Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 02 Mar 2015 01:01:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Opinion: The Middle East and Perpetual Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:27:23 +0000 Leon Anderson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139398 Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Leon Anderson
PHILADELPHIA, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

There is a currently popular idea in Washington, D.C. that the United States ought to be doing more to quash the recently born Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), because if we don’t, they will send terrorists to plague our lives.

Incredibly, most of the decision makers and policy influencers in Washington also agree that America has no standing in the Middle East; that is, the U.S. has no natural influence based on territorial proximity, ethnicity, religion, culture, politics or shared history. In short, the only apparent reason for our presence in the Middle East is to support Israel.Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

To say that the United States is universally resented by everyone in the region is a massive understatement. That we are hated, despised, and the sworn enemies of many, is not difficult to understand. There is no moral ground under our feet in any religion. Stealing is universally condemned.

Abetting in the pillaging of Palestinians and their land is hard to justify. Yet we keep sending Israel military and financial aid, we support them in the United Nations, and we ignore the pleas of Israel’s neighbours to stop the spread of settlers on more stolen land.

There was once an old canard that we had to intervene in the Middle East to protect the flow of oil to Western Europe and America. But since the defeat of Nazi Germany in North Africa, that threat has never again existed. The fact is that the source of most of the wealth in the Middle East is oil, which is a commodity; there’s a lot of it all over the world.

If it’s not sold, the producer countries’ economies collapse, because that’s all they have on which to survive. They are, few of them in the Middle East, industrial economies, or mercantile economies. They are almost completely dependent on oil exports to Europe and Asia for their economic survival.

The oil crunch in 1973 that saw prices rise in the West and shortages grow was a temporary phenomenon produced by the Persian Gulf countries that was impossible to sustain. It was like a protest movement, a strike. It ended by costing OPEC a lot of money and by spurring a world-wide surge in exploration and drilling for more oil supplies.

Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

Therefore, we get down to the real reasons why the United States is involved militarily in the Middle East. One, we clearly don’t need their oil. A possible reason for being there is conquest: we covet Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan for ourselves. I think we can dismiss that notion as absurd and move on.

Then the question screams: Why are we there? Why are we continuing to give ISIS and other extremist, nationalistic groups a reason to hate us and want to destroy us?

The only answer is Israel. We have made Israel the artificial hegemonic power in the region against the will of everyone who is native to the area. We have lost all credibility among Arabs, all moral standing and nearly all hope of ever restoring either.

The United States has become a pariah in the Middle East, and the result is that we will be faced with endless war and terrorist attacks for ages to come unless we make a dramatic change of course in our foreign policy—namely, stop supporting an Israeli regime that will not make peace with its neighbours.

An organisation called the Jewish Voice for Peace has endorsed a call from Palestinians for a boycott of Israel, divestment of economic ties, and sanctions (on the order of those imposed on Iran and Russia) to encourage Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied since 1967.

The JVP urges Israel to dismantle the grotesque wall they have built to keep the Palestinians out of territory that was once theirs; to recognise Palestinians as citizens of Israel with equal rights; and to recognise the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties in Israel as stipulated in U.N . Resolution 194.

The argument that we are fighting ISIS because they threaten our democracy is absurdly infantile. That’s another of those political throwaways we hear because our leaders think we’re all simpletons who can’t figure things out for ourselves.

How on earth could 40,000 or 100,000 disaffected Arabs destroy American democracy? They are fighting us because we are there fighting them. Let us go home, and they would have no reason to fight us.

I suggest this avenue knowing full well that some may say that we must instill the spirit of democracy among these people or there will never be peace in the world. Excuse me, but there will never be peace in the world. We all thought that when Gorbachev gave up the Soviet Empire a new era of Russian democracy would ensue.

Instead, Russia got drunken and loutish leadership until a strongman, in the Russian historical context, Vladimir Putin, took over. Democracy cannot be exported. It has to be wanted and won in the light of local historical, religious, social and economic needs. If they want what we have, Arab women will find a way to get it.

In spite of all this more or less common knowledge, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, warns us that if we don’t crush Iran, if we don’t continue to support Israel and back their hegemony, the world will collapse in anarchy, and democracy will be lost to all of us. I ask you: how much of this nonsense are you willing to take? Someone has to begin a discussion on what the hell we’re doing in the Middle East—and do it soon.

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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Gazan Fishermen Dying to Survivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/gazan-fishermen-dying-to-survive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gazan-fishermen-dying-to-survive http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/gazan-fishermen-dying-to-survive/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 09:03:34 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139389 Fathi Said and Mustafa Jarboua, Gazan fishermen who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by Israel’s blockade. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Fathi Said and Mustafa Jarboua, Gazan fishermen who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by Israel’s blockade. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA CITY, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

The beautiful Mediterranean Sea laps gently onto the white sandy beach near Gaza City’s port. Fishing boats dot the beach as fishermen tend to their boats and fix their nets.

However, this scenic and peaceful setting belies a depressing reality. Gaza’s once thriving fishing industry has been decimated by Israel’s blockade of the coastal territory since 2007.

Approximately 3,600 Gazan fishermen, and their dependents, estimated at over 30,000 people, used to rely on fishing for a living.

Fish also provided a basic source of food for Gaza’s poverty-stricken population of over 1.5 million people.“Access restrictions imposed by Israel at land and sea continue to undermine the security of Palestinians and the agricultural sector in Gaza, which is the primary source of income for thousands of farmers and fishermen and their families” – U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

Following the blockade of the Gaza Strip, more than 90 percent of Gaza’s fishermen have had to depend on aid to survive.

Mustafa Jarboua, 55, the father of 10 children from Shati refugee camp, sits on the beach near his boat mending his nets. He has been a fisherman for 17 years and has witnessed the fishing industry’s decline since Israel first started placing restrictions on the fishermen in the early 2000s, culminating in the 2007 blockade.

“Before the blockade I used to earn about NIS 2000-3000 per month (500-750 dollars),” he told IPS.

“Now I’m lucky if I can earn NIS 500-600 (126 -152 dollars) a month because we can only fish a few days each week depending on when there are sufficient fish.

“The shoals closer to shore have been depleted with most of the better quality fish at least nine miles out to sea. I have to rely on money from the Ministry of Social Affairs to survive.

“I can’t afford meat and have to buy second-hand clothes for my children. Buying treats on holidays is no longer possible,” said Jarboua.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “in the late 1990s, annual catches from the Gaza Strip’s four fishing wharves located in Rafah, Khan Younis, Deir Al Balah and Gaza City averaged more than 3,500 tonnes and generated an annual income of over 10 million dollars.”

The already dire situation was exacerbated during last year’s July-August war with Israel, reducing the area in which the fishermen can fish to six nautical miles. After the Oslo agreement in 1993, the distance had been 20 nautical miles.

However, fishermen are still being shot at and killed and injured even within that 6-mile nautical zone.

Jarboua pointed to his boat and showed IPS the bullet holes where the Israeli navy had fired on him while out to sea.

Others fishermen have had their boats destroyed and been arrested, Jarboua’s friend Fathi Said, also from Shati camp, told IPS that his brother had been arrested by the Israelis several weeks ago while only five nautical miles out to sea.

Sami Al Quka, 35, from Shati had his hand blown off when the Israeli navy shot at him while he was within the approved fishing zone.

Brother Ibrahim Al Quka, 55, said he used to earn about 50-100 dollars a day before Israel’s blockade.

“Now on a good day I only earn about 30 dollars and then I can buy food for my family for a few days. After that I have to rely on the United Nations to survive,” Al Quka told IPS.

Oxfam GB confirms the fishermen’s claims: “Even when fishing within the six mile restriction, fishermen face being shot or arrested by the Israeli navy. In the first half of 2014, there were at least 177 incidents of naval fire against fishermen – nearly as many as in all of 2013.”

OCHA reported in its weekly Humanitarian Report in mid-February that “incidents involving Israeli forces opening fire into the Access Restricted Areas (ARAs) on land and at sea continued on a daily basis, with at least 17 such incidents reported during the week.”

“In at least two incidents,” said the report, “Israeli naval forces opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats reportedly sailing within the Israeli-declared six nautical mile fishing limit, forcing them ashore.

“Access restrictions imposed by Israel at land and sea continue to undermine the security of Palestinians and the agricultural sector in Gaza, which is the primary source of income for thousands of farmers and fishermen and their families.”

Gaza’s farmers are also unable to access their land near the borders with Israel which is imposing “security zones” of up to 1.5 km in some of Gaza’s most fertile land. Dozens of farmers have been shot and killed or injured after trying to reach their farms.

The Gaza Strip’s dense population is crammed into an area 6-12 km wide by 41 km in length.

Gaza’s struggling economy has been further battered by Israel’s almost complete ban on exports, including manufactured goods and agricultural products which formed a major part of its economy, and imports.

“Severe trade restrictions on both imports and exports have stifled the private sector, forcing several thousands of businesses to close in the past few years,” according to the ‘GAZA Detailed Needs Assessment (DNA) and Recovery Framework: Social Protection Sub-Sector‘ report produced by the Palestinian Government, European Union, World Bank and the United Nations.

“Since the economic blockade (which Egypt has now joined) was put in place in 2007, exports from Gaza have dropped by 97 per cent,” added the report. “Even companies that are still operating can only produce at high risk and with limited profit, due to elevated production costs, widespread power cuts and the almost complete ban on exports.”

“The basic needs of Gazans are not being met,” Arwa Mhanna from Oxfam told IPS. “Poverty is deepening, vital services have been affected and livelihoods crippled. The situation is moving towards more violence and further humanitarian tragedy.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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All-Out War in Libya Predicted without Further Peace Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/all-out-war-in-libya-predicted-without-further-peace-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=all-out-war-in-libya-predicted-without-further-peace-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/all-out-war-in-libya-predicted-without-further-peace-talks/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 21:28:46 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139386 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Libya is teetering on the edge of all-out war, with a brutal stalemate and misery for civilians predicted unless a recent minor diplomatic breakthrough can be built upon.

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a non-governmental organisation working to prevent and resolve conflict, warned Thursday of a “dramatic turning point” in the “deteriorating internal conflict,” with a descent into social radicalism predicted.

“The most likely medium-term prospect is not one side’s triumph, but that rival local warlords and radical groups will proliferate, what remains of state institutions will collapse… and hardship for ordinary Libyans will increase exponentially,” the ICG said in a report, ‘Libya: Getting Gevena Right.’

“Radical groups… will find fertile ground, while regional involvement – evidenced by retaliatory Egyptian airstrikes – will increase.”

The ICG called on parties to the conflict to continue negotiations commenced in Geneva in January, which ended with no resolution but a commitment to extend talks.

Claudia Gazzini, ICG’s Libya Senior Analyst, said any full-scale war would likely descend into stalemate.

“Libya is split between two sides claiming increasingly threadbare legitimacy, flirting with jihadi radicals and pursuing politics through militia war backed by foreign powers,” she said.

“[The] Tobruk and Tripoli authorities are equally matched, and cannot defeat each other. To save the country they must negotiate a national unity government.”

On Feb. 20, a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon said “a political solution to the current crisis must be found quickly to restore peace and stability in the country and confront terrorism.”

The conflict in Libya – between the elected government of Libya, based in Tobruk, and forces aligned to its opposition party, based in Tripoli – has been ongoing since May 2014. ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant) forces entered the conflict in October, taking control of areas in eastern Libya.

Reliable numbers of casualties have not been released. A U.N. Support Mission In Libya (UNSMIL) report in December 2014 stated only that “hundreds” had been killed in preceding months, including 450 people in Benghazi and 100 people in western Libya.

The website libyabodycount.org, which claims to assemble death tolls from media reports, states 2,825 people were killed in Libya in 2014, and 380 have been killed in 2015.

UNSMIL said in December at least 215,000 people have been displaced due to the conflict.

In January, representatives of the fighting factions met in Geneva for two rounds of talks. ICG said it was the first time since September 2014 such negotiations had taken place, with talks focusing on what form a Libyan unity government would take.

The ICG urged the U.N. to push for further talks, as well as to ask “regional actors who contribute to the conflict by providing arms or other military or political support – notably Chad, Egypt, Qatar, Sudan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates… to press their Libyan allies to negotiate in good faith in pursuit of a political settlement.”

Jean Marie Guehenno, president of ICG, said organising further negotiations was essential in staving off deterioration in the conflict.

“January’s UN achievement in bringing the Libyan sides together for national unity talks in Geneva offers a glimmer of hope. This breakthrough should encourage the UN Security Council to unite,” he said.

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Syria’s “Barrel Bombs” Cause Human Devastation, Says Rights Grouphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/syrias-barrel-bombs-cause-human-devastation-says-rights-group/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrias-barrel-bombs-cause-human-devastation-says-rights-group http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/syrias-barrel-bombs-cause-human-devastation-says-rights-group/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 22:18:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139328 A girl cries near a damaged car at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo's Dahret Awwad neighbourhood Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

A girl cries near a damaged car at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo's Dahret Awwad neighbourhood Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

The warring parties in the brutal four-year-old military conflict in Syria, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 civilians and triggered “the greatest refugee crisis in modern times,” continue to break every single pledge held out to the United Nations.

Despite Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s plea for a political rather than military solution to the country’s ongoing civil war, both the Syrian government and the multiple rebel forces continue to escalate the conflict with aerial attacks and artillery shelling, hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid.“Amid talk of a possible temporary cessation of strikes on Aleppo, the question is whether Russia and China will finally allow the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions to stop barrel bombs.” -- Nadim Houry

But the worst of it, says Human Rights Watch (HRW) in report released Tuesday, is the use of locally improvised deadly “barrel bombs.”

By examining satellite imagery, HRW said, it has identified at least 450 distinct major damage sites in 10 towns and villages held by rebel groups in Daraa and over 1,000 in Aleppo between February last year and January this year.

“These impact sites have damage signatures strongly consistent with the detonation of large, air-dropped munitions, including improvised barrel and conventional bombs dropped by helicopters. Damages that possibly result from the use of rockets, missiles, or fuel-air bombs are also likely in a number of instances,” the group said.

According to HRW, barrel bombs are unguided high explosive weapons that are cheaply made, locally produced, and typically constructed from large oil drums, gas cylinders, and water tanks, filled with high explosives and scrap metal to enhance fragmentation, and then dropped from helicopters usually flying at high altitude.

Asked if the explosives in the barrel bombs originate either from Russia or China, two strong political and military allies of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the United Nations Director of HRW Philippe Bolopion told IPS: “We are not in a position to say where the high explosive is coming from but barrel bombs are pretty primitive and made from commonly found materials.”

With the 15-member Security Council deadlocked over Syria, there is little or no hope that Russia and China, two members with veto powers, will ever relent or penalise the Assad regime despite several resolutions.

“We certainly hope they will stand by their own resolution and impose consequences on the regime for thumbing its nose at the Security Council,” Bolopion said.

Asked if protests by HRW and other human rights organisations will be an exercise in futility, he said: “Sadly, when thousands of civilians are being slaughtered, we have to continue to place the Security Council, and Russia and China in particular, in front of their responsibilities, no matter how futile it may sound.”

Nadim Houry, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said: “For a year, the Security Council has done nothing to stop Bashar al-Assad’s murderous air bombing campaign on rebel-held areas, which has terrorized, killed, and displaced civilians.

“Amid talk of a possible temporary cessation of strikes on Aleppo, the question is whether Russia and China will finally allow the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions to stop barrel bombs,” Houry said.

The Security Council is expected to meet Thursday for its next round of reporting on resolution 2139 of Feb. 22, 2014, which demanded that all parties to the conflict in Syria end the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons in populated areas.

In a statement released Tuesday, HRW said non-state armed groups have also conducted indiscriminate attacks, including with car bombs and explosive weapons in government held areas.

The Security Council should impose an arms embargo on the government as well as rebel groups implicated in widespread or systematic indiscriminate attacks, HRW said.

The government attacks have led to the death and injury of thousands of civilians in rebel-held territory, according to HRW researchers.

The Violations Documentation Center (VDC), a local monitoring group, has documented 609 civilian deaths, including 203 children and 117 women, in Daraa from aerial attacks between Feb. 22, 2014, and Feb. 19, 2015.

During the same period they have documented 2,576 civilian deaths in Aleppo governorate from aerial attacks, including 636 children and 317 women.

While deaths from aerial attacks are not exclusively from barrel bombs, residents from rebel-held territory in Daraa and Aleppo told HRW that barrel bombs account for a majority of air strikes.

Last week, Ban appealed to all parties to de-escalate the conflict in order to provide a reprieve for the long-suffering civilians of Syria. An immediate de-escalation is a much needed step towards a political solution to the conflict, he added

U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council last week that the Syrian government has committed to suspend all aerial attacks and artillery shelling over the entire city of Aleppo for a period of six weeks.

This is in order to allow the United Nations to implement a pilot project of unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid starting with one district in Aleppo and building incrementally to others.

Ban said Security Council resolution 2139 called for an end to the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas in Syria, including shelling and aerial bombardment, and expects the Syrian government to follow through on its commitment.

The secretary-general also appealed to all armed opposition groups in Aleppo to suspend their shelling of the city.

He pointed out that the last four years of war have led to the deaths of over 200,000 civilians, the greatest refugee crisis of modern times and created an environment in which extremist groups and terrorist organisations such as ISIL/Daesh flourish.

The secretary-general recalled Security Council resolutions 2170 and 2178 and stressed that there is no military solution to this conflict.

“This is a political conflict. Ending the killing, reversing the increasing fragmentation of Syria requires a political process, based on the full implementation of the Geneva Communique of 2012, that addresses the deep roots of the conflict and meets the aspirations of all Syrians,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Discrimination by Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-discrimination-by-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-discrimination-by-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-discrimination-by-law/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 17:02:19 +0000 Rana Allam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139302 For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Rana Allam
CAIRO, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

In November 2013, a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey ranked Egypt as the worst of 22 Arab states with regards to women’s rights.

Several people argued that any country strictly following Islamic laws should rank lower, because Egypt and many other Arab and Muslim countries are not strict in following Islamic Sharia (religious laws), like in cutting off the hand of a thief, for example. In Egypt, if you are a man, you can literally kill your wife and get away with it.

However, Egypt – along with most Muslim countries – incorporates a list of laws based on Islamic Sharia. Some of these are indisputable Sharia laws while others are based on individual interpretations, and both are indeed discriminatory.

Suffice to say that in the second highest ranking Arab state in the survey, Oman, women inherit 50 percent of what men do, a man can divorce his wife for any reason while a woman needs grounds to file for divorce, and there are no laws against female genital mutilation.

The starkest examples of sexist laws in Arab and Muslim countries come in the personal status laws.

Regardless of whether these laws are Islamic Sharia compliant or not, they are presented as such and thus are non-negotiable.

With the many interpretations of Islamic text, it falls on the legislators and the (so-called) Muslim scholars to enforce what laws they “understood” from the text. These laws should be revised if we are to enforce gender equality, here are some examples:

–          Polygamy is legal for men only.

–          A man can divorce his wife with no grounds and without going to court, while a woman has to have strong reasons for divorce, must convince a court of law of some ordeal about her marriage, and the judge may or may not grant her divorce. A new law introduced in Egypt in 2000, called Khula law where a woman can file for divorce on no grounds, but then she has to forfeit her financial rights and reimburse her husband the dowry (and any gifts) paid when contracting the marriage.

–          A woman inherits half what a man inherits.

–          In some Muslim countries, like the UAE, a woman’s testimony is half that of a man’s in court. In most Muslim countries, if a contract requires a certain number of witnesses, a woman is counted as “half” a man.

–          There is no set minimum age for marriage in Islam, so some countries like Sudan can marry off a 10-year-old girl, and in Bahrain, a 15-year-old, however, in Libya the minimum age is 20.

–          A Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman, but a Muslim woman is not granted the same right.

–          In most Muslim countries, spousal rape is not recognised in the laws.

–          Abortion is illegal unless there is risk to the mother’s life and even this has to be with the husband’s consent.

It is one thing to fight culture and an intimidating environment and another thing to have sexist laws, where even in a court of law, a woman has no equal rights. For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation, prevalent aggressions and complete impunity with regards to violence against women.

Amnesty International titled its latest briefing on the subject “Circles of Hell: domestic, public and state violence against women in Egypt.” Women in Egypt must not only fight such culture, but must also deal with discriminatory laws.

Muslim men have a unilateral and unconditional right to divorce, while women can only divorce by court action. A man need only say the words “I divorced you” and then register the divorce.

Actually, an Egyptian Muslim man may not even tell his wife he is divorcing her, he can register the divorce (regardless of her consent or attendance), and it is the duty of the registrar to “inform” her. On top of this, there is such a thing as a “revocable divorce” which means the husband has the right to revoke the divorce at his own accord during the waiting period and without having to sign another marriage contract.

Such a waiting period is only a woman’s burden. She has to remain unmarried for three months after she gets divorced, and such waiting period is nonexistent for men.

Adding insult to injury, Egypt has an “Obedience Law”. This law stipulates that a man may file an obedience complaint against his wife if she leaves the marital home without his permission.

The woman is this case has 30 days to file an objection detailing the legal grounds for “her failure to obey”, a judge may not be convinced of course. If she fails to file such objection, and does not return home, she is considered “deviant” and is denied her financial rights upon divorce – if she was ever granted one. Naturally, such proceedings delay her divorce lawsuit, and risk a just financial settlement.

Although legislators in Egypt have always cited Islamic Sharia when enforcing such strict personal status  laws, when it comes to adultery, Egyptian laws stray far from Islamic teachings and are outrageous.

The issue is such a taboo that no one even dares mentioning it. In Egypt, if you are a man, you can literally kill your wife and get away with it, if you catch her “red-handed” committing adultery.

Laws pertaining to the crime of adultery are an embodiment of sexism and discrimination:

–          A married woman would be charged with adultery if she commits the crime anywhere and with anyone. A married man would only be accused of adultery if he commits the crime in his marital house; otherwise there is no crime and no punishment.

–          The punishment for a married man (who committed the crime in his marital home) is imprisonment for six months, but women are given a sentence of two years in prison (regardless of where the crime took place).

–          If a married man commits adultery with a married woman in her marital house, he would merely be an accessory to the crime.

–          If both are unmarried, and the female is over 18, he receives no punishment, while she may face charges of prostitution.

–          If a married man catches his wife red-handed in the crime, and kills her and her partner, he does not face intentional murder charges or even manslaughter, he only gets a sentence as low as 24 hours. If a wife catches her husband red-handed and kills him, she immediately faces murder charges with its maximum sentence as the judge sees fit.

Not only do we have to fight taboos, sexist culture, violence on the streets and at home, gender-bias in every police station, court of law or place of business, but we also have a long way to go to at least have equality in the eyes of the law.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Negev Bedouin Resist Israeli Demolitions “To Show We Exist”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/negev-bedouin-resist-israeli-demolitions-to-show-we-exist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=negev-bedouin-resist-israeli-demolitions-to-show-we-exist http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/negev-bedouin-resist-israeli-demolitions-to-show-we-exist/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 09:07:18 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139270 Mariam Abu Madegham Al Turi sits with her niece in her family's tent in Al Araqib village in the Negev desert. The tent was built following the latest demolition of the village by Israeli government authorities on Jan. 14, 2015. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Mariam Abu Madegham Al Turi sits with her niece in her family's tent in Al Araqib village in the Negev desert. The tent was built following the latest demolition of the village by Israeli government authorities on Jan. 14, 2015. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
AL ARAQIB, Negev Desert, Israel, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

Lehavim Junction in the northern Negev in Israel has been the backdrop to protests against home demolitions in Bedouin localities for the past four and half years.

Every Sunday, inhabitants of the Bedouin village of Al Araqib and their supporters stand behind a large banner reading ‘Stop Demolishing Al Araqib’ in English, Arabic and Hebrew. To the rhythm of clapping hands, the younger ones shout slogans into the PA system, ‘Jews and Arabs can live together’, ‘Stop demolishing our homes’.

Last month, the ‘unrecognised’ village of Al Araqib was demolished for the eightieth time in four and half years. Despite the absence of a ruling adjudicating ownership of the lands of Al Araqib, the state is planting a forest on the Al-Turi Arab Bedouin tribe’s ancestral lands.“Planting a forest is not in my view a reasonable excuse to demolish a village. And neither is making room for a Jewish settlement. These are racist and discriminatory excuses” – Michal Rotem, Arab-Jewish NGO Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF)

“The newspapers here don’t write about Al Araqib,” Mariam Abu Madegham Al Turi, a young inhabitant of Al Araqib told IPS. “These weekly protests are a way to show that we exist. It is part of our sumoud (steadfastness), our resistance.”

Once in a while, a sympathetic driver passing the junction honks the horn in support, a sign of the niche interest that the situation of the Bedouin in the Negev still arouses in the wider Israeli public.

And yet according to a recent report titled ‘The House Demolition Policy in the Negev-Naqab’, published by the Arab-Jewish Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF) non-governmental organisation, the situation in Al Araqib is far from unique.

NCF advocates for civil equality in the Negev-Naqab and is the only NGO methodically documenting house demolitions affecting Bedouins. They counted 859 in the twelve-month period between July 2013 and June 2014

The level, it confirms, has remained virtually unchanged in the past four years and the high numbers “attest to the incompetence of the state in offering durable solutions” to the crisis affecting the region.

Since the Prawer Plan bill ‘to regulate Bedouin settlement’ was frozen at the end of 2013 following mass outcry from the Bedouin community, NCF claims that “in the absence of a legislated plan”, the government is using home demolitions as a policy to limit Bedouin land rights and still implement its vision of development for the Negev.

Naif Agele stands with his children and nephews by the ruins of his brother's house in an ‘unrecognised’ section of the township of Kuseife in the Negev desert. The house took one month to build and was demolished by government authorities in 10 minutes in March 2014. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Naif Agele stands with his children and nephews by the ruins of his brother’s house in an ‘unrecognised’ section of the township of Kuseife in the Negev desert. The house took one month to build and was demolished by government authorities in 10 minutes in March 2014. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Development for whom and at what cost is the question posed in the NCF report. “The state does not need this land for development,” Michal Rotem who co-authored the report, told IPS.

“They just want it clear,” she said. “Planting a forest is not in my view a reasonable excuse to demolish a village. And neither is making room for a Jewish settlement. These are racist and discriminatory excuses.”

Bedouins are indigenous to the Negev, are Israeli citizens and number roughly 220,000, or 30 percent of the region’s population. About 140,000 of them have been forcibly urbanised and live in seven failing townships planned by the government in the 1960s and 70s, as well as in ten ‘recognised’ villages.

The remaining 80,000 live in 40 localities that are not recognised by the state, do not appear on any map and are at constant risk of demolition, as is the case with Al Araqib.

As Rotem explained, these communities often pre-date the state of Israel but a policy of nationalisation of land turned their inhabitants into ‘invaders’ of state land. “Imagine,” she said, “a state came, legislated its new laws and declared all of the Bedouin community in the Negev criminals, that’s what happened.”

In the past forced urbanisation was offered as the only path to becoming ‘not criminals’, but today those who did urbanise have very little to show for what they gave up.

The NCF report reveals that 54 percent of all demolitions in the period assessed took place in ‘legal’ localities. This means that no provisions were made to accommodate the lifestyle or the natural growth of the Bedouin community, which has the highest fertility rate in Israel.

“This completely contradicts state plans,” Rotem told IPS. “First they tell Bedouins to live in recognised localities and then they go and demolish there too.”

Jalal Abo Bneah is a field coordinator with NCF. He lives in the ‘unrecognised’ village of Wadi Al Nam and knows all too well how these ‘contradictions’ affect people’s lives.   “For example,” he told IPS, “the government wants to move the 15,000 people of Wadi al Nam to the township of Segev Shalom. But there is barely enough space in the township for the people already living there. How is this going to work?”

Abu Bneah stressed that there is growing dissatisfaction amongst the Bedouin community with unilateral governmental plans that ignore their needs. “They show no respect for anyone. Not for the people in the recognised localities nor for the ones in the unrecognised villages. Where do they want us to go?” he asked.

Last October, the United Nations Human Rights Committee adopted a number of concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Israel. For example, it stressed that the state refrain from executing demolitions based on discriminatory planning policies and that it consult Bedouins on plans regarding their future.

Abo Bneah welcomes pressure from global actors but given the current right-wing political climate in Israel, he holds little hope that change will come soon.

In the meantime, to counteract state efforts to erase the Bedouin, NCF has launched a website that seeks to set the record straight regarding the true topography of the Negev. The ‘Arab Befouin Vilages in the Ngev-Naqab’ project puts all 40 ‘unrecognised’ villages on the map of Israel, something the state has so far refused to do.

The website allows visitors to learn basic facts about each village, such as date of establishment, number of inhabitants or distance from public services and to see photos of the homes, the nature or the inhabitants. The residents themselves will soon be providing more images, especially documenting demolitions

Just like the weekly demonstrations at Lehavim, the ‘Arab Bedouin Villages project’ helps make the Bedouin more visible, their experience of state power public and their narrative of the past known, but there is more work ahead says Abu Bneah.

“There is still a lot of ignorance out there, especially among the Jewish public,” he stressed. “They still think we took the lands of the state and that is not true.”

For Mariam and the others in Al Araqib, being told by their state that the Bedouin do not exist or that they are ‘criminal invaders’ only makes their commitment to sumoud stronger. “We are here and we are not going anywhere,” Mariam said. “This is our land and, until we live, we will stay.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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OPINION: U.S. and Middle East after the Islamic Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 16:38:31 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139262 Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Congress ponders President Barack Obama’s request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), U.S. policymakers must focus on the “morning after” before they embark on another potentially disastrous war in the Levant.

The president assured the nation at his press conference on February 11 that IS is on the verge of being contained, degraded, and defeated. If true, the United States and the West must address the future of the region in the wake of the collapse of IS to avoid the rise of another extremist threat and another “perfect storm” in the region.

The evidence so far that Washington will be more successful than during the Iraq war is not terribly encouraging.

The Iraq War Parallel

George Tenet, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in his book At the Center of the Storm that in September 2002 CIA analysts presented the Bush administration with an analytic paper titled “The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq.” The paper included “worst-case scenarios” of what could go wrong as a result of a US-led invasion of Iraq.

The paper, according to Tenet, outlined several negative consequences:

  • anarchy and the territorial breakup of Iraq
  • regime-threatening instability in key Arab states
  • deepening Islamic antipathy toward the United States that produced a surge of global terrorism against US interests

The Perfect Storm paper suggested several steps that the United States could take that might mitigate the impact of these potentially negative consequences. These included a serious attempt at solving some of the key regional conflicts and domestic economic and political issues that have plagued the region for decades.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration spent more time worrying about defeating Saddam’s army than focusing on what could follow Saddam’s demise. Ignoring the Perfect Storm paper, as the past decade has shown, was detrimental to U.S. interests, the security of the region, and the stability of some key Arab allies. The U.S. and the region now have to deal with these consequences—anarchy, destruction, and refugees—of the Bush administration’s refusal to act on those warnings."If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture"

The past decade also witnessed the resurgence of radical and terrorist groups, which happily filled the vacuum that ensued. U.S. credibility in the region plummeted as well.

When CIA analysts persisted in raising their concerns about a post-Saddam Iraq, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith dismissed the concerns as “persnickety.”

If the Obama administration wants to avoid the miscalculations of the previous administration about Iraq, it should make sure the land war against IS in Iraq and Syria does not become “enduring” and that the presence of US troops on the ground does not morph into an “occupation.”

Defeating IS might be the easy part. Devising a reasonably stable post-IS Levant will be more challenging because of the complexity of the issues involved. Before embarking on the next phase of combat, U.S. policymakers should have the courage and strategic vision to raise and answer several key questions.

  1. How will Sunni and Shia Muslims react to the re-entry of U.S. troops on the ground and to the likelihood that US military presence could extend beyond three years?

The “liberation” of Iraq that the Bush administration touted in March 2003 quickly turned into “occupation,” which precipitously engendered anger among the population. Iraqi Sunnis and Shia rose up against the US military. The insurgency that erupted attracted thousands of foreign jihadists from the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. Bloody sectarianism and vigilantism spread across Iraq as an unintended consequence of the invasion, and it still haunts the region today.

During the Iraq war, the Iraqi Sunni minority, which has ruled the country since its creation in the early 1920s, perceived the United States as backing the Shia majority at the expense of the Sunnis. They also saw the United States as supporting the sectarian policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, especially as he excluded Sunnis from senior government positions. This feeling of alienation pushed many Iraqi Sunnis to support the Islamic State.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to admit that an insurgency and a civil war were spreading across Iraq. By the time he admitted that both were happening, it became impossible to defend the “liberation” thesis to Iraqis and other Arabs and Muslims.

  1. If the U.S.-led ground war against IS extends to Syria, how will Washington reconcile its announced policy favouring Assad’s downfall with fighting alongside his forces, and how will the Arab public and leaders react to such perceived hypocrisy? 

It’s foolish to argue that the US-led war against IS in Syria is not indirectly benefiting the Assad regime. Assad claimed in a recent BBC interview that the coalition provides his regime with “information” about the fighting. Regardless of the veracity of his claim, Assad has enjoyed a breathing room and the freedom to pursue his opponents viciously and mercilessly, thanks to the US-led coalition’s laser-like focus on IS.

Sunni Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are already urging the Obama administration to increase substantially its military support of the anti-Assad mainstream opposition. These regimes, which are also fighting IS, argue that the United States could simultaneously fight IS and work toward toppling Assad.

If this situation continues and Assad stays in power while IS is being contained, Sunni Arab populations would soon begin to view the United States as the “enemy.” Popular support for radical jihadists would grow, and the region would witness a repeat of the Iraq scenario.

The territorial expansion of IS across Iraq and Syria has for all intents and purposes removed the borders between the two countries and is threatening the boundaries between Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture. Otherwise, the “Iraq fatigue” that almost crippled U.S. efforts in Iraq in recent years, especially during the Maliki era, will surely be replaced by a “Levant fatigue.”

It will take a monumental effort to redesign a new Levant based on reconciling Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Kurds, and Arabs on the principles of inclusion, tolerance, and respect for human rights, economic opportunity, and good governance. If the United States is not prepared to commit time and resources to this goal, the Levant would devolve into failed states and ungovernable territories.

  1. If radical Sunni ideology and autocracy are the root causes of IS, what should the United States do to thwart the rise of another terrorist organization in the wake of this one?

Since the bulk of radical Sunni theology comes out of Saudi Arabia and militant Salafi Wahhabism, the United States should be prepared to urge the new Saudi leadership, especially the Deputy to the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef, to review the role of Salafi Wahhabi preachers and religious leaders in domestic public life and foreign policy. This also should certainly apply to Saudi education and textbooks.

Whereas in the past, Saudi officials have resisted any perceived foreign interference as an encroachment on their religion, this type of extremist, intolerant ideology has nevertheless given radical jihadists a religious justification for their violence. It now poses an undeniable threat to the national security of the United States and the safety of its citizens in the region.

Autocracy, corruption, repression, and anarchy in several Arab states have left millions of citizens and refugees alienated, unemployed, and angry. Many young men and women in these populations will be tempted to join new terrorist organizations following IS’s demise. The governments violate the rights of these young people at whim, imprison them illegally, and convict them in sham trials—all because of their political views or religious affiliation or both—in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

In Egypt thousands of political prisoners are languishing in jail. In Bahrain, the regime has been stripping dozens of citizens of their citizenship because of their pro-democracy views. Once their passports are taken away, Bahraini citizens are deprived of most government services and opportunities. When visiting a government office for a particular service, they are required to show the passport, which the government has already taken away, as a proof of identity—a classic case of “Catch 22” leaving these citizens in a state of economic and political limbo.

Partnering with these autocrats in the fight against IS surely will reach a dead end once the group is defeated. Building a new Levant cannot possibly be based on dictatorship, autocracy, and corruption. Iraq and Afghanistan offer stark examples of how not to build stable governments.

The Perfect Storm paper warned the Bush administration about what could follow Saddam if critical questions about a post-Saddam Iraq were not addressed. The Bush White House did not heed those warnings. It would be indeed tragic for the United States if the Obama administration made the same mistake.

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 Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Sexist Laws Still Thrive Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 16:15:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139243 Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

A rash of sex discriminatory laws – including the legalisation of polygamy, marital rape, abduction and the justification of violence against women – remains in statute books around the world.

In a new report released here, the New York-based Equality Now has identified dozens of countries, including Kenya, Mali, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Bahamas, Malta, Nigeria and Yemen, which have continued with discriminatory laws in violation of international conventions and U.N. declarations.

The same [...] governments who decry equal rights for women as Western or immoral “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.” -- Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
Antonia Kirkland, legal advisor for Equality Now, told IPS, “Our report highlights a cross-sample of different sex discriminatory laws from a range of countries, which harm and impede a woman or girl throughout her life in many different ways.

“We urge not only these countries – but all governments around the world – to immediately revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex, as called for in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action.”

In 2000, she said, the U.N. General Assembly reaffirmed the urgency of doing this by setting a target date of 2005.

“Although this was not achieved, we are encouraged by the U.N.’s continued reflection of this priority in the development of a post-2015 framework,” she noted.

This year the United Nations, spearheaded by U.N. Women, will be commemorating the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Women’s Conference, taking stock of successes and failures.

The new study identifies dozens of discriminatory laws, either in existence, or just enacted.

In Malta, if a kidnapper “after abducting a person, shall marry such person, he shall not be liable to prosecution”; in Nigeria, violence “by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife” is considered lawful; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “the wife is obliged to live with her husband and follow him wherever he sees fit to reside”; and in Guinea, “a wife can have a separate profession from that of her husband unless he objects.”

Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) told IPS hypocrisy and double standards are pervasive – not just about the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) or the Beijing Plan of Action but also about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which all countries have signed.

She said the problem is exacerbated by a lack of equality in basic terms – for example there is no equal pay in the United States. Also, the fact that so many countries refuse to live up to their own commitments means the bar is lowered constantly or remains forever low.

“We have to call it what it is – universally sanctioned sexism,” said Anderlini, who was the first senior gender and inclusion adviser on the U.N.’s standby team of expert mediation advisers (2011-2012).

She said cultural excuses are given to block changes in the laws in each context, but given how pervasive it is, “we have to be frank – it’s sexist and it’s about power.”

Meanwhile, the report also points out that, as recently as last year, Kenya adopted a new Marriage Act that permits polygamy, including without consent of the first wife.

Mali revised its family code in 2011, rejecting the opportunity to remove the discriminatory “wife obedience” and other provisions that were found in the 1962 Marriage and Guardianship Code, while Iran’s new Penal Code of 2013 maintains the provision stipulating a woman’s testimony to be worth less than a man’s.

Equality Now’s Kirkland told IPS sex discriminatory laws are in direct violation of the equality, non-discrimination and equal protection of the law provisions of the major international treaties and conventions.

There is no good reason why those countries highlighted in the report – as well as many others – are yet to reform their laws, she added.

Women and girls must have their rights protected and promoted and an equal start in life so they can reach their full potential, she said.

“Without equality in the law, there can never be equality in society,” Kirkland declared.

Currently, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is meeting in Geneva, as it does periodically, to review reports from several of the 188 States Parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

At the current session, the Committee of 23 independent experts is reviewing the implementation of CEDAW by several countries, including Azerbaijan, Gabon, Ecuador, Tuvalu, Denmark, Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea, and Maldives.

The discriminatory sex laws cited in the study also include Kenya’s 2014 Marriage Act, which says, “A marriage celebrated under customary law or Islamic law is presumed to be polygamous or potentially polygamous.”

An Indian act from 2013 states, “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”

A Bahamian act from 1991 defines rape as the act of those over 14 years “having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse”, thereby permitting marital rape.

In Yemen’s 1992 act, Article 40 suggests that a wife “must permit [her husband] to have legitimate intercourse with her when she is fit to do so.”

In the United States, a child born outside of marriage can only be granted citizenship in certain cases relating to the father, such as, if “a blood relationship between the person and the father is established by clear and convincing evidence” or “the father (unless deceased) has agreed in writing to provide financial support for the person until the person reaches the age of 18 years.”

And in Saudi Arabia, a 1990 Fatwa suggests: “women’s driving of automobiles” is prohibited as it “is a source of undeniable vices.”

Asked whether countries practicing discriminatory sex laws should be named and shamed, ICAN’s Anderlini told IPS it is time for an annual report card of countries – to show clearly where they are on the hypocrisy scale vis-à-vis gender equality in actions and changes evident in the lives of women and girls.

She said public statements, rhetoric, pledges and even ratifications are meaningless if there is no action and more importantly more positive outcomes.

“Why not have an ascendency process – like joining the European Union – where countries get recognised based on demonstrable actions [or] outcomes, not just what they say or sign?” she suggested.

Anderlini also pointed out that, sadly, progressive voices just don’t care enough or understand the political repercussions enough to act; or they have such an Orientalist view of women in developing countries that they minimise and marginalise their role.

But the extremists get it, she said – they understand women’s power and influence. That’s why they are killing the ones who speak out and are actively recruiting young and older women into their fold.

“And too often those who oppose equal rights will claim it counters their culture or traditions – but it’s hypocritical and inaccurate.”

She pointed out that a close look at the history, religion or traditions of many countries provides ample evidence of women’s rights and equality. But that just gets erased away by those – typically men – who interpret and recount the past.

Islam for example, said Anderlini, not only states that women and men were created equal but specifically calls for equal rights to education and pay, among other things.

“Or when we think of land ownership, it was Victorian colonialists who imposed their version of inheritance laws – property goes to the eldest son – on many countries where collective ownership and matrilineal systems were in place.”

Never in the history of humankind has culture been static, she said.

Furthermore, she claimed, the same people and governments who decry equal rights for women as foreign or Western or colonial or immoral or ask for ‘patience’ or cultural sensitivity “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.”

These have a far more damaging impact on their culture or going against religion and tradition than giving women the rights to inherit land, get equal pay for equal work, pass citizenship to their children, “or, dare I say, drive,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Israeli Arrest Campaign Targets Palestinian Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israeli-arrest-campaign-targets-palestinian-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israeli-arrest-campaign-targets-palestinian-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israeli-arrest-campaign-targets-palestinian-children/#comments Sun, 15 Feb 2015 11:28:59 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139195 Nasser Murad Safi, 15, was shot by Israeli soldiers with live ammunition breaking his leg during stone-throwing clashes between Palestinian  youngsters and Israeli soldiers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Nasser Murad Safi, 15, was shot by Israeli soldiers with live ammunition breaking his leg during stone-throwing clashes between Palestinian youngsters and Israeli soldiers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Feb 15 2015 (IPS)

Fourteen-year-old Malak al Khatib, one of the youngest Palestinian detainees and one of only a handful of girls, was released from an Israeli prison on Feb. 13 into the arms of emotional family members and supporters after being incarcerated in an Israeli prison for two months on “security offences”.

Details of what happened to the Palestinian minor were made public only after an Israeli gag order on the case was lifted on appeal after a global campaign for her release.

The slightly built, dark-haired girl, from the town of Beitin near Ramallah, was arrested in December last year and later charged with stone-throwing and possession of a knife. However, al Khatib says the confessions were coerced under duress during interrogation."[Palestinian] children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member" – UNICEF

Al Khatib was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment, a suspended sentence of three months and fined 6,000 shekels (approximately 1,500 dollars).

According to volunteer organisation Military Court Watch, 151 Palestinian children are currently being held in Israeli detention for “security offences” in the Occupied Territories and within Israel.

The group added that 47 percent of these children were being held in jails inside Israel in contravention of the Geneva Convention because this limits the ability of family and legal representatives from the West Bank and Gaza to visit them.

Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP) says that in December last year 10 Palestinian children aged between 10 and 15 were incarcerated. However, children as young as eight have also been arrested by Israeli soldiers or police. According to DCIP, Israeli forces arrest about 1,000 children every year in the occupied West Bank.

However, it is not only the large numbers of Palestinian children arrested which is of concern to human rights organisations but also their treatment during incarceration.

In 2013, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was attacked by Israeli critics after releasing a report title ‘Children in Israeli Military Detention’, which slammed the Israeli authorities for using “intimidation, threats and physical violence to coerce confessions out of Palestinian children.”

Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, bears the scars after his skull was fractured by the back of a gun as Israeli soldiers were arresting him. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, bears the scars after his skull was fractured by the back of a gun as Israeli soldiers were arresting him. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

“Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member,” the report said.

IPS spoke to two Palestinian boys from the Jelazon refugee camp, near Ramallah, who were beaten, abused during interrogation and jailed on allegations of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces and settlers.

One hundred heavily armed Israeli soldiers, their faces masked, broke down the door and stormed the home of Khalil Khaled Nakhli, 17, in the early hours of Aug. 11 last year, terrifying his six younger brothers and sisters.

“My arm was broken after the soldiers beat me as they arrested me. They accused me of throwing stones at Israeli settlers from the Beit El settlement near Jelazon camp,” Nakhli told IPS.

Nakhli was taken to an Israeli prison where he was roughed up during interrogation and eventually sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, despite refusing to admit to the charges against him.

The home of Nakhli’s friend Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, was similarly stormed in the early hours of Sep. 7 last year. This time the soldiers used explosives to blow the door open.

Safi was left bloody and his skull fractured when the arresting soldiers used the back of their guns to club him on the head. An inch-wide indentation, where the hair refuses to grow, remains on Safi’s skull to this day.

“I was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment even though they failed to force me to confess to anything,” said Safi.

Their treatment has only further angered the boys. “We all feel bitter at the way we were treated and this exacerbates our anger at living under occupation,” Safi told IPS.

Palestinian minors are treated harshly in comparison with how Israeli minors are treated following arrest.

“Two children, one Jewish and one Palestinian, who are accused of committing the same act, such as stone throwing, will receive substantially different treatment from two separate legal systems,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said in a recently released report titled ‘One Rule, Two Legal Systems: Israel’s Regime of Laws in the West Bank’.

“The Israeli child will be afforded the extensive rights and protections granted to minors under Israeli law. His Palestinian counterpart will be entitled to limited rights and protections, which are not sufficient to ensure his physical and mental wellbeing and which do not sufficiently meet his unique needs as a minor,” said the report.

Moreover, in many cases, the criminal law applying to Palestinian minors is stricter and even more severe than the one applied to Israeli adults.

“If Malak al Khatib had been arrested for violent activity as an Israeli child she would have received certain rights. These were denied to her for being Palestinian,” ACRI spokesperson Nuri Moskovich told IPS.

Decades of ‘temporary’ Israeli military rule in the Occupied Territories have given rise to two separate and unequal systems of law that discriminate between Israelis and Palestinians. The legal differentiation is not restricted to security or criminal matters, but touches upon almost every aspect of daily life.

“A series of military decrees, legal rulings and legislative amendments have resulted in a situation whereby Israeli citizens living in the Occupied Territories remain under the jurisdiction of Israeli law and the Israeli court system, with all the benefits that this confers,” said ACRI.

“By contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to much stricter military legal law – military orders that have been issued by Israeli generals since 1967.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Israel’s Obsession for Monopoly on Middle East Nuclear Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israels-obsession-for-monopoly-on-middle-east-nuclear-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israels-obsession-for-monopoly-on-middle-east-nuclear-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israels-obsession-for-monopoly-on-middle-east-nuclear-power/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 20:53:10 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139180 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) jointly addresses journalists with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, in Jerusalem, on Oct. 13, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) jointly addresses journalists with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, in Jerusalem, on Oct. 13, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

As the Iranian nuclear talks hurtle towards a Mar. 24 deadline, there is renewed debate among activists about the blatant Western double standards underlying the politically-heated issue, and more importantly, the resurrection of a longstanding proposal for a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Asked about the Israeli obsession to prevent neighbours – first and foremost Iran, but also Saudi Arabia and Egypt – from going nuclear, Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Jerusalem-based Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS, “This is primarily the work of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has built his political career on fanning the flames of fear, and saying that Israel has to stand pat, with a strong leader [him] to withstand the challenges.”"If Israel lost its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons, it would be vulnerable. So the U.S. goes all out to block nuclear weapons - except for Israel." -- Bob Rigg

And this is the primary motivation for his upcoming and very controversial partisan speech before the U.S. Congress on the eve of the Israeli elections, which has aroused a tremendous amount of opposition in Israel, in the American Jewish community and in the U.S. in general, he pointed out.

Iran, which has consistently denied any plans to acquire nuclear weapons, will continue its final round of talks involving Germany and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia (collectively known as P-5, plus one).

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asked the United States and Israel, both armed with nuclear weapons, a rhetorical question tinged with sarcasm: “Have you managed to bring about security for yourselves with your atomic bombs?”

The New York Times quoted the Washington-based Arms Control Association as saying Israel is believed to have 100 to 200 nuclear warheads.

The Israelis, as a longstanding policy, have neither confirmed nor denied the nuclear arsenal. But both the United States and Israel have been dragging their feet over the proposal for a nuclear-free Middle East.

Bob Rigg, a former senior editor with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told IPS the U.S. government conveniently ignores its own successive National Intelligence Estimates, which represent the consensus views of all 13 or so U.S. intelligence agencies, that there has been no evidence, in the period since 2004, of any Iranian intention to acquire nuclear weapons.

“If Israel is the only nuclear possessor in the Middle East, this combined with the U.S nuclear and conventional capability, gives the U.S. and Israel an enormously powerful strategic lever in the region,” Rigg said.

He said this is even more realistic, especially now that Syria’s chemical weapons (CW) have been destroyed. They were the only real threat to Israel in the region.

“This dimension of the destruction of Syria’s CW has gone strangely unnoticed. Syria had Russian-made missiles that could have targeted population centres right throughout Israel,” said Rigg, a former chair of the New Zealand Consultative Committee on Disarmament.

A question being asked by military analysts is: why is Israel, armed with both nuclear weapons and also some of the most sophisticated conventional arms from the United States, fearful of any neighbour with WMDs?

Will a possibly nuclear-armed Iran, or for that matter Saudi Arabia or Egypt, risk using nuclear weapons against Israel since it would also exterminate the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories? ask nuclear activists.

Schenker told IPS: “I believe that if Iran were to opt for nuclear weapons, the primary motivation would be to defend the regime, not to attack Israel. Still, it is preferable that they not gain nuclear weapons.”

Of course, he said, the fundamental solution to this danger would be the creation of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East.

That will require a two-track parallel process: One track moving towards a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the other track moving towards the creation of a regional regime of peace and security, with the aid of the Arab Peace Initiative (API), within which a WMD Free Zone would be a major component, said Schenker, a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament.

As for the international conference on a nuclear and WMD free zone before the next NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference, scheduled to begin at the end of April in New York, he said, the proposal is still alive.

In mid-March, the Academic Peace Orchestra Middle East initiative will convene a conference in Berlin, whose theme is “Fulfilling the Mandate of the Helsinki Conference in View of the 2015 NPT Review Conference”.

It will include a session on the topic featuring Finnish Ambassador Jaakko Laajava, the facilitator of the conference, together with governmental representatives from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Germany.

There will also be an Iranian participant at the conference, said Schenker.

Rigg told IPS Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben Gurion wanted nuclear weapons from the outset. Israel was approved by the new United Nations, which then had only 55 or so members. Most of the developing world was still recovering from World War II and many new states had yet to emerge.

He said the United States and the Western powers played the key role in setting up the U.N.

“They wanted an Israel, even though Israeli terrorists murdered Count Folke Berdadotte of Sweden, the U.N. representative who was suspected of being favourable to the Palestinians,” Rigg said.

The Palestinians were consulted, and said no, but were ignored, he said. Only two Arab states were then U.N. members. They were also ignored. Most of today’s Muslim states either did not exist or were also ignored.

“When the U.N. approved Israel, Arab states attacked, but were beaten off. They did not want an Israel to be transplanted into their midst. They still don’t. Nothing has changed. ”

Given the unrelenting hostility of the Arab states to the Western creation of Israel, he said, Israel developed nuclear weapons to give itself a greater sense of security.

“If Israel lost its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons, it would be vulnerable. So the U.S. goes all out to block nuclear weapons – except for Israel,” he added.

Not even Israel argues that Iran has nuclear weapons now.

“A NW free zone in the Middle East is simply a joke. If Israel joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it would have to declare and destroy its nuclear arsenal.”

The U.S. finds excuses to avoid prodding Israel into joining the NPT. The U.S. is effectively for nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, but successive U.S. presidents have refused to publicly say that Israel has nuclear weapons, he added.

Because of all this, a NWF zone in the ME is not a real possibility, even if U.S. President Barack Obama and Netanyahu are at each other’s throats, said Rigg.

Schenker said Netanyahu’s comments come at a time when the 22-member League of Arab States, backed by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have, since 2002, presented Israel an Arab Peace Initiative (API).

The API offers peace and normal relations in exchange for the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and an agreed upon solution to the refugee problem.

This doesn’t mean that the danger of nuclear proliferation isn’t a problem in the Middle East, said Schenker.

“As long as Israel has retained a monopoly on nuclear weapons, and promised to use them only as a last resort, everyone seemed to live with the situation. ”

The challenge of a potential Iranian nuclear weapons programme would break that status quo, and create the danger of a regional nuclear arms race, he noted. Unfortunately, the global community is very occupied with the challenge of other crises right now, such as Ukraine and the Islamic State.

“So it is to be hoped the necessary political attention will also be focused on the challenges connected to the upcoming NPT Review conference, and the need to make progress on the Middle Eastern WMD Free Zone track as well,” he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.S. Ally Yemen in Danger of Splitting into Two – Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 00:23:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138868 Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

When North and South Yemen merged into a single country under the banner Yemen Arab Republic back in May 1990, a British newspaper remarked with a tinge of sarcasm: “Two poor countries have now become one poor country.”

Since its birth, Yemen has continued to be categorised by the United Nations as one of the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), the poorest of the poor, depending heavily on foreign aid and battling for economic survival."This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease." -- Vijay Prashad

But the current political chaos – with the president, prime minister and the cabinet forced to resign en masse last week – has threatened to turn the country into a failed state.

And, more significantly, Yemen is also in danger of being split into two once again – and possibly heading towards another civil war.

Charles Schmitz, an analyst with the Middle East Institute, was quoted last week as saying: “We’re looking at the de facto partitioning of the country, and we’re heading into a long negotiating process, but we could also be heading toward war.”

In a report released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the fall of the government has upended the troubled transition and “raises the very real prospect of territorial fragmentation, economic meltdown and widespread violence if a compromise is not reached soon.”

The ousted government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was a close U.S. ally, who cooperated with the United States in drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) holed up in the remote regions of Yemen.

The United States was so confident of its ally that the resignation of the government “took American officials by surprise,” according to the New York Times.

Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), told IPS, “I don’t know if Yemen will split in two or not. [But] I believe the greater fear is that Yemen descends into mass chaos with violence among many factions as we are seeing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, all nations that have been the recipient of interventionist U.S. foreign policy.”

According to an Arab diplomat, the Houthis who have taken power are an integral part of the Shiite Muslim sect, the Zaydis, and are apparently financed by Iran.

But the country is dominated by a Sunni majority which is supported by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, he said, which could trigger a sectarian conflict – as in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Ironically, all of them, including the United States, have a common enemy in AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the recent massacre in the offices of a satirical news magazine in Paris.

“In short, it’s a monumental political mess,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, told IPS it is very hard to gauge what will happen in Yemen at this time.

“The battle lines are far from clear,” he said.

The so-called pro-U.S, government has, since 2004, played a very dainty game with the United States in terms of counter-terrorism.

On the one side, he said, the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and then Hadi, suggested to the U.S. they were anti al-Qaeda.

But, on the other hand, they used the fact of al-Qaeda to go after their adversaries, including the Zaydis (Houthis).

“This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease,” Prashad said.

He dismissed as “ridiculous” the allegation the Zaydis are “proxies of Iran”. He said they are a tribal confederacy that has faced the edge of the Saleh-Hadi sword.

“They are decidedly against al-Qaeda, and would not necessarily make it easier for AQAP to exist,” said Prashad, a former Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut and author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.’

Hoh told IPS: “Based upon the results from decades of U.S. influence in trying to pick winners and losers in these countries or continuing to play the absurd geopolitical game of backing one repressive theocracy, Saudi Arabia, against another, Iran, in proxy wars, the best thing for the Yemenis is for the Americans not to meddle or to try and pick one side against the other.”

American foreign policy in the Middle East, he said, can already be labeled a disaster, most especially for the people of the Middle East.

“The only beneficiaries of American policy in the Middle East have been extremist groups, which take advantage of the war, the cycles of violence and hate, to recruit and fulfill their message and propaganda, and American and Western arms companies that are seeing increased profits each year,” said Hoh, who has served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. embassy teams in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When the two Yemens merged, most of the arms the unified country inherited came from Russia, which was a close military ally of South Yemen.

Yemen’s fighter planes and helicopters from the former Soviet Union – including MiG-29 jet fighters and Mi-24 attack helicopters – were later reinforced with U.S. and Western weapons systems, including Lockheed transport aircraft (transferred from Saudi Arabia), Bell helicopters, TOW anti-tank missiles and M-60 battle tanks.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst monitoring Middle East/Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS U.S. arms and military aid have been crucial to Yemen over the years, especially through the Defense Department’s 1206 “train and equip” fund.

Since 2006, she pointed out, Yemen has received a little over 400 million dollars in Section 1206 aid which has significantly supported the Yemeni Air Force (with acquisitions of transport and surveillance aircraft), its special operations units, its border control monitoring, and coast guard forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. military aid under both Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme has risen substantially, she added.

Also, Yemen is now being provided assistance under Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, De-mining, and Related programmes (NADR) and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) programmes.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Justification – U.S. support for the military and security sector “will remain a priority in 2015 in order to advance peace and security in Yemen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Looking Two Steps Ahead into Saudi Arabia’s Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:08:41 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138838 King Abdullah (left) and his younger brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who is now king. Credit: Tribes of the World/cc by 2.09

King Abdullah (left) and his younger brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who is now king. Credit: Tribes of the World/cc by 2.09

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

Much has been written about King Abdullah’s legacy and what Saudi Arabia accomplished or failed to accomplish during his reign in terms of reform and human rights. Very little has been written about the role that Muhammad bin Nayef, the newly appointed deputy to the crown prince, could play in the new Saudi Arabia under King Salman.

King Salman is 79 years old and has reportedly suffered one stroke in the past that has affected his left arm. The next in succession, Crown Prince Muqrin, is 69 years old.The future King Muhammad also will have to deal with high unemployment among Saudi youth and the massive corruption of the royal family.

Muhammad bin Nayef—or MBN as he is often referred to in some Western capitals—is only 55. As age and ill health incapacitate his elders, MBN could play a pivotal role as a future crown prince and a potential king in the domestic politics of Saudi Arabia, but more importantly in the kingdom’s regional politics.

The uncomfortable truth is that under King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia maintained a terrible human rights record, undermined the democratic ideals of Arab Spring, and supported dictatorships in Egypt and Bahrain. It also promoted ugly sectarianism, preaching an ideology that gave rise to the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) and other terrorist organisations. The kingdom supposedly did all of these things in the name of fighting Iran.

The equally inconvenient truth is that the Obama administration in the past four years has barely objected to Saudi Arabia’s undemocratic, corrupt, and repressive policies. The Saudi noose around the American neck should no longer be tolerated. MBN, two kings down the line after Salman and Muqrin, could reset Saudi Arabia’s domestic and regional policies and free Washington of Riyadh’s burden.

As king, MBN would be the first such monarch of the second generation of al-Saud. As a relatively young ruler, he would be comfortable in entertaining new ideas and communicating credibly to Saudi youth. I base this analysis on interactions I had with him during my government service several years back.

I discerned several characteristics in MBN that could help him as a future king of Saudi Arabia to nudge the country forward and perhaps usher in a period of real reform. He has a sophisticated knowledge of the root causes of terrorism and radicalisation and how to combat them. He also has a pragmatic approach to regional politics, especially Iran’s role as a regional power, and the linkage between regional stability and Saudi security.

Counterterrorism and deradicalisation

According to media reports, MBN started a comprehensive deradicalisation programme in Saudi Arabia with an eye toward persuading Saudi youth to recant radicalism and terrorism. His two-pronged strategy has exposed youth to moderate Islamic teachings and provided them with jobs and financial support to buy a house and get married.

MBN believes that extremist ideology, economic deprivation, and hopelessness drive young people to become radicalised. Despite the relative success of his programme, however, more and more Saudi youth have joined the ranks of radical groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and IS.

MBN must have realised by now that the roots of radical Sunni ideology come from the mosque sermons and religious fatwas of Salafi-Wahhabi Saudi clerics. Even as he receives hundreds of thousands of dollars to get settled in a home as a married man with a job, a young Saudi continues to be exposed to the poisonous ideology spewed by some religious leaders just outside the walls of the deradicalisation “school.”

Lacking a position of national authority beyond his counterterrorism portfolio, MBN could not really address the source of radical ideology without bringing the wrath of the Saudi religious establishment down on his head. As king, however, he might be able to tackle this sensitive issue.

MBN will face huge obstacles if he decides to address this issue—politically, historically, and culturally. Conservative, intolerant radical Sunni ideology has existed in Saudi Arabia for a long time and can be traced back to the 18th-century teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Since then Saudi culture has been imbued with this interpretation of Islam.

However, as a king representing a younger, Western-educated generation of royals and cognizant of the growing desires of Arab youth for freedom, MBN might feel more empowered to face down the religious establishment in the country.

Furthermore, he might feel less bound by the generations-old agreement between the founder of Saudi Arabia and the al-Shaykh family, which gave al-Saud greater leeway to rule and reserved to the Salafi religious establishment the authority to act as the moral guardian of Saudi society.

Domestic and regional politics

Significant segments of the Saudi people want economic and political reform. They have expressed these views in petitions, on social media, and in action. Shia activists have protested systemic regime discrimination for years. The Saudi government has illegally jailed these activists, convicted them in sham trials, tortured them with impunity, and even killed them.

The future King Muhammad also will have to deal with high unemployment among Saudi youth and the massive corruption of the royal family. In order to avoid a “Saudi Spring,” which is destined to erupt if current policies continue, MBN will have to inject large amounts of money into job creation projects.

He will also have to provide a new kind of education, which would allow Saudi job seekers to compete for employment in the technology-driven, 21st-century global economy. Despite the astronomical wealth Saudi Arabia has accumulated in the past half-century, Saudi education still produces school graduates unqualified to compete in the global economy. As a modernising king, MBN will have to change that.

Regionally, MBN realises that Gulf stability is integral to Saudi security. For Gulf security to endure, he will have to accept Iran as a significant Gulf power and search for ways to develop a mutually beneficial partnership with his Persian neighbour. Iran could be a helpful partner in helping settle the conflicts in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and other spots in the region.

If the P5+1 bloc concludes a nuclear agreement with Iran, the United States and Iran would embark on a new relationship, with which Saudi Arabia will have to come to terms.

MBN will also realise, for example, that continued conflict in Bahrain will ultimately destabilise the Gulf region, which will harm Saudi interests. As such, he would have to push al-Khalifa to institute genuine political reform in Bahrain, end systemic discrimination against the Shia majority, and include them in the economic and political process. As a first step, he would have to withdraw Saudi troops from Bahrain, where they have failed to quell anti-regime protests.

Will MBN be able to do it?

Based on MBN’s knowledge of the region and of the terrorist threat to his country, the chances of instituting real political and religious reform during his future reign are 60-40 at best. As a prerequisite for success, he will have to consolidate his power vis a vis the conservative and powerful elements within the royal family. Most importantly, he will have to overcome the opposition of the religious establishment.

His success could be historic. But his failure would be catastrophic for the future of Saudi Arabia. Al-Saud and other Gulf ruling families would not be able to maintain control forever over a population that is increasingly alienated, unemployed, and constantly yearning for a more hopeful future.

The United States should also pay close attention to MBN’s chances of success and should tacitly encourage him to move forward with courage. Regardless of the party controlling the White House, Washington can’t remain oblivious to what’s happening in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies.

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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Renewables Can Benefit Water, Energy and Food Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:48:33 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138830 The Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the United Arab Emirates covers an area the size of 285 football pitches and generates over 100 MW of electricity for the country’s national grid. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

The Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the United Arab Emirates covers an area the size of 285 football pitches and generates over 100 MW of electricity for the country’s national grid. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
ABU DHABI, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

With global energy needs projected to increase by 35 percent by 2035, a new report says meeting this demand could increase water withdrawals in the energy sector unless more cost effective renewable energy sources are deployed in power, water and food production.

The report, titled Renewable Energy in the Water, Energy & Food Nexusby the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), says that integrating renewable energy in the agrifood supply chain alone could help to rein in cost volatility, bolster energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to long-term food sustainability.

The  report, launched at the International Water Summit (Jan. 18-21) in Abu Dhabi, examines how adopting renewables can ease trade-offs by providing less resource-intensive energy services compared with conventional energy technologies. Integrating renewable energy in the agrifood supply chain alone could help to rein in cost volatility, bolster energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to long-term food sustainability

“Globally, an energy system with substantial shares of renewables, in particular solar photovoltaics and wind power, would save significant amounts of water, thereby reducing strains on limited water resources,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin.

Unfortunately, he said, detailed knowledge on the role of renewable energy at the intersection of energy, food and water has so far been limited.

In addition to the water-saving potential of renewable energy, the report also shows that renewable energy-based desalination technologies could play an increasing role in providing clean drinking water for people around the world.

Amin said although renewable desalination may still be relatively expensive, decreasing renewable energy costs, technology advancements and increasing scales of deployment make it a cost-effective and sustainable solution in the long term.

Dr Rabia Ferroukhi, Deputy Director of IRENA’s Knowledge, Policy and Finance division, told IPS that “water, energy and food systems are inextricably linked: water and energy are needed to produce food; water is needed for most power generation; and energy is required to treat and transport water in what is known as ‘the water-energy-food nexus’.”

She said deployment of renewable energy is already showing positive results in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with an over 50 percent cost share of global desalination capacity.

Some 120 kilometres southwest of Abu Dhabi lies the Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, which generates over 100 MW of electricity for the United Arab Emirates national grid.

Shams 1, which was designed and developed by Shams Power Company, a joint venture among Masdar (60 percent), Total (20 percent) and Abengoa Solar (20 percent), accounts for almost 68 percent of the Gulf’s renewable energy capacity and close to 10 percent of the world’s installed CSP capacity.

Abdulaziz Albaidli, Sham’s Plant Manager, told IPS during a visit to the plant that the project reduces the UAE’s carbon emissions, displacing approximately 175,000 tonnes of CO₂ per year.

Located in the middle of the desert and covering an area of 2.5 km² – or 285 football fields – Shams 1 incorporates the latest in parabolic trough technology and features more than 258,000 mirrors mounted on 768 tracking parabolic trough collectors.

By concentrating heat from direct sunlight onto oil-filled pipes, Shams 1 produces steam, which drives a turbine and generates electricity. Shams 1 also features a dry-cooling system that significantly reduces water consumption – a critical advantage in the arid desert.

“This plant has been built to be a hybrid plant which allows us to produce electricity at very high efficiency, as well as allowing us to produce electricity when there is no sun. Also the use of an air-cooled condenser allows us to save two hundred million gallons of water. That is a very important feature in a country where water is scarce,” said.

In addition, he continued, “the electricity we produce is able to provide twenty thousand homes with a steady supply of electricity for refrigeration, air conditioning, lighting and so on.”

Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar – the majority shareholder in Shams 1 – told delegates at the just concluded Abu Dhabi World Future Energy Summit (Jan. 18-21) that “through Masdar, we are redefining the role our country will play in delivering energy to the world.”

“From precious hydrocarbons exports to commercially viable renewable energy projects,” he said, “we are extending our legacy for future generations.”

Morocco is another country aiming to become a world-class renewable energy producer and is eyeing the chance to export clean electricity to nearby Europe through the water, energy and food nexus.

Its first CSP plant located in the southern desert city of Ouarzazate, which is now operational, is part of a major plan to produce over 2,000 megawatts (MW) at an estimated cost of nine billion dollars with funding from the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.

Meanwhile, South Africa is taking advantage of a solar-powered dry cooling system to generate power. In collaboration with Spanish-based CSP technology giant Abengoa Solar, the country is installing two plants – Khi Solar One and KaXu Solar One – that will generate up to 17,800 MW of renewable energy by 2030 and reduce its dependence on oil and natural gas.

Dr Linus Mafor, an analyst with the IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre, told IPS that there is an encouraging trend across the globe with countries implementing projects that aim to account for the interdependencies and trade-offs among the water, energy and food sectors.

He said that the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) is one of the promoters of the water, energy and food nexus in six Asian countries which are integrating the approach into development processes.  According to Mafor, such initiatives will see more affordable and sustainable renewable energy deployed in water, energy and food production in the near future.

The Austria-based Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) is one of the supporters of the nexus among clean energy, food production and water provision. Its Director-General, Martin Hiller, told IPS that understanding the inter-linkages among water resources, energy production and food security and managing them holistically is critical to global sustainability.

The agrifood industry, he said, accounts for over 80 percent of total freshwater use, 30 percent of total energy demand, and 12 to 30 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

REEEP is supporting countries like Kenya, Indonesia, Kenya and Burkina Faso, among others, in developing solar-powered pumps for irrigation, with the aim of improving energy efficiency.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Escape Route Towards Social Inclusion for War-Disabled Gazan Youthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/escape-route-towards-social-inclusion-for-war-disabled-gazan-youth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=escape-route-towards-social-inclusion-for-war-disabled-gazan-youth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/escape-route-towards-social-inclusion-for-war-disabled-gazan-youth/#comments Sat, 17 Jan 2015 19:50:54 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138686 Samah Shaheen (right), one of Gaza’s many disabled young people, joined the Irada programme to acquire expertise, learn computerised wood carving and escape social marginalisation. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Samah Shaheen (right), one of Gaza’s many disabled young people, joined the Irada programme to acquire expertise, learn computerised wood carving and escape social marginalisation. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Jan 17 2015 (IPS)

The Israeli attacks that the Gaza Strip has suffered in recent years have left in their wake a large number of young people who have come up against a further barrier to their creative energies – physical disability caused by military aggression.

Institutions here are increasingly facing the challenge of developing rehabilitation programmes to help support these physically disabled Gazan youth cope with living under the existing harsh political, economic and social conditions.

One of these programmes – known as “Irada” (“will” in Arabic) – is providing young people who have been disabled by war with vocational training with the ultimate objective of helping them earn their own livelihoods.

Launched by the Islamic University of Gaza, the Irada programme aims to support, train and reintegrate physically challenged young people in social and economic terms and boost community trust in the abilities of this so far marginalised group. More than 400 persons with all types of disabilities have already received rehabilitation and training.“After I joined the [Irada] programme and learnt computer skills for carving and decoration on wood, I now have a career, earn well and I am seriously thinking of opening a workshop” – Samah Shaheen, a 33-year-old physically disabled woman from Al-Bureij refugee camp

Irada project director Emad Al Masri told IPS that the project concept was initially developed for the massive number of young people who became disabled as a result of the Israeli war against Gaza in 2008. The project received support from the government of Turkey for the building construction to house Irada’s academic and vocational training programmes.

“The basic idea of the project is to help disabled people and reintegrate them into the community and help them to be productive instead of being seen as a burden,” Al Masri said.

Samah Shaheen, a 33-year-old from Al-Bureij refugee camp, has a physical disability that makes it difficult for her to engage in community activities. She joined the Irada programme in an attempt to acquire expertise and learn computerised wood carving. She spent more than six months in training before moving on to practice her new skills within the community under Irada supervision.

“I spent several years of my life jobless due to my disability, and also because I had no experience,” Samah told IPS. “After I joined the [Irada] programme and learnt computer skills for carving and decoration on wood, I now have a career, earn well and I am seriously thinking of opening a workshop because of the overwhelming response to the ornate wood furniture products that I have made.”

Central to the Irada rehabilitation programme is to follow up with the disabled people who have received training after leaving the programme in order to ensure their integration and participation in the labour market.  Part of this follow-up strategy also includes monitoring their progress in the workshops and factories where they are employed, and offering professional support if needed.

Because of its success, the Irada programme has been awarded funding by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to help programme graduates start up small business projects, develop their economic independence and enhance their production profile.

Tariq Sha’at, NGO Coordinator for UNDP, told IPS that “UNDP allocated 150,000 dollars to establish centres for the production of home furniture throughout the governorates of the Gaza Strip and help 90 disabled trainees to manage their own businesses, continue their lives and reintegrate into the society naturally.”

Adding further success to the promising and successful Irada programme, three female information technology (IT) students from the Islamic University of Gaza have designed the first application to enable visually impaired people to write in Braille language on smart phones in Arabic.

Seen as a major breakthrough, visually impaired people can now download and install the application for performing all operations, including calls and text messaging. It also allows physically impaired people to use smart phones with high efficacy and facilitates communications with people in the wider society.

Dr. Tawfiq Barhom,  Dean of the Faculty of Information Technology, explained to IPS that “this group of female students was able to provide a great service to the community of visually impaired people, in addition to winning a global competition in which the application was selected as one of the five best projects for developers from among 2500 projects.”

Students are now trying to develop this application even further by increasing the number of languages supported to facilitate use by larger groups worldwide. Israa Al Ashqar, one of the students on the project team told IPS that the project came about because of the marginalisation experienced by visually impaired people in society and their increased isolation as a result of their inability to use social media and smart phone applications.

“The application will provide a Braille keyboard for every programme used by visually impaired people on mobile phones which will allow them to use social media and communicate with their community naturally. This will in turn increase the chances for this marginalised group to integrate into local and global society,” she said.

Together, the Irada programme and the Braille smart phone application represent a serious attempt by universities and students in Gaza to support an important section of the community that has not only suffered from wars and traumas but also hopelessness and isolation within Gazan society.

They are a tangible demonstration that the people of Gaza have the will and the talent to work together and develop opportunities, where possible, for an inclusive society.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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U.N. Helpless as Saudi Flogging Flouts Torture Conventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-helpless-as-saudi-flogging-violates-torture-convention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-helpless-as-saudi-flogging-violates-torture-convention http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-helpless-as-saudi-flogging-violates-torture-convention/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 21:16:44 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138673 Raif Badawi.

Raif Badawi.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Flogging a dead horse, as the old idiom goes, is far removed from flogging a live Saudi blogger.

But the latest cruel punishment meted out by the rigidly conservative and authoritarian regime in Saudi Arabia has triggered widespread condemnation.“His flogging and 10-year sentence are testament to the extreme lengths to which the Saudi Arabian authorities will go in order to crush dissent.” -- Sevag Kechichian of Amnesty International

The strongest criticism came Thursday from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a former permanent representative of Jordan to the United Nations, who said: “Flogging is, in my view, at the very least, a form of cruel and inhuman punishment.

“Such punishment,” he said, “is prohibited under international human rights law, in particular the Convention against Torture, which Saudi Arabia has ratified.”

The Saudi decision makes a mockery of the international convention, as do other violations, including torture of terrorist suspects by U.S. intelligence agencies.

But the United Nations remains helpless and is unable to hold these countries accountable for violations or punish them for infractions because member states reign supreme in the world body – except when penalised by the Security Council.

The Saudi punishment was meted out to Raif Badawi, who was publicly flogged 50 times last Friday and is reportedly due to be flogged every Friday, the holy Sabbath for Muslims, until his sentence of 1,000 lashes has been fully carried out.

Sevag Kechichian, Amnesty International’s (AI) Saudi Arabia researcher on the case, told IPS, “Raif Badawi is a prisoner of conscience, and he was simply trying to uphold his right to freedom of expression and he is being punished for it in a horrifying manner.

“His flogging and 10-year sentence are testament to the extreme lengths to which the Saudi Arabian authorities will go in order to crush dissent.”

Instead of announcing a second round of brutal floggings, the Saudi Arabian authorities must heed the international outcry over his case and order his immediate and unconditional release, he added.

Amnesty also noted that Saudi Arabia had condemned last week’s attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris as ‘cowardly’.

“The next day, they flogged Raif Badawi for exercising his right to free expression. We need to expose this hypocrisy. We need to embarrass them into action, now.”

Adam Coogle, Middle East Researcher at Human Rights Watch, told IPS the statement by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) correctly labels the flogging punishment as torture and calls on Saudi Arabia to abolish the practice.

“We welcome OHCHR’s press statement but call on him [Zeid] and the United Nations to continue to monitor and publicly criticise Saudi Arabia when they impose harsh and draconian punishments on peaceful activists and dissidents,” he added.

In what was described as an “unusual diplomatic rebuke,” the United States last week lashed out at Saudi Arabia, one of its closest allies in the Middle East, and urged the government to rescind its sentencing and review the case.

The United States strongly opposes laws, including apostasy laws, that restrict the exercise of freedom of expression and religion, and urges all countries to uphold these rights in practice, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, told reporters.

Javier El-Hage, general counsel of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), told IPS the government of Saudi Arabia is making a mockery of that country’s obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

He said “the U.N. Committee against Torture should call on Saudi Arabia’s government to immediately cease flogging Mr. Badawi, as that type of punishment constitutes a clear violation of Saudi Arabia’s obligations under the Convention against Torture.”

According to Article 20 of this Convention, he said, the U.N. Committee Against Torture has the power to carry out “ex officio investigations if it receives reliable information that appears to contain well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practiced in the territory of a State Party.”

While they don’t have the coercive power to force Saudi Arabia to stop the flogging, as is the case with most international law obligations, the committee can certainly report on the topic, condemn Saudi Arabia and issue recommendations, he noted.

In a statement released Thursday, Zeid appealed to the King of Saudi Arabia to exercise his power to halt the public flogging by pardoning Badawi, and also to urgently review this type of extraordinarily harsh penalty.

Badawi, an online blogger and activist, was convicted for exercising his right to freedom of opinion and expression on a website he founded called Free Saudi Liberals. He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, 1,000 lashes and a fine of one million riyals (266,000 dollars).

Badawi’s case was just one of a succession of prosecutions of civil society activists, said the statement.

On Monday, an appeals court upheld the conviction of Badawi’s lawyer and brother-in-law Waleed Abu Al-Khair on charges that include offending the judiciary and founding an unlicensed organisation. Al-Khair’s sentence was extended from 10 to 15 years on appeal.

The U.N. Committee against Torture has repeatedly voiced concerns about states’ use of flogging and have called for its abolition.

Saudi Arabia’s report on its implementation of the Convention is up for review by the Committee against Torture next year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Islamic Reformation, the Antidote to Terrorismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 15:02:55 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138639

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

The horrific terrorist attack on the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo has once again raised the question about violence and Islam. Why is it, some ask, that so much terrorism has been committed in the name of Islam, and why do violent jihadists seek justification of their actions in their religion?

Regardless of whether or not Said and Cherif Kouachi, the two brothers who attacked Charlie Hebdo, were pious or engaged in un-Islamic behavior in their personal lives, the fact remains they used Islamic idioms, such as “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great,” to celebrate their bloody violence. Other Islamic terrorists have invoked similar idioms during previous terrorist operations.“Modern Pharaohs” and dynastic potentates continue to practice their repressive policies across the Middle East, totally oblivious to the pain and suffering of their people and the hopelessness of their youth.

Although many Muslim leaders and theologians worldwide have denounced the assault on the Paris-based magazine, many Muslim autocrats continue to exploit Islam for selfish reasons. For example, during the same week of the attacks in France, Saudi Arabia convicted one of its citizen bloggers and sentenced him to a lengthy jail term, a huge fine, and one thousand floggings. His “crime:” calling for liberal reforms of the Saudi regime.

Since Sep. 11, 2001, scholars of Islam have explored the factors that drive Islamic radicalism and the reasons why radical activists have “hijacked” or “stolen” mainstream Islam. Based on public opinion polls and expert analysis, most observers assess that two key factors have contributed to radicalisation and terrorism: a regime’s domestic and foreign policy, and the conservative, intolerant Salafi-Wahhabi Islamic ideology coming mostly out of Saudi Arabia.

For the past decade and half, reasoned analysis has suggested that Arab Islamic states, Muslim scholars, and Western countries could take specific steps in order to neutralise these factors. This analysis concedes, however, that the desired results would require time, resources, courage, and above all, vision and commitment.

What drives domestic terrorism?

In the domestic policy arena, economic, political, and social issues have framed the radical narrative and empowered extremist activists. These include: dictatorship, repression, corruption, unemployment, inadequate education, poverty, scarcity of clean water, food, and electricity, and poor sanitary conditions.

High unemployment, which ranges from 25-50 percent among the 15-29 cohort in most Arab and Muslim countries, has created a poor, alienated, angry, and inadequately educated youthful generation that does not identify with the state.  Many turn to violence and terrorism and end up serving as foot soldier “jihadists” in terrorist organisations, including the Islamic State, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and others.

Autocratic regimes in several Arab and Islamic countries have ignored these conditions and the ensuing grievances for years while maintaining their hold on power. “Modern Pharaohs” and dynastic potentates continue to practice their repressive policies across the Middle East, totally oblivious to the pain and suffering of their people and the hopelessness of their youth.

In the foreign policy arena, public opinion polls in Arab and Muslim countries have shown that specific American policies toward Arabs and Muslims have created a serious rift between the United States and the Islamic world.

These include a perceived U.S. war on Islam, the continued detention of Muslims at Guantanamo Bay, unwavering support for the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, on-going violations of Muslims’ human rights in the name of the war on terrorism, and the coddling of Arab Muslim dictators.

Islamic radicals have propagated the claim, which has resonated with many Muslims, that their rulers, or the “near enemy,” are propped up, financed, and armed by the United States and other Western powers or the “far enemy.” Therefore, “jihad” becomes a “duty” against both of these “enemies.”

Although many mainstream Muslims saw some validity in the radicals’ argument that domestic and foreign policy often underpin and justify jihad, they attribute much of the violence and terrorism to radical, intolerant ideological interpretations of Sunni Islam, mostly found in the teachings of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence adhered to by Saudi state and religious establishment.

Some contemporary Islamic thinkers have accordingly argued that Islam must undergo a process of reformation. The basic premise of such reformation is to transport Islam from 7th Century Arabia, where the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, to a globalised 21st century world that transcends Arabia and the traditional “abode of Islam.”

Calls for Islamic Reformation

Reformist Islamic thinkers—including Syrian Muhammad Shahrur, Iranians Abdul Karim Soroush and Mohsen Kadivar, Swiss-Egyptian Tariq Ramadan, Egyptian-American Khaled Abu El Fadl, Sudanese-American Abdullahi Ahmad An-Naim, Egyptian Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, and Malaysians Anwar Ibrahim and Farish Noor—have advocated taking a new look at Islam.

Although their work is based on different religious and cultural narratives, these thinkers generally agree on four key fundamental points:

1. Islam was revealed at a specific time in a specific place and in a response to specific conditions and situations. For example, certain chapters or suras were revealed to Muhammad in Medina while he was fighting several battles and struggling to create his umma-based “Islamic State.”

2. If Islam desires to be accepted as a global religion with universal principles, Muslim theologians should adapt Islam to the modern world where millions of Muslims live as minorities in non-Muslim countries—from India and China to the Americas and Europe. The communal theological concept of the umma that was central to Muhammad’s Islamic State in Medina is no longer valid in a complex, multicultural and multi-religious world.

3. If the millions of Muslims living outside the “heartland” of Islam aspire to become productive citizens in their adopted countries, they would need to view their religion as a personal connection between them and their God, not a communal body of belief that dictates their social interaction with non-Muslims or with their status as a minority. If they want to live in peace with fellow citizens in secular Western countries, they must abide by the principles of tolerance of the “other,” compromise, and peaceful co-existence with other religions.

4. Radical and intolerant Islamic ideology does not represent the mainstream body of Muslim theology. Whereas radicals and terrorists, from Osama Bin Ladin to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have often quoted the war-like Medina Koranic suras, Islamic reformation should focus on the suras revealed to Muhammad in Mecca, which advocate universalist principles akin to those of Christianity and Judaism. These suras also recognise Moses and Jesus as prophets and messengers of God.

Reformist thinkers also agree that Muslim theologians and scholars all over the world should preach to radicals in particular that Islam does not condone terrorism and should not be invoked to justify violence. Although in recent years would-be terrorists invariably sought a religious justification or a fatwa from a religious cleric to justify their terrorist operation, a “reformed” Islam would ban the issuance of such fatwas.

Failed reformation attempts

Regimes have yet to address the domestic policies that have fueled radicalism and terrorism.

In terms of the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology, Saudi Arabia continues to teach the Hanbali driven doctrine in its schools and export it to other countries. It’s not therefore surprising that the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) bases its government and social “philosophy” on the Saudi religious ideology. According to media reports, some Saudi textbooks are currently being taught in schools in Iraqi and Syrian territory controlled by IS.

Semi Ghesmi, a Salafist student and elected head of the National Students Union in Tunisia, supports what he calls the "jihad" in Syria. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

Semi Ghesmi, a Salafist student and elected head of the National Students Union in Tunisia, supports what he calls the “jihad” in Syria. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

Calls for reformation have not taken root in the Sunni Muslim world because once the four schools jurisprudence—Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanafi—were accepted in the 10th century as representing the complete doctrine of Sunni Islam, the door of reasoning or ijtihad was closed shut. Muslim theologians and leaders would not allow any new doctrinal thinking and would readily brand any such thought or thinkers as seditious.

An important reason why the calls for reformation have fallen on deaf ears is because in the past two decades, many of the reformist thinkers have lived outside the Muslim heartland, taught in Western universities, and wrote in foreign languages. Their academic arguments were rarely translated into Arabic and other “Islamic” languages.

Even if some of the articles advocating reformation were translated, the average Muslim in Muslim countries with a high school or college education barely understood or comprehended the reformists’ theological arguments renouncing violence and terrorism.

How to defeat Islamic terrorism

If Arab Islamic rulers are sincere in their fight against terrorism, they need to implement drastically different economic, political, and social policies. They must reform their educational systems, fund massive entrepreneurial projects that aim at job creation, institute transitions to democracy, and empower their people to become creative citizens.

Dictatorship, autocracy, and family rule without popular support or legitimacy will not survive for long in the 21st century. Arab and Muslim youth are connected to the outside world and wired into massive global networks of social media. Many of them believe that their regimes are anachronistic and ossified. To gain their rights and freedoms, these youth, men and women have come to believe their political systems must be replaced and their 7th century religion must be reformed.

Until this happens, terrorism in the name of Islam, whether in Paris or Baghdad, will remain a menace for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Field Operations Deadlier Every Yearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 03:56:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138631 United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

The widespread field operations of the United Nations – primarily in conflict zones in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – continue to be some of the world’s deadliest.

The hazards are so predictable that the United Nations – and its agencies – subtly encourage staffers to write their last will before leaving home.

And working for the United Nations proved especially deadly in 2014 as its personnel “continued to be subject to deliberate attacks and exposed to hazardous environments”, according to the Staff Union’s Standing Committee for the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service.“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” - Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union

Asked if the United Nations was doing enough to protect its staff in these overseas operations, Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union, told IPS:  “This is a tricky question, because in principle the responsibility for the protection belongs primarily to the host country, i.e., the country where the staff member is working/living”.

“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” she asked.

At least, 61 United Nations and associated personnel were killed in 2014, including 33 peacekeepers, 16 civilians, nine contractors and three consultants, compared to 58 in 2013, including 33 peacekeepers and 25 civilians and associated personnel.

In 2012, 37 U.N. personnel, including 20 civilians and 17 peacekeepers, two of them police officers, were killed in the line of duty.

According to the Staff Union Standing Committee, the incident with the most casualties took place in Northern Mali, where nine peacekeepers were killed last October when their convoy was
ambushed.

Northern Mali was the most deadly place for U.N. personnel: 28 peacekeepers were killed there between June and October. And Gaza was the most deadly place for civilian personnel, with 11 killed in
July and August.

The killings, some of them described as “deliberate”, took place in Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali, Cambodia, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, North Darfur, Central African Republic and Gaza.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed serious concern over the continued killings of U.N. staffers in field operations.

“I am appalled by the number of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers who have been deliberately targeted in the past year, while they were trying to help people in crisis,” he said, at a memorial ceremony last week to honour fallen staff members.

In the past year, he said, U.N. staff members were killed while relaxing over dinner in a restaurant in Kabul while two colleagues were targeted after getting off a plane in Somalia.

Speaking at the same ceremony, Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions, said: “We are asked to work in some of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places.”

He said the work is fulfilling and “we do it willingly.”  “But all we ask in return is that the Organisation do its best to protect us, look after our families, and hold those who attack us, including governments, responsible for their actions.”

In a statement released Tuesday, the Staff Union Standing Committee said South Sudan was the country with the highest number of national staff members detained or abducted.

In May, there were allegations that members of South Sudan’s security forces assaulted and illegally detained two staff members in separate incidents in Juba.

In August, South Sudan’s National Security Service detained two national staff.  And in October, eight armed men wearing plain clothes seized a World Food Programme staff member who was waiting in line for a flight from Malakal airport and drove him to an unknown location.

Scores of United Nations staff and associated personnel were also subject
to hostage-taking, kidnapping and abductions, the statement said.

The worst incidents took place in the Golan Heights, where 44 Fijian peacekeepers were detained by armed opposition elements between 28 August and 11 September last year.

Meanwhile, U.N. personnel were abducted in Yemen, the Sudan’s Darfur region, Pakistan and in South Sudan.

An international contractor from India working for the U.N Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was released on 12 June after 94 days of captivity.

Asked about “hazard pay” for staffers in overseas operations, Tavora-Jainchill told IPS staff members do get hazard/danger pay depending on conditions of the individual duty station.

She said, “Each duty station is a unique duty station and receives unique consideration for hazard/danger pay, so your question cannot be answered in a general manner.”

United Nations staff members participate in a Pension Fund and there are provisions in that pension related to their death and the payment of pension/indemnities to their survivors, she added.

Asked about the will, she said: “That question is very interesting because I also heard that and some time ago asked someone from the U.N. Administration if it was really the case.”

The response was that those staff members are asked to consider “putting their business and paperwork in order”.

“My understanding from the answer is that the paperwork might include a will, she added.”

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OPINION: The Paris Killings – A Fatal Trap for Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 18:35:46 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138602

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the wave of indignation aroused by last week’s terrorist attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo runs the risk of playing into the hands of radical Muslims and unleashing a deadly worldwide confrontation.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

It is sad to see how a continent that was one cradle of civilisation is running blindly into a trap, the trap of a holy war with Islam – and that six Muslim terrorists were sufficient to bring that about.

It is time to get out of the comprehensible “We are All Charlie Hebdo” wave, to look into facts, and to understand that we are playing into the hands of a few extremists, and equating ourselves with them. The radicalisation of the conflict between the West and Islam is going to carry with it terrible consequences

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The first fact is that Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with 1.6 billion practitioners, that Muslims are the majority in 49 countries of the world and that they account for 23 percent of humankind. Of these 1.6 billion, only 317 million are Arabs. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) live in the Asia-Pacific region; in fact, more Muslims live in India and Pakistan (344 million combined). Indonesia alone has 209 million.

A Pew Research Center report on the Muslim world also inform us that it is in South Asia that Muslims are more radical in terms of observance and views. In that region, those in favour of severe corporal punishment for criminals are 81 percent, compared with 57 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, while those in favour of executing those who leave Islam are 76 percent in South Asia, compared with 56 percent in the Middle East.

Therefore, it is obvious that it is the history of the Middle East which brings the specificity of the Arabs to the conflict with the West. And here are the main four reasons.“We are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms … instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation”

First, all the Arab countries are artificial creations. In May 1916, Monsieur François Georges-Picot for France and Sir Mark 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 Arab 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 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.

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 providing. 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 stopping 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 Middle East, and how this leads to the 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, and Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements clearly eliminates the possibility of a viable Palestinian State.

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. And the continuous Western intervention in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the drones bombing everywhere, are widely perceived among the 1.6 billion that the West is historically engaged in keeping Islam down, as the Pew report noted.

We should also remember that Islam has several internal divisions, of which the Sunni-Shiite divide is just the largest. But while in the Arab region at least 40 percent of Sunni do not recognise a Shiite as a fellow Muslim, outside the region this tends to disappear, In Indonesia only 26 percent identify themselves as Sunni, with 56 percent identifying themselves as “just Muslim”.

In the Arab world, only in Iraq and Lebanon, where the two communities lived side by side, does a large majority of Sunni recognise Shiites as fellow Muslims. The fact that Shiites, who account for just 13 percent of Muslims, are the large majority in Iran, and the Sunni the large majority in Saudi Arabia explains the ongoing internal conflict in the region, which is being stirred by the two respective leaders.

Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, then run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (1966–2006), successfully deployed a policy of polarisation in Iraq, continuing attacks on Shiites and provoking an ethnic cleansing of one million Sunnis from Baghdad. Now IS, the radical caliphate which is challenging the entire Arab world besides the West, is able to attract many Sunnis from Iraq which had suffered so many Shiite reprisals, that they sought the umbrella of the very group that had deliberately provoked the Shiites.

The fact it is that every day hundreds of Arabs die because of the internal conflict, a fate that does not affect the much larger Muslim community.

Now, all terrorist attacks in the West that have happened in Ottawa, in London, and now in Paris, have the same profile: a young man from the country in question, not someone from the Arab region, who was not at all religious during his teenage years, someone who somehow drifted, did not find a job, and was a loner. In nearly all cases, someone who had already had something to do with the judicial system.

Only in the last few years had he become converted to Islam and accepted the calls from IS for killing infidels. He felt that with this he would find a justification to his life, he would become a martyr, a somebody in another world, removed from a life in which there was no real bright future.

The reaction to all this has been a campaign in the West against Islam. The latest number of the New Yorker published a strong article defining Islam not as a religion but as an ideology. In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing and anti-immigrant Lega Nord has publicly condemned the Pope for engaging Islam in dialogue, and conservative Italian pundit Giuliano Ferrara declared on TV that ”we are in a Holy War”.

The overall European (and U.S.) reaction has been to denounce the Paris killings as the result of a “deadly ideology”, as President François Hollande called it.

It is certainly a sign of the anti-Muslim tide that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was obliged to take a position against the recent marches in Dresden (Muslim population 2 percent), organised by the populist movement Pegida (the German acronym for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”). The marches were basically directed against the 200,000 asylum seekers, most of them from Iraq and Syria, whose primary intention, according to Pegida, was not to escape war.

Studies from all over Europe show that the immense majority of immigrants have successfully integrated with their host economies. United Nations studies also show that Europe, with its demographic decline, requires at least 20 million immigrants by 2050 if it wants to remain viable in welfare practices, and competitive in the world. Yet, what are we getting everywhere?

Xenophobic, right-wing parties in every country of Europe, able to make the Swedish government resign, conditioning the governments of United Kingdom, Denmark and Nederland, and looking poised to win the next elections in France.

It should be added that, while what happened in Paris was of course a heinous crime, and while expression of any opinion is essential for democracy, very few have ever seen Charlie Hebdo and its level of provocation. Especially because in 2008, as Tariq Ramadan pointed out in The Guardian of Jan. 10, Charlie Hebdo fired a cartoonist who had joke about a Jewish link to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son.

Charlie Hebdo was a voice defending the superiority of France and its cultural supremacy in the world, and had a small readership, which it obtained by selling provocation – exactly the opposite of the view of a world based on respect and cooperation among different cultures and religions.

So now we are all Charlie, as everybody is saying. But to radicalise the clash between the two largest religions of the world is not a minor affair. We should fight terrorism, be it Muslim or not (let us not forget that a Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, who wanted to keep his country free of Muslim penetration, killed 91 of his co-citizens).

But we are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms.

The fact that European right-wing parties will reap the benefit of this radicalisation goes down very well for the radical Muslims. They dream of a world fight, in which they will make Islam – and not just any Islam, but their interpretation of Sunnism – the sole religion. Instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation.

And, apart from September 11 in New York, the losses of life have been miniscule compared with what is going on in the Arab world, where just in one country – Syria – 50,000 people lost their lives last year.

How can we so blindly fall into the trap without realising that we are creating a terrible clash all over the world? (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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Video Games, Poverty and Conflict in Bab Al-Tabbanehhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/video-games-poverty-and-conflict-in-bab-al-tabbaneh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=video-games-poverty-and-conflict-in-bab-al-tabbaneh http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/video-games-poverty-and-conflict-in-bab-al-tabbaneh/#comments Sat, 10 Jan 2015 15:38:01 +0000 Oriol Andrés Gallart http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138583 Ahmad (right), a 19-year-old student of engineering and one of Bab Al-Tabbaneh’s fortunate young people, chatting with a friend. He has been able to go to university, thanks to a grant from the Ruwwad Al Tanmeya NGO. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Ahmad (right), a 19-year-old student of engineering and one of Bab Al-Tabbaneh’s fortunate young people, chatting with a friend. He has been able to go to university, thanks to a grant from the Ruwwad Al Tanmeya NGO. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

By Oriol Andrés Gallart
TRIPOLI, Lebanon, Jan 10 2015 (IPS)

“People get used to war. During the last battle, children were still coming to play. Can you imagine, a seven-year-old boy running through the bullets just to play video games,” says Mohammad Darwish, a calm man with a curled beard framing his face.

Sitting behind the counter of his cybercafé, located in one of the main streets of the Bab Al-Tabbaneh neighbourhood in this northern Lebanese city, Darwish says that his young customers have resigned themselves to the persistence of armed conflicts.“People get used to war. During the last battle, children were still coming to play. Can you imagine, a seven-year-old boy running through the bullets just to play video games” – Mohammad Darwish, owner of a cybercafé in the Bab Al-Tabbaneh neighbourhood of Tripoli

Despite their age, they are pretty sure that clashes – which have become routine here over the past six years – will erupt again sooner or later. Even when calm reigns, the shelled and bullet-riddled buildings in Tabbaneh stand as a reminder of previous clashes.

The last eruption of violence was in late October 2014. Clashes between the army and local Sunni gunmen paralysed Tripoli for three days and destroyed part of the historic old city, leaving at least eight civilians, 11 soldiers and 22 militants dead. The army now controls Tabbaneh, with soldiers and tanks deployed on every street corner.

Curiously, flags and posters of the Islamic State (IS) can be seen displayed in houses and shops.

“I support IS [Islamic State] and the [Al-Qaeda-affiliated] Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN)”, says 19-year-old unemployed Hassan with a smile, explaining that he thinks IS will give him rights “to have a job, to live peacefully according to Islamic precepts, to move freely.”

Tabbaneh is probably the hardest neighbourhood to grow up in the whole of Tripoli. Despite being the second largest city in Lebanon, barely 80 kilometres north of Beirut, policy neglect by various central governments has left this Sunni-majority city suffering from alarming poverty, unemployment and social exclusion, and Tabbaneh is one of its poorest and most marginalised areas.

Seventy-six percent of Tabbaneh inhabitants live below the poverty line, according to a study on ‘Urban Poverty in Tripoli’, published in 2012 by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

These circumstances, aggravated by the political exploitation of sectarianism within a very conservative society, have fuelled the frequent rounds of violence, mainly between Tabbaneh and the neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen.

A giant poster on a balcony in Bab Al-Tabbaneh in memory of a young boy killed during clashes in the neighbourhood. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

A giant poster on a balcony in Bab Al-Tabbaneh in memory of a young boy killed during clashes in the neighbourhood. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Both neighbourhoods are separated just by one street, but while Bab Al-Tabbaneh inhabitants are mostly Sunni (like the main Syrian rebel groups), most of Jabal Mohsen’s inhabitants are Alawites (the same sect as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad).

This sectarianism has determined a rivalry that dates back to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon which began in 1976 and ended in 2005, but which has turned violent again since 2008, and especially since the beginning of Syrian civil war in 2011. During the last three years, more than 20 rounds of fights have broken out in Tripoli, most of them between Tabbaneh and Mohsen militias.

“We fight to defend our people, to achieve peace,” says 19-year-old Khaled, who usually works in a bakery but also belongs to a local militia. But Ahmad, who is of the same age, is sceptical: “People fight because they don’t have money or work.”

Ahmad is studying engineering, thanks to a grant provided by Ruwwad Al Tanmeya, a regional NGO that works in the area through youth activism, civic engagement and education. Because his father served in the army, the state paid the major part of his school fees when he was younger and he was able to study in private schools outside Tabbaneh.

Hoda Al-Rifai, a Ruwwad youth officer, agrees with Ahmad: “Many families don’t have incomes. Whenever the conflict starts, the fighters get paid. And these fighters also give money to children to fulfil specific tasks. They can have three dollars a day and this is better than going to school. Their parents also think this way.”

Stereotypes also contribute to make things hard for Tabbaneh’s youth – including finding a job outside the neighbourhood – and shape their personality, explains Hoda. “When we started, the youth had no self-confidence. The media do not produce an image of these neighbourhoods as areas where you can find brilliant young men, willing to study. They just underline the clashes and all kinds of negatives things.”

“There are no members of JN or IS here,” Darwish tells IPS, adding that many in Tabbaneh see the IS flags as a way of showing dissatisfaction over the government’s alleged abandonment of the Sunni community and specifically of Tabbaneh.

“This is not a religious conflict but political. When politicians want to send a message to each other, they pay for clashes here,” adds Darwish’s 49-year-old aunt, veiled and dressed completely in black. “In this city, you can give 20 dollars to a boy so he starts a war,” explains Darwish.

Nevertheless, various studies have found that only a small percentage of the estimated up to 80,000 Tabbaneh inhabitants take part in combats, and Sarah Al-Charif, Lebanon director of Ruwwad, stresses the immediate improvements observed in Tabbaneh and Mohsen youths who participate in the NGO’s projects.

“They become aware of their shared interests, values and pain,” she says. “They became more open-minded, especially the girls.”

For Sarah, in addition to public investment and job opportunities, any solution must include awareness and education, to which Hoda adds: “First of all, citizens need to understand why the clashes take place.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Political Islam and U.S. Policy in 2015http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-political-islam-and-u-s-policy-in-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-political-islam-and-u-s-policy-in-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-political-islam-and-u-s-policy-in-2015/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 18:16:46 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138538 President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jun. 4, 2009. In his speech, President Obama called for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims', declaring that 'this cycle of suspicion and discord must end'. Credit: White House photo

President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jun. 4, 2009. In his speech, President Obama called for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims', declaring that 'this cycle of suspicion and discord must end'. Credit: White House photo

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

This year, Arab political Islam will be greatly influenced by U.S. regional policy, as it has been since the Obama administration came into office six years ago. Indeed, as the U.S. standing in the region rose with Obama’s presidency beginning in January 2009, so did the fortunes of Arab political Islam.

But when Arab autocrats perceived U.S. regional policy to have floundered and Washington’s leverage to have diminished, they proceeded to repress domestic Islamic political parties with impunity, American protestations notwithstanding.Coddling autocrats is a short-term strategy that will not succeed in the long run. The longer the cozy relationship lasts, the more Muslims will revert to the earlier belief that America’s war on terrorism is a war on Islam.

This policy linkage, expected to prevail in the coming year, will not bode well for political Islam. Like last year, the U.S. will in 2015 pay more attention to securing Arab autocrats’ support in the fight against Islamic State forces than to the mistreatment of mainstream Islamic political parties and movements, which will have severe consequences in the long run.

Since the middle of 2013, the Obama administration’s focus on the tactical need to woo dictators in the fight against terrorist groups has trumped its commitment to the engagement objective. America’s growing support for Arab dictators meant that Arab political Islam would be sacrificed.

For example, Washington seems oblivious to the thousands of mainstream Islamists and other opposition activists languishing in Egyptian jails.

What is political Islam?

Several assumptions underpin this judgment. First, “political Islam” applies to mainstream Islamic political parties and movements, which have rejected violence and made a strategic shift toward participatory and coalition politics through free elections.

Arab political Islam generally includes the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, al-Nahda in Tunisia, and al-Wefaq in Bahrain.

The term “political Islam” does not include radical and terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or IS), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Iraq, and Syria, or armed opposition groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Nor does it apply to terrorist groups in Africa such as Boko Haram, al-Shabab, and others.

Unfortunately, in the past three years, many policy makers in the West, and curiously in several Arab countries, have equated mainstream political Islam with radical and terrorist groups. This erroneous and self-serving linkage has provided Washington with a fig leaf to justify its cozy relations with Arab autocrats and tolerance of their bloody repression of their citizens.

Repression breeds radicalism

It has also given these autocrats an excuse to suppress their Islamic parties and exclude them from the political process. In a press interview late last month, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi forcefully denounced the Muslim Brotherhood and pledged the movement would not enter the Egyptian parliament.

Egypt’s recent terrorism laws, which Sisi and other Arab autocrats have approved, provide them with a pseudo-legal cover to silence the opposition, including mainstream political Islam.

They have used the expansive and vague definitions of terrorism included in these decrees to incarcerate any person or group that is “harmful to national unity.” Any criticism of the regime or the ruler is now viewed as a “terrorist” act, punishable by lengthy imprisonment.

The Dec. 28 arrest of the Bahraini Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of al-Wefaq, is yet another example of draconian measures against peaceful mainstream opposition leaders and parties in the region. Regime repression of these groups is expected to prevail in 2015.

Second, whereas terrorist organisations are a threat to the region and to Western countries, including mainstream political Islam in the governance of their countries in the long run is good for domestic stability and regional security. It also serves the interests of Western powers in the region.

Recent history tells U.S. that exclusion and repression often lead to radicalisation.  Some youth in these parties have given up on participatory politics in favour of confrontational politics and violence. This phenomenon is expected to increase in 2015, as suppression of political Islam becomes more pervasive and institutionalised.

Third, the serious mistakes the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Nahda made in their first time ever as governing parties should not be surprising since they lacked the experience of governance. Such poor performance, however, is not unique to them.  Nor should it be used as an excuse to depose them illegally and to void the democratic process, as the Sisi-led military coup did in Egypt in 2013.

Although Islamic political parties tend to win the first election after the toppling of dictators, the litmus test of their popular support lies in succeeding elections. The recent post-Arab Spring election in Tunisia is a case in point.

When Arab citizens are provided with the opportunity to participate in fair and free elections, they are capable of electing the party that best serves their interests, regardless of whether the party is Islamic or secular.

Had Field Marshall Sisi in 2013 allowed the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohammed Morsi to stay in power until the following election, they would have been voted out, according to public opinion polls at the time.

But Sisi and his military junta were not truly committed to a genuine democratic transition in Egypt. Now, according to Human Rights Watch reports, the current state of human rights in Egypt is much worse than it was under former President Hosni Mubarak.

The U.S. and Political Islam

Upon taking office, President Obama understood that disagreements between the United States and the Muslim world, especially political Islam, were driven by specific policies, not values of good governance. A key factor driving these disagreements was the widely held Muslim perception that America’s war on terror was a war on Islam.

The Obama administration also realised that while a very small percentage of Muslims engaged in violence and terrorism, the United States must find ways to engage the other 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. That drove President Obama early on in his administration to grant media interviews to Arab broadcasters and give his historic Cairo speech in June 2009.

However, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, and as drone strikes caused more civilian casualties in Yemen, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, many Muslims became more sceptical of Washington’s commitment to sincere engagement with the Muslim world.

The Arab uprisings beginning in 2011 known as the Arab Spring and the toppling of dictators prompted the United States to support calls for freedom, political reform, dignity, and democracy.

Washington announced it would work with Islamic political parties, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Nahda, as long as these parties were committed to peaceful change and to the principles of pluralism, elections, and democracy.

That unprecedented opening boosted the fortunes of Arab political Islam and inclusive politics in the Arab world. American rapprochement with political Islam, however, did not last beyond two years.

The way forward

Much as one might disagree with Islamic political ideology, it’s the height of folly to think that long-term domestic stability and economic security in Egypt, Bahrain, Palestine, or Lebanon could be achieved without including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Wefaq, Hamas, and Hezbollah in governance.

Coddling autocrats is a short-term strategy that will not succeed in the long run. The longer the cozy relationship lasts, the more Muslims will revert to the earlier belief that America’s war on terrorism is a war on Islam.

The Arab countries that witnessed the fall of dictators, especially Egypt, will with Washington’s acquiescence revert back to repression and autocracy, as if the Arab Spring never happened.

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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