever since the end of The Cold War, that the most
experienced, accomplished, and most qualified individual would be able to make
a clear and decisive case for why they should be President?
There are no clear answers. Only the
acknowledgement of their existence when one applies a reasonable assessment to
the gap between conventional wisdom and the reality of the election cycle as it
The other candidate, Donald Trump, has
absolutely no experience in political office and has never been considered as a
viable candidate at any level, either local, state or national. Yet what began
as a primary process among 17 others resulted in a clear winner for one
individual who had not made a career in politics. It needs to be seriously
asked how someone with no background in politics in any way, shape, or form
beat career politicians in a contest where the professional and experienced
should have emerged victorious.
How Has He Come So Far?
The obvious question here is how, and why,
did a candidate with no experience succeeded in getting so close to the most
accomplished and qualified individual in a national election?
Here is equally important question with as
many geopolitical shifts. What is making someone with no experience viable in a
geopolitical environment that is the most dangerous since the end of the Cold
We will get answers to these questions only
at the end of the elections. In American politics 24 hours is a lifetime, and
it is difficult to predict what happens between now and the day of the
elections. In the current American political spectrum, it is hard to determine
where exactly there is a sizable slot of those who reside in the centre.
German Philosopher Johann Goethe once said:
“Theories are grey but real life is green.” This statement applies the current
political environment within the US. The common sentiment beneath the surface
in the US, and also other Western countries, is the feeling among many that
there is a massive gulf between the rulers and the ruled. If drastic and
immediate action is not taken, this gap will only grow and perhaps never fill
Those who carry this sentiment believe that
their rulers are not only completely indifferent but perhaps do not care at all
about their day-to-day wellbeing and legitimate concerns. This gap is
interpreted by those being ruled as oozing with disdain and even downright
Conventional wisdom was turned on its head
with the vote by the citizens of Great Britain to leave the European Union.
Many deemed it not possible beforehand that modest citizen may simply exercise
their right to vote against it.
What will happen in a few hours is
anybody’s guess. What does happen will affect everyone from the United States
to Ukraine to Aleppo and indeed from Raqqa to Mosul, to Tehran and to the
Western Pacific Ocean.
Faisal al-Shammeri is a Saudi writer based in Washington D.C.
Does America Matter To The Arab World?
When asked about the state of our relations
with the United States of America, I would assure my questioner that it is
solid. Then I would qualify, “We have had better days!”
Our 85-year old partnership with the
“Leader of the Free World” is not about to end anytime soon. The bases are too
vital and concrete to be affected by political differences. Our partnership has
started with oil business, but flew to higher skies since then.
Sheikh Abdullah Balkhair, who worked with
King Abdulaziz as a media secretary and interpreter, related to me that once he
attended an event hosted by US officials. He conveyed to them how the king
viewed our relations with America and Britain, “There are friends and partners.
Britain is a friend and America is an ally. When it comes to national
interests, partners come ahead of friends,” the king said.
Since the first meeting between the founder
of Saudi Arabia and US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1945, kings and
presidents were building bridges between the two peoples and nations.
However, there comes a time in any
relationship when interests diverge, and each partner goes her own way. US
blind support of Israel has always been a dividing issue. So was the US
invasion of Iraq (2003) and its policies there and toward the Syrian crisis.
Disagreement over Iran
Today, we could add Iran right at the top
of our disagreements. Somehow, America decided to repeat its historic misstep.
Recently disclosed records showed that the Carter’s administration and Britain
were secretly communicating with exiled Khomeini and in support of his
revolution. After paving the way for his victorious return to Tehran in 1979
from Paris, rewards for betraying their closest friend in the region, the Shah,
had not materialized.
Within months, Iran was screaming “Death to
America,” confiscating US interests and occupying its embassy for 444 days.
President Obama came up with the same pacifist massage President Carter
sugar-coated his dirty politics with. He decided to bet on Iran against
America’s best friends, hoping for a more reliable, pragmatic partner, who
would not hesitate to serve US, Britain and Israel’s interests.
Shiite terrorists, as John Kerry put it to
Syrian opposition in a recent meeting, are not attacking us, but Sunnis are.
Both president and secretary of state seem to forget how it was like during the
1980s in Iran and Lebanon, and why America had to withdraw from Beirut and pay
hefty and embarrassing ransoms (like the scandalous Iran Contra) to free
hostages in both countries.
Hopefully, the new administration, whether
under Tramp or Clinton, would be more aware and a better learner from historic
lessons. The interests of great nations are too important to gamble with. If
you have to choose between solid old allies and newly-found partners with
criminal records, you should go for the most reliable and decent choice.
Not to mention, that betraying friends
would force them to switch camps. Old and new partners would learn not to trust
you. No matter how strong or big you think you are, time will come when you
need what only true friendship provides. Realpolitik and interest-based
relationships are not good enough to build lasting solid alliances.
Our best option is to continue our
political, military and economic diversification. The US would always be a
friend and a partner. You cannot ignore “the” superpower of the world. Our
relationship is too intertwined and deeply rooted to be weakened by current
disagreements. Our interests on most fronts are mutual.
However, when you have a partner who thinks
of your relationship as a business deal, and is willing to sell your bond for
the highest bidder, you need options.
More solid partners and “safer,” higher
yielding markets can be found if we keep looking. In Europe, Latin America,
Africa, Asia and Russia we may find plenty of opportunities. But let’s start
with our Arab and Muslim nations. We should form a 1.5 billion-customer common
market. Our Islamic military alliance against terrorism could be upgraded to a
NATO-like defense pact. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation should activate
all its agencies and projects. We urgently need to set up the Islamic Court of
Justice and put other cultural, media and economic institutions under its
The Gulf Cooperation Council and Arab
League must do better — and faster. The Arab Military Alliance can be made permanent.
Allies like Morocco, Jordan and “new” Yemen should join the GCC as full or
partial members in a GCC+ format.
Once we had developed our own capabilities
and strengthened our “reliable” alliances, we could say to those offering their
mercenary service: Thanks, but your presence is no longer needed! If you are
not here to protect your interests, you may as well leave — we could take care
of our own!
Dr. Khaled Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. This article was
published in the Saudi Gazette on Jan. 1, 2013.
US Elections: Why Iran Could Prefer
Trump over Clinton
The day of the US presidential election is
upon us and although Super Tuesday took place during the primaries, this is a
“super” Tuesday indeed.
November 8, 2016 will mark a significant
shift in US politics and will also impact the world – the election will have
consequences for everyone, everywhere.
The close race between Democratic candidate
Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump not only confused
Americans but also the people of the Middle East who are not sure what they
will wake up to on Wednesday morning.
Iran has made a point of commenting on the
US election, with President Hassan Rowhani recently stating that the choice
came down to bad and worse.
Then came the supreme leader’s turn to make
his thoughts known.
Ayatollah Khamenei chose not to mention the
candidates by name, rather arrogantly. He instead referred to them by their
gender and called “the man” more honest than the other candidate.
Speaking to a crowd who had gathered to
mark 38 years since the occupation of the US embassy in Tehran on November 4,
the supreme leader criticized the presidential election in the US by saying
“the remarks made by these two U.S. presidential candidates over the last few
weeks on immoral issues — which are, for most part, not baseless accusations —
are enough to disgrace America.”
Observers have taken his remarks to mean he
has more interest in the Republican candidate despite Trump’s stated
disillusionment with the Iranian nuclear deal which he thinks is a bad deal for
Surprisingly, some Iranian officials have
repeated Trump’s negative reactions and praised him by saying that the deal
wasn’t a good deal, not even for the Iranians.
Preparing themselves for Trump?
Khamenei said that people are paying more
attention to the male candidate “because the people look at what he says and
see it is true. They see it in the facts of their lives.”
Some observers believe that political
leaders in Tehran are more fearful of Clinton than Trump and see Trump as more
open to negotiation than Clinton. These analysts say that Iran’s perceived lean
toward the Republicans stems from a fear of Clinton.
Perhaps human rights issues and Iran’s
controversial presence in Syria and regional interferences are pushing the
Iranian establishment to support Trump.
Complaining about the implementation of the
Iranian nuclear deal has become a staple of Ayatollah Khamenei’s public
speeches. In the past few months, he has used all opportunities to express his
frustration and disappointment toward the nuclear accord and has called
Perhaps in his view, the Americans are not
to be trusted as the economic and political benefits granted to Iran as part of
the deal have not yet been realized and the US has not accepted Iran’s
adventures in the region.
Iranians are not worried about the fate of
Iran’s nuclear deal that was reached over a year ago for they know that the
nuclear accord is an international bond and is hard to dismiss by the next US
president, despite the difficulties he or she can cause over its
What Iran has fears from the next US
president is a lack of tolerance regarding Iran’s regional adventures. The
presence of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria and Iraq and Tehran’s
support of the Houthis in Yemen. It seems that Hillary Clinton is not okay with
such affairs and will address the matter if she becomes the American president.
But for the rest of the region, they will
be waiting to see how the next president deals with Iran and Syria.
Tuesday November 8 is a historical day on
the US calendar and whichever way the election goes, the outcome will be
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who
grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist
newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the
Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai.