Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 08 Feb 2016 15:38:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 The Nuclear Deal Implementation Day: A Win-Win Agreement (part one)http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/the-nuclear-deal-implementation-day-a-win-win-agreement-part-one-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-nuclear-deal-implementation-day-a-win-win-agreement-part-one-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/the-nuclear-deal-implementation-day-a-win-win-agreement-part-one-2/#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 15:27:39 +0000 Farhang Jahanpour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143828 Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Isfahan and a former Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University. He is a tutor in the Department of Continuing Education and a member of Kellogg College, University of Oxford]]>

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Isfahan and a former Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University. He is a tutor in the Department of Continuing Education and a member of Kellogg College, University of Oxford

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Feb 8 2016 (IPS)

After many years of unprecedented, crippling Western sanctions that stopped Iran’s oil exports and even banking transactions, the long and arduous negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany) culminated in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed on 14 July 2015. That agreement finally reached the Implementation Day on 16th January 2016, coincidentally 37 years to the day when the late Mohammad Reza Shah left Iran for good and paved the way for the victory of the Islamic revolution.

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

In a Joint statement, the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, speaking for the European Union, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stated:

“Today, we have reached Implementation Day of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Ever since Adoption Day, we worked hard and showed mutual commitment and collective will to finally bring the JCPOA to implementation. Today, six months after finalization of the historic deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified that Iran has implemented its nuclear related commitments under the JCPOA.”

On the same day, United Nations sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program were lifted, and the Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), which endorsed the JCPOA, terminated the provisions of resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2007), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), 1929 (2010) and 2224 (2015).

In order to reach Implementation Day, Iran had to carry out its part of the deal, which it did meticulously and ahead of the deadline. According to the JCPOA, Iran halted its production of uranium enriched to 20 per cent, removed the core of the heavy water reactor in Arak and filled the channels with cement, rendering it inoperable. Iran dismantled over 13,000 centrifuges, leaving the country with 6,104 first-generation IR-1 machines, of which 5,104 are enriching uranium to 3.67 percent, and 1,044 machines at the Fordow site will remain inoperative. Meanwhile, all of this has been carried out under strict IAEA supervision, which will also continue to closely monitor Iran’s future nuclear activities.

The Implementation Day coincided with the successful prisoner exchange, involving five Americans (including four dual citizens) held in Iran, in return for seven Iranians (including six dual citizens) who had been charged with violating US sanctions against Iran. Secretary of State John Kerry called it “one of the days that I enjoyed the most as secretary of state.”

A few days earlier, Iran had released ten US sailors who had “inadvertently drifted” into Iranian waters. Initially, it was said that the two boats travelling between Kuwait and Bahrain, equipped with three 50-caliber machine guns, had developed mechanical problems, or their GPS equipment had failed, or that they had run out of fuel, but later all those excuses were proven to have been incorrect. So far, US authorities have provided no satisfactory explanation as to how two US Navy ships had lost their way together and had ended up miles away in Iranian waters next to Farsi Island, a very sensitive Iranian naval base. Some Iranian hardliners saw it as a provocation and an attempt to spy on Iranian military installations.

It should be noted that Saudi Arabia executed the prominent Shia cleric, Nimr al-Nimr on the eve of Implementation Day. Al-Mimr’s execution led to attacks on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, leading to Saudi Arabia cutting off diplomatic relations with Iran and forming a mainly Sunni coalition against that country. Some conspiracy theorists have wondered whether al-Nimr’s beheading and the US Navy ship that “drifted” into Iranian waters might have been a last-ditch effort by some of the opponents of the deal to derail the agreement.

Be that as it may, some hawks in Washington immediately accused Iran of aggressive behavior and called for harsh punishments. Sen. John McCain criticized what he called Iran’s “provocative behavior”. Sen. Cory Gardner even suggested that President Barack Obama had to postpone his State of the Union address until the sailors had been released. The columnist Charles Krauthammer seized on the incident to discredit the nuclear deal. He wrote: “The premise of the nuclear deal was that it would constrain Iranian actions. It’s had precisely the opposite effect.” However, the speedy release of American sailors disappointed the hawks on both sides and paved the way for closer cooperation between the United States and Iran.

President Obama rightly celebrated the combination of those events as the vindication of his efforts over the previous years. In a Sunday 17 January 2016 statement at the White House, the President said: “This is a good day, because once again we’re seeing what’s possible with strong American diplomacy.” The President touted his administration’s efforts at diplomacy and advancing relations between the two adversaries, “rather than resorting to another war in the Middle East”.

Obama also pointed to the speedy release of the U.S. sailors as more evidence of the benefits of diplomacy. “Some here in Washington said this was the start of another hostage crisis,” Obama said, referring to some Republicans in Congress. “Instead we secured their release in less than 24 hours.”

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, speaking almost simultaneously with President Obama, said that the official implementation of the landmark deal had satisfied all parties except radical extremists. He said the deal had “opened new windows for engagement with the world.”

He described the deal as a win-win agreement for all negotiating parties and all factions inside Iran and in the West: “Nobody has been defeated in the deal, neither inside the country nor the countries that were negotiating with us.”

The agreement has provided the best example of the resolution of one of the most difficult international issues through negotiations and without resorting to war, which would have had a devastating outcome for the region and beyond. Indeed, it can serve as a model for the resolution of other difficult conflicts such as the civil wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

(End)

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Argentina and United Arab Emirates Open New Stage in Bilateral Relationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/argentina-and-united-arab-emirates-open-new-stage-in-bilateral-relations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-and-united-arab-emirates-open-new-stage-in-bilateral-relations http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/argentina-and-united-arab-emirates-open-new-stage-in-bilateral-relations/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 23:42:58 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143816 The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and his host, Argentina’s foreign minister Susana Malcorra, outside the San Martín Palace in Buenos Aires at the start of their meeting on Friday, Feb. 5. Credit: Government of Argentina

The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and his host, Argentina’s foreign minister Susana Malcorra, outside the San Martín Palace in Buenos Aires at the start of their meeting on Friday, Feb. 5. Credit: Government of Argentina

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES , Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

With United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s visit to Argentina, the two countries launched a new stage in bilateral relations, kicked off by high-level meetings and a package of accords.

On Friday, Feb. 5 Al Nahyan and his host, Argentina’s foreign minister Susana Malcorra, signed five agreements on taxation, trade and cooperation in the energy industry, after a meeting with other officials, including this country’s finance minister, Alfonso Prat-Gay.

The meeting in the San Martín Palace, the foreign ministry building, addressed “important” aspects of ties with the Gulf nation made up of seven emirates, an Argentine communiqué stated.

Al Nahyan’s visit took the UAE’s contacts to the highest diplomatic level with the new Argentine government of Mauricio Macri, who received the minister Friday in Olivos, his official residence, less than two months after being sworn in as president on Dec. 10.

After the meeting in the foreign ministry, the Emirati minister also met with Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti, and visited the Senate.

The day before, Al Nahyan was named guest of honour in Buenos Aires by the city’s mayor, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, with whom he met after the ceremony.

In the meeting between Al Nahyan and Malcorra, a tax information exchange agreement was signed, along with an accord between the Argentine Industrial Union and the UAE Federation of Chambers of Commerce aimed at “establishing a joint business council.”

The foreign ministers of Argentina, Susana Malcorra, and the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, exchange tax agreements signed during their meeting in Buenos Aires on Friday Feb. 5. Credit: Government of Argentina

The foreign ministers of Argentina, Susana Malcorra, and the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, exchange tax agreements signed during their meeting in Buenos Aires on Friday Feb. 5. Credit: Government of Argentina

The governor of the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, Omar Gutiérrez, was also present at the meeting, where an agreement was reached to grant a loan to that region to finance the Nahueve hydroelectric project through the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), in the town of Villa del Nahueve.

A four-MW hydroelectric plant will be built in that town of 25,000 people in southern Argentina with an investment of 18 million dollars, through a soft loan, the secretary-general of the Argentine-Arab Chamber of Commerce, Walid al Kaddour, told IPS.

According to the Chamber, trade between the two countries stood at 228 million dollars in 2014, with Argentina exporting nearly 198 million dollars in mainly foodstuffs and steel pipe and tube products.

As Al Kaddour underlined, “there is a great deal of room to grow (in bilateral ties), especially taking into account that the United Arab Emirates is located at a strategic point linking the West with the East.”

He explained that products can be re-exported to all of Asia from the Emirati city of Dubai, because “it is a very important distribution hub.”

The population of the UAE is just barely over nine million, “but it can reach a market of 1.6 billion inhabitants, and it has major logistics infrastructure enabling it to re-export products,” he said.

Al Kaddour said the UAE’s chief interest is importing food, “which is what Argentina mainly produces,” although he said the Gulf nation could also buy raw materials as well as manufactured goods.

The UAE at one point imported up to 1,000 vehicles a year from Argentina, he pointed out.

According to Al Kaddour, another aim of the Emirati minister’s visit was “to meet Argentina’s new administration.”

Macri, of the centre-right “Cambiemos” alliance, succeeded Cristina Fernández of the centre-left Front for Victory, who had strengthened ties with the UAE during an official visit to Abu Dhabi in 2013, where an agreement on cooperation in nuclear energy for peaceful purposes was signed.

“The UAE has pinned strong hopes on the new administration in Argentina,” said Al Kaddour. “The last few years have also been positive in terms of building a friendlier relationship.

“The idea now is to move towards concrete things, such as investment projects in different areas, like renewable energy and agriculture,” he added.

In an article sent to the Argentine daily Clarín, Al Nhayan stressed that “the ties of friendship between Argentina and the United Arab Emirates are strong” and the two countries “are united by shared economic interests.”

He added that “we hope to be able to work with the president, and we believe that together we can bring many benefits to our two countries and our people.”

He also emphasised that his country is seen as “the future gateway for access to Argentine products to the Middle East.”

Emirati sources told IPS that the UAE minister and the Buenos Aires mayor discussed questions such as sustainable urban development and solar energy – an area in which the Gulf nation is interested in cooperating with Argentina.

Although it is a leading oil producer, the UAE is considered a pioneer in the development of unconventional renewable energies, which it is fomenting as the foundation of clean development that will curb climate change.

In Argentina, Al Nahyan kicked off his Latin America tour that will take him to Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica through Feb. 12.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Cameron at large: Want Not to Become a Terrorist? Speak Fluent English!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:57:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143783 A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011.  Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neutronboy/5562337245/ | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011. Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neutronboy/5562337245/ | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

By Baher Kamal
Cairo, Feb 4 2016 (IPS)

“Do you speak English fluently? No? Then you risk to become a terrorist!.” IPS posed this dilemma to some young Muslim women living in Cairo, while explaining that this appears to be UK prime minister David Cameron’s formula to judge the level of Muslim women’s risk to fall, passively, into the horrific trap of extremism.

Here you have some answers: “He must be kidding, I can’t believe that…,” says Egyptian university student Fatima S.M.

“This is just insulting! What does language have to do with such a risk?,” responds Fakhira H. from Pakistan who is married to an Egyptian engineer.

“This pure colonialism, Cameron still dreams of the British Empire,” reacts Nigerian Afunu K. who works at an export-import company in Cairo.

“Oh my God! We knew that Muslim women are victims of constant stigmatisation everywhere, in particular in Western countries… But I never expected it to be at this level,” said Tunisian translator Halima M.

Of course this is not at all about any scientific survey-just an indicative example of how Muslim women from different countries and backgrounds see Cameron’s recent surprising statement: Muslim women who fail to learn English to a high enough standard could face deportation from the UK, the prime minister said on 18 January.

Cameron suggested that poor English skills can leave people “more susceptible” to the messages of groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (DAESH).

“After two and a half years they should be improving their English and we will be testing them,” the UK prime minister stated. “We will bring this in October and it will apply to people who have come in on a spousal visa recently and they will be tested.”

Cameron’s comments came as his Conservative government launched a $28.5 million language fund for Muslim women in the United Kingdom as part of a drive to “build community integration.”

Current British immigration rules require that spouses be able to speak English before they arrive in the UK to live with their partners. “…They would face further tests after two and a half years in the UK, said Cameron, before threatening them: “You can’t guarantee you will be able to stay if you are not improving your language.”

The number of Muslim living in the UK is estimated to be around 2.7 million out of Britain’s total population of 64 million.

The British government estimates that around 190,000 Muslim women (about 22% of the total) living in the UK speak little or no English.

“… If you are not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find, therefore, you have challenges understanding what your identity is, and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message,” the UK prime minister affirmed.

Cameron further explained that a lack of language skills could make Muslims in the U.K. more vulnerable to the message of extremist groups. “I am not saying there is some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist, of course not,” he said.

Significantly, Cameron’s cabinet did not ratify last summer the so-called Istanbul Convention, a pan-European convention establishing minimum standards for governments to meet when tackling violence against women. The UK had signed up on this Convention three and a half years ago. The Convention entered into force eighteen months ago.

The UK prime ministers’ statements came under fire in his own country.

This is about a “dog-whistle politics at its best,” said the UK Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

Cameron’s idea is “lazy and misguided”… a “stereotyping of British Muslim communities,” reacted Sayeeda Warsi, former Conservative Party co-chair. “I think it is lazy and sloppy when we start making policies based on stereotypes which do badly stigmatise communities.”

Andy Burnham, the Home Affairs spokesman for the Labour Party shadow cabinet, accused Cameron of a “clumsy and simplistic approach” that is “unfairly stigmatising a whole community.”

“Disgraceful stereotyping,” said Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the UK-based Ramadhan Foundation.

These are only a few selected reactions of a number of figures who have the chance for their voices to be heard.

But imagine you are a Muslim woman and live in the United Kingdom. Like any other woman, you already face many daily hurdles in this world of flagrant gender inequality.

Then recall that these challenges are augmented by the fact that you are a foreigner. Your religion in this case puts additional heavy stigmatisation weight in your mind and on your shoulders.

What would you think?

(End)

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Turkey descends into civil war as conflict in southeast escalateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/turkey-descends-into-civil-war-as-conflict-in-southeast-escalates/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turkey-descends-into-civil-war-as-conflict-in-southeast-escalates http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/turkey-descends-into-civil-war-as-conflict-in-southeast-escalates/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 05:57:17 +0000 Joris Leverink http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143780 The bullet-ridden Fatih Paşa Mosque in the heart of Diyarbakir's historical Sur district, which was heavily damaged in clashes between Turkish armed forces and local militant youths. Credit: Joris Leverink/IPS

The bullet-ridden Fatih Paşa Mosque in the heart of Diyarbakir's historical Sur district, which was heavily damaged in clashes between Turkish armed forces and local militant youths. Credit: Joris Leverink/IPS

By Joris Leverink
ISTANBUL, Turkey, Feb 4 2016 (IPS)

The latest footage to come out of Sur, the historical district in Diyarbakir that has been under total lock down by Turkish armed forces for the past sixty days, shows a level of devastation one would sooner expect in Syria. In more ways than one – empty streets lined with debris, bombed-out buildings, tanks and soldiers shooting at invisible assailants – the situation in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeastern regions resembles a war zone.

The Turkish government maintains that it is engaged in a fight against terror. However, the security operations are characterized by a disproportionate use of violence, whereby entire towns and neighborhoods are cut off from the outside world with civilians trapped inside their homes for weeks on end. This has led to calls by international human rights organizations to end the collective punishment of an entire population for the acts of a small minority.

At its second general congress in late January, the key political representative of the Kurdish population in Turkey, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, stressed its determination to seek a peaceful solution to the violent conflict. “If politics can play a role, weapons are not necessary. Where there’s no politics, there will be
weapons,” Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chair of the party summarized the situation.

From autonomy to conflict

In the spring of 2013 hopes were high for a political solution to the decades-old violent conflict between the Turkish state and its Kurdish minority, represented on the battlefield by the leftist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. After years of fighting and tens of thousands deaths, both parties appeared determined to bring the war to an end and engage in peace talks. For almost 2.5 years the fighting ceased. The precarious peace came to an end in the summer of 2015.

As a spillover from the war in Syria, tensions between the Kurds in Turkey and the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, reached a boiling point. In Syria, local Kurds had been fighting off a number of Turkey-backed jihadist and Syrian opposition groups – most prominently the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS. When Kurdish groups in Turkey became the target of two ISIS-linked suicide attacks – in Diyarbakir in June, and Suruç in July – it was the AKP that was held responsible for the onslaught.

The ceasefire broke down and violence escalated quickly. Turkey launched air raids against PKK targets in northern Iraq, in response to which security forces inside Turkey were attacked by Kurdish militants. Having lost their trust in the Turkish state to properly address Kurdish grievances concerning the right to speak and be educated in their mother tongue, to practice their own religion, to be represented politically and to protect the natural environment of their historical homelands, many Kurds instead turned to the ideology of “democratic confederalism”.

Developed by the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, democratic confederalism promotes the autonomy of local communities and a decentralization of the state.

When towns and neighborhoods across the Kurdish regions of Turkey started declaring their autonomy in the wake of the re-escalated conflict, the Turkish state under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded by sending in the army and declaring dozens of so-called curfews that in practice amount to military sieges. Besides hundreds of casualties among the army and Kurdish militants, around two hundred civilians are believed to have been killed in the past six months.

Bleak prospects for peace

After the HDP became the first party with roots in the Kurdish freedom movement to pass the exceedingly high electoral threshold of 10 per cent at the parliamentary elections in June – and again at the snap elections in November – it has come under severe pressure from the political establishment. President Erdogan personally suggested that the HDP representatives ought to be stripped from their immunity so that they could be prosecuted for supporting terrorism.

Nonetheless, the party refuses to succumb to the intimidation and has consistently called for a peaceful and democratic solution to the conflict. “Despite all the oppression, a new democratic model is emerging,” HDP co-chair Figen Yüksedağ said in her speech at the congress. “This model continues to gain support, even while under attack. The HDP has a historical responsibility to bring this project to a successful end.”

Her co-chair Demirtaş added the warning that “If we fail to produce a solution for the end of the violence, it is the end of politics in Turkey.” Unfortunately, prospects for a political solution are bleak. Mayors and political representatives of the towns and districts where the population has called for autonomy are prosecuted and jailed. At the same time President Erdogan warned that, “It should be known that we will bring the whole world down on those who seek to establish a state within a state under the name of autonomy and self-governance.”

Prime Minister Davutoğlu recently vowed to continue the military operations until “our mountains, plains and towns are cleansed of these killers.” This type of uncompromising discourse from the country’s two most powerful political leaders instills little hope that the government is prepared to return to the negotiation table any time soon. The Kurds, both at home and across the border in Syria, are seen as the biggest threat to the territorial integrity of Turkey, and to stop this perceived threat no price is too high.

In the same way that Turkey has refused to allow the Syrian Kurds a seat at the negotiation table in Geneva, it is refusing to enter into dialogue with the Kurds at home.

The multiple references to Syria in this article are no coincidence; if the Turkish government continues to ignore all but a military solution to the current unrest, there is a very real threat that part of the country will soon resemble its southern neighbor.

The HDP’s invitation is there. In the words of co-chair Demirtaş: “Dialogue and negotiation should be the method when the public is under threat. Strengthening democracy is the only way to save Turkey from disaster.”

(End)

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United Arab Emirates Strengthens Ties with Argentina’s New Governmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/united-arab-emirates-strengthens-ties-with-argentinas-new-government/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=united-arab-emirates-strengthens-ties-with-argentinas-new-government http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/united-arab-emirates-strengthens-ties-with-argentinas-new-government/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 17:20:02 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143740 The Four Seasons hotel in the upscale Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Recoleta was remodeled this decade with a multi-million dollar investment by the Dubai-based Albwardy Investment Group. This is just one example of investment in Argentina by the United Arab Emirates, which is expected to increase in different sectors as a result of the visit here by the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The Four Seasons hotel in the upscale Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Recoleta was remodeled this decade with a multi-million dollar investment by the Dubai-based Albwardy Investment Group. This is just one example of investment in Argentina by the United Arab Emirates, which is expected to increase in different sectors as a result of the visit here by the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES , Feb 1 2016 (IPS)

The new government of Argentina and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are strengthening the relationship established by the previous administration, at a time when this South American country is seeking to bring in foreign exchange, build up its international reserves and draw investment, in what the authorities describe as a new era of openness to the world.

Bilateral ties will be boosted during a visit to the Argentine capital by the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on Feb. 4, the start of his Latin America tour which will also take him to Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica before he flies out of the region on Feb. 12.

After several high-level meetings on Feb. 5, the minister’s visit will end with the signing of five agreements on taxation, sports, cooperation between the state news agencies Telam (Argentina) and WAM (UAE), and an Emirati loan to the southern province of Neuquén.

Mauricio Macri, who was sworn in as president of Argentina on Dec. 10, already indicated his interest in stronger ties when he met on Jan. 20, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, withHamad Shahwan al Dhaheri, executive director of the private equities department of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA).

ADIA, considered the second-largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, manages the excess oil revenues of the UAE, a federation of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain.

The centre-right Macri, of the Cambiemos coalition, and Al Dhaheri“discussed the prospects opening up for Argentina and were enthusiastic about this new era for the country,” Telam reported from Davos.

The news agency was referring to the end of 12 years of government by the late Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and his widow and successor, Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), of the Front for Victory, the Justicialista (Peronist) Party’s centre-left faction, which defines itself as anti-neoliberal.

“Argentina has to position itself as a serious, predictable interlocutor,” this country’s foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, said in Davos.

“The question of economic opening, the search for investment and business opportunities is essential in our agenda,” she stressed.

According to a report from its embassy in Buenos Aires, the UAE has a significant presence in international capital markets through different investment institutions, such as ADIA, Dubai Ports World, Dubai Holding and Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Co.

The then president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández, with her host, United Arab Emirates President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at a January 2013 meeting in Abu Dhabi during her official visit to the Gulf nation when bilateral relations were given a major boost. Credit: Government of Argentina

The then president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández, with her host, United Arab Emirates President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at a January 2013 meeting in Abu Dhabi during her official visit to the Gulf nation when bilateral relations were given a major boost. Credit: Government of Argentina

The UAE is a timely interlocutor for Argentina, Luis Mendiola, an expert on the Middle East, the Arab world and Africa with the Argentine Council for Foreign Relations (CARI), underlined in an interview with IPS.

“Their biggest problem is the extraordinary abundance of capital…the question is where to put it to get the best returns on the extraordinary surplus capital they produced during nearly a decade and a half of high oil prices,” added Mendiola, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1996 to 2005.

New opportunities

As part of its strategy of strengthening ties with Latin America, the foreign ministry of the United Arab Emirates held a workshop in Abu Dhabi in December with diplomats from Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Panama, with the participation of some 70 UAE governmental, semi-governmental and private organisations.

At the workshop, the director of the foreign ministry’s department of economic affairs and international cooperation, Fahad al Tafaq, stressed the UAE’s interest in taking ties with Latin America “to a higher level” in order to serve common interests, WAM, the Emirates news agency, reported from Abu Dhabi.

The participants in the workshop discussed opportunities for investment and strategic alliances in sectors like energy, environment, technology, tourism, agriculture, mining, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, infrastructure and natural resources.

These funds, he said, could go into major infrastructure projects in areas like housing, energy, transport and communications.

In January 2015, the authorities in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén reported that they had secured an 18 million dollar loan from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, to finance the Nahueve Hydroelectric Project for the promotion of irrigation in new productive areas, among other aims.

The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1975 and opened embassies in 2008. But relations moved to a new plane when President Fernández visited Abu Dhabi in January 2013, where she met with UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

During that visit, cooperation agreements were signed in the area of food, with the opening of the Emirati market to non-traditional Argentine products, and this country opened its first business office in the UAE.

In 2014, as the Argentine-Arab Chamber of Commerce informed IPS, trade between Argentina and the UAE amounted to 228 million dollars, with this South American country enjoying a surplus, exporting 198.9 million dollars in mainly foodstuffs and steel pipe and tube products.

But Mendiola believes there is greater potential to tap because besides boasting one of the highest per capita incomes in the Gulf, the UAE is a business hub which re-exports products to third countries and large markets, such as Saudi Arabia, India, Iran and Pakistan.

Bilateral ties were reinforced in April 2014, with a visit to Argentina by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and emir of Dubai.

A memorandum of understanding for cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy was signed during that visit.

On that occasion, Fernández emphasised the Argentina forms part of the “exclusive club” of nations “that can produce nuclear energy, but that do so on a non-proliferation basis.”

The then president also referred to the UAE’s “enormous interest” in investing in Argentina and financing projects aimed at bolstering food security.

In November 2015, with support from the local government, five family farming cooperatives from Argentina took part in an international specialty food festival in Dubai.

During the meeting in Buenos Aires, agreements were also reached to promote tourism initiatives and projects in renewable energy – an area in which the UAE, despite its status as one of the world’s largest oil producers, is considered a pioneer among the Gulf countries and even at the international level, Mendiola noted.

“The Emiratis are very good at forging ahead and moving into new areas, and in that sense they are a model, at least in the Gulf region,” he added.

During his visit to Argentina, Al Maktoum remarked that his country did not invest “according to preferences or political motives, but based on economic questions.”

For that reason Mendiola said he was not “surprised” by the UAE’s interest in Latin America “because the Gulf countries in general have always had extremely pragmatic foreign policies which are at the same time modest, in terms of maintaining a low profile.”

“I think the difference now is they are taking advantage of the fact that there is a new government in Argentina, which presents itself to the world as very different from the last one, and that is raising a lot of interest because they have an extraordinary level of reserves as well as investment abroad,” he said.

Mendiola pointed out that the UAE did not have a “clear” presence in Latin America until recently, unlike in Africa and Asia.

“Up to now, South America was a caboose for the Gulf countries, from the point of view of their economic interests. And the change in government without a doubt awakened curiosity and interest in seeing how to best take advantage of these opportunities,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The UAE’s Journey Towards Clean Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-uaes-journey-towards-clean-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-uaes-journey-towards-clean-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-uaes-journey-towards-clean-energy/#comments Fri, 29 Jan 2016 12:04:44 +0000 Rajeev Batra http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143724 Rajeev Batra is partner and head of risk consulting at KPMG.]]>

Rajeev Batra is partner and head of risk consulting at KPMG.

By Rajeev Batra, Special to Gulf News
ABU DHABI, Jan 29 2016 (IPS)

(WAM) - The discovery of hydrocarbon reserves brought tremendous prosperity for the UAE and made it a central player in the global energy market. With one of the highest gross domestic product per capita levels in the world, the UAE has generally used its wealth wisely to stimulate sustainable economic growth. However, volatility in oil markets, growing unrest across the region and the growing threat of climate change has concentrated minds on the need for immediate and decisive action.

Credit: Gulf News archive

Credit: Gulf News archive

The UAE has long recognised that environmental responsibility and economic diversification are essential for a better, more sustainable future. As the first country in the region to set renewable energy targets and as home to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), Masdar City and the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the shift towards cleaner energy sources and reduced carbon emissions is evident.

Ahead of last month’s COP21 summit in Paris, the UAE government pledged to increase clean energy’s share of the national energy mix to 24 per cent by 2021. This is a pivotal step towards making the UAE a global centre of renewable energy innovation. With more than 300 days of abundant sunshine every year, increasing solar’s share of the UAE energy mix should be attainable. Hydrocarbons that are not burnt to generate electricity can be used for other, higher value-adding purposes, or sold to increase the gross national income. Clean energy could also reduce the long-term social costs the government will face as adverse environmental and health effects could be minimised — or even eradicated.

The UAE should be proud of its clean energy leadership role. Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy agency Masdar was a key sponsor of Solar Impulse, the flying laboratory full of clean technologies that represents 12 years of research and development. Solar Impulse generated tremendous global excitement when it attempted the first round-the-world solar flight to demonstrate how a pioneering spirit and clean technologies can change the world.

The Zayed Future Energy Prize — which represents the environmental stewardship vision of the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan — celebrates impactful, innovative and long-term achievements in renewable energy and sustainability. It reflects the UAE’s commitment to finding solutions that meet the challenges of climate change, energy security and the environment. The 2016 winners were announced on January 19 and ranged from SOS HG Shaikh Secondary School, a school for 300 students three hours from Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, to BYD, the largest rechargeable battery supplier and new energy vehicle manufacturer, based in Shenzhen. A lifetime achievement award to Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland recognised her many achievements and accomplishments, included being a guiding force behind the “Brundtland Report” on sustainability over 25 years ago.

The UAE, like many other developed and developing countries, faces a number of clean energy and carbon emission issues. In a reflection of its growing economy, there is an increasing number of vehicles on our roads, leading to increasing fuel usage and higher carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide levels. Electricity demand from individuals, industries and commercial buildings — which are major consumers of electricity — is high and the UAE has a significant carbon footprint. Competitively priced oil, gas and energy prices, while driving economic growth in some traditional industries, is undermining renewable energy and stifling growth in what could be a key sector of the country’s future economy.

The recent adoption of the Paris agreement was a historic moment. COP21 was an unprecedented international climate deal and presents both risks and opportunities for businesses who have an important role in terms of emissions reductions and investments to help governments achieve the goals.

As countries start reforming their economies based on their COP21 commitments, we should see the global economy evolving to a lower carbon model. Companies will be required to be more open and transparent about the financial, environmental and social risks and opportunities that they face from climate change.

Investment in clean technology should grow dramatically — governments are expected to double their clean-tech research and development budgets and the private sector is likely to increase its involvement and investment. The role of the private sector, in fact, is key to the sustainability agenda — because of its central role in the development of the global economy. The increase in the private sector’s rate of triple bottom-line reporting — which focuses on social and environmental as well as economic costs and benefits — will be a key marker of the likely success, or failure, of the COP21 programme.

(End)

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Western Powers Protect Arms Markets Ignoring Civilian Killingshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/western-powers-protect-arms-markets-ignoring-civilian-killings/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=western-powers-protect-arms-markets-ignoring-civilian-killings http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/western-powers-protect-arms-markets-ignoring-civilian-killings/#comments Thu, 14 Jan 2016 22:06:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143598 Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 2016 (IPS)

The West continues its strong political and military support to one of its longstanding allies in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia –- despite withering criticism of the kingdom’s battlefield excesses in the ongoing war in neighbouring Yemen.

A Saudi-led coalition has been accused of using banned cluster bombs, bombing civilian targets and destroying hospitals – either by accident or by design—using weapons provided primarily by the US, UK and France.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said last week the armed conflict in Yemen continues to take a terrible toll on civilians, with at least 81 civilians reportedly killed and 109 injured in December.

As a result, the toll of civilian casualties, recorded between 26 March and 31 December 2015, are estimated at more than 8,000 people, including nearly 2,800 killed and more than 5,300 wounded.

But Western powers — which are quick to condemn and impose sanctions on countries accused of civilian killings– have refused to take any drastic action against Saudi Arabia or its coalition partners, including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

The Saudi stranglehold is increasingly linked to a thriving multi-billion dollar arms market — with British, French and mostly American military suppliers providing sophisticated weapons, including state-of-the-art fighter planes, helicopters, missiles, battle tanks and electronic warfare systems.

The arms supplying countries, for obvious reasons, are unwilling to jeopardize their markets, specifically Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi arsenal alone includes Boeing F-15 fighter planes (US supplied), Tornado strike aircraft (UK), Aerospatiale Puma and Dauphin attack helicopters (French), Bell, Apache and Sikorsky helicopters (US), Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning Control System (US), Sidewinder, Sparrow and Stinger missiles (US) and Abrams and M60 battle tanks (US).

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Research Fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS that for years, the US government has documented Saudi human rights abuses in its own reports, including the State Department.

“Yet the United States continues to provide a largely open-ended weapons supply line to the Saudi government. It’s time for the US government to act in accordance with the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and with its own laws and suspend arms transfers to Saudi Arabia,” she said.

She argued US weapons manufacturers’ profit motives for continuing massive weapons sales to Saudi Arabia should not drive US military and foreign policy.

“The US Defense Department may benefit in the short term by keeping some weapons supply lines open with foreign orders. But the risks to US military personnel and US interests should be given far greater weight in decision making,” said Goldring who also represents the Acronym Institute on conventional weapons and arms transfer issues, at the United Nations.

The current issue of Time magazine says Saudi Arabia continues to spend a bigger portion of its economy on defence than any other nation (11 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) compared with 3.5 percent by the US).

“It burns through $6 billion a month to bomb Yemen, an ill-advised war that has come to define the abrupt change brought by King Salman since he assumed the throne a year ago,” said Time.

But future military spending is likely to falter due to a sharp decline in oil prices—dropping to less than $30 per barrel this week, down from $110 in early 2014.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, from 2010-2014, the United Kingdom and the United States were Saudi Arabia’s top weapons suppliers.

The United Kingdom accounted for 36 percent of the Saudis’ weapons deliveries, just edging out the United States, which accounted for 35 percent of Saudi weapons imports. France was a distant third at 6 percent.

In an article in Counter Punch published last November, William D. Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project the Center for International Policy and a senior adviser to the Security Assistance Monitor, said the recent surge in US arms transfers to the Middle East is part of an unprecedented boom in major US arms sales that has been presided over by the administration of President Barack Obama.

“The majority of the Obama administration’s major arms sales have gone to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia topping the list with over $49 billion in new agreements.”

“This is particularly troubling given the complex array of conflicts raging throughout the region, and given the Saudi regime’s use of U.S.-supplied weaponry in its military intervention in Yemen,” Hartung said.

He also pointed out that the Obama administration has made arms sales a central tool of its foreign policy, in part as a way of exerting military influence without having to put “boots on the ground” in large numbers, as the Bush administration did in Iraq—with disastrous consequences.

“The Obama administration’s push for more Mideast arms sales has been a bonanza for U.S. weapons contractors, who have made increased exports a primary goal as Pentagon spending levels off. Not only do foreign sales boost company profits, but they also help keep open production lines that would otherwise have to close due to declining orders from the Pentagon,” said Hartung.

For example, he pointed out, earlier this year it was reported that Boeing had concluded a deal to sell 40 F-18s to Kuwait, which will extend the life of the programme for another year or more beyond its current projected end date of early 2017.

Similarly, the General Dynamics M-1 tank has been surviving on a combination of Congressional add-ons and a deal for tanks and tank upgrades for Saudi Arabia.

“But it’s not just about money. U.S.-supplied arms are fueling conflict in the region. The most troubling recent sales is a deal in the works that would supply $1 billion or more in bombs and missiles for the Saudi Air Force, again for use in the Yemen war,” Hartung added.

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in the Canadian capital of Ottawa last month demanding the cancellation of a hefty 10.5 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia which included light armoured military vehicles.

The contract, signed by the previous government, was described as one of the largest arms deals between Canada and Saudi Arabia.

The protest was triggered by the execution of 47 prisoners, including a Shiite cleric, on terrorism charges.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, who dismissed the protest, was quoted as saying: “What is done is done and the contract is not something that we’ll revisit.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Once Auctioned, What to Do with Syrian Refugees?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/once-auctioned-what-to-do-with-syrian-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=once-auctioned-what-to-do-with-syrian-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/once-auctioned-what-to-do-with-syrian-refugees/#comments Tue, 12 Jan 2016 15:23:51 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143561 A young Syrian girl sits on a broken chair by her tent in Faida 3 camp, an informal tented settlement for Syria refugees in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.  Credit: UNICEF/Alessio Romenzi

A young Syrian girl sits on a broken chair by her tent in Faida 3 camp, an informal tented settlement for Syria refugees in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Credit: UNICEF/Alessio Romenzi

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jan 12 2016 (IPS)

Few months ago, an unprecedented “humanitarian auction” was opened in Brussels at the European Commission, shortly after watching the image of the three-year old Syrian child that the sea threw up on the Turkish shores. The “auction” was about deciding upon the number of Syrian refugees to be hosted by each EU country. Germany won the largest batch.

Before taking a final decision, some less rich European countries, like Spain, rushed to argue: “We are trying to get out of the crisis; we have a much too high percentage of unemployed people; also a huge public deficit…,” Spanish authorities, for instance, would try to explain their reluctance, with a more diplomatic wording.

The EU decision was also subject to a wave of political controversies. Some conservative political leaders, like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, would strongly alert against this “tsunami” of Muslims threatening to attack “our Christian civilisation”. And some figures, like US multimillionaire Republican pre-electoral runner Donald Trump, would even call for prohibiting the entry to the US of all Muslims.

Labour Factor

Meanwhile, labour market experts would argue that the so-called “natural selection” process would solve the problem –i.e, that the market forces would hire those skilled refugees as non-expensive manpower, while the non-skilled ones would necessarily end up as undocumented, illegal migrants, therefore easy to repatriate.

But such an argument has never been enough to calm the panic that several politicians and many media outlets induced among European ordinary people.

Another factor these experts take into account is the fact that the European population is steadily ageing, without the needed demographic replacement, a problem that is translated in more pension takers and less tax payers to replenish the retirement budget.

All this, of course, comes aside of Europe’s humanitarian convictions, those that moved the EU to act in view of the massive arrival of refugees.

It was when the EU, led by Germany, decided to offer economic assistance to less rich “reception” countries (6,000 euro per refugee) that the most reluctant ones accepted the deal. This way, Spain, which agreed to host 14,000-16,000 refugees, hailed some weeks ago the arrival of the first 14!

Big Hell

Meanwhile, the mainstream media disseminated tens of dramatic footage and tragic stories about those kilometres-long barbed-wire barriers built by some East European states; the “Calais jungle” in France; the hundreds of refugees stranded at frontiers; the arrival of cold winter, or the daily death of tens of human beings on Greek shores.

Then came the brutal, inhuman, execrable killing of French civilians on 13 November 2015 by Jihadist Islamist terrorists; the immediately previous attacks against unarmed population in Lebanon, and the even previous ones in Tunisia, and, later on, the horrible New Year’s eve assaults in Cologne, Germany, not to mention the daily murdering of innocent people in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, among others.

This created serious problems at home for several European rulers, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, apart from feeding more fears among European citizens.

A Turkish Warehouse

All of a sudden, a “solution” was found: the EU asked Turkey to keep the Syrian refugees in its territory or at its borders, preventing them from passing to Europe, against the payment of 3,000 million euro and the promise to unfreeze the deadlocked process of negotiations with Ankara for its potential integration in the European club.

In other words: to transform Turkey in a “storage room” or “warehouse” of Syrian refugees, until…

Facts

Meanwhile, it would be necessary to recall some facts:

The current number of Syrian refugees exceeds 4,5 million – according to the United Nations refugee agency, (UNHCR); This figure does not include the around 7,5 million internally displaced persons, i.e. refugees at home. The total would make over 50 per cent of the Syrian population (23 million.)

The number of Syrian refugees “auctioned” in Europe would represent barely one fifth of their total.

The number of Syrian refugees to be effectively allowed to stay in Europe is expected to come down to less than 15 per cent of those 4.5 million plus.

The remaining ones. i.e, 85 per cent of the 4.7 million Syrian refugees are currently spread out in the Middle East, Arab, poor and/or troubled countries, like Lebanon (with more than one million refugees, representing one fifth of its total population); unstable Iraq, and Jordan, where the Za’atri camp now represents the fourth most populated “city”;

The largest portion of humanitarian aid and assistance comes either from a short-funded UN agencies or civil society organisations.

That the Europeans themselves were also refugees during and after World War II, with numbers that exceeded those of Syrian refugees;

UNICEF’s humanitarian work began in the aftermath of World War II — and by the mid 1950’s millions of European children were receiving aid. Seventy years later, refugees and migrants are entering Europe at levels not seen since World War II. Nearly 1 in 4 are children.

And Now What?

What to do now with the total of 4,5 million Syrian refugees?
The five biggest military powers on Earth (US, UK, France, Russia and China), on 18 December 2015 adopted United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 2254 (2015) endorsing a “road map” for peace process in Syria, and even setting a timetable for UN-facilitated talks between the Bashar al Assad regime and “opposition” groups.
The whole thing moved so rapidly that the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has already set the 25 January 2016 as the target date to begin talks between the parties.

The “road map” talks about many things, including the organisation of “free and fair” elections in 18-months time.

No explicit mention, however, to the fate of the 13 millions of refugees and displaced at home Syrians who do not know what to do or where to go.

(End)

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… And All of a Sudden Syria!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/and-all-of-a-sudden-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=and-all-of-a-sudden-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/and-all-of-a-sudden-syria/#comments Tue, 05 Jan 2016 11:21:54 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143516 By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jan 5 2016 (IPS)

The “big five” – i.e., the most military powerful states on earth (US, UK, France, Russia and China) have just agreed that it would be about time to end the Syrian five-year long human tragedy.

Baher Kamal

Baher Kamal

Before reaching such a conclusion, they waited until 300,000 innocent civilians were killed; tons of bullets shot; 4.5 million humans lost as refugees or homeless at home; hundreds of field testing of state-of-the-art drones made, and daily US, British, French and Russian bombing carried out.

So, with these statistics in hand, they on 18 December 2015 adopted United Nations Resolution 2254 (2015) endorsing a “road map” for peace process in Syria, and even setting a timetable for UN-facilitated talks between the Bashar al Assad regime and “opposition” groups.

They also set the outlines of a “nationwide ceasefire to begin as soon as the parties concerned had taken initial steps towards a political transition.”

“The Syrian people will decide the future of Syria,” the Resolution states.

The UN Security Council also requested that the UN Secretary-General convenes representatives of the Syrian Government and opposition to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process “on an urgent basis”, with a target of early January for the initiation of talks.

“Free and Fair Elections”

The “big five” then expressed support for a Syrian-led political process facilitated by the United Nations which would establish “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance” within six months and set a schedule and process for the drafting of a new constitution.

Furthermore, the Security Council expressed support for “free and fair elections, pursuant to the new constitution, to be held within 18 months and administered under United Nations supervision,” to the “highest international standards” of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians — including members of the diaspora – eligible to participate.

And they requested that the UN Secretary-General report back on “options” for a ceasefire monitoring, verification and reporting mechanism that it could support within one month. They of course also demanded that “all parties immediately cease attacks against civilians.”

The road-map says that within six months, the process should establish a “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance,” with UN-supervised “free and fair elections” to be held within 18 months.

The whole thing moved so rapidly that the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan di Mestura, has already set the 25 January 2016 as the target date to begin talks between the parties.

All That Is Fine, But…

… But the resolution gives no specific answer to a number of key questions:

To start with, the Syrian National Coalition (SCN) has dismissed the whole idea as “unrealistic,” Deutsch Welle reported. The Coalition objects to a fact that the Security Council’s Resolution carefully “omits”: what future President Assad has.

According to Deutsch Welle, the SNC expressed annoyance that the UN language talked of ISIS terrorism but not of the “terrorism” of the Assad government. Russia has called for the transition to leave the question of governance up to the Syrians, while France and at times the US have demanded Assad’s immediate ousting as a condition of the deal.

If so, which “opposition” should sit to talk with the Syrian regime? While the US, UK and France support what they decided to consider as “rebel” or “opposition” groups, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia would have different criteria.

In this regard, it was decided to work out a mechanism for establishing which rebel groups in Syria will be eligible to take part in the peace process. For this purpose, Jordan, which was tasked with listing terrorist organisations in Syria, has reportedly presented a document that includes up to 160 extremist groups.

Even though, would President Bashar al-Assad be able to run for office in new elections?

How will the UN monitor the requested ceasefires, and control so many different sides involved in the armed fighting, including the US, UK, France and Russia? And what if the ceasefires do not work? More Syrian civilians to die, flee, migrate? How to control DAESH and so many diverse terrorist groups operating there? What to do with those millions of Syrian refugees, scattered in the region, mainly in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, while hundreds of thousands of them are being “trafficked” by organised crime bands, reportedly including DAESH itself?

And last but not least, which Syria will exist at the end of the 18 months which has been fixed as a target to hold free, fair elections?

Will it be the current Syria or a new, refurbished one after cutting part of it to establish a brand new “Sunni-stan” that US neo-con, neo-liberal, Republican “hawk” and former George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has recently recommended to create on the territories to be “liberated” from DAESH in Syria and Iraq?

Too many key questions without and clear answers. And too may gaps for this road-map to gain credibility. Unless the idea is to implement a Libyan-style solution, that’s for another Western-led military coalition, under NATO’s umbrella, to attack Syria, let Assad be murdered, and leave the people to their own fate. Exactly what happened in Libya in 2011.

(End)

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Initiatives Revive Palestinian Heritage Boosting Economy and ‘Homeland’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland/#comments Fri, 25 Dec 2015 11:27:41 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143445 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland/feed/ 0 SYRIA: Give Peace a Chancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/syria-give-peace-a-chance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syria-give-peace-a-chance http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/syria-give-peace-a-chance/#comments Tue, 22 Dec 2015 12:31:17 +0000 Emirates News Agency http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143418

Att.Editors: The following item is from the Emirates News Agency (WAM)

By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
ABU DHABI, Dec 22 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) – The Gulf Today, a United Arab Emirates (UAE) newspaper has said that years of strife and with millions of its people scattered across the globe, peace is what Syrians yearn for. The country is in ruins and the spreading of radicalism poses major security challenges regionally and globally.

“The Syrian conflict has rattled the world so much that any initiative aimed to restore peace in that country should be welcomed without any hesitation,” said ‘The Gulf Today’ in an editorial published on Monday.

“In this context it is good that in its first resolution that focuses on ending Syria’s five-year-long war, the Security Council has now given the United Nations an enhanced role in shepherding the opposing sides to talks for a political transition, with a timetable for a ceasefire, a new constitution and elections, all under UN auspices.

“Also to give the Syrian peace prospects a strong push, foreign ministers from 17 countries gathered in New York before the council’s session. The UAE has always been a peace-loving country and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister, also took part in the meeting, presided over by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“As Kerry put it, the UNSC has sent a clear message to all concerned that the time is now to stop the killing in Syria and lay the groundwork for a government that the long-suffering people of that battered land can support.

“More than 250,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011. The civil war has been the main driver of mass displacement, with more than 4.2 million Syrian refugees having fled abroad and 7.6 million uprooted within their shattered homeland as of mid-year.

“An opportunity for peace has at last emerged. All parties involved in the talks should seize the chance. There is a dire need for leaders deliberating on the Syrian issue to take a flexible approach.

“The unambiguous goal is end to violence and a negotiated peace solution. The participating leaders should leave no stone unturned in achieving that,” concluded the Sharjah-based daily. (WAM) (END/2015)

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Analysis: Kurdish-Led Peace Conference Is Best Hope for Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/analysis-kurdish-led-peace-conference-is-best-hope-for-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-kurdish-led-peace-conference-is-best-hope-for-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/analysis-kurdish-led-peace-conference-is-best-hope-for-syria/#comments Wed, 16 Dec 2015 17:09:26 +0000 Joris Leverink http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143373

Joris Leverink is a writer and political analyst based in Istanbul. He is an editor for ROAR Magazine and a columnist for TeleSUR English, where he frequently reports on Turkish and regional politics.

By Joris Leverink
ISTANBUL, Turkey, Dec 16 2015 (IPS)

While the war in Syria continues to draw in more outside forces, the work towards finding a political solution to this five-year old conflict carries on. In the past week, no less than three separate conferences were organized by different clusters of opposition groups. Conferences were held in three places: Damascus, Dêrîk – a city in the Kurdish-controlled northern part of Syria – and Riyadh, the Saudi capital, respectively.

With the Damascus conference widely regarded as a sham, organized with the permission and under the firm control of the Assad regime, and the conference in Dêrîk being all-but ignored by the international media, the eyes of the world were fixed on the proceedings in Riyadh.

The conference in the Saudi capital was sponsored by a number of international allies to the various warring factions inside Syria. The intended outcome was to unite the Syrian opposition so that it could present a common front in upcoming negotiations with the regime, as determined by the Vienna talks held in November.

Remarkably, little attention was paid to the conference in Dêrîk – called the “Democratic Syria Congress” – organized by Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies. This conference brought together more than a hundred delegates representing religious and ethnic groups from all over Syria, with an important role reserved for women and youth organizations. It was the first peace conference of its kind organized in opposition-controlled territory inside Syria – a fact that goes a long way in pointing out the significance of this particular event. Contrary to the one in Riyadh, this was a conference by Syrians, and for Syrians, not controlled by the agendas of powerful international allies nor obstructed by the dogmatic views of some of its participants.

The Riyadh conference was attended by political bodies such as the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and the National Co-ordination Committee for Democratic Change, as well as rebel factions like Jaysh al-Islam, the Southern Front and Ahrar al-Sham, a salafist group fighting in alliance with the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front.

Tellingly, the New York Times reported that in the final statement of the Riyadh conference the word “democracy” was left out because of objections by Islamist delegates, and replaced with “democratic mechanism” instead.

In contrast, the final resolution presented at the Democratic Syria Congress in Dêrîk underlined the delegates’ commitment to democracy, social pluralism, and national unity. It confirmed the participants’ determination “to form a democratic constitution to enable solutions to the Syrian crisis through democratic, peaceful discussion, dialogue and talks; … to hold free and democratic elections required by the current process in Syria; [and] to secure the faith, culture and identities of all Syrian people.”

The Dêrîk conference also saw the establishment of the Democratic Syrian Assembly, which will serve as the political representation of the newly formed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF is a Kurdish-dominated coalition of rebel factions, including Arab, Syriac, Turkmen and Yezidi forces. In recent months, the SDF has proved to be ISIS’ most formidable enemy, and the international coalition’s most reliable ally in the fight against the terrorist organization.

It might come as a surprise, then, that neither the SDF nor any other Kurdish organizations were invited to the Riyadh conference. As a faction that controls an area many times the size of that under control of the National Coalition – or any other rebel group for that matter – and which has been able to claim a string of victories against ISIS, it naturally ought to play a role in any post-Assad, post-ISIS future plan for Syria.

The Kurds’ absence in Riyadh has everything to do with Turkey’s position in the Syrian conflict. From the Turkish perspective, the Kurds in Syria pose a bigger threat to its national security than ISIS.

Turkey fears that the establishment of the autonomous regions, or “cantons,” in the Kurdish parts of northern Syria might inspire its domestic Kurdish population to pursue a similar goal. The fact that the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the most powerful political body in the region, is a sister organization to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging a 35-year insurgency against the Turkish state, only adds insult to injury.

Commenting on the Riyadh conference, PYD co-chair Saleh Moslem stated that “it doesn’t pay regard to the current political and military reality in Syria and the region, as the most active and dynamic actors and representatives of the actual Syrian opposition haven’t been invited. In the circumstances, such meetings will have no seriousness.”

Before it even started, the precarious alliance formed in Riyadh was already on the verge of collapse. Ahrar al-Sham threatened to pull out of the talks, condemning the presence of “pro-Assad forces” and deeming the final statement “not Islamic enough.”

The goal to bring all the different opposition factions to the table, to explore common ground and to form a united front against the Assad regime is a noble one. Unfortunately it is doomed to fail when the alliance neglects to reflect the reality on the ground as well as the will of the Syrian people.

When it is merely the outcome of external parties pushing their agendas for personal benefits – whether it is to strengthen the position of local allies on the ground, to obstruct the efforts of the Kurdish autonomous administration or to explore options for negotiations with Assad in order to be able to focus all energy on destroying ISIS – any alliance will be too weak to withstand the test of time, let alone the test of war.

In this regard, despite the lack of international attention, the conference in Dêrîk might actually supersede the one in Riyadh in terms of importance. Despite the increasing involvement of outside forces, diplomatically, politically and, most important, militarily, any real solution to the crisis in Syria must be initiated by the Syrian people, not any outside power.

The Democratic Syria Congress in Dêrîk has shown that there is not only a will to work towards peace, but that there is also an infrastructure in place, a platform, where the first, cautious steps towards a peaceful future and an “alternative democratic system aiming at change” have been made.

(End)

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New Poll Highlights Need for Reform in the Middle Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/new-poll-highlights-need-for-reform-in-the-middle-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-poll-highlights-need-for-reform-in-the-middle-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/new-poll-highlights-need-for-reform-in-the-middle-east/#comments Mon, 14 Dec 2015 17:23:22 +0000 Derek Davison http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143335 Queuing up to vote in Cairo. Credit: Khaled Moussa al-Omrani/IPS.

Queuing up to vote in Cairo. Credit: Khaled Moussa al-Omrani/IPS.

By Derek Davison
WASHINGTON, Dec 14 2015 (IPS)

A new public opinion survey undertaken in six Arab countries, Iran, and Turkey finds that people are more likely to blame “corrupt, repressive, and unrepresentative governments” and “religious figures and groups promoting extremist ideas and/or incorrect religious interpretations” for the rise of violent groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State than they are to blame “anger at the United States.”

These findings are the result of a series of face-to-face polls conducted by Zogby Research Services on a commission from the Sir Bani Yas Forum in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and released at a Middle East Institute-sponsored event on Wednesday. In September, ZRS interviewed a total of 7,400 adults across eight countries—Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE—on a broad range of topics, including the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen; the Israel-Palestine situation; the Iranian nuclear deal; and the threat of religious extremism. Respondents in Iran and Iraq were also asked a separate series of questions about internal affairs in those countries.

the two most commonly cited factors in the development of religious extremism were “corrupt governments” and “extremist and/or incorrect religious ideas"
With respect to Israel-Palestine, the poll found that people in five of the six surveyed Arab nations are less likely to support a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal now than they were back in 2009, when Zogby International’s “Six-Nation Arab Opinion Poll” asked a similar question of respondents in those five countries. In Egypt, which has seen the sharpest decline in support for a peace deal, almost two-thirds of respondents said that they would oppose a peace deal “even if the Israelis agree to return all of the territories and agree to resolve the refugee issue,” compared with only 8% who answered similarly in the 2009 survey. This represents a potential risk for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has worked to improve Egyptian-Israeli relations despite the apparent feelings of most of the Egyptian public. Similar, albeit smaller, shifts were seen in Jordan (where 24% oppose a deal today, compared with 13% in 2009), Lebanon (30% vs. 18%), Saudi Arabia (36% vs. 18%), and the UAE (19% vs. 8%). Iraq was not part of the 2009 survey, but 59% of respondents in this survey said that they would also oppose a comprehensive peace deal with Israel.

On Iran and the P5+1 nuclear deal, the poll reveals several divergences in terms of the way Arabs and Iranians approach the deal’s terms. Majorities in Egypt (63%), Jordan (53%), Saudi Arabia (62%), and the UAE (91%) said that the deal would be “only good for Iran, but bad for the Arab states,” and that they were “not confident” that the deal will keep Iran from developing a “nuclear weapons program.” Large majorities in Egypt (90%) and Saudi Arabia (66%) predicted that any additional revenue that Iran sees as a result of sanctions relief would primarily go to “support its military and political interference in regional affairs.”

Inside Iran, on the other hand, 80% of respondents said that they “supported” the deal, but 68% agreed that it was a “bad idea” for the Iranian government to accept limits on its nuclear program—or, as ZRS managing director John Zogby put it at the poll’s roll-out event, “they’re for the deal, but they don’t like it.” On the question of whether Iran should have nuclear weapons, roughly 68% of Iranians said that it should, either because Iran “is a major nation” or because “as long as other countries have nuclear weapons, we need them also.” However, the percentage of Iranians saying that their country should have nuclear weapons “because it is a major nation” declined from 49% in 2014 to only 20% this year, and the percentage of Iranians who said that “nuclear weapons are always wrong and so no country, including my own, should have them” rose from 14% last year to 32% this year.

Meanwhile, in contrast with Arab fears about Iranian expansionism, Iranians themselves seem to be growing increasingly isolationist. Just 19% of Iranian respondents agreed with the statement “my country should be the dominant player in the Gulf region,” while a plurality, 44%, agreed with the statement “my country should not be involved in the Gulf region; it should focus on internal matters.” And whereas majorities of Iranians agreed that Iran should be involved in Syria (73%), Lebanon (72%), Iraq (64%), and Bahrain (57%), those numbers each declined sharply (by 10% or more) from last year, and a majority of Iranians (57%) now oppose Iran’s involvement in Yemen (which had 62% support last year). For Iranians, “the first priority is always economic, followed by greater political freedom,” the Atlantic Council’s Barbara Slavin pointed out, “there is not and has never been a huge enthusiasm for intervention in what Iranians call ‘Arab causes.’”

Still, it was in the area of extremism and its causes where the poll generated its most interesting findings. When asked to rate eight factors on a 1-5 scale (where 1 means “very important factor”) in terms of their importance as a driver of religious extremism, respondents in all eight countries gave “anger at the U.S.” the fewest number of ones and twos, although that factor was still rated as important by a majority of respondents in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Turkey. Zogby argued that this was a sign that Barack Obama’s attempt to leave a “softer U.S. footprint in the region pays off.” However, when asked whether the United States is playing a positive or negative role in combating extremist sectarian violence, large majorities in each country said that the U.S. was playing a negative role.

Instead, the two most commonly cited factors in the development of religious extremism were “corrupt governments” and “extremist and/or incorrect religious ideas.” Other commonly cited factors, like “lack of education,” “poverty,” and “youth alienation” also speak to a consistent sense that extremism is an internal problem stemming from poor governance. Majorities in each of the eight countries except Iran agreed that “countering the messages and ideas promoted by recruiters for extremist groups” and “changing the political and social realities that cause young people to be attracted to extremist ideals” were “most important” in terms of defeating violent extremist groups like the Islamic State. Within Iraq, majorities from all three of the country’s major ethno-religious groups (Sunni Arabs, Shi’a Arabs, and Kurds) agreed that “forming a more inclusive, representative government” is the best way to resolve the conflict there, but even larger majorities from each group said that they were “not confident” that such a government will be formed within the next five years.

As with any public opinion poll, these results must be considered with the caveat that respondents may have different ideas about the concepts in question. One respondent in one country may define “corrupt government” or “extreme religious ideas” much differently than another respondent in another country. Theoretical public support for a “Joint Arab Force,” which the poll showed was consistent across all six Arab countries surveyed, could break down very quickly if such a force were really to be formed and then deployed in an actual conflict zone. Middle East Institute scholar Hassan Mneimneh noted that “even when elements seem to align, we’re not necessarily in alignment.”

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy Lobelog.com

 

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Silence, Please! A New Middle East Is in the Makinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/silence-please-a-new-middle-east-is-in-the-making/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=silence-please-a-new-middle-east-is-in-the-making http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/silence-please-a-new-middle-east-is-in-the-making/#comments Mon, 14 Dec 2015 15:20:21 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143334 Baher Kamal, a Spanish national of Egyptian origin presents his views on the current Middle East situation and its future. Read The Over-Written, Under-ReportedMiddle East – Part I: Of Arabs and Muslims and Middle East Part II – 99.5 Years of (Imposed) Solitude ]]>

Baher Kamal, a Spanish national of Egyptian origin presents his views on the current Middle East situation and its future. Read The Over-Written, Under-ReportedMiddle East – Part I: Of Arabs and Muslims and Middle East Part II – 99.5 Years of (Imposed) Solitude

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Dec 14 2015 (IPS)

When, in June 2006, former US National Security adviser and, later on, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, spelled out the George W. Bush administration new, magic doctrine for the Middle East, tons of ink was poured and millions of words said in a harsh attempt to speculate with what she really did mean by what she called “Creative Chaos.”

Baher Kamal

Baher Kamal

Most Middle East analysts concluded then that the new doctrine would lead to or build upon a new wave of conflicts and violence in the region.

Whether they were right or not, this is at least what has been happening. No Need to recall what is now going on in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and even Tunisia and Egypt-–the so-called “Arab Spring” countries.

Now another U.S. neo-liberal, neo-conservative Republican “hawk,” John R. Bolton, has just come out with a new vision that might explain the rational behind that “Creative Chaos” doctrine.

“Create a New State”

In his recent article in the New York Times, published on 25 November 2015 under the eloquent header “To Defeat ISIS, Create a Sunni State” this scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and former US ambassador to the United Nations (August 2005 to December 2006), poses this question: “What comes after the Islamic State?
Bolton then explains that “Before transforming Mr. Obama’s ineffective efforts into a vigorous military campaign to destroy the Islamic State, we need a clear view, shared with NATO allies and others, about what will replace it. It is critical to resolve this issue before considering any operational plans…

Iraq and Syria Are Gone!

According to Bolton -who could hold a key post in the US coming administration should a Republican like Donald Trump be elected- “Today’s reality is that Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone…

He then says that defeating the Islamic State means restoring to power President Bashar Assad in Syria and Iran’s puppets in Iraq, and “that outcome is neither feasible nor desirable… Rather than striving to recreate the post-World War I map, Washington should recognize the new geopolitics.”

The best alternative to the Islamic State in northeastern Syria and western Iraq is a new, independent Sunni state.

An Oil Producer “Sunni-stan”

Bolton explains further: This “Sunni-stan” has economic potential as an oil producer (subject to negotiation with the Kurds, to be sure), and could be a bulwark against both Mr. Assad and Iran-allied Baghdad. The rulers of the Arab Gulf states, who should by now have learned the risk to their own security of funding Islamist extremism, could provide significant financing. And Turkey — still a NATO ally, don’t forget — would enjoy greater stability on its southern border, making the existence of a new state at least tolerable.”

He believes that the Arab monarchies like Saudi Arabia “must not only fund much of the new state’s early needs, but also ensure its stability and resistance to radical forces. Once, we might have declared a Jordanian “protectorate” in an American “sphere of influence” for now, a new state will do.”

Bolton’s visionary plan for the new Middle East would then explain what has been behind the “Creative Chaos” doctrine. And it would clearly revamp the nearly 100-year-old Sykes-Picot map (link to Middle East Part II – 99.5 Years of (Imposed) Solitude http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/middle-east-part-ii-99-5-years-of-imposed-solitude/.

Such vision would be just another step on the successive US-West roadmaps for the region. In fact, in addition to the “Creative Chaos” doctrine, the George W. Bush second term administration came out with a new name for the region: the “Greater Middle East,” which would include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Cyprus, Somalia, and eventually also Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The Middle East Is “Served”, the “Creative Chaos” Has Worked

The “Creative Chaos” has turned to be a reality. The whole region has been boiling specially over the last five years. Violence, death and terrorism have been rapidly growing everywhere: Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, even in Tunisia. Tensions between Arabian Peninsula kingdoms and principalities and Iran,all of them oil producers, have been ramping.

Mercenary groups, under a more than doubtful religious flag have been gradually dominating the region and tragically though sporadically also some Western countries.

In short, the scenario could not be more “chaotic”. The new Middle East has been served.

The Doors of Hell Are All Open

Though Bolton’s vision should not be taken for “biblical,” things could well go in that direction.

For now, (Shii-ruled) Iraq has warned (Sunni) Turkey against deploying its troops in the DAESH-controlled Mosul area; Washington paves the ground for further military actions in conjunction with the axis Paris-London; (Sunni Wahhabi Saudi Arabia works intensively with (Sunni) Egypt for setting up a joint Army/military intervention force to fight terrorism, and (Shii) Iran warns that any attempt to remove Assad in (Alaui) Syria is a “red line”, etc.

One last question, for now: where would DAESH go once it has been militarily defeated? Libya would appear to be the next DAESH stronghold. After all, this country lacks stability, is full of weapons (up to 25 million arms) out of the government’s control, it is a big oil producer, and DAESH has an active operational branch there.

And, should this be the case, would DAESH further expand its deadly operations from Libya to neighbouring countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, in addition to some Africans countries in conjunction with Nigerian Boko-Haram?

(End)

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Middle East Part II – 99.5 Years of (Imposed) Solitudehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/middle-east-part-ii-99-5-years-of-imposed-solitude/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-east-part-ii-99-5-years-of-imposed-solitude http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/middle-east-part-ii-99-5-years-of-imposed-solitude/#comments Fri, 04 Dec 2015 07:47:51 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143218 In this Part II of a two-part series, Egyptian-born, Spanish-national, secular journalist Baher Kamal tries to “de-mythify” some of the most common stereotypes circulating around the Middle East region. Here he explains some of the roots of its drama. Part I focused on: The Eternally Over-Written, Under-Reported Middle East: Of Arabs and Muslims]]>

In this Part II of a two-part series, Egyptian-born, Spanish-national, secular journalist Baher Kamal tries to “de-mythify” some of the most common stereotypes circulating around the Middle East region. Here he explains some of the roots of its drama. Part I focused on: The Eternally Over-Written, Under-Reported Middle East: Of Arabs and Muslims

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Dec 4 2015 (IPS)

One hundred years ago, on 6 May 1916, two men, Briton Sir Mark Sykes and French diplomat François Georges-Picot, were entrusted by their respective governments with a rather exceptional task.

Baher Kamal

Baher Kamal

That task, which initially counted with the assent of the Tsarist Russia, was to divide among these powers the “inherence” of the still alive, though decadent Ottoman Empire. In short, to define Britain, France and Russia’s coming spheres of influence and control in their “new” Middle East, should this “Triple Entente” succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

The deal was crowned with a brand new Middle East map that has divided the by then existing nations into artificial states.

In virtue of that agreement, Britain was allocated control of areas comprising the coastal strip between the Mediterranean Sea and River Jordan, Jordan, South of Iraq, and a tiny area including the ports of Haifa and Acre to allow access to the Mediterranean.

France was allocated control of Southeastern Turkey, Northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

An “international administration” was proposed for Palestine.

Supposedly, Russia was to mainly get Istanbul and the Turkish Straits.

The Ottoman Empire finally collapsed during the second decade of last century; a new, secular Turkey was born, and two self-proclaimed heirs of its territories and influences –Britain and France- implemented their Sykes-Picot agreement.

London and Paris rapidly managed to immediately “offialise” – not equivalent to “legitimise” – their unilateral plans. The League of Nations would, therefore, put new-born Syria and Lebanon under France’s mandate. Jordan, Iraq and Palestine would de allocated to Britain. And Egypt, among others, would be under British mandate.

What Happened Then?

In his “Four Key Reasons to Understand the Irresistible Attraction of Radical Islam,” IPS founder and Other News publisher, Roberto Savio has rightly managed to summarise the most dramatic consequences of the Sykes-Picot agreement.

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

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

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

“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 that was happening in Europe.

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

States vs Nations

Two key issues come out of this analysis:

1. The fact that Western powers usually confuse the concept of “Nation” with that of “State”. Such confusion, apart from wrongful, could be due to either a historic negligence of the impact on their colonies, or be made following the famous “Divide and Rule” doctrine.

A “Nation” is made of a homogeneous group of people sharing common ethnic roots, language, beliefs, traditions and ways of life. Nation is a human, social, ethnic concept. A “State”, instead, is usually a “geographical” artificial grouping of peoples of different roots.

In the case of the Middle East, Syria and Lebanon, for instance, appeared as “States” following the British-French colonial policies, which were implemented as a consequence of the Sykes-Picot agreement.

Since then, the Middle East “new States” would divide the Kurds mainly between Turkey, Iraq and Syria; would force parts of Shii and Sunni to live under one flag, and would group diverse ethnic groups within the limits of artificial borders.

A State like Lebanon, for instance, is made of up to 18 different major and minor communities. Can you image a European State with less than six million inhabitants belonging to such a high number of different communities?

Inter-community, externally-fed tensions would necessarily be unavoidable. And all parties in conflict would be duly armed with Western weapons, and some of them with Russian armaments.

All that while a good number of Arab regimes have been used to blindly hear and listen to the their (Western) Master’s Voice. If they did otherwise, they would immediately be kicked out.

No wonder then that there have been, are and will always be big internal tensions in the region. Not to mention the huge business of oil and weapons and the big power games.

2. The second reason, which has been mentioned by Savio in his analysis as a consequence of the first one, is also clear:

“The colonial powers installed kings and sheiks in the countries that they created. To run these artificial countries, strong hands were required.”

In the case of the North of Africa – specifically Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt as well as Sudan – these have been systematically ruled by military regimes that used oppression, suppression of freedoms, torture and corruption in the name of the recurrent argument of “national security.” Iraq and Syria suffered this very same fate.

As a consequence, the peoples of these countries would be irrationally impoverished and deprived from any kind of rights.

Such a situation has never been contested by Western powers. Yes, their leaders would from time to time, talk about the need to respect human rights, democracy, etc.

The fact is, however, is that none of the former colonial powers, nor their successor in the region – the United States has never lifted a finger to remove those regimes. Which by the way, have been labelled as “allies.”

Hosni Mubarak’s military regime in Egypt, for instance, would be considered as a “moderate” ally.

In the name of God

The systematic, lasting oppression of the peoples would be intensively exploited by political-religious movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

This would gain popular support among disparate populations, who would look at it as the “last hope” to save them from oppression and poverty – after all, their Imams would speak to them in the name of God. And God is fair, just, compassionate, exactly what they needed.

Who funds the terrorists?

In a rapid succession of events, a growing number of self-proclaimed “Islamic” groups would devote their “raison d’être’ to perpetrating brutal, inhumane, anything else but religious acts of terror. Some make highly lucrative business though illegally selling oil from occupied fields and refineries -mainly in Iraq and Libya – at half of market prices to big multinationals. See what former national security adviser, Mowaffak al Rubaie has just stated: ‘Oxygen for jihadists’: ISIS-smuggled oil flows through Turkey to intl markets – Iraqi MP).

On top of that, those extremist groups get cheap weapons mainly from dissolved former Iraqi army and from disintegrated Libya.

In fact, the first government “installed” in Libya after NATO intervened there following the 2011 popular uprising estimated that there would be up to 25 million weapons out of the central authorities’ control in this North African oil-rich country.

That’s not to mention the big money generated through their active involvement in migrants and refugees trafficking.

Last but not least: all the above mentioned facts are originated in Western sources!

(End)

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Aspects of Dualism in the Gulfhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/aspects-of-dualism-in-the-gulf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aspects-of-dualism-in-the-gulf http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/aspects-of-dualism-in-the-gulf/#comments Thu, 03 Dec 2015 21:33:33 +0000 N Chandra Mohan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143209

Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Dec 3 2015 (IPS)

The crash in oil prices is not the only challenge confronting the Gulf States in West Asia. Economic disorder and lack of opportunity are contributing to instability in the region, stated Bahrain’s minister for industry, commerce and tourism, Zayed Al Zayani, while kicking off the recent IISS Bahrain Bay Forum. He emphasized the need for “unprecedented” economic reform across the Gulf in the wake of the lower oil revenues. These policies include the generation of millions of jobs for the youth in these economies that continue to depend heavily on expatriate labour from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Philippines.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

The Gulf States face the prospect of a demographic dividend of a youth bulge in the population rapidly turning into a curse, thanks to high and rising rates of unemployment for those between 15 to 24 years of age. The highest rates are in Saudi Arabia (28.7 per cent), Bahrain (27.9 per cent), Oman (20.5 per cent) and Kuwait (19.6 per cent). India, too, has double digit rates of joblessness among the young like many of these economies. There was a suggestion at the Bahrain Bay Forum that such high rates of youth unemployment are a proximate factor behind the surge in militant terrorism, exemplified by the rise of the Daesh or ISIS.

The prospect of lower oil revenues certainly will constrain the Gulf States to diversify their economies away from dependence on this commodity. Countries like Bahrain seek to focus on education and training, communications and infrastructure and promoting a start-up ecosystem for fostering entrepreneurship. The level of ambition is also high as they intend to generate high skill jobs and build a knowledge- based economy. The technology sector in the Gulf States is likely expected to grow by 10 per cent per annum over the next five years while the spending on technology in the Middle East as a whole is expected to touch $200 billion.

However, the transition to this brave new world requires bridging the skills gap. The labour market in this region depends heavily on low skilled and low wage earning migrant labour. More than 80 per cent of the workforce in private sector employment in Bahrain is comprised of expatriates. It goes up to 96 per cent and 98 per cent in Kuwait and Qatar respectively. In sharp contrast, the nationals are disproportionately represented in the bloated public sector. So, one form of dualism in the labour market is that the private sector is dominated wholly by expatriates while the public sector is largely for the locals in the Gulf.

Another source of dualism is that women are not adequately represented in the labour market due to pervasive gender discrimination in these conservative economies. Although women’s enrolment in higher educational institutions is rapidly rising of late — a case in point are courses in financial services in Bahrain which attract a lot of women — female labour force participation rates are well below 30 per cent as against the global average of 50 per cent. Jobless among young females is as high as 55 per cent in Saudi Arabia which is three-times higher than that of young males, according to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators.

Gulf’s labour market thus is “locked in a low skills, low wages and low productivity equilibrium” argued Frank Hagemann, deputy regional director of ILO, at one of the sessions at the Bay Forum. This dualism is reflected in a substantial wage gap between the private and public sector. At the lower end, the living and working conditions of migrants is sub-standard and highly exploitative in nature. Dependency-driven employee-employers relations are rife. The big challenge for the Gulf States is to kick-start the transition from this state of affairs to one driven by higher skills, higher wages and productivity.

What is the impact of abundant supplies of low skilled, low productivity expatriate population queried Ausamah Al Absi, chief executive, Labour Market Regulatory Authority in Bahrain? If an entrepreneur were to make an investment in a state-of-the-art printing press in Germany, he has to employ high technology and productivity tools as the cost of manpower is high. But in Bahrain, he can go for lower technology supported by a low skilled workforce. Pursuing a capital-intensive option in a low wage economy is not on. For such demand-side reasons, this entrepreneur will naturally be rendered uncompetitive in this economy, felt Al Absi.

Low oil prices complicate the efforts of the Gulf States to address these distortions without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If revenues continue to decline, a worry is that it reduces the fiscal space to pay nationals in the public sector. At the same time, there is a compulsion to reduce subsidies on water, electricity and school fees that will disproportionately hit the expatriate workforce. The Gulf economies thus will make it more and more difficult for the expatriates to work in these economies over the near-term Controls on migration appear inevitable, regardless of the heavy dependence on such labour at present.

The transition to a higher skills, wages and productivity equilibrium is far from easy. It entails changes over a generation. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, 40 per cent of the graduates come from humanities or Islamic studies while only 4 per cent are engineers. Stepping up the numbers of engineers takes more time. Yet there is a temptation to look for quick fixes like inviting tech giants in the US to set up cloud computing courses in the Gulf States! At the Bay Forum, Bahrain announced a $100 million venture capital based fund to that will work as the first cloud technology accelerator in the region. Can such moves kick-start hi-tech start-ups? Intermediate steps are perhaps more necessary like vocational and on-the-job training. Only 17 per cent of firms in the Gulf States provide on-the-job training as against the global average of 35 per cent. The best bet for these countries is greater gender empowerment in the labour market than expat-bashing policies to reduce sources of instability.

(End)

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The Over-Written, Under-Reported Middle East – Part I: Of Arabs and Muslimshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/the-over-written-under-reported-middle-east-part-i-of-arabs-and-muslims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-over-written-under-reported-middle-east-part-i-of-arabs-and-muslims http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/the-over-written-under-reported-middle-east-part-i-of-arabs-and-muslims/#comments Thu, 03 Dec 2015 08:18:42 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143200 In this two-part series, Egyptian-born, Spanish-national, secular journalist Baher Kamal tries to “de-mythify” some of the most common stereotypes circulating around the Middle East region. Part II tomorrow will focus on: Middle East, 99 Years and a Half of Solitude. ]]>

In this two-part series, Egyptian-born, Spanish-national, secular journalist Baher Kamal tries to “de-mythify” some of the most common stereotypes circulating around the Middle East region. Part II tomorrow will focus on: Middle East, 99 Years and a Half of Solitude.

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Dec 3 2015 (IPS)

Of all over-written, under-reported issues and regions, the Middle East is perhaps one of the oldest, outstanding ones.

Baher Kamal

Baher Kamal

To start with, it is a common belief – too often heralded by the mainstream media – that the Middle East is formed entirely of Arab countries, and that it is about the so-wrongly called Muslim, Arab World.

This is simply not accurate.

Firstly, because such an Arab World (or Arab Nation) does not actually exist as such. There is not much in common between a Mauritanian and an Omani; a Moroccan and a Yemeni; an Egyptian and a Bahraini, just to mention some examples. They all have different ethnic roots, history, original languages, traditions and religious beliefs.

Example: The Amazighs – also known as the Berbers – are an ethnic group indigenous to the North of Africa, living in lands stretching from the Atlantic cost to the Western Desert in Egypt. Historically, they spoke Berber languages.

There are around 25-30 million Berber speakers in North Africa. The total number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is estimated to be far greater. They have been “Arabised” and “Islamised” since the Muslim conquest of North of Africa in the 7th century.

Secondly, because not all Muslims are Arabs, nor all Arabs are Muslims. Not to mention the very fact that not all Arabs are even Arabs. It would be more accurate to talk about “Arabised,” “Islamised” peoples or nations rather than an Arab World or Arab Nation.

Here are seven key facts about Muslims that large media, in particular the Western information tools, often neglect or ignore:

1. Not all Muslims are Arabs

In fact, according to the most acknowledged statistics, the number of Muslims around the world amounts to an estimated 1.56 billion people, compared to estimated 2.2 billion Christians and 1.4 million Jewish.

Of this total, Arab countries are home to around 380 million people, that is only about 24 per cent of all Muslims.

2. Not all Arabs are Muslims

While Islam is the religion of the majority of Arab population, not all Arabs are Muslims.

In fact, it is estimated that Christians represent between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of the Arab combined population. Therefore, Arab Muslims amount to just around one-fifth of all the world’s Muslims.

Arab Christians are concentrated mainly in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Egypt, where they represent up to 13 per cent of the total population amounting to 95 million inhabitants according to last year’s census.

It is also estimated that there are more Muslims in the United Kingdom than in Lebanon, and more Muslims in China than in Syria.

3. Major Muslim countries are in Asia

According to the U.S-based Pew Research Center, this would be the percentage of major religious groups in 2012: Christianity 31.5 per cent; Islam 23.2 per cent; Hinduism 15.0 per cent, and Buddhism 7.1 per cent of the world’s total population.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center estimated that in 2010 there were 49 Muslim-majority countries.

South and Southeast Asia would account for around 62 per cent of the world’s Muslims.

According to these estimates, the largest Muslim population in a single country lives in Indonesia, which is home to 12.7 per cent of all world’s Muslims.

Pakistan (with 11.0 per cent of all Muslims) is the second largest Muslim-majority nation, followed by India (10.9 per cent), and Bangladesh (9.2 per cent).

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 20 per cent of Muslims live in Arab countries, and that two non-Arab countries – Turkey and Iran – are the largest Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East.

In short, a large number of Muslim majority countries are not Arabs. This is the case of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey.

3. Largest Muslim groups

It is estimated that 75 to 90 per cent of Islam followers are Sunni, while Shii represent 10 to 20 per cent of the global Muslim population.

The sometimes armed, violent conflicts between these two groups are often due to political impositions. But this is not restricted to Arab or Muslim countries, as evidenced by the decades of armed conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland.

4. Muslims do not have their own God

In Arabic (the language in which the sacred book, the Koran, was written and diffused) the word “table” is said “tawla;” a “tree” is called “shajarah;” and a “book” is “ketab.” In Arabic “God” is “Allah”.

In addition, Islam does not at all deny the existence of Christianity or Christ. And it does fully recognise and pay due respect to the Talmud and the Bible.

The main difference is that Islam considers Christ as God’s closest and most beloved “prophet,” not his son.

5. Islamic “traditions”

Islam landed in the 7th century in the Gulf or Arab Peninsula deserts. There, both men and women used to cover their faces and heads to protect themselves from the strong heat and sand storms. It is not, therefore, about a purely Islam religious imposition.

Meanwhile, in the Arab deserts, populations used to have nomadic life, with men travelling in caravans, while women and the elderly would handle the daily life of their families. Islamic societies were therefore actually matriarchal.

Genital mutilations are common to Islam, Judaism (male) and many other religious beliefs, in particular in Africa.

Likewise other major monotheistic religions, a number of Muslim clerics have been using faith to increase their influence and power. This is fundamentally why so many “new traditions” have been gradually imposed on Muslims. This is the case, for example, of denying the right of women to education.

As with other major monotheistic religions, some Muslim clerics used their ever growing powers to promote inhuman, brutal actions. This is the case of “Jihad” fundamentalists.

This has not been an exclusive case of Muslims along the history of humankind. Just remember the Spanish-Portuguese invasion of Latin America, where indigenous populations were exterminated and Christianity imposed by the sword, for the sake of the glory of Kings, Emperors… and Popes.

6. The unfinished wars between the West and Islam (and vice-versa)

There is a growing belief among Arab and Muslim academicians that the ongoing violent conflicts between Muslims and the West (and vice-versa) are due to the “unfinished” war between the Christian West and the Islamic Ottoman Empire, in spite of the fact that the latter was dismantled in the early 1920s.

This would explain the successive wars in the Balkans and the Middle East, for instance.

7. The “religion” of oil

It has become too common, and thus too given for certain, that oil producers are predominantly Arabs and Muslims. This is not accurate.

To start with, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was founded in (the under British mandate) Baghdad, Iraq, in 1960 by five countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. These were later joined by Qatar (1961), Indonesia (1962), Libya (1962), the United Arab Emirates (1967), Algeria (1969), Nigeria (1971), Ecuador (1973), Gabon (1975) and Angola (2007).

And here you are: OPEC full membership includes: Ecuador, Venezuela, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola. None of these is either Arab or Muslim. They are all Christian states. As for Iran and Indonesia, these are Muslim countries, but not Arab.

Then you have other major oil and gas producers and exporters outside the OPEC ranks: the United States [which produces more oil (13,973,000 barrels per day) than Saudi Arabia (11,624,000)]; Russia (10,853,000); China (4,572,000); Canada (4,383,000, more than United Arab Emirates or Iran or Iraq); Norway (1,904,000, more than Algeria) and Mexico, among others.

Again, none of these oil producers is Arab or Muslim.

In short, not all Muslims are Arabs (these are less than 20 per cent of the total); not all Arabs are Muslims, and… not all Arabs are even Arabs!

(End)

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Opinion: Battling Iran-Backed Extremists in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-battling-iran-backed-extremists-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-battling-iran-backed-extremists-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-battling-iran-backed-extremists-in-yemen/#comments Wed, 28 Oct 2015 23:24:55 +0000 Kaled Bahah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142826

Kaled Bahah is the Prime Minister and Vice President of Yemen.

By Kaled Bahah
ABU DHABI, Oct 28 2015 (WAM)

In a region racked by strife, Yemen stands out. It is the poorest country in the Middle East and since March, the plight of my people has been worsened by an inhumane war.

The people of Yemen elected President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in February 2012 to preserve the country’s unity, independence and territorial integrity, while leading all Yemenis toward a brighter future. But that future has been stolen by Iranian-backed Houthi militia, who drove our legitimate government from office and have committed countless human-rights abuses, documented by the UN. In response, a broad, international coalition led by Saudi Arabia, and with Yemen’s national army, is working to liberate our country from illegal, foreign-sponsored control.

Although the battle for Yemen’s future has been intense, we have recently made significant progress. In July, the port city of Aden was wrested from Houthi control and is now the temporary base of the legitimate government.

With Aden now secured, we have accelerated the delivery and distribution of essential goods and humanitarian assistance to Yemenis, who had been on the verge of famine before the current conflict. Thanks in large part to the exceptional generosity of our Gulf brothers, Aden’s schools, which were shut down during the Houthi occupation, are open. Electricity has been restored and hospitals are starting to function again.

While much more needs to be done, the arduous road to recovery begins with the restoration of territorial control. Yemen’s national army and coalition forces have advanced to the northern province of Marib on the doorstep of the capital, Sana’a. We will take our capital back, and restore legitimacy to our country and hope to all Yemenis. The Houthis can avoid further bloodshed if they comply with the UN Security Council resolution adopted on April 14th and recognise the legitimate, freely elected government and return all territories that they have illegally seized.

The world is rightly concerned about the toll, especially to civilians, from this war. Any civilian death is a tragedy for which my heart bleeds, and the forces allied with us are taking extraordinary care to avoid civilian casualties and target only military objectives. Yet we have seen terrible evidence, documented by internationally respected NGOs, of Houthis locating their hide-outs and weapons caches in civilian areas and making human shields out of political detainees.

In its practices, the Houthi group enjoys the support of a regional power. My country is keen to have good relations with all countries, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, provided that principles enshrined in the UN charter, particularly non-interference in internal affairs, are respected and observed. But Tehran must choose, either it continues to sow discord and maintain relations with a seditious movement, the Houthis, or it deals with Yemen’s legitimate authority.

The end of this conflict cannot come soon enough. In their callous disregard for the rule of law, the Houthis have opened up a dangerous power vacuum in parts of the country, which al Qaeda and ISIS [Daesh] the sworn enemies of humanity, are exploiting. As a result, much more than the future of my country is at stake.

Failure in Yemen will reverberate regionally and globally, emboldening and empowering extremists. Victory will send a powerful message beyond our shores that Yemenis are committed to defend their inalienable right to self-determination, to prosper in peace and to project those values throughout the Middle East.

(End)

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U.N. Rights Commissioner Blasts Harsh Treatment of Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/u-n-rights-commissioner-blasts-harsh-treatment-of-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-rights-commissioner-blasts-harsh-treatment-of-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/u-n-rights-commissioner-blasts-harsh-treatment-of-refugees/#comments Thu, 22 Oct 2015 21:02:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142773 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 22 2015 (IPS)

As the flow of migrants continues to rise – from war-ravaged countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa to Europe – so do the horror stories of the harsh treatment meted out to these refugees.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein New United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Credit: www.ohchr.org

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein New United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Credit: www.ohchr.org

The newspapers have dramatized some of the incidents, including food thrown at refugees, confined to cages like animals, and new fences on land borders preventing them from transiting from one country to another.

In Germany, despite its liberal open door policy, there was a call to reopen concentration camps at an anti-immigration rally attended by over 20,000 people, raising fears of hate speech, according to the New York Times.

Hungary is building a fence to ward off refugees. And Slovakia has said it will accept only Christian refugees, triggering a strong condemnation by the United Nations.

But the most severe condemnation has come from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein who singled out the Czech Republic for its brutal treatment of refugees.

Over the last two months, several European countries of transit have been employing restrictive policies against migrants and refugees who are trying to reach European countries further north.

“However, the Czech Republic is unique in routinely subjecting these migrants and refugees to detention for 40 days, and reportedly sometimes even longer — up to 90 days — in conditions which have been described as degrading,” he complained in the latest condemnation on Oct. 22.

According to credible reports from various sources, the violations of the human rights of migrants are neither isolated nor coincidental, but systematic: they appear to be an integral part of a policy by the Czech Government designed to deter migrants and refugees from entering the country or staying there, Zeid said.

“Many of these people are refugees who have suffered horrendously in their countries of origin as well as during their journey to the Czech Republic,” he said, adding: “International law is quite clear that immigration detention must be strictly a measure of last resort.”

And as for children, he said, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has emphasized that detention of children on the sole basis of their migration status, or that of their parents, is a violation, is never in their best interests, and is not justifiable.

With the oncoming winter weather, the flow of refugees has accelerated in recent days at even more rapid pace.

According to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 643,000 refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year and at least 3,135 have died enroute.

In a story, datelined Munich, the Times cited a Bavarian newspaper pointing an accusing finger at refugees and reporting over 1,000 criminal acts, 2,000 police interventions and 3,000 injuries over a two week period alone.

“In an age when one cannot pass through airport security with a bottle of water, tens of thousands arrive every day with little or no screening,” the newspaper said.

The EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “We want to stop the flow, but in order to stop it, we must also find a political solution to the situation in the Middle East, stop the war in Syria, see Libya becoming a state again.”

“I don’t want to be very optimistic. I believe this situation will last,” he warned Wednesday.

High Commissioner Zeid referred to credible reports that migrants arriving in the Czech Republic have been routinely strip-searched by the authorities looking to confiscate money in order to pay the 250 CZK (10 US$) per day each person is charged for their involuntary stay in the detention centers.

This payment is demanded by the authorities from all migrants, without clear legal grounds, leaving many of them destitute upon their release.

“The fact that people are being forced to pay for their own detention is particularly reprehensible,” Zeid said.

Zeid also expressed alarm that the detention policy is accompanied by an increasingly xenophobic public discourse, including repeated Islamophobic statements by President Miloš Zeman, and a public petition “Against Immigration” launched by former President Václav Klaus.

While noting that some material conditions in Bìlá-Jezová, including overcrowding, have reportedly improved in the last week, due mainly to the opening of other centres, the High Commissioner pointed out that the basic approach has not changed.

He urged the Government to take immediate steps to ensure respect for the human rights of migrants and refugees.

“These should include establishing alternatives to detention that are grounded in human rights, in line with the Czech Republic’s international human rights obligations, and with the recommendations of the Czech Ombudsperson,” Zeid said.

“The authorities should also take into account the concerns expressed by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, civil society organizations and even several representatives of the Government itself.”

Striking a more positive note, the High Commissioner welcomed the Oct. 13 report by Czech Ombudsperson Anna Šabatová, who spoke of parents being treated in a degrading way in front of their children, who are traumatized by the constant presence of heavily armed personnel.

At the time of her visit, there were 100 children detained in Bìlá-Jezová.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: The Nuclear Deal’s Impact on Iranian Domestic and Foreign Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-the-nuclear-deals-impact-on-iranian-domestic-and-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-nuclear-deals-impact-on-iranian-domestic-and-foreign-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-the-nuclear-deals-impact-on-iranian-domestic-and-foreign-policy/#comments Mon, 19 Oct 2015 16:08:02 +0000 Farhang Jahanpour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142735

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Isfahan and a former Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University. He is a tutor in the Department of Continuing Education and a member of Kellogg College, University of Oxford. This is the final of a series of 10 articles in which Jahanpour looks at various aspects and implications of the framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme that was reached in July 2015 between Iran and the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France, China and Germany, plus the European Union.

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Oct 19 2015 (IPS)

As in most countries, in Iran too there are hardliners and moderates. All polls show that a large majority of Iranians support the nuclear deal (or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA) between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France and Germany), while a small but powerful group of hardliners opposes it. The Iranian parliament has finally approved the deal, but after a great deal of controversy and with some reservations.

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

Despite the fact that in the 2013 presidential election, in which 72 per cent of eligible voters participated, more than half of the electorate voted for Hassan Rouhani, a centrist and moderate cleric, hardliners have a tight grip over practically all other branches of power in Iran.

Hardliners control the judiciary, and have a majority in the current Majles or Iranian Parliament. They control the Assembly of Experts that has the power to elect the Supreme Leader’s successor, the Guardian Council that acts as a second chamber, the National Broadcasting Organization that has a virtual monopoly of all radio and television broadcasting, and many other organizations.

However, with President Rouhani’s election, the dominance of hardliners over the executive branch came to an end, and elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts are due on 26 February 2016, and they could alter the internal balance of power. The nuclear agreement has begun to swing public support back to the reformists.

After the initial revolutionary upheaval that isolated Iran from most of the world, and after 36 years of estrangement from the West, this landmark agreement has ushered in a new era of relations between Iran and the West. While most analysts in the West are primarily concerned about its effect on Iran’s foreign relations, for most Iranians its significance lies in what it can do to improve the economic and political situation at home.

The fact of the matter is that Iran has made many concessions, but its nuclear program has received the seal of approval from the Security Council and the West. Even above and beyond the nuclear issue, the JCPOA has opened the prospect of the reintegration of Iran into the global economy and of it playing a much more prominent role in world affairs.

This is precisely what the hardliners fear, because they are worried that Iran’s revolutionary values would be undermined and that Western values would weaken Islamic sentiments. Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards chief warned of “nuclear sedition,” aimed at derailing the Islamic Republic from its revolutionary path.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also warned against “infiltration” attempts by the West and has banned further negotiations with Washington.

The main question is whether Iran still wishes to remain in the past and retain its revolutionary zeal, or whether she feels confident enough to look forward and embrace change. It is quite clear that the majority of Iranians have shown that they are in favor of change and coexistence with the rest of the world, while also retaining their distinct religious and cultural values.

Most Iranians are strongly opposed to regime change in the way that has happened in a number of neighboring countries. They are in favor of evolution and reform, rather than revolution and violence. Nevertheless, they have a number of legitimate demands that cannot be suppressed by force.

President Rouhani pledged repeatedly during his campaign to expand political and social freedoms for all Iranians, including freedom of expression. Although some restrictions have been eased, the pace of change has been far too slow. Iran still has one of the largest numbers of executions per capita in the world, and one of the highest numbers of political prisoners. Iranian women still do not enjoy equality with men.

It is true that the government does not have much control over the judiciary or security organizations, but it cannot use this excuse to shirk its responsibilities towards the Iranian people. It must understand that the maintenance of the status quo is not an option. If change is not to be imposed through violence or from outside, the government with the support of the majority of the population must bring about meaningful change.

The JCPOA has opened new horizons for Iran. In the foreign policy field, it has lifted the shadow of war and has made Tehran the diplomatic and economic capital of the Middle East. Now, it is time for Iranian leaders to begin a new chapter of relations with the world. As Ambassador John Limbert, a former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran and a former US hostage during the Iranian hostage crisis, has said: “Both sides, after 34 years, have made a very startling discovery, that diplomacy ­ long-neglected tools of listening, of seeking small areas of agreement, of careful choice of words ­ can actually accomplish more than shouting insults, making threats and the wonderful self-satisfaction of always being right.”

The same principle also applies to the domestic situation. Iranian leaders will be surprised to see how much small areas of agreement and small but steady steps towards greater freedoms and democracy can accomplish in putting an end to the alienation between the people and the government, and allow Iran to find its rightful place in the world, and avoid the chaos rampant in many neighboring countries. It is time to use this great opportunity to move forward both at home and abroad, confident in the common sense and patriotism of Iranian people.

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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