Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:58:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Release of Senate Torture Report Insufficient, Say Rights Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:24:05 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138185 Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive interrogation techniques provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive interrogation techniques provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Tuesday’s release by the Senate Intelligence Committee of its long-awaited report on the torture by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of detainees in the so-called “war on terror” does not go far enough, according to major U.S. human rights groups.

While welcoming the report’s release, the subject of months of intensive negotiations and sometimes furious negotiations between the Senate Committee’s majority and both the CIA and the administration of President Barack Obama, the groups said additional steps were needed to ensure that U.S. officials never again engage in the kind of torture detailed in the report."Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability." -- Donna McKay of PHR

“This should be the beginning of a process, not the end,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “The report should shock President Obama and Congress into action, to make sure that torture and cruelty are never used again.”

He called, among other steps, for the appointment of a special prosecutor to hold the “architects and perpetrators” of what the George W. Bush administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) accountable and for Congress to assert its control over the CIA, “which in this report sounds more like a rogue paramilitary group than the intelligence gathering agency that it’s supposed to be.”

He was joined by London-based Amnesty International which noted that the declassified information provided in the report constituted “a reminder to the world of the utter failure of the USA to end the impunity enjoyed by those who authorised and used torture and other ill-treatment.

“This is a wake-up call to the USA; they must disclose the full truth about the human rights violations, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure justice for the victims,” said Amnesty’s Latin America director, Erika Guevara.

The Senate Committee’s report, actually a 524-page, partially-redacted summary of a still-classified 6,300-page report on the treatment of at least 119 terrorist suspects detained in secret locations overseas, accused the CIA not only of engaging in torture that was “brutal and far worse” than has previously been reported, but also of regularly misleading the White House and Congress both about what it was doing and the purported value of the intelligence it derived from those practices.

Water-boarding, for example, was used against detainees more often and in more of the CIA’s “black sites” than previously known; sleep deprivation was used for up to a week at a time against some suspects; others received “rectal feeding” or “hydration’; and still others were forced to stand on broken feet or legs.

In at least one case, a detainee was frozen to death; in the case of Abu Zubayda, an alleged “high-value” Al Qaeda detainee who was subject to dozens of water-boardings, the treatment was so brutal, several CIA officers asked to be transferred if it did not stop.

While the CIA officers and former Bush administration officials, notably former Vice President Dick Cheney, have long insisted that key information – including intelligence that eventually led to the killing of Osama bin Laden — was obtained from EITs, the report concluded that these techniques were ineffective.

Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive EITs provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report, which relied on the CIA’s own cables and reports.

In some cases, detainees subjected to EITs gave misinformation about “terrorist threats” which did not actually exist, the report found. Of the 119 known detainees subject to EITs, at least 26 should never have been held, it said.

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, who fought hard for months to release the report over the CIA’s fierce objections, wrote in its Forward that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks, “she could understand the CIA’s impulse to consider the use of every possible tool to gather intelligence and remove terrorists from the battlefield, and CIA was encouraged by political leaders and the public to do whatever it could to prevent another attack.”

“Nevertheless, such pressure, fear and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security,” according to Feinstein.

For his part, CIA director John Brennan, a career CIA officer appointed by Obama whose role in the Bush administration’s detention programme remains cloudy, “acknowledge(d) that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes.”

“The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qa’ida and affiliated terrorists.”

But he also defended the EITs, insisting that “interrogations of detainees on whom EITs were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.” A fact sheet released by the CIA claimed, as an example, that one detainee, after undergoing EITs, identified bin Laden’s courier, which subsequently led the CIA to the Al Qaeda chief’s location.

With several notable exceptions, Republicans also defended the CIA and the Bush administration’s orders to permit EITs. Indeed, the Intelligence Committee’s Republican members released a minority report that noted that the majority of staff had not interviewed any CIA officers directly involved in the programme.

“There is no reason whatsoever for this report to ever be published,” said the Committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss. “This is purely a partisan tactic” which he said was designed to attack the Bush administration. Republicans also warned that the report’s release would endanger U.S. service personnel and citizens abroad by fuelling anti-American sentiment, especially in the Muslim world.

But Sen. John McCain, who was himself tortured as a prisoner of war in the Vietnam war, defended the report, calling it “a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose …but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.”

McCain has championed efforts to pass legislation outlawing torture, particularly because Obama’s 2009 executive orders prohibiting such practices could be reversed by a future president.

Passage of such a law – whose prospects appear virtually nil in light of Republican control of both houses of Congress for the next two years – is one of the demands, along with release of the full report, of most human-rights groups here.

“The Obama administration and Congress should work together to build a durable consensus against torture by pursuing legislation that demonstrates bipartisan unity and fidelity to our ideals,” said Elisa Massimino, director of Human Rights First.

Many groups, however, want Obama to go further by prosecuting those responsible for the EIT programme, a step that his administration made clear from the outset it was loathe to do.

“We renew our demand for accountability for those individuals responsible for the CIA torture programme,” said Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented a number of detainees at Guantanamo, including Abu Zubaydah, in U.S. courts. “They should be prosecuted in U.S. courts; and, if our government continues to refuse to hold them accountable, they must be pursued internationally under principles of universal jurisdiction.”

“The report shows the repeated claims that harsh measures were needed to protect Americans are utter fiction,” according to Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. “Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of the officials responsible, torture will remain a ‘policy option’ for future presidents.”

Noting that health professionals, including doctors and psychologists also played a role in the EITs, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) also called for legal accountability. “For more than a decade, the U.S. government has been lying about its use of torture,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director.

“The report confirms that health professionals used their skills to break the minds and bodies of detainees. Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability,” she said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com. He can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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War Knocks on Door of Youth Centre in Zwarahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/war-knocks-on-the-squat-house-in-zwara/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-knocks-on-the-squat-house-in-zwara http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/war-knocks-on-the-squat-house-in-zwara/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 09:05:05 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138103 Bondok Hassem (left) gets help to mount a mortar inside Zwara´s squat house. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Bondok Hassem (left) gets help to mount a mortar inside Zwara´s squat house. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZWARA, Libya, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

It could be a squat house anywhere: music is playing non-stop and there is also a radio station and an art exhibition. However, weapons are also on display among the instruments, and most here wear camouflage uniform.

“The house belonged to a former member of the secret services of [Muammar] Gaddafi so we decided to squat it for the local youth in Zwara [an Amazigh enclave 120 km west of Tripoli, on the border with Tunisia],” Fadel Farhad, an electrician who combines his work with the local militia, tells IPS.It could be a squat house anywhere: music is playing non-stop and there is also a radio station and an art exhibition. However, weapons are also on display among the instruments, and most here wear camouflage uniform.

The centre is called “Tifinagh” after the name given to the Amazigh alphabet. Also called Berbers, the Amazigh are native inhabitants of North Africa.

The arrival of the Arabs in the region in the seventh century was the beginning of a slow yet gradual process of Arabisation which was sharply boosted during the four decades in which Muammar Gaddafi (1969-2011) remained in power. Unofficial estimates put the number of Amazighs in this country at around 600,000 – about 10 percent of the total population

Like most of the youngsters at the centre, Farhad knows he can be mobilised at any time. The latest attack on Zwara took place less than a kilometre from here a little over a week ago, when an airstrike hit a warehouse killing two Libyans and six sub-Saharan migrants.

Three years after Gaddafi was toppled, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital.

Several militias are grouped into two paramilitary alliances: Fajr (“Dawn” in Arabic), led by the Misrata brigades controlling Tripoli, and Karama (“Dignity”) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-based former army general.

“Here in Zwara we rely on around 5000 men grouped into different militias,” Younis, a militia fighter who prefers not to give his full name, tells IPS. “We never wanted this to happen but the problem is that all our enemies are fighting on Tobruk´s side,” adds the 30-year-old by the pickups lining up at the entrance of the building.

Local militiamen gather outside their squat house in the Amazigh enclave of Zwara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Local militiamen gather outside their squat house in the Amazigh enclave of Zwara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The polarisation of the conflict in Libya has pushed several Amazigh militias to fight sporadically alongside the coalition led by Misrata, which includes Islamist groups among its ranks.

However, the atmosphere in this squat house seems at odds with religious orthodoxy of any kind, with an unlikely fusion between Amazigh traditional music and death metal blasting from two loudspeakers. This is the work of 30-year-old Bondok Hassem, a well-known local musician who is also an Amazigh language teacher as well as one of the commanders of the Tamazgha militia.

“Both Misrata and Tobruk are striving to become the alpha male in this war. We are all fully aware that, whoever wins this war, they will attack us immediately afterwards so we are forced to defend our land by any means necessary,” laments Hassem between sips of boja, the local firewater.

But can it be international partnerships that hamper an already difficult agreement between both sides?

Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and France are backing Tobruk and Misrata relies mainly on Qatar and Turkey. Meanwhile, NATO officials are seemingly torn between wanting to stay out of the war, and watching anxiously as the violence goes out of control. Today, most of the diplomatic missions have left Tripoli, except for those of Italy and Hungary.

A fragile balance

Moussa Harim is among the Amazigh who seem to feel not too uncomfortable siding with the government in Tripoli. Born in Jadu, in the Amazigh stronghold of the Nafusa mountain range – 100 km south of Tripoli – Harim was exiled in France during Gaddafi’s time but he became Deputy Minister of Culture in March 2012.

Although he admits that Islamists pose a real threat, he clarifies that in Misrata there are also people “from all walks of life and very diverse affiliations, communists included.”

It is the geographical location itself which, according to Harim, inexorably pushes the Libyan Amazigh towards Misrata.

“Except for a small enclave in the east, our people live in the west of the country, and a majority of them here, in Tripoli,” the senior official tells IPS.

But there are discordant voices, like that of Fathi Ben Khalifa. A native of Zwara and a political dissident for decades, Ben Khalifa was the president of the World Amazigh Congress between 2011 and 2013.

The Congress is an international organisation based in Paris since 1995 that aims to protect the Amazigh identity. Today Ben Khalifa remains as an executive member of this umbrella organisation for this North African people.

“This is not our war, it’s just a conflict between Arab nationalists and Islamists, none of which will ever recognise our rights,” Ben Khalifa tells IPS over the phone from Morocco. Although the senior political activist defends the right of his people to defend themselves from outside aggressions, he gives a deadline to take a clearer position:

“If Libya´s Constitution – to be released on December 24 – does not grant our legitimate rights, then it will be the time to take up arms,” Ben Khalifa bluntly claims.

At dusk, and after another day marked by exhausting shifts at checkpoints and patrols around the city, the local militiamen cool down after swapping their rifles for a harmonica and a guitar at the squat house. This time they play the songs of Matloub Lounes, a singer from Kabylia, Algeria´s Amazigh stronghold.

“I can´t hardly wait for the war to end. I´ll burn my uniform and get back to my work,” says Anwar Darir, an Amazigh language teacher since 2011. That was the year in which Gaddafi was killed, yet a solution to the conflict among Libyans is still nowhere near.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Iraqi Kurds Seek Greater Balance between Ankara and Baghdadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/iraqi-kurds-seek-greater-balance-between-ankara-and-baghdad/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraqi-kurds-seek-greater-balance-between-ankara-and-baghdad http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/iraqi-kurds-seek-greater-balance-between-ankara-and-baghdad/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 20:09:59 +0000 Mohammed A. Salih http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138098 A PKK soldier stands in front of a crowd gathered in the Qandil mountains. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A PKK soldier stands in front of a crowd gathered in the Qandil mountains. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Mohammed A. Salih
ERBIL, Dec 4 2014 (IPS)

After a period of frostiness, Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Turkey seem intent on mending ties, as each of the parties show signs of needing the other.

But the Kurds appear more cautious this time around, apparently leery of moving too close to Ankara lest they alienate the new Iraqi government in Baghdad with which they signed a breakthrough oil deal Tuesday.It’s clear that despite the recent slide in relations, both sides need each other. As a land-locked territory, Kurds will be looking for an alternative that they can use to counter pressure from the central Iraqi government.

The agreement, which will give Baghdad greater control over oil produced in Kurdistan and Kurdish-occupied Kirkuk in exchange for the KRG’s receipt of a bigger share of the central government’s budget, may signal an effort to reduce Erbil’s heavy reliance on Turkey.

The warmth between Iraqi Kurds and Turkey was a rather strange affair to begin with. It emerged unexpectedly and evolved dramatically, particularly after the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Whereas Turkey is a major player in the Middle East and Eurasia regions, Iraqi Kurdistan is not even an independent state. The imbalance of power between the two parties made their development of a “strategic” relationship particularly remarkable.

And given the deep historical animosity in Ankara toward all things Kurdish, the change of heart on its leaders’ part seemed almost miraculous, even if highly lucrative to Turkish construction companies in particular.

But those ties suffered a major blow in August when the forces of Islamic State (IS) swept into Kurdish-held territories in Iraq.

With the IS threatening Kurdistan’s capital city, Erbil, Turkey did little to assist the Kurds. Many in Kurdistan were baffled; the overwhelming sense here was that Turkey had abandoned Iraqi Kurds in the middle of a life-or-death crisis. KRG President Masoud Barzani, Ankara’s closest ally, even felt moved to publicly thank Iran, Turkey’s regional rival, for rushing arms and other supplies to the Peshmerga in their hour of need.

In an attempt to simultaneously develop an understanding and save face, some senior KRG officials defended Ankara, insisting that its hands were tied by the fact that more than 40 staff members in its consulate in the Iraqi city of Mosul, including the consul himself, had been taken hostage by the IS. Other officials were more critical, slamming Ankara for not having acted decisively in KRG’s support.

And the fact that Turkey was experiencing elections where the ambitious then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was running for the newly enhanced office of president was also invoked as a reason for his reluctance to enter into war with such a ruthless foe.

It also appeared to observers here that Erdogan did not want to do anything that could strengthen his arch-enemy, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even if that meant effectively siding with the Sunni jihadists.

But last month’s visit to Iraq by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appears to have helped repair the relationship with the Kurds in the north. Davutoglu turned on his personal charm to reassure his hosts, even visiting a mountainous area where Turkish special forces are now training members of Peshmerga and a Turkish-built refugee camp for Iraqis displaced by the war.

The question of how long it takes for the relationship to bounce back to the point where it was six months ago is anyone’s guess.

But it’s clear that despite the recent slide in relations, both sides need each other. As a land-locked territory, Kurds will be looking for an alternative that they can use to counter pressure from the central Iraqi government.

Focused on laying the foundation for a high degree of economic and political autonomy – if not independence — from Baghdad, the Kurds’ strategic ambition is to be able to control and ideally sell their oil and gas to international clients. And geography dictates that the most obvious and economically efficient route runs through Turkey, with or without Baghdad’s blessing.

As for Ankara, Iraqi Kurdistan is now its only friend in an otherwise hostile region. Once upon a time, not long ago, politicians in Ankara boasted of the success of their “zero-problems-with-neighbours” policy that had reshuffled regional politics and turned some of Turkey’s long-standing foes in the region, including Syria, into friends. But that era is now gone.

Ankara has come to see Iraqi Kurdistan as a potential major supplier of its own energy needs and has generally sided with the KRG in its disputes with Baghdad.

At the same time, however, Kurdish leaders have been criticised here for putting most of their eggs in Ankara’s basket.

The last time Kurds invested so much of their trust in a neighbouring country was during in the 1960s and 1970s when the Shah of Iran supported their insurgency as a means of exerting pressure on Baghdad. When the Shah abruptly abandoned Kurds in return for territorial concessions by the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the Shatt al-Arab River separating southern Iran from Iraq in 1975, the results were catastrophic.

Turkey’s indifference and passivity in August when all of Iraqi Kurdistan came under existential threat by IS jihadists reminded many here of the consequences of placing too much trust in their neighbours. The hoary proverb that “Kurds have no friends but the mountains” suddenly regained its currency.

IS’s siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani – just one kilometre from the Turkish frontier – compounded that distrust, not only for Iraqi Kurds, but for Kurds throughout the region, including in Turkey itself.

Turkey’s refusal to assist Kurdish fighters against IS’s brutal onslaught has made it harder for the KRG to initiate a reconciliation.

Although Ankara has now changed its position – under heavy U.S. pressure — and is now permitting the Peshmerga to provide limited assistance and re-inforcements for Kobani’s defenders, the process of mending fences is still moving rather slowly.

While that process has now begun, it remains unclear how far both sides will go. Will it be again a case of Ankara and Erbil jointly versus Baghdad, or will Erbil play the game differently this time, aiming for greater balance between the two capitals.

Indeed, the much-lauded oil deal struck Tuesday between the Baghdad and the KRG may indicate a preference for the latter strategy, particularly in light of their mutual interest in both confronting IS and compensating for losses in revenue resulting from the steep plunge in oil prices.

Still, given the history of deals sealed and then broken that have long characterised relations between the Kurds and Baghdad, nothing can be taken for granted.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mubarak Acquitted as Egypt’s Counterrevolution Thriveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/mubarak-acquitted-as-egypts-counterrevolution-thrives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mubarak-acquitted-as-egypts-counterrevolution-thrives http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/mubarak-acquitted-as-egypts-counterrevolution-thrives/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 17:27:45 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138073 Egyptian army units block a road in Cairo, Feb. 6, 2011. Credit: IPS/Mohammed Omer

Egyptian army units block a road in Cairo, Feb. 6, 2011. Credit: IPS/Mohammed Omer

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Dec 3 2014 (IPS)

The acquittal of former Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak is not a legal or political surprise. Yet it carries serious ramifications for Arab autocrats who are leading the counterrevolutionary charge, as well as the United States.

The court’s decision, announced Nov. 29 in Cairo, was the last nail in the coffin of the so-called Arab Spring and the Arab upheavals for justice, dignity, and freedom that rocked Egypt and other Arab countries in 2011.If the United States is interested in containing the growth of terrorism in the region, it must ultimately focus on the economic, political, and social root causes that push young Muslim Arabs towards violent extremism.

Chief Judge Mahmud Kamel al-Rashidi, who read the acquittal decision, and his fellow judges on the panel are holdover from the Mubarak era.

The Egyptian judiciary, the Sisi military junta, and the pliant Egyptian media provided the backdrop to the court’s ruling, which indicates how a popular revolution can topple a dictator but not the regime’s entrenched levers of power.

Indeed, no serious observer of Egypt would have been surprised by the decision to acquit Mubarak and his cronies of the charges of killing dozens of peaceful demonstrators at Tahrir Square in January 2011.

Arab autocrats in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere have worked feverishly to stamp out all vestiges of the 2011 revolutions. They have used bloody sectarianism and the threat of terrorism to delegitimise popular protests and discredit demands for genuine political reform.

The acquittal put a legal imprimatur on the dictator of Egypt’s campaign to re-write history.

Following the 2013 coupe that toppled President Mohamed Morsi, who is still in jail facing various trumped up charges, Arab dictators cheered on former Field Marshall and current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, lavishing him with billions of dollars. They parodied his narrative against the voices—secularists and Islamists alike—who cried out for good governance.

Regardless of how weak or solid the prosecution’s case against Mubarak was, the court’s ruling was not about law or legal arguments—from day one it was about politics and counter-revolution.

The unsurprising decision does, however, offer several critical lessons for the region and for the United States.

Removing a dictator is easier than dismantling his regime

Arab authoritarian regimes, whether dynasties or presidential republics, have perfected the art of survival, cronyism, systemic corruption, and control of potential opponents. They have used Islam for their cynical ends, urged the security service to silence the opposition, and encouraged the pliant media to articulate the regime’s narrative.

In order to control the “deep state” regime, Arab dictators in Egypt and elsewhere have created a pro-regime judiciary, dependable and well-financed military and security services, a compliant parliament, a responsive council of ministers, and supple and controlled media.

Autocrats have also ensured crucial loyalty through patronage and threats of retribution; influential elements within the regime see their power and influence as directly linked to the dictator.

The survival of both the dictator and the regime is predicated on the deeply held assumption that power-sharing with the public is detrimental to the regime and anathema to the country’s stability. This assumption has driven politics in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and several other countries since the beginning of the Arab Spring.

In anticipating popular anger about the acquittal decision, Judge Rashidi had the temerity to publicly claim that the decision “had nothing to do with politics.” In reality, however, the decision had everything to do with a pre-ordained decision on the part of the Sisi regime to turn the page on the January 25 revolution.

Dictatorship is a risky form of governance

Authoritarian regimes across the Arab world are expected to welcome Mubarak’s acquittal and the Sisi regime’s decision to move away from the pro-democracy demands that rocked Egypt in January 2011.

Bahrain’s King Hamad, for example, called Mubarak the day the decision was announced to congratulate him, according to the official news agency of the Gulf Arab island nation.

The New York Times has also reported that the Sisi regime is confident that because of the growing disinterest in demonstrations and instability, absolving Mubarak would not rile up the Egyptian public.

If the Sisi regime’s reading of the public mood proves accurate, Arab autocrats would indeed welcome the Egyptian ruling with open arms, believing that popular protests on behalf of democracy and human rights would be, in the words of the Arabic proverb, like a “summer cloud that will soon dissipate.”

However, most students of the region believe Arab dictators’ support of the Sisi regime is shortsighted and devoid of any strategic assessment of the region.

Many regional experts also believe that popular frustration with regime intransigence and repression would lead to radicalisation and increased terrorism.

The rise of Islamic State (ISIS or IS) is the latest example of how popular frustration, especially among Sunni Muslims, could drive a terrorist organization.

This phenomenon sadly has become all too apparent in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, and elsewhere. In response to popular resistance, however, the regimes in these countries have simply applied more repression and destruction.

Indeed, Sisi and other Arab autocrats have yet to learn the crucial lesson of the Arab Spring: People cannot be forced to kneel forever.

Blowback from decades of misguided U.S. regional policies

Focused on Sisi’s policies toward his people, Arab autocrats seem less attentive to Washington’s policies in the region than they have been at any time in recent decades.

They judge American regional policies as rudderless and preoccupied with tactical developments.

Arab regimes and publics have heard lofty American speeches in support of democratic values and human rights, and then seen US politicians coddle dictators.

Time after time, autocrats in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Syria have also seen Washington’s tactical policies in the region trump American national values, resulting in less respect for the United States.

Yet while Mubarak’s acquittal might soon fade from the front pages of the Egyptian media, the Arab peoples’ struggle for human rights, bread, dignity, and democracy will continue.

Sisi believes the US still views his country as a critical ally in the region, especially because of its peace treaty with Israel, and therefore would not cut its military aid to Egypt despite its egregious human rights record. Based on this belief, Egypt continues to ignore the consequences of its own destructive policies.

Now might be the right time, however, for Washington to reexamine its own position toward Egypt and reassert its support for human rights and democratic transitions in the Arab world.

If the United States is interested in containing the growth of terrorism in the region, it must ultimately focus on the economic, political, and social root causes that push young Muslim Arabs towards violent extremism.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pro-Israel Hawks Take Wing over Extension of Iran Nuclear Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:08:39 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137932 E3/EU+3 nuclear talks, Vienna - July 2014. Credit: EEAS/cc by 2.0

E3/EU+3 nuclear talks, Vienna - July 2014. Credit: EEAS/cc by 2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Buoyed by the failure of the U.S. and five other powers to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme after a week of intensive talks, pro-Israel and Republican hawks are calling for Washington to ramp up economic pressure on Tehran even while talks continue, and to give Congress a veto on any final accord.

“We have supported the economic sanctions, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, in addition to sanctions placed on Iran by the international community,” Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, three of the Republican’s leading hawks, said in a statement released shortly after the announcement in Vienna that the one-year-old interim accord between the so-called P5+1 and Iran will be extended until Jul. 1 while negotiations continue.Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran.

“These sanctions have had a negative impact on the Iranian economy and are one of the chief reasons the Iranians are now at the negotiating table,” the three senators went on.

“However, we believe this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval. Every Member of Congress should have the opportunity to review the final deal and vote on this major foreign policy decision.”

Their statement was echoed in part by at least one of the likely Republican candidates for president in 2016.

“From the outcome of this latest round, it also appears that Iran’s leadership remains unwilling to give up their nuclear ambitions,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a favourite of pro-Israel neo-conservatives.

“None of this will change in the coming months unless we return to the pressure track that originally brought Iran to the table.”

At the same time, however, senior Democrats expressed disappointment that a more comprehensive agreement had not been reached but defended the decision to extend the Nov. 24, 2013 Joint Programme of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany – and Iran – an additional seven months, until Jul. 1.

Echoing remarks made earlier by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has held eight meetings with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, over the past week, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein noted that “Iran has lived up to its obligations under the interim agreement and its nuclear programme has not only been frozen, it has been reversed. Today, Iran is further away from acquiring a nuclear weapon than before negotiations began.

“I urge my colleagues in Washington to be patient, carefully evaluate the progress achieved thus far and provide U.S. negotiators the time and space they need to succeed. A collapse of the talks is counter to U.S. interests and would further destabilise an already-volatile region,” she said in a statement.

The back and forth in Washington came in the wake of Kerry’s statement at the conclusion of intensive talks in Vienna. Hopes for a permanent accord that would limit Iran’s nuclear activities for a period of some years in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and international sanctions against Tehran rose substantially in the course of the week only to fall sharply Sunday when Western negotiators, in particular, spoke for the first time of extending the JPOA instead of concluding a larger agreement.

Neither Kerry nor the parties, who have been exceptionally tight-lipped about the specifics of the negotiations, disclosed what had occurred to change the optimistic tenor of the talks.

Kerry insisted Monday that this latest round had made “real and substantial progress” but that “significant points of disagreement” remain unresolved.

Most analysts believe the gaps involved include the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme – specifically, the number of centrifuges it will be permitted to operate — and the number of years the programme will be subject to extraordinary curbs and international inspections.

Kerry appealed to Congress to not to act in a way that could sabotage the extension of the JPOA – under which Iran agreed to partially roll back its nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of some sanctions – or prospects for a successful negotiation.

“I hope they will come to see the wisdom of leaving us the equilibrium for a few months to be able to proceed without sending messages that might be misinterpreted and cause miscalculation,” he said. “We would be fools to walk away.”

The aim, he said, was to reach a broad framework accord by March and then work out the details by the Jul. 1 deadline. The JPOA was agreed last Nov. 24 but the specific details of its implementation were not worked out until the latter half of January.

Whether his appeal for patience will work in the coming months remains to be seen. Republicans, who, with a few exceptions, favoured new sanctions against Iran even after the JPOA was signed, gained nine seats in the Senate and will control both houses in the new Congress when it convenes in January.

If Congress approves new sanctions legislation, as favoured by McCain, Rubio, and other hawks, President Barack Obama could veto it. To sustain the veto, however, he have to keep at least two thirds of the 40-some Democrats in the upper chamber in line.

That could pose a problem given the continuing influence of the Israel lobby within the Democratic Party.

Indeed, the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Robert Menendez, who reluctantly tabled a sanctions effort earlier this year, asserted Monday that the administration’s efforts “had not succeeded” and suggested that he would support a “two-track approach of diplomacy and pressure” in the coming period.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading Israel lobby group, also called Monday for “new bipartisan sanctions legislation to let Tehran know that it will face much more severe pressure if it does not clearly abandon its nuclear weapons program.”

Its message echoed that of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had reportedly personally lobbied each of the P5+1’s leaders over the weekend, and who, even before the extension was officially announced, expressed relief at the failure to reach a comprehensive accord against which he has been campaigning non-stop over the past year.

“The agreement that Iran was aiming for was very bad indeed,” he told BBC, adding that “the fact that there’s no deal now gives [world powers] the opportunity to continue …to toughen [economic pressures] against Iran.”

The Iran task force of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), co-chaired by Dennis Ross, who held the Iran portfolio at the White House during part of Obama’s first term, said, in addition to increasing economic pressure, Washington should provide weaponry to Israel that would make its threats to attack Iran more credible.

The hard-line neo-conservative Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) said Congress should not only pass new sanctions legislation, but strip Obama’s authority to waive sanctions.

“There’s no point waiting seven months for either another failure or a truly terrible deal,” ECI, which helped fund several Republican Senate campaigns this fall, said.

“Congress should act now to reimpose sanctions and re-establish U.S. red lines that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. To that end, such legislation must limit the president’s authority to waive sanctions, an authority the president has already signaled a willingness to abuse in his desperate quest for a deal with the mullahs.”

Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran, strengthen hard-liners in Tehran who oppose accommodation and favour accelerating the nuclear programme.

“The worst scenario for U.S. interests is one in which Congress overwhelmingly passes new sanctions, Iran resumes its nuclear activities, and international unity unravels,” wrote Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on the Wall Street Journal website Monday.

“Such an outcome would force the United States to revisit the possibility of another military conflict in the Middle East.”

Such arguments, which the administration is also expected to deploy, could not only keep most Democratic senators in line, but may also persuade some Republicans worried about any new military commitment in the Middle East.

Sen. Bob Corker, who will likely chair the Foreign Relations Committee in the new Congress, issued a cautious statement Monday, suggesting that he was willing to give the administration more time. Tougher sanctions, he said, could be prepared “should negotiations fail.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com. He can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Refugees Between a Legal Rock and a Hard Place in Lebanonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:13:33 +0000 Oriol Andrés Gallart http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137868 Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

By Oriol Andrés Gallart
BEIRUT, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Staring at the floor, Hassan, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee from Idlib in northwestern Syria, holds a set of identification papers in his hands. He picks out a small pink piece of paper with a few words on it stating that he must obtain a work contract, otherwise his residency visa will not be renewed.

Hassan (not his real name) has been given two months to find an employer willing to cough up for a work permit, something extremely unlikely to happen. After that, his presence in Lebanon will be deemed illegal.

Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service, tells IPS that all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service … [says that] all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.

Sitting next to Hassan is 24-year-old Ahmed (not his real name) from Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, who lost his residency one month ago. Since then he has been forced to watch his movements. “I live with permanent fear of being caught by the police and deported,” he says.

Since the start of Syria’s civil war in March 2011, over 1.2 million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, where they now account for almost one-third of the Lebanese population.

Particularly since May, the Lebanese government has increasingly introduced measures to limit the influx of Syrian refugees into the country. Speaking after a cabinet meeting on Oct. 23, Information Minister Ramzi Jreij announced that the government had reached a decision “to stop welcoming displaced persons, barring exceptional cases, and to ask the U.N. refugee agency [UNHCR] to stop registering the displaced.”

Dalia Aranki, Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance Advisor at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told IPS that Lebanon “is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention” and, as a result, “is not obliged to meet all obligations resulting from the Convention.”

“Being registered with UNHCR in Lebanon can provide some legal protection and is important for access to services,” she wrote together with Olivia Kalis in a recent article published by Forced Migration Review. “But it does not grant refugees the right to seek asylum, have legal stay or refugee status. This leaves refugees in a challenging situation.”

Current legal restrictions affect the admission of newcomers, renewal of residency visas and the regularisation of visa applications for those who have entered the country through unofficial border crossings.

One aid worker who is providing assistance to Syrian refugees in Mount Lebanon told IPS that the majority of the Syrian beneficiaries they are working with no longer have a legal residency visa.

Aranki notes that fear of being arrested often forces those without legal residency papers to limit their movements and also their ability to access various services, to obtain a lease contract or find employment is severely limited. It could also impede birth registration for refugees -with the consequent risk of statelessness, or force family separations on the border.

Before May this year, Syrians could usually enter Lebanon as “tourists” and obtain a residency visa for six months (renewable every six months for up to three years), although this process cost 200 dollars a year, which already was financially prohibitive for many refugee families.

However, NRC has noted that under new regulations Syrians are only permitted to enter Lebanon in exceptional or humanitarian cases such as for medical reasons, or if the applicant has an onward flight booked out of the country, an appointment at an embassy, a valid work permit, or is deemed a “wealthy” tourist. Since summer 2013, restrictions for Palestinian refugees from Syria have become even more severe.

Under its new policy, the Lebanese government also intends to participate in the registration of new refugees together with the UNHCR. Khalil Gebara, an advisor to Minister of Interior Nohad Machnouk, says that the government has taken these measures for two reasons.

“First, because the government decided that it needs to have a joint sovereign decision over the issue of how to treat the Syrian crisis. (…) Previously, it was UNHCR to decide who was deemed a refugee and who was not, the Lebanese government was not involved in this process.”

Secondly “because government believes that there are a lot of Syrians registered who are abusing the system. A lot of them are economic migrants living in Lebanon and they are registered with the United Nations. The government wants to specify who really deserves to be a refugee and who does not”.

Ron Redmond, a UNHCR spokesperson, said that the U.N. agency has “for a long time” encouraged the Lebanese government to assume a role in the registration of new refugees and affirms that registration is going on.

“There is concern about the protection of refugees but there is also understanding on UNHCR’s part,” said Redmond. “Lebanon has legitimate security, demographic and social concerns.”

Meanwhile, accompanying the increasing fear of deportation from Lebanon, Syrian refugees have also been forced to deal with routine forms of discrimination.

Over 45 municipalities across Lebanon have imposed curfews restricting the movement of Syrians during night-time hours, measures which, according to Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director Nadim Houry, contravene “international human rights law and appear to be illegal under Lebanese law.”

Attacks targeting unarmed Syrians – particularly since clashes between the Lebanese army and gunmen affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Arsal in August – have  also occurred.

Given such realities, life in Lebanon for Hassan, Ahmed and many other Syrian refugees, is becoming a new exile, stuck between a rock and a hard place.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Israel’s Arabs – Marginalised, Angry and Defianthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-israels-arabs-marginalised-angry-and-defiant/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-israels-arabs-marginalised-angry-and-defiant http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-israels-arabs-marginalised-angry-and-defiant/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 14:37:54 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137844 Israeli soldiers and police block Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Israeli soldiers and police block Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

The recent killing of an Arab youth by the police in the Israeli Arab village of Kufr Kanna, outside Nazareth, the ongoing bloody violence in Jerusalem, and the growing tensions between the Israeli security services and the Arab community in Israel could be a dangerous omen for Israeli domestic stability and for the region.

Should a third intifada or uprising erupt, it could easily spread to Arab towns and cities inside Israel.Recent events clearly demonstrate that the Arabs in Israel are no longer a quiescent, cultural minority but an “indigenous national” minority deserving full citizenship rights regarding resources, collective rights, and representation on formal state bodies.

Foreign media is asking whether Palestinians are on the verge of starting a new intifada in Jerusalem, the Occupied Territories, and perhaps in Israel. Ensuing instability would rattle the Israeli body politic, creating new calls from the right for the transfer of the Arab community from Israel.

As Israeli politics moves to the right and the state becomes more Jewish and less pluralistic and inclusive, the Palestinian community, which constitutes over one-fifth of the population, feels more marginalised and alienated.

In response to endemic budgetary, economic, political, and social discrimination, the Arab community is becoming assertive, more Palestinian, and more confrontational. Calls for equality, justice, and an end to systemic discrimination by “Israeli Arab” civil society activists are now more vocal and confrontational.

The Israeli military, police, and security services would find it difficult to contain a civil rights intifada across Israel because Arabs live all over the state, from Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south.

The majority of Arabs in Israel are Sunni Muslims, with a small Druze minority whose youth are conscripted into the Israeli army. The even smaller Christian minority is rapidly dwindling because of emigration.

The vast Muslim majority identifies closely with what is happening at the important religious site of al-Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Islamic State’s territorial expansion in Iraq and Syria and the rise of Salafi groups in Sinai and Gaza will surely impact the Arabs in Israel.

In addition to Arabic, Palestinians in Israel speak Hebrew, travel throughout the country, and know Israel intimately. A potential bloody confrontation with Israeli security forces could wreak havoc on the country.

Israeli Arab Spring?

Based on conversations with “Israeli Arab” activists over the years, a possible “intifada” would be grounded in peaceful protests and non-violent civil rights struggle. The Israeli government, like Arab regimes during the Arab Spring, would attempt to delegitimise an “Israeli Arab Spring” by accusing the organisers of supporting terrorism and Islamic radicalism.

One Palestinian activist told me, however, “The protests are not about religion or radicalism; they are about equality, justice, dignity, and civil rights.”

Analysis of the economic, educational, political, and social status of the 1.6 million Arabs in Israel shows not much improvement has occurred since the bloody events of October 2000 in which 13 Arabs were killed during demonstrations in support of the al-Aqsa intifada. In fact, in welfare, health, employment, infrastructure, public services, and housing the situation of Israeli Arabs has retarded in the past decade.

For years, the Arab minority has been called “Israeli Arabs” because they carry the Israeli citizenship or the “’48 Arabs,” which refers to those who stayed in Israel after it came into being in 1948.

Although they have lived with multiple identities—Palestinian, Arab, Islamic, and Israeli—in the past half dozen years, they now reject the “Israeli Arab” moniker and have begun to identify themselves as an indigenous Palestinian community living in Israel.

Arab lawyers have gone to Israeli courts to challenge land confiscation, denial of building permits, refusal to expand the corporate limits of Arab towns and villages, meager budgets given to city and village councils, and limited employment opportunities, especially in state institutions.

In the Negev, or the southern part of Israel, thousands of Arabs live in “unrecognized” towns and villages. These towns often do not appear on Israeli maps! Growing calls by right-wing Zionist and settler politicians and their increasingly virulent “Death to Arabs” messages against the Arab minority have become more shrill and threaten to spark more communal violence between Jews and Arabs across Israel.

Deepening fissures in Israeli society between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority will have long-term implications for a viable future for Arabs and Jews in Palestine.

The Arab community expects tangible engagement initiatives from the government to include allowing Arab towns and villages to expand their corporate limits in order to ease crowding; grant the community more building permits for new houses; let Arabs buy and rent homes in Jewish towns and ethnically mixed cities, especially in Galilee; increase per capita student budgetary allocations to improve services and educational programmes in Arab schools; improve the physical infrastructure of Arab towns and villages; and recognise the “unrecognised” Arab towns in the Negev.

Depending on government policy and regional developments, Israeli Arabs could be either a bridge between Israel and its Arab neighbours or a potential domestic threat to Israel as a Jewish, democratic, or multicultural state. So far, the signs are not encouraging.

The Islamic Movement, which constitutes the vast majority of the Arab community, is also becoming more cognizant of its identity and more active in forging links with other Islamic groups in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.

The growing sense of nationalism and Islamisation of the Arab community is directly related to Israel’s occupation policies in the West Bank, continued blockade of the Gaza Strip, and refusal to recognise the Palestinians’ right of self-determination. Long-term government-minority relations in Israel, whether accommodationist or confrontational, will also affect American standing and national interest in the region.

Although secular activists within the Arab community are wary of the Islamist agenda, they seem to collaborate closely with leaders of the Islamic Movement on the need to assert the political rights of Israeli Arabs as full citizens.

In 2006-07, Arab civil society institutions issued three important documents, known collectively as the “Future Vision,” expressing their vision for the future of the Palestinian community in Israel and its relations with the state.

The documents called for “self-reliance” and described the Arab minority as an “indigenous, Palestinian community with inalienable rights to the land on which it has lived for centuries.” The documents also assert the Arabs in Israel are the “original indigenous people of Palestine” and are “indivisible from the larger Palestinian, Arab, Islamic cultural heritage.”

Arab activists believe that recent Israeli policies toward the Palestinian minority and their representatives in the Knesset are undermining the integrationist effort, empowering the Islamist separatist argument, and deepening the feeling of alienation among the Arab minority.

Way forward

Recent events clearly demonstrate that the Arabs in Israel are no longer a quiescent, cultural minority but an “indigenous national” minority deserving full citizenship rights regarding resources, collective rights, and representation on formal state bodies.

Many of the conditions that gave rise to the bloody confrontation with the police on Temple Mount over a decade ago, including the demolition of housing, restrictions on Arab politicians and Knesset members, restrictive citizenship laws, and budgetary discriminatory laws remain in place.

A decade ago the International Crisis Group (ICG) anticipated the widespread negative consequences of discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority and its findings still stand. Perhaps most importantly, the organisation judged the probability of violence to remain high as long as “greater political polarization, frustration among Arab Israelis, deepening Arab alienation from the political system, and the deteriorating economic situation” are not addressed.

In order to avoid large-scale violence, the ICG recommended that the Israeli government invest in poor Arab areas, end all facets of economic, political, and social discrimination against the Arab community, increase Arab representation at all levels in the public sector, and implement racism awareness training in schools and in all branches of government, beginning with the police.

A poor, marginalised one-fifth of the Israeli population perceived as a demographic bomb and a threat to the Jewish identity of the state can only be defused by a serious engagement strategy—economically, educationally, culturally, and politically.

If violence and continued discrimination are part of Israel’s long-term strategy against its Arab minority to force Arab emigration, it is unlikely that the government would implement tangible initiatives to improve the condition of the Arab minority.

Accordingly, communal violence in Israel would increase, creating negative ramifications for regional peace and stability and for U.S. interests in the eastern Mediterranean.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Iranians Keep Hope Alive for Final Nuclear Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/iranians-keep-hope-alive-for-final-nuclear-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iranians-keep-hope-alive-for-final-nuclear-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/iranians-keep-hope-alive-for-final-nuclear-deal/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 11:06:19 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137807 With both countries' flags placed side by side, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits across from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, Austria, on Jul. 13, 2014, before beginning a bilateral meeting focused on Iran's nuclear programme. Credit: State Department

With both countries' flags placed side by side, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits across from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, Austria, on Jul. 13, 2014, before beginning a bilateral meeting focused on Iran's nuclear programme. Credit: State Department

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

In the United States, the negotiations aimed at a final deal between world powers and Iran over its nuclear programme—in a crucial phase this week—are far from the minds of average people. But for many Iranians, the talks hold the promise of a better future.

“I really hope for a fair agreement,” Ahoora Rostamian, a 30-year-old financial engineer living in the Iranian city of Isfahan, told IPS in a telephone interview.“I have seen broad support and trust for [lead Iranian negotiator] Javad Zarif among the people…he may well be the most popular politician in Iran.” -- Adnan Tabatabai

“It is very important both economically and politically…(A)lmost all sectors of industry are affected by the sanctions, and only the people, not the government, are paying the price,” he said.

From the capital city of Tehran, Mohammad Shirkavand, who expects a final deal to be signed by the Nov. 24 deadline, said it would “alleviate tensions and allow Westerners to get to know the real Iran.”

“Iran has been developing even under a massive sanctions regime, but when there is a final nuclear deal, the situation will be much better,” said the mechanical engineer and tour guide.

“People are indeed very hopeful,” Adnan Tabatabai, a Berlin-based analyst who regularly travels to Iran, told IPS. “I have seen broad support and trust for [lead Iranian negotiator] Javad Zarif among the people…he may well be the most popular politician in Iran.”

Iran and the P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China, plus Germany) began a marathon round of meetings Nov. 18 in Vienna aimed at achieving a final deal by next Monday.

That would mark the one-year anniversary of the signing in Geneva of the interim Joint Plan of Action, which halted Iran’s nuclear programme from further expansion in exchange for moderate sanctions relief.

All of the officials involved in the negotiation have insisted that a comprehensive agreement remains possible by the self-imposed deadline.

But three days of talks last week in Oman—which hosted initially the secret U.S.-Iran meetings in March 2013 that paved the way for unprecedented levels of bilateral exchanges—concluded without a breakthrough.

“The Iranian team went back to Tehran with new ideas from Oman and will have a chance to respond to them in Vienna,” Kelsey Davenport, the director for nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, told IPS.

“There’s still a week left, and that’s a lot of time on the diplomatic clock,” said Davenport, who closely monitors Iran’s nuclear programme. “The negotiators are committed to reaching a deal by the deadline, and it’s still possible.”

The details of the negotiations remain secret, but leaked comments to the press suggest that while the negotiators are close to a deal, they remain stuck on the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme as well as the terms of the sanctions relief that would result from a final deal.

Iran wants to maintain enough centrifuges and other nuclear infrastructure to be self-reliant and reach industrial-scale production for what they insist is a civil nuclear programme by 2021. But the U.S. and its allies want Iran to significantly scale back its current operations.

The failure to sign a deal so far has left some in Iran feeling hopeless—though not about their negotiating team’s ability to push for the best deal.

“I am not very optimistic about a final deal because if the P5+1 were seriously determined to reach a deal they could have achieved that by now,” said Sadeghi, a 29-year-old student also from Isfahan. “They have previously proven that what they’re seeking is halting Iran’s peaceful nuclear activity, not a genuine deal.”

Back in Tehran, Sobhan Hassanvand, a journalist who closely monitors the talks for Shargh, a reformist newspaper, told IPS he expects at least a partial deal by the end of the month.

“On both sides there are rational people who want the deal… Both sides have shown some flexibility, and tried to fight hardliners,” he said.

“They have gotten this far, and the final steps can be breathtaking…I am hopeful and optimistic,” added Hassanvand.

The negotiating teams from both the U.S. and Iran, led by Acting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, respectively, face tough domestic opposition, with powerful adversaries working hard to get their demands onto the negotiating table.

Before the end of this week, committees in the U.S. House and Senate—both of which will be controlled by Republicans as of January—will hold a series of hearings focused on the alleged dangers of a “bad deal”.

Activist groups—both for and against diplomacy with Iran—have also scheduled briefings for Congressional staffers and reporters in the run-up to Nov. 24.

“There are some members of Congress who oppose a diplomatic solution with Iran,” Davenport told IPS. “Many of them are pushing for more stringent sanctions, but that will only drive Iran away from table and lead both sides down the path of escalation.

“But the majority of Congress needs to consider the alternative to a diplomatic resolution…if we don’t achieve a deal we could easily go down the path of another war in the Middle East,” she said.

U.S. President Barack Obama has also received strong criticism for allegedly sending a secret letter last month to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, that “appeared aimed at buttressing the campaign against the Islamic State and nudging Iran’s religious leader closer to a nuclear deal,” according to a Nov. 6 report in the Wall Street Journal.

Though the content of the reported letter has not been officially revealed, some U.S. Republican and hawkish Democratic politicians, as well as Israeli officials, described it as evidence of Obama’s desperation for a deal, particularly in light of the need for Iran’s cooperation in Washington’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile in Iran, the country’s ultimate decision-maker, Ayatollah Khamenei, once again expressed support last week for the country’s negotiating team through speeches and his Twitter account.

But he has also consistently expressed doubt about the Obama administration’s sincerity and its ability to negotiate for a fair deal, insisting that Washington is ruled by the Israeli government, which has made no secret of its opposition to Obama’s approach.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has also been the target of political grumblings by domestic powerbrokers for his handling of the nuclear issue. But last week saw many of his critics directing their distrust at the United States.

“In the nuclear debate, our key point is that we have complete trust with respect to the negotiating team, but this point must not be missed, that our opposing side is a fraud and a liar,” said Mohammad Hossein Nejatand, a commander of the revolutionary guards, on Nov. 14.

“Instead of writing letters, Obama should demonstrate his goodwill,” said Ayatollah Movahedi-Kermani during Friday prayers in Tehran.

Iranians meanwhile appear generally confident about their negotiating team’s strategy.

“They are doing a good job…The problem is (that) the other side is not looking for a “deal,” but for Iran to give up,” said Sadeghi.

Tabatabai said Iranians were more likely to blame the U.S. than their own government if no deal is concluded.

“In that case people may conclude that whether Iran’s foreign policy is provocative or reconciliatory, the isolation and demonisation of their country will prevail,” he said.

“This is exactly the main argument of opponents of a deal in Tehran,” he added. “In their view, hostility towards Iran is a given—and if it’s not channeled through the nuclear file, another issue will be used to maintain enmity with Iran.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Why Israel Opposes a Final Nuclear Deal with Iran and What to Do About Ithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-why-israel-opposes-a-final-nuclear-deal-with-iran-and-what-to-do-about-it/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-israel-opposes-a-final-nuclear-deal-with-iran-and-what-to-do-about-it http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-why-israel-opposes-a-final-nuclear-deal-with-iran-and-what-to-do-about-it/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 02:03:56 +0000 Robert E. Hunter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137800

Robert E. Hunter, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, was director of Middle East Affairs on the National Security Council Staff in the Carter administration and in 2011-12 was director of Transatlantic Security Studies at the National Defense University. Read his work on IPS’s foreign policy blog, LobeLog.

By Robert E. Hunter
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

Nov. 24 is the deadline for six world powers and Iran to reach a final deal over its nuclear programme. If there is no deal, then the talks are likely to be extended, not abandoned.

But as I learned from more than three decades’ work on Middle East issues, in and out of the U.S. government, success also depends on Israel no longer believing that it needs a regional enemy shared in common with the United States to ensure Washington’s commitment to its security.

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they walk across the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Mar. 20, 2013. Credit: White House Photo, Pete Souza

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they walk across the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Mar. 20, 2013. Credit: White House Photo, Pete Souza

Much is at stake in the negotiations with Iran in Vienna, notably the potential removal of the risk of war over its nuclear programme and the removal of any legitimate basis for Israel’s fear that it could become the target of an Iranian bomb.

Success could also begin Iran’s reintegration into the international community, ending its lengthy quarantine. If President Barack Obama and his national security officials get their way, including the Pentagon—hardly a group of softies—a comprehensive final accord would be a good deal for U.S. national security and, in the American analysis, for Israel’s security as well.

Yet more is at issue for Israel, and for the Persian Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. They want to keep Iran in purdah.

Indeed, since the Iranian Revolution ran out of steam outside its borders, the essential questions about the challenge Iran poses have been the following: Will it be able to compete for power and position in the region, and, how can Iran’s competition be dealt with?

The first response, led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is to decry whatever might be agreed to in the talks, no matter how objectively good the results would be for everyone’s security. He has the Saudis and other Arab states as silent partners.

Between them, the Israeli and oil lobbies command a lot of attention in the U.S. Congress, a large part of whose members would otherwise accept that President Obama’s standard for an agreement meets the tests of both U.S. security and the security of its partners in the Middle East.

But a large fraction of Congress is no more willing to take on these two potent lobbies than the National Rifle Association.

Netanyahu will also do all he can to prevent the relaxation of any of the sanctions imposed on Iran. But even if he and his U.S. supporters succeed on Capitol Hill, President Obama can on his own suspend some of those sanctions—though exactly how much is being debated.

The U.S. does not have the last word on sanctions, however. The moment there is a final agreement, the floodgates of economic trade and investment with Iran will open. Europeans, in particular, are lined up with their order books, like Americans in 1889 who awaited the starter’s pistol to begin the Oklahoma land rush.

In response, U.S. private industry will ride up Capitol Hill to demand the relaxation of U.S.-mandated sanctions. Meanwhile, the sighs of relief resounding throughout the world will begin changing the international political climate concerning Iran.

Yet America’s concerns will not cease. While the U.S. and Iran have similar interests in opposing the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), and in wanting to see Afghanistan free from reconquest by of the Taliban, they are still far apart on other matters, notably the Assad regime in Syria, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas.

President Obama will also have an immediate problem in reassuring Israel and Gulf Arab states that American commitments to their security are sincere. To be sure, absent an Iranian nuclear weapon, there is no real Iranian military threat and all the Western weapons pumped into the Persian Gulf are thus essentially useless.

Iran’s real challenges emanate from its dynamic domestic economy, a highly educated, entrepreneurial culture that is matched in the region only by Israelis and Palestinians, and a good deal of cultural appeal even beyond Shi’a communities.

Obama thus faces a special problem in reassuring Israel, a problem that goes back decades. When the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty was signed in 1979, the risks of a major Arab attack on Israel sank virtually to zero. So, too, did the risk of an Arab-Israeli conflict escalating to the level of a U.S.-Soviet confrontation. All at once, U.S. and Israeli strategic concerns were no longer obviously linked.

Thus as soon as Israel withdrew from the Sinai in May 1979, then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin started searching for an alternative basis for linking American and Israeli strategic interests.

For him and for many other Israelis, then and now, it is not enough that the American people are firmly committed to Israel’s security for what could be called “sentimental” reasons: bonds of history (especially memories of the Holocaust), culture, religion, and the values of Western democracy.

But such “sentiment” is the strongest motivation for all U.S. commitments, a far stronger glue than strategic calculations that can and often do change, a fact that could be testified to by the people of South Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Yet for Begin and others, there had to be at least a strong similarity of strategic interests. Thus, in a meeting with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance the day after Egypt retook possession of the Sinai, Begin complained that the US had cancelled its “strategic dialogue” with Israel. Vance tasked me, as the National Security Council staff representative on his travelling team, to find out “what the heck Begin is talking about.”

I phoned Washington and got the skinny: the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment had been conducting a low-level dialogue with some Israeli military officers. Proving to be of little value, it was stopped.

The reason for Begin’s outburst thus became clear: in the absence of the strategic tie with the United States that had been provided by the conflict with Egypt, Israel needed something else, in effect, a common enemy.

That’s why many Israeli political stakeholders were ambivalent about the George W. Bush administration’s ambitions to topple Iraq’s Saddam Hussein: with his overthrow, a potential though remote threat to Israel would be removed, but so would the perception of a common enemy. Since Saddam’s ousting, Iran has gained even more importance for Israel as a means of linking Jerusalem’s strategic perceptions with those of Washington.

By the same political logic, Israel has always asserted that it is a strategic asset for the United States. As part of recognising Israel’s psychological needs, no U.S. official ever publicly challenges that Israeli assertion regardless of what they think in private or however much damage the U.S. might suffer politically in the region because of Israeli activities, including the building of illegal settlements in the West Bank.

So what must Obama do in order to eliminate the risk of an Iranian nuclear weapon, while also reassuring Israel of US fealty? On one side, to be able to honour an agreement with Iran, Obama has to undercut Netanyahu’s efforts with Congress to prevent any sanctions relief.

On the other side, he could reassure Israel through the classic means of buttressing the flow of arms, including the anti-missile capabilities of the Iron Dome that were so useful to Israel during the recent fighting in Gaza.

Israel would want even closer strategic cooperation with the U.S., including consultations on the full range of U.S. thinking and planning on all relevant issues in the Middle East. Israel (at least Netanyahu) would also want any notion of further negotiations with the Palestinians, and the relaxation of economic pressures on Gaza, put into the deep freeze—where, in effect, they already are.

Israel has an inherent, sovereign right to defend itself and to make, for and by itself, calculations about what that means. (The country is not unified, however: a surprising number of former leaders of the Israeli military and security agencies have publicly differed with Netanyahu’s pessimistic assessments of the Iranian threat).

As Israel’s only real friend in the world, the United States continues to have an obligation, within reason, to reassure Israel about its security and safety.

For Obama, this reassurance to Israel is a price worth paying in the event of a deal, which would be at least one step in trying to build security and stability in an increasingly turbulent Middle East. But that can only happen if Israel refrains from obstructing Obama’s effort to make everyone, including Israel, more secure.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Will There be Peace Between Iran and the West?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-will-there-be-peace-between-iran-and-the-west/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-will-there-be-peace-between-iran-and-the-west http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-will-there-be-peace-between-iran-and-the-west/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 18:08:37 +0000 Emma Bonino http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137766

In this column, Emma Bonino, former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and former European Commissioner, argues that the West and Iran would be well advised to take advantage of what may be their last similar opportunity to reach a definitive agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, because the costs of failure to do so are incalculable.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

In just a few days, a meeting is scheduled that will be decisive for the security of the Middle East and of the whole world.

Nov. 24 is the deadline for final negotiations between high representatives of six world powers and Iran seeking to reach a comprehensive agreement on the development of the Iranian nuclear programme.

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

The six powers include three European countries (Germany, United Kingdom and France) as well as China, the United States and Russia. This negotiating group is known in Europe as E3+3.

The interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme signed in November 2013 delivered the E3+3’s most substantial guarantees to date, instituting rigorous supervision of the Iranian nuclear programme while limiting and reducing its production of enriched uranium. Since then progress has been made at several talks and the deadline for their conclusion has been set for Nov. 24.

It is hoped that agreement will be reached on the remaining difficult issues and that the foundations for a final agreement will be laid. If this does not happen, it is feared that further postponement may provide more opportunities for those opposed to diplomatic means to derail the process.

This would be a serious reverse when so much progress has been made, creative technical solutions have been proposed, and an agreement is within reach that would peacefully and effectively address the concerns of the E3+3 about proliferation in regard to Iranian nuclear plans, as well as respect Iran’s legitimate aspirations to develop atomic energy for civilian use, and its sovereignty.“An agreement [on Iran’s nuclear programme] must also renew the West’s commitment to Iran by opening up new options in the pursuit of regional interests that partly coincide, at a time when Europeans are once more militarily engaged at Iran’s gates”

The European countries have invested vast resources to attain this stage of the negotiations, enforcing unprecedented economic sanctions against Iran as well as shouldering the consequences on the regional scale of maintaining Tehran in isolation.

Europe must use the little time it has left to encourage the negotiating parties to resolve the pending issues by making reasonable concessions, while at the same time avoiding matters that are not essential to a good accord. The Europeans should also work alongside the U.S. government to allay the fears of regional allies sceptical about the long-term strategic benefits of a definitive nuclear pact.

The cost of failure, in economic and security terms, is incalculable.

Failure would probably result in an unrestricted or timidly supervised Iranian nuclear programme, without robust verification to prevent its possible diversion for military purposes.

A negative outcome would foreseeably lead to intensification of sanctions and the isolation of Iran, which could in turn be a stronger incentive for Tehran to try to develop nuclear weapons. This would further undermine Western interests and create an increasingly explosive dead-end situation in military terms.

The costs to Iran of failure, in economic and security terms, are incalculable.

Some of those opposed to an agreement, who can be found in either negotiating party, may wish for consequences of this nature. But responsible leaders should not share this attitude.

If a definitive pact is forged, the E3+3 will establish the truly historic precedent of safeguarding global security through containment of Iran’s capability to develop nuclear weapons. 

A final agreement would also strengthen trust and create the necessary political space for the European Union to engage Iran again in human rights dialogue of the kind that took place in the past, which makes so much sense and is so badly needed now.

Crucially, an agreement must also renew the West’s commitment to Iran by opening up new options in the pursuit of regional interests that partly coincide, at a time when Europeans are once more militarily engaged at Iran’s gates and when cooperation on at least partially shared interests seems possible and necessary, without ignoring the many circumstances in which Iranian and Western interests continue to diverge.

Iran and the E3+3 are closer than ever to resolving the nuclear question.

Non-proliferation, global and regional security and the pacification of conflict hotspots in the Middle East, as well as the exemplary effect of multilateral diplomacy during these convulsed times, would without exception benefit significantly from a firm and fair agreement.

All the parties have the option of distancing themselves from a nuclear agreement, but if they do so it will be in the knowledge that the alternatives are far worse, and that they ought to pay heed to their own best strategic interests. They should all know, also, that there may never be another opportunity like this one to close a definitive nuclear deal. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Fighting the Islamic State On the Airhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/fighting-the-islamic-state-on-the-air/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-the-islamic-state-on-the-air http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/fighting-the-islamic-state-on-the-air/#comments Sun, 16 Nov 2014 11:57:53 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137771 Hani Subhi, the presenter for Mosul´s only TV station, currently broadcasting from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Hani Subhi, the presenter for Mosul´s only TV station, currently broadcasting from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov 16 2014 (IPS)

There is daily news broadcasting at 9 in the evening and a live programme every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. For the time being, that is what Mosul´s only TV channel has to offer from its headquarters in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

“We are still on the air only because we managed to bring a camera and satellite dish when we escaped from Mosul,” Akram Taufiq, today the general manager of ‘Nineveh´s Future’ – the name of the channel – tells IPS

The life of this 56 year-old journalist has been closely linked to television. He spent eleven years with the Iraqi public channel during Saddam Hussein´s rule. After the former Iraqi leader was toppled, he became the general manager of Mosul´s public channel Sama al Mosul – ‘Mosul´s heaven’. He held his position until extremists of the Islamic State took over Iraq’s second city early in June."From the beginning I tried to convince everyone around that we had nothing to do with the IS. A week after their arrival, everyone in Mosul realised that we had fallen into a trap" – Atheel al Nujaifi, former governor of Nineveh province

Taufiq admits he had never thought “something like that” could ever happen. “It took them just three days to tighten their grip over the whole city,” recalls this Mosuli from his current office in a residential district in the outskirts of Erbil.

Like all other Tuesdays, the staff, all of them volunteers, struggle to go on the air with their limited resources. Taufiq invites us to watch the live programme on a flat TV screen hanging on the wall of his office.

From an adjacent room, Hani Subhi, presenter, reviews the last news dealing with Mosul, which include the newly-established training camp. According to Subhi, it will host the over 4,000 volunteers who have joined the ranks of the ‘Nineveh Police’. The presenter adds that these troops were exclusively recruited among refugees from Mosul.

“We cannot trust anyone coming from Mosul saying they want to join because they could be spies for the IS,” claims Taufiq, who calls the recently set up armed group “a major step forward”.

“In the future, they will join the Mosul Brigades, groups inside the city that are conducting sabotage operations against members and interests of the Islamic State,” Taufiq explains, without taking his eyes away from the TV screen.

According to the journalist, the most awaited moment is the one dedicated to the live phone calls from inside the city. Today there have been more than 1,700 requests. Unfortunately there is no time for all them.

The first one to go live is Abu Omar, a former policeman now in hiding because members of the previous security apparatus have become a priority target for the IS extremists.

“I´m aching to see the Nineveh Police enter the city. I´ll then be the first to join them and help them kill these bastards,” says Omar from an undisclosed location in Mosul.

Hassan follows from Tal Afar, a mainly Turkmen enclave west of Mosul, which hosts a significant Shiite community.

“We Turkmens have become the main target of these vandals because we are not Arabs, and many of us aren´t even Sunni,” says Hassan. He hopes to remain alive “to see how the occupiers are sent away” from his village.

There are also others who share first-hand information on the dire living conditions Mosulis are forced to face today.

“We have to rely on power generators because we have only two hours of electricity every four days,” Abu Younis explains over the phone.

“The water supply is also erratic, coming only every two or three days, so we have to store it in our bathtubs and drums,” he adds. The worst part, however, is the seemingly total lack of security.

Atheel al Nujaifi, governor of Nineveh province until the IS outbreak, struggles to keep his government in Kurdish exile. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Atheel al Nujaifi, governor of Nineveh province until the IS outbreak, struggles to keep his government in Kurdish exile. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“People simply disappear mysteriously, and that´s when they are not executed in broad daylight,” denounces Younis. His city, he adds, has become “a massive open-air prison”.

A stolen revolution

It is a stark testimony which is corroborated by Bashar Abdullah, a journalist from Mosul who is currently the news editor-in-chief of Nineveh´s Future. Abdullah says he managed to take his wife and two children to Turkey late last month but that he has chosen to stay in Erbil “to keep working”.

The veteran journalist has not ruled out returning home soon but he admits he knows nothing about the state in which his house is today.

“The jihadists have warned that anyone who leaves the city will lose their home. They want to avoid a mass flight of the local population,” explains Abdullah during a tea break.

A report released this month by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) points that almost three million Iraqis are internally displaced. Among those, over half a million have fled Mosul.

Atheel al Nujaifi is likely the best known displaced person from Iraq´s second city. He was the governor of Nineveh province until the IS outbreak. Today he is also one of the main drivers of the TV channel.

From his office in the same building, he admits to IPS that many Mosul residents welcomed the Islamic State fighters in open arms.

“From the beginning I tried to convince everyone around that we had nothing to do with the IS. A week after their arrival, everyone in Mosul realised that we had fallen into a trap,” recalls this son of a prominent local tribe.

In April 2013, Nujaifi received IPS at the Nineveh´s governorate building, in downtown Mosul. Just a few metres away, mass demonstrations against the government were conducted, denouncing alleged marginalisation of the Sunni population of Iraq at the hands of the Shiite government in Baghdad.

Nujaifi would regularly visit the square where the protests were held, openly showing support and giving incendiary speeches against Nuri al-Maliki, the then Prime Minister.

Today from Erbil, he insists that one of the main goals of the TV channel is “to convey the people of Mosul that they still have a government”, even if it´s in exile.

“The Islamic State stole our revolution from us,” laments Nujaifi late at night, just after the last member of the crew has left. They will resume work tomorrow.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Pushing the Voice of Syrian Women For a New Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pushing-the-voice-of-syrian-women-for-a-new-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pushing-the-voice-of-syrian-women-for-a-new-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pushing-the-voice-of-syrian-women-for-a-new-future/#comments Sat, 15 Nov 2014 09:55:31 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137768 Two young girls look on as a veiled woman passes by in Aleppo, August 2014. Syrian magazine Saiedet Souria wants to provide women with the information they need to have a wider view on the world and a voice in a revolution that has largely left their views unheard. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Two young girls look on as a veiled woman passes by in Aleppo, August 2014. Syrian magazine Saiedet Souria wants to provide women with the information they need to have a wider view on the world and a voice in a revolution that has largely left their views unheard. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
GAZIANTEP, Turkey, Nov 15 2014 (IPS)

For most Syrian women, the war has been a disaster. For some, it has also been liberating.

For Yasmine Merei, managing editor of the Syrian women’s magazine Saiedet Souria, the upset of traditional family roles and the shaking off of a culture of fear have wrought positive effects.

Many Syrian women have unfortunately been forced to become the breadwinners of their families, with their husbands missing, in jail, injured or killed, she told IPS, but while fending for themselves can be a terrifying experience, it can also free women from the traditional bonds placed on them.

Although it [Syrian women’s magazine Saiedet Souria] does not shy away from stories of women who have suffered greatly … [it] wants mainly to provide women with the information they need to have a wider view on the world and a voice in a revolution that has largely left their views unheard
‘’If he [the husband] isn’t the one who pays for everything and has that specific role in society, he no longer has the right to tell you what to do’’, added Mohammad Mallak, the founder and editor-in-chief of the magazine, which translates as ‘Syrian Women’, and was founded early this year.

Mallak also runs a partner magazine, Dawda (‘Noise’), from the same office in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Few of the women in the magazine’s photos have their heads covered, and Merei took off her headscarf earlier this year, after wearing it ‘’for about twenty years’’ as part of her upbringing in a poor, conservative Sunni family.

Merei said that she started taking part in the 2011 protests due to the unjustness of Syrian law, especially as concerns women. As examples, she noted a longstanding law against Syrian women giving citizenship to their children and widespread, unpunished honour killings.

A former Master’s student in linguistics, Merei – like many Syrian women – has become responsible for providing for her immediate family, sending money to her mother and her brothers, both of whom were jailed for protesting and released only after large bribes were paid.

Her elderly father died shortly after he, too, had been imprisoned and the family forced to flee their home.

Telling women’s stories does not simply mean female victims recounting the horrors and hardships of their lives, however.

Although it does not shy away from stories of women who have suffered greatly, Merei wants mainly to provide women with the information they need to have a wider view on the world and a voice in a revolution that has largely left their views unheard.

A first-hand account from a woman who was tortured in Syrian regime prisons sits alongside a review of Germaine Greer’s ‘The Female Eunuch’ and an interview with a female police officer in opposition-held areas in the pages of the magazine and on its Facebook page.

Articles on how forced economic dependence negatively affects both women and national economies overall, others discussing potential health problems found in refugee camps such as tuberculosis, a regular column by a female lawyer still in regime areas who previously spent 13 years in prison for political reasons and two translated articles from international media give breadth to the magazine’s roughly 50 pages per issue.

Saiedet Souria publishes sections of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – the ‘’international bill of rights for women’’ adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979 – in every issue, and will publish it in its entirety in the next, she said.

The magazine itself only has a print run of between 4,500 and 5,000 copies per issue (with roughly 3,500 distributed inside Syria through one of its four offices), bit its Facebook page where the articles are regularly posted is followed by over 40,000.

For a country where Facebook and Youtube were banned from 2007 until early February 2011, and where internet and electricity are scarce, this is a significant number. Syria has been on Reporters Without Borders’ Internet enemies list since the list was established in 2006.

In addition to offices in Daraa, Damascus, Suweida and Qamishli, another will soon be opened in Aleppo, Merei said.

‘’All of the ten women who work for us inside get a regular salary of 200 dollars,’’ she explained, ‘’and are responsible for distributing the copies as well as bringing women together for meetings and similar initiatives.’’

The copies are given out at markets and local councils, and in at least one location, noted Merei, the women have a system to recirculate the limited copies once they have finished with them.

Reporters Without Borders has held two workshops for the magazine, in April and September of this year, and offered to donate equipment to the magazine, but ‘’ we had basic equipment – regular printers, computers’’ from an initial investment made by Mallak,  she said.

‘’But what we really needed was paper and ink, to get the magazine to as many women as possible. And so RSF made an exception and offered us that, instead.’’

The goal, she said, is to ‘’help Syrian women regain confidence in themselves.’’

A confidence undermined by the war and by the use of ‘religion’ to control women in Islamist areas which, when she last went to them earlier this year, ‘’seemed like the country had gone back to the Stone Ages.”

‘’I am a Sunni Muslim but the Islam there is not like any I know.’’

‘’One of the major problems is that Syria’s intelligentsia are all either in jail, abroad or dead,’’ one Syrian, who has lived most of his life abroad but came back recently to help try to set up university classes in opposition-held Aleppo, told IPS. ‘’There is almost no one to structure anything, no one to put forward ideas.’’

This is what the magazine and it correlated activities are trying to address, as well, Merei said. ‘’We are trying to give Syrians the knowledge they are going to need in the future,’’ she said.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Ebola and ISIS: A Learning Exchange Between U.N. and Faith-based Organisationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 14:31:05 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137746 Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Azza Karam
NEW YORK, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The simultaneity presented by the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus on one hand and militant barbarism ostensibly in the name of Islam on the other present the international development community – particularly the United Nations and international NGOs – with challenges, as well as opportunities.

At first sight, the two are unrelated phenomena. One appears to be largely focused on the collapse of health services in three countries, and to a lesser extent, on economic and political ramifications thereof.ISIS claims religion in its very name, ethos and gruesome actions. Can the international humanitarian and development worlds afford to continue to ignore religious dynamics – precisely because of the extent to which their actions challenge human rights-based actions?

The other, i.e., ISIS/ISIL/IS, appears to be a complex basket of geopolitical conflagrations involving a violently militant political Islam, weak governance dynamics, botched uprisings, transnational youth disaffection, arms proliferation — all to name but a few.

So what is the connection and why is this relevant to international development and humanitarian engagement?

In a Strategic Learning Exchange organised by several United Nations bodies, and attended by U.N. development and humanitarian staff, and their counterparts from a number of international faith-based development NGOs, which took place in Turin, Italy last week, the confluence of these challenges was tackled head-on.

The U.N. and faith-based NGO staff present work both in their headquarter organisations as well as on the ground in countries in Africa, Asia, and the Arab region.

In both sets of cases, there are realties of overstretched service providers seeking to respond, in real time, to rising death tolls, collapsing state-run services, and the actual inability to deliver basic necessities to communities struggling to stay alive because of diverse, but nevertheless man-made, barriers.

Some of these are run by those carrying arms and demarcating territories as off limits while those within them are imprisoned, tortured, killed, terrorized, and starved. Other barriers are made of communities hiding their ill and their dead, distrusting and fearing those seeking to help, and anguished over the loss not just of loved ones, but also of care-takers, sources of income, and means of protection.

But there are other barriers which the last few weeks and months have revealed as well, some of which present long-term challenges to institutional and organisational cultures, as well as to the entire ethos of international humanitarianism and development as we know it today.

The response to the Ebola virus, first and foremost, focused on the medical aspects – which was/is urgent and unquestionable.

But it took months before international aid workers realised one of many tipping points in the equation of death and disease transmission: that burial methods were key, and that even though there are manuals which seek to regulate those methods so as to ensure medical safety, there was relatively less attention paid to the combined matter of values, dignity and local cultural practices in such crisis contexts.

Burying the dead in a community touches the very belief systems which give value and meaning to life. How those infected with Ebola were buried had to be tackled in a way that bridged the very legitimate medical health concerns, but also enabled the family and community members to go on living – with some shred of meaningfulness to their already traumatised selves – while not getting infected.

When this particular dilemma was noted, faith leaders have been hastily assembled to advise on burial methods which bridge dignity with safety in these particular circumstances. But the broader and more long-term roles of ‘sensitising’ and bridging the medical-cultural gap between international aid workers, local medical personnel and over-wrought communities have yet to be worked out.

And the opportunity to address this medical-cultural gap (which is not new to development or humanitarian work) extends beyond burials of the dead and medical care for the living, to providing psycho-social support, and ensuring economic livelihoods. In these areas, too, faith-based NGOs have roles to play.

The militancy of ISIS and the repercussions of the war currently being waged both with and against them presents a similar set of cultural challenges to national and international actors.

This cultural feature was reiterated with cases from the same Arab region involving Hizbullah, Hamas, and now ISIS. How to navigate practical roadblocks controlled by parties you are not supposed to be talking to as a matter of principle, and who question the very legitimacy of your mandate, as a matter of practice – precisely because it does not ‘do religion’ and is part of a ‘Western secular agenda’?

Yes, there are manuals and protocols and procedures governing the provision of services and rules of engagement – in compliance with international human rights obligations. Yet, some hard questions are now glaring: should any form of ‘dialogue’ or outreach be possible between those who speak human rights law, and those who wish to speak only of “God’s laws”?

Are there lessons to be learned from prior engagement with (now relatively more mainstream) Hizbullah and Hamas, which may have resulted in a different trajectory for the engagement with ISIS today, perhaps?

Boko Haram’s actions in Nigeria and al-Qaeda’s presence (and elimination of Bin Laden) in Afghanistan have highlighted a link between religious dogma and critical health implications. Unlike with Ebola however, a possible role for faith leaders – and other faith-based humanitarian and development actors – has not been solicited. At least, not openly so.

And yet, could these roles shed some light on the particular ability of some religious actors to maneuver within humanitarian emergencies in these specific circumstances?

Could a clearer appreciation of the potential value-added of faith-based interventions – which have to be distinguished from those of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc. – increase understanding of and dealing with a world view that is costing lives, now and in the future?

ISIS claims religion in its very name, ethos and gruesome actions. Can the international humanitarian and development worlds afford to continue to ignore religious dynamics – precisely because of the extent to which their actions challenge human rights-based actions?

And if the international community makes a choice to deal with any religious overtones – and is not capacitated in its current frameworks to do so – whose assistance will be needed to call upon, in which fora and with what means?

There are answers to some of these questions already percolating in several policy-making corridors, inherent in the experience of many cadres working with faith-based/ faith-inspired development NGOs, and academics who have devoted decades of research.

What was clear from the discussions in Turin, and other roundtables on religion and development, is that these questions have to be posed, because the answers belie multiple opportunities.

All opinions expressed belong to the author, and are not representative or descriptive of the positions of any organisation, Member State, Board, staff member or territorial entity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Disciples of John the Baptist also flee ISIShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/disciples-of-john-the-baptist-also-flee-isis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=disciples-of-john-the-baptist-also-flee-isis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/disciples-of-john-the-baptist-also-flee-isis/#comments Sat, 08 Nov 2014 09:20:50 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137659 One of the ancient yet vanishing Mandaean rituals in Baghdad, at the banks of the Tigris river. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

One of the ancient yet vanishing Mandaean rituals in Baghdad, at the banks of the Tigris river. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KIRKUK, Iraq, Nov 8 2014 (IPS)

“Going  back home? That would be suicide. The Islamists would cut our throats straight away,” says Khalil Hafif Ismam. The fear of this Mandaean refugee sums up that of one of the oldest yet most decimated communities in Mesopotamia.

“We had our house and two jewellery shops back in Baiji – 230 km north of Baghdad – but when ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] took over the area in June we had to leave for sheer survival,” recalls Khalil Ismam from the Mandaean Council compound in Kirkuk, 100 km east of Baiji. That is where he shares a roof with the family of his brother Sami, and the mother of both.

The Ismams are Mandaeans, followers of a religion that experts have tracked back 400 years before Christ, and which consider John the Baptist as their prophet. Accordingly, their main ritual, baptism, has taken place in the same spots on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates for almost two millennia.

In the sixteenth century, Portuguese Jesuit missionaries attempted to convert them to Christianity in Basra (southern Iraq). Young Mandaeans were sent, often abducted, to evangelise far-flung Portuguese colonies such as today´s Sri Lanka. They were called the “Christians of St. John”, although Mandaeans solidly dissociate themselves from Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The Ismams, a Mandaean displaced family, pose at the entrance of the Mandaean Council in Kikruk. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The Ismams, a Mandaean displaced family, pose at the entrance of the Mandaean Council in Kikruk. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Khalil Ismam and his brother, both jewellers in their late thirties, also come from Iraq´s far south. Talking to IPS, they explain how they moved to Baghdad in the 1980s, “looking for a better life”. After the first Gulf War in 1991, they were forced to relocate again, this time to Baiji. Today they are in Kirkuk but they have no idea what tomorrow will bring.

“The council has told us that we cannot stay over a month, but we still don´t know where to go next because ISIS is already at the gates of the city,” says Sami.

Among the little they could take with them, the silversmiths did not forget their sekondola – a medallion engraved with a bee, a lion and a scorpion, all of them surrounded by a snake. According to Mandaean tradition, it should protect them from evil."The most striking thing about the killings of Mandaeans in Iraq is that it ranges from monetary gain by the extremists to the more sinister reason of ethnically cleansing the population of Iraq to get rid of the entire population of Mandaeans” – Suhaib Nashi, General Secretary of the Mandaean Association Union in Exile

Talismans are likely among the few things they can stick to while Mandaean ancient rituals begin to disappear as their priests are driven into exile in the best case scenario. In Kirkuk, the dry bed of the Khasa River – a tributary of the Tigris – is not an option so the increasingly rare ceremonies are held in a makeshift water well inside the complex.

“Every two or three weeks a genzibra – Mandaean priest – comes from Baghdad to conduct the ritual but the road is getting more dangerous with each passing day,” laments Khalil Ismam, standing by the pond.

According to a report released by Human Rights Watch in February 2011, 90 percent of Mandaeans have either died or left the country since the invasion by the U.S.-led forces in 2003.

From his residence in Baghdad, Sattar Hillo, spiritual leader of the Mandaeans worldwide, told IPS that his community is facing their “most critical moment” in history, adding that there are around 10,000 of them left in Iraq.

But that was his assessment a few months before the ISIS threat in the region. Today, the situation has worsened considerably, as Suhaib Nashi, General Secretary of the Mandaean Association Union in Exile, sums up:

“In the past two months, our community in Iraq is suffering a real genocide at the hands of radical Islamists, and not just by ISIS”. Nashi told IPS that the situation is equally worrying in southern areas, where the followers of this religion are easy victims of either Shiite militias or common criminals.

“The most striking thing about the killings of Mandaeans in Iraq is that it ranges from monetary gain by the extremists to the more sinister reason of ethnically cleansing the population of Iraq to get rid of the entire population of Mandaeans,” denounces Nashi.

Seeking asylum

Khalima Mashmul, aged 39, is among the Mandaean refugees staying today at the local council. She tells IPS that she is originally from the south, but that she came to Kirkuk at the early age of 15, dragged by a forced population displacement campaign through which Saddam Hussein sought to alter the demographic balance of Kirkuk, where the Kurds are the majority.

Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen dispute this city which lies on top of one of the world’s largest oil reserves. What Mashmul has called “home” for nearly 25 years is still considered as one of the most dangerous spots in Iraq. And she knows it well.

“My husband is a police officer. He lost his right leg and four fingers of one hand after a bomb attack last June. Despite his injuries, they still force him to keep working,” this mother of four tells IPS. Like the Ismams, they cannot stay indefinitely.

“We cannot go back home because my husband is threatened but we don´t have enough money to pay a rent,” laments Mashmul. Their only option, she adds, is that “Australia or any European country” grants them political asylum.

That is likely the dream of the majority in Iraq. In a report on the Iraq crisis released last month, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that 1.8 million Iraqis have been internally displaced since January this year. The report also adds that 600,000 of them need urgent help due to the imminent arrival of winter.

While many wait impatiently to move to a Western country, some others have opted for an easier relocation in neighbouring countries.

Chabar Imad Abid, one of the policemen – all of them Mandaean – managing security at the compound, tells IPS that he does not regret being left alone by his family, saying: “My wife and my five children are in Jordan and I will join them as soon as I can.”

“We have just been told that ISIS is gathering forces in Hawija – 50 km west of Kirkuk,” says the policeman, meaning that the offensive over Kirkuk is “imminent”.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Children in Aleppo Forced Underground to Go to Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/children-in-aleppo-forced-underground-to-go-to-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-in-aleppo-forced-underground-to-go-to-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/children-in-aleppo-forced-underground-to-go-to-school/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 11:05:25 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137618 Children in Aleppo forced underground to go to school, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Children in Aleppo forced underground to go to school, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Nov 6 2014 (IPS)

Winter has not yet hit this nearly besieged city, but children are already attending classes in winter coats and stocking hats.

Cold, damp underground education facilities are less exposed to regime barrel bombs and airstrikes but necessitate greater bundling to prevent common seasonal viruses from taking hold in a city from which most doctors have fled or been killed.

Only one perilous route leads out of the city and northwards to the Turkish border and better medical care, if required.A few of the children in the co-ed primary school seem shell-shocked, but many smile and laugh readily on the crowded wooden benches stuffed into the cramped, cold spaces.

On the way to an underground school IPS visited in late October, the children must necessarily pass by shop fronts blown out by airstrikes, a few remaining signs advertising what used to be clothing, hairdressers’ or wedding apparel shops with the ‘idolatrous’ images spray-painted black by the Islamic State (IS) when they briefly controlled the area, before being pushed out by rebel groups.

The jihadist group is still battling to retake terrain in the area, with the closest frontline against them being in Marea, an estimated 30 kilometres away from opposition-held areas of eastern Aleppo.

They must also witness the destruction wrought by the regime, which is trying to impose a total siege on opposition areas and which would need to take only a few kilometres more of terrain to do so.

Even if they only live a block away, the children are forced to walk by buildings entirely defaced by barrel bombs, floors hanging down precariously above the heads of fruit, vegetable and sweets street vendors. A pink toilet and part of a couch are still visibly wedged between the upper, mutilated and dangling levels of one such building on their way.

A few of the children in the co-ed primary school seem shell-shocked, but many smile and laugh readily on the crowded wooden benches stuffed into the cramped, cold spaces. Two boys at the front of one of the rooms sway back and forth with their arms around each other’s shoulders, singing boisterously.

Some of the rough walls have been painted sky blue or festooned with holiday-type decorations to ‘’brighten the children’s spirits’’, one of teachers says. A few comic-strip posters have been pasted in the corridor.

Children signing in underground school in Aleppo, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Children singing in underground school in Aleppo, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

The classes run from 9 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon during the week, one of the instructors – Zakra, a former fifth-year university student in engineering – told IPS.

Zakra, who now teaches mathematics, English and science at the school, said that she gets paid about 50 dollars a month. All of the school’s 15 teachers are women wearing all-covering black garments. Some cover their faces as well, some do not. IPS was told not to photograph them in any case, because many still have family members in regime areas.

‘’The school opened last year,’’ Zakra said, ‘’but then stopped between October 2013 and July 2014, as the barrel-bombing campaign made it too dangerous for parents to send their children to school,’’ even to underground ones.

The young teacher said that she plans on leaving at some point to continue her studies in Turkey but was not sure when, primarily due to economic reasons.

Older students are mostly left to their own devices, because this school and others like it only provide for those ages 6 to 13.

The head of the education department of the Aleppo City Council – who goes by the name of Mahmoud Al-Qudsi – told IPS that some 115 schools were still operating in the area, but that most of them were former ground-level flats, basements or other structures.

Only about 20 original school buildings were still operating, he said, from some 750 in the area prior to the uprising.

Syrian government forces have targeted educational and medical facilities in opposition areas throughout the conflict, and efforts are made to keep the locations secret.

Those preparing for the baccalaureate – the Syrian secondary school diploma – study at home, he said. They then come to centres on established dates to actually take the exams in late June and early July. Word is spread of where they will be held via the Aleppo Today television channel, which broadcasts out of Gaziantep, and posters are put up around the city to announce the times and places.

Turkey, Libya and France currently recognise the baccalaureate exams, Qudsi noted, but ‘’French universities only accepted five of our students last year.’’

Most of the curriculum remains that approved by the regime, but ‘nationalistic’ parts praising the Assad family have been cut and religion classes now teach that ‘’fighting against the Assad regime is a religious duty.’’

‘’We also want to change the curricula, but we can’t right now. We want it to be a Syrian-chosen one – one designed and wanted by all Syrians – but we can’t do that now, given the situation,’’ said Qudsi, ‘’and we obviously don’t have the money to print new books.’’

Most of the low salaries the teachers receive are necessarily funded by various international and private associations because the city council just does not have the funds, he noted.

The council, ‘’was only able to pay the equivalent of 70 dollars each for the entire academic year but the teachers were happy about it nonetheless, since it shows that we appreciate what they are doing.’’

Qudsi was also adamant that even the most fundamentalist parents had not interfered with their teaching.  ‘’We are all in this together. Their children attend our schools, too.’’

The barrel bombs stopped entirely for a number of days earlier this autumn after rebel forces closed in on the Aleppo air defence factories where the crude bombs made of scrap metal and explosives are assembled by regime forces. The bombing has since resumed following regime gains.

On arriving at the scene of one such attack in late October, IPS saw a body pulled from the rubble by the civil defence forces before they rushed with flashlights around the block to get to the other side of the collapsed building, where three young children had been trapped underneath the rubble. All were later found dead.

Families were crowded on the steps outside of other buildings down the street, and flashlight beams illuminated the faces of clutches of frightened children, an adult or two nearby in the dust raised by the concrete slabs brought down in the impact.

The schools at least give the children a chance to focus on something other than the destruction and death surrounding them, Qudsi told IPS, and ‘’are the only chance of Syria having any future at all.’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: The Irresistible Attraction of Radical Islamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-the-irresistible-attraction-of-radical-islam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-irresistible-attraction-of-radical-islam http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-the-irresistible-attraction-of-radical-islam/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 09:02:15 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137541

In this column, Roberto Savio – founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News – offers four historical reasons for jihadism to understand how the anger and frustration now all over the Muslim world leads to attraction to the Islamic State (IS) in poor sectors, and argues that disaffected Westerners who feel rejected by the society they live are also joining Islam as a radical change to their lives, and armed struggle as a way to be part of a tidal change.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Nov 3 2014 (IPS)

The Oct. 23 attack on the Canadian Parliament building by a Canadian who had converted to Islam just a month earlier should create some interest in why an increasing number of young people are willing to sacrifice their lives for a radical view of Islam. 

Until now, this was dismissed as fanaticism, but when you have over 2,000 people who blow themselves up, it is time to look to this growing reality and put stereotypes to the side.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

It is worth noting that there are a growing number of voices arguing that the Muslim world and its values are intrinsically against the West. Well, basic data do not support that theory, even although it is being used by all xenophobic parties which have sprung up everywhere in Europe.

Let us recall that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, with Indonesia the world’s largest Muslim country followed by India. The entire Middle East-North Africa region has 317 million, compared with 344 million in Pakistan and India alone. There are 3.4 million Muslims in the United States and 43.4 million in Europe, making perhaps one jihadist for every 100,000 Muslims.

There are four historical reasons for jihadism that are easily forgotten.“Unemployment is a great habitat for frustration with its lack of perspective on a future, especially when you have no participation and no voice in the political system ... And the fact that the Arab Spring did not bring any tangible change in economic terms has exacerbated frustration into rage or resignation”

First of all, all the Arab countries are artificial. In May 1916, Monsieur Picot for France and Lord Sykes for Britain met and agreed on a secret treaty, with the support of the Russian Empire and the Italian Kingdom, on how to carve up the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

Thus the Arab countries of today were born as the result of a division by France and Britain with no consideration for ethnic and religious realities or for history. A few of those countries, like Egypt, had an historical identity, but countries like  Iraq, Arabia Saudi, Jordan, or even the Emirates lacked even that.

It is worth remembering that the Kurdish issue of 30 million people divided among four countries was created by European powers.

As a consequence, the second reason. The colonial powers installed kings and sheiks in the countries that they created. To run these artificial countries, strong hands were required. So, from the very beginning, there was a total lack of participation of the people, with a political system which was totally out of sync with the process of democracy which was happening in Europe.

With a European blessing, these countries were frozen in feudal times.

As for the third reason, the European powers never made any investment in industrial development, or real development. The exploitation of petrol was in the hands of foreign companies and only after the end of the Second World War, and the ensuing process of decolonisation, did oil revenues really come into local hands.

When the colonial powers left, the Arab countries had no modern political system, no modern infrastructure, no local management. When Italy left Libya (it did not know that there was petrol), there were only three Libyans with university degree.

Finally, the fourth reason, which is closer to our days. In states which did not provide education and health for their citizens, Muslim piety took on the task of providing what the state was not. So large networks of religious schools and hospital were created, and when elections were finally permitted, these became the basis for legitimacy and the vote for Muslim parties.

This is why, just taking the example of two important countries, Islamist parties won in Egypt and Algeria, and how with the acquiescence of the West, military coups were the only resort to stop them.

This compression of so many decades into a few lines is of course superficial and leaves out many other issues. But this brutally abridged historical process is useful for understanding how anger and frustration is now all over the Muslim world, and how this leads to attraction to the Islamic State (IS) in poor sectors.

We should not forget that this historical background, even if remote for young people, is kept alive by Israel’s domination of the Palestinian people. The blind support of the West, especially of the United States, for Israel is seen by Arabs as a permanent humiliation. The July-August bombing of Gaza, with just some noises of protest from the West but no real action, is for the Arab world clear proof that the intention is to keep Arabs down and seek alliances only with corrupt and delegitimised rulers who should be swept away.

Not many decades ago, a modernised school system started to produce local cadres, with many at university level. But the lack of political modernisation, combined with the lack of economic development, has led to a generation of disaffected and educated young people, who made their voices heard during what was called the Arab Spring.

But that was an outburst, which did not lead to the creation of a vibrant civil society or real grassroots movements. The only grassroots movement remains the Muslim network of mosques, religious schools and assistance structures.

Besides, there are no modern political parties in Arab countries – this is the difference with the large Muslim countries of Asia, like Indonesia and Malaysia, with Pakistan half way between.

Unemployment is a great habitat for frustration with its lack of perspective on a future, especially when you have no participation and no voice in the political system. Rich countries, like Saudi Arabia, can buy people’s allegiance by offering them a generous subsidy system, but other countries cannot. And the fact that the Arab Spring did not bring any tangible change in economic terms has exacerbated frustration into rage or resignation.

It is highly instructive to read David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times in Tunisia ( from where the majority of jihadists come), Steven Erlanger, also of the New York Times, in London (on the phenomenon of women joining the ranks of IS as fighters or as the wives of fighters) or Ana Carbajasa from Melilla, the Spanish enclave in Morocco (onIslam in Melilla and the radicalisation of women). Few newspapers have given a voice to young Arabs, despite the need to understand them.

Kirkpatrick, Erlanger and Carbajasa found that, for many, the Islamic State has an image of historical revenge against the past, a place free from corruption, It is a beacon for the many young people who  have no way to study or find a job, and have nothing to lose.

Those interviewed declared that to join the radical movement – in the Middle East, in Paris or in Manchester – is to become part of an international moral elite, of a global and magnetic movement. It means having a life project and passing from frustrated anonymity to glorious recognition.

What is creating this mobilisation is that IS is a state, not a secret organisation like Al-Qaeda. And its unprecedented use of social media is attracting hundreds of new recruits every week, who feel that they can escape from their daily frustrations to enter a world of dignity and fairness.

Ahmed, a young Tunisian supporter of the Islamic State who did not want to give his family name for fear of the police, told the New York Times: ”The Islamic State is a true caliphate, a system that is fair and just, where you don’t have to follow somebody orders because he is rich or powerful. It is action, not theory, and it will topple the whole game”.

Another Tunisian, 28-year-old Mourad, with a master’s degree in technology but unemployed, called the Islamic State the only hope for “social justice”, because it would absorb the oil rich monarchies and redistribute their wealth. He said: “It is the only way to give people back their true rights, by giving the natural resources back to the people. It is an obligation for every Muslim.

This dream of a different Muslim world of identifying with the fight to get there finds an easy echo in the European ghettos where a large proportion of the young unemployed is Arab.  We should not forget the Parisian banlieu violence of 2005 or the riots in Birmingham, England, in the same year.

Meanwhile, the French police estimate that there are now at least 1,200 French citizens in the IS, and the British police estimate an equivalent number of British citizens. Those numbers will grow, as long ISIS can show in its efficient social media campaign that it is a successful reality.

So now we have the phenomenon of disaffected Westerners who have drifted away because they feel rejected by the society they live in and are joining Islam, as a radical change to their lives, and the armed struggle as a way to be part of a tidal change.

In their time, European anarchists were not drifters – they were convinced that to have a new world of social justice and human dignity, it was necessary to destroy the present one – and they were part of a very large political movement.

If some in Europe were able to a dream with violence as a necessary instrument, why can the Muslim world not have a similar dream, with much more justification? The attraction of radical Islam is destined to continue, especially if the Islamic State is destroyed by the West. (END/IPS COUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Growing Up Among the Deadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/growing-up-among-the-dead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-up-among-the-dead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/growing-up-among-the-dead/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 07:53:10 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137536 Ali Khalil and his son, Diar, pose by the coffins they have just arranged  for burial. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Ali Khalil and his son, Diar, pose by the coffins they have just arranged for burial. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
SEREKANIYE, Syria, Nov 3 2014 (IPS)

The walls of the Association for the Martyrs of Serekaniye are covered with the portraits of those fallen in combat in this northern Syrian town. Ali Khalil has buried everyone and each of them with the help of Diar, his 13-year-old son.

Inside this building west of Serekaniye, 680 kilometres northeast of Damascus, Khalil invites IPS to hear some of the stories behind the myriad of pictures. The first one is that of his brother, Abid.

“He dreamed of being a journalist but he was hit by a sniper in November 2012. He was the first one I buried, and I have done the same with the rest ever since,” recalls this former merchant in his late thirties, before resuming his account.

“These three arrived completely charred; this one was beheaded, the same as those two further up” … Khalil points with his finger at just half a dozen among more than a hundred portraits staring at infinity.“5.5 million children have been directly affected by the war [in Syria], one in ten has become a refugee in a neighbouring country and around 8,000 of the latter crossed the border without their parents” – UNICEF

It was precisely the death of his brother which led him to set up this committee to support the families of the deceased. He is one of the ten members in charge.

“Other than arranging the burial, we assist families with money, food or blankets for the winter,” explains Khalil. The aid, he adds, comes from the Kurdish provisional government in northern Syria

After the uprising of 2011 against the Syrian government, the country’s Kurds opted for a neutrality that has forced them into clashes with both government and opposition forces.

In July 2012 they took over the areas where they form a majority, in Syria’s north. Today they rule over three enclaves in the north: Afrin, Jazeera and Kobani, the latter being known worldwide for the brutal and still on-going six-week siege at the hands of the Islamic State.

Redur Xelil, spokesman for the YPG (Kurdish acronym for People’s Protection Units), the militia defending the territory, told IPS that after Kobani, the battle in Serekaniye has been the bloodiest front for the Kurds in Syria.

A burial in Serekaniye for fighters fallen in combat against ISIS. Credit: Qadir Agid

A burial in Serekaniye for fighters fallen in combat against ISIS. Credit: Qadir Agid

Mahmud Rashid, 37, also volunteers at the martyrs´ house. He has two sisters and nine brothers, “all of them fighting, including a 60-year-old one.” He adds, however, that one of them, Brahim, fell into the hands of the Islamic State five months ago, and that they have had no news from him ever since.

“His wife showed up four days ago to get help. We handed her clothes for her seven children, blankets and 10,000 Syrian pounds [about 48 euros],” Rashid told IPS.

“I will be a soldier”

The conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the truck carrying the last two coffins commissioned by the association. After they are taken into the room, Khalil and his son start to wrap them in the regular red cloth, to which they will add the yellow banner of the YPG and a crown of plastic flowers.

They proceed with the precision conferred by a two-year routine so it barely takes them more than ten minutes. Shrouding the bodies, Khalil explains, is “much more laborious.” But he´s not alone.

“Diar helps me with everything and does whatever is needed. We are hand in glove,” the volunteer explains proudly, posing his hand over his son’s shoulders. Khalil has another son, Rojdar, who is 11 but cannot join them because he suffers from chronic hepatitis and never leaves the house.

In a report on the impact of three years of war on the health of Syria’s children released this year, Save the Children warns of the serious deterioration of sanitary conditions in the country. According to Save the Children, 60 percent of hospitals in the country have been destroyed and the production of drugs has decreased by 70 percent.

To these figures has to be added the fact that half of the doctors in the country have left. Of the 2,500 that a city like Aleppo needs, only 36 remain, says Save the Children. With representation in 120 countries, it is calling for “urgent action” so that children receive basic vaccination.

Meanwhile, it is far from easy to get a word from Diar. “Why don´t you want to talk now,” Khalil asks his son. “Tell him how much you loved your uncle; tell him you would spend the day together at the Internet café.”

Diar admits he has not much to do other than helping his father. “A majority of the children have left the city and the few remaining don´t dare to leave home because of the fighting,” explains the boy, without looking up from the ground.

For those who left, reality is far from bearable either. As noted by UNICEF in its 2014 report titled Under Siege: The devastating impact on children of three years of conflict in Syria, 5.5 million children have been directly affected by the war, one in ten has become a refugee in a neighbouring country and around 8,000 of the latter crossed the border without their parents.

Other than the most visible effects, the psychological sequels are equally devastating: “Many Syrian children are in pure survival mode”, says UNICEF child protection specialist Jane MacPhail, who spends her days working with child refugees in Jordan. “They have seen the most terrible things and forget normal social and emotional responses.”

“Tell the journalist what you used to say during the days when the shelling lasted day and night: ‘You can throw as many bombs as you want but we will never leave’,” Khalil insists with his son, while the boy concentrates on carefully centring the crown of flowers on the second coffin.

Diar stands up only to say that he will join the ranks of the YPG as soon as he is 18. The war in Syria may be over after five years but that does not seem to matter to him.

“I will be a soldier,” Diar repeats, with his eyes still fixed on the ground. Until then, he says, he will help his father.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Rivalry Between Sunnis and Shiites Has Deep Rootshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-rivalry-between-sunnis-and-shiites-has-deep-roots/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-rivalry-between-sunnis-and-shiites-has-deep-roots http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-rivalry-between-sunnis-and-shiites-has-deep-roots/#comments Sun, 02 Nov 2014 08:59:04 +0000 Farhang Jahanpour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137529

In this column, Farhang Jahanpour – former professor and Dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan, who has taught for 28 years in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford – traces the current rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites back to the Safavid dynasty which started at the beginning of the 16th century and ruled large parts of today’s Middle East and western Asia.

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Nov 2 2014 (IPS)

When  the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) suddenly emerged in Iraq, it declared as one of its first targets the Shiites and what it called the Safavids. The Safavid dynasty (1501-1736) was one of the most powerful Iranian dynasties after the Islamic conquest. 

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

At its height, the Safavid dynasty ruled an area nearly twice the size of modern Iran, including large parts of modern Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, eastern parts of Turkey and Syria, and large areas of western Afghanistan and Baluchestan, North Caucasus, as well as parts of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

However, what most irks Sunni jihadists is the fact that the Safavids made the Twelver school of Shi’ism the official religion of Iran, something that has continued to the present day.

The interesting point is that the Safavid dynasty had its origin in a Sunni Sufi order, but at some point they converted to Shi’ism and then used their new zeal as a way of subduing most of Iran.

The zeal of the Safavids was partly due to the fact that they were fighting against the Sunni Ottoman Empire, and therefore their adherence to Shi’ism was mainly political in order to set them apart from the Ottomans who also carried the title of Sunni Caliphs. The Safavids made their capital Isfahan into one of the most beautiful cities in Iran and the Middle East as a whole.

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-11) laid the foundations of modern Iran, with a constitutional monarchy. The two Pahlavi kings (1925-1979), while ruling as absolute monarchs, were militantly secular and tried to modernise Iran and turn it into a Western-style country.“One of the most important concepts set forth by the Sixth Shi’a Imam, Ja'far al Sadiq, was the separation of religion and politics. He conceded that the Caliphs possessed temporal power, but he argued that the Imams were spiritual teachers of society, and their inability to seize power should not be regarded as a sign of failure”

However, not only did the 1979 Islamic revolution end that period of secular reforms, but it also put an end to a 2,600 year-old Iranian monarchy, and replaced it with a clerical regime. What makes the Islamic revolution unique is that for the first time in the history of Iran, and indeed in the history of Islam, it brought clerics to power.

Although Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called his revolution of 1979 an Islamic revolution, in reality it was a Shi’a revolution and it derived its legitimacy from the Shi’a concept of the Imamate.

According to the Shiites, the true succession to Prophet Muhammad belonged not to the Orthodox Caliphs, but to the Shi’a Imams, starting from the first Imam, Ali Ibn Abi Talib, and ending with the 12th Imam who allegedly went into hiding and who would reappear in the End Times to establish the reign of justice in the world.

After Imam Ali, who was assassinated by a member of the fanatical breakaway group, the Khawarij, his oldest son Imam Hasan decided not to challenge Mu’awiyya I who had established the Umayyad Caliphate. However, after Hassan’s death in 669, his younger brother Hussein rebelled against Mu’awiyya’s son Yazid.

In a battle against Yazid’s forces in Karbala, Imam Hussein was martyred on Oct, 10, 680, an event that is still marked with great sadness and self-flagellation by Shiites throughout the world.

After Imam Hussein’s martyrdom, the rest of the Shi’a Imams led quietist lives, mainly acting as spiritual leaders of their followers, rather than challenging the Sunni rulers.

One of the most important concepts set forth by the Sixth Shi’a Imam, Ja’far al Sadiq, was the separation of religion and politics. He conceded that the Caliphs possessed temporal power, but he argued that the Imams were spiritual teachers of society, and their inability to seize power should not be regarded as a sign of failure.

This has been the interpretation of the role of the Imams – as opposed to the role of the Caliphs – by the vast majority of Shi’a scholars throughout the ages. However, not only did Ayatollah Khomeini reject monarchical rule, but he even replaced it with the rule of clerics.

Both Ayatollah Khomeini and the present Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei base their legitimacy on being the rightful representatives of the Hidden Imam until he returns. This is why the views of former President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad and his close friend Esfandiar Rahim Masha’i about the imminent return of the Hidden Imam caused such consternation among the leading clerics, because if the Hidden Imam were to return soon it would undercut the authority of the ruling clerics.

Thus started the birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran in February 1979, which continues to the present day. Initially, Ayatollah Khomeini declared that he wanted to export his revolution to the entire Muslim world, but being strongly Shi’a in nature and ideology the Iranian revolution was not very popular to the majority of Muslims who are Sunnis.

The devastating eight-year Iran-Iraq war waged by Saddam Hussein, which was massively supported by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, killed and wounded nearly a million Iranians and Iraqis. The bitter memories of that war still linger in the minds of the people in both countries.

Since 2003, when the U.S.-led coalition deposed Saddam Hussein and replaced him with a government led by the Shiites who form a majority of the Iraqi population, Saddam’s supporters in Iraq and the Persian Gulf littoral states have not forgiven the loss of power by the Sunnis. Saudi Arabia has refused to recognise the new Iraqi governments or to send an ambassador to Baghdad.

The glory of Iranian Islam was reflected in the Sufi literature written in Persian by great mystics such as Attar, Rumi, Hafiz and Sa’di who produced the most tolerant, the most profound and the most humane form of mysticism.

However, the Islamic Republic has been known for its narrow interpretation of Islam, a large number of executions, stoning women to death, lashings and other inhumane practices. Its dogmatic adherence to Shi’a Islam has not helped either Iran or the cause of Islam in the world.

The present ISIS uprising, with the assistance of tens of thousands of former Ba’thist officers and soldiers in Saddam’s army that Paul Bremer, the U.S. Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, fired because they were Baathists, is a kind of violent revenge against the Iraqi Shiites and ultimately against Iran for what is regarded as the loss of Sunni rule and Iran’s growing influence in Iraq. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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OPINION: The Islamic State’s Ideology Is Grounded in Saudi Educationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-islamic-states-ideology-is-grounded-in-saudi-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-islamic-states-ideology-is-grounded-in-saudi-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-islamic-states-ideology-is-grounded-in-saudi-education/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:20:49 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137510 Credit: MPH’s blog, Saudi-Season

Credit: MPH’s blog, Saudi-Season

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

According to an article published Oct. 21 on Al-Monitor, the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) has issued new regulations for the school systems under its control in Iraq and Syria. The announced purpose of the so-called guidelines, which carried the imprimatur of the group’s “Amir al-Mu’minin,” presumably leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is to “eradicate ignorance and disseminate Sharia sciences.”

Although the “guidelines” are extreme, controlling and regressive, some of the key elements in the IS educational programme are similar to what one finds in Saudi textbooks, especially those that are taught in Saudi public middle and high schools. The ideological foundations of Saudi public school education are based on Wahhabi-Salafi-Hanbali theology.Science experiments are allowed with the understanding that the doctrine of “Tawheed” or “Oneness” of God permeates the universe. God created everything and every creature. There is no “Big Bang” theory and no evolution of the human, animal, or plant species.

One key difference focuses on the nation-state. Whereas Saudi education accepts the Saudi and other Arab and Muslim states, with recognised boundaries and national ethos, IS rejects national boundaries within Dar al-Islam, or the Abode of Islam, and individual states. Instead, it calls for one Islamic State or a “Caliphate.”

The new guidelines call on teachers to emphasise creationism, reject Darwinism, eliminate music and the arts, teach history from a Sunni-Islamic perspective, discard modernity, and of course segregate the sexes.

Saudi textbooks

Much of IS’s educational “curriculum” finds its roots in Saudi textbooks, especially at the middle school and high school levels. Arabic, literature, history, civic education, cultural values, and norms of behaviour—whether in a home or societal setting—are all taught according to a particular interpretation of Sunni Islam.

The Wahhabi-Salafi-Hanbali interpretation also permeates religion or theology classes, especially those that focus on elements of Sharia, fiqh (jurisprudence), or the Hadith. The biological and physical sciences are taught from a pre-ordained creationist perspective, which rejects modernity in favour of traditionalism.

Science experiments are allowed with the understanding that the doctrine of “Tawheed” or “Oneness” of God permeates the universe. God created everything and every creature. There is no “Big Bang” theory and no evolution of the human, animal, or plant species.

Even the geography curriculum discusses the region from an Islamic perspective. For example, kids are taught that the “Zionists” have occupied Palestine illegally, and the Islamic umma one day must re-establish Muslim control over Jerusalem, the “Third Qibla” of Islam, to which Muslims turn to pray after Mecca and Medina. “Israel,” for example, does not appear on maps of the Arab world in Saudi geography textbooks.

The Saudi curriculum, much like what IS is urging Syrians and Iraqis under its control to teach and preach, imparts to the youth a narrow-minded, conservative, traditional worldview. It is intolerant of other religions and even of other sects in Islam.

Oftentimes, Shia Muslims are considered “apostates,” or “rejectionists,” and could be subject to discrimination and even death. The Shia in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are excluded from key government, defence, and national security positions.

The Saudi youth are socialised in public schools on the importance of Islam in the personal, familial, social, and national levels. Whenever Islam, as a faith and a territory, is threatened or invaded, Muslims have a duty to do jihad against the perceived “enemies” of Islam.

Saudi education espouses this ideology, so do al-Qaeda and IS. In the past three decades, Muslim youth have participated in large numbers in jihad across the Muslim world, from Afghanistan to Chechnya, and from the Balkans to Iraq and Syria.

The Saudi government participates in the anti-IS coalition, yet IS’s jihadist ideology resonates with Saudi educated youth. Their government talks about a possible peace with Israel should it withdraw to the 1967 borders, yet Saudi youth do not see Israel on the maps in their textbooks.

If the Saudi youth are taught about the duty of jihad in the face of a “war on Islam,” as Bin Ladin had preached for years, and view IS rightly or wrongly as the “defender” of Islam, they can’t understand why their government is fighting on the side of Islam’s “enemies.”

This is particularly poignant, especially since some Saudi clerics have strongly endorsed the type of educational curriculum that is currently being pushed by IS in Iraq and Syria.

Textbooks play a central role in educating and socialising Saudi youth and many of their teachers. Many Saudi grade school teachers do not have a college degree and rely on the textbook to guide them through the course. Those who are college graduates usually receive their degrees from teachers’ colleges, which teach a curriculum heavily imbued with Islamic studies and Arabic language, grammar, and literature.

The ministries of education and religious affairs, which are heavily staffed by Salafi Islamists, approve the curriculums and have the final say on what’s taught in schools.

Teachers are not allowed to stray away from the textbook or offer analytic judgments or opinions either on the material in the text or current issues that might relate to the subject under discussion. Both teaching and learning are done almost by rote memory. No critical thinking is allowed and no logical extrapolation is encouraged.

Teachers and students accept whatever interpretations are offered in the textbooks, especially if such an interpretation is attributed to the Koran, the Hadith, or Sharia. Such attributions and religious quotations permeate the textbooks regardless of the subject matter.

Policy implications

So what if the educational curriculum of IS tracks with Saudi education? Should the U.S. and other countries do anything about it, and can they?

Several years back, I briefed senior policymakers in the United States and other countries on the Saudi curriculum, the jihadist message it transmits to youth, and the radicalisation that was sure to follow. It was “actionable” intelligence in that Western diplomats could speak to Saudi leaders about a very specific problem, which they could address.

According to media reports, Saudi officials were amenable to review their textbooks with an eye toward softening the Islamist message. Unfortunately, not much was done.

Saudi clerics objected to any revisions of the textbooks on the grounds that non-Muslim outsiders were interfering with religious teachings in the kingdom. Some of them went even further to depict suggestions along these lines as a “conspiracy” against Islam. Western diplomats, who had pushed the issue, backed off.

Other interests in recent years—including Iran, Iraq, the aftermath of the Arab Spring, counterterrorism, commerce, oil, arming anti-Assad jihadists, and more recently, building a coalition against IS—have in all candor trumped Western interests in “reforming” Saudi textbooks.

I argued in previous articles that although IS is defeatable and containable, the ideological root causes must be dealt with. Otherwise, other Islamist terrorist organisations would rise on the ashes of IS.

The latest educational “guidelines” issued by the Islamic State are a stark example of what’s wrong with our strategic policy planning on the root causes of terrorism. Discussing Saudi textbooks is the first step toward “degrading and defeating” IS.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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Iraqi Christians Seek Shelter in Jordan after IS Threatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/iraqi-christians-seek-shelter-in-jordan-after-is-threats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraqi-christians-seek-shelter-in-jordan-after-is-threats http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/iraqi-christians-seek-shelter-in-jordan-after-is-threats/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:59:01 +0000 Abuqudairi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137502 Marvin Nafee, an Iraqi Christian who fled to Jordan to escape the Islamic State, prays for “the safe Mosul from ten years ago where everyone co-existed peacefully”. Credit: Areej Abuqudairi/IPS

Marvin Nafee, an Iraqi Christian who fled to Jordan to escape the Islamic State, prays for “the safe Mosul from ten years ago where everyone co-existed peacefully”. Credit: Areej Abuqudairi/IPS

By Areej Abuqudairi
AMMAN, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

Watching videos and pictures on social media of the advance of the Islamic State (IS) inside Syria made it all seem far from reality to Iraqi Marvin Nafee.

“We did not believe it,” said the 27-year-old, “it seemed so imaginary.”

Only months later, his home city Mosul fell to the IS in two hours and he and thousands of Christians had to flee. Marvin made his way to Jordan, along with his father, mother and two brothers. “The Middle East is no longer safe for us. As Christians we have been suffering since 2003 and always feared persecution” – a 60-year-old Iraqi refugee

“There is nothing like peace and safety,” he told IPS from the Latin Church in Marka neighbourhood in Amman, which he has been calling home for the past two months.

In July, the IS  issued an order telling Christians living in Mosul to either convert to Islam, pay tax, or give up their belongings and leave the city. Failure to do so would result in a death penalty, “as a last resort”.

“Mosul is empty of Christians now. Everyone we know has left, except for a group of elderly in a care centre who were forced to convert to Islam,” Marvin said.

Since August, thousands of Iraqis have been streaming to Jordan through Erbil.

Caritas spokesperson Dana Shahin told IPS that 4,000 Iraqi Christians have approached the Caritas office in Jordan since August, and 2000 of them have been placed in churches.

Churches in the capital and the northern cities of Zarqa and Salt have been turned into temporary refugee camps, with families living in the yards and hallways.

In Maraka’s Latin Church, around 85 people share a 7×3 metre room. Children, elderly, men and women sleep on the floor with extra mattresses dividing the room to give them privacy. They use the cafeteria facilities to prepare meals using food items donated by Caritas.

“It was generous of Jordan to offer what it can, but this is not an ideal living situation for anyone,” says a 53-year-old woman, who gave her name as Um George.

Having been stripped of all of their possessions by the IS, most of them arrived in Jordan penniless and carrying little more than what they were wearing. “They [IS] searched everyone, including children, for money,” said Marvin’s 25-year-old brother Ihab. “We gave it all to them for the sake of safety,” he added.

The Islamic Charity Centre Society has provided pre-fabricated caravans to be used by families in the yards of churches, and a few families have been relocated to rental apartments shared by more than one family. Caritas provides basic shelter, food, medical treatment, and clothes. But a durable solution for these families is yet to be found.

“We are still evaluating their needs. Most of these families have fled with almost nothing,” said Andrew Harper, representative of the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Jordan. His organisation registered an average of 120 new Iraqis every day in August and September, with more than 60 percent citing fear of IS as their reason for fleeing Iraq.

Around 11,000 Iraqis have registered with UNHCR this year, bringing the total number of Iraqis in Jordan to 37,067.

Jordan has been home to thousands of Iraqi refugees since 2003, and many of these live in dire conditions, struggling to make ends meet as aid funds dry up.  

“Iraqi refugees remain on the margin of donors and institutions,” says Eman Ismaeel, manager of the Iraqi refugee programme at CARE International in Amman.

Unable to work legally, Iraqi families live in the poorest neighbourhoods of East Amman and Zarqa city. They struggle to pay rent and send their children to school.

The new influx of Iraqi refugees has introduced a new challenge for aid agencies operating in resource-poor Jordan, which is already home to more than 618,500 Syrian refugees.

“We have more refugees than we have ever had since the Second World War, but resources are dire,” said Harper. “We are challenged every day, but we hope to get through with international support,” he added.

Most of the newly-arrived Iraqi refugees interviewed by IPS said that they want to be resettled in Western countries. “The Middle East is no longer safe for us,” said 60-year-old Hanna (who declined to give her last name). “As Christians we have been suffering since 2003 and always feared persecution,” she added, noting that she and her daughters had been covering their hair to “avoid harassment”.

But resettlement “in reality is a long process and is based on vulnerability criteria,” said Harper, and thousands of Iraqis in Jordan have been waiting to be resettled in Jordan for years.

Back in Marka, Marvin points to a picture of his house back in Mosul stamped in red with “Property of the Islamic State” and the Arabic letter Nfor Nasara (Christians). A Muslim friend who is still in Mosul sent him the picture. More bad news followed from his friend, who emailed to say that Marvin’s house had been taken over by IS members.

Although he has lost hope that one day he and his family will be able see a glimpse of Iraq again, Marvin still has faith that prayers can bring peace back. “We always pray for the safe Mosul from ten years ago where everyone co-existed peacefully.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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