New Age Islam Edit Bureau
12 August 2017
Will Child Marriages Ever End?
By Ghasan Badkouk
Is The ‘Kurdistan Referendum’ A NATO
By Deniz Zeyrek
GCC Crisis: Why Is Kuwaiti Mediation
By Ali Bakeer
Turkey Corners Kurds along the Border
By Sinem Cengiz
Kuwait, Saudi Arabia between Two
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Bassel Safadi, the Symbol of Syria’s
By Diana Moukalled
Making ‘Women’s Work’ Count
By Bharati Sadasivam
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
A member of the Shoura Council recently
submitted a recommendation to the council calling for a ban on the marriage of
girls under 15 years of age. This recommendation was submitted by a Shoura
Council member and not by the Ministry of Justice, which has not resolved the
thorny issue of underage marriage for decades and has not done anything about
Dr. Latifa Al-Shalan, who is a member of
the Shoura Council, said child marriages are against the Convention of the
Rights of the Child, the Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of
Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and
Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Children and Women, adding that the
Kingdom is signatory to all of the above agreements. Although child marriages
are a crime in all countries, the Ministry of Justice has so far not taken any
action to deal with this issue.
The ministry’s inaction can be explained
from a religious perspective because Islam does not set a specific age for
marriage. The majority of senior Saudi scholars permit marriages for girls
under 15, based on the saying reported on the authority of the wife of the
Prophet, Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), in which she says that she got
married to the Prophet (peace be upon him) when she was six years old and that
the marriage was consummated when she was nine.
However, lifestyles and traditions at that
time were different from those of today. For example, many of the prevalent
traditions and customs that were acceptable then are frowned upon today,
especially those related to marriage. How can a 12-year-old child carry a baby,
give birth and take care of a child when she herself is a child and in need of care
Advanced countries consider child marriages
as a crime because the little girl will be deprived of her right to enjoy her
childhood and to receive an education. She would also be exposed to medical
risks related to pregnancy.
Based on the above, I kindly ask Minister
of Justice Dr. Waleed Al-Samaani to consider issuing a decision prohibiting the
marriage of underage girls. Such a decision would save young girls from various
injustices and prevent them from becoming victims of greedy men. Moreover, the
decision would improve our image globally, especially in terms of human rights.
These days there is a single item on the
agenda of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq: The Sept. 25
independence referendum. KRG President Masoud Barzani has started a public
relations campaign. On the one hand, he is making visits, and on the other, he
is frequently giving interviews, cultivating the “no retreat from the
The Turkish translation of his interview on
Al-Ahram newspaper was published on news portal Rudaw, known for its affinity
to Barzani. When asked about what his message to Ankara was, Barzani said,
“Kurdistan is a secure and a prosperous place.”
Asked about Turkey’s attitude toward the
referendum, Barzani said remarks in the media were contradictory. “But
generally they are not against the Kurdish people’s rights,” he added.
Barzani was also asked about his
relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and what he requested
from him on his last visit to Turkey, to which he said, “Our Turkish friends,
looking from their perspective know very well that the Kurdistan region is very
important... [Erdogan] does not want anything else but to strengthen and
develop our relations.”
Barzani tried to reassure Turkey in an
interview with London-based Al Hayat newspaper, saying, “Our referendum does
not mean a war against any of our neighbors. We want good relationships with
them and especially with Turkey.”
When you read Barzani’s comments, you get a
feeling that he has trust in something. What he trusts appears between the
lines in his conversations.
For example, he said the U.S. and Russia
will not ignore the Kurdish people who “paid big prices in protecting
themselves in the last 100 years and inflicted a big defeat against terrorism.”
Barzani also frequently uses former
American diplomat and advisors’ statements that say, “The U.N. agreement
entitles this right to the Kurds” and mentions their expectations from U.N.
members, including Turkey, that they will show respect to the Kurdish people’s
At the same time, developments are
happening in the area and especially in Syria that lends credence to Barzani’s
“freedom idea is supported by the U.S., Russia and the Western” claim.
For example, Col. Ryan Dillon, the
spokesman of the anti-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) coalition
under the guidance of the U.S., said they trained 17,000 Peshmergas. At a
military ceremony at the “14th Peshmerga Infantry Command,” a German commander
said they work with the Peshmerga forces on a brigade level and give them
training at a NATO level. One Peshmerga commander gives details about the
training they give, which are war tactics of NATO and to identify the enemy
targets (along with the NATO coordinates) on the map and intervention
techniques in a short span of time.
If Barzani goes ahead with the referendum,
which holds the key to his political future, and if the answer is “Yes,” this
will not necessarily mean that a “Kurdistan state” will be founded.
But it will be too late and in Syria, where
the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) controls the People’s Protection
Units’ (YPG) armed components, a similar discussion will start.
While an Iranian diplomat said, “We and
Turkey must not give permission to this, it will give the biggest damage to
both of us,” and as an American diplomat said, “Turkey must make a decision and
stop criticizing us. If they do not take a stand against the deeds of the ‘Good
Kurd’ Barzani, the group in Syria which they say is terrorist, will be
encouraged to take similar step.”
After hearing this striking comment, I
looked at the statements made in Turkey about the “Kurdistan referendum.” I
could not find a sufficient reaction apart from Erdogan’s “I do not find it
right” statement, besides the usual “reason for war” and “red lines” phrases we
This subject influences not only Iraq but
also Turkey directly, as well as Iran and Syria. Therefore, Turkey must develop
a reasonable attitude toward the Kurdish problem together with its government
and opposition, and more precisely with a “common sense” and put it into
practice as soon as possible.
GCC Crisis: Why Is Kuwaiti Mediation Not
Kuwait has long played a constructive role
in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) by bringing opposing parties together. It
also enjoys strong relations with both Saudi Arabia and Qatar. So when Saudi
Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain cut ties to Qatar in
early June, Kuwait was seen as an acceptable mediator that can mend the latest
rift within the GCC.
Sheikh Sabah Al-Sabah served for 40 years
as foreign minister (1963-2003), and then as prime minister before becoming the
emir of Kuwait in 2006. The vast experience he had in these positions and the
intensity of his involvement in the issues that affect the region as a whole
made him the right man for this hard task.
So when the crisis erupted, both the
Saudi-led bloc and Qatar turned to Al-Sabah. But they had very different
motivations for doing so.
For Qatar, Kuwait is a trustworthy
neighbour that has no vested interest in any kind of internal GCC conflict.
Also, Sheikh Al-Sabah is praised in Doha as a wise and experienced statesman.
Most importantly, Kuwait - as a small country - knows very well from its own
experience with Iraq what it is to face aggression from a big and powerful
neighbour. Thus Doha believes that Kuwait can easily understand and help to
solve the current situation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and its allies.
On the other hand, the Saudi-led bloc has a
very different perspective regarding the nature of the role Kuwait can play in
this crisis. Although they also seem to be welcoming Kuwaiti mediation, their
motivation for doing so is to lessen the influence of outside actors in the
crisis. They seem to be unwilling to solve the crisis which is posing serious
challenges for Kuwait.
Blocking Mediation Efforts
Even though there is a broad regional and
international consensus to support the role of Al-Sabah as a mediator in the
crisis, Kuwait was unable to be effective and three rounds of mediation didn't
lead to the desired outcomes yet. US President Donald Trump's toxic influence
also played a role in the failure of Kuwait's efforts; however, the most
important reason behind it was the Saudi-led bloc's refusal to participate in
and show any enthusiasm for a meaningful mediation process.
Since the beginning of the crisis, the
Saudi-led bloc imposed serious restrictions on the role Kuwait can play in the
crisis. By doing so, they wanted to ensure Riyadh's strong influence over small
GCC countries and to force Qatar to comply.
At the very beginning of the crisis, on
June 5, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, adviser of the Saudi King Salman, visited
Kuwait to deliver a message to its Emir. Kuwait's state-run news agency KUNA
didn't disclose the contents of the message; however, one source with knowledge
of the situation told me that "The purpose was to discourage the Emir [of
Kuwait's mediation efforts]".
The same source said that at that time:
"The Emir of Qatar was preparing to deliver a strong speech with
retaliatory measures in response to the measures taken against his
country." But, despite Saudi efforts to discourage mediation, "al-Sabah
called [Qatar's Emir] Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and urged him for
The Emir of Kuwait was interested in
avoiding a vicious cycle of destructive actions and reactions by both sides.
And Qatar's Emir aided his mediatory mission by not delivering the strong
speech he had prepared. However, actions of the US President Donald Trump
disrupted Qatar and Kuwait's efforts to de-escalate the situation.
On June 6, a tweet by Trump implying that
Qatar is "funding a radical ideology" empowered the Saudi-led bloc,
and made Kuwait's job much harder. Following the US president's now infamous
tweet, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE escalated their attacks against Qatar.
UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said: "There
is nothing to negotiate with Qatar," thus sabotaging the first round of
the Kuwaiti mediation efforts.
During this first round of efforts, the
anti-Qatar quartet also refused to disclose the real causes that triggered the
crisis and did not present any proof for the serious allegations they had
raised against Doha. Furthermore, they did not present a list of demands,
guaranteeing the failure of Kuwait's mediation efforts.
Just a Mailman
The second round of the Kuwaiti efforts
started over a month later, when the Saudi-led bloc finally prepared its list
of 13 demands. At this stage, however, the Saudi-led bloc limited the role of
Kuwait to a mailman.
Adel Al-Jubair, Foreign Minister of Saudi
Arabia, once again made it clear that there would be "no
negotiations" with Qatar. Kuwait was only allowed to deliver the list of
13 demands to Doha and receive Qatar's response in a period of 10 days. These
restrictions made any Kuwaiti effort for mediation completely futile.
During this time, the US Secretary of State
Rex Tillerson made visits to the region to help Kuwait in its mediation
efforts, and slight progress was achieved.
According to one Gulf official,
"Kuwait asked Doha not to disclose its response on the 13 demands to the
public in order to help its efforts in mediation". The same source told
me: "A roadmap and a set of principles were conveyed to the Saudi-led bloc
after Doha signed an agreement with US on combating terrorism."
However, at this point of the process, a
set of agreements made between Gulf countries between 2013 and 2014, known as
Riyadh Agreements, were leaked to American broadcaster CNN, which has regional
headquarters in Abu Dhabi. This leak was widely seen as another attempt to
block the joint efforts of Kuwait and the US Secretary to solve the crisis.
Despite the Saudi-led bloc's reluctance to
help the mediation efforts, on July 22, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin
Hamad Al Thani showed willingness and readiness for dialogue in his first
speech about the crisis. Yet, only a week after his speech, top officials from
the Saudi-led bloc met in Bahrain and reasserted that there would be no
negotiations with Qatar unless it fulfils the 13 demands.
For Kuwait, this was like going back to
square one again.
At this stage, there is still no direct
communication between the opposing sides of the GCC conflict. Kuwait is
deprived from an effective mediation role and the UAE seems to be content with
the idea of a stalemate. Because of all this, Kuwaiti efforts for mediation
remain fruitless. The bottom line here is that without at least neutralising
Trump's negative influence in the crisis and applying pressure on the Saudi-led
bloc to participate in meaningful negotiations, Kuwait will likely have no
chance to succeed in its mission.
Turkey Corners Kurds along the Border
Developments are taking place along
Turkey’s borders that will likely have significant implications. A few days
after the replacement of army, navy and air force commanders, President Recep
Tayyip Erdogan reiterated warnings of possible military action against Kurdish
forces in northern Syria that operate under the banner of the People’s
Protection Units (YPG).
“We are determined to push deeper the
dagger we drove into the heart of the terrorist formation’s project in Syria
with new advances,” he said. The dagger refers to Operation Euphrates Shield,
which Turkey launched in August 2016 and ended in March. Many speculate that
Syria will be the initial focus of the new commanders, and that the countdown
has already started for a new operation named Euphrates Sword.
Also, this week Prime Minister Binali
Yildirim chaired a security meeting in which Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu,
Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan also
attended, among others. No statement was made afterward, but there was much
speculation that the focus was on possible plans regarding northern Syria.
As yet, there has been no official
statement on a possible military offensive against the YPG in the town of Afrin
in northwest Syria. But media outlets circulated reports that Ankara is
preparing for another operation against Daesh and the YPG in Syria. Whether
this happens or not, Turkey once again said it would be ready to respond to any
hostile move from across the border.
Recent military developments point to
preparations in this regard. The military has recently built up its presence
near the southern border and in the northern Syrian town of Azaz, which served
as a base during Operation Euphrates Shield. In June, Turkey’s defense minister
said 690 km out of a planned 828-km wall had been completed along the frontier
with Syria, and border security measures would be raised to the highest level
once construction is complete.
While Turkey is trying to minimize threats
from the Syrian border, it also wants to do so from the Iranian and Iraqi
borders. Ankara has begun building a security wall along part of its border
with Iran to prevent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants from moving
easily between the two countries. Turkey is mired in a bloody war with the PKK
domestically, and has taken significant steps to neutralize the terrorist group
within its borders.
But in response, the PKK is constantly
searching for new ways to continue its attacks. Turkey’s army has significantly
reduced PKK infiltration from the south. But the group also has camps along the
Iranian-Turkish border, and carries out attacks in Turkey then crosses back
into Iran. So a wall between two countries will deal a serious blow to the PKK.
Ankara’s strategy regarding the years-long
Syrian war and subsequent regional threats has reached a new phase. Turkey is
shifting to tight border controls and cornering the Kurds and Daesh via border
walls. It would not have faced such risks had it taken such steps earlier.
For the time being, it seems unlikely that
Turkey will launch another operation in Syria against the YPG, given US and
Russian support for the group despite Ankara’s objections. Instead, Turkey will
likely focus on building a security zone along its border to corner terrorist
groups such as the PKK and Daesh.
Kuwait, Saudi Arabia between Two Crises
Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, may he rest in
peace, could have done what Qatar’s then-Crown Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa
did following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Back then, during a Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) meeting in Doha, Sheikh Hamad tried to blackmail the five GCC
leaders at the summit by refusing to discuss liberating Kuwait unless they
acknowledged Qatar’s rights to the Hawar and Fasht Al-Dibal islands from
King Fahd was the first to storm out of the
room, considering this an insulting bargain.
Saudi Arabia saw its support for Kuwait as
being loyal to pledges, respecting GCC principles and protecting states from
chaos, no matter the reasons or motives behind the disputes. Of course, it was
in Riyadh’s interest to defeat Saddam, but the less risky option would have
been to coexist with him.
It would not have been possible to confront
the invasion without Saudi Arabia’s desire and approval. The Kingdom hosted
half a million troops, including 200,000 from the US, who liberated Kuwait in
four days. King Fahd is a historic figure because he is the one who tolerated
threats and managed the confrontation with Saddam, who was quick to cancel
Kuwait’s identity and flag, destroy its legitimacy and replace its currency.
The king was keen to maintain the ruling
Al-Sabah family and its unity, given that it is the symbol of Kuwait’s
legitimacy. He hosted the family in Taif, a secure location away from Saddam’s
attacks and intelligence agents. The king allowed Kuwait’s government in exile
to fully operate from the city, and contributed to reviving Kuwait’s symbols by
issuing the dinar, publishing some dailies and re-establishing its channels.
Kuwaiti military personnel, including the
pilots who heroically fought from Ali Al-Salem air base against Saddam’s
invasion, all gathered in Saudi Arabia. King Fahd supported the resistance
against the invasion. His most dangerous decision was summoning US troops to
the Kingdom; this was a huge personal responsibility. Several high-ranking
Saudi royals asked him whether he was sure of his decision, and if he was able
to get them out later on.
As US troops arrived and war preparations
were underway, Saddam’s supporters in Saudi Arabia protested. Led by Sudan’s
Hassan Al-Turabi and Tunisia’s Rached Al-Ghannouchi, the Muslim Brotherhood
launched incitement campaigns against the Kingdom, accusing it of apostasy.
Saddam’s ally in Yemen, then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, threatened Saudi
Arabia, prompting the king to freeze relations with him and deport around 2
For the first time in Riyadh, protests
erupted against the Saudi government, and young clerics spoke out against
fighting to liberate Kuwait because it was not governed by Shariah law. People
protested in several Arab capitals against Saudi Arabia, not against Kuwait.
Many Arab governments supported Saddam. During an urgent Arab League session in
Cairo, only a thin majority of 12 countries supported Kuwait’s cause.
Despite objections, then-Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak played a significant role in rejecting attempts to confuse the
cause, and imposed voting by raising hands instead of reaching a consensus.
King Fahd risked his country’s stability,
given that the chances of liberating Kuwait were slim, that there might not be
a war, or that it would last a long time, like the Iran-Iraq war. There was the
possibility of defeat, incomplete victory, Saddam not entirely leaving Kuwait,
or Saudi Arabia not coming out of the war safe.
King Fahd could have copied Sheikh Hamad
and bargained with Saddam in exchange for Kuwait, but he did not. He was a
brave leader who made a historic decision to stand by Kuwait; we are all proud
of this. As such, it is surprising to hear some Kuwaitis supporting Qatar
today, instead of condemning its actions that threaten the security and
existence of four countries. Kuwait has a moral debt to repay, and we expect it
to do so.
If interests rather than morals are driving
support for Qatar, we advise Kuwaitis to open their eyes and think about their
future interests. Kuwait is not stable. It is the country that needs the GCC’s
unity and stability the most. Saddam is gone, but his successors are much worse
and more evil.
Bassel Safadi Khartabil, the Internet guru
who opened up the online world to plight of the Syrian people, was abducted by
the Assad regime in March 2012 and taken to Adra prison in Damascus. A few
months later he disappeared.
Until a few days ago, Bassel’s family lived
in hope that they would see him again. Now they know that they will not. His
parents are consumed with grief. His wife, the lawyer and human rights activist
Noura Ghazi, is a widow.
They now know that after months of torture,
Bassel was executed by the regime in 2015, as a global campaign to release him
The world found out about Bassel’s torture
and death in the way it has always found out about the half a million killed,
the arrest of thousands, the disappearance of more than 100,000 and the displacement
This is almost a textbook definition of
injustice, and it is why Carla Del Ponte has resigned from the UN commission of
inquiry into Syria after five fruitless years trying to prosecute Syria’s war
criminals. “I am frustrated, I give up,” she said.
Del Ponte says obstruction in the UN
Security Council means there can never be an indictment, and in any case Syria
has deteriorated to the extent that one side is as guilty as the other. There
is no support or political will to achieve justice for Syria, she says.
It is no coincidence that her resignation
comes at the same time as demands grow for political dialogue with Bashar Assad
that may help him to stay in power.
It is true that the Syrian situation is not
easy, but we always find ourselves returning to square one, which is the
existence of an unjust regime that oppresses its people through imprisonment
and torture, which led to the uprising in the first place. The regime has
escalated its methods, using the most horrific means to suppress the revolution
and turn it into an international sectarian conflict. “Either Assad remains in
power, or we will burn the country,” his supporters have said repeatedly. Now
that is what is literally happening.
The irony is that while the regime jails, tortures
and kills peaceful activists, young men and women, it deals differently with
another group of prisoners, the Islamist opposition. Many of those who now lead
extremist groups in Syria and Iraq were previously in Syrian prisons. Some were
released after a pardon by the regime in 2011, others set free in deals between
the regime and armed factions during the course of the conflict in the past few
These deals are part of the regime’s
tactics. For example, battles between Hezbollah and Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (JFS)
militants in the barren areas near the Lebanese border ended after a deal to
exchange prisoners and allow militants to travel to opposition-held Idlib.
Among those who travelled was the JFS leader Abu Malek Al-Talli — a former
prisoner released in 2011.
This has been Assad’s cynical strategy from
Day 1: Release the hard-liners, and then tell Syrians: “You have no other
choice, it is either me or the hard-liners.” There is no such deal available to
Bassel Safadi and those like him: They are imprisoned, tortured and killed.
While international leaders turn a blind eye to these atrocities, there will be
no justice for Syria.
Over the next few months, the 12,000
employees based at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, will complete
their move to an extravagant new campus. The “spaceship,” covering 2.8 million
square feet, includes a two-story yoga studio, running paths, and even
revolutionary pizza boxes that keep slices crisp. But one thing it does not
have is child care.
When it comes to ignoring the importance of
day care for working parents, Apple is far from unique. That omission places a
powerful drag on parents’ ability to achieve their economic potential, with
women suffering the most.
Worldwide, women carry out twice as much
unpaid domestic and care work — including raising children, caring for sick or
elderly family members, and managing the household — as men do. In Mexico,
India and Turkey, women do three times more care work than men. This “gender
chore gap” limits women’s choices, as it impedes their ability to obtain formal
education, secure good jobs and achieve equal pay.
Though women worldwide do more paid and unpaid
work than men in total, they earn a quarter less on average, hold only a
quarter of executive positions in the private sector, and occupy less than a
quarter of all seats in national parliaments. Only half of working-age women
worldwide are in the paid labor force, compared to more than three-quarters of
This situation is slowly starting to
change. Unpaid household and care work is gradually shedding its reputation as
“women’s work,” and men today are assuming more household responsibilities than
their fathers and grandfathers did. Some countries, particularly in Europe, are
revising traditional leave policies so parents can choose how to allocate time
off after the birth of a child.
More broadly, the value of unpaid household
and care work — not just for children and family members, but also for the
long-term health of societies and economies — is increasingly being recognized.
Efforts to measure the contribution of care work to national economies have
produced estimates ranging from 20 to 60 percent of gross domestic product
In 2015, UN member states adopted the
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which call for recognizing, reducing and
redistributing unpaid care work — a measure long proposed by feminist
economists and gender-equality advocates. The question now is what can actually
be done to meet this objective.
The responsibility will lie, first and
foremost, with governments. After all, while businesses or neighborhood
associations may offer child care options to working parents, costs and quality
vary widely. Government action is needed to ensure that care services cover all
who need them — from preschool children to the sick, disabled and elderly — and
that they are universally accessible and affordable.
But beyond services, achieving the SDGs’
targets will require policy change. Most important, governments must establish
requirements for parental and family leave programs. Together with private
companies, they can also provide monetary incentives for men and women to share
household and care work more equally.
Such policies have proved effective not
only in northern Europe — the most commonly cited model — but also in eastern
European countries such as Lithuania, Estonia and Hungary, demonstrating that
they can be applied anywhere. At a time when many governments, particularly in
the developing world, face severe fiscal constraints, such interventions may
seem farfetched. But spending on the care sector should be seen as an
investment, not a cost.
A recent study in Turkey showed that $1 of
public money invested in the care sector could create 2.5 times as many jobs as
$1 invested in the construction industry. More than half of those jobs — decent
jobs that could raise incomes and living standards, particularly for poor
households — would go to women.
International institutions can play an
important role in helping governments seize the opportunities presented by
investment in the care sector. In Macedonia, the UN Development Programme
undertook an initiative that helped women who had mostly worked at home their
entire lives find jobs in the care sector. This enabled them to make use of
their skills, by caring for children and for young adults with disabilities,
while earning an income.
As populations grow and age, the care
sector will only increase in importance. Adapting to these new circumstances
now will give countries a considerable advantage as it bolsters women’s rights
and freedoms, generates jobs, and makes societies more equal. So what are we