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Democracy, ‘Axis of Unity’ Style: New Age Islam's Selection, 31 May 2017

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

31 May 2017

Democracy, ‘Axis of Unity’ Style

By Dr. Manuel Almeida

The Plight of Israel’s Left

By Osama Al-Sharif

Is Iran An Islamic Power?

By Khaled Al-Sulaiman

Visit That Charmed the Leader of a Superpower

By Turki Aldakhil

Is It Time For An Alternative Syrian Army?

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Is the Time Up For Iran’s Forays in the Middle East?

By Dr. Theodore Karasik

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Democracy, ‘Axis of Unity’ Style

By Dr. Manuel Almeida

30 May 2017

More than 40 million Iranians went to the polls to elect their president. Social media was awash with praise for the dynamism of Iran’s Islamic democracy. The simultaneous visit of US President Donald Trump to Riyadh was used to contrast the supposed progressivism of Iran’s political system with the undemocratic, conservative nature of its Gulf neighbours.

On a recent visit to South America, I had close contact with the unfolding crisis in Venezuela, a reality that in many ways is reminiscent of Iran’s. For over a month and on a daily basis, Venezuela has witnessed some of the biggest protests in its history against President Nicolas Maduro. The exodus to neighbouring countries has turned into a refugee crisis.

The dramatic instability tearing down Venezuela is at odds with the confidence in Tehran following the nuclear deal, the effects of which are visible well beyond Iran’s borders. But there are numerous parallels between the two countries, including the instrumental use of elections and other features commonly associated with democracy to uphold the regime.

For various factors noted in analyses published over the last week, to label Iran as democratic is stretching the meaning of the word beyond its limits. There is the tightly vetted poll of candidates, the strict control exerted by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Guardian Council over the whole process, and the looming coercion of the security and intelligence entities, ready to be deployed in case things do not turn out as planned.

In 2009, when it looked like the reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi was well positioned to win the presidential race, the vote was rigged in favour of the firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The massive protests that followed were crushed by the police and the Basij paramilitary militia. More than 100 people were killed.

Still, last week’s vote — which gave an overwhelming victory to the incumbent Hassan Rouhani, the moderate face within the acceptable spectrum of candidates as defined by the regime — should not be dismissed as insignificant. The same holds true for last year’s parliamentary elections, a setback for hard-line factions.

Instead of a statement about the health of Iran’s so-called semi-democratic political system, it could be seen as a strong signal of how an increasingly significant portion of Iran’s vibrant and resilient society is at odds with the clerical-military establishment that runs the show.

Like Iran, Venezuela has major oil reserves — the world’s largest according to various 2016 estimates — yet the regular citizen hardly felt the benefits before the current long run of low oil prices. World Bank figures place youth unemployment in Venezuela above 15 percent. Iran’s is a staggering 32 percent.

Anti-imperialism and an aversion to the US-led global order unite both regimes. It was anti-imperialism that justified the coups that installed the late Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini and former President Hugo Chavez in power. Their successors, Khamenei and Maduro, took on the mantle of anti-imperialism that became both regimes’ raison d’etre.

Bilateral relations developed considerably under Chavez and former President Mohamed Khatami, and deepened with Ahmadinejad. In 2007, both governments famously declared an “axis of unity” against the US. The presence of Hezbollah in Venezuela, including involvement in the global drug trade, is well documented.

Tehran consistently blamed economic troubles on US-led international sanctions, oblivious to its own financial empire of hundreds of billions of dollars that underpins the “economy of resistance.” Maduro uses the pretext of US interference for everything that goes wrong. He blamed the CIA for the cancer that took his predecessor’s life.

While the lifting of most economic sanctions on Iran post-nuclear deal brought much-needed breathing room for the regime, Venezuela is on the verge of collapse. Economic mismanagement, including the disappearance of billions of dollars from the state-owned oil company, led the government to print currency relentlessly. Annual inflation skyrocketed to a world record of 800 percent. Public services such as electricity provision massively deteriorated, and food and medicine shortages are the new normal.

Holding the keys to the future of Chavismo are the army and manipulation of the electoral process. Defence Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez has so far stuck with Maduro and stepped up pressure on dissent among the military’s lower ranks. A popular armed militia created by Maduro in the image of Iran’s Basij has assisted the police in the crackdown on protesters. Dozens have been killed, and many more arrested and tried in military courts.

In March, the government-controlled Supreme Court dissolved the opposition-led legislature. The United Socialist Party is now twisting and breaking constitutional norms to remain in power. Regional elections have been repeatedly postponed out of fear of a massive defeat for the ruling party. Meanwhile, opposition leaders are being arrested and opposition parties forced to re-register.

A vote to elect members of a new constituent assembly, which will be charged with re-writing Venezuela’s constitution, is expected in the next few months. The president may then try to extend his term before next year’s presidential elections. 

The failure of neoliberal reforms in the early 1990s is blamed for the strength of the populist revolutionary movement that put Chavez in power. This is another alarming parallel with today’s Iran: Without deep structural changes and the endorsement of powerful hard-line factions, it is difficult to see how Rouhani’s neoliberal economic agenda can deliver.

Source: arabnews.com/node/1107666


The Plight of Israel’s Left

By Osama Al-Sharif

30 May 2017

Last Saturday, an interesting and symbolically important event took place at Rabin Square in the heart of Tel Aviv. Tens of thousands of Israelis converged to join a rally, organized by the Peace Now movement, to voice opposition to Israel’s 50-year occupation of Palestinian territory and support the two-state solution. It was the first public sign in many years that the beleaguered Israeli left was still alive.

The rally brought back memories of a once-vibrant and influential leftist movement that included Zionists, non-Zionists, Jews and Arabs. For a few hours on Saturday evening, participants relived the euphoria of the mid-1990s, when an end to the decades-old conflict between Arabs and Jews was within grasp, and when Palestinians could almost taste liberation and self-determination.

Deja vu? Not quite. The left was dealt a lethal blow at this very square at a peace rally on Nov. 4, 1995, when then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a radical Jew. No one knows exactly how or why this movement unravelled, but Israel’s mood had changed. In 1996, voters brought back Likud hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu, who formed a right-wing, anti-peace coalition.

The once-dominant Labour party was now on the retreat. Its degeneration as a political force continued for the next decade and a half. The rise of so-called “third way” parties reshaped Israel’s political landscape. It ushered in far-right parties that rewrote the country’s political agenda and underlined the demographic reconstitution of the electorate in a way Israel has not seen since its birth.

Labour joined the next three coalition governments under Ehud Barak (1999-2001), Ariel Sharon (2001-2006) and Ehud Olmert (2006-2009), but its influence was quickly receding. It had become a shadow of its former self, having ruled Israel for generations almost uncontested, relying on the support of the powerful Histadrut labour union and smaller leftist parties and movements led by intellectuals, business elites and security figures.

Historically, it was Labour governments that dallied with various peace initiatives, especially after the 1967 war. But it was the conservative Likud, under Menachem Begin in 1977 and Yitzhak Shamir in 1991, which engaged in peace negotiations with the Arabs and later the Palestinians. Begin secured a peace treaty with Egypt. Shamir’s participation in the Madrid peace conference was short-lived and unsuccessful.

Rabin’s 1992 victory against Shamir allowed him to form a Labor-led government that eventually concluded the historic Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. That represented the pinnacle of the pro-peace camp, and his assassination marked its eventual decline.

Today’s Labor, now called the Zionist Union, is a center-left alliance that is led by the uncharismatic former lawyer Isaac Herzog and includes once-Likud hawk and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who leads the Hatnuah (Movement) party.

Its platform includes resuming peace talks with the Palestinians and halting construction in some settlements. Herzog is said to have exchanged letters with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas committing to full withdrawal from the West Bank and parts of East Jerusalem.

In the 2015 elections, the Zionist Union won 24 seats, making it the second-largest party in the Knesset (Parliament). It scored victories in major cities including Tel Aviv, and in affluent and liberal areas of Israel. Interestingly, Arab-Israeli parties, running under the Joint List, came in third with 13 seats in the 120-seat legislature.

But more importantly, Netanyahu’s Likud remained in front with 30 seats, and was able to form a coalition with far-right parties supported mostly by settlers, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

His key partners include Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu nationalist party and Naftali Bennett’s HaBayit HaYehudi Zionist religious party. Netanyahu’s dependence for his political survival on these two parties, which reject the two-state solution, has effectively disqualified him as a peace partner.

The Zionist Union has been criticized for either giving in too much to the Palestinians, or for not being daring enough to cross the religious-ethnic divide and join forces with the Arab parties of Israel. Together, at least theoretically, they can reinvent Israel’s left and present a serious challenge to the growing settler-Russian voter base in Israeli politics.

Instead, disgruntled Israeli liberals have seen their country veer violently to the right, departing from the secular-socialist-Zionist base that Israel represented for millions of Jews worldwide. They are keen to point out that while Israel is governed today by a far-right ideology that borders on racism, intolerance and apartheid politics, the reality is that the country is divided.

They point out that US politicians tend to support these far-right policies, ignoring the other half of Israelis who do not want to be forced into making the choice between a democratic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious Israel, and a Jewish but racist and undemocratic one.

Saturday’s rally brings into the equation the fact that Israel’s left, while on the defensive (in fourth place in a recent poll), remains a plausible alternative to the destructive, chauvinistic, self-serving ideologies of the far right. The left needs to reinvent itself, find new common denominators and appeal to a wider electorate. Its voice must be heard in Washington too so officials there understand that Netanyahu’s rejectionist position does not represent all Israelis.

Source: arabnews.com/node/1107661


Is Iran An Islamic Power?

By Khaled Al-Sulaiman

May 31, 2017

AFTER the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the first thing it did was to engage in an eight-year-war with neighboring Iraq, killing more than a million people, half of them innocent civilians.

During this war, Iranian warplanes and ships threatened the international navigation in the Arabian Gulf. Anyone would feel an Iranian military presence in this tense and explosive waterway terrifying.

Iran has committed massacres either by its armed militia, sectarian groups, the Republican Guards or hired mercenaries.

In this case, can we consider Iran an Islamic power that can protect the security and stability of the region?

The answer is, no doubt, a big NO. Experience has taught us that Iran was the main instigator of trouble and the force behind disruption of stability in the Gulf. It has a hand in every conflict in the region.

Iran had a hand in every terrorist act in the GCC countries starting with the Haj riots and continuing through the recent aggressive activities in Al-Maswarah district of Awamiyyah.

It definitely had a hand in the explosions in Moaissem and Al-Khobar. It was also behind an assassination attempt against Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, the late Emir of Kuwait.

This is apart from Iran’s continued support to terrorist organizations including Al-Qaeda whose leaders it had hosted.

Iran has been planting terrorist cells in neighbouring countries, recruiting traitors and inciting violence in Qatif as well as in Bahrain.

It is a fact that Iran has been rekindling the lamps of crises and pouring oil on their flames.

It is true that Iran is a might military force but it is not an Islamic power that will preserve the security and stability of the region. It is a bullying force wearing the garb of racism with the turban of sectarianism on its head.

Source: saudigazette.com.sa/opinion/local-viewpoint/iran-islamic-power/


Visit That Charmed the Leader of a Superpower

By Turki Aldakhil

30 May 2017

After visiting Saudi Arabia, and attending three summits, US President Donald Trump travelled to several other countries.

During his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Trump commended King Salman bin Abdulaziz and said: “It was an epic gathering. King Salman is a very wise, wise man.” During his press conference in Brussels where the NATO summit was held, Trump said King Salman is “a wise man who wants to see things get much better rapidly.”

It is clear that the visit and its outcome as well as the kindness of the Saudi people demonstrated toward Trump and his administration had touched him. The schedule and events were immaculately planned during his visit and Trump was warmly welcomed by the Saudi government and people who took to social media networks to comment on the visit.

Trump said that he sat for a long time with the king and held negotiations with him to discuss several affairs. Trump was thus impressed because what he had heard from anti-Saudi media outlets did not reflect Saudi Arabia’s true nature. Trump visited Saudi Arabia, met its leaders and sat down with them. These leaders only make promises they can keep. This has been Saudi Arabia’s policy since its establishment.

The current Saudi generation was not distorted a lot by leftist and nationalist discourse, which have charmed people since the 1960s. These speeches condemned imperial powers under the pretext of colonization and underestimated, denied and opposed the American role. Arab elites thus had a complex related to the United States and radical generations in the region inherited this hatred and repeated the same national and leftist terms that condemn the US.

This was due to their lack of understanding of the United States of America. Expert Fouad Ajami said this hatred could be because of Palestine adding, however, that America is not alone responsible for this cause. He noted that what those who criticize the US have in common are revolutionary movements, which cannot condemn governments so they condemn America instead.

America offered help to the world and except for some mistakes, which are relevant to some wars like to the 2003 Iraqi invasion, it actually contributed to ending wars and saving Islamic countries from tyranny. This is what happened in Afghanistan’s war against the Soviets and it also saved Muslims from ethnic wars in the Balkans.

Allying with the US

America is not purely evil like some national thinkers say and it is not purely good. However, what is certain is that ever since Britain exited Gulf countries, the US has been the natural alternative for economic and military investments and for political alliances in the region.

Some think it is too much for Saudi Arabia to ally with America. It is as if Iran did not beg Barack Obama for the past eight years to make it the US’ number one ally instead of Saudi Arabia and hand it the region’s affairs. Obama did that and gave Iran the keys to all capitals.

Before the Operation Decisive Storm was launched, the Iranian regime bragged that it controlled four Arab capitals. All countries seek America’s amiability but when Saudi Arabia restored its solid and normal relations with Washington, some were envious and jealous.

Saudi Arabia is different from Iran due to its development, civil approach and political realism. Iran is a theocratic country that lives in the past and that devises its policies and strategies on awaiting Imam Mahdi.

Trump administration reflects the depth of the US and the America we know. Saudi-US relations have strengthened throughout history between President Franklin Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz, President Dwight Eisenhower and King Saud and presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and King Faisal.

These relations reached their peak during the terms of Ronald Reagan and George Bush and King Fahad but they became tense during Obama’s term. And now, during Trump and King Salman’s era, they are going back to how they used to be.

Arabs know how wise King Salman is as this can be seen through his 50 years of experience. Donald Trump, the president of a superpower, has caught up with this wisdom.

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2017/05/30/Visit-that-charmed-the-leader-of-a-superpower.html


Is It Time For An Alternative Syrian Army?

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

30 May 2017

The idea of establishing an army for the Syrian opposition seems late but I think that proposing this idea today is more appropriate than ever. The concerned parties, including the group of countries in support of the Syrian revolution and which is secretly known as the “military room” in Jordan, had different stances about the presence of an opposition army.

However, the situation calls for establishing a new Syrian army for several reasons. First of all, this army will represent the Syrian people and not a sect or a religion or an extremist group, and it will not be affiliated with the region’s countries or mercenaries. Syria needs an army that represents all the Syrians, re-establishes the state, imposes order and operates under international legitimacy.

The biggest challenge that threatens the Syrians today is the emergence of an Iranian army on their soil. This army is led by the Revolutionary Guards and it consists of militias from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and of course troops from the Iranian Quds Force.

This is a direct threat to the project of the Syrian state as the Iranians can stay there for a long time. Two US Congressmen sent letters to the American secretaries of state and defence warning them that Iran plans to exploit its presence in Syria to build military bases on the Mediterranean Sea.

It is true that there is actually no longer an opposition free Syrian army like we knew it. It disintegrated into smaller groups after the Iranians, Russians, ISIS, al-Nusra Front and other groups targeted it.

So why are we talking about establishing a new Syrian army? It is due to the proposed political solution and to help plan safe zones for refugees. It is also due to some countries’ desire to form a power that fights terrorist groups which have infiltrated opposition-held areas. Keep in mind that establishing a military power is a requirement to recognize the opposition’s role in the new project of governance as it cannot live under the shadow of Assad’s army.

Ending Chaos

A new Syrian army is thus needed to end the chaos, which has resulted as a result of the spread of dozens of militias and to unite the armed opposition under one flag and leadership. Of course, this armed opposition would be united after sorting it to make sure it’s ideologically “appropriate” and that it’s patriotic and not religious. The thousands of defectors from the Syrian Arab Army who refused to kill their people can be the core of the new Syrian army.

Everyone, and not just Syrians, needs this army. They need an army that fights terrorist organizations that threaten Syria, the region and the world, that confronts the Iranian army’s militias if they refuse to exit Syria and purges the latter from regional movements, which oppose neighbouring countries, like the Kurdish Turkish movement and the Iraqi ISIS.

In case a political agreement is reached, the new Syrian army can complement the regime’s Syrian Arab Army, which has become weak as it is now made up of mere remnants.

There is no value in a political solution if it is not preceded by a project that establishes entities, mainly the army, and provides security. The opposition does not trust the regime forces, and it wants a military power that represents it inside this adopted system of a political solution. It needs this power to protect the areas affiliated with it. When other countries insist on evacuating Syria of all foreign fighters, the Syrian regime will hold on to Iran’s militias unless a national army that assumes the task emerges.

Considering the divergent views, it may be a long time before there is an agreement over a political solution. This does not prevent establishment of a Syrian army during the negotiations period to fight terrorism and end the excuse that the Assad regime needs Iran’s militias to stay.

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2017/05/30/Is-it-time-for-an-alternative-Syrian-army-.html


Is the Time Up For Iran’s Forays In The Middle East?

By Dr. Theodore Karasik

30 May 2017

Time is up for Iran’s foray in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and allies are backing their talk with actions by first conducting a “house cleaning” of the GCC of Iranian influence. The Riyadh Triple Summit helped to establish a new baseline in the region for unity against the threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran and extremists of various sects.

Events in Bahrain rightfully point in this direction. The laser-beam focus on Qatar, Iran’s enabler, is part of a process to get Doha to self-reflect on its actions in support of Tehran in the Levant and in Yemen and for Qatar to halt that course immediately.

The Saudis and their allies want Iran to stop its expansionist activities into Arab lands, halt militaristic behaviour with missile production and launches, and cease supporting Shiite extremists groups.

Earlier this month, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave an extraordinary interview where he argued in theological terms that Tehran’s ultimate aim is to wrest control of Islam’s holiest site in Mecca: “We won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia. Instead, we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.”

That is exactly what the Kingdom intends to do since, according to Mohammed Bin Salman, “How do you have a dialogue with a regime built on an extremist ideology … which [says] they must control the land of Muslims and spread their Twelver Jaafari sect in the Muslim world?”

While in Saudi Arabia, US President Donald Trump also drove home the point about Iran’s perfidy. Iran, in turn, slammed Saudi Arabia and its allies including the United States repeatedly for hypocrisy ever since the Triple Summit.

Tehran is upping its game in Arab lands, unleashing its militias, making trouble in maritime sea-lanes, and continuing with missile tests and expansion of its technology program. Tehran, of course, learned this stunt from Pyongyang.

Encircling Iran

Consequently, Saudi Arabia is encircling Iran in a much larger scope than Tehran’s so-called Shiite Crescent in a trans-regional arc in order to choke Iran into behavioral changes to force retreat or a “withdrawal of the tentacles” according to one GCC interlocutor.

First, it is important to recall that a major focus of King Salman’s visit to East Asia sought Asian assurances to reduce and break ties with Iran in order to re-enforce support for Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. King Salman and his delegation may be delivering the same message to Asian hosts that relations with Iran are going to be under Saudi scrutiny.

Iran’s links to East Asia are part of the strategic and tactical competition. Although Saudi Arabia is in a strategic relationship with China, Beijing’s support for Iran is not serving Riyadh’s interest now. This is the outer ring of states Riyadh sees being part of a pincher move against Iran’s ability to transact in East Asia.

Second is Saudi Arabia’s outreach to Iraq in order to swing Baghdad away from Tehran. Visits by high-ranking Saudi officials including Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir earlier this year is an attempt to entice Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s government closer to Riyadh’s position, especially on a Sunni security arch.

Iraq’s participation in the Eager Lion manoeuvres, an annual military exercise, launched earlier this month in Jordan with the participation of more than 7,000 soldiers from over 20 countries, is part of the attempt to bring Iraq into the axis.

Soft and Hard Power

In addition, Riyadh wants Abadi to reign the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), a coalition of mostly Shiite militias in Iraq, after the Battle for Mosul concludes. To be sure, Riyadh is newly charged in fixing the Iraq file: Saudi Arabia’s disgust with Qatar’s negotiations with Al-Nusra and Iran on the “Four Cities” deal and subsequent payment of a huge ransom to Kataib Hezbollah for the release of kidnapped Qatari royals, which ended up in Abadi’s hands, is forcing Riyadh into pro-action on Iran’s western flank in a methodical way using power politics and energy as tools.

Third, Saudi Arabia is upping its prowess around Iran that forms a net around the Islamic Republic. Riyadh is encircling Iran through a variety of soft and hard power networks that are in Pakistan (Baluchistan), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. This is a space to watch as Riyadh puts pressure points on the Islamic Republic from outside especially to Iran’s north and east.

This encirclement idea is not new – it’s from the Cold War days and used repeatedly – but now has an added twist with a more aggressive and muscular Saudi foreign and security policy augmented by social media to expose issues and themes to tear down Iran’s legitimacy to rule.

Tehran, of course, will lash out but through unity of effort, Saudi Arabia and Sunni allies will be able to succeed with a new “will to power” to force Iran away from Arabia’s heart based on a new sense of identity needed to make the Arab transformation successful.

Further away, Saudi Arabia will be working with African allies who attended the US-Arab-Islamic Summit to shut down Iranian activities in their respective states.

Clearly, we are entering a new page in Saudi-Iran relations. With the multi-level civil wars in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, Riyadh and Tehran are likely to battle it out beyond simple rhetoric.

Saudi Arabia and allies are establishing the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) to be a NATO-like organization based on organizational and tactical lessons learned from Operation Inherent Resolve as well as structure on the Global Alliance to Fight ISIS.

This fact, according to the Riyadh Declaration, is an important step to build up a military and constabulary force of 40,000 troops for deployment. Iran, already heavily vested in the Levant and in Yemen, is unlikely to retreat. For now, Saudi Arabia and allies are going to rely on pressure tactics to force changes in Iran’s behavior by starting with Qatar; down the road is going to be a different story that will make Tehran surprised.

Source; english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2017/05/30/Is-the-time-up-for-Iran-s-forays-in-the-Middle-East-.html


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