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Cinema Makes a Comeback in Saudi Arabia By Mamdouh Almuhaini: New Age Islam's Selection, 14 December 2017





New Age Islam Edit Bureau

14 December 2017

Cinema Makes A Comeback In Saudi Arabia

By Mamdouh Almuhaini

Fundamentalism And Terrorism: Is It A British Awakening?

By Abdullah Bin Bijad Al-Otaibi

What Are Implications Of Russians Leaving Syria?

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Can #Metoo Go Beyond White Neoliberal Feminism?

By Catherine Rottenberg

Duterte Considers Autonomy For Restive Muslim Province

By Abdulla Almadani

US Role In Peace Talks Skewed By Loyalty To Israel

By Fadi Esber

Russia Ready To Fill Middle East Void

By Maria Dubovikova

Christian Arabs in US Could Be Region’s Hidden Advantage

By Ray Hanania

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Cinema Makes a Comeback in Saudi Arabia

By Mamdouh AlMuhaini

13 December 2017

The artists are Saudis, so are musicians and the public; nevertheless the concert is held outside Saudi Arabia. The same thing applies to cinema.

Saudi films are broadcast in Cannes and Berlin but are nowhere to be found in Riyadh and Dammam. This puzzling scene has been prevalent for years. It ended after the government restored things to its nature state. What we are witnessing is the return of a happy and artistic society.

This paradoxes didn’t define Saudi society, which some claim to be against arts and events. This lie is constantly perpetuated to put Saudi society in a mould and isolate it as if does not appreciate creativity, has no aesthetic sensitivity and has parted ways with its folklore heritage.

All these are naive perceptions especially if we take into account the public turnout to these events outside Saudi Arabia and even within Saudi Arabia. If this audience is an enemy of artistic expression then why do they attend concerts and spend money on them? Why are the tickets for Mohammed Abdou and Yanni concerts so quickly sold out?

The truth is that art did not disappear from Saudi Arabia, even though it did not find the appropriate atmosphere to shine because of prohibitions and taboos. Once these curbs disappeared, the artistic expression took a new dimension, transforming art into an integrated artistic and economic industry rather than an amateur activity.

Religious Justification

The absence of art was justified on religious grounds. However, it was only a trick used by extremists who put moralities in direct conflict with art even though it is regarded as a pillar of any civilized life.

It is true that the rise of civilized societies is linked to the rise of art and it is rare to see ignorant societies producing the most brilliant works of art or literature. We see how ignorant minds consider creative artists as wicked whereas in fact they contribute toward shaping the national identity of people by enriching the aesthetic imagination.

This is why Egyptians celebrate Umm Kulthum, the Lebanese cherish Fairuz and the Saudis love Muhammad Abdou. However, there is a reason why a war has been waged on art as art is inherently liberal and hostile to extremist ideologies, and all attempts to convert it to serve political agendas have failed.

When did you last hear of Islamic art or literature? All of these attempts to convert art were born dead and the corpses does not come back to life.

The Cinema Example

Just recently, the decision to reopen movie theatres in Saudi Arabia was taken after they were closed for decades. Anyone who has lived in Saudi Arabia even for a limited period of time knows that there is a cinema culture that has grown rapidly in the last decade.

It has not only produced a large audience that loves cinema and the new Hollywood production studios, but also art movement. There have been stars, directors, carnivals, but no movie theatres; which has been corrected by this important decision.

The story of art in Saudi society is like any other human society. It has a diverse and deep rooted artistic heritage and folklore where arts and dances vary across Saudi Arabia. Art is a part of the social identity of any society and people love their favorite artists because over the ages they come to represent their collective conscience in a way that others do not.

The war on art has been a losing battle because art has a natural and inherent place in the nature and in societies. Laws, no matter how harsh, cannot simply abolish and eliminate art. Art will always return to the front.

The decision to reopen cinemas is not isolated one but comes in the context of the historical transformation taking place in Saudi Arabia, which has taken shape over a short period of time. We could not imagine these things even a few months ago.



Fundamentalism And Terrorism: Is It A British Awakening?

By Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi

13 December 2017

Two important statements were issued by British ministers on Thursday. The first one was by Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson who spoke about the British people who joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Williamson spoke in support of killing them and said: “a dead terrorist can’t cause any harm to Britain.”

The second one was by Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson as he said that the government will examine the Brotherhood’s international links, charity work and visa applications more, adding that: “some affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood are willing to turn a blind eye to terrorism.”

The significance of these two statements is that for the first time in Britain, two ministers have made strong statements pertaining to confronting terrorism in such a new decisive tone. The statement of the secretary of defense towards ISIS members reflects a new stance and the foreign minister’s statement expresses a possible change in Britain’s stance towards the Brotherhood.

Britain is the oldest western country to have built relations with the Brotherhood as it provided generous financial support to the group when it was first established. It gave £500 to Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the group and its first guide.

Britain has not cut ties with it ever since. These ties have rather developed to include all political Islam groups and all religiously violent groups. These parties found a safe haven in Britain and they found support and protection under all circumstances and from all countries.

They planned from there, collected donations, held meetings, issued incitement and murder Fatwas, appeared on media outlets, established websites and filled social media platforms with fundamentalist, extremist and terrorist content.

A Fixed Source

For decades, Britain remained a fixed source, haven and refuge to all fundamentalist, terrorist and extremist groups and organizations whose members were easily granted visit visas. It was even easier for them to get the right to asylum. Once settled there, they began spreading extremism and terrorism while enjoying full protection.

The Brotherhood, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Sururism and other Sunni or Shiite extremist symbols and organizations from the Arab and Islamic world lived in Britain – and some of them continue to live there – and assumed these same roles towards achieving the same purposes, as if nothing happened particularly following the major damage which extremism has caused in Britain.

All what was done after the fire of terrorism reached Britain was getting rid of some the direct symbols of terrorism. They did not address the symbols of extremism and its institutions. This is very distant from the real role assumed by the anti-terror quartet (which has boycotted Qatar) to fight the roots of terrorism and efficiently eliminate it.

What’s suspicious about this developing British stance towards extremism and terrorism is that the foreign minister has barely finished making that statement and then visited Tehran, the foremost state sponsor of terrorism, fundamentalism and sectarianism in the world.

Eliminating ISIS

Two days ago, the Iranian state celebrated eliminating ISIS. Unfortunately, it’s a temporary celebration as the government’s battle with Shiite terrorism is more dangerous than the battle against ISIS. The state does not look capable of launching this war amid the current givens.

Meanwhile, the developments of the Yemeni affair imply there is a strong orientation to eliminate the Houthi militia following the series of murder and abuse it committed against the General People’s Congress members after assassinating former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In terms of the battle against ISIS in Syria in Iraq, we can see that the presence of British supporters of ISIS is stronger than Britain’s presence in fighting the organization.

As for Yemen, Britain has not voiced a serious stance in supporting legitimacy and the coalition in support of legitimacy. It did not condemn the activity of the Houthis and of Iran’s militias in Yemen and other countries as strong as it should have.

The battle against terrorism is a battle of existence for our Arab countries – even if the British secretary of defence does not view it as so.



What Are Implications Of Russians Leaving Syria?

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

13 December 2017

Assuming the veracity of Moscow’s intention to withdraw most of its troops from Syria, such a decision will likely result in the redistribution of the political cards in the region at a time when the country itself is finally about to steer itself away from war.

Paradoxically, the Russians played at first a negative role in the Syrian conflict. By failing to defeat the revolutionary forces and terrorist groups, they enabled both the Assad regime and Iran to take control. Yet, despite their earlier failings, the Russians have achieved now quite a “positive” role and contribute into the balance of the different forces in the region specifically limiting Iran and its militias on the ground.

According to the Russian news agency, President Vladimir Putin spoke clearly, retorting: “I have taken the decision to withdraw a large part of the Russian troops stationed in Syria, and to return them respectively to Russia.”

Whether by completely withdrawing from Russia or partly diminishing its influence, in both cases the Russian decision will possibly and mostly benefit the Iranians as the Khamenei regime is seeking a near-total control of Syria with the exception of Kurdish areas or neighboring Turkey. Its influence transpires though its militia centers spread across the Syrian border with Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and of course in Damascus.

Russia’s motivation behind its announcement of partial withdrawal is difficult to determine. Does it come as the result of disagreements with the Iranians over the control and management of the situation on the ground, or is it part of a truce brokered with the United States which also has displayed a diminished presence in Syria?

It is quite normal for Assad’s allies to have convergent views in the aftermath of the war. On the one hand, the Iranians want to dominate the area in order to defy and further pressure the United States. On the other hand, the Russians want to establish a balance with the United States in a number of areas of conflict across the world. Both parties’ respective motives may coincide but that can only be achieved temporarily as was the case during the war. Both countries entered Syria under the pretences of fighting terrorism, yet the battles carried out by their forces were mainly directed at the Syrian armed opposition, whereas the US-led coalition alone focused on fighting ISIS.

Moscow has no interest in protecting and supporting Iranian forces, which formed by tens of thousands of multi-national militias recruited by Iran from different countries. So what is Iran offering the Russians in exchange of this military favor? Technically, none. 

Abandoning An Ally?

Yet, reducing Russia’s military presence will both weaken the Syrian regime and Iran’s militias. Is the Kremlin willing to abandon its Syrian ally and sacrifice everything it has accomplished in the region?

The future will be decided upon by both a regional and an American plan that will mainly seek to diminish the Iranian influence in Syria. The latter represents an open ground for any party respectively feeling threatened by Iran and seeking to confront it. In fact, the Syrian soil represents the prefect trap for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Actually, Iran’s militias are incapable of settling in an enemy environment, especially if all peace negotiations fail. The negotiations in question are most certainly predicted to fail as long as Assad along with Iran are hampering any solution that brings together the regime with the opposition in a government.

The partial withdrawal of the Russians and the failure of the recent negotiations in Geneva can be developed into two major themes that can, in turn, pressure the Assad regime and Iran to rethink their position and make realistic concessions.



Can #Metoo Go Beyond White Neoliberal Feminism?

By Catherine Rottenberg

13 December 2017

Alicia Garza, the cofounder of Black Lives Matter, recently paid tribute to Tarana Burke, the African American activist who began the "Me Too" campaign in 2007 as a grassroots movement to aid sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities where no rape crisis centres existed and few sexual assault workers were on the payroll. Garza, herself a survivor of sexual assault, explained that for her, the importance of "Me Too" lies in the "power of empathy, this power of connection, is really about empowering people to be survivors, to be resilient, and also to make really visible that sexual violence is not about people's individual actions, that this is a systemic problem".

These words are not only directed towards the Donald Trump and Roy Moore types and the conservative backlash against #MeToo, but should also be read as a counterbalance to the trenchant feminist critiques of the campaign.

Activists and feminists have, rightly, pointed out that it is only when powerful, wealthy and mostly white women come forward that influential men have been forced to resign from high-profile positions. This raises the absolutely crucial question of when and where claims of sexual harassment and assault are heard and whose voices count.

Other critics have noted that the denunciation and the tendency to conflate more "casual" sexual harassment with sexual assault can lead to scapegoating, lack of due process, and a new "sex panic", where sexuality will be even more forcibly policed. Historically, such processes have translated into more intensified policing of non-normative sexual practices, particularly among LGBTQ people.

Along similar lines, women of colour have voiced their grave concerns about the incredibly bloated and racist criminal justice system, claiming that the mere criminalisation of perpetrators is problematic.

Finally, another concern coming from the left has to do with its individualistic nature. This line of critique suggests that #MeToo is about "me", the individual's resilience and survival and does not and likely cannot mobilise people politically. Thus, it can easily become part of a neoliberal feminist discussion, which ultimately individualises and atomises each person who uses the hashtag while disavowing the socioeconomic and cultural structures shaping our lives. In this way, it also elides the women who are perhaps most vulnerable to violence - sexual or otherwise - such as immigrant, domestic workers, and low-income women of colour.

Insofar as this is the case, then the #MeToo discourse not only helps to disarticulate the systemic nature of gendered and sexual violence, but it actually places the onus on individual women to come forward and speak their pain.

These criticisms are both valid and forceful. But Garza, in her single sentence quoted above, manages to address many of the issues raised, while highlighting the fault lines as well as the incredible potential of the #MeToo campaign.

First, Garza reminds us that "Me Too" began as a grassroots movement, founded by an African American woman, whose aim was to reach women in underprivileged communities, particularly young women of colour. From the outset, the movement had a very specific therapeutic and political vision that helps explain its affective pull, as well as why women feel empowered when speaking about their painful and often traumatic experiences. As Burke puts it: "Me Too" is about "using the power of empathy to stomp out shame."

While the mainstream press has noted - albeit mostly in passing - Burke's coining of the term, much less has been said about the origins of "Me Too" as a grassroots movement, its therapeutic vision or its initial mission to help underprivileged women find their voice. Thus, Garza's intervention reminds us, yet again, how often "black women's work" and their voices have been erased from mainstream US narratives.

Second, Garza highlights one of the main tensions or paradoxes in the current #MeToo movement. On the one hand, she says that #MeToo is about empowering individuals who have experienced sexual harassment and assault, transforming shame into a language of empowerment, survival and resilience. The desire for emotional transformation and the effort to enable survivors to speak and work through their pain clearly has its roots in the movement's original therapeutic vision.

On the other hand - and in the very same breath - she insists that sexual violence is about systemic patriarchal violence, which, she contends, feeds off of shame and silence.

Garza has a point. Notwithstanding the strength of the different critiques, the "#MeToo" campaign has, within a short period, managed to bring about noticeable social change. Its incredible domino effect has begun to transform not only public discussion but also the cultural landscape in ways that no one could have predicted even six months ago. Indeed, we are witnessing a new phenomenon in which self-entitled and privileged men who think they can do whatever they want with impunity are actually being sacked as a result of sexual assault and even "casual" sexual harassment. This is historic.

#MeToo has already shifted debates about workplace norms, created new and surprising alliances where female farm workers are not only speaking out, but expressing their solidarity with Hollywood actresses; it is breaking the silence around gender inequality in this particular form - sexual harassment and assault - pushing the mainstream media to abandon the bad apple approach and to note that the problem is, in fact, pervasive, if not structural.

In this context, it is crucial to remember the motivations behind the original "Me Too" campaign, as well as the words of its founder: "I appreciate the hashtag, and I appreciate the hashtag elevating the conversation, but it's not a hashtag, right? It's not a moment. This is a movement."

It is certainly true that the current #MeToo campaign could devolve into another aspect of an individualistic neoliberal feminism, leaving men like Donald Trump and Roy Moore unscathed. But it is also true that it could gather more momentum and broaden the conversation to include urgent and difficult discussions about structural sexism, male self-entitlement, and - just as importantly - other forms of intersecting systemic oppressions. Burke and Garza are leading the way. Whether we follow their lead and help mobilise the moment into a mass movement is, in many ways, up to us. So, yes, "MeToo."



Duterte Considers Autonomy for Restive Muslim Province

By Abdulla Almadani

13 December 2017

Since the time of former dictator President Ferdinand Marcos to the term of the immediate predecessor of the present president Benigno Aquino III, there has been a formal desire in the Philippines to find a peaceful solution of the Muslim insurgency in southern region of the country.

For more than a year now, a strong president by the name of Rodrigo Duterte sits in the Malacanian presidential palace in Manila, who claims his ancestors were Muslims from the province of Mindanao. This president may be the only one among his predecessors to have publicly admitted (in late November) that the Muslims of the Philippines have faced “historical injustice”.

The Issue Of Autonomy

He also promised to take corrective actions and revive the peace process, to control recent rise in violent incidents taking place in Marawi city — the most important Muslim city in the province of Mindanao.

It was the scene of fierce fighting between the army and police forces on the one hand and armed Muslim militants on the other, which resulted in about 1,100 deaths and massive destruction of property and infrastructure. He vowed to prevent ISIS-affiliated militias from establishing a stronghold in the Philippines after the terror group lost its stronghold in the Middle East.

President Duterte has also promised to convene a special session of the Philippine Congress to pass a law on peace in the south of the country in the presence of the concerned parties. The Philippine President reiterated the need for ensuring the interests of the Republic, which was interpreted by observers that any solution should fall within the ambit of the existing state structure.

In other words, Manila could grant autonomy to the country’s Muslims without giving them the right to secede. Such an unprecedented promise by a Philippine leader compels us to look into the demands for succession in southern Philippine territories, to identify the developments and to review factors that prevented achieving the desired peace.

The Historical Context

The Moro National Liberation Movement has been engaged in an armed conflict with the Manila government since 1972 to establish a separate state in southern Philippines for the Muslims, under the pretext that the Catholic Christian majority of the country discriminated against them.

They sometimes make a historical argument by claiming that this part of the Philippines was in previous centuries an independent state and was attached to the current Republic of the Philippines by force and against the will of its people.

Despite many attempts at mediation made at different times by various Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Libya and Indonesia or by regional coalitions such as the ASEAN and OIC, and despite the numerous agreements signed between the rebels and the Manila government for either a ceasefire or to execute a program for the autonomy of the south within the Philippine state (such as the Tripoli-West Agreement of 1986, the 1987 Jeddah Agreement, and the 1995 Jakarta Agreement), the situation did not stabilize and armed confrontation between the rebels and the Philippine military forces did not stop. Plans for autonomy and for developing the region were stalled.

Factors Behind Past Failures

We can attribute the failure here to several factors. First: disagreement over the nature of autonomy and its geographical borders, the lot of millions of Christians in the South, who live with Muslims. Second: lack of trust between the warring parties and accusations against each other of bad intentions.

Third, pressure on the central authority in Manila by the Christian majority and the army of succumbing to the demands of the rebels and the supposed ‘betrayal’ of the sacrifice of several civilians and military, killed in the conflict over the years. There is evidence to suggest that the Philippine Congress is apprehensive about legalizing the implementation of a peace agreement reached in 2014.

Fourth: the rebels themselves have had differences over the boundaries demarcated in the agreement and on various aspects of the solution, as is generally the case with armed movements when peace parleys take place. Most conditions are accepted by moderates and rejected by extremists.

The best evidence for this is what happened in 1996; when Manila signed a good agreement with the leader of the Moro National Liberation Movement. Professor Nur Misuari and some of his companions rejected it and split from the main group, forming the Moro Islamic Liberation Front led by Hashim Salamat (who died in 2003).

He was succeeded by the current leader of the organization, Haj Murad Ibrahim. They have continued their armed struggle until their full demands of establishing of an independent entity are met. Ironically, what the “Islamic Moro” rebels had rejected years ago they accept now, which reminds us of what happened with the Palestinians.

Fifth, the emergence of the Abu Sayyaf movement and its claim of defending the Philippines Muslims’ rights and sabotaging the fragile peace in some areas; by blackmailing, threatening and kidnapping foreigners complicated the insurgency issue. Leaders of this movement recently pledges the allegiance of their leader to the terrorist group ISIS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi welcomed this declaration and considered it as the beginning of establishing the Islamic State in Southeast Asia.

Lastly, the adverse impact of foreign interventions further exacerbated the crisis. Libya, for example, had mediated between the government of the former President Marcos and the Muslim rebels, but at the same time provided support to the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf (who is called ‘Gaddafi Janglani’) — thus enabling this extremist group to emerge, sabotage and hinder the peace efforts.



US Role in Peace Talks Skewed By Loyalty to Israel

By Fadi Esber

14 December 2017

The recent decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the American Embassy there from Tel Aviv reverberated around the world. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that, following Trump’s decision, the US can “no longer” be a mediator in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

A closer look at the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the US-Israeli relationship, however, tells a different story. The US was never an honest broker for peace in the region, despite the many diplomatic efforts it undertook in past decades. Israel has always been a strategic asset for the US, yet, at the same time, America has monopolized peace diplomacy in the Middle East since the 1970s. This paradoxical position inhibited the White House from ever acting as an unbiased mediator for peace and has repeatedly skewed US decision-making in favour of Israel. In addition, the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, especially in electoral politics, has played a crucial role in nurturing American favouritism of Israel at the expense of a balanced agenda toward a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

The Balfour Declaration in 1917 was the culmination of fervent Zionist lobbying to enlist the support of Great Britain, the world’s leading power at the time. However, after the Second World War, the US emerged as the world’s preeminent power. The horrors of the war, especially the Holocaust, brought the Jewish question to the forefront of American domestic and foreign policies. The Jewish Agency exploited this shift in American national sentiment and dramatic change in the international balance of power, and was able to secure American support for its quest to establish a “Jewish state” in Palestine. Key to this effort were two avid Zionists, Clark Clifford and David Niles, both counsels to US President Harry S. Truman (1945-53). Successfully steered by his advisers, and with the Jewish vote on his mind, Truman refused to place Palestine under UN trusteeship at the end of the British mandate. The US was the first country to recognize the government of Israel as the de facto authority of the state in May 1948. The White House thwarted a UN peace plan and allowed the nascent Israeli state to grab more land and displace thousands of Palestinians.

As William B. Quandt described, Lyndon Johnson (1963-69) shifted his position on whether to back Israel in the final days before the 1967 war, going from a “red light to yellow, but not quite green.” For the Israeli Cabinet, that was enough American permission to launch a military campaign, in which Israel occupied Sinai, the Golan Heights, Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

From 1970 onwards, US national security adviser (and later secretary of state) Henry Kissinger refused many overtures from Egypt’s Anwar Al-Sadat, who sought a peaceful settlement with Israel over Sinai. In 1973, another Arab-Israeli war broke out. But, unlike 1967, Israel was not able to defeat the Arabs in a matter of days; on the contrary, Syrian and Egyptian forces drove deep into Israeli-occupied territories. Richard Nixon (1969-74) initiated Operation Nickel Grass, shipping thousands of tons of American equipment and ammunition to help Israel turn the tide of the war. Kissinger, in fact, refused all international calls for a cease-fire until after Israel, bolstered by American arms shipments, was able to reverse all Syrian and Egyptian gains.

In the months that followed the 1973 war, Kissinger, with his shrewd diplomatic machinations, sidestepped the Soviets and guaranteed an American monopoly of peace diplomacy in the Middle East for decades to come. This novel American position, however, was coupled with a set of “secret” assurances that gave Israel a stake in the making of US peace diplomacy in the region. Following the second Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement in 1975, simply known as Sinai II, the US pledged to guarantee Israeli military superiority over all the surrounding Arab countries combined. More importantly, in a secret memorandum of agreement, Kissinger committed current and future US administrations to coordinate fully with Israel on formulating American strategy for peace diplomacy in the region, and to refrain from putting forward any proposals without first discussing them with the Israelis. This, in effect, gave Israel a direct stake in the making of American policy in the Middle East.

When Jimmy Carter (1977-81) tried to move the peace process forward on all fronts, he immediately came under severe attack from the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, and the Israeli government threatened to publish the “secret” Sinai II side agreements. Carter dropped his initial agenda and brokered the Camp David Accords. Contrary to Carter, Ronald Reagan (1981-89) had little interest in the peace process. His secretary of state, Alexander Haig, gave a “yellow light” to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which brought untold death and destruction. An American attempt to broker an Israeli-Lebanese peace accord, with Ariel Sharon’s tanks roaming the streets of Beirut, failed miserably.

American peace diplomacy in the region reached its apex under the Clinton administration (1993-2001), with peace accords reached between Israel on the one hand, and Jordan and the PLO on the other. Clinton came closer than any president to achieving a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement, but failed to do so. In this hopeful decade, however, a Republican Congress passed the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act. In the decades that followed, the Oslo process hit a wall and US peace initiatives in the region lost steam, but every American president and presidential candidate, Republican and Democrat, went before AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) during the election campaign and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Like his predecessors, Trump made the same pledge. He, however, lived up to his promise.

We are still waiting for Trump’s own version of a peace initiative. But, judging by his first year in office, one can hardly look forward to it.



Russia Ready to Fill Middle East Void

By Maria Dubovikova

14 December 2017

US President Donald Trump, who next month celebrates his first year in office, has formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He has ended decades of American diplomacy by ordering the State Department to prepare for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, drawing anger and despair from people and leaders throughout the world, who now expect a possible third uprising in the Occupied Territories, the collapse of Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts, the strengthening of extremists and an effect on the standing of the US in the world, mainly in the Middle East.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was one of his presidential campaign promises, but hardly anyone imagined it would be among those he kept.

Last week’s announcement turned Washington into a dishonest broker in any future talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, opening the door wide for Arabs to seek Russian, Chinese and European support.

Though Trump received many warnings from Arab and European leaders and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, he insisted on his decision to move the embassy.

The Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and the Israelis, which were signed in 1993 in the White House by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, with the attendance of then-President Bill Clinton, stated that the final status of Jerusalem had to be settled by negotiations.

The dominant majority of the international community has condemned this decision and called on the White House to revise it.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov characterised it as “defying common sense”, while President Vladimir Putin shared his deep concerns. Putin phoned his Turkish counterpart following Trump’s announcement, calling for the Palestinians and Israelis to “hold back” and to renew talks.

Putin had a short trip to the Middle East on Monday, paying an unexpected visit to Syria, notably the Khmeimim air base, where he met Bashar Assad and ordered Russian troops’ partial withdrawal from Syria. After that, he held talks with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Egypt and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. The issue of Jerusalem and the future of the peace talks were among the important topics that were discussed.

The current situation gives great opportunities to Russia to strengthen its position in the Arab world. Russia has proved to be an honest peace broker in Israeli-Palestinian talks for years — its position is unbiased and unchangeable. The US manoeuver permits Russia to fill the void, attracting the region’s countries into its network of cooperation.

Putin is seizing these opportunities with his brief Middle Eastern tour. Turkey, which is also gaining power in the region, is becoming a key partner for Russia. After the collapse of their bilateral relations following the downing of a Russian jet on the Syria-Turkey border two years ago, their relationship has been fully restored, and has even reached new levels. At the same time, Turkey is one of the few countries which permits itself to use tough rhetoric against the West, and it expressed in a threatening way its disagreement with the White House’s decision on Jerusalem. Russia stands by the side of President Erdogan and other leaders in the region, thus getting into an advantageous position.

The US is deeply involved in all Arab countries politically, militarily, economically and financially, but it arguably has a track record in sowing instability with notorious regime-change policies. Taking this into account, the Arabs are now grappling with the mistakes they made in previous decades.

The issue of moving the embassy dates back to 1995, when the US Congress passed a bill recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But that bill includes an item that allows US presidents to effectively postpone the transfer decision for six months to protect American national security interests. US presidents have been postponing this decision ever since.

Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem is merely symbolic, but it is an adequate reason for possible further chaos in the Middle East.

Palestinians feel they have been negotiating for peace for more than 20 years and have ended up with zero result. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process ended irreversibly with the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — it is a bizarre decision, but how can the Arab world reverse it?



Christian Arabs In US Could Be Region’s Hidden Advantage

By Ray Hanania

14 December 2017

When Donald Trump announced the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he wasn’t just doing it to appease Israel’s government. He was doing it to appease a significant voter base in America, Evangelical Christians.

According to the Brookings Institute, more than 81 percent of Evangelical Christians voted for Trump and his recognition of Jerusalem as “Israel’s capital” and promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem plays into that support.

Yet the Arab world has failed to use its own ace in the hole, or hidden advantage, in America. That advantage is the growing population of Arab Christians who hold positions of influence at every level in politics and business.

Christian Arabs in America are an untapped resource that the Arab world should recognize, and then partner with.

The truth is that, when most Americans use the word “Arab,” they intermingle it with the word “Muslim.” Americans have been blinded to the existence of Christian Arabs.

In part, that blindness comes from a strategic Israeli campaign to falsely claim that they, more than the Arab world, champion the rights of Christians in the Holy Land.

This blindness also comes from the fact that Christian Arabs in America and in the Middle East are often excluded from Arab activities, which focus mostly on Muslim concerns.

Every attempt to elevate the issue of Christian Arab rights is marginalized and excluded from the Middle East and American Arab debate.

This issue goes beyond Evangelical Christians to encompass all Christians in America, who make up more than 70 percent of the population.

Mainstream American Christians support Israel not because history shows Israel has been good to Christians, but because most American Christians have no idea that among those Arabs being brutalized by Israel are Christians, too.

So why doesn’t the Arab world use that powerful affinity to lobby Americans to support Palestinian and Arab rights? Because politicians and pro-Israel activists, and even extremist Muslims, in America work hard to prevent Christian Arab voices from being heard.

The majority of Arabs who live in the US — 63 percent, according to the Arab American Institute — are Christian, yet why haven’t they mobilized as a voting bloc to lobby and influence American foreign policy to put a spotlight on Israel’s many human rights abuses?

Supporters of Israel have continued to block efforts to include the category of “Arab” in the US Census. The reason is simple. In America, you can dilute the power of ethnic groups by preventing them from knowing their true demographic strength.

Under US laws, ethnic and national groups identified in the Census receive many benefits, including financial support through grants to promote their culture and heritage. By preventing Arabs from being counted, they do not receive Federal support to build programs or campaigns to educate Americans about who the Arab people really are.

Secondly, politicians are elected to office from districts at many levels, which include Congress, state legislators and local county commissioners. These districts are defined in a large part by the presence of ethnic and national groups. If the Census recognizes a large concentration of one ethnic or national group in any area, Federal and local laws are compelled to keep that ethnic or national identity cohesive inside a voting district. The idea is to preserve and enhance the voting power of an ethnic group.

By excluding “Arab” from the Census, pro-Israel activists in America’s government are able to prevent concentrations of Arab populations from receiving financial and voting support. They know where we live but, without a census to verify it, they can divide our community and dilute our voting strength, thus squelching our voices.

Christian Arabs have a powerful voice that is untapped in America, but just how strong are American Arab Christians? Population estimates extrapolated from voting rosters show that there might be close to four million Arabs in America, although the official US Government estimate dilutes that to fewer than two million.

Population estimates also show there are 3.3 million Muslims in America. But, of that number, around 25 percent are actually Arab — the largest Muslim group in America is African American, followed by Asian American.

When you compare these two statistics, you can conclude that, of those who are Arab, the vast majority are Christian.

And most Christian Arabs will tell you without hesitation that, despite some issues, Muslims have been the biggest champions of Christian Arab rights.

So why don’t we use the Christian Arab American population as the spearhead of a communications campaign to convince Americans of the rights of Palestinians and the abuses taking places against Palestinian and Arab civilians in the Middle East?

Why is there no strong Christian Arab lobbying group? It’s a question we need to answer, if we hope to one day correct the American public’s misconceptions and lack of knowledge about Palestine, Islam and the Arab world.




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