New Age Islam Edit Bureau
11 April 2017
The Complex Arab-Muslim Reality And Media
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
‘Blood Brotherhood’ Between Iran And Syria
By Turki Aldakhil
Who Benefits From Murdering Egypt’s Copts?
By Mashari Althaydi
Turkey's Referendum: A Democratic Quest
By Ayse Sozen Usluer
Arab Conciliation Or Confrontation With Iran?
By Yasar Yakis
Arab League’s Challenges Decades After Its Establishment
By Mohammed Nosseir
Did Iran Just Violate The Chemical Weapons Convention?
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The Changing Scenario In Syria
By Raghida Dergham
Counter-Propaganda On US Strikes In Syria
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Facebook Vs Palestine: Implicit Support For Oppression
By Nadim Nashif
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
April 11, 2017
Arab and Muslim intellectuals never tire of blaming many of their woes on the world media and a certain lobby that apparently controls it. The Western media narrative is often seen as being skewed and dictated by its economic and political interests. Influenced by powerful lobbies, especially the all-powerful Israeli lobby, the media distorts and misrepresents the Arab and Muslim reality, complain Muslim intellectuals.
How far is this true? Is the alleged media bias really a myth?
From the never-ending Middle East conflict to the general state of affairs in their countries, the world’s perception of the complex Arab and Muslim reality is indeed often informed and distorted by many hackneyed stereotypes and deliberate misrepresentations. No wonder Arabs and Muslims often lose the battle of perceptions even before it’s begun.
So the Palestinians struggling to survive in their own land in which they have lived for centuries must suffer the indignity of being demonized as “terrorists”. Their fight for freedom is painted as the terrorism of the followers of a “hateful ideology,” bent on destroying the “only democracy” in the Middle East and its peaceful Western friends.
While the world powers perpetuate their handpicked men as “moderate” leaders, Muslims are disparaged as being inherently incapable of “embracing” the blessings of Western democracy.
This is an impossibly one-sided, asymmetrical battle. The Muslims feel they are pitted against a giant propaganda machine that has for years controlled and dictated their world. And their claim and historic sense of perpetually being at the receiving end is not entirely without basis.
From the worldwide media empire of the likes of Rupert Murdoch (whose News Corp owns Fox News and Sky News besides scores of newspapers, television channels and radio stations around the globe) to the stable of Time-Warner that owns some of the world’s most powerful newspapers, magazines (Time, Times etc.,) and television networks, the Lobby’s stranglehold over the global media industry is firm and complete.
This control even extends to Hollywood, the dream factory that has for years perpetuated stereotypes, myths and biases about the “good guys and bad guys”.
Many of the major Hollywood studios and production companies are wholly or partly owned by Jewish and pro-Israel groups and families. It’s little surprising then that Arabs and Muslims do not exactly come across as the friendliest and most likable people on earth in films and television shows like 24 and Homeland.
The fact that some of the top editors, columnists, writers and filmmakers in the US and elsewhere also happen to be Jewish or pro-Israel also hasn’t helped our cause.
Just look at the New York Times and Washington Post, the two most formidable voices of the US establishment, and the proud line-up of their editors and columnists. From Tom Friedman to Charles Krauthammer, some of the biggest names in the business are staunch supporters of Israel.
No wonder the Republicans and Democrats are often vying with each other to woo the lobby. It can make or mar any politician.
But to be fair to these movers and shakers, if they are there right at the top of the US establishment, they have every right to be. They have worked very hard for years and invested a great deal to be in the position that they are.
The Muslims have no reason to bemoan the fact that the world pays them little attention while lapping up the distorted reality offered by a biased media.
What have they done all these years to present their side of the story before the world? Very little, notwithstanding the considerable human and natural resources at their disposal. While their precious resources are splurged on delusions of grandeur, they have invested next to nothing in initiatives that could have helped them fight this critical battle of ideas.
Much of the media in Muslim lands lacks a killer instinct and professional approach. Many of them remain still preoccupied with what is considered non-news elsewhere ignoring the real needs and challenges facing their people.
This is why when Al Jazeera Arabic made its debut more than two decades ago with its refreshingly bold and innovative approach, it was lapped up by hungry Arab audiences. Again, this is why Al Jazeera English has made an unprecedented impact around the world. Today, it is heartwarming to see many international networks tune in to Al Jazeera to catch up on major breaking news stories, stories that they have missed.
Without doubt, this is the first credible attempt to meet the challenge on this front. This is the first media initiative targeting a global audience from a Middle Eastern perspective. Although Al Jazeera Arabic too reached and targeted an international audience, it had always been and seen as an Arab-Muslim perspective for an Arab-Muslim audience. The English news channel has, however, consciously sought to present itself as a global news network with a difference.
The arrival of Al Jazeera thus represents a seminal event in the history of the Middle East and world media. It is a sign of the Arab media coming of age. But more than the Arab world, Al Jazeera’s arrival marks a new era for the world media.
Speaking and reporting in a language spoken and understood across the world, Al Jazeera English has been reaching out to a truly global audience. More importantly, it offers an alternate reality to the Western audiences and rest of the world — a reality that is decidedly different from the sanitized worldview offered by the likes of CNN, BBC and Fox News.
Broadcasting from four continents, the channel has put together a dream team that is known for its professional excellence and integrity.
Today, Al Jazeera is widely respected in the region and around the world for its world-class reportage and courage to take on issues that had once been taboo. In the process, it has also ended up ruffling many feathers and bruised many giant sized egos. If its reporters have faced the wrath of the Egyptian authorities with their coverage, the network’s offices in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region have been repeatedly bombed by the US under President Bush. But then whoever said speaking truth to power is easy!
Of course, reaching out to a world audience — especially the Western viewers —and winning their trust isn’t going to be easy for a network that is still panned as the “Bin Laden channel”. But a journey on this long and arduous path has been begun in right earnest.
With its professional approach and persistence to report “all sides of a story,” the network is truly in the forefront of this battle of ideas. And hopefully Al Jazeera’s example would inspire others in the region and around the world to follow suit. We certainly need more Al Jazeeras out there.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist. Email: Aijaz.firstname.lastname@example.org
10 April 2017
“We are blood brothers with Iran.” This is what the Baathist Syrian foreign minister said after decades of making statements on his nation’s legacy and on a one-Arab nation carrying a mortal message.
After making all these noises about national unity and Arab revival, the Syrian regime allowed Iranian forces into its territories and forced Lebanon to be occupied and controlled by Iran.
The Syrian regime has been fighting the entire Arab world and planting terror cells. At the same time, it wants societies to believe its lies about national revival and unifying legacies.
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem said no one can break or upset this blood brotherhood with Iran.
Unspeakable acts of crime committed since the reign of late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, deposed Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and other such leaders, suggest that these regimes have caused negative influences on Arab societies.
They show that stable regimes and monarchies are the most capable when it comes to respecting people and safeguarding their interests and the most competent in terms of respecting human rights.
Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.
ISIS Qutbist - ie in reference to Sayyid Qutb - criminals targeted churches in Alexandria and Tanta on Palm Sunday. The blasts were carried out by suicide bombers, using explosive devices, killing at least 40 people and wounding dozens more. Among those killed were a police brigadier-general who clashed with the suicide bomber in Alexandria and an Egyptian policewoman. The latter is thus the first Egyptian female “hero” to fall victim in this war against terrorism.
The attacks’ outcomes could have been far worse and more disastrous as the Coptic Pope was inside the Alexandria church; fortunately, he was not harmed.
The terrorists of Sinai, ISIS and Al-Qaeda and vengeful Brotherhood groups are keen to harm Egypt’s security, in particular its soldiers, policemen, judicial figures and Copts.
The malicious attack comes before the Catholic Church’s Pope Francis’ visit to Egypt which is scheduled for the end of April.
Egypt is in a state of open war with Islamized terrorist groups. Anyone with eyes can clearly see this. Solidarity with Egypt is a duty which no one must be hesitant about. This is why Saudi Arabia beginning with its highest command King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the kingdom stands with Egypt against these malicious people.
Like Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf countries have also voiced their support. What was also important was American President Donald Trump’s stance as he spoke about his trust in Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s capability to resolve this “difficult” situation.
What is interesting is the extent of rivalry some have towards the Egyptian government. Some groups tried to exploit the recent attacks to serve their political aims. Cleric Doctor Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s symbol, said on Twitter: “Throughout its entire history, Egypt has only witnessed explosions that target a group of people during eras of tyranny.”
He later tried to delete this tweet but it was too late. Qaradawi’s statement is a historical fallacy which is the result of passionate political beliefs.
Developments related to sectarian strife in Egypt are not the result of today’s policies or due to “tyranny” as Qaradawi put it. I won’t talk about the events of Al-Khankah in 1972, or Az-Zawiya Al-Hamra in 1981 or the Kosheh incident in 1999 or the 2011 bombing of the Saints’ Church in Alexandria. The latter explosion happened before the January 2011 revolution and back then, “revolutionaries,” and of course the Brotherhood mouthpieces, accused the Egyptian interior ministry of orchestrating the attack. Can you imagine this. And why would the ministry do that? “To distract” the Egyptian people.
After the so-called January revolution, the Maspero and Atfih events happened and all of them were due to sectarian tensions. However, what’s more important is what happened in July 2013 when Brotherhood President Mohammed Mursi was ousted and when Brotherhood armed gatherings were dispersed. At the time, Human Rights Watch said around 42 churches and Christian property were looted and held extremist Islamists responsible.
There are strenuous efforts to create “security” and civil strife in Egypt during this phase.
The question is: Who benefits from that?
Saudi journalist Mashari Althaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Althaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists.
On February 19, 2001, during a national security meeting, Turkey's 10th President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, threw a copy of the Turkish constitution at the prime minister's face in a symbolic gesture to assert his authority enshrined in the constitution.
In return, the government reminded him of the fact that he was only president because they elected him. Within hours, the clash led to a sharp economic crisis wherein the interest rates increased by 8,000 percent, the stock exchange market plunged down by 14.5 percent and the central bank had to sell $7.6bn in immediate response. Inflation boomed, and the purchasing power of people disappeared dramatically.
Despite their similar left-wing political background, the controversial and contradictory politics of the president and the prime minister caused ill-management in the country, which eventually resulted in the economic crisis. This was in fact a crisis of the whole system, not just an economic one. Neither was this a unique crisis in Turkish political history but rather a striking one with dire consequences.
Turgut Ozal and Suleyman Demirel had their own share of clashes, the former as the president and the latter as the prime minister in the early 1990s. Such examples of discontent between presidents and prime ministers of Turkey go back to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Ismet Inonu, the founders of the modern Turkish Republic, whose relations turned bitter when Inonu resigned as prime minister in 1937, a year before Ataturk died.
Although the debates on the constitutional amendments to be voted on April 16 in Turkey are overshadowed by the obsession with the personality of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the suggested amendments seek to solve Turkey's chronic administration problems which have held the progress of the country hostage for decades.
Turkey is now making a choice through democratic process. Firstly, the amendment proposal was accepted and enacted in parliament within the framework of the Turkish constitution. And now, it is waiting for the endorsement of the Turkish public in the referendum.
A democratic quest
Shifting from parliamentary system to presidential system is a democratic quest for Turkey. Turkish politics of the past not only witnessed clashes between the president and the prime minister; it was also an era of fruitless coalition after coalition when precious time and resources of the country were wasted.
Coalitions among weak political parties would be formed only to dissolve within months. Political stagnation and call for unnecessary elections would further burden the economy.
Over the past 15 years I and, indeed, all the young people of my generation, however, have witnessed profound changes in Turkey. Such development and progress in every aspect of our lives fill my generation with pride in our achievements as a nation, and hope that the future will be even better.
Fifteen years ago, for instance, Kurdish citizens were legally prevented from using their own language when interacting with the state. They could not teach it in schools or even use it when testifying in court. Kurdish culture was barred from public display and Kurds were even denied their own ethnicity as a people. With the immense reform period of the past 15 years, the Kurdish people, their language and their culture are now an integral part of the legal, social, political and economic fabric of the Turkish nation. Such progress, however, was only possible with a strong government enjoying strong public support and a brave leader with an overarching vision for Turkey. This is what Turkey needs to continue its long path to prosperity.
Among the vast reform initiatives of the past one and a half decades, regulating the relations between the military and civilians was a crucial step. The military used to dominate all levels of political life, but through introduction of several reforms via a series of free and fair elections, democratic norms become institutionalised, and military hold over democratic institutions substantially vanished. Only a few remnants of this practice, such as seats on the Supreme Court, are intact but could soon be abolished with the amendments in the constitution.
In the past 15 years we experienced immense progress in the economic fortunes of Turkey as freedom and liberalisation in the political sphere fed the pools of commercial talent which were previously constrained by a corrupted system of patronage and exclusivity.
Turkey remains one of the few NATO countries to experience such high levels of economic growth over the past two decades. The overall trend towards democracy, liberalism and individual freedom, when coupled with re-orientating the state to serve the people rather than seek to dominate them, has led to the current referendum to amend the constitution. What is next, then?
First and foremost, we must ask ourselves, do we want a constitution that was drawn up by the military after a coup or would we prefer that the elected representatives of the people decide on its nature? When the institutions still bound by a previous order tried to block the election of the president nominated by the ruling party in 2007, a referendum sealed the fate of future Turkish politics; the president would be elected by popular vote.
On August 10, 2014, Turkish people elected their first president by popular vote. But this change brought about a new conundrum: Now people elect both the president and the prime minister who are in turn equipped with the same legitimacy to govern. This is a recipe for future disagreements, even if both are from the same political party. So this new set of amendments aims to deter any future altercations between two heads of state by activating a system in which executive, judicial and legislative powers are clearly separated.
One of the proposed changes is that all future presidents will face the electorate every five years and, like the US, be limited to serve only two terms in office. The parliament will have jurisdiction to initiate an investigation if a president is under suspicion of committing crimes. In its current form, the constitution protects the president from all judicial authorities in the country.
As nobody, even the elected president, should be above the law, it is proposed under Amendment No 9 to annul the current version which reads:
"No appeal shall be made to any judicial authority, including the Constitutional Court, against the decisions and orders signed by the President of the Republic on his/her own initiative", to the proposed version which reads: "A motion for initiating an investigation of the president on allegations of a crime must be given with an absolute majority of the members of the Grand National Assembly. In case an investigation is opened, the investigation is carried out by a 15-member committee made ?up of the political parties in the parliament in proportion of their power. The Grand National Assembly can take the decision to send the president to the Supreme Court with two thirds of its members' secret votes."
Additional limitations of presidential powers are proposed under the following change: "The basic rights, personal rights and duties and political rights and duties that are in the constitution cannot be regulated by presidential decree. If there are conflicting provisions in presidential decrees and laws, laws prevail. If the Grand National Assembly issues a law on the same topic, the presidential decree becomes obsolete."
This ensures that legislative power remains with the elected representatives of the people, of whom there are currently 550 in the parliament, but the number will be raised to 600. It is also proposed to lower the age at which a member of the public can become a member of parliament. In line with the common examples all around the world, age of candidacy for the parliament will be lowered from 25 to 18.
As stated above, proposed amendments will also regulate military-civilian relations, and reform undemocratic military regulations. No NATO country has serving military officers in their Supreme Courts except Turkey.
With the amendment, the military will no longer have seats in the Supreme Court. Military jurisdiction will also be regulated: namely, the jurisdiction of military courts will be transferred to civil courts, and the Supreme Military Council decisions will be open to judicial review. Last but not least, the Turkish armed forces will be audited by the State Supervisory Board which currently has the authority to audit all public institutions expect the army.
No tolerance for coups
With regards to the judiciary, the amendments offer a new composition of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors. The new council shall be composed of 13 regular members with four members to be appointed by the president, seven by parliament.
Both the minister of justice as the head of the council and the undersecretary of the ministry of justice are permanent members. The new composition of the council is similar to its counterparts in European countries. In the UK, for instance, all members of the council are appointed by the justice minister; in Spain all members are appointed by the king upon proposal by the parliament. In Sweden all members are appointed by the government. As an administrative institution, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, and the appointments of its members are expected to be within the scope of authority of an elected government.
The proposed amendments provide a taste of the overall direction of Turkey's future. Turkey is transforming into a country where anyone can form a political party, anyone can run for a parliament seat and anyone can become president.
The Turkish public will no longer tolerate coup d'etats and will reject having half the population treated as second-class citizens. There are still many reforms to be achieved, and the amendments will pave the way for a better constitution attuned to the people's needs and aspirations. Had we crafted a perfect and complete constitution from scratch with unanimous support, we would have achieved something no other nation has ever achieved in history.
Alas, there is still room for improvement and we will tirelessly work towards it. Democracy is not a mere possibility but it is the best way to free a people's potential, it is the best guarantor of peace, it is the surest route to prosperity. As no two countries have the exact same model for democracy, Turkey's system will be unique to Turkey just as the US system is unique to the US and Swedish one to Sweden, and so on.
With the current system in Turkey causing stagnation and crises, we have examined a number of systems to reform it by. It became clear to us that a presidential system whereby the president is elected by popular vote forces groups to compromise with one another and nominate a candidate whom the public at large could support to win more than 50 percent of the vote.
Parliaments where this culture of cross-party compromise does not exist find themselves deadlocked with intransigence as they fail to deliver for people. Developed countries governed by a parliamentary system are not immune to this predicament, either.
In Belgium, political parties failed to form a coalition for one and a half years in 2010-2011 and the country was governed by an interim government during the crisis. This is not a situation a developing country can tolerate. In Turkey, it is the duty of elected officials to follow the zeitgeist and let it manifest itself as rule of the people by the people.
We look forward with hope and excitement that Turkey will continue on its path and build upon the hard-gained successes of the past 15 years. This referendum will be another cornerstone in this path and in the end, this is about Turkey, the will of our people, and our desire to hold our democratically elected leaders to full accountability through elections, due process and transparency.
Ayse Sozen Usluer is the head of the Foreign Relations Department at the Turkish Presidency.
An animosity has been present for a long time toward Iran in some Arab countries’ mind. It has sectarian connotations, but also strategic components. The degree of animosity varies from one Arab country to another and from one period to another.
Saudi Arabia had misgivings because of the Iran nuclear program and voiced them several times. In a US Riyadh Embassy cable of April 20, 2008, published by WikiLeaks, Adel Al-Jubair, then-Saudi ambassador to the US, was quoted as having recalled late Saudi King Abdullah’s frequent exhortations to the US “to cut off the head of the snake (meaning Iran).” The late Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal was in favor of tougher sanctions toward Iran including a travel ban and further restrictions on bank lending. He even did not rule out military action.
In another classified WikiLeaks cable sent on Nov. 4, 2009, by the US Embassy in the Bahraini capital Manama, King Hamad of Bahrain was quoted to suggest terminating “Iran’s nuclear program by whatever means necessary.”
Again in a WikiLeaks cable of the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi in April 2006, the UAE ruler was quoted to say “the threat from Al-Qaeda would be minor if Iran has nuclear weapons.” However, he was not in favor of a military action that might provoke retaliation.
Saudi Arabia raised this question several times with various US administrations, pointing out that if Iran’s nuclear program is not stopped, other countries in the region will be entitled to acquire nuclear weapons. The US must have given Saudi Arabia convincing assurances that it should not worry, as Riyadh voiced its worries less loudly later on.
The Gulf countries’ threat perception from Iran must have been one of the subjects that dominated the talks during the Arab Summit held in Amman on March 28. The Summit’s final communiqué, without mentioning Iran’s name, refers to “the importance of boosting Arab solidarity in the face of regional challenges stressing the need for a stronger and more unified Arab action that would help resolve common issues.”
A concrete step was made during the meeting to improve this solidarity. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi took a timely initiative by announcing that Iran’s increasing influence had to be confronted, a step welcomed by Saudi Arabia. The relations between these two major Arab countries were not at the desired level. A step had to be taken to bring them back on track. President El-Sisi’s statement accomplished this task. Egypt may not have felt threatened by Iran, but it did not want to miss the opportunity of acting together with other Sunni Arab countries.
There is a favorable atmosphere for taking an action against Iran, because there is a widespread feeling among the Sunni countries in the region that Iran’s preponderance in Iraq, Syria and, to a limited extent, in Yemen is on the rise. Some Gulf countries are cautious in taking steps that may antagonize Iran, others are less cautious.
The invisible elephant in the room is of course Israel, with its ability to move its farms to areas where it rains. It is fervently in favor of any measure that will tarnish Iran’s image in the international arena, especially after the signing of the Iran nuclear deal. President Trump opposed the deal since the early days of his presidential election campaign. “My number one priority, he used to say, is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran” that he described as catastrophic for America, for Israel and for the whole of the Middle East.
In line with this general attitude toward Iran, the US has already increased its support for Saudi Arabia and UAE in the form of providing intelligence and logistics.
It is not yet clear whether the majority of the Arab countries will adopt a confrontational or conciliatory course toward Iran. Kuwait’s Emir Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah said in his address to the Amman Summit that dialogue should be used for regional security and stability. This cautious call may prevail as the time goes by, because there are other Gulf countries such as Oman that are in favor of dialogue rather than tension.
The Middle East is already laden with all sorts of crises. An escalation in the relations with Iran will further complicate the situation. All efforts should be deployed to prevent further worsening of the stability in the region.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party.
Listening to some Arab leaders describe their countries’ internal challenges at the recent Arab Summit should help us understand why we have been living with the same difficulties for decades, unable to come up with serious, valid solutions.
Culturally, Arabs tend to present their problems without offering practical solutions, accusing their opponents of being difficult and stubborn — and eventually labeling them enemies.
When delivering their speeches, Arab leaders usually sound as if their aim were to share their pains with their peers, but they show no desire to arrive at permanent solutions to their problems.
A couple of decades ago, we Arabs had to contend with a single complex crisis (the Arab-Israeli conflict); today, on the other hand, we are living with internal conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, along with various concealed conflicts in Lebanon, Sudan and Egypt.
Nevertheless, apart from expressing an earnest desire to resolve Arabs’ problems, the League of Arab States at the recent summit did not debate a single concrete proposal aimed at resolving any of these conflicts.
In a way, the League of Arab States symbolizes our chronic Arab challenges.
The league that was established with the goal of uniting Arab nations to better deal with external challenges is today stuck with internal challenges in its member states.
The league that was supposed to become the mind and engine driving Arab nations forward gradually grew weaker, becoming a financial burden on the Arab nation without contributing any clear results.
The league is continually expanding its bureaucratic mechanisms; it employs many experts who are over-compensated but do not have a clear mandate to address the Arab challenges.
Every time a new secretary-general is elected (and they are generally persons of high caliber), I hope that he will manage to increase the role of the league.
My childish hopes are then dashed — as when it became clear that being a good Egyptian bureaucrat had helped the incumbent secretary-general assume his post at the helm of this deadweight entity.
The Arab League, which was supposed to act politically on behalf of its member states, has stopped receiving invitations to many political conferences, as it has come to be regarded as a thing of no value.
Most Arab governments refuse to accept other nations’ ideas that could solve their problems; in our region, such proposals are defined as “external interference.”
Each country is happy to live with its challenges and crises for decades, willing to accept any support that strengthens the regime in power and declining any initiative that might undermine the ruling regime.
With this behavior of most of our nations, do we still need the Arab League? In fact, it contributes nothing but imposes significant financial obligations on its member states.
Our main dilemma and challenge lies in the prevalent culture in this region that prevents us from ruling inclusively.
To be able to solve some of our problems, we need to agree that leaders in power are not always right to consider national opposition parties as the “wrong side“; at the very least, this prevents them from benefitting from any solutions the opposition may propose.
Additionally, our common language is not the only thing that can unite us; we, Arabs, need to accept and tolerate ideas put forth by Arab citizens to solve our problems as the only way to move forward.
To modernize the Arab League, we could come up with solutions to our challenges, instead of continuing to rely on the current bureaucratic mechanism that offers secure high-paying jobs with no accountability.
Furthermore, the Egyptian state that insists that the secretary-general of the League of Arab States be an Egyptian should also require that the secretary-general commit himself to carry out a specific mandate prior to his nomination.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. He can be reached on Twitter @MohammedNosseir.
Both Iran and Syria are signatories of the international treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention. The use of chemical and biological weapons in war was banned after World War I through the 1925 Geneva Protocol. Subsequently the Chemical Weapons treaty went into effect in 1997.
International attention has been directed toward the Syrian government for the use of chemical weapons against innocent people. Nevertheless, the critical role that Assad’s staunchest ally and bedfellow, the Islamic Republic of Iran, has played in these attacks should not be overlooked.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pointed to Iran’s “moral responsibility” in Syria’s chemical weapons attacks. He stated that “while we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar Assad operates: With brutal, unabashed barbarism … Those who defend and support him, including Russia and Iran, should have no illusions about Assad or his intentions. Anyone who uses chemical weapons to attack his own people shows a fundamental disregard for human decency and must be held accountable.”
Nevertheless, I would argue that the Islamic Republic appears to bear more than just moral responsibility in the latest chemical weapon attacks. From a legal stand point, there exist robust grounds to legally hold the Iranian government — specifically Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its elite branch Quds Force, which operate in foreign territories to advance Iran’s revolutionary principles — accountable and responsible.
Iran government’s responsibility
There are two key issues to address. The first is linked to the parameters of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and second is related to the scope of Iran’s involvement in Syria’s war and military actions. It is crucial to point out that Iran does not deny its military involvement in Syria.
The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the following:
• Developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, or retaining chemical weapons.
• The direct or indirect transfer of chemical weapons.
• Chemical weapons use or military preparation for use.
• Assisting, encouraging, or inducing other states to engage in CWC-prohibited activity.
• The use of riot control agents “as a method of warfare.
It goes without saying that if it was not for Iran’s military, financial, intelligence and advisory assistance to the Syrian government’s apparatuses, Assad’s Alawite state would have not survived.
In addition, it worth noting that Iran’s Quds Force, under the leadership of Qassem Soleimani, has infiltrated Syrian military and security infrastructures in such a manner that it has significant control of Syria’s political establishment. Iran’s military generals make major decisions in Syria battlefields. Iran also hires and deploys proxies as well as Shiite fighters from other countries to fight in Syria. Taking all this hard evidence into account, it is hard to believe that Iran is not involved in every tactical, strategic, and militaristic move that Assad’s forces make.
When it comes to the Chemical Weapons Convention, it prohibits the Syrian government from “developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, or retaining chemical weapons.” In the midst of war, it is questionable whether the Syrian government will have the capabilities of producing chemical weapons without the technological and military assistance of it closest ally, Iran. Even if we assume that the Syrian government has the capability of developing its own chemical weapons, it would be impossible for the Syrian government to “stockpile” and “retain” these weapons without assistance from Iran’s military force. Likewise, “direct or indirect transfer” of these chemical weapons would more likely require protection from Iran’s military.
Furthermore, the Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits any state from “assisting, encouraging, or inducing other states to engage in CWC-prohibited activity.” In addition, the Syrian government is not even supposed to possess chemical weapons due to a 2014 agreement as well as the Chemical Weapons Convention. But this is not the first time that chemical weapons have been employed in Syria against innocent children, women, and men. Despite that, Iran has continued to support and encourage Assad by all means.
Tillerson also called upon Russia and Iran to “exercise their influence over the Syrian regime and to guarantee that this sort of horrific attack never happens again.”
But Iran will never use its influence to stop Assad from using these types of brutal military tactics. The major purpose of these attacks is not only to kill people but also to impose tremendous shock and fear among them and the opposition. Since 2011, when Syria’s war erupted, no amount of brutal acts by Assad has stopped the Iranian government from full heartedly supporting Assad’s Alawite state. In fact, Tehran’s financial, military, intelligence and advisory assistance have significantly increased.
Finally, based on the nuances of the Chemical Weapons Convention, there exist robust grounds to hold the Iranian government and leaders accountable for Syria’s Chemical Weapons attacks; and to bring those Iranian leaders and generals to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Many people including Syrian human rights activists have long called on the UN to bring Iran to justice for other crimes and atrocities as well, such as killing of civilians through militias or the IRGC. Nevertheless, no actions have been taken.
Other methods to pressure Iran include to imposing sanctions on the Quds Force and the IRGC, which are publicly and blatantly assisting Assad’s forces in every endeavor.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business
The Khan Sheikhun chemical attack has prompted US President Donald Trump to declare positions that have eclipsed his administration’s contradictory and confusing statements on Syria and the fate of its President Bashar Assad. Trump’s UN envoy Nikki Haley said: “When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.”
Haley blamed Russia for the Syrian regime’s continued use of chemical weapons. She was the first US official to describe Assad as a war criminal, stressing the need for accountability and punishment. She downplayed previous statements by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said Assad’s removal was not a US priority and his fate should be decided by his people.
Haley, who stood in the UN Security Council hall carrying photos of the victims, hinted that there is something new to be expected in Trump’s policy on Syria. He has clearly put Assad on notice with his strikes, but this does not mean Trump has a coherent policy on Syria. For his administration, the absolute priority remains the elimination of Daesh, which necessitates a decisive victory in Raqqa.
Undermining Iran’s plans in Syria is an important part of the strategy being developed by the Trump administration. This, in its view, requires eliminating Daesh strongholds, securing bases and controlling resource-rich areas of Syria. Only then will the Trump administration begin playing its cards with Russia, Iran and Turkey.
The administration now knows there is no path to a bilateral deal based on cordial accords between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The domestic climate does not allow it, amid suspicions about their relationship and investigations into ties between Trump’s close associates and Russian figures. Furthermore, Moscow’s strategic alliances with Syria and Iran are not something the Trump administration can coexist with or adapt to.
This is significant because meeting Iranian demands in Syria requires de-facto partition to create a Persian crescent. The US is thinking how to pre-empt this. Washington under Trump wants to guarantee its interests in Syria, and is willing to accommodate Russia’s interests there, but not those of Iran.
Until recently, there were proposals to turn a blind eye to Assad remaining in power, while isolating him and effectively invalidating his power. But after the chemical attack in Idlib, Washington will no longer accept him remaining in power. US consent to the Russian-Iranian bid to keep Assad in power is no longer part of the equation.
The Trump administration may seek to convince Putin that the time has come to separate Russian interests in Syria from those of Iran. This would require two things: Disengaging Russia’s strategy from Iran’s strategy in Syria, and consenting to removing Assad from power one way or another. This could spare Syria from partition, which requires US-Russian accord and meticulous strategic trade-offs.
But neither Iran nor Turkey will agree to this. Both have played military roles in Syria to further their interests and projects, which do not converge with Russian interests today, especially if Washington and Moscow agree to divide influence, resources and reconstruction deals between them. Turkey will not be able to blackmail its allies using the leverage of its Incirlik base, because the US will have alternatives in Syria after the battle for Raqqa.
Turkey is angry at US support for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Ankara had reached a deal with Moscow, trading Aleppo for Russian consent for Turkish operations to “cleanse” Kurdish forces near Turkey’s borders, and becoming a guarantor of the cease-fire in Syria alongside Russia and Iran. But it is unlikely to get more in Syria.
Iran is increasingly anxious about the changes in US positions under Trump. So it is scrambling to impose itself via its militias on the ground, wagering that the US will not dare fight a war that requires American boots on the ground, while having no alternative to fight Iran and its militias.
But the Trump administration may have different designs and aces up its sleeves. One such surprise came in Trump’s remark that Syria is “my responsibility.” He has consistently blamed his predecessor for failing to implement his warnings and pledges, and for weakening the US by leading from the back.
Perhaps Trump was thinking of coexisting with Assad for a while, but Khan Sheikhun may have changed everything. The children and infants killed by chemical weapons may go down in history as the trigger of a US policy shift in Syria.
• Raghida Dergham is a columnist, senior diplomatic correspondent, and New York bureau chief for the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper since 1989. She is dean of the international media at the UN. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and an honorary fellow at the Foreign Policy Association. She served on the International Media Council of the World Economic Forum, and is a member of the Development Advisory Committee of the IAP — the Global Network of Science Academies.
Reactions from Tehran, Moscow and Damascus on the US missile strikes were as expected. They condemned the strikes that targeted Shayrat airbase near Homs, which came as a response to the mass killings by chemical weapons used by the Syrian regime. This was in the first half of Friday, when people woke up to the surprise of the new US position. Later that day, the tripartite propaganda of Russia, Iran and Syria had showered media and social networks with false news that questioned the fact that the Syrian regime threw poisonous materials on the people of Idlib.
They claimed the opposition had bombed the area, then they fabricated an account that Syrian aircraft had bombed areas of “armed terrorist opposition” but accidentally hit a terrorist storehouse containing chemicals similar to those used previously by Daesh in Iraq. This means the opposition is the perpetrator of the crime of possessing internationally banned chemical weapons. The fabricated story did not last long, except among supporters of Damascus. The propaganda changed the next day to face broad Arab reactions that welcomed the US position. This was a shift from Arab accusations that the administration of President Donald Trump was harassing Muslim refugees and travelers.
In response to the Arab welcome of the US strikes, false news claimed they were merely a play in agreement with Russia. False photos showing some of the planes burned inside concrete shelters yet not bombed were released in order to refute the story of the US strikes. There was also news that acknowledged the strikes but said they did nothing.
The strikes bear political messages directed at Damascus, Tehran and Moscow, but the messages directed at Syrian public opinion come second. The strikes destroyed a few aircraft and killed six regime soldiers, but they will shake the confidence of regime loyalists and give some hope to the opposition after recent political disappointments and military defeats.
But the bombing of Shayrat airbase will not stop the aggression of the military alliance loyal to Damascus, given that it resumed shelling civilians the same day. The strikes will not change the balance of power on the ground, and further US strikes are unlikely because statements by Washington’s ambassador to the UN confined the possibility of military intervention to the Syrian regime using chemical weapons again, which is currently unlikely.
The important thing is that it seems the Trump administration has changed its position and decided to be a party to the Syrian crisis, as it appears from its statements. In the past, the administration said it was only interested in fighting Daesh in Syria. Thus the victory declared by Damascus and its allies seems far away.
A week ago, most regional and international powers had agreed to a solution at Moscow’s will, to Syrian President Bashar Assad staying in power, and to the end of the armed opposition. The chemical attack, as well as other attacks on civilian areas and arrogant statements by Syrian regime officials against the countries of the region, came as a turning point that changed countries’ positions. Once again, the Assad regime has proved it cannot change its behavior.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.
Between 2015 and 2016, Israel arrested more than 400 Palestinians because of content they circulated online, often on Facebook, that Israel alleged amounted to "incitement". Around 200 are embroiled in court cases. One of the best-known cases is that of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, who faces up to eight years in prison for a poem she posted on her Facebook page in 2015. The last witnesses in her case testified on March 28, and a verdict is expected in a few months.
At the same time, Facebook has been cooperating with the Israeli government to remove content the latter finds objectionable, including briefly shutting down the page of the political party Fatah in March, because of an old photo posted of former leader Yasser Arafat holding a rifle.
On the other hand, Israelis, including government officials, routinely post inflammatory content about Palestinians without censure from Facebook or other media companies. In 2014, just before Israel started bombing Gaza, Ayelet Shaked, an extreme right-wing Israeli parliamentarian, posted a Facebook message stating that the mothers of Palestinian fighters should be killed and their homes destroyed. Neither the Israeli government nor Facebook took action against Shaked, who is currently Israel's minister of justice.
Being complicit in Israel's crimes
Facebook does not make explicit its policies of censorship or the details of how it shares users' account information with governments. However, it does report the number of requests for user data it receives from governments, and the number of cases to which it responds. Between January and June 2016, Facebook responded positively to more than 70 percent of Israel's 432 requests for user data. By regional comparison, it responded positively to 16 percent of such requests from the Jordanian government, though Jordan asked for only 25 users' data.
No wonder: Israel is putting pressure on Facebook through strategies such as a law that would make it obligatory for the company to cooperate with Israel on posts that the state deems constitute incitement. In addition, a New York district court case is under way in which 20,000 Israelis are demanding that Facebook block alleged Palestinian incitement. While there is a category for Palestine in Facebook's government requests report, it has not been active since 2014. This does not mean, however, that hateful rhetoric and calls to violence against Palestinians are not being posted by Israelis.
The organisation for which I serve as director, The Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, or 7amleh (pronounced hamleh), recently published a report on research it conducted on racism and incitement in the Israeli media.
We found that the number of inflammatory posts made by Jewish Israelis against Arabs and Palestinians more than doubled in 2016 as compared with 2015, to 675,000 posts. These were mainly on Facebook; examples include "rape all Arabs and throw them in the sea" and "a morning with lots of energy to slaughter Arabs". Not a single case of incitement against an Israeli has been opened.
Facebook says that it maintains political neutrality by following local laws. But in aiding the Israeli government, which in its rule of the occupied territory gives Palestinians no political or civil rights, including that of free speech, it is supporting an occupier in its oppression of the occupied - a politically charged stance. And because Israel is violating international law via such practices as illegal settlement building, Facebook is also by default complicit in those practices. In a more directly complicit move, the company allows advertisements for settlement homes in the West Bank on its pages.
Facebook would do well to rethink its collaboration with Israel. In lieu of such a bold move, the company could, as a coalition of US social and racial justice organisations recently urged, adopt reforms that would target abusive content but cease the censorship of political speech. Or it could simply make its policies on censorship and information sharing explicit so that users know the risks of using its services. The rights - and lives - of Palestinians are at stake.
Nadim Nashif is a policy analyst for Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network and the Executive Director of 7amleh, The Arab Center for Social Media Advancement.