New Age Islam Edit Bureau
31 August 2017
The Hajj Pilgrimage: A Sight To
By Mahmoud Ahmad
Politicization Of Hajj Over The Years
By Saad Alsubaie
The Dream Deal Between Hezbollah And
By Mashari Althaydi
What Defeat Means To The Lebanese
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Iran’s Increasing Violations Of
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Does Astana Format Still Have The Same
Importance For Russia?
By Alexey Khlebnikov
Victory And Questions On The ISIS
By Ghassan Charbel
Syrians Stuck In Lebanon Now Face
By Ellen Francis
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
The Hajj Pilgrimage: A Sight To Behold
30 August 2017
God said in the Holy Qur’an, “And proclaim
to the people the Hajj (pilgrimage); they will come to you on foot and on every
lean camel; they will come from every distant pass”.
The Hajj pilgrimage has started and there
is no more beautiful sight than the sight of the hundreds of thousands of
Muslims coming from all entry points, dressed in white and with one mission, to
perform their once in a lifetime duty in peace and security. We as, the
government of Saudi Arabia and its people, take full pride in welcoming the
guests of Allah and embrace them with open arms.
Saudi Arabia has mobilized all its
resources, like it does every year, to ensure that pilgrims will perform their
pilgrimage in peace and comfort. All sectors — government departments,
passport, security, Hajj, health and many other ancillary divisions — are on
And they are ready to work in concerted
unison to implement the Hajj plan that usually is in the making as soon as the
last Hajj ends. The seamless cooperation is evident in the growing numbers of
Muslims lauding the plan and thanking the Kingdom for the great effort in
making their once in a lifetime journey comfortable.
Hand Of Hospitality
The government, at the same time, while
extending the hand of hospitality, too displays its iron fist. The government
has also made it clear to all that an iron fist is strong and ready to crush
anything that targets the safety of pilgrims and to ensure a smooth and
comfortable Hajj for the guests of Allah.
The sight of pilgrims eagerly arriving to
the two holy cities is really touching and endearing. It really warms the
cockles of the heart to see many pictures of pilgrims in tears of joy and
happiness on their faces on landing in the holy land. Some of them have been
waiting for many years in queue in their countries to be able to perform Hajj.
Some have labored and saved all their money over the years and some have sold
all their valuables to be able to cover the expenses to perform Hajj.
It is said in the Holy Qur’an, “And Hajj
(pilgrimage to Makkah) to the House (Kabaa) is a duty that mankind owes to
Allah, those who can afford the expenses (for one’s conveyance, provision and
residence)”. Although it is not obligatory for Muslims, who are not able
financially, to perform Hajj but in order to do so, many people will go to
extreme measures to ensure that they are able to do it, even if they were
Hajj For The Poor
This brings me back to my main point I hope
to highlight — poor people performing Hajj. I wish that businessmen in all
Muslim countries come up with a way to fulfill the wishes of making the
impossible dream of poor pilgrims performing Hajj come true by covering the
costs of pilgrims. To be fair and from what I know, there are businessmen in
Saudi Arabia who donate money secretly and without revealing their identity to
cover the costs of many poor pilgrims.
I am sure that some similar good Samaritans
exist in other Muslim countries, but this form of giving should be intensified
to cover as many number as possible of the financially underprivileged.
The biggest reward they get is in this
lifetime itself when they see the bloom of pure happiness on the faces of those
who get to do the once in lifetime journey to the two Holy Mosques and the Holy
In a previous article, I had written, “I
call on the authorities to come up with a way to make Hajj affordable for
middle- and low-income people. It is a fact that Hajj campaigns are overpriced
for many, especially people with large number of family members. Given how life
is expensive in some countries in Europe and even in America, or how low
salaries are in some Muslim and poor countries, many of them find it almost
impossible to fulfill the lifetime duty of Hajj because of financial reasons”.
A Humane Nation
“What if the authorities and some
philanthropists came together to sponsor those who are facing difficulties in
saving up for Hajj? This could go a long way in embellishing the Kingdom’s
image as a humane nation. Hajj package providers should know that it is an
honor to serve pilgrims and they should have a package that charges for the
basic cost and not such that it earns an enormous profit for them.”
It is also good to see that the level of
awareness of the domestic pilgrims is increasing and that the number of
pilgrims without permits is on the decline. In the past, pilgrims without
permits squatted around the Holy Sites and in main roads creating all sorts of
problems. The level of organization by the security authorities and other
government departments working in Hajj is improving and tackling these issues.
With the sustained and planned expansion
program at the Two Holy Mosques, the Kingdom is already alleviating the
pressures of the numbers. This year it has increased the number of pilgrims for
all countries and with future expansion Saudi Arabia will be ready to welcome
more pilgrims. With all the systems and people in place, I am confident of a
successful Haj this year and pray to God for a safe and peaceful Hajj for all
For more than 14 centuries, Hajj has been a
sacred religious ritual that unites more than two million Muslims, in spite of
their sectarian and political differences. However, some governments have
attempted to exploit this symbolic gathering to score political points.
Ironically, the same governments that have
attempted to politicize Hajj have accused the Saudi government of using Hajj as
a political leverage. A brief examination of the basic principles on which the
Hajj policy of Saudi Arabia is based reveals that politicizing Hajj is a direct
threat to both the Kingdom’s religious values and national security.
King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman, the
founder of modern Saudi Arabia, annexing Mecca and Medina became a turning
point in Islamic history and the history of modern state in the region. In
1924, the formation of the Saudi state, that governs Islam’s holiest sites,
coincided with the end of the Islamic caliphate in Turkey.
Despite his powerful position at the time,
King Abdulaziz managed this momentous development very pragmatically. In
contrast to a number of Muslim leaders, who were claiming the caliphate, King
Abdulaziz declared: “I do not claim or seek the Islamic caliphate. The duty of
an Islamic Caliph is to implement the Islamic law on every Muslim,
everywhere…It was possible during the era of the first four Righteous Caliphs
when every individual Muslim was under their direct authority, but today it is
not possible. I wish, however, that Muslims would unite their stance, make
peace, and stop harming each other.”
In addition, King Abdulaziz banned
political rallies that would use religion for political purposes. One of his
most notable decisions was to reject the request from Hassan al-Banna, the
founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, to establish a branch of the
Brotherhood in the Kingdom during the Hajj of 1936.
Universality of Islam
King Abdulaziz’s policies aim to strike a
balance between the sovereign rights of the Kingdom over its holy cities of
Mecca and Medina and the universality of Islam, according to which every Muslim
has the right and is obligated to visit the holy sites at least once in their
During the Hajj of 1967, King Faisal bin
Abdulaziz clarified the principle by emphasizing that “Islam is not exclusive
to individual, group, population, or country. Islam is the religion of God that
he sent through His Messenger to all nations and countries…the people of this
country are honored to be custodians of these holy sites and serve their
Although the Saudi policy toward Hajj is
based on this fundamental principle, the Kingdom has faced both allegations and
attempts to politicize Hajj, some of which have resulted in violence and
threatened the safety of the holy sites and their visitors.
Most importantly, religious scholars or
Muslim populations, who consider Hajj as an opportunity for spiritual
purification, have not demanded for its politicization; rather, the demand to
politicize Hajj stems from regimes who consider the gathering as an opportunity
for political mobilization. During the Iranian revolution, Ruhollah Khomeini
attempted to exploit Hajj by directing his first message to the pilgrims in
Mecca on September 25, 1979.
Khomeini declared that “Islam is a religion
in which worship is related to politics, and political activity is a form of
worship.” The demands made by him and his successors in the Iranian
revolutionary movement have instigated a series of violent riots during the
Hajj seasons in 1987 and 1989 that have not only left hundreds of innocent
pilgrims dead but also severed the Saudi-Iran relations.
This year (2017), Syria and Qatar are
experiencing chaotic political crises; they are in desperate need of a
political opportunity to relieve their isolation. Therefore, it is not
surprising that they have seized the moment and called for the
internationalization of Hajj. Both governments have accused Saudi Arabia of
placing restrictions on their pilgrims despite the fact that the Saudi
government is hosting their pilgrims on its own expenses.
Although Iran, Syria, and Qatar have
employed the same rhetoric to politicize Hajj, their motivations are different.
While Iran is driven by an extreme ideology to mobilize Muslims for its own
political ends, the rhetoric from Syria and Qatar stems from the deterioration
in their political situations.
Nevertheless, regardless of the political
direction, Saudi Arabia will not waiver on the principle of maintaining the
balance between its sovereignty and the rights of pilgrims to a safe apolitical
Following battles, media and political
maneuvers, a bunch of speeches by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, the end
result was disappointing or rather shocking.
This was more so as we saw ISIS fighters
board huge “air-conditioned” buses from the Lebanese-Syrian border toward the
far East in Syria, near Iraq, under the protection of Syrian forces and
facilitations from the Lebanese Khomeini party accompanied with Red Crescent
convoys. The deal angered the families of the Lebanese soldiers who have been
abducted for years.
After ISIS guaranteed that its demands to
safely exit under the regime’s protection to Abu Kamal and Deir az-Zour in East
Syria will be met, it told Hezbollah where the dead Lebanese soldiers are
buried. The Khomeini party then told the army command and the general security
where the tombs are. All this is happening amid the families’ shock!
According to Hezbollah’s media, the
ceasefire agreement stipulates that ISIS fighters and their families will be
allowed to board buses to go to Syria. The convoys arrived to an exchange point
in East Syria and from there, they will go to ISIS-controlled areas.
Welcomed as heroes
Details about these strange negotiations
continue to reveal more and more. For example, we learnt that Hezbollah imposed
its decision on the state to hand over three convicts from the Roumieh Prison
in exchange of releasing a number of its fighters who were welcomed as heroes.
Iraqi troops are currently fighting ISIS on
the borders with Syria where ISIS fighters have been warmly allowed to head as
they exit the Lebanese Qalamoun area. This of course angers the Iraqis. Prime
Minister Abadi rejected the deal and many Iraq writers and activists are
furious and feel that Iraq’s interests are being disregarded.
All this shows a truth that some have
always overlooked, and it’s that “all” armed Islamized groups that operate
outside the state’s authorities, whether Sunni or Shiite, act the same and
share the same culture that violates the state’s sanctity, sovereignty of law
and prestige of the entity that governs everyone according to the constitution
which is the only authority to abide by towards all of the society’s
This deal also signifies the Lebanese
state’s weak control and sovereignty under the presidential term of Michel Aoun
in particular – as it was claimed he will restore the republic’s power.
What’s more provoking is that following the
Lebanese army’s honourable presence in the Jroud battles, the army was deprived
of this glorious moment and Hezbollah, the armed religious group, appeared as
the stronger party as it was the one who negotiated with the Syrian regime and
arranged the deal’s details.
This scene truly exposes quite a lot.
What Defeat Means To The Lebanese Army
Why did the Lebanese Army, Hezbollah and
Syrian regime forces allow 250 Daesh terrorists besieged along the
Lebanese-Syrian border to move to the other side of Syria? The deal, based on a
cease-fire between the Lebanese Army and Daesh, sounds suspicious. It involved
Daesh handing over the bodies of Hezbollah fighters and locating those of
soldiers kidnapped in 2014, with only six found so far.
In this case, why was the role of the hero
not left to Hezbollah, as it usually is? Because the agreement is a defeat and
a scandal, under the pretext of the army’s legitimacy. It does not make sense
to allow a large number of Daesh fighters to leave safely in exchange for
corpses. Families of the deceased Lebanese soldiers consider this a betrayal.
The blatant truth is that despite
Hezbollah’s claims, it was not able to control the area that the Daesh fighters
left. Hezbollah justifies the agreement by saying it is not a strategic region,
but this is not true. The area, just a few kilometers from Syria, was a Daesh
safe haven from which it could threaten all of northeast Lebanon.
If Daesh succeeded in saving its besieged
fighters, this means that contrary to what we hear, the group is still strong.
It also means that any deal between Russia and Iran that is imposed on Syrian
forces will only be an illusion of peace.
Terrorist groups’ losses have mainly been
due to US-led coalition airstrikes, while the Russia-Iran alliance targets
Syrian organizations fighting the Assad regime. The difference between the
defeat of armed Syrian groups and terrorist ones such as Daesh and Al-Nusra
Front is that the latter can operate underground after their defeat and exist
Hezbollah, which typically likes to tag its
name to victories, did not do so this time so the overpowered Lebanese Army
would be left to face people’s anger and resentment.
Under international law, commercial
airliners should not be used for military purposes or to transfer weapons and
illegal materials. Yet Iran routinely does so, in violation of the nuclear
deal. It sends militants to Syria aboard commercial aircraft from four major
Iranian cities: Abadan, Esfahan, Yazd and Tehran.
This is occurring while Iran is striking
deals with some of the world’s largest aircraft companies in order to buy a
new, modern fleet for “commercial” purposes. The deals come with modernization
packages, including technology and education, that allow Iran to participate in
producing aircraft parts and equipment, as Maghsoud Asadi Samani, secretary of
Iran’s Aviation Companies Association, has told state-owned media.
Tehran’s advocates say there is no evidence
that it is violating international law and its commitments to the nuclear deal.
But Iran has a history of using its commercial airlines for military purposes.
Most recently, it was caught red-handed transporting military personnel to
Syria. These soldiers join Syrian regime forces in committing atrocities and
crimes against humanity, and promoting a sectarian agenda.
Iran’s commercial airlines, specifically
Iran Air and Mahan, are the primary tools used for the illicit transport of
weapons and military staff, including members of the Islamic Revolutionary
Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite Quds Force and the Basij militia. These airlines
do not fly to Syria on pre-announced scheduled days, as other commercial
airlines do. They choose random days and destinations in Syria.
This week, several US congressional leaders
wrote in a letter: “Iran’s use of commercial aircraft for military purposes
violates international agreements as well as Iranian commitments under the
JCPOA (nuclear deal).
“We believe these photos mandate a thorough
investigation of these practices and a comprehensive review of Iran’s illicit
use of commercial aircraft… During this investigation, the United States should
suspend current and future licenses for aircraft sales to Iran.”
The lawmakers added: “These photos seem to
display militiamen sitting on seats clearly labelled with the Iran Air logo.
These individuals… are believed to be members of an Iranian-backed militia,
trained and funded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), actively
fighting for the Assad regime in Syria.”
Before the nuclear deal, Mahan was under
international sanctions for shipping weapons to the Syrian regime and
Hezbollah. The sanctions were lifted after the agreement. It is deceitful for
Iran to buy Western aircraft, only to use them against Western interests and
foreign policy objectives in the region.
Western airlines should not facilitate
Iran’s enhancement of its military capabilities. Iran is the world’s top state
sponsor of terrorism, according to several governmental and intelligence
reports, and is top of the 2016 Basel Anti-Money Laundering Index Report.
Since 1979, Tehran has acquired the skills
to easily convert modern commercial aircraft into military ones. The US cannot
by itself prevent Tehran from doing so; more countries should join the cause.
It is incumbent on the international community to hold Iranian leaders
accountable for violating international law and the terms of the nuclear deal.
Corporations that sell modern aircraft and
technology to Iran should realize that they are facilitating Tehran’s support
for terrorist groups, crimes against humanity and the Assad regime’s atrocities
against innocent civilians.
Sixth round of Astana Syria talks initially
planned for the last week of August is now postponed for the mid-September. The
recent negotiations in Kazakhstan’s capital which took place on July 4-5 did
not produce any result as parties still had some technical differences with
regard to the practical implementation of the de-escalation zones plan.
Russia, Turkey and Iran, which are the
three sponsors of the format, did not sign a single agreement defining the
practical parameters of the four de-escalation zones that were proposed in May.
However, reports about Russia, Turkey and Iran constantly discussing
de-escalation zones could be found easily.
Surprisingly, right after the fifth round
of negotiations in Astana the United States and Russia brokered the new
ceasefire deal on July 7, establishing a de-escalation zone in southwest Syria
which included areas of Quneitra, Suweida and Deraa.
The deal was signed in the framework of
Amman format by Jordan, Russia and the United States and came as a result of
months-long preliminary talks between the parties. It was announced July 9
after presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met in Germany on the
sidelines of the G-20 summit. This naturally puts necessity and effectiveness
of Astana format into question.
Interestingly, that agreements on
functioning the other two de-escalation zones in eastern Ghouta and northern
Homs were also struck outside of the Astana format – in Cairo by the end of July.
During the recent visit of Egyptian foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri to Moscow,
Lavrov praised Cairo’s constructive role in establishing de-escalation zones in
eastern Ghouta and Homs in Syria.
Egypt hosted several rounds of talks
between representatives of Russia’s defence ministry and different Syrian
opposition groups which resulted in establishing two more de-escalation zones.
Moreover, Jaysh al-Islam and Faylaq
ar-Rahman, two major Islamist opposition groups operating in eastern Ghouta,
also signed agreements with Russia’s defence ministry joining the ceasefire and
de-escalation regime outside Astana format. It happened on July 22 and August
18 in Cairo and Geneva respectively. Thus, Astana format was sidelined again.
One of the key questions about all these
above-mentioned agreements signed outside of the Astana format is whether they
are holding effectively. So far, they all are holding pretty well.
Lines Of Contact
The south-western de-escalation zone agreed
by Russia, the United States and Jordan, is holding effectively. On July 21-22
Russia deployed its military policy units along the approved lines of contact
(Jordan, US, Israel were informed in advance) near the south-western
Moreover, on Aug. 23 Russia announced the
launch of joint Russia-US-Jordan monitoring center in Jordan’s capital Amman.
The center’s main objectives are to monitor the ceasefire regime in the
southeastern de-escalation zone, secure humanitarian access and provide medical
and other assistance to the population.
The other two de-escalation zones also seem
functioning successfully. On July 24, Russia deployed its military police units
to east Ghouta zone and on August 4 to northern Homs zone to monitor the
ceasefire regime and ensure access of humanitarian and medical aid to the
That were also negotiated during talks in
Cairo. According to the Russian defence ministry 14 humanitarian convoys of the
UN and International Committee of Red Cross have entered de-escalation zones
including 10 convoys in August.
As a result, Russia comes out as the sole
force so far that monitors three existing de-escalation zones in Syria (not
counting joint monitoring center in Amman). Iran with its significant number of
forces on the ground and rising influence in the country seems to be
effectively sidelined by Russia in order to appease the US, Jordan and Israel.
Growing Iranian Influence
The southwest de-escalation zone deal with
the US and Jordan took into account Jordanian and Israeli concerns about
growing Iranian influence in Syria, especially in its south as both countries
share border with it.
Most likely Moscow made Iran to pull out
its forces deployed close to the southwest de-escalation zone and Russian
military police posts along the zone’s border keep Iranian forces in check,
thus, making Jordanians and Israelis satisfied. It is logical to assume that
Moscow made some trade off with Iran.
But it seems that Moscow decided to go
further with its own approach of excluding Iran and Turkey from the talks on
functioning of de-escalation zones which holds certain risks for Russia.
If Moscow had offered Iran a stake in other
two central de-escalation zones in eastern Ghouta and Homs after it ignored its
interests in southwest Syria, that would have been a fair trade. But
eventually, Russia did not do that, instead getting control over the central
de-escalation zones (east Ghouta and Homs) where Iranian forces intended to gain
As a result, the last de-escalation zone in
Idlib province has left. But that area is already under Turkey’s interest.
Thus, such situation ultimately makes it way more difficult for Moscow, Ankara
and Tehran to compromise; especially given that Syria’s north has other forces
– Syrian Kurds and the US. In addition, it can also push Iran closer to Turkey
threatening Russia’s interests in Syria.
On Aug. 16, Iran’s armed forces chief
visited Turkey for the first time since 1979 to discuss with Erdogan and his
defence minister ways of boosting bilateral defence ties, and reconciling the
two countries’ policy differences in Syria and Iraq.
They also discussed Russia-sponsored
de-escalation zones mechanism. Ankara and Tehran have no agreement on the checkpoints
to be established inside Syria to ease the access of humanitarian aid and the
return of Syrians to their lands. It sends Russia a signal – Turkey and Iran
might unite to oppose Russia if it is needed.
As a result, it complicates functioning of
the Astana format and makes its guarantors to postpone the next round. This
format remains to be important for all three actors as it legitimized their
status of the most important actors in Syria, allowed them to create conceptual
framework for the ceasefire and de-escalation zones, and demonstrated their
effective approach internationally.
The only drawback appeared when subsequent
talks on de-escalation zones details were conducted outside of the format. This
is why if Russia, Turkey and Iran fail to compromise on the fourth
de-escalation zone in Idlib and demonstrate workability of Astana format it
might soon cease to exist, paving the road for alternatives in Amman and Cairo.
All recent reports coming from the Russia’s
foreign ministry and its partners say that Russia, Turkey and Iran are
currently working on setting up the final de-escalation zone in Syrian Idlib
province. But regardless of every good thing Astana format has already
produced, postponing the next round of talks is just another confirmation that
the parties still did not reach a consensus and have nothing to come with. In
the end, it adds nothing to the Astana format effectiveness.
Therefore, the main challenge which Russia,
Turkey and Iran need to address over the next three weeks is whether they are
ready to compromise and prove Astana format to be successful.
Victory and Questions on the ISIS
Anyone who defeats ISIS has the right to
celebrate. This dangerous organization is an existential threat that can’t be
tamed or lived with. The choice is clear: you either eradicate it or it
ISIS surfaced with a hurricane of blood,
mud, and darkness. It tore maps and destroyed cities near or far. Swiftly, ISIS
topped the list of threatening dangers. Destroying it became a national,
regional, international and humanitarian need. Defeating ISIS became
inevitable, especially as it inhabited a well-known location.
Those who underestimate ISIS or defeating
it are mistaken. Also, wrong are those who believe that the terrorist
organization is the only problem and its military defeat will make it easy to
return to life before its existence.
Also read: ISIS fighters start to quit
Lebanon border zone
This is not a storm that blew into a city
and it suffices to fix the windows after it subsided. This is an unprecedented
hurricane. It blew into our region, killing, destroying and enslaving until
erasing the Iraqi-Syrian border. It then began expanding in every direction.
It is a mistake as well to blame ISIS for
all the piling dead bodies. Surely, it was the worst murderer whether it killed
or gave others the reasons to take it too far. There is no need for numbers and
statistics. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions
of refugees and displaced citizens of several wars that mixed with ISIS’ wars.
Loss and Reconstruction
Losses are estimated to be in hundreds of
millions and a similar amount will be needed for reconstruction. We stand
before a large number of orphans, widows, and handicapped.
ISIS killed who it claimed it was avenging
and it granted an even larger legitimacy for those who claimed they were
ISIS’ defeaters have the right to
celebrate. But at the same time, it is their duty to remember that fighters
couldn’t have exploited a country unless its nationalism was deeply fractured.
This obscurant organization couldn’t have
found refuge if there weren’t marginalized groups so desperate, that they would
work with the devil. Roaming fighters can’t violate a natural state that
welcomes all its components with a just constitution and legitimate normal institutions.
Terrorism can seep into a strong state and
disturb its security, but it can’t create safe havens and training camps to
recruit new generations of suicide bombers and killers. Takfirist ideology
can’t reside in any country unless it is going through a crisis and its
components are exchanging hatred waiting for a chance to attack one another.
To make things clearer, we can pose the
question of whether ISIS would have been able to control Mosul in Iraq if the
Shiite-Sunni relations had been normal and the partnership had been secured on
basis of nationalism.
Could the army have surrendered to ISIS
this quickly had it felt that residents of the city were also against the
attackers? There is a great difference between winning a battle against a terrorist
organization and defeating terrorism.
Great victory means setting the foundations
for stability and that is achieved through a modern state; that is, a country
of national partnership, institutions and equality. Luckily for Iraq, the army
that was affected by Mosul’s falling under ISIS’ control, managed due to the
enormous sacrifices, to eradicate ISIS from Mosul and is now heading towards
defeating it in Tal Afar.
Iraq must have a strong army even if other
forces helped in combating ISIS. The terrorist organization couldn’t have been
able to do what it did on Iraqi territories had the Iraqi politicians took the
battle of building a state after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
A Decade Lost
This is a decade lost in Iraq’s history
that ended in falling into ISIS’ trap. Despite its numerous lessons, we should
leave the past behind. Iraq received international and regional support in its
war on ISIS. I once asked a source involved in the war, he informed me that it
would have lasted for years hadn’t it been for the US raids.
Today, we are required to invest this
international and regional support and Arab sympathy and convert the victory
into a chance for stability. The only solution is to return to the state and
leave behind old methods of revenge and settling the scores.
Iraq won’t be able to cross over into the
desired stability unless the majority considered the national partnership that
dictates full respect of Sunnis rights, aside from the politics of assigning
Sunni representatives who are neither respected in their towns nor their areas.
The Sunni component should be realistic enough to turn the page and let go of
To be able to move from victory to
stability, one must face the questions that surfaced when the now-receding
hurricane blew our way. Iraq is to face another milestone in September: the
independence referendum of Kurdistan region. I for one believe that Kurds will
choose to remain within the Iraqi map if they received their rights, freedom
and enough reassurances.
If Haidar al-Abadi played the exceptional
role of creating the circumstances that enabled defeating ISIS, avoiding
separation with Kurdistan is worth another shot. Success is only guaranteed if
Abadi is fully authorized to offer Kurds anything that convinces them their
future is better guaranteed as they remain part of Iraq rather than separating
Military victory is not enough. There must
be a project to ensure stability and stability won’t have a chance without a
battle for a modern, fair state. Any other thing being said will waste people’s
sacrifices and might open the door for a hurricane to blow. A stable Iraq is an
Iraqi, Arab, and international need. It pains Arabs to see Baghdad wounded or
August 30, 2017
Lebanese fear asylum seekers threaten
country's security and are a burden on the already sluggish economy hard-hit by
war next door
Abu Yazan has rarely stepped out of his
apartment in northern Lebanon since he was beaten up on the street in June. The
32-year-old father from Syria was leaving a pharmacy around midnight, when two
strangers came up to him asking for a light. Then they asked if he was Syrian.
"They both got off the motorcycle and
beat me," said Abu Yazan, who lives near the port city of Tripoli.
"The second guy took off his belt and hit me with it on my back, my head.
I couldn't do anything." His wife cried for help but onlookers did
For six years, tensions have simmered as
1.5 million Syrians poured into Lebanon, equal to around a quarter of its
population. Refugees have faced waves of hostility since the conflict in
neighbouring Syria took hold.
But the debate over their presence has
taken a harder edge in recent months, fuelled by political leaders who say
Lebanon has lost patience with the social and financial burden of the refugee
As they press demands for refugees to
return to Syria, Lebanese politicians have warned of rising public anger.
Like Abu Yazan, other refugees say they
have hidden in their homes or camps for fear of assault, arrest, or
humiliation. In recent months, most of Lebanon's main parties have united in
pushing for repatriation, a difficult demand as war has ravaged much of Syria.
Rights groups have warned against forced return, and refugees often say they
fear conscription into the Syrian army.
Calls for refugees to return come as the
Syrian government shores up its rule over the main urban centres and ceasefire
deals have eased fighting with rebels in parts of western Syria.
The United Nations refugee agency has not
seen a growing trend of reported attacks against Syrians, but has voiced
concern about mounting tensions. Reports of attacks remain isolated incidents,
spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled said, but refugees do "feel more
anxious" and afraid.
Tensions escalated in June after Lebanon's
army arrested hundreds of Syrians in a raid on refugee camps near the border,
during which suicide bombers attacked soldiers.
When four detainees later died in custody,
the military said it was from chronic illness. Activists and refugees
challenged this account, some blaming the deaths on torture.
In this climate, a video circulated widely
on social media of three Lebanese men beating up a refugee on the street.
Authorities detained the attackers.
Syrians in Lebanon say they have faced
widespread harassment. Some of those interviewed said they felt it deteriorate
in recent weeks, but others described it as just part of their daily existence
"I don't dare walk down the
street," said one refugee living amid makeshift tents in the Akkar region,
who declined to be named because of security fears. "I get swear words."
Abu Yazan, who came to Lebanon five years
ago, said many people had since extended sympathy to his family, but hostility
from strangers and the recent assault scarred him. The attackers threatened to
shoot him if they saw him again.
"We hear a lot of talk. 'You Syrians
have robbed us. Go back to your country,'" he said. "When we came to
Lebanon, it wasn't by choice. We were fleeing a war. We considered them our
people, our brothers."
Many Lebanese worry refugees threaten the
country's security and burden its sluggish economy, which has been hard-hit by
Syria's war. Others say refugees take jobs or strain Lebanon's already
dysfunctional public services.
The Lebanese government has long avoided
setting up official refugee camps. So, many Syrians live in tented settlements,
languishing in poverty and facing restrictions on legal residence or work.
Nasser Yassin, a researcher of refugee
policy at the American University of Beirut, said Lebanese communities were
growing weary of hosting large numbers of refugees.
While resentment existed before,
"things have changed drastically in the last couple of weeks ... mostly
fuelled by politicians and other leaders", he said.
Yassin warned against politicians fanning
the flames by inflating the actual burden of the refugee crisis.
"Imagine that things go out of
control, that's a recipe for civil war," he said. It is an ominous warning
in a country whose own 15-year war involved Palestinian refugees.
Politicians fret that any long-term
presence of Syrian refugees could destabilise Lebanon by shifting its delicate
Syria's conflict has inflamed political
rivalries and sectarian divisions that have far from healed since Lebanon's
The United Nations, security forces, and
local officials have all mobilised to ease tensions, said Ziad El Sayegh,
senior national policy adviser for Lebanon's ministry of displaced.
Rights groups and activists have criticised
Lebanon for ignoring the crisis in its early years with no national policy to
handle the influx of people. The ministry was now developing a policy to
coordinate the work of state agencies, he said.
"The socio-economic strains have
crossed the limit," Sayegh added. "All of Lebanon wants returns.
There is no dispute over that."
Syrians should go back with the help of the
United Nations under the right safety guarantees, he said - an issue that has
deeply divided Lebanon's political blocs.
Shia Hezbollah and its allies, who side
with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, have pressed the Lebanese state to work
with Damascus, which their critics strongly oppose. Prime Minister Saad Al
Hariri and others insist the United Nations must oversee any repatriation.
Iranian-backed Hezbollah has played a major
role in driving Sunni militants from the border, and has sent thousands of its
fighters into Syria to support Assad's government.
Under evacuation deals that Hezbollah has
brokered, thousands of refugees have left Lebanon's northeast border region for
Syria since July. Rights groups fear refugees went back because they felt under
pressure in Lebanon.
The United Nations says it is still early
for safe returns. It took no part in those local deals and raised concerns they
did not meet "legal standards and humanitarian principles".
Still, the thousands who have gone back
represent a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of Lebanon's refugee