Age Islam Edit Bureau
11 January 2017
By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
By Syria, Is Putin Trying To Make Libya A Russian Satellite?
By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
Difference Journalists Can Make In Conflict Zones
By Raed Omari
Middle East Under Trump
By Osama Al-Sharif
Egyptian-Saudi Islands Issue
By Mohammed Nosseir
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
Jan 10, 2017
AKRAM Al-Kaabi, secretary general of
‘Al-Nujaba’ Shiite militia in Iraq is threatening your country. He promised,
once done with Daesh (the so-called IS) in Mosul, to take the war to Syria,
then to Saudi Arabia,” my colleague from Sky News Arabia points out. “I am
sending you a link to his speech and we need your comments,” he requested.
I watched the YouTube video of Al-Kaabi’s
public address to what looks like religious and military leaders. It was even
worse than expected. According to him “the road to Jerusalem goes through
Makkah and Madinah, Hejaz and ‘our’ eastern region.”
I wasn’t surprised. Soon after Iranian
clergy, Ayatollah Khomeini, returned to Tehran in a French airliner, with US,
France and UK blessings, he announced his grand vision. It includes exporting
“Islamic” revolution to the world, starting with neighbors, Iraq, Syria and
Lebanon, then “liberating” Makkah, Madinah, the eastern region and Bahrain. In
the final stage, all the world should be ruled by Shiite Islam and its grand
imam, in Tehran. What Al-Kaabi and Al-Houthi and company are calling for is old
news. With Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Saana under their control, they feel
the grand dream is about to be realized.
In my Sky News interview, I also reminded
my audience of what Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said two weeks ago at
a press conference in Riyadh: “The so-called ‘popular militia’ is a religious
organization, which carries out mass killings in Iraq with support of Iranian
generals headed by Qassem Suleimani. The existence of such armed groups
threatens the unity and security of Iraq,” he warned.
Al-Jubeir called for the dissolution of
Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi) and also urged Iran to
refrain from igniting sectarian strife and from its hostility toward Saudi
In response, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider
Al-Abadi angrily refused Al-Jubeir’s call for the dissolution of PMUs and
advised Saudi Arabia to “solve its problems away from Iraq.”
Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Ahmed
Gamal, stated that “Recurrent abusive remarks and accusations by the Saudi
foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, of the heroes and sacrifices of Al-Hashd
Al-Shaabi reflect that Saudis maintain their tense approach on Iraq, which is
made on narrow and sectarian backgrounds.”
Gamal added that the PMUs remain “a
national, courageous combat force that operates within the limits of the law
enacted by the parliament, and is one of the official security formations of
In November, the Iraqi parliament approved
a law giving full legal status to Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi fighters. It recognized
the PMUs as part of the national armed forces, placed the volunteer fighters
under the command of Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and granted them the right
to receive salaries and pensions like the regular army and police forces.
With PMU leaders’ threating to fight in
Syria and attack Saudi Arabia, the Iraqi government must clarify its position.
If these actions, calls and comments do not represent its policies (and I
believe they don’t), the government should make its stand crystal clear and
rein in those maverick gang leaders.
It is not enough for the prime minister and
supreme leader of the Iraqi armed forces to plead with the militia not to
venture outside Iraq’s borders, like he did recently. They are either under his
command obeying his orders, or under Iranian control, as Al-Jubeir maintained,
and should be dissolved. We cannot have a worse situation than that of
Hezbollah. At least, the Lebanese government is not claiming control or paying
the bills. This is more like in Yemen. And that is the same road Al-Houthi took
to overthrow the legitimate government.
In case the Iraqi government is not capable
of dissolving or ruling Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi, it should say so. This way, the
rest of us could deal with them as we did with Daesh, Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.
Terrorists should not receive government’s cover and support. They cannot wear
soldiers’ uniforms, carry state-issued arms and receive salaries. That is
exactly why the world regards Iran as a rogue regime and terrorism-sponsoring
state. We cannot accept for another Arab nation to go that way. Aren’t Syria
and Yemen enough?
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer
based in Jeddah.
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
10 January 2017
The Syrian civil war is all but concluded.
And the result must be described as a complete success for Vladimir Putin. No
other party in the conflict can claim to have gained as much from the conflict
as Putin has. Not even President Assad himself. And President Putin has every
intention to capitalize on this success.
By all accounts, it seems he now intends to
use the momentum gained in Syria to win the civil war in Libya as well. In many
ways, Libya is a similar conflict to the one in Syria: there is an ongoing
conflict between a faction feebly supported by the West, one intransigent
faction that can rely on steadfast Russian backing, and ISIS in the middle,
trying to expand into yet another failed state.
But there are also significant differences
to Syria. While the Western-backed, West of the country is governed by the de
jure government, the Russian backed East holds most of the advantages: a better
organized “government” under Marshal Khalifa Haftar, a better equipped and
better trained army, control over most of the country’s oil fields, and
consequently, a much healthier fiscal position, in no small part due to Russian
help in capitalizing the oil assets and assistance in organising a rival
In Syria, Russia had to do all the heavy
lifting to bring the Assad government back from the brink of collapse. They did
that, and Assad is now all but unassailable. In Libya, however, a much smaller
Russian contribution should be enough to resolve the conflict swiftly, as the
Russian-backed side is already holding the upper hand.
What is more, this will likely happen now
because two other circumstances have aligned in Haftar’s favor. First, Putin
now has leeway to redeploy forces from Syria as the conflict there winds down.
And indeed, troops can be very conveniently deployed from Russia’s greatest
prize in Syria, the port of Tartus.
And secondly, the main pillar of support
for the government in the West, the support of our countries, has all but
evaporated. In the United States, an extremely Russia-friendly Donald Trump is
about to take over the Oval Office later this month.
In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron who
was one of the leaders of the intervention which brought down Qaddafi, has
since lost his office in the wake of the Brexit Referendum, while his
successor, Theresa May, has little scope for any interventions in foreign
affairs beyond the Brexit negotiations.
And in France, the other leader of the
intervention, Francois Hollande, is due to leave the Presidency by May, as he
is not standing in the presidential election this spring, while whoever
succeeds him will also likely be too busy with Europe to have time to worry
about Libya. All in all, it seems there is little in the way of Libya becoming
a Russian satellite for the foreseeable future.
Indeed, the only ways in which the conflict
in Libya might endure longer than this year is either if the Pentagon manages
to wrest some operational independence from President Trump and decides that it
is worth preventing Russia from claiming the prize of Libyan oil fields – a
scenario that is really quite remote; or, if Putin decides that maintaining a
state of instability in that region is more beneficial to Russian interests
than a swift resolution of the conflict.
And this last scenario is the one to watch.
Putin has benefited immensely from the way in which the wave of refugees from
Syria into Europe has destabilized the political edifice of the European Union,
and the internal politics of many European member states.
That flow of refugees has been, to a large
degree, already stemmed. But the other major route of refugee flows into Europe
has been through Libya, and if the conflict there is finally resolved, the new
authorities will likely want to stop the movement through their country of so
many migrants from countries farther to the south. The security of their own
country will depend on it.
But Russia would likely not be too keen to
see this refugee route also close down. Putin may calculate that the benefits
of continued refugee pressures on Europe outweigh the benefits of a stable and
reliable ally in the Maghreb.
Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for
Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US
Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and
served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government
at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised
numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global
Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by
the World Economic Forum
Media rights group Reporters Without
Borders’ latest report says that 58 journalists were killed across the world in
2016 in the line of duty. In its annual report, the France-based press freedom
group says that 19 and 10 journalists were killed in war-torn Syria and
Afghanistan respectively, followed by nine in Mexico and five in Iraq.
That the number of journalists killed in
2016 is fewer than the 67 in 2015 is attributed to the fact that many of them
avoided conflict-ridden countries, mainly Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen,
Afghanistan and Burundi. That is why almost all of those killed in 2016 were
“The violence against journalists is more
and more deliberate,” RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire said, adding,
“they are clearly being targeted and murdered because they are journalists.”
RSF also urged the new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to appoint a
special representative for the protection of journalists.
The RSF 2016 report, and several such
reports, suggest an alarming prospect for journalists that even full-fledged
democracies are failing to observe and address. The first is the disinclination
to report from war-torn countries because of the lack of protection. This means
that the truth is not being reported from places where truth needs to emerge.
With little being done to protect journalists, one can conclude that deliberate
attempts are being made to silence them as happened frequently during the
1960s, 70s and the 80s.
The fear or inability of journalists to
report from dangerous territories has given rise to what we call “citizen
journalists” in conflict-torn countries, like Syria. They have become the
sources of information that even well-established news outlets immensely rely
on for their coverage. However, even citizen journalists are not safe and many
of them have been deliberately targeted.
In countries like Syria and Iraq, where the
conflict has become extremely complicated, journalists need to be on the side
of the powerful to keep themselves safe. This is why reporters belonging to
some media outlets, needless to mention them, haven’t been hurt even as they
continue to report from these countries.
But what such well-protected news channels
do in Syria and Iraq aren’t within the tenets of journalism and even those with
limited knowledge of what good journalism is can point that out. In other
words, they simply broadcast one-sided stories.
We have reached this stage because of the
international community’s failure to protect journalists by drafting strict
laws that hold any party hurting or harassing them accountable. Journalists
need a UN body to protect them and ensure their safety in war zones. This lies
at the heart of international human rights that guarantee peoples’ right to
While it is true that the international
humanitarian law provides journalists with protection as “citizens” but there
are only two explicit references to media personnel in Article A (4) of the Third
Geneva Convention and Article 79 of Additional Protocol I, which stipulate that
that journalists are entitled to all rights and protections granted to
civilians in international armed conflicts. According to legal experts, the
same remains true in non-international armed conflicts by virtue of customary
Absence of professional journalists in
Syria which – according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), has been
the most dangerous place in the world for journalists – has one way or the
other added complications to the ongoing war. In Syria, it is unclear who is
fighting whom and who is winning. It is also true that the suffering of the
Syrian people is less in regions which have been accessed by journalists.
Several countries opposed to the Assad
regime have been threatening to sue for war crimes. However, the lack of
well-documented data due to the absence of professional media outlets and human
rights organizations makes it a difficult proposition.
According to the New York-based CPJ, a
total of 107 reporters and media personnel have been killed in Syria since
2011. In a report it released some months ago, the Syrian Network for Human
Rights said that that 463 media activists had been killed either by regime
forces or armed groups. The monitoring group also said that 1,027 media workers
were arrested or abducted between March 2011 and April 2015.
Since June 2014, when Mosul fell to ISIS,
Iraq’s second largest city was literally closed to the world. This was also the
case with Syria’s Raqqa. Now because journalists covering the military
operations in Mosul are enjoying protection, the world has started to know
about the city, suffering of its people, developments on the ground and also
about the unbearable atrocities being committed by ISIS.
The world’s reaction to Mosul operation and
the international community’s response to the suffering of the tens of
thousands of citizens fleeing the battlefields is a lot more convincing than in
Syria thanks to the sleepless journalists covering the war and its consequences
there. Such is the noble cause of journalism that the modern world is still
unable to appreciate.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political
analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional
political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms,
Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters,
agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan
Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via
email@example.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2
Middle East under Trump
Barack Obama’s presidency is in its waning
days, and the US and the rest of the world are bracing for the unknown under a
man who has befuddled his allies even before his foes. Donald Trump will take
over a sharply divided country, and will immediately face foreign policy
challenges where off-the-cuff and oversimplified solutions will not do.
It is fair to say that the world, and much
of the US, is disappointed with Obama. His charisma and optimistic promises for
a better world enthralled millions of people from all regions and backgrounds.
But even Obama, the prudent leader and intellectual with a quasi-philosophical
approach to issues, overestimated his personal appeal and the power and
influence of the US.
Obama leaves a different world than the one
he inherited: Bitterly divided as underlined by the rise of populist movements
in Europe and at home, vulnerable to global terrorism and extremism,
economically weaker, uncertain over the future, and entangled by regional
crises — especially in the Middle East — with global social, cultural and
Yet Obama managed to pursue a course that
put America’s immediate interests first. He fulfilled a promise to drastically
cut back US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, avoided getting trapped further in
dishevelled conflicts — especially in Syria — following the messy outcome of
NATO’s intervention in Libya, and while failing to deliver on his promise to
secure an independent Palestine by the end of his term, he tried to stay on the
right side of history by condemning Jewish settlement activities and supporting
the two-state solution.
His success in concluding the Iran nuclear
deal will be viewed more favorably by his successor, although his utter failure
in checking Iran’s regional expansion will debunk that deal’s credibility.
On Russia, Obama appears to have
underestimated President Vladimir Putin’s determination to oversee Moscow’s
resurgence as a regional player — especially in Eastern Europe and Central Asia
— and as a global power broker, Syria being the obvious example.
Domestically, Obama’s biggest achievement
was mending the US economy and saving the American auto industry. He was a
classic Democratic president, although many will debate his failure to narrow
the gap between rich and poor, and to understand the depth of the
socio-economic crisis that ripped America’s heartland and gave rise to Trump’s
For the Middle East, Obama’s presidency was
particularly disappointing for different reasons. Conservative Arab governments
believe he initiated America’s untidy withdrawal from the region, allowing Iran
to inflate its influence in Iraq and Syria and meddle in the internal affairs
of Gulf states and Yemen.
His reluctance to adopt a clear and decisive
strategy on Syria has frustrated Washington’s allies, including Turkey and
Saudi Arabia. Even in the war against Daesh, many believe the Obama
administration could have done more to avert its phenomenal territorial spread
in Syria and Iraq.
For Israel, even though he signed the
largest-ever military aid package, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu projected
Obama as misled on Iran and on Israeli settlements. Equally frustrated with
Obama is Egypt’s current regime, which faults Washington for facilitating the
rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power after the Jan. 25 revolution that
toppled trusted ally President Hosni Mubarak.
Trump, who has denounced many of Obama’s
Middle East policies, may soon discover that there is no easy way to chart a
markedly variant course on many issues. His pro-Israel stand, which will
immediately translate into a major departure from decades-long US policy on
East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements, provides no solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It will certainly complicate the conflict, and
trigger major battles at the UN, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and
His vow to swiftly crush Daesh will soon be
tested on the ground. Military victories will bring no end to religious
extremism and the gaping Sunni-Shiite divide, which is being pushed by radical
In Syria, Trump may well support Putin’s
recent initiatives to seal a negotiated political deal. However, his
administration will have to find ways to assure US regional allies, including
Israel and Turkey, that Iran’s permanent presence in Syria will be checked or
Trump will be pressed by his national
security team to maintain or beef up the US military presence in the Arabian
Gulf to ward off Iran’s rising threat. Again, this will test Washington’s
relations with its Gulf allies.
Obama has left a complicated Middle Eastern
inheritance to his successor, and Trump’s quick and often rudimentary response
to evolving crises in this region will send mixed and contradictory messages to
both allies and foes.
The biggest test will be the shape and
context of US leadership abroad, and whether Trump will opt for a return to an
interventionist approach or lean toward an isolationist path. Obama’s reserved
approach to global affairs will soon give way to a more incoherent, and in many
cases impulsive, one.
Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.
The death of former President Ali Akbar
Hashemi Rafsanjani deprives Iran’s reformers of a powerful ally, boosting
anti-Western hard-liners before a presidential election which will determine
how open Tehran is to the world.
The loss of Rafsanjani’s skills as a
factional powerbroker also means rivalries in Iran’s unwieldy dual system of
clerical and republican rule could grow unchecked, testing the stability of the
His death on Sunday heightens concerns for
reformers at a time when morale is rising among hard-liners because of Donald
Trump’s election as US president. They believe Trump will adopt tough policies
hostile to Iran and that this will undermine reformers’ attempts to build
bridges with Washington.
“Rafsanjani was a key equilibrating power
in Iran’s complex political system,” said a senior Iranian official who
declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. “His
absence as a counterweight against hard-liners could harm the moderates and the
establishment altogether,” the official said by telephone.
Rafsanjani, a pragmatist who favored
liberal political and economic policies, died of a heart attack aged 82. He was
buried on Tuesday. Rafsanjani was a companion of the Islamic Republic’s late
founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and one of the pillars of the 1979
Revolution. Following Khomeini’s death, he played a role in the selection of
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as supreme leader, Iran’s most powerful figure.
His death removes an important ally behind
the scenes of fellow pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, who is expected to
seek re-election in May.
Rouhani’s election win in 2013 and his
success in ending the more than decade-long nuclear dispute with the West have
weakened the hard-liners. If the hard-liners regain the presidency, they would
be expected to tighten restrictions on social and political freedoms.
A close aide said Rafsanjani had “always
acted as a go-between whenever political infighting intensified and could harm
the Islamic Republic.”
“No one has his political and revolutionary
credentials to replace him ... his death has created a major political vacuum
in Iran,” Tehran-based political analyst Saeed Leylaz said by telephone.
This could enable Khamenei to tighten his
grip on the governing hierarchy. Although Khamenei is suspicious of the West,
he tries to stay above politics by balancing the interests of his hard-line
allies and their political rivals.
As supreme leader, Khamenei inherited
powers that include command over the armed forces and the ability to appoint
many senior figures, including the heads of the judiciary, security agencies
and state radio and television.
“The leader will be extra careful to avoid
any involvement in political infighting ... But he will give his full support
to enforcement of the revolutionary ideology,” a former official who is close
to Rouhani said by telephone.
Under Iran’s system of “velayat-e-faqih,”
or rule by a religious jurist, the supreme leader has vast power and should
stay above the day-to-day political fray.
Vocal on both domestic and foreign policy
initiatives, Rafsanjani called for open policies at home and abroad and
supported the moderate opposition that disputed the result of 2009 presidential
election which Khamenei had validated.
“His over 50 years of friendship with the
leader gave him a unique position to express his ideas and procure equilibrium
when political infighting intensified ... his loss is a blow to the moderate
camp,” said his aide. “His absence will radicalize the atmosphere.”
Rafsanjani, with a political career
spanning over half a century, held most of the top positions in Iran’s
political structure, including parliamentary speaker, armed forces commander
and president from 1989 to 1997.
Analyst Meir Javedanefar said that “sooner
or later, competing hard-liner and moderate forces will reach a near
“As without it, the ensuing imbalance could
undermine the stability of the Nezam (establishment). This is a scenario which
all supreme leaders would want to avoid, be they Khamenei or his successor,”
said Javedanfar, a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya in
Most analysts say Rafsanjani’s death is a
political blow to the pragmatist-moderate coalition, as he was the leading
force behind Rouhani’s election win.
“This will weaken Rouhani, who has also
failed to deliver his other promises like boosting the economy,” said Jamshid
Pajouyan, a professor at Iran’s Allameh Tabatabai University.
Gary G. Sick, an American academic and
Middle East affairs analyst, said the outcome of the election depended on
Rouhani’s “ability to persuade Iranians that they are better off with the
nuclear agreement ... and that he is capable of defending Iran’s interests
better than any alternative choice.”
Many ordinary Iranians have lost faith in
Rouhani because he has not been able to improve the economy despite the lifting
of sanctions in January last year under the nuclear deal reached with six major
powers in 2015. The deal curbed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the
lifting of most sanctions.
Activists and rights groups say Rouhani’s
focus on improving relations with the West and bolstering the economy have
prevented him from delivering his campaign promises of easing of social and
“I am sorry for Rafsanjani’s death but I
have to think about my children. The life is so expensive. The prices are going
up every day,” said government employee Mohammad Hosseinzadeh.
“Rouhani promised so many things but ...
look at us. We are poorer than before. But I will still vote for him because we
have to choose between bad and worse.”
Trump, a Republican, said during his
election campaign that he would abandon the nuclear deal. He will be
inaugurated on Jan. 20.
“A hostile US policy will be favored by
hard-liners. They will pressure Rouhani even if he wins the vote. It means he
will be in office but not in charge,” said analyst Hamid Farahvashian.
Fearing economic hardship might cause the
collapse of the establishment, Khamenei gave his blessing to the deal. But he
has criticized the failure of the agreement to deliver swift economic
Partly because of remaining unilateral US
sanctions, major European banks and investors are holding back from doing
business with Iran despite lifting of many sanctions.
Most international crises arise and persist
not out of evil intentions, but due to poor handling and management,
principally the fault of overlooking policy-implementation consequences. Border
disputes involving historical claims and arguments are common among many
The demarcation of maritime boundaries in
the Red Sea between Egypt and Saudi Arabia symbolizes this phenomenon. Cairo
signed an accord without considering the current political dynamic in Egypt,
which refuses to accept the agreement. This has left Egypt and Saudi Arabia in
an awkward situation.
We Egyptians are born and raised with a
cultural attachment to our national soil, which epitomizes our identity and
sense of belonging. The long years of war and conflict with Israel further
strengthened our veneration of this sovereignty issue.
The close ties between Egypt and Saudi
Arabia are the most long-lived and deep-rooted in the region. Two million
Egyptians live and work in the Kingdom, in addition to an equal number who
visit for religious purposes yearly. Nearly half a million Saudis study and
invest in Egypt.
Egypt has come to be known worldwide as a
strong state that was strengthened and reinforced during the three-decade rule
of former President Hosni Mubarak. Nevertheless, the country has changed
completely, for better or worse, since the 2011 revolution.
We are not yet a democracy, but we are a
strong, vibrant nation with a new political dynamism that Mubarak’s four
successors have failed to deal with. The era of Gamal Abdel Nasser, when a
clear majority of citizens blindly and sincerely supported a strong, popular
leader, is long past.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who is
probably both the articulator and victim of the current ruling mechanism that
often addresses political issues from a unilateral perspective, would have done
better to advocate for the maritime border agreement in a completely different
The government recently sent the accord to
Parliament for ratification, further complicating our internal dispute. The
State Council had ruled that the maritime border agreement was legally invalid.
El-Sisi’s opponents not only rejected the
agreement, but broke the anti-demonstration law and were sentenced to prison
Egypt is still going through a difficult
and challenging political transition, in which the drawbacks have been greater
than real progress on the ground. We are experiencing a very polarized state of
affairs, which was clearly further inflamed with the signing of the accord.
Activating the agreement will compound our polarization.
Meanwhile, to maintain solid relations, we
should distance our neighbors from involvement in our internal debate. The
deep-rooted relationship between Egypt and Saudi Arabia should prompt both
governments to exert every effort to reach a fair settlement.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia must try to ensure
that this dispute is as short-lived as possible. The deep, long-standing
bilateral relationship must be salvaged without leaving either party feeling
The most appropriate course to adopt to
sustain and strengthen the relationship is to freeze implementation of the
accord for a few months, until citizens of both countries make genuine efforts
to establish a constructive dialogue on this contentious issue. Egyptian and
Saudi citizens should work together to ensure they are properly and completely
convinced of the true ownership of the islands.
Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is
a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. He can be
reached on Twitter @MohammedNosseir.