A foreign-backed Syrian opposition figure, Ghassan Hitto, who had been proclaimed by the divided Syrian National Coalition (SNC) as “prime minister” and tasked to form an “interim government,” has resigned.
On Monday, Hitto announced his resignation in a statement only four months after his appointment, citing his inability to form the “interim government,” amid the escalating divisions and the infighting within the SNC.
The foreign-backed opposition formed the SNC back in November 2012 with Moaz al-Khatib as its head.
Khatib also announced his resignation a few months after his appointment.
George Sabra became acting president of the SNC in April 2013, shortly after Khatib had resigned.
On Saturday, the SNC elected a Saudi-linked member, Ahmad Assi Jarba, as its new president during its latest meeting in the Turkish city of Istanbul.
Jarba received 55 votes, defeating Mustafa al-Sabbagh, Qatar’s point man in the opposition, in the second round of the election at the group’s meeting in Istanbul, where the foreign-backed Syrian opposition group is based.
Jarba is a tribal figure from the eastern Hasaka Province with connections to Saudi Arabia, which has been supporting the militants in Syria.
The divisions within the foreign-backed opposition comes as the Syrian army has been gaining further ground against the militants. Syrian forces drove out militants from Ghouta, Zamalka and Irbin neighborhoods, inflicting heavy losses on the armed groups.
On July 6, Syrian army restored security to the industrial area of al-Qaboun, east of the capital. The army also retook control of the northwestern part of the Sayyida Zeinab camp near Damascus.
The foreign-sponsored militancy in Syria has taken its toll on the lives of many people, including large numbers of Syrian soldiers and security personnel, since March 2011.
In an interview with Syrian daily Al-Thawra published on July 4, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the opposition and their foreign supporters have “exhausted all their tools” in a conspiracy against Syria.
- “Syrian Opposition Won’t Attend Geneva II unless It Becomes Militarily Strong” (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The former US national security adviser says the ongoing crisis in Syria has been orchestrated by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and their western allies.
“In late 2011 there are outbreaks in Syria produced by a drought and abetted by two well-known autocracies in the Middle East: Qatar and Saudi Arabia,” Zbigniew Brzezinski said in an interview with The National Interest on June 24.
He added that US President Barack Obama also supported the unrest in Syria and suddenly announced that President Bashar al-Assad “has to go — without, apparently, any real preparation for making that happen.”
“Then in the spring of 2012, the election year here, the CIA under General Petraeus, according to The New York Times of March 24th of this year, a very revealing article, mounts a large-scale effort to assist the Qataris and the Saudis and link them somehow with the Turks in that effort,” said Brzezinski, who was former White House national security adviser under Jimmy Carter and now a counselor and trustee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a senior research professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Criticizing the Obama administration’s policies regarding Syria, he questioned, “Was this a strategic position? Why did we all of a sudden decide that Syria had to be destabilized and its government overthrown? Had it ever been explained to the American people? Then in the latter part of 2012, especially after the elections, the tide of conflict turns somewhat against the rebels. And it becomes clear that not all of those rebels are all that ‘democratic.’ And so the whole policy begins to be reconsidered.”
“I think these things need to be clarified so that one can have a more insightful understanding of what exactly US policy was aiming at,” Brzezinski added.
He also called on US officials to push much more urgently to draw in China, Russia and other regional powers to reach some kind of peaceful end to the Syrian crisis.
“I think if we tackle the issue alone with the Russians, which I think has to be done because they’re involved partially, and if we do it relying primarily on the former colonial powers in the region-France and Great Britain, who are really hated in the region-the chances of success are not as high as if we do engage in it, somehow, with China, India and Japan, which have a stake in a more stable Middle East,” Brzezinski said.
Brzezinski also warned again any US-led military intervention in Syria or arming the militants fighting government forces there.
“I’m afraid that we’re headed toward an ineffective American intervention, which is even worse. There are circumstances in which intervention is not the best but also not the worst of all outcomes. But what you are talking about means increasing our aid to the least effective of the forces opposing Assad. So at best, it’s simply damaging to our credibility. At worst, it hastens the victory of groups that are much more hostile to us than Assad ever was. I still do not understand why — and that refers to my first answer — why we concluded somewhere back in 2011 or 2012 — an election year, incidentally that Assad should go.”
Foreign-sponsored militancy in Syria, which erupted in March 2011, has claimed the lives of many people, including large numbers of Syrian soldiers and security personnel.
The New York Times said in a recent report the CIA was cooperating with Turkey and a number of other regional governments to supply arms to militants fighting the government in Syria.
The report comes as the US has repeatedly voiced concern over weapons falling into the hands of al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups.
Al-Nusra Front was named a terrorist organization by Washington last December, even though it has been fighting with the US-backed so-called Free Syrian Army in its battle against Damascus.
Excerpt from TNI interview:
Heilbrunn: Are we, in fact, witnessing a delayed chain reaction? The dream of the neoconservatives, when they entered Iraq, was to create a domino effect in the Middle East, in which we would topple one regime after the other. Is this, in fact, a macabre realization of that aspiration?
Brzezinski: True, that might be the case. They hope that in a sense Syria would redeem what happened originally in Iraq. But I think what we have to bear in mind is that in this particular case the regional situation as a whole is more volatile than it was when they invaded Iraq, and perhaps their views are also infected by the notion, shared by some Israeli right-wingers, that Israel’s strategic prospects are best served if all of its adjoining neighbors are destabilized. I happen to think that is a long-term formula for disaster for Israel, because its byproduct, if it happens, is the elimination of American influence in the region, with Israel left ultimately on its own. I don’t think that’s good for Israel, and, to me, more importantly, because I look at the problems from the vantage point of American national interest, it’s not very good for us.
By Ron Paul | June 23, 2013
Last week the Taliban opened an office in Doha, Qatar with the US government’s blessing. They raised the Taliban flag at the opening ceremony and referred to Afghanistan as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”—the name they used when they were in charge before the US attack in 2001.
The US had meant for the Taliban office in Doha to be only a venue for a new round of talks on an end to the war in Afghanistan. The Taliban opening looked very much like a government in exile. The Karzai government was annoyed that the US and the Taliban had scheduled talks without even notifying Kabul. Karzai’s government felt as irrelevant to negotiations on post-war Afghanistan as they soon will be on the ground. It seemed strangely like Paris in 1968, where the US met with North Vietnamese representatives to negotiate a way out of that war, which claimed nearly 60,000 Americans and many times that number of Vietnamese lives.
For years many of us had argued the need to get out of Afghanistan. To end the fighting, the dying, the destruction, the nation-building. To end the foolish fantasy that we were building a Western-style democracy there. We cannot leave, we were told for all those years. If we leave Afghanistan now, the Taliban will come back! Well guess what, after 12 years, trillions of dollars, more than 2,200 Americans killed, and perhaps more than 50,000 dead Afghan civilians and fighters, the Taliban is coming back anyway!
The long US war in Afghanistan never made any sense in the first place. The Taliban did not attack the US on 9/11. The Authorization for the use of force that we passed after the attacks of 9/11 said nothing about a decade-long occupation of Afghanistan. But unfortunately two US presidents have taken it to mean that they could make war anywhere at any time they please. Congress, as usual, did nothing to rein in the president, although several Members tried to repeal the authorization.
Afghanistan brought the Soviet Union to its knees. We learned nothing from it.
We left Iraq after a decade of fighting and the country is in far worse shape than when we attacked in 2003. After trillions of dollars wasted and tens of thousands of lives lost, Iraq is a devastated, desperate, and violent place with a presence of al Qaeda. No one in his right mind speaks of a US victory in Iraq these days. We learned nothing from it.
We are leaving Afghanistan after 12 years with nothing to show for it but trillions of dollars wasted and thousands of lives lost. Afghanistan is a devastated country with a weak, puppet government—and now we negotiate with those very people we fought for those 12 years, who are preparing to return to power! Still we learn nothing.
Instead of learning from these disasters brought about by the interventionists and their failed foreign policy, the president is now telling us that we have to go into Syria!
US Army Col. Harry Summers told a story about a meeting he had with a North Vietnamese colonel named Tu while he visiting Hanoi in 1975. At the meeting, Col. Summers told Tu, “You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield.” Tu paused for a moment, then replied, “That may be so. But it is also irrelevant.”
Sadly, that is the story of our foreign policy. We have attacked at least five countries since 9/11. We have launched drones against many more. We have deposed several dictators and destroyed several foreign armies. But, looking around at what has been achieved, it is clear: it is all irrelevant.
- US officials arrive in Qatar for peace talks with Taliban (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Gulf Arab allies of the US have come under fire for introducing a series of draconian measures that limit Internet freedoms. The measures restrict content on social media sites, making “offending” posts punishable by extensive jail sentences.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain have tightened controls on Internet freedoms recently, targeting social media and phone applications alike in their communications crackdown.
Across the Gulf, dozens of journalists and social media users have been arrested since the beginning of the year for being in violation of the uncompromising national laws.
Punishments include deportation and lengthy prison sentences for crimes such as making derogatory comments about the government “in bad faith,” and offending religion and family values. In Saudi Arabia last month, top cleric Sheikh Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh warned citizens against using Twitter, stating that those who use social media sites “have lost this world and the afterlife.”
After threatening to ban messaging applications like Skype and WhatsApp, Saudi Arabia’s telecom regulator has chosen a new target: The web-based communication app Viber. The instant messaging application has been blocked since June 5.
“The Viber application has been suspended… and the [regulator] affirms it will take appropriate action against any other applications or services if they fail to comply with regulatory requirements and rules in force in the kingdom,” the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) said in a statement.
Viber allows its users to text, call and send photos and video messages worldwide using a 3G or Wifi connection, and boasts over 200 million subscribers worldwide.
In March, the CITC warned mobile providers in the Kingdom that if they could not find ways to monitor encrypted messaging and VOIP applications, then they would be blocked, according to local media. The commission then issued a statement saying that “it would take suitable measures against these apps and services,” in its push for greater control over the Internet.
The Saudi government has also begun arresting Twitter users for posts to their accounts. Local media reports that the government is looking into ending anonymity for Twitter users in the country by making users register their identification documents.
Despite its status as a regional media hub, the emirate state is considering a new cybercrime law that would widen government control over news websites and online commentaries.
If passed, the law would enable the government to punish websites or social media users for violating “the social principles or values,” or for publishing “news, photos, audio or visual recordings related to the sanctity of the private and familial life of persons, even if they were true, or infringes on others by libel or slander via the Internet or other information technology means,” Qatar News agency reported.
United Arab Emirates
At the end of 2012, the UAE passed a sweeping new cybercrime law: Anyone found guilty of criticizing the country’s rulers or institutions online may be jailed or deported. The law attracted widespread opposition, with legal consultants warning it is broad enough to penalize anyone caught posting allegedly offensive comments against the state.
This law has been used to jail citizens for Twitter posts over the past few months. In May, the UAE appeals court sentenced Abdullah Al-Hadidi to 10 months in jail for tweeting details of the trial of his father.
He was arrested on March 22 on charges of disseminating information on Twitter “in bad faith.” The court ruled that he wrote false details of a public hearing that, along with his father, involved 93 other people accused of plotting to seize power in the Gulf Arab state.
The government has arrested dozens of activists and at least six journalists in 2013 in the constitutional emirate, often described as the most liberal country in the region.
In March, Twitter user Hamed Al-Khaledi was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly insulting the ruler of the Gulf nation. Others have been accused of “threatening state security” or “offending religion.”
In April, a Kuwaiti court sentenced former parliamentarian and opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak to five years in prison for remarks deemed critical of the ruler of the state, which he made last year at a public rally.
Kuwait has been a member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 1996, which protects the right to freedom of expression, including peaceful criticism of public officials.
The Bahraini government has been trying to suppress an ongoing uprising by introducing stricter penalties. In April, the government passed a law making it illegal to insult the Gulf state’s King Hamad bin Issa al Khalifa, or its national symbols.
Recently, Bahraini blogger and activist Ali Abduleman was granted asylum in the UK after two years in hiding. Adbuleman claims he was persecuted by the government “for exercising the right to express his opinions” on his website. The Bahraini government claims he was tried for “inciting and encouraging continuous violent attacks against police officers” and conspired to spread “false and inflammatory rumors.”
In May, 62-year-old Bahraini protester Abdulla Sayegh was sentenced to three months in prison for hanging a national flag from his truck during a 2011 rally. The same month, six Twitter users were jailed for allegedly offensive comments about the country’s ruler deemed to be ‘abusing freedom of expression.’ According to prosecutors, they posted comments that undermined “the values and traditions of Bahrain’s society towards the king.”
One of the best-known human rights abuse cases in Bahrain is that of activist Nabeel Rajab, who was sentenced to three years in jail in August 2012 on charges of ‘participating in an illegal assembly’ and ‘calling for a march without prior notification.’ He openly criticized the country’s regime on RT for Julian Assange’s show The World Tomorrow.
The country has witnessed mass protests led by the kingdom’s majority Shiites against the minority Sunni-led government for two years. The Shiite demonstrators call for a transfer to a democratic system, and complain of discrimination in jobs and government. Their loyalty is in turn questioned by the ruling Al Khalifa monarchy, which has been in power for decades.
The fate of Syria and the broader Middle East balances on a razor’s edge. The western media is giving dire warnings of an impending sectarian war between Sunni and Shia Muslims, a war that could drown the Middle East in a flood of blood.
Such a war would be completely artificial, and is being manufactured for geo-political reasons. When the most influential Sunni figures in Saudi Arabia and Qatar — both U.S. allies — recently called for Jihad against the Syrian government and Hezbollah, their obvious intentions were to boost the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia and its closest ally, the United States, by destroying Iran’s key ally in the region.
Will Sunni Muslims in Syria — who are the majority — suddenly begin attacking their Shia countrymen and the Syrian government? Unlikely. A compilation of data from humanitarian workers in and around Syria compiled by NATO suggests that:
…70 percent of Syrians support the Assad regime. Another 20 percent were deemed neutral and the remaining 10 percent expressed support for the rebels.”
The pro-Assad 70 percent is mostly Sunni. This data flies in the face of the constant barrage of western media distortion about what’s happening in Syria. Previous polling compiled last year by Qatar had similar results, and was likewise ignored by the western media.
The above article quoted a source familiar with the data:
The Sunnis have no love for Assad, but the great majority of the community is withdrawing from the revolt… what is left is the foreign fighters who are sponsored by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They are seen by the Sunnis as far worse than Assad.
Syrian Sunnis are likely disgusted by the behavior of the foreign extremists, which include a laundry list of war crimes, ethnic cleansing, as well as the terrorist bombing of a Sunni Mosque that killed the top Sunni cleric in Syria — along with 41 worshipers and 84 others injured. The Sunni cleric was killed because he was pro-Assad.
The recent calls for Jihad by the Saudi and Qatari Sunni leaders are likely in response to the Syrian government scoring major victories against the rebels. The rebels are now badly losing the war, in large part because they’ve completely lost their base of community support.
There are other key rebel supporters now taking urgent action to bolster the flagging rebel war effort. The leader of al-Qaeda, for example, made a recent plea for Sunnis to support the rebels against the Syrian government, while U.S. politician John McCain journeyed into Syria to meet with rebels — later identified as terrorists — to further commit the U.S. to the rebel side.
Meanwhile, The New York Times confirmed that the CIA had increased its already-massive arms trafficking program into Syria, while the European union agreed to drop the Syrian arms embargo, so that even more arms could be funneled to the rebels.
And to top it off, France now says it has proof that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against the rebels — a UN representative has suggested that just the opposite is the case — while the rebels are desperately trying to incite war between Syria and Israel by attacking the Syrian government on the border of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Also relevant is that the pro-Jihad religious leaders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia are taking a giant gamble in their recent anti-Hezbollah proclamations, and risk triggering political instability to these already-shaky regimes, which are hugely dependent on the religious leaders for support.
Hezbollah is still revered throughout the Muslim world for its military defeat of Israel in 2006; and most Muslims will likely be uninterested in waging Jihad in Muslim majority Syria. Also, attacking the Syrian government and Hezbollah would mean allying with Israel and the United States, not an ideal situation for most jihadists.
It’s very possible that the Syrian tinderbox could drag the surrounding Middle Eastern countries into a massive regional war, with Russia and the United States easily within the gravitational pull.
The Syrian conflict could end very quickly if President Obama rejected U.S. support for the rebels and demanded his U.S. allies in the region do the same. Obama should acknowledge the situation in Syria as it exists, and respect the wishes of the Syrian people, who do not want their country destroyed.
Instead, the U.S. is considering arming the rebels even more.
U.S. Senator John McCain revealed the unofficial U.S. government policy for Syria when he said that he would tolerate an extremist takeover of Syria if it weakened Iran.
At this point an extremist takeover of Syria will cost tens of thousands of more lives, millions more refugees, while exploding the region into a multi-country orgy of violence.
The media will blame such genocide on Islamic sectarian violence, and ignore the obvious political motives.
Hopefully, the social movement in Turkey will force the Turkish government out of the western-controlled anti-Syrian alliance, while empowering other Middle Eastern countries to do the same.
Qatar which has been a staunch supporter of the Free Syrian Army against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria is now looking to enroll Yemen’s military elite to fight alongside other Arab-backed militias in a bid to offset Assad’s recent advances against the opposition.
Yemen Republican Guards, Yemen’s best of the best, the very units which were meant to ward off former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s foes are now being bid for by foreign powers in a regional effort to depose Syria’s regime.
Faced with the very possibility that Assad could after all outrun his enemies, strong of the support of Iran and the Hezbollah and restore his hold over the country, the Free Syrian Army has turned to his sponsors for support, awaiting more troops and more weapons.
While regional powers have committed money and military equipment, as well as allowed volunteers to cross over onto Syria to swell the resistance ranks, none has so far agreed to commit men to the conflict, a move which would equate to a declaration of war against the Syrian regime.
Qatar is now looking to by-pass the hurdle by sending Yemen Republican Guards to the front. Of course the men would go in their civilian capacity, hired as mercenaries by the State of Qatar.
According to local newspapers, Qatar would be looking to enroll 10,000 soldiers.
Military officials have warned that such a move would leave Yemen vulnerable, its defenses weakened.
The Middle East is treading water these days. Two years of rhetoric about ousting dictators, revolution, freedom, honor, dignity, and democracy – without result – has people on edge, their disillusionment now demanding an outlet.
There are no outlets though. Sensing the fast-growing disenchantment with undelivered promises, even the “bright new leaders” are tightening the reins and demanding compliance.
These new heads of state simply can’t deliver the goods for one main reason: they are just as caught up in global and regional power contests as were their predecessors. Nothing has changed with these uprisings – nothing.
Except now the stakes are higher than before. A recession-bound West, the fast-rising BRICS and their respective regional allies are locked in a competition to consolidate power and influence in this important region before it finds its bearings.
The relatively new influencers on the Arab scene like Qatar and Turkey have recognized this as a unique opportunity to slip into region-wide leadership roles. For the entrenched old hands – Washington, Riyadh, Paris, London – a race is on to prevent the region from shrugging off their decades-long dominance and embracing the anti-imperialism of the Resistance Axis.
The result has been an onslaught of interventions. Every tool in the arsenal has come out to play. Money, espionage, propaganda, weapons, assassination and that old colonial trick: divide-and-rule.
The main game is still the old battle of the blocs, Iran versus the United States, with everyone else filing in line behind their team. There have been a few surprises thrown into the mix: the newcomers like Turkey and Qatar have moved over to the US side; the BRICS, however, have lent their considerable clout to team Iran. Iraq has moved behind the latter formation and Hamas still doesn’t know where to stand so it straddles the two.
This is not a game for the faint-hearted, and it permeates every major social, economic, and political decision in the region today. Want a new electrical plant outside Cairo, Beirut, or Kirkuk? Good luck choosing a national supplier who doesn’t offend. IMF loan? Allowing over-flights or passage for ships? Inking a trade deal? Formulating a new constitution? Scheduling a football match?
Mideast states are now paralyzed and polarized over such things, and governance has come to a standstill. But in this paralysis lies a dangerous volatility: a backlash in the brewing, a pressure cooker about to blow.
The Backlash Against Neo-Islamists
After decades of oppression and marginalization by pro-West, secular dictatorships, the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) and similar Islamist parties have catapulted to power and prominence in several states. Quite counter-intuitively, however, these Islamist governments appear to have lined up behind the US bloc, eager to please, or at least placate, the very powers that colluded in their oppression.
It is an unnatural marriage, and the longer this union endures, the more estranged Islamist parties will become from their domestic constituencies – in much the same way as their autocratic predecessors.
There is volatility in this balancing act between the two blocs, as groups like Hamas have come to discover. But for the new Islamist powerhouses in “post-revolution” states, yet another volatile contest is being played out to their detriment, this time on an entirely regional level: Qatar versus Saudi Arabia – or Sunni versus Sunni.
For years the Ikhwanists have been backed by the Qatari arrivistes, who are a thorn in the side of the other, larger Wahhabi state in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, for their own part, are throwing dollars and clout behind Salafists in all the countries where they intend to counter the influence of the Ikhwan and similar parties.
But Qatar and Saudi Arabia are now aggressively exporting their very personal competition to other Arab states – Libya, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Palestine – creating what I believe will evolve into a ferocious backlash among local populations, even as they reap the rewards of direct financial investment from these two Gulf states.
This competition has drawn in others like the UAE, Jordan, and Kuwait, appalled at the Qatari push to Ikhwanize the region. And it has turned the Arab League positively cannibalistic, devouring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states like Libya, Syria, and Palestine that it once pledged to protect.
Qatar finds support from AKP-led Turkey in this fight, but the two are a cause for concern in the United States, which secretly suspects that Ikhwanists are harder to control than Saudi-backed Salafists. Much of this fear is because that lynchpin of all US foreign policy calculations, the state of Israel, borders Ikhwan-heavy Egypt, Gaza, and Jordan – none of which have yet sufficiently proven their loyalty to the idea of Israel’s regional hegemony.
But the biggest victim of the Saudi-Qatari competition to influence the direction of political Sunnism is likely to be political Islam itself.
The rise of political Islam – once an inevitable byproduct of democratization – arrived too hard, too fast; too aggressively championed, organized, and weaponized by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Now, not only have the mentors lost credibility and support, but so have many of their political protégés in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and Palestine.
Volatility? We haven’t even started.
What yesterday’s global powerbrokers seek from the incoming class of political Islamists is the maintenance of the status quo, including, among other things, embracing Israel and rejecting Iran. But an open pledge of allegiance to Israel is impossible for the Ikhwan and similar parties – their very legitimacy comes in part from denouncing the legitimacy of the Zionist experiment in Palestine.
Nothing tested their limits as dangerously as last November’s eight days of rocket-volley between Gaza and Israel. Each passing day drove home the fact that, despite their standard rhetoric to domestic and regional constituencies, Islamist heads of state in Turkey, Egypt, and Qatar were rendered paralyzed – and mute – as the Israeli army pounded Gaza.
Instead, it was firepower, training and strategic planning by Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria that propped up defiant Palestinians through those dark hours. The unexpected arsenal of rockets that countered Israeli aggression came from Hamas’ Qassam Brigades, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other smaller resistance groups, who became the heroes of that conflict.
Not one missile, bullet, or slogan came from the three new Qatari, Turkish, and Egyptian “Sunni kings” vying for power on the coattails of the Arab uprisings.
Had the battle gone on for another week or two, the entire Middle East might have been reconfigured in its aftermath. Never have the Israelis so quickly signed a ceasefire agreement.
The global battle of the blocs and the inter-regional Sunni power struggle crossed paths in that Gaza battle. In it, the US bloc and political Islam exposed their vulnerabilities. Both groups are currently upholding – against a tidal wave of popular sentiment – systems, values, and institutions that were supposed to be swept away by honor-and-dignity revolts. Any incident that highlights this fact can serve as a springboard for a backlash against the interests of the West and its Islamist allies in the region.
The Backlash Against Sectarianism
Shia versus Sunni. Christianity versus Islam. Vilifying the “other” is common in conflict, especially when there exists some historic animosity or tension between sects, nationalities, and communities.
But since the onset of the Arab uprisings there has been a concerted effort to escalate the Shia-Sunni divide and link it wholesale to an Iranian-Arab one.
With the loss of its dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, Washington wasted no time in formulating a divide-and-rule strategy to preserve its regional interests. The US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) for the Middle East jump-started the task by initiating a secret exercise to divide Arabs and Iranians in March 2011.
Gulf-backed media channels dove headfirst into exaggerating the threat from Iran, while hardline clerics issued increasingly belligerent fatwas against the Shia. Against this backdrop, Shia civilians began to be targeted with violence throughout the region – with very little outcry or objection from the international community, so successfully have they been conflated with a “threatening” Iran and Hezbollah.
But as Christians began to be targeted, assaulted, and killed in Egypt and Syria, the issue of sectarianism exploded beyond the old, more common storylines, and has made avoidance of this subject impossible.
Dragging the sordid issue of sectarianism – which is invariably accompanied by extremism – into the light has had an interesting effect on regional discourse: most Arabs don’t want to be part of it in much the same way they rejected al-Qaeda a decade ago.
A recent Pew Research Center poll of Muslims worldwide reveals, among other things, that 85 percent of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa view religious freedom for people of other faiths to be “a good thing.” A majority of Muslims are “somewhat or very concerned” about Islamic religious extremism, while a minority of Muslims view Shia-Sunni tensions to be a problem at all. The poll indicates that religious strife remains a major cause for concern among Muslims in many MENA states, and that perceived hostilities between Muslims and Christians are on the high side in Egypt, but low in Lebanon, another country that has experienced these hostilities.
But even as sectarian tensions flare in various countries, the headlines do not tell the whole story. Many Arabs are rejecting these divisions, some of which is attributable to the shocking new level of violence now associated with sectarianism:
From Egypt to Kuwait, Bahrain to Syria, young Arabs are hearing – many for the first time – about women being raped because of their sect; about the cutting of heads, the hacking of limbs, the burning of bodies. This is not yesterday’s segregation of sects; this is the stuff of horror movies and genocidal sprees.
The backlash here has already begun. As violent sectarianism rises, so too does the realization that there is another discourse on the rise besides Shia versus Sunni or Muslim versus Christian.
Simply put, there is a new paradigm forming in the region that didn’t exist when it was just Iraq suffering the consequences of violent sectarian carnage: Today, throughout the Middle East, “sectarian” Shia, Sunni, Muslims, and Christians are increasingly facing down “anti-sectarian” Shia, Sunni, Muslims, and Christians. The re-framing of this issue is crucial in undermining sectarian strife. It offers millions an alternative communal identity to the one that always forces them to “defend sect first.”
Interestingly, one communal identity they are tending to embrace is a national identity, i.e., “I am Bahraini, not Shia or Sunni.”
In Bahrain, despite efforts to paint a two-year popular uprising as an “Iranian project” pitting the majority Shia population against a minority Sunni government, Bahrainis hoist their national flag at every opportunity to defy the negative sectarian characterizations of their “national” democratization project.
In Lebanon, where sectarianism is boiling in reaction to events in neighboring Syria, each incident has so far been thwarted by inter-sect efforts on a national level, and a growing desire among the population to empower the “national” army.
In Syria, widespread revulsion against what has to be the most violent manifestation of sectarianism in the region has morphed into a new language to define the conflict there: Instead of being pro or anti-government/opposition, many Syrians are now underlining their allegiance to Syria first. Despite the international media’s partiality toward framing the Syrian conflict as a sectarian one, many pro-government and pro-opposition figures tend to reject this characterization outright. This is certainly notable among pro-government Syrians, many of whom have undergone a hasty conversion from political apathy to intense nationalism in a short time, and who reject being defined as “pro-Assad.”
“It is too limiting,” says one staunchly secular Syrian about that definition. “This is about my country and keeping it whole – it is not about a person or a government,” says another, an observant Sunni who backs her national army’s efforts to weed out mostly Islamist rebels.
The irony is that the very “sectarianism” encouraged by competing Islamists and their allies in pursuit of political objectives in the region may have spawned the backlash to hasten their demise. Nationalism has long been the enemy of political Islam in the Middle East, and nationalism can once more bury it.
Throughout the Arab world, minority sects and non-sectarian groups are being thrust together to protect against the more zealous elements of political Islam, giving form to important civil coalitions that will form the backbone of new grassroots opposition movements in these countries – previously a position held almost exclusively by Islamists.
The backlashes are here, now. They will target all the interventionists clinging on to the status quo, and those keeping progress at bay. They may grow incrementally and tentatively – or they may explode onto a national or regional stage one fine day. “More of the same” will only hasten their arrival.
And it’s okay. These “backlashes” will be the revolutions you thought we already had.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.
William Cook in his masterly way tells us not to give up even if “overwhelmed by darkness of the times”.
And he reminds us that “sixty-five years ago this May 14, the world body admitted to its membership the state of Israel even as that self-declared state was in the process of invading, destroying and leveling 418 towns and villages owned by the people of Palestine who suffered death or expulsion out of their homeland to live without human rights anywhere in the world.”
His eloquence is designed to stiffen the sinews. But some weary truth-tellers and justice-seekers simply don’t want their sinew stiffened any more. For years they’ve given the Palestine thing their best shot, their family life has suffered… and for what?
With the 14th of May comes the realization that the crimes of the US-backed Israelis continue with impunity, encouraged and rewarded by those on high who should know better, while the suffering of the Palestinians knows no limit. This has been the longest and cruelest jackbooted torment of modern times yet the blood-spattered perpetrators are warmly welcomed into the drawing rooms of supposedly civilized Western rulers and promised undying support for ever. The British government has effectively disabled its Universal Jurisdiction laws to give these creatures a safe haven.
Of course, the problem is not just the Israelis. Sami Jamil Jadallah reports how the Palestinian leadership has “failed at every thing it set out to do. It failed at liberation, it failed at ending the occupation, failed at building governing institutions, failed at disengaging Palestinian economy from the Israeli economy, failed at ending the continued expansion of Jewish settlements, failed at bringing down the Apartheid Wall (though it had a court ruling), failed at creating a transparent and clean government…”
Jadallah remarks that the Arab League “recently gave Israel added incentives allowing the trade off of prime Palestinian territories in exchange for toxic waste dump. With this present leadership there is no hope for ever ending the occupation… More troubling is the commitment made with the approval of the Palestinian leadership that ‘Palestine’ will never file legal charges against Israel for past, present and future crimes.”
Hamas, naturally, are not best pleased. Their Salah al-Khawaja told Quds Press that international law does not allow it, and any idea of land swaps gives legitimacy to the occupation to continue its settlement activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem Post was reporting three years ago that the Palestinians and US-backed Israel had agreed on the principle of a land swap, but denied that the two sides had reached any further agreement. The issue was the ratio of land Israel would give to the Palestinians in exchange for keeping their illegal settlement blocs, with the Palestinians demanding 1:1 and the Israelis, being their usual greedy selves, offering less.
Now the same source reports that, while the Palestinian Authority leadership supported the land swap idea, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) condemned it. “The Palestinians don’t need anyone to make concessions on their behalf. No one authorized the Arab delegation to voluntarily give up Palestinian lands. We condemn this proposal as an attempt to legitimize settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in violation of international laws and the Geneva Fourth Convention.”
Another group, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), also slammed the land swap idea and accused Qatar, which has been playing a leadership role in the Arab League, of seeking to liquidate the Palestinian issue. Mohamed Jadallah, a senior member of the DFLP, said that Qatar was seeking to take over the Arab League in order to serve US interests in the region. “Qatar has bought the Arab countries with its money and stolen their political decision,” he said.
Jadallah claimed that Qatar was working toward by-passing the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative by offering to relinquish control over Palestinian territories.
Since US-backed Israel selected and stole prime locations for its settlements, knowing full well that it was committing a war crime, why should the Palestinians settle for 1:1? Why should they agree to land swaps at all? If the Jews living in these ‘squats’ wish to stay they can become Palestinian citizens.
All this simply adds fuel to the burning resentment felt by Palestinians and their sympathizers around the world towards the ‘enemy within’ who would sell their grandmothers for a fistful of dollars or shekels
In the Long Grass Something Stirs
Meanwhile, here in England it looks like a major party ‘scum clearance’ may have begun, albeit in a modest way. In elections last Thursday in the 27 English county councils and 7 unitary authorities the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) won over 140 seats and averaged 25% of the vote in the areas where it was standing. Cameron’s Conservatives lost control of 10 councils, but retained 18. Their coalition buddies, the Liberal Democrats, did badly too.
UKIP aims to haul us out of the EU cesspit and bolt the door against unwanted immigrants. As these concerns are uppermost in ordinary people’s minds, UKIP strikes a strong chord with British voters. The county election results show what can happen when political leaders continually ignore the electorate’s concerns and press ahead with their own private agenda when it is obviously not in the national interest.
The breakthrough by UKIP, however, is not entirely good news. The party claims “Israel has maintained an impeccable human rights record” and seeks to cement “true friendship” with its hoodlums. UKIP seems indifferent to the fact that Israel possesses hundreds of nuclear warheads (and the means to deliver them), menaces the whole region (and Europe) and defies calls to sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and place its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards. Yet UKIP believes a nuclear Iran would be unacceptable, and says it would support efforts to eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons capability by “military means”.
UKIP is so bonkers about Israel that it rejects calls for the suspension of trade deals such as the EU-Israel Association Agreement, apparently seeing no need for the racist entity to show “respect for human rights and democratic principles” as set out in that Agreement.
Not surprisingly UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage has been described by the Jewish Chronicle as “a good friend of Israel”. And, naturally, UKIP has a Friends of Israel group which proclaims: “Despite constant assault from within and without, Israel has maintained an impeccable human rights record and remains the only country in the Middle East to extend full civil and political rights to all of its citizens, regardless of race or religion. Yet somehow it is cast as the oppressor, vilified as an ‘apartheid state’ and singled out for disproportionate criticism.
“Decades of malicious propaganda campaigns have seen to it that a one-sided historical narrative which portrays the Palestinians as blameless victims now successfully masquerades as reality…”
People who joined, then left UKIP say it’s corrupt and run on Stalinistic lines. So UKIP are not the loveliest people to have around… and certainly not the sort you’d want actually running your country. But for the time being these useful idiots may serve a purpose in helping to clear away the even more unlovely major party trash that’s funded by Zionists, owes allegiance to a foreign Zionist power and adores and supports the Zionist program of land-theft, mayhem and murder directed even against fellow Christians.
Another cause for slight hope is the recent Eminent Persons letter in which Jeremy Greenstock, former UK Ambassador to the UN, and 18 other prominent Europeans have sent a strongly-worded message to EU High Representative Catherine Ashton calling for a new European approach and expressing “strong concern about the dying chances of a settlement based on two separate, sovereign and peaceful states of Israel and Palestine”.
They warn that “the Occupation is actually being entrenched by the present Western policy” and “the steady increase in the extent and population of Israeli settlements, including in East Jerusalem, and the entrenchment of Israeli control over the OT [Occupied Territories] in defiance of international law, indicate a permanent trend towards a complete dislocation of Palestinian territorial rights.”
The letter concludes that letting the situation lie unaddressed is highly dangerous when such an explosive issue sits in such a turbulent environment.
It adds that over the years the EU’s inactivity has been unprincipled and unwise. “European leaders cannot wait for ever for action from the United States when the evidence accumulates of American failure to recognize and promote the equal status of Israelis and Palestinians… as accepted in United Nations resolutions.”
Why has it taken them so long to put pen to paper? It’s probably too late for a two-state solution, but what they say might lead to better things. Many more ‘eminent persons’ need to speak up for justice. Where are they? Why do they still skulk behind the woodwork?
Two Hamas officials say the Palestinian Islamic group has re-elected Khaled Meshaal as its leader for the fourth time.
Mashaal, 56, who has run the Palestinian movement since 1996 from exile, was widely seen as a favorite.
He is backed by regional powers Qatar, Turkey and Egypt. He is now based in Qatar.
The officials said the majority of the group’s Shura council members voted for Meshaal. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the secret procedure.
There had been speculation that Meshaal, who is based in exile, would be forced aside by the movement’s powerful leaders in the Gaza Strip, which it has controlled since 2007. Meshaal himself had said last year that he would not seek a new term.
But Hamas officials had hinted that Meshaal would continue leading the Palestinian group.
“The movement’s leaders have decided to renew Meshaal’s term for four years,” a high-ranking Hamas official told AFP on condition of anonymity ahead of the vote.
Hamas officials were in Cairo on Sunday and Monday for the vote, and to discuss with Egyptian leaders reconciliation with the rival Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
After 37 years in exile from Palestine, it was only last December that Meshaal made his first ever visit to Gaza.
He was propelled to the movement’s leadership in 2004 after Israel assassinated the movement’s founding leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his successor Abdelaziz al-Rantissi in the Gaza Strip.
Meshaal himself survived an Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997 when agents of the Mossad secret service disguised as Canadian tourists bungled an attempt to poison him on a street in Amman.
(AFP, AP, Al-Akhbar)
Ankara – In the ugly panorama that is the contemporary Middle East a light hardly flickers on the horizon. Iraq has been destroyed as a unitary Arab state and jihadis unleashed in Syria are burning out another room in the Arab house. Lebanon has again been brought to the brink of implosion through the intrigues of outside governments and local proxies incapable of putting the interests of their country ahead of their sectarian and power intrigues. The Palestinians are divided between those who live under the authority of one man who has bound himself to Israel and the US and two others who have bound themselves to Egypt and Qatar. Fitna – the spreading of division and sowing of hatred amongst Muslims – is being fanned across the region by governments brazen enough to call themselves Muslim. Whether in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Iran, Shiism is the enemy. Ceaselessly stirring this pot from the outside are governments that feast on division in the Arab world.
There are those who loathe Bashar so much that they are willing to commit or tolerate any crime in the name of getting rid of him, including the deliberate bombings of civilians, one taking the lives of a leading Sunni Muslim scholar and 48 other worshippers in a Damascus mosque only recently and another killing 100 people, amongst them children waiting for their school bus. A country Gamal abd al Nasir once described as the ‘beating heart of Arabism’ is being destroyed. Its enemies have their hands inside the body and they intend to rip the heart out. The cooperative at work on this venture includes the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the local and foreign-born jihadis who are their tools whether they realize it or not.
That the Syrian system needs changing goes without saying. In Syria possibly no-one understands this better than the much reviled Bashar al Assad. He could go tomorrow but that would solve nothing because the system would stay the same; for those who hate him, someone worse might take his place. Bashar has made serious mistakes, including the adoption of free market policies which have enriched the merchant class while further impoverishing the peasantry, who are now said to be many of the foot soldiers of the armed groups, but Syria is an easier place than it was under his father. The abolition of the Baath as the central pillar of state and society and the multi-party elections held last year were a start to political reforms. The elections were not perfect but if anyone is looking for perfection in the Middle East, they should look somewhere else. These are threads that could have been teased out if the collective calling itself ‘The Friends of the Syrian People’ had any serious interest in the best interests of the Syrian people. A process of national dialogue has begun in Damascus but this has been ignored, too, because these ‘friends’ want nothing less than the destruction of a government which is a strategic ally of Iran and Hezbollah and forms with them the ‘resistance axis’ to US-Israeli hegemony.
The achievements of this axis need to be set against the record of collaboration of those Arab governments who are now bent on destroying it. Iran and Syria have been solid in their support for the Palestinians, hosting resistance movements and working together to provide Hamas with the weapons it needed to defend Gaza. No weapons came from the direction of Saudi Arabia or Qatar. It was Hezbollah, the non-state partner in this alliance, that finally drove Israel from occupied southern Lebanon after nearly two decades of struggle involving not just the bravery of part-time soldiers but the mastery of electronic warfare, enabling Hezbollah to penetrate Israeli communications, including drone surveillance, as was made clear when Hasan Nasrallah produced intercepted film showing that an Israeli drone had been shadowing Rafiq Hariri for three months and was overhead when he was assassinated in February, 2005. When Israel tried to take revenge in 2006 it was humiliated. Hezbollah stood firm, destroyed its supposedly invincible Merkava tanks, disabled one of its warships in a missile attack and prevented its ground forces from advancing north of the Litani river. At the time, it might be remembered, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia vilified Hasan Nasrallah for bringing on this war, as they saw it.
It was Hezbollah which scored another triumph by breaking Israel’s spy network in Lebanon, now in the public eye because of the revelations that an Australian-born Mossad agent, Ben Zygier, had provided it with the names of two of its agents. The official Israeli version of the Zygier affair is that he handed over this information with the ultimate intention of setting up the assassination of Hasan Nasrallah. However, as the case is regarded as one of the most serious threats to national security in Israel’s history, much more might be involved than the collapse of a spy network. It is hard to imagine any agent who was not in fact a double agent doing what Zygier is reported to have done. What other information he might have passed on is a matter of conjecture but Israel’s nervousness about this affair could be a sign that far darker secrets are involved than the exposure of two spies.
Both Iran and Syria have been targeted with economic sanctions because of their disobedience. Iran has been threatened with military attack ever since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and now that the attempt to destroy the government in Damascus through armed proxies has clearly failed, if more than two years of trying qualifies as failure, the US is sending out signals that it is prepared to intervene directly despite the regional and global risks. The collapse of the Syrian National Council last year has now been followed by the disintegration of the Syrian National Coalition, with ‘president’ Mu’adh al Khatib resigning and the chief of its military wing refusing to recognize the authority of new ‘prime minister’ Ghassan al Hitto. Riad al Assad, the displaced former commander of the self-styled Free Syrian Army, has just been carried back across the border into Turkey with only one leg, the other having been blown off by a roadside car bomb. Some sources say it was only a foot but either way he is out of action for a long time to come. As the leading armed groups do not recognize the authority of Mr Assad or the squabbling coalition of which the FSA is supposed to be the military arm, his absence from the scene is not going to make a great deal of difference.
For Muadh al Khatib to be given the Syria seat at the recent summit of the Arab League in Doha is farcical in more than one respect. Al Khatib is no longer even a member of the group Qatar is trying to set up as an alternative government. The group itself is in a state of complete collapse, with al Khatib walking out and other members rejecting the appointment of Hitto, a Syrian-born American who has not visited the country of his birth for decades. That Al Khatib should demand that his ragged, motley crew be given Syria’s seat at the UN goes beyond preposterous. The government of Syria sits in Damascus, not Doha, and Bashar al Assad is still its president, not the former imam of the Umayyad mosque. Compounding this theatre of the absurd, it was the ruler of Qatar who directed that Al Khatib be given the Syrian seat at the Doha summit, underlining the degree to which the Arab League has become no more than an instrument of this gentleman’s drive for regional dominance. That King Abdullah should have stayed away from Doha is a sign of the deepening rivalry between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, especially over how to manage Syria. The determination of the ruler of Qatar to persevere with this chaotic bunch of exiles is the measure of his determination to destroy the government in Damascus.
On the ground the armed groups are taking a beating at the hands of the Syrian army but like an irresponsible trainer sending a punched-out boxer out from his corner for the next round, their outside sponsors are pouring arms into Syria to keep them on their feet. The tactics of these groups include bombings aimed at civilians that in other circumstances their backers would not hesitate to call terrorism but steadfastly refused to call terrorism when Syrians are the victims and their proxies are the perpetrators. Al Khatib’s dissatisfaction with his ramshackle coalition was possibly brought to a head by the assassination in Damascus of Sheikh Muhammad Said Ramadan al Bouti, a former colleague and a man he greatly admired. Al Bouti and close to 50 other worshippers were murdered in the Iman mosque by a suicide bomber. Two days earlier an armed group had loaded CL 17 chlorine – an ingredient normally used in swimming pool cleaner – into the warhead of a small missile and fired it at a Syrian army checkpoint, killing 26 people. Soldiers were among the dead and the army was there to look after the survivors, so the claims of activists that ‘the regime’ was responsible had even less traction than usual. Having warned of direct intervention in Syria should chemical weapons be used, the US had little to say now that such a weapon had been used, not by the Syrian army, but by the ‘rebels’ it has been supporting.
Hezbollah, Syria and Iran’s record of resistance has to be compared with the long Saudi and Qatari record of collaboration with the US and Israel. Having deserted Damascus in its hour of need, what does Khalid Mishaal think he is going to get from the ruler of Qatar besides money and somewhere to stay? What is Ismail Haniyeh expecting from Muhammad Morsi, who began his presidency by blocking off the tunnels into Gaza and confirmed where he intends to take Egypt with his letter calling Shimon Peres ‘my dear friend’? Is it forgotten already, apart from his record in violence and destruction going back to 1948, that it was Peres who authorized the attack on southern Lebanon in 1996 which took the lives of more than 100 people sheltering inside the UN compound in Qana? If the friend of my enemy is my enemy, where does that leave Haniyeh, Misha’al and Abbas?
The beneficiaries of intervention in Iraq, Libya and Syria are outside and regional governments who have combined forces to reshape the Middle East in their own interests. As Ibrahim al Amin has remarked (‘Partitioning Syria at the Doha summit’, Al Akhbar English, March 25, 2013), they are fighting a global war against Syria in the name of bringing the people freedom and justice. In truth, western governments only intervene in their own interests and the people always end up being sliced and diced on the chopping board of their grand designs. There has been no exception to this rule. Civilization, liberation, freedom, democracy, the rights of the people and the responsibility to protect are the unctuous phrases that have rolled off the lips of western prime ministers, foreign ministers and presidents for two centuries. This is the rhetorical buildup to a self-assigned ‘duty’ to intervene: the only real difference between intervention in the 19th century and intervention in the 21st lies in the vastly increased killing power of western governments and the development of weapons that would have been regarded as science fiction until only recently.
As they always get away with it, there is no reason for them to stop. Iraq was a terrible crime but while the UN Security Council or the International Criminal Court points the finger at Robert Mugabe, Umar al Bashir or Saif al Islam al Gaddafi it never points the finger at western politicians whose crimes are infinitely greater. Slobodan Milosevic was a rare exception but even his crimes do not measure up to what George Bush and Tony Blair authorized in Iraq in and after 2003 – not to speak of the horrors that Bush senior, Clinton and Blair authorized through the decade of sanctions which followed the attack of 1991. Because they are protected by a world system which is highly selective about who it punishes, the politicians who follow them feel free to repeat the experience. They know that whoever suffers, whoever is bombed, whoever has to look at the faces of dead parents, children, aunts, grandfathers and neighbors being dug out of the rubble of bombed cities and towns, it is not going to be them. William Hague is perfectly comfortable in his desire to give more weapons to the ‘rebels’ because he knows that the calamitous consequences of decisions he takes are never going to bounce back on his own doorstep.
It is obvious but needs to be said anyway that the first priority of people across the Middle East should be solidarity rising above ethnic and religious divisions. No problem can be solved without it and certainly not the core issue of Palestine. In his recent Edward Said memorial lecture, Noam Chomsky drew attention to what is going on while the world’s attention is diverted by the ‘Arab spring.’ In 1967 the Jordan Valley had a Palestinian population of 300, 000. The policy of ‘purification’ pursued by the Israeli government has now reduced that population to 60,000. On a smaller scale the same policy has had the same results in Hebron and elsewhere in the occupied territories. There is nothing accidental or incidental about this. Netanyahu is no more than faithful to the racist policies set in motion by Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion. Continuing without letup for 65 years these policies are neither forgettable nor forgivable.
It is not surprising that Israel’s strongest supporters always have been similar colonial settler states. There are no exact parallels but the Zionist settlers in Palestine and the American colonists both turned on the mother state while setting out to crush the native people. Thomas Paine had much to say about the American ‘war of independence’ that is relevant to Palestine. First of all, it was an ‘independence war’ being fought on land long since inhabited by another people. The colonists wanted to be independent of the mother country, which planted them in this foreign soil in the expectation that they would maintain it as part of the king’s domains. A loyal colony was what the British also sought in Palestine but the American settlers and later the Zionists had other ideas. The war between Britain and the American colonists was brutal, generating deep hatreds on both sides, just as the Zionist war against the British did in Palestine.
Paine was writing of settler feelings towards the savagery of the mother country but the words equally apply to the people who were the victims of double colonialism in North America or, nearly two centuries later, in Palestine:
‘Men of passive tempers look somewhat lightly over the offences of Great Britain and still hoping for the best are still apt to call out come, come, we shall be friends against for all this. But examine the passions and feelings of mankind; bring the doctrine of reconciliation to the touchstone of nature and then tell me whether you can hereafter love, honor and faithfully serve the power that hath carried fire and sword into your land. If you cannot do all these then you are only deceiving yourself, and by your delay bringing ruin upon posterity. Your future connections with Britain, whom you can neither love nor honor, will be forced and unnatural and being formed only on the plan of present convenience, will in a little time fall into a relapse more wretched than the first. But if you say you can still pass the violations over, then I ask hath your house been burnt? Hath your property been destroyed before your face? Are your wife and children destitute of a bed to lie on or bread to live on? Have you lost a parent or child by their hands and yourself the ruined and wretched survivor? If you have not, then you are not a judge of those who have. But if you have and can still shake hands with the murderers, then are you unworthy the name of husband, father, friend or lover; and whatever may be your rank or title in life you have the heart of a coward and the spirit of a sycophant.’
Paine was a democrat within the limitations of his time. He was writing for the settlers and had no thought of admitting the indigenous people of North America to representation in the colonies. Except for the passage of almost 250 years Paine might be a Zionist today, but the two and a half centuries make all the difference. Israel was an anomaly from the beginning, a colonial state arising at the tail end of colonialism. It would be no more possible to imagine Thomas Paine supporting an America in which native and Afro-Americans did not have the vote now than it would be to imagine him supporting a situation where a people not only did not have the right to vote but had been denied the right to live on the land where they or their forebears had been born.
In today’s world Paine could not support an Israel built on blatantly racist and discriminatory lines. Everything he says in the passage quoted above applies to Israel. The wounds it has inflicted have gone deep and far from making any attempt to heal them Israel has endlessly inflicted new wounds. The state of Israel – to be differentiated from those pockets of its citizens who oppose its brutal mindset – is not interested in any kind of genuine settlement with the Palestinians. It is not interested in them as a people. It is not interested in their stories of suffering. It is not interested in its own guilt because it is blind to its own guilt. It has no humility and would scoff at the idea of penance for crimes it refuses to admit it has committed, like the worst recidivist offender hauled before a court. It is interested in the Palestinians only as a problem to be solved and the solution is for them somehow to disappear or to be made to disappear. Hence the ‘purification’ in the Jordan Valley and the daylight oppression of the Palestinians in Hebron and the racist demographic war being waged in East Jerusalem. These are crimes against humanity.
If we substitute Israel and the Oslo process for the reconciliation proffered by the British monarch the result is the same: the policy, wrote Thomas Paine, is there ‘in order that he may accomplish by craft and subtlety in the long run what he cannot do by force and violence in the short one’. His conclusion that ‘reconciliation and ruin are nearly related’ sums up the consequences for the Palestinians of the Venus fly trap known as the ‘peace process.’ Violence works but ‘peace’ has a deadly potency of its own: whatever the means employed, the Zionist aim of reducing the Palestinians to dust that will eventually be whirled away by history has not changed in 100 years.
By themselves, however bravely they have resisted, the Palestinians have never had the power to fend off the forces arrayed against them. This has been true from the time Britain implanted the Zionist project in Palestine until the present day. Britain and the US were not just any countries but the two most powerful states of their time and with their support both Zionist success and Palestinian failure were assured. Never have the Palestinians been able to draw on anything like such sources of strength despite the immense potential in their own backyard. Israel’s dominance as a regional power is still sustained by the US while being continually replenished by Arab weakness: Arab weakness is built on chronic Arab disunity, now being promoted in sectarian form by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. As long as there is no way out of this trap the Palestinians will remain stuck in their trap.
Sectarianism is a powerful weapon but would be useless if people were not susceptible to it. A people divided are doomed to be dominated. George Antonius prefaced The Arab Awakening with a quote from Ibrahim Yaziji: ‘Arise Arabs and awake!’ That was in 1938. An Arab awakening did follow and while it would be tempting to say the Arab world has gone back to sleep, in reality what is happening is far worse than sleep. A fire is raging and it is hard to see how and when it will be put out.
- Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
Doha: Nato receives important strategic information about this region from Qatar, a Nato official said yesterday.
“Qatar is considered to be a very positive partner from this region. It has knowledge about this region that Nato doesn’t have in Brussels,” Lieutenant General Arne Bard Dalhaug, Commandant of Nato Defence College told The Peninsula yesterday.
He was leading an 80-member delegation to Qatar for a conference organised by the Qatar Armed Forces at the Hilton Hotel.
The delegation, arrived here from Rome, will visit Abu Dhabi today, followed by stopovers in Paris, London and Berlin.
General Dalhaug said the Nato Defence College often trains Qatari students on strategic issues. “We are an educational institute, so we provide different courses on strategic education, which is theoretical. We have Qatari students who come to our college quite often,” he said.
Students receive study materials and lectures on different issues at the college.
The General also revealed that the Denfence College has one student from Qatar this year.
Qatar spent over QR5bn in foreign aid projects, Dr Hassan Ibrahim Al Mohanadi, Director of the Diplomatic Institute at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a lecture at the conference.
Over QR3.7bn was spent in support mission for governments while non-governmental groups received some QR606m from Qatar.
Speaking about the foreign policy of Qatar, Al Mohannadi said that a large sum of this fund was spent to support poor countries in Africa. He said some part of the aid was directly provided to governments, while other funds were given in consultation with the UNDP.
Answering a question about Qatar supporting efforts to resolve border disputes between some countries, he said Qatar was ready to provide assistance to countries if they asked for it.
“Qatar has negotiating teams, which can provide assistance to states, if they wish,” Al Mohannadi said.
Brigadier Sanad Ali Rashid Al Naimi, In-charge of the Strategic Research Centre, spoke about the transformations in the Mena countries and their impact on international security in the region.