Age Islam Edit Bureau
01 May 2017
of Terrorism in the Service of Bigotry
By Eyad Abu Shakra
Abolishes Rape Law, It Must Follow Suit with Honour Killing Law
By Yara Al-Wazir
under the Scanner Again
By Yasar Yakis
$300bn on the Table, Saudi Arabia Gets Ready For Sale of the Century
By Frank Kane
Peace Requires Fresh Strategies
By Linda S. Heard
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Eyad Abu Shakra
30 April 2017
In real democracies elections are a ‘means’
not an ‘end’. This is not the case with other types of democracy; such as the
democracies of cheap slogans, and %90 victories which we have experienced in
our countries, either to imitate others or to ingratiate ourselves to them in
order to escape their pressure or anger.
This year, political observers have been
awaiting three major scheduled elections in the Netherlands, France, and
Germany, following the Brexit referendum in the UK and the US presidential
elections. However, certain calculations have prompted British Prime Minister
Theresa May to call for a snap early election. As if the Brexit ‘earthquake’
has not been enough, and the Scottish nationalists’ drive for independence is
not gathering added momentum, voters in the UK will find themselves on 8 June
facing a second general election in less than one year and one month after the
Two days before the first round of France’s
presidential elections, in the London apartment of an anglophile friend, there
was a lively discussion about how the French and British deal with their
respective democratic systems. During that discussion, we touched on two
interconnected aspects: The difference in ‘party culture and traditions’, and
the difference in ‘personal and social moods’ between the French and British
(primarily, English) voters.
The French who vote today for their new
president live a political culture different from that of their neighbours
across the English Channel. Behind this fact are several factors, including:
1- The Geo-Environmental factor, as France
is very much a part of the European mainland; and thus has witnessed since the
dawn of history endless conquests, waves of immigration and settlement, and
centuries of multi-ethnic interaction that have left a huge cumulative imprint
on the French identity. Across the Channel, the British are ‘islanders’, which
is a reality not only do they profess, but also stress to justify their
tendency for exclusivity and exception. Still, while one must not dismiss the
multi-ethnic side in the identity of the British, recalling the waves of
conquests which brought the Celts, Romans, Angles and Saxons, Juts, Normans and
others to Great Britain, the centuries’ old semi-isolation of the island has
ensured a semblance of homogeneity in its central areas (as the Celts moved to
the peripheries in Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall). This is not exactly true for
2- The factor of political change. Here,
while France and the UK have both gone through civil wars and dynastic changes,
the French have been more at home with ‘revolution’, as compared with
‘evolution’ – or gradual change – in the UK. In the latter, this has been the
pattern since Magna Carta, and later ‘The Restoration’ (of monarchic rule after
the Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth period following the parliamentarians’
rebellion against king Charles I). Hence, if ‘The French Revolution’ helped
shape the political identity of France, and the storming of the Bastille became
its national day it celebrates annually, the British position vis-à-vis
rebellions or revolution is totally different. In fact, the British political
establishment has been averse to any kind of armed struggle against the state
as sedition, and in today’s jargon an act of terrorism. This is why London
treated not the Irish Republican Army members, but also George Washington and
the Mahatma Gandhi as “terrorists”.
3- The organizational/institutional factor.
This applies when we see that the roles played by historic ‘larger than life’
individuals (such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles De Gaulle, and Francois
Mitterrand) in France were much greater than those of political parties even
during democratic rule. In the UK the opposite is true, as British political
parties have always been ‘larger’ than the aura of their most successful
leaders. One proof is that Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, the two longest
serving Conservative and Labour prime ministers in the last 100 years, were
brought down by their own parties, not defeated by the opposition.
During that evening at my anglophile
friend’s apartment, those present talked about the ‘moodiness’ of the French
voters as opposed to the consistency, even predictability, of their British
Among the things said was that Theresa May
would not have called for snap general elections 3 years before the life of the
current Parliamentary term had she was not sure she would win big; something
which would ensure her a lager majority, and give her the freedom to finalize
the UK’s exit from Europe. Those holding this view noted that she must have calculated
– based on opinion polls – that the Labour opposition was in a pretty bad shape
under its current radical leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn, particularly, since
Corbyn has lost Labour the support of the uncommitted ‘floating’ voters,
against the background of a divided opposition parties, and increasing threat
of secessionist nationalists, namely in Scotland.
Despite the fact that opinion polls went
badly wrong twice last year, with ‘Brexit’ and US presidential elections, the
clear cut single-constituency party-based British general elections are usually
easier to predict than the result of a single-issue referendum that divided
both Conservatives and Labour down the middle.
In France, it has been more difficult to
predict the outcome. What is at stake is not just how to satisfy the voters of
a country where there are 264 types of cheese – as De Gaulle famously said –,
but also the broad spectrum of candidates from the extreme right to the extreme
Left, while the traditional ‘establishment’ candidates trailing badly. The
latest polls gave both the Republican Gaullist candidate and the Socialist
candidates less support than the extreme Right’s Marine Le Pen and the
independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, and sometimes even the extreme Left’s
Jean-Luc Melenchon. Then, as if all this was not enough, the Muslim identity of
the ‘Champs Elysees Terrorist’ could only boost the chances of Le Pen, as well
as the Republican Francois Fillon, who has shared a lot of her stances on
Muslims and immigrants during the last months.
A final thought. British democratic
traditions have proven to be capable of containing extremism. While in France,
is a second and decisive round of voting enough to prevent ‘globalized
terrorism’ from making fear-nurtured isolationism and bigotry… the major voter?
Earlier this week, Jordan’s cabinet finally
moved to abolish a law that exempts rapists from prosecution if they marry
their victims. The proposal was endorsed by King Abdullah and is a result of
years of campaigning by women’s rights groups. Although the proposal must now
be debated in parliament before the article is abolished, a process that can
take months, it is a major step forward for Jordan and is setting the precedent
for the region.
Jordan has truly pioneered in the region by
setting the standard in abolishing this rape law. Similar articles exist in the
law in Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine and Syria. While the
root of the law stems from colonial rule by the French, which saw French law
adopted, the article is outdated. Some argue that marrying the rapist actually
protects women form possible honour killings that their families may undertake
if the law didn’t exist. There is nothing that rips honour straight out of a
woman than marrying her rapist.
Further Steps Are Needed For This Law to Be Effective
Abolishing the law is only the first step
in reform and protecting women’s right to exist. There are two major steps that
must follow suit. The first step comes through abolishing the exemption clauses
that give lenient sentences to murders in the cases of honour killings. The
second step that must follow suit is reforming society and public opinion and
perception of victims of rape.
Article 340 of Jordan’s Penal Code reduces
the penalty if a man kills or attacks a female relative if she commits
adultery. This is a further extension under article 98 of the penal code, which
reduces the penalty for murder if the killer is in a “state of great fury”.
These two articles are prime examples of abominations to women’s rights.
Further to the vilification that women receive from society for adultery, the
law is fundamentally designed with loopholes that would allow their partners
and family to literally get away with murder.
The region’s obsession with “honour” is
outdated and easily misconstrued. There is honour and pride in a woman
achieving her dreams, purchasing her first home, and seeking education – the
honour of a woman is not a currency, and is most definitely not a function of
her ‘purity’ or ‘virginity’, at least it shouldn’t be in this day and age. If
society continues to value a woman by her virginity, then society needs a major
reality and priority check.
According to Human Rights Watch, 2016 saw a
53 per cent increase in the rates of honour killings. Addressing Article 340
and 98 in conjunction with Article 308 (which addresses this rape law) is key
to creating a safe environment for women.
Precedent For Rape Or Honour Killing Under Islamic Law
Fundamentally, a killing is a killing. The
Quran quotes a monumental verse ‘if anyone killed a person not in retaliation
or murder… it would be as if he killed all of mankind”– the same is true for
honour killings: murder is murder, regardless of the context. Honour killings
must be treated for what they are: murder.
From an Islamic Law perspective, there is
no Islamic-legal precedent to forgive a man if he marries his victim; cases of
sexual assault during the life of the Prophet lead to the punishment of the
man, with no mention of an exception being made if the rapist marries his victim.
Jordan has taken the first major step in
protecting the rights of women to exist and live freely; this step must be
heavily encouraged so that other countries follow-suit. Jordan must now
continue this great plight and work to abolish outdated clauses that protect
murders. Given enough time, this will inevitably lead to societal reform and
allow women to regain control of their lives and ensure they have the right to
live and love as they wish.
Meddling In Bahrain: No Longer In Denial?
In the years after 2011, I grew accustomed
to receiving a condescending grimace from Western officials when I asked about
Iranian terrorism in Bahrain. Often this would earn me a lecture about
“prisoners of conscience” and “rights to peaceful protest.”
Despite Bahraini authorities’ efforts to
reach a consensus with opposition entities via dialogue, reforms and permitting
licensed protests, there was a stiff refusal to countenance Iranian meddling in
the Gulf, and to recognize the militant and sectarian ideology of these
Today, not only has the mountain of
evidence become incontrovertible, but the Trump administration has loudly
denounced terrorist entities pursuing Iran’s agenda in Bahrain. British leaders
have been quick to parrot these denunciations. Suddenly everybody wants to talk
about Iranian interference.
The spotlight has fallen on a previously
unknown figure, Murtaza Al-Sanadi, who fled to Iran in 2012. Al-Sanadi is the
effective leader of the terrorist group Al-Ashtar Brigades, responsible for a
string of killings of policemen in Bahrain. Al-Sanadi recruited hundreds of
impressionable young men, many radicalized while on pilgrimage or religious
Along with training by the Revolutionary
Guard in Iran, numerous militants traveled to Iraq for training with the
Hezbollah Brigades, an Iranian proxy fighting as part of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi
that is complicit in war crimes, including sectarian cleansing and mass summary
As dangerous as learning to build bombs is
the poisoning of minds against Arab heritage and nationalism. Differences in
religious belief between Shiites and Sunnis are tiny, yet these radicals are
brainwashed into a culture of anti-Arab sectarian hatred.
Western misconceptions on this issue are
rooted in the post-9/11 belief that terrorism is a Sunni phenomenon. But while
Daesh tends to flaunt its violent acts, Iranian proxies in Iraq, Syria and
elsewhere have been more discreet about the trail of blood they leave behind.
It has been relatively easy for Bahraini
militants to join bus-loads of pilgrims visiting Iraq and obtain training from
the Hezbollah Brigades. Some even temporarily signed up to Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi.
An Ahrar Manama division of Bahraini fighters was reported earlier this year.
Pakistan’s leaders recently protested
Iran’s policy of recruiting and radicalizing Pakistani and Afghan nationals for
cannon-fodder in the Syria conflict. During the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, Iran used
a similar tactic of battle-hardening Gulf militants on the frontlines, before
sending them home to wage war.
A number of prominent Bahraini militants
even lost their lives in this fighting. This militarization of Bahraini
radicals culminated in a 1981 coup attempt by an Iranian proxy, the Islamic
Front for the Liberation of Bahrain.
More than 35 years later, Iran’s strategy
toward Bahrain and other Arab states has become more malign and expansive. As
Quds Force Commander Qassim Soleimani reiterated and boasted in 2015: “We are
witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region, from
Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa.”
The Hezbollah Brigades was also recently in
the news as it sought to take receipt of half a billion dollars in ransom for
24 Qatari hostages it kidnapped in 2015 — the largest ransom in history.
Although this money (for now) has been impounded on the orders of Iraqi Prime
Minister Haider Al-Abadi, the dangers of handing over such a huge sum to
terrorists and war criminals are only too obvious.
Given the Hezbollah Brigades’ support for
Bahraini militants, this ransom money is in effect enabling terrorists to
commit mass murder in a fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nation, not to
mention encouraging hostage-takers to strike again against high-value regional
Among the other catastrophic consequences
of this hostage deal are Syrian population swaps. In 2016, it became widely
known that Iranian proxies were lobbying hard for a deal that removed Sunnis
from the towns of Madaya and Zabadani, between Damascus and the Lebanese
Demographic engineering and sectarian
cleansing are war crimes. Parties enabling such measures should be conscious of
their obligations and the consequences under international law.
Tehran’s motivations are clear: Controlling
weapons convoys to Hezbollah and a contiguous territory reaching the
Mediterranean. I speak to Syrians who exclaim that Iran is creating “a hundred
Palestines.” Does anyone believe that Syrians will simply walk away from land
that has been theirs for hundreds of years?
Al-Sanadi, using Iranian media outlets to
incite “holy war,” is one of many Arabs who have sold out their nations. The US
designation of him as a “global terrorist” is belated recognition that when
Iranian leaders threaten that the US Fifth Fleet could be “raised to the
ground,” they are not joking.
A Washington Post report cites the seizure
in Bahrain of “armor-piercing projectiles capable of slicing through a tank,”
C4 explosive “in quantities that could sink a battleship… that almost certainly
originated in Iran.” Militants were building sophisticated explosively formed
projectiles (EFPs), devices last seen being used by the Hezbollah Brigades
against US troops in Iraq.
In American politics, we are accustomed to
policy U-turns every four to eight years, or in Donald Trump’s case from one
day to the next. This makes the West ill-equipped to grapple with an Iranian
strategy for regional dominance with the patience and tenacity to remain
consistent over many decades.
The West may no longer be in denial about
Iran’s meddling, but we seem little closer to a coherent strategy for halting
its regional stranglehold by dismantling proxy militias and terrorist cells
wreaking havoc across the Arab world.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council
of Europe (PACE) adopted on April 25 a resolution entitled “The functioning of
the democratic institutions in Turkey.” The resolution received 113 votes in
favour and 45 against. Unlike the other members of Turkey’s delegation to PACE,
two members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) voted in favour.
The resolution placed Turkey under
observation, and said it deviated from democratic practices by violating human
rights in security operations. This means Europe deems Turkey non-compliant
with the Copenhagen political criteria, which is considered the main reference
for good governance and human rights.
Turkey was put on the watch list in 1996
and stayed there for eight years. The ruling Justice and Development Party
(AKP) worked hard in 2004 to get Turkey off the list, and prided itself on
doing so. It persuaded the Council of Europe by carrying out structural reforms
in all areas of fundamental rights and freedoms. These reforms were also a
precondition for starting Turkey’s accession negotiations to the EU.
Its performance was much appreciated by
Gunther Verheugen, then-EU commissioner in charge of enlargement, who said in
2004: “The reforms achieved in Turkey in the last 18 months are more than the
reforms achieved in the last 80 years.” The same country has now become the
first in the history of the Council of Europe to be put back on the watch list.
PACE resolutions are regarded as a
touchstone for high standards in governance. The EU, which is an entirely
different body, follows closely the activities of the Council of Europe and
abides by its norms.
Turkey, a founding member of the Council
since 1949, now has the highest number of complaints against it in the European
Court of Human Rights, the Council’s judiciary organ. Most of the complaints
are about violations of human rights such as suspending, sacking, arresting and
jailing public servants.
After the PACE resolution, eyes turned to
the meeting of EU foreign ministers on April 28 in Malta. Some EU politicians,
such as Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, were trying to promote the
idea of suspending Turkey’s accession negotiations to the EU. But German
Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the EU not to end accession talks despite deep
misgivings over Turkey’s human rights record, saying the country is key to
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
remained defiant, saying after the April 16 referendum on amending the
constitution that Turkey may hold another referendum on whether to continue
accession negotiations with the EU. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who
participated in the Malta meeting, afterward said the EU has understood its
mistake and is now trying to find ways to relaunch the accession talks.
The tone was slightly different in a
statement by Frederica Mogherini, high representative of the EU for foreign
affairs and security policy: “Some clarifications are needed from Ankara. The
accession process continues, it is not suspended, not ended (although) we are
currently not working on any new chapters. The criteria are very clear, well
known and if Turkey is interested in joining, as the foreign minister told us
today, it knows very well what that implies, especially in the field of human
rights, rule of law, democracy and freedoms.”
Mogherini’s statement means the EU preferred
to put the ball in Turkey’s court by leaving the door ajar to become a member,
but asked Ankara to provide clearer signals on whether it intends to meet the
admission criteria, especially regarding human rights and the rule of law.
The interests of both Turkey and the EU
require that wisdom prevail and politicians on both side avoid inflammatory
rhetoric and use silent diplomacy to sort out their differences and reduce
tension. If this is not done, Europe will be deprived of a strong ally in the
Middle East and the Islamic world, but Turkey’s loss will likely be bigger
because it will be further isolated internationally.
$300bn on the Table, Saudi Arabia Gets Ready For Sale Of The Century
1 May 2017
As bankers and business execs home in on
Riyadh this week for the annual Euromoney Saudi Arabia Conference, they have
before them a glittering prize — $200 billion worth of privatization deals to
be won and executed in one of the biggest state sell-offs in history.
You have to go back to the British
privatization program of the 1980s, or the great sell-off of assets by the
former Soviet states in the 1990s, to find a program of comparable magnitude
As if to whet the appetite of the
financiers and advisers heading to the Saudi capital, Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri, the
minister for economy and planning, has offered a kind of menu of the delights
in store for them.
The minister told Reuters that he had
prepared a detailed series of studies of valuations and market demand for the
great sell-off to come over the next few years, as part of the National
Transformation Program (NTP) 2020 and Vision 2030 strategy.
It amounts to a smorgasbord of corporate
assets for their delectation: Health care, sports facilities, electricity
generation, water provision and grain silos. Among the first of the assets on
offer will be one of the country’s top medical institutions, the King Faisal
Specialist Hospital and Research Centre (KFSHRC) in Riyadh, the minister said.
And, of course, Saudi Aramco, which is on
course for an initial public offering (IPO) next year, according to official
It should be noted that the $200 billion
tag Al-Tuwaijri put on the asset sale excludes the value of up to $100 billion
hoped for from Aramco. With a total value of $300 billion, the privatization
program will be worth nearly half of the Kingdom’s gross domestic product
Al-Tuwaijri stressed that the process is
very well advanced. “This year, we have a crystal-clear idea of market demand
size, valuation, financial advisers, the appetite locally and globally, cash
flow certainty, government off-takes, structure. That is all done,” he told
If Saudi Arabia gets this right, it will
transform the economy, business culture and society of the Kingdom in a
profound way by putting large parts of its corporate structure in private
hands, hopefully igniting a spirit of entrepreneurship for the young generation
who are its future, and bridging the gaps in state finance that have been
opened up by the fall in the oil price.
It would also go a long way toward
achieving the goal of reducing dependency on the oil economy, which is the
overriding goal of the Kingdom’s economic policy.
So what could possibly go wrong? That will
be the subject of much debate at the Euro money gathering, which is held under
the theme: “2030: Delivering the Vision.” You should not underestimate the
extent of the delivery challenge, which Al-Tuwaijri himself conceded to
Reuters. It is comparatively easy to draw up grandiose strategies, especially
with an army of expert consultants as the Kingdom has employed, but the
execution and implementation are more difficult. With enterprises in 16 sectors
earmarked for privatization by 2020, some deals would be difficult and complex,
But he said that Saudi Arabia would be
flexible in choosing structures that potential buyers wanted, like IPOs,
private placement of shares and private equity transactions. These are in
addition to the full panoply of public-private-partnership transactions in
which the state shares investment costs — as well as risks and potential
profits — with the private sector.
The Euro money agenda has identified three
challenges to achieving the great transformation: Sustained low oil prices;
liquidity issues; and continued regional instability. Each is formidable.
The oil price will continue to be the key
economic variable even as the Kingdom advances the diversification program. The
US has emerged as the main threat to a recovery in oil prices, with its shale
producers expanding at a rate that was not supposed to be possible at $50 a
Just last week, President Donald Trump
announced he was freeing deep-sea exploration from regulatory shackles, in a
clear sign that America is looking to further expand oil production in its own
backyard. Neither of those is positive for the oil price, despite Saudi
Arabia’s ongoing commitment to production limits.
Liquidity is also a serious issue. The
Saudi stock market, Tadawul, had a market capitalization of about $400 billion
in the first quarter of this year, so the privatization program will be a huge
bite for it to swallow and digest. It is no surprise that the Kingdom’s
policymakers are looking for help from foreign exchanges in the great sell-off.
Regional insecurity goes with the turf in
the Middle East. President Trump’s comments last week that some countries in
the region were not being “fair” to the US in military spending was bizarre and
incongruous from an administration that has been broadly welcomed in the region
as a bulwark against terrorism and Iranian expansion. There will always be a
significant risk factor in regional markets and global investors will have to
learn to live with that.
The financiers at Euro money will have all
those reservations in mind, but their main focus will be the enormous
opportunities available in Saudi Arabia’s sale of the century.
Linda S. Heard
Enough international conferences. Enough
pretending the US is an impartial broker. Every American-conceived initiative
has failed primarily because they have all been angled in Israel’s favour, with
no respect for UN resolutions.
Most have been little more than shows, with
the possible exception of the joint efforts made by Nobel Peace Prize
recipients Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, who signed up to the Oslo Accords
in 1993. Unfortunately, their sincere intentions were scotched by the arrival
of hard-liner Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush, who relegated Arafat to pariah
Palestinians are today worse off than ever
before, without a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The Palestinian
Authority (PA) played by the international community’s rules and received
nothing in return.
Like all those before him, US President
Donald Trump says he is set on sealing a peace deal. “There is no reason
there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” he told Reuters. Can we
believe he is genuine when he is mulling relocating the US Embassy to
The fact that he appointed his son-in-law
Jared Kushner as intermediary and David Friedman as ambassador to Israel, when
both men materially support Jewish settlements in the West Bank, hardly instils
confidence. Moreover, his Ambassador to the UN Nicky Haley has railed at the
body for what she claims is its anti-Israel bias. Just days ago, 100 Senators
signed a letter calling on the UN to quit its supposedly unfair treatment of
Trump is right on one thing though. Peace
is not rocket science. Some of the bloodiest wars and conflicts have been ended
through dialogue. To quote former US Secretary of State James Baker: “You
negotiate peace with your enemies, not with your friends.” With that in mind,
perhaps it is time for Arab leaderships to become more proactive.
Nuclear-armed Israel, which basks under
Washington’s military umbrella, is not going anywhere. Former Egyptian
President Anwar Sadat realized that when he flew to Tel Aviv in November 1977
bearing an olive branch. That historic visit was frowned upon by not only the
Palestinians but the entire Arab world. But if Arab leaders had participated in
Camp David talks, it is more than possible that a flourishing Palestinian state
would now be in existence.
That said, Saudi Arabia announced an Arab
Peace Initiative at the 2002 Arab League Summit, offering Israel normalization
of relations in return for its withdrawal to 1967 borders. The plan was
endorsed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and all Arab League member
Israel welcomed the initiative’s spirit but
could not accept some of its conditions. If there had been face-to-face
discussions between Arab heads of state and Israelis, those differences might
have been ironed out. While I understand there are sensitivities involved due
to decades of mutual enmity, if the goal is to rescue the Palestinian people
from occupation, pragmatism, however bitter the pill, must take priority over
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz,
then-US Secretary of State John Kerry presented a regional peace plan to
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a secret summit in Aqaba last
year. Netanyahu turned it down because he was unable to sell it to his ultra-right-wing
Yet in February, he said there was an
unprecedented opportunity for peace because the region had changed. Reading
between the lines, he meant Arabs and Israelis share the same enemy: Iran.
Arab leaders would do well to call his
bluff. It would be interesting to see how he would respond to an offer of peace
with the entire Arab world as a prelude to negotiations on a Palestinian state
down the road. Arab and Israeli foreign ministers sitting around the same table
in full view of cameras would be a good start.
A region in peace would deprive Netanyahu
of pretexts based on security concerns. A PA that represents all Palestinians
in the West Bank and Gaza would pre-empt his excuse that Israel has no partner
for peace. If Arab states openly reach out, at the very least Netanyahu would
be hoisted on his own petard for all the world to see. At best, a new door
would emerge to free Palestinians from decades of despair and indignity.