US losing ground and prestige to Iran, Russia and

By Claude Salhani

There are tectonic shifts occurring in the world of politics affecting the Middle East. The relative sta­bility that prevailed throughout the Cold War — though at times tense and on the brink of conflict — has long disappeared, replaced by chaos and uncertainty with the risk of serious conflicts at least as strong as it was then. Just look at Syria, Yemen and Libya.

The leadership previously offered by the United States to counterbal­ance the undemocratic tendencies that surfaced when many countries in the Middle East found independ­ence after centuries of occupation or colonialism appears to have been sidelined and the void is being filled by Iran, Russia or China.

At a time when the president of the United States should be addressing burning issues such as Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East, pushing American im­portance out of the region, Donald Trump is wasting precious minutes tweeting, an exercise that might have worked well in the world of Donald Trump the businessman but is not working for Donald Trump the politician.

The American political machine that directed foreign policy from Washington to Cairo and from Baghdad to Seoul is bogged down in petty rhetoric that is keeping American policy-makers busy at home and ignoring the rest of the world, much to the regret of Wash­ington’s allies. Saudi Arabia, for example, has developed growing relations with Moscow, something that would have been unthinkable not too long ago.

Well, if Washington’s time is spent analysing and dissecting every silly tweet sent by the Ameri­can president, Iranian leaders are not wasting time.

The hours spent by the president tweeting — as he shoots from the hip much to the horror of his close associates — and the time wasted by his staff trying to clean up the confusion caused is time that Trump could have spent on issues of international importance, such as the problems with Iran’s increas­ing influence in the Middle East and the expansion of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Africa.

The trend is frightening because the pillars of yesteryear’s stabil­ity — the United States and major European countries — do not seem to have a map for the future. The world’s first superpower, the United States of America, is failing as the shining light it used to be.

Oppressed people around the world looked up to America as the example of democracy. That Amer­ica is changed. How can US diplo­mats around the world champion the values of Western-style de­mocracy and persuade peoples and leaders in countries such as Iran, Syria or Egypt and call for these countries to turn to ideals such as transparency in government and respect of a free press when the US administration in Washington calls the media “enemy of the people” and is all but transparent?

The Trump administration has been accused of lying on a wide range of issues — from allegedly plotting with Russia during the 2016 presidential elections to attempts to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton, who ran for president on the Democratic Party ticket.

Bickering in Washington contin­ues unabated while the Iranians infiltrate agents into Iraq, where they are indeed most influential. The Iraqis who prefer dealing with the Americans complain that, when they request weapons, it takes about three years to pro­cess the request and then only a fraction of what was requested is delivered. The Iranians deliver the full orders within three days of a request.

Whom do you think the fighters will turn to?

Then there are the Chinese, who have been working behind the scenes, and the Russians, who have been operating on centre stage, deploying their military to assist Syrian President Bashar Assad in his civil war. In a recent meeting of the Chinese Commu­nist Party, Chinese President Xi Jinping mentioned that the era of US influence was a thing of the past and that China was the future.

It may not be too late for the United States to regain its oomph in the Middle East but, if it is to do so, it cannot afford to delay. America’s old allies understand that and realise the United States is not about to change for the bet­ter and are looking at alternative sources of support.

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Why the Middle East may understand Trump more than his own people

By Claude Salhani –

Middle Eastern leaders might be better positioned to understand US President Don­ald Trump than his fellow Americans. Why?

Trump’s constant and contro­versial tweeting, often against the counsel of his closest advis­ers, has created confusion in the political sphere of Washington’s politicians and installed a degree of uncertainty regarding his administration’s ability to function in a cohesive manner.

Why the confusion? The president’s tweets offer one point of view — his — often contradictory to what the official US line is meant to be.

Foreign politicians must be asking themselves whether they should bother talking diplomacy to an American secretary of state when his own president tells him he is wasting his time, as was the case when Rex Tillerson was trying to establish a political solution to the crisis with North Korea.

Trump’s tweeting has created conflict within his own Republi­can Party and has been the cause of turmoil and uncertainty within the US administration. Some of the president’s tweets make him seem like a competing high schooler. In one tweet, Trump boasted that his IQ was higher than that of his secretary of state.

This level of immaturity at the highest level of government negatively affects the United States and the credibility of its secretary of state. Such squab­bling hampers the secretary’s ability to conduct US foreign policy in the troubled regions of the world, primarily the Middle East.

Trump’s shenanigans — his groundless accusations, veiled and cryptic threats through his daily Twitter barrages — are more the doings of a reality TV show host, which Trump used to be, than the behaviour of an American president.

Beneath the return rhetoric lobbed at Trump, some of the accused seem to accept the accuser’s bombast far better than his fellow countrymen. The reason is simple.

The Iranians and other Middle Easterners understand that every tweet Trump puts out is for domestic consumption, even if it concerns international affairs. They know and under­stand the need a leader may have to address one line of policy to a domestic audience and another to an international one. They know Trump’s behaviour because they do the very same. From the ayatollahs in Tehran and Qom to the political leaders in Damascus, Cairo and Beirut, many Middle Eastern leaders often reserve one set of words for local audiences and another for international ones.

On the other side, when Trump dislikes something said about him, he calls it “fake news.” His counterparts in the Middle East call it “propaganda.” Sometimes the word “propa­ganda” is preceded by “Zionist,” “capitalist,” “imperialist” or “reactionary.” How you arrange them depends on which group is the villain of the day.

This is what Trump does, too, except he uses slightly different terminology.

 The Arab Weekly
 Claude Salhani

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Russia replacing Washington as the Middle East’s political centre of influence

2by Claude Salhani

Russia. That is the key word for the future of geopolitics, especially where the Middle East is concerned.

Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, is mak­ing headway in geopolitics in a manner that the Soviet Union at the height of its power could only dream of.

From its alleged involvement in the 2016 US elections — the impact of Moscow’s influence in that event is yet to be determined — to the Middle East and North Africa, Russia has replaced the United States as the principal actor in the region’s politics and policies.

US allies such as Israel, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, which once conferred with Washington before taking any action, are flocking to the Kremlin in search of direc­tion and leadership. Their leaders have voiced displeasure at the United States’ lack of interest in the region.

Things began to go bad under US President Barack Obama and got much worse since Donald Trump became president in Janu­ary.

After meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Putin met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who became the first Saudi monarch to visit Moscow. A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for such a meeting to take place.

The Saudis wanted to discuss Iran. Saudi Arabia’s biggest worry is the ever-expanding influence of Iran. The Saudis voiced their con­cern over Tehran to Washington and received no reply. So, Moscow seems to be the new powerbroker.

The situation in Syria exem­plifies Moscow’s influence over Syria, which surpasses that of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In large part this is due to Russia placing an emphasis on its military presence in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war.

“It changed the reality, the balance of power on the ground,” Dennis Ross, who was the United States’ chief Mideast peace ne­gotiator and advised presidents from George H.W. Bush to Obama, told the Associated Press. “Putin has succeeded in making Russia a factor in the Middle East. That’s why you see a constant stream of Middle Eastern visitors going to Moscow.”

How and why did this situation get to this point? How did the United States get to the point of losing its political prestige?

Washington’s political domi­nance began to decline in 2013 when Obama failed to act after warning Assad that the United States would not stand idly by while Syria deployed chemical weapons against its people.

By dropping the ball as it did, the United States allowed Mos­cow, which was only too happy to pick up the pieces, to step in. At the same time, Washington’s in­action in Syria left its regional al­lies, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, in the cold.

Another prominent US ally that felt left out was Turkey. Its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has urged the United States to act in the Syrian conflict since its beginning, complained that he could not get any results from Washington.

Iran is another example of fail­ing American diplomacy in the Middle East. Two years ago, ten­sions between Putin and Erdogan threatened to boil over after the Turkish military shot down a Russian jet on the Syrian border. Putin recently travelled to Ankara for dinner with Erdogan, whom he called “friend.”

Erdogan angered fellow NATO members by agreeing to buy Russian S-400 air defence missile systems.

Saudi Arabia, one of the main financers of the anti-Assad coali­tion, is moving closer to Moscow with the historic visit by King Salman to Russia.

Unlike the United States, which does not seem to have a map on how to navigate out of the Middle East conundrum, with Washing­ton backing a particular rebel group one day only to discover that it is just as bad as the bad guys it is fighting, Moscow ap­pears to have drawn Iran into its sphere of influence, as tensions between Washington and Tehran increase.

Even America’s staunchest ally in the Middle East, Israel, has been inching closer to Moscow. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made four trips to Moscow in the past 18 months.

Putin has tried his hand at negotiating a ceasefire between rival Libyan factions and the one area that used to be Washington’s guarded domain — the perennial Arab-Israeli peace negotiations — including efforts by the Kremlin to bring Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation closer.

Putin, however, won’t shift his stance on Iran to accommodate Saudi wishes, a person close to the Kremlin said.

Chances that Trump could re­verse the trend and make Ameri­can influence in the Middle East great again are slim.

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One small step for mankind, a giant leap for women

By Claude Salhani

The last country with a ban on women driving cars is giving them the green light to step on the gas.

At last, free at last. Although the plan to allow women behind the wheel was in the fore­cast for years, news from the Saudi royal palace announcing the move into modernity was a giant stride forward for the staunchly conserv­ative Wahhabi country.

A royal decree was issued that will allow women in the country to drive, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said on its official Twitter account, and a committee has been formed to implement the ruling.

This is nothing short of a revolu­tion that has been slowly creeping in on the country where the highly influential religious lobby has tried to halt any move towards moderni­sation and remains opposed to the introduction of Western trends.

Indeed, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and particu­larly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz want to modernise the country, though they realise the need to proceed at a snail’s pace lest they frighten the conservative establishment. A clash between the religious powers and the House of Saud could have very serious repercussions.

Allowing women to drive is just the latest in a series of changes that have been rippling through Saudi Arabia since the rise of 32-year-old Crown Prince Moham­med.

The young royal is spearheading an ambitious plan to reform and transform the Saudi economy by 2030 and, in line with that goal, increase the number of women in the workforce. Crown Prince Mohammed is considered a major power in the country. Many ob­servers say they expect him to be named king before too long.

It will be interesting to see how the country copes with women now able to get around indepen­dently of their male relatives as the mixing of sexes in Saudi Arabia is banned and the religious police, known as the mutawa, are always around ready to enforce sharia.

Since coming to power, the crown prince has successfully lob­bied to curtail the mutawa’s influ­ence. More restrictions on women were lifted earlier in September, as the kingdom celebrated its 87th birthday and successes were reached on the modernisation front, when women were allowed to enter a sports stadium for the first time.

In May, King Salman decreed that government agencies should list services women can seek without permission from their husbands, fathers or other male guardians. He ordered organisa­tions to provide transportation for female employees — a step that eased one hurdle to women’s employment, given that public transportation is virtually non-existent.

Besides the obvious implica­tions women driving will have on the cultural level — until now they were not permitted to venture outside the house without a male relative — in commercial terms it means that Saudi Arabia will be in the market for a large number of cars with as many as 15 million women as potential buyers.

The outcome is likely to create a great boon in the car selling indus­try in Saudi Arabia. Women will need to obtain driving licences. There will be a need for driving schools catering to women. There will be the need for mechanics to maintain the new cars. There will be an increase in traffic, already a nightmare on Thursday nights in Riyadh and Jeddah.

There has been some easing of restrictions on women’s opportu­nities to work in law and educa­tion. In 2015, women were elected to municipal councils for the first time.

Members of the Saudi royal fam­ily have been signalling an easing on women’s ability to drive for months now. In May, Prince Faisal bin Abdullah, a former education minister, told a privately owned television channel that he had “no doubt” women would one day be able to drive in his country.

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Violence, bloodshed and terrorism and a question of losing face or maintaining credibility

by Claude Salhani –

US President Donald Trump upped the ante with two of the United States’ most prominent enemies — Iran and North Korea — in his address to the UN General Assembly. It was not the sort of speech expected from the president of the United States of America.

“Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times — not the 21st-century UN — unworthy of a reply,” tweeted Iranian For­eign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. “Fake empathy for Iranians fools no one.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Mar­got Wallstrom called it “a bom­bastic, nationalist speech.” “It must have been decades since one last heard a speech like that in the UN General Assembly…. This was a speech at the wrong time to the wrong audience,” Wallstrom said.

Trump’s attempt to intervene with the international commu­nity and show he has the makings of a statesman utterly failed. His speech was far from diplomatic. Trump came across as an insecure leader attempting to justify himself in front of the interna­tional community. He appeared to be a threatening warmonger prepared to use military force rather than pursue and exhaust all diplomatic avenues.

Trump began his diatribe by mentioning how much the US economy had grown and how well the market had performed since he assumed office. Trump went on to threaten North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying if the United States is “forced to defend itself or its allies,” it would “totally destroy North Korea.” Trump referred to the North Korean leader as “Rocket Man” and said Kim was on a suicide course.

Turning to another country accused of developing a nuclear arsenal, Trump said Iran was being led by “a reckless regime” that openly speaks of mass murder when they vow “death to America” and “the destruction of Israel.”

“The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship, behind the false guise of a democracy,” said Trump. Iran’s chief exports, the US president said, “are violence, bloodshed and chaos.” Iran is using its wealth — oil — to fund Hezbollah and support the Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Trump took aim at his favourite punching bag — former US Presi­dent Barack Obama. He called the Iran nuclear agreement reached by the Obama administration “embarrassing for the United States” and said he would revisit it.

It is obvious that Trump intended to portray himself as someone who can get things done — particularly with his comments about the economy and jobs — but anyone with half an understand­ing of those subjects knows that complex issues such as a country’s economic health and employment rate take months to properly gauge. Same for the job market. In essence, Trump was trying to cash in on the previous administration’s accomplish­ments.

This state of mind places the United States in a precarious position that could lead to serious repercussions. With Trump’s lack of support even among fellow Re­publicans on Capitol Hill, he is be­ginning to turn more and more to his generals rather than diplomats for solutions. This is a dangerous precedent for the United States. Trump’s disdain for diplomacy is reflected by his failure nine months into his presidency to fill more than half a dozen vacant top jobs in the US State Department.

He cherishes his role as com­mander-in-chief and has said he wants to emulate France’s Bastille Day military parade, to which last July he was a guest of French President Emmanuel Macron, with a similar showcase July 4 on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Trump has made clear that he believes the United States and its allies must adopt a strong line when dealing with rogue states. The president made no qualms about wiping North Korea off the face of the map and voiced similar tendencies in dealing with Iran.

This is all very well and nice, except it will jeopardise the cred­ibility of the United States and the presidency if he fails to follow up with harsh military action. After delivering such a speech, there are only two possible paths this could take, neither of which is positive.

Option one: The Iranians and the North Koreans call his bluff and Trump follows through on his threats and attacks. I can’t believe the American people are ready for two long and protracted wars in the Middle and the Far East.

Option two: The Iranians and the North Koreans continue with their programmes and Trump fails to gather the proper backing for a military intervention and loses face and credibility while weakening the presidency.

Either way, it’s a no-win situa­tion. Now it has become a matter of who is going to lose face: Iran or Trump? North Korea or Trump? In short, Trump has set a line in the sand that may be too close for comfort.

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Not all refugees are created equal

by Claude Salhani

Not all refugees are created equal nor do all refugees receive the same treatment.

The world watched in disbe­lief as millions of Americans be­came temporary refugees as they tried to remain one step ahead of Harvey and Irma, the killer storms that unleashed nature’s fury on parts of Texas and Florida.

So ferocious were the storms that the mayor of one Florida town labelled Irma a “nuclear hurricane.” The news coverage on American television, which documented the event minute by minute, featured the various net­works sending their top anchors to report standing ridiculously under heavy rain and dangerously in the middle of the actual storms.

Watching the rescuers caring not only for the people affected by the storms but also for their cats and dogs, I could not help but compare the neat and orderly evacuation of the Americans to the chaotic, disorganised and archaic experience of Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing man-made disasters. No government assis­tance here for the people, let alone for their pets.

Footage from various Carib­bean islands after the hurricanes’ passage, however, is reminiscent of the images of Syrian cities’ victims of the ongoing civil war. St. Kitts and parts of Puerto Rico mirrored images of Aleppo, Homs and Raqqa without the weapons.

The US government as well as state, county and city authorities were well organised and prepared to handle the back-to-back disas­ters, unlike the authorities in Syria and Iraq who mostly left the refu­gees to fend for themselves. Were it not for the actions of interna­tional relief agencies, these refu­gees would have had almost no help. In the US, President Donald Trump made two separate visits to the stricken areas and spent a few minutes handing out care packag­es, food and water. This is a stark contrast to the picture in Syria.

“The world must do more to help Syrian refugee children get an ed­ucation,” actress Priyanka Chopra said after chatting and joking with young refugees at an after-school centre in Jordan’s capital, Amman.

As has been pointed out numer­ous times in these very pages, education is the key to resolving the crises plaguing the Middle East. Be it a political conflict or a religious-based dispute, the root of the turmoil affecting the Middle East inevitably remains the same: Lack of education.

As Kazakhstan President Nur­sultan Nazarbayev likes to say, the solution to the problems facing militant Islam are three words: “education, education and educa­tion.”

“Individuals can make a differ­ence with donations if govern­ments don’t step up,” said Chopra, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and Bollywood and Hollywood star.

“We need to take it into our own hands because this is our world and we only have one of it,” Chopra told the Associated Press at the end of her first day in Jordan.

In addition to the army of federal, state, county and city rescue workers helping the Texan refugees from Hurricane Harvey, hundreds of individuals from as far away as California went to the affected areas with their boats, volunteering to help with search-and-rescue operations in the Houston area. In Florida, the US Navy dispatched aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, amphibi­ous assault ship USS Iwo Jima (a helicopter carrier) and amphibious transport dock ship USS New York to a position where it could pro­vide humanitarian relief support to federal, state and local authori­ties if requested.

After the fierce division brought about by Trump’s policies, Ameri­cans were suddenly united by the disaster wreaked by the hurri­canes. It was no longer a Texan or Floridan problem, but a national issue.

In Jordan, Chopra urged the world to take a similar approach to the disaster in Syria.

“I think the world needs to understand that this is not just a Syrian refugee crisis, it’s a human­itarian crisis,” said the Bollywood/ Hollywood actress.

The civil war in Syria has af­fected hundreds of thousands of children who without sufficient support “can be an entire gen­eration of kids that could turn to extremism because they have not gotten an education,” Chopra said.

Some 5 million Syrians have fled civil war in their homeland since 2011, with many settling in nearby Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The influx has overbur­dened host countries, especially their educational systems. More than half a million Syrian refugee children of school age — or one-third of the total — are not enrolled in school or informal education in the host countries. The United Nations and international aid agencies supporting the refugees routinely face large funding gaps.

The UN child welfare agency supports more than 200 refugee education centres in Jordan. Given their inadequate level of care and education, which is sometimes religiously biased, the next gen­eration of extremists is already guaranteed.

 

 

 

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Religious extremism remains the world’s top enemy

By Claude Salnani-=

 

September 11 will be the 16th anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks that destroyed the Twin Towers in New York and damaged the Pentagon just outside Washington. Those attacks led to the beginning of the so-called war on terror as then US President George W. Bush called it.

As a handful of Middle East analysts asked at the time, how do you launch a war on terror? You can wage war on terrorism, yes; or on terrorists, yes; but terror is an emotion. Declaring war on terror is akin to waging war on fear.

As expected, these terror attacks against the United States brought about swift military ripostes, which came in the form of the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Just as Pearl Harbour had direct or indirect implications on the lives of millions of Americans, so, too, did the 9/11 attacks affect the lives of many people around the globe.

There were political and military chain reactions to various aspects of people’s daily lives, many of which continue to be felt. As a direct result of the 9/11 attacks, for example, Big Brother is every­where, watching through a vast and extended network of CCTV cam­eras. There are added security measures imposed on all travellers at airports.

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Iran’s provocations may prove costly

by Claude Salhani –

Iran has threatened to resume its nuclear programme and its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has continued to provoke the US Navy in the Arabian Gulf, putting into question an international ac­cord formulated under the Obama administration,

US President Donald Trump has accused the Iranians of violating the spirit of the Joint Comprehen­sive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement between Tehran and world powers regarding Iran’s nu­clear programme.

Following pointed Twitter ex­changes between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who threatened the well-being of the US territory of Guam and possibly Hawaii after Trump warned of “fire and fury,” there is potential for a new nuclear-oriented conflict.

This time the fight is with Iran. This crisis has the potential of developing into a far more serious dispute than the one with North Korea. The reason is quite simple.

Apart from the heavily policed demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, there is no possibility of US forces coming into contact with the North Koreans. In the Gulf, however, the Iranians seem intent on provoking the Americans into an international conflict.

As in all aspects of foreign policy, there are two schools of thought on Iran and its nuclear capabilities. Actually, better make that three diverse schools of thought.

First, there are the optimists who believe they can talk the Iranians out of any given situation if they are given enough time. Then there are the pessimists who believe that the only way Iran will give up its weapons is if the West flexes some muscle.

The third group — the realists — understands why the West fears a nuclear-armed Iran and why the Iranians are so intent on obtaining nuclear weapons.

To understand the reasons that propel Iran to pursue its nuclear dreams, examine two major events that will shape Iran’s foreign policy for years to come.

The first is the eight-year war be­tween Iran and its neighbour Iraq, during which about 1 million peo­ple were killed. Iran came close to capitulation at one point during the war and suffered severe punish­ment from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the form of chemical weapons deployed on the front lines.

It was at that point that the ayatollahs vowed never to allow the country to fall into such a vulner­able position again. The key to that problem, the Iranian leadership decided, was to be found in nuclear weapons.

The second event was the US invasion of Iraq. Tehran concluded that it may well be vulnerable to an American invasion and determined that the only sure deterrence was in acquiring nuclear weapons.

The US Navy has accused the Ira­nians of flying drones dangerously close to one of its aircraft carriers in the Gulf, while the IRGC defended its right to carry out air patrol mis­sions in the area.

The US Naval Forces Central Command said that an Iranian drone had come within 300 metres of a US Navy aircraft carrier while it was in international waters in the Gulf conducting flight operations. A spokesman for the US 5th Fleet said the Iranian drone “conducted an unsafe and unprofessional approach” as it passed by the USS Nimitz without navigation lights late August 13.

The IRGC said in a statement published on Tasnim News Agency that “it carries out air patrol mis­sions in Iran’s air defence identi­fication zone every day and in ac­cordance with current regulations.”

“The Revolutionary Guards drones are equipped with standard navigation systems and are con­trolled professionally,” it added.

The IRGC accused the United States, which claims Iran has insti­gated about a dozen such incidents, of not having “capable identifica­tion and reconnaissance systems.”

With Trump’s John Wayne-like outlook on some foreign policy issues, continued provocations by the Iranians may prove to be a costly way to conduct business.

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Promoting democracy in Middle East, a thing of the past in Washington

 

by Claude Salhani

It appears the United States is getting out of the democ­racy-spreading business — at least while the current president remains in the White House. The Washing­ton Post reported that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered the US State Department to redefine its mission and issue a new statement of purpose.

The Post report stated that draft statements under review were similar to the old mission statement, except for one thing: Any mention of promoting democracy was being elimi­nated.

This reversal of recent policy could herald bad news in the Middle East, where democracy is either unavailable or attainable only in limited quantities. On the other hand, not many will regret Washington’s abandonment of democracy promotion in the region.

Democracy promotion under President George W. Bush involved an agenda that did not exclude the use of military force and did not care whether people in the region were ready for it. The Bush administration’s policy was to export democracy as if Jeffersonian democracy was a one-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf item.

It was an agenda that favoured the indiscriminate ascent of civil society and the atrophy of the state, even at the expense of disorder and strife. It was an agenda premised on the partici­pation of Islamists even when they were not ready to govern or play a leading role in the demo­cratic process.

The results were often increased chaos and violence.

Washington believed it could treat the Middle East as a homogenous zone and failed to understand that, despite Arab societies’ many uniting similari­ties — such as language, religion, culture and history — there are also vast differences between them.

The administration of US President Donald Trump is following a very different foreign policy than previous US adminis­trations, particularly regarding the promotion of democracy in the Middle East.

Trump does not seem to place the same importance on promot­ing democracy as Bush did when he ordered the invasion of Iraq, overthrew the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and acted as though the United States could export Western democracy to Middle Eastern countries.

A newcomer to politics, Trump apparently thought he could apply his business experience to the cut-throat world of interna­tional politics. Nothing could be further from reality. The presi­dent’s behaviour is unorthodox when it comes to diplomacy, to say the least.

While campaigning, Trump lashed out at his predecessor, accusing Barack Obama of failing to act on several foreign policy issues, including the Middle East. Now Trump is starting to realise that diplomacy, geopoli­tics and business are very different animals.

Although the United States’ desire to bring democratic reforms to the region remains on its agenda, it does so today at a much less urgent pace. Indeed, some may regret Washington’s loss of immediate interest in seeing much-needed democratic reforms take place in the greater Middle East. Nevertheless, the Arab region’s abandonment by official Washington will not be regretted by others.

Without the United States’ activist posture, the Middle East might be able to realise on its own that it needs democracy and build one from within regardless of what Trump might think.

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Sudan: The Arab world’s and Africa’s forgotten conflict

http://www.thearabweekly.com/Opinion/9012/Sudan%3A-The-Arab-world%E2%80%99s-and-Africa%E2%80%99s-forgotten-conflict

by Claude Salhani

Unlike conflicts in the Middle East and parts of Africa that grab the spotlight and make front-page news in the world’s leading media outlets, the armed conflicts that have plagued Sudan since its inde­pendence have a hard time getting the world’s attention.

Sudan, a predominately Arab country in northern Africa, is one of the poorest places in the world. Its infrastructure and public services leave much to be desired and the country ranks among the world’s lowest in key domains such as human rights, economy and education.

While the conflict in Sudan is very real and murderous, it at times appears to belong more in an Evelyn Waugh novel.

After gaining its independence from Great Britain and Egypt in 1956, Sudan had decades of civil conflict, with the people voting to allow the south to secede in 2011. This split Sudan, then Africa’s largest country, into two sovereign states: Sudan and South Sudan. Three times the size of France, Sudan claims to have a road network of some 17,000km but only 200km are paved.

The referendum in January 2011 indicated overwhelming support for the south’s independ­ence. South Sudan officially gained independence on July 9, 2011. Sudan and South Sudan have yet to fully implement security and economic agree­ments signed in September 2012 to normalise relations. The final disposition of the contested Abyei region has also yet to be decided.

The underlying causes of Sudan’s multiple wars are many. There is the religious war between the Christian south and the Muslim north. The north is mostly Arab and Muslim, whereas the south is Christian and Animist. Despite having some of Africa’s largest oil reserves, South Sudan is poorer than Sudan. Second, there are wars between various tribes and militias, such as the Janjaweed, which operates in western Sudan and eastern Chad.

Following South Sudan’s independence, fighting broke out between the government forces and the Sudan People’s Libera­tion Movement-North, which is active in Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile (together known as the Two Areas). The clashes resulted in the death of tens of thousands of people and created a refugee crisis, displacing nearly 1.1 million people.

In 2003, Janjaweed went on a killing spree in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, displacing nearly 2 million people and claiming thousands of more lives. While fighting between government and opposition forces has largely subsided in both regions, civilians are threatened by low-level violence, including inter-tribal conflicts and crime, which is largely a result of the weak rule of law.

For all intents and purposes, Sudan is a failed state incapable of providing security for its citizens. Efforts to quell the violence by the United Nations and the African Union have not succeeded. Peacekeeping forces from the United Nations and the African Union have been dis­patched to Darfur.

Already weighed down by massive social and economic problems, including the provi­sion of housing for millions of refugees from its own country, Sudan is further troubled by an influx of refugees from neigh­bouring countries, primarily Ethiopia, Eritrea, Chad, Central African Republic and South Sudan. Armed conflict, poor transportation and the inability of the central government to offer any tangible solutions to the country’s problems have contrib­uted to Sudan’s dire condition.

In the past, Khartoum was accused of aiding and abetting terrorism. Former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden sought refuge in Sudan until, under international pressure, he fled to Afghanistan.

While bin Laden may have been forced out of the country, a state of anarchy persists in Sudan, making it an ideal haven for terrorists.

The US Department of State has warned US citizens not to travel to Sudan:

“US citizens should avoid all travel to the Darfur region, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states and consider carefully before planning travel to other areas of Sudan due to the risks of terrorism, armed conflict and violent crime,” reads the agency’s travel warning.

“The US embassy’s ability to provide services outside of Khartoum is extremely limited. Terrorist groups are active in Sudan and have stated their intent to harm Westerners and Western interests through suicide operations, bombings, shootings and kidnappings. Violent crime targeting Westerners, including kidnappings, armed robberies, home invasions and carjackings occur everywhere in Sudan but are particularly prevalent in the Darfur region.”

“Despite numerous ceasefires declared by the government of Sudan and opposition forces, tensions in the Darfur region… remain high and violence contin­ues. In addition to risking injury or death, US citizens who go to these areas without the permis­sion of the Sudanese government may be detained by security forces,” the travel warning stated.

These embassy warnings may well be the only media coverage that the tragic story in Sudan receives. There is no end in sight for the country, its conflicts and its many problems.

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