Friday, September 18, 2020

Pakistan Now Turns on Its Shia Citizens

 


By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

17 September 2020

Pakistan recently saw one of the largest demonstrations against the Shias. This demonstration must be seen in the context of legislative changes made in Pakistan with respect to its blasphemy laws.

According to one provision, any one disrespecting the companions of the prophet will also be deemed a blasphemer and will be dealt accordingly. This clause directly threatens one of the important Ashura rituals of Shia called the Tabarra in which they say not very kind things to some of the companions of the prophet. The three caliphs, Abu Bakar, Umar and Usman are treated with utter contempt by the Shia who regard them as usurpers of the legitimate rights of Ali to be the first caliph.

Accordingly, on the Day of Ashura, a number of Shia Ulama made disparaging remarks about the three caliphs, partly out of tradition and partly to protest against the new law. On the other side, we have certain Sunni organizations who have decreed the Shia to be kafir, thus outside the pale of Islam and against whom an attitude of enmity must be cultivated.

Groups like Sipah e Sahaba, notorious for anti-Shia killings were joined in by Sunni Barelwi groups and others raising anti-Shia slogans and demanding the arrest of those Shia Ulama who had disrespected the companions of the prophet. If the Imran Khan government wanted to show to the world that he has terror groups in control, then all his efforts have come to a nought.

Allowing a terrorist organization like Sipah e Sabaha to march with thousands in Karachi is an admission of utter failure of the Pakistani state to reign in such groups. Incidentally, fiery speeches against the Shia were made at the Muhammad Ali Road, named after the founder of Pakistan, who himself was a Shia.

It is to be expected that over the years these doctrinal divisions should have withered away, but on the contrary, both Shia and Sunni positions have hardened. Some Shias (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Brm1a1bpHFA) have argued that Tabbarra forms an essential part of their faith, that without heaping curses on the ‘enemies of Ali and Fatima’, one cannot be a true Shia Muslim. It is not that the Shia are innovating when they are indulging in this practice, on the contrary, they believe, coming from Imam Jafar al Sadiq, that doing this is the very expression of their faith.

While some Shia Ulama have asked for restraint during such rituals, others have not been so practical and have even criticised such moderation.

The Sunnis, on the other hand, have responded to such alleged provocation with Madhe Sahaba rallies which eulogise the rule of first three caliphs. In fact, in earlier times, in the erstwhile United Provinces, it were the Shias who objected to taking out such Sunni Madhe Sahaba rallies as it restricted their right of Tabbarra

Times have changed and in Pakistan, the Shias have been at the receiving end. The Sunnis in Pakistan, who constitute the majority, now want their impression on the statutes that govern the country. In their zealousness to show Shia hatred, some Muslims actually praised Yazid, the killer of Hussain and his family (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiPkOJSsZXc). In their utter blind hatred of Shias, some Muslims even tend to forget that they are glorifying the killers of Prophet Muhammad’s family. For the Sunnis then, this hatred of Shias is also becoming part of their belief system. From their childhood, they are being taught that Shias are like ‘termites’ who are weakening Islam from within. It appears that hating each other has now become a permanent part of Shia-Sunni identity.

In the long run this hatred can only devour whatever is left of Pakistan. Having gotten rid of ‘Hindus’ after partition, Pakistan turned on its own citizens, the Bengalis, massacring many thousands. After Bangladesh seceded, it then invented the internal threat of Ahmadiyas, and outlawed and repressed them in the name of protecting its version of true Islam. In this calculated pogrom of Ahmadiyas, let us not forget that the Shia were enthusiastic participants.

It should now dawn on them that being a minority, they should speak in terms of democracy and minority rights, including the rights of the Ahmadiyas and the beleaguered Hindus and Christians. Only then can they mount an effective challenge to the current majoritarian Sunni lumpenism.

Something has gone horribly wrong with the understanding of Islam. In the not so distant past, the groups who are together vying for the blood of Shias were at logger heads, each proclaiming the other as deviant. Those adhering to the ideologies of al-Qaeda and Taliban did in fact blow up the holiest of Barelwi shrines including the Data Darbar shrine. These groups, deriving legitimacy from Deobandi Islam, were targeting music and myriad Sufi practices and actually ended up killing many of them.

So while Deobandis and Barelwis have come together to proclaim the Shias as kafirs, one should not forget that they have deep doctrinal differences between themselves and that they have called each other kafir not so long ago.

Pakistan has seen too much bloodshed due to takfiri ideology. If the authorities do not give urgent attention to the current anti-Shia climate being created, then the country will descend into a blood orgy one more time. The only way to remedy this situation is to publically proclaim the virtues of pluralism; that each interpretation of Islam is as valid as the other. Only then can such mindless and bigoted takfiri polemics come to an end.

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Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com

URL:  https://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-sectarianism/arshad-alam-new-age-islam/pakistan-now-turns-on-its-shia-citizens/d/122879


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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Middle East Press on UAE-Israel Deal and role of Palestinian Leaders: New Age Islam's Selection, 17 September 2020

 By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

17 September 2020

 

President Donald Trump walks to the Abraham Accords signing ceremony at the White in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa

Image Credit: AP

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UAE-Israel Deal: Palestinian Leaders Have Dilly-Dallied, Reducing Themselves to Bit Players

By Fawaz Turki

Scientific Research Is Critical to Tackling Racial Discrimination

By Omar Al-Ubaydli

Saudi Allies Embrace Israeli Expansion Project

BY SHAKIR HUSAIN

Rights Advocates Decry Mass Detention of Turkish Lawyers

By Diego Cupolo

State Department Officials Testify Before Congress On Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia, UAE

By Adam Lucente

Egypt Rallies Arab League To Counter Turkey's Regional Policies

By Hagar Hosny

Lebanon’s Epic Post-Explosion Leadership Failure

By JESSY EL-MURR

Losing Hope In The Middle East Is Not An Option

By DR. ABDEL AZIZ ALUWAISHEG

Time For The Palestinian People To Take The Initiative

By DR. DANIA KOLEILAT KHATIB

Iran Regime’s Paranoia Over Future Widespread Protests

By DR. MAJID RAFIZADEH

Historic Agreements Boost Trump’s Image As A Peacemaker

By OSAMA AL-SHARIF

Iran, The Envoy Of Peace!

By Tariq Al-Homayed

Abraham Accords: An Opportunity for People In The Arab World

By Haleema Humaid Al Owais

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UAE-Israel Deal: History Has Its Own Dynamic

By Fawaz Turki

September 16, 2020

 

President Donald Trump walks to the Abraham Accords signing ceremony at the White in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa

Image Credit: AP

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News reports have it that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza launched a campaign to protest the ceremony at the White House in Washington, formalising the normalisation of relations between Israel and the two Gulf states of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

With hyperbole often an integral part of their semantic fashion of expression, some Palestinian officials — borrowing from the iconic speech by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to a joint session of Congress on December 8,1941, condemning Japan’s surprise attack against the American naval base in Hawaii — have taken to calling it a “day that will live in infamy”.

Other officials came up with even more inflammatory statements, which made them sound more like circus barkers than dignified political leaders devoted to the stewardship of their community’s struggle for statehood.

Meanwhile, sundry activists announced on Sunday, reportedly with the blessings of the Palestinian National Authority, that they had formed a group called The United National Leadership of Popular Resistance — reminiscent of the Unified National Leadership that operated during the first intifada in the late 1980s — consisting of representatives of various groups, whose goal would be to “demonstrate” the Palestinian people’s opposition to the peace deal.

My, my! I for one don’t get it. Here are Palestinian leaders accusing Arabs of adopting a political version of beggar-thy-neighbour when their own leaders had shown themselves ready and willing, almost exact 27 years ago, on September 13, 1993, to sign the Oslo Accords on the White House Lawn, which paved the way for, indeed encouraged, neighbouring Jordan and countries in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World to equally formalise relations with Israel.

Let’s face it, since the 17th century, raison d’Etat, or the management of state to state relations, has been, as the French philosopher and member of the Academie Francaise, Jean de Silhon, put it in 1634, a “mean between what conscience permits and national interest requires”.

National interest, at the end of the day, is really what bakes the cake. Everything else is icing on it. That’s the “political arithmetic”, in this column’s view, that animates the diplomatic maneuvers of nations.

Look, I’m nowhere done being a Palestinian activist, old geezer though I may be. No one has yet been able to dissuade me of the notion that the Palestinian people are the injured party in the dispute.

Moral Priority For The Arab World

Nor, conversely, has anyone been able to persuade me to doubt the fact that, for the last century or so, the Palestinian cause has been a core national interest and a moral priority for the Arab world.

But the Arab world is tired of waiting for Godot — tired of how Palestinians have failed to meet the challenges of modernity as their leaders dilly-dallied and engaged in several self-destructive bouts of inter-communal mayhem, reducing themselves, in the bargain, to bit players.

The sad, sad fact is that Palestinians, over several generations, since they initiated their struggle for national independence a century ago, have been cursed by one failed leadership after another (the doctoral dissertation is yet to be written that explains this phenomenon), a succession of leaderships that held out to their people a goal, a hope, a visionary promise that these Palestinians readily stretched their muscle to the utmost to reach, only to see it all slip, again and again, just out of range of their racked fingers.

A Covenant with History

Thus, in their acceptance of suffering and sacrifice as being a part of a covenant with history, Palestinians became the “conscience” of the Arab world, forcing upon it ideals, demands and norms

of conduct out of natural grasp — namely that only when Israel is defeated the grime will be scoured from the tired earth Arabs inhabit.

Today Arabs appear to be saying this to Palestinians: Your struggle, made inert by a self-serving ruling elite, whose vision of liberation has gone bad in the teeth, is now the sick man of the Middle East. That is, reform or perish. Arabs are not a re-incarnation of Vladimir and Estragon, waiting patiently for Godot, who, as we all know, never arrives.

As Emiratis and Bahrainis enthusiastically watch their leaders sign a historic agreement with their Israeli counterparts in the White House, I, as a Palestinian, watched the ceremony with bewildered irony, pondering over the many turning points in modern Palestinian history that we failed to turn with — pondering how, as we dithered, and dithered some more, history showed us that it had its own dynamic, its own implacable laws and that, like time and tide, it waits for no man.

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— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile

https://gulfnews.com/opinion/op-eds/uae-israel-deal-history-has-its-own-dynamic-1.73872964

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Scientific Research Is Critical To Tackling Racial Discrimination

By Omar Al-Ubaydli

'16 September 2020

The international Black Lives Matter protests that erupted during the middle of 2020 are a stark reminder of the racial injustice that many people across the world perceive. Ensuring the dignity of all groups in society is a long and complex process, but recently published studies on the issue of discrimination affirm the critical role that scientific research plays in helping us overcome prejudice and bigotry.

In particular, views regarding labor market policies are frequently based on perceptions regarding the economic impact of those policies. For example, proponents of minimum wages and positive discrimination, or affirmative action, claim that these policies provide racial minorities with relief from labor market discrimination. Meanwhile, opponents claim that they inadvertently – or sometimes malevolently – accentuate racial discrimination. While it may be tempting to resolve these debates with a series of hashtag-infused screaming matches on social media, the prudent option is to conduct rigorous research and disseminate it widely. Two recent papers are exemplary in this regard.

The first is a paper on the impact of the minimum wage on Black-white earnings inequality in the US, authored by University of California at Berkeley economists Ellora Derenoncourt and Claire Montialoux. The researchers sought to understand why it was that during the 1960s and early 70s, the Black-white earnings gap fell from the 25 percent earnings difference that had been reported previously.

Professors Derenoncourt and Montialoux demonstrated that the 1967 federal minimum wage extension that expanded the set of jobs qualifying for the $1 minimum wage accounted for over 20 percent of the decline in the racial wage gap. Black people, disproportionately to their white counterparts, saw their wages increase after the reform and experienced a much larger increase in income. Moreover, the authors were able to demonstrate that the higher wages did not come at the expense of jobs: Total employment for Black individuals held steady, contrary to the traditional narrative in economics textbooks.

These findings add to our collective knowledge regarding how best to tackle labor market discrimination. Prior to this paper, scholars emphasized the role of anti-discrimination laws and increasing education for the African American populations as the primary causes of the shrinking Black-white wage gap. This new paper suggests that such explanations are not as important as previously thought, helping policymakers fine tune interventions that tackle discrimination.

Moreover, this paper also highlights how the impact of a minimum wage can be quite sensitive to the structure of the economy when it is applied. In 2016, Princeton University economist Thomas Leonard published a book arguing that the minimum wages introduced in the US during the early 20th century had a much more sinister intent. They were part of a manifestly racist effort to disadvantage Black communities, by eliminating their ability to secure employment at wages lower than those of whites. This is because when wages are unrestricted, bigoted white employers might still consider employing Black workers because of their lower wages; however, when Black workers’ wages are forcibly equalized to those of white wages where bigotry and racism remains unaddressed, this allows bigoted white employers to favor white employees without suffering a financial penalty.

Why did Black people have lower wages? A variety of reasons including lower education levels and overt bigotry were assumed. But without a scientific understanding of these factors, we may make the error of prescribing a policy that hurts those it seeks to help. Clearly, a valuable extension to the paper by Professors Derenoncourt and Montialoux would be a study that definitively explains why minimum wages potentially accentuated the Black-white inequality in the early 20th century while closing it during the 1960s and 1970s.

While these papers examined the effect of minimum wage policies, another looks at how legislation designed to encourage minorities to apply for jobs may actually have the opposite effect.

This second paper is by Andreas Leibbrandt, an economist at Monash University in Australia, and John List, an economist at the University of Chicago in the US. The authors investigate the impact of equal employment opportunity (EEO) statements in job postings on the willingness of racial minorities to apply for jobs.

The overt goal of EEO statements – which innocuously declare that all job applicants will be given equal consideration regardless of race – is to enhance the pool of minority applicants, by indicating to them that they will not face the bigoted discrimination that they might otherwise face in the labor market. However, Professors Leibbrandt and List unexpectedly found that racial minorities become less likely to apply to jobs upon the inclusion of an EEO statement. Moreover, this effect is especially pronounced for educated job seekers in cities with white majority populations.

By gathering additional data, Professors Leibbrandt and List surmised that EEO statements apparently backfire because minority populations don’t want to fall victim to tokenism: “Racial minorities avoid environments in which they are perceived as regulatory, or symbolic hires, rather than being hired on their own merits.” These findings show how perception is a critical mediating variable in labor market interventions, and therefore help us to design affirmative action policies more effectively, lest they be counterproductive.

Eliminating discrimination is a worthy goal for society, and science plays a central role in realizing that goal. The new papers described above highlight the importance of dispassionate analysis of rigorously collected data in making us question prevailing narratives, as trial-and-error is the essence of science. Or, as Danish physicist Niels Bohr once remarked: “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2020/09/16/Scientific-research-is-critical-to-tackling-racial-discrimination

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Saudi Allies Embrace Israeli Expansion Project

By Shakir Husain

SEP 17, 2020

The process of Palestinian displacement began under British colonialism and continues more than a century on, attracting new quislings willing to betray a cause dear to the Muslim world.

At stake is the Palestinian dream of statehood, despite losing a vast part of their historical land to the father of modern political Zionism Theodor Herzl's Jewish state project.

Also at stake is the right of Islamic communities to reclaim their third holiest city, Jerusalem, while recognizing the city's status as Palestine's future capital.

It has been an old Zionist plan to occupy as much Arab land as possible to render the Palestinians stateless under illegal Israeli occupation or to subject them to other forms of terror.

A genuine regional campaign, in which Egypt and Jordan must play a significant role, can help the Palestinians in achieving their ambitions.

It is clear that Israel and its Zionist allies would not yield an inch to them willingly. Israel's Zionist allies are those who support its racist occupation and policies, including successor states of European colonialism, the United States, and the Arab dictators whose survival depends on Western tutelage.

Even today, Britain is unapologetic for its crimes in Palestine. After British colonialism, the U.S. became the Jewish state's protector and collaborator and continues to subsidize its aggression.

U.S. policy

U.S. leaders follow the tradition of their predecessors in manipulating Arabs, chiefly the Saudi kingdom, to serve Israeli interests.

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945 may have failed in getting Saudi Arabia's founder King Abdulaziz, also known as Ibn Saud, to endorse the Israeli project, but he did win a relationship that serves American and Western interests to this day.

Now, U.S. President Donald Trump is confident he will get King Abdulaziz's descendants to enthusiastically embrace Israel.

There are unmistakable signs that Saudi Arabia and Israel maintain furtive relations and the next stage will be a formal Israeli presence in Riyadh.

After all, Saudi Arabia has been helping Israel in developing links in the region and beyond.

When the United Arab Emirates (UAE), controlled by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ), announced that it would recognize Israel, Saudi Arabia quickly opened its airspace to Israeli-Emirati flights.

A strong signal of Saudi Arabia's willingness to accommodate Israeli interests came in 2018 when it allowed the Indian national carrier to use its airspace for Tel Aviv flights.

The move might have helped Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's (MBS) administration to gauge political risks and public opinion in case he took further steps toward Israel's recognition.

The original Ibn Saud thinking as Saudi policy became diluted over the decades as Riyadh's dependence on the U.S. grew.

Arab disunity, lack of capacity and political insincerity have bedeviled the Palestinian struggle for statehood.

The late King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz unveiled what became known as the Arab Peace Initiative, which was endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 at its Beirut meeting, and offered Israel recognition in exchange for withdrawal from occupied Arab lands.

No one takes that proposal seriously, thanks mainly to Saudi Arabia abandoning the Palestinians for political expediency and MBS’s out-of-control ambitions.

The island nation of Bahrain, linked to Saudi Arabia via a 25-kilometer (15.53-mile) causeway, has become another Saudi ally to recognize the Jewish state.

Trump on Sept. 15 hosted a ceremony at the White House where the UAE and Bahrain agreed to normalize relations with Israel.

It means Israel opening embassies on the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf seaports and airports getting linked with Israel. There will be no need for the Israelis to use their dual nationality papers to live or travel in the Gulf for business, leisure or committing an occasional murder.

Those who remember the 2010 assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a top commander in the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas, by Israeli agents in Dubai, must be curious as to what an Israeli presence in the Gulf would mean for the wider region's delicate security situation.

Arab States’ Support

Israeli citizens will now be dining and dancing with Gulf Arabs, and indeed with many Muslim residents in the region, even though their own governments still do not recognize Israel.

The UAE and Bahrain are helping Israel expand in a way that has dangerous security implications for many countries.

As for the Palestinians, they can forget about securing an end to Israeli occupation with Arab support.

They will have to admit that the Oslo peace process was a mistake and utter deception and come up with new ways to revive their struggle for an independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

The King Abdullah plan was based on U.N. resolutions 242 and 338, calling for Israel's withdrawal from Arab lands occupied since 1967.

The contempt MBZ and MBS hold for the Palestinian people and what the Islamic world considers as sacred is clear in their promotion of the so-called "Deal of the Century" offered in January by the U.S. administration and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

The UAE-Saudi political yokels, who present themselves as trendy dealmakers, didn't care that the Trump proposal promised the Palestinians not a state but a series of Bantustans in the vein of apartheid-era South Africa. With no contiguous Palestinian territory, no Jerusalem and Israel being gifted huge tracts of land it didn't possess before 1967, the deal was rightly condemned as the "Fraud of the Century."

Palestinians mocked the Trump plan by saying it created two states – but that "both states are Israel."

Those involved in that fraud continue to come up with new tricks to cheat and defeat the Palestinians. What the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE may end up achieving through their deals is Arab enslavement by Israel.

The weakness of their faith is only matched by their meekness to serve Israel, which sees a formal recognition from Riyadh as the bigger prize than Roosevelt securing control of Arabian oil in the 20th century.

https://www.dailysabah.com/opinion/op-ed/saudi-allies-embrace-israeli-expansion-project

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Rights Advocates Decry Mass Detention of Turkish Lawyers

By Diego Cupolo

Sep 16, 2020

 A growing chorus of international human rights groups are raising concern over the ongoing detention of dozens of Turkish lawyers suspected of fostering links to a terrorist organization through their professional activities.

At least 47 Turkish lawyers were taken into police custody during dawn raids on their Ankara homes on Sept. 11 on allegations they were using their legal practices to support followers of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, which the Turkish government has accused of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt.

As of Wednesday, all but two of the lawyers under investigation remained in police custody and were undergoing interrogations regarding their contacts with clients and colleagues. Rights advocates said the investigations were targeting lawyers for representing clients accused of terror links, adding the operation threatens suspects’ rights to legal defense and broader rule of law norms in Turkey.

“Equating lawyers with the profile of those they are defending is a really, really dangerous path to go down, and it absolutely contravenes the principles of what the role and function of a lawyer is,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Al-Monitor.

According to a briefing by the Ankara chief prosecutor’s office, about 60 suspects are being investigated in Ankara and seven other provinces for alleged links to the Gulen network, which the Turkish government refers to as the Fethullah Gulen Terror Organization, or FETO. One suspect who was detained and later released told HRW police detained her at 5:30 a.m. Sept. 11 and confiscated electronic devices from her home.

The lawyers who remain in police custody, which can be extended through court orders up to 12 days under Turkish law, are being held in cells with poor air ventilation amid a growing COVID-19 outbreak in Ankara, posing a potential health risk for the suspects, according to an HRW report.

The Ankara Bar Association released a statement Tuesday alleging the lawyers’ rights had been violated in the process of their detentions.

“The houses of the suspected lawyers were searched without calling the representatives of the bar association, resulting in a clear violation of the law,” the bar association said. “Phones were seized at dozens of addresses without allowing the lawyers to call their lawyers.”

The operation comes after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered a speech during an opening ceremony for the judicial year Sept. 1, in which he called for the suspension of lawyers accused of terrorism links.

“We will do what is necessary to cut off the bloody path from attorneyship to terrorism,” Erdogan said during the ceremony.

Nate Schenkkan, director for special research at Freedom House, said the latest wave of arrests was a continuation of pressure on the legal profession that has been ongoing since the 2016 coup attempt.

“What is especially disturbing in this wave of arrests is that lawyers are being arrested based on the accusations their clients face. This undermines citizens’ rights to defend themselves in court,” Schenkkan told Al-Monitor. “It is a continuation of the evisceration of due process that has occurred in Turkey over the last decade.”

Earlier this summer, Turkish lawyers led nationwide protests against a bill that would restructure bar associations in the country. The legislation passed July 11, and Schenkkan described the measure as “part of the same picture by which the government seeks to erode one of the last bastions of effective, independent civil society.”

The developments also follow the death of a hunger-striking lawyer, Ebru Timtik, in late August. Timtik had been convicted of membership in a terrorist organization and succumbed to a 238-day hunger strike in prison while demanding a fair trial.

Turkish lawyers face ongoing prosecutions as state authorities continue to conduct mass dentations on suspected members of the Gulen movement. On Wednesday, more than 100 people were detained by counterterrorism police across 34 provinces.

Sinclair-Webb warned that if lawyers are subjected to investigations for representing suspects with alleged Gulen movement links, such operations could easily expand to lawyers representing defendants linked to other groups in the country.

“Unless we have strong public outcry on this operation, then we’re going to see this happen to lawyers defending Kurdish defendants and lawyers defending leftist defendants who are also tried for terrorism charges,” Sinclair-Webb told Al-Monitor.

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/09/turkey-human-rights-lawyers-mass-detention.html

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State Department Officials Testify Before Congress on Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE

By Adam Lucente

Sep 16, 2020

State Department officials defended the May 2019 arms sale to Gulf countries in Congress today, but some House members continued to take issue with the department’s actions.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said many in Congress thought that the US arming of Saudi Arabia led to unnecessary civilian deaths in Yemen but that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo disagreed.

“Many of us here in Congress saw the situation on the ground in Yemen and said, 'Enough,'’’ the New York Democrat said during a hearing today. “Pompeo’s State Department didn’t see it that way.”

The hearing focused on the firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick in May. Congressional Democrats are concerned that Linick was fired for looking into the Trump administration's weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as allegations that Pompeo improperly used the department’s resources for his personal benefit. In May 2019, Pompeo issued an emergency certification to allow the arms sales in question to go through. This bypassed a hold Congress placed on them due to concerns over civilian casualties.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are part of the coalition supporting the UN-recognized Yemeni government against Iran-backed Houthi forces in the country. The Saudi-led coalition has been widely criticized for its actions in Yemen. In 2018, a coalition airstrike on a bus killed 38 schoolboys there.

During the hearing, Engel said the Donald Trump administration did not sufficiently research whether the sale of US weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE would lead to innocent deaths in Yemen. “Didn’t assess the risks, didn’t try to reduce civilian casualties,” said Engel. “This isn’t describing the Saudis or the Emiratis; it’s describing our State Department under the Trump administration.”

Engel also said he doubts the transfer constituted an emergency because the weapons have yet to arrive to the Gulf. “There was no emergency,” he said.

State officials defended the decision to use emergency powers to push through the sale. R. Clarke Cooper, the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said the sale was based on “the significant increase in intelligence reporting on threat streams related to Iran.”

Cooper cited pro-Iran militias' attacks on US forces in Iraq and Houthi forces' firing of missiles into Saudi Arabia since May 2019 to justify the emergency sale. “Events since that time serve only to magnify the challenge Iran poses to the region and demonstrate the administration is on the right side of history,” said Cooper at the hearing.

“Iran, and the partners and proxies it supports, continue to threaten not only US partners, but have directly targeted US personnel and military forces and facilities in the region,” he added.

Cooper said he would be willing to provide a classified briefing to the Foreign Affairs Committee on threats from Iran.

The controversy surrounding the arms sale is likely to continue. In August, a State Department inspector general report said Pompeo acted within the law when he skirted Congress to push the weapons sale through. The report also found that the department did not put in place measures to reduce civilian casualties with the sale.

On Tuesday, Engel released documents showing correspondence between the inspector general and the State Department. Engel said the documents show the department tried to hide information on the sale from Congress.

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/09/foreign-affairs-congress-arms-sales-saudi-uae-yemen-iran.html

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Egypt Rallies Arab League To Counter Turkey's Regional Policies

By Hagar Hosny

Sep 16, 2020

 Egypt last week called for a unified and firm Arab policy against Turkey through closer cooperation among Arab states.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told the Arab League on Sept. 9 that blatant Turkish practices and interventions in multiple Arab countries are the most significant emerging threats to Arab national security. He said Turkey was facilitating access of tens of thousands of terrorists and mercenaries to Syria, deploying thousands of fighters to Libya and exploiting the Arab peoples’ resources in Iraq and Libya through illegitimate agreements.

In its closing statement Sept. 10, the Arab League denounced the Turkish interventions in Arab countries (Syria, Libya and Iraq), and called on the Turkish side “not to meddle in the Arab countries’ internal affairs and to halt its provocative actions that would sabotage trust and pose a threat to the region’s security and stability.”

Qatar, Libya, Somalia and Djibouti, however, abstained from voting on the statement.

Turkey denounced the Arab League statement in a Sept. 10 press release by its Foreign Ministry that said, “These decisions lack any context to be taken seriously. … Turkey attaches utmost importance to the preservation of the territorial integrity and the political unity of the Arab countries, as well as regional stability, and exerts efforts for their protection,” unlike some Arab countries that only care about their own agenda.

Ahmed Youssef Ahmed, a former dean of the Institute of Arab Research and Studies in Cairo, told Al-Monitor by phone that it is good to call for a unified Arab policy, but that there are challenges to the implementation of such a policy, particularly since there are varied Arab positions toward Turkey's intrusive policy in the region.

He said that while Egypt condemns this interference and draws red lines, there are other Arab countries, such as in North Africa, that do not have the same position, as they neither support nor oppose Turkish interference. Also, there are two Arab countries that are against any measure that would be taken against Turkey, namely Qatar and Somalia, he added.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said June 10 that the Egyptian army stands ready in case the Tripoli-based government and its Turkish ally continue to attack the area around Sirte, Libya’s main gateway for oil exports, which Khalifa Hifter's forces and allies control.

Ahmed indicated that the Turkish intervention caused direct damage to a number of governments, namely Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Libya's eastern-based government, and added that it would be a good start if Arab countries agreed with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on a unified policy against Turkey.

He stressed the need for the affected countries to adopt a unified and comprehensive diplomatic position against Turkey, saying it is about time to examine Arab trade volume with Turkey. He said he believes Turkey would suffer major damage if Arab countries coordinated to reduce trade volume or impose economic sanctions on Turkey.

The volume of trade between Arab countries and Turkey amounts to nearly $50 billion per year, said Rashid al-Athba, vice president of the Qatar Chamber, at a joint meeting of the Arab and Turkish chambers of commerce in Antalya, Turkey, on Sept. 11.

Abdel Moneim Saeed, a former director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, agreed. He told Al-Monitor by phone that in order to have a unified Arab strategy, Arab countries need to agree that Turkish policies threaten their national security. That would start a dialogue between Arab countries and lead to a strategy to deal with Turkish interference, he added.

Turkish military forces are present in Libya in support of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of Libya's Government of National Accord, claiming that they seek stability in Libya. They are also present in northern Syria, and control some towns and areas adjacent to the Turkish border, and support Syrian opposition factions in Idlib. Also, Turkish special forces are deployed in northern Iraq, as a part of Operation Claw-Tiger against Kurdish militants.

Saeed added, “No one wants to engage in large-scale military clashes. Yet Turkey and Iran are openly using military force, and Turkey is using religion to form armed organizations that serve its interests in Arab countries.”

Tariq Fahmy, a professor of politics at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor that the only way to develop such a strategy is for that all Arab countries to agree on how to deal with Turkish policy in the region, adding that there are Arab governments that continue to maintain good relations with Turkey, such as Qatar, Algeria, Libya’s Sarraj-led government and Sudan.

Fahmy said there is need to focus on the security dimension of Arab countries and the region as a whole, and that there is agreement that there is a Turkish intrusive policy in the entire region, especially in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

He pointed to the need to not separate the economic and political dimensions when dealing with Turkey, given their correlation, and to try to use economic policies to serve political interests.

Fahmy stressed that Arab countries need to communicate with all political forces inside Turkey, and to activate the Arab League role, considering it to be the Arab voice when communicating with these forces.

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/09/egypt-calls-arab-league-unified-policy-turkey-region.html

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Lebanon’s Epic Post-Explosion Leadership Failure

By Jessy El-Murr

September 16, 2020

Only a few hours after the March 2019 Christchurch terrorist attack, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “The person who has perpetuated this violence against us… has no place here. There is no place amongst us for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence.”

The attacker had chosen a mosque and an Islamic center for his heinous crime, in which he used six guns, including two semi-automatic AR-15 style rifles, to kill 51 Muslim civilians during prayer time, while broadcasting the attack live on his Facebook page. It was an unprecedented attack that shook public opinion worldwide.

The next day, Ardern — the youngest prime minister to assume office in New Zealand in more than 150 years and the youngest female world leader at the time — dressed in black and wore a head scarf to visit victims’ families and other members of the Muslim community to personally offer her condolences and say “the whole country is united in grief.”

Her ability to show empathy as a leader was swiftly followed by strict laws to ban most semi-automatic weapons and restrict access to guns in the country. Her promise to seek justice for the victims’ families was fulfilled when the attacker, Brenton Tarrant, a white supremacist, was in August jailed for life with no possibility of parole. Facing such an unprecedented tragedy with decisive decision-making and swift responses turned the young prime minister into one of the most popular leaders in international politics.

Comparing Lebanon to New Zealand wouldn’t really be fair for obvious reasons. However, in the days and weeks following the largest explosion to ever hit Lebanon’s capital — the Aug. 4 Beirut port blast that killed close to 200 civilians, injured thousands and destroyed more than 300,000 homes and businesses — I have searched in vain for just one responsible, decisive, empathetic, angry statement from any Lebanese leader. The utter lack of leadership qualities shown in the aftermath of the disaster is yet another tragedy in Lebanon.

So I have decided to list some of the statements that were made. Most of them came in the days immediately after the massive blast hit the port, where 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate was illegally stored for years without any accountability.

President Michel Aoun said: “I don’t have direct authority to intervene in the port.”

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said: “We don’t operate nor control nor intervene in the port, nor do we know what it contains nor what takes place inside its premises.”

Then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab said: “I promise the Lebanese that I will not allow this disaster to pass without holding those responsible accountable. The investigation will not take long and will include all those who are involved.”

Free Patriotic Movement leader and former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said: “The authorities cannot say they didn’t know. Of course they knew… Now if Hezbollah proves to be involved in this, of course it should be held accountable.”

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri called for an Arab or international investigation into the explosion.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “The reforms needed must be implemented. For my part, I am now more committed to implementing it.”

The head of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, said: “Our resignations are ready in our pockets.”

MP Walid Jumblatt said: “If we submit our resignations today, which electoral laws will be used in the next elections? What is the new law? We demand a new non-sectarian electoral law.”

For the record, six weeks after the catastrophic blast, only one of the officials mentioned above has resigned. None of the others have taken an ounce of responsibility or apologized to the people of Lebanon. Keep in mind that all of them have held various positions in the government since the ammonium nitrate was first received at the port in 2013.

In fact, the above statements went out of their way to deflect any direct responsibility or accountability, throw vague accusations at others, and some of the so-called leaders refused to resign before having the audacity to demand a safe transition for their seats into the near political future.

During times of crisis, be it political or business, here are the top three qualities a leader or corporate executive must prove to his people/company.

1. The ability to empathize: Not just with genuine, compassionate statements like Ardern’s immediately after the terrorist attack in her country, but also with the ability to physically be present in the field. In the case of Lebanon, not one official showed up in Beirut’s destroyed streets and neighborhoods, while people were shoveling the rubble away from their ruined homes. Not one official went to help with the makeshift humanitarian initiatives launched by civilians.

2. Communication skills: A leader managing a crisis must show their ability to relate to and communicate with the people. This will restore some of the inevitable loss of trust by keeping them in the loop with the latest information. In Lebanon’s case, a daily press conference should have been held to keep people up to date with rescue efforts, the humanitarian situation and the economic repercussions.

3. Decision-making powers: A compassionate leader during a time of crisis who lacks decision-making powers will no doubt fail to impose solutions or change the status quo, thus losing the trust of his employees/people. Such a loss will certainly lead to his demise, much like the Lebanese officials who are currently in power.

All the Lebanese party leaders in current and past governments have failed to show these top three leadership qualities during times of crisis and beyond. In fact, some of them managed the crisis by uttering irresponsible and provocative statements, threatening the Lebanese with the lifting of subsidies on wheat or fuel, plunging the country into additional economic despair. In addition, other party officials have resorted to bringing back old sectarian fears by provoking armed clashes in several parts of the country.

From the painfully slow and dodgy start to the investigation into the Beirut blast to the questionable forensic and financial audit and the questions surrounding the tendering process, as well as the provocative visit to Beirut of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and his threats to Israel from Lebanese soil (despite the Foreign Ministry’s official refusal of his visit, as reported in local media), Lebanese officials have succeeded in showing one unique quality: Combining excess official titles with a complete and utter lack of leadership skills.

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Jessy El-Murr is a certified media trainer and a multilingual digital journalist who spent over 18 years writing and presenting political, military and digital news stories for international news outlets.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1735576

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Losing Hope In The Middle East Is Not An Option

By Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

September 16, 2020

Foreign Policy magazine this month ran a provocative piece titled, “The End of Hope in the Middle East,” which concluded that the region “has always had problems — but it’s now almost past the point of recovery.”

Author Steven Cook, from the Council on Foreign Relations, justified his pessimistic outlook by pointing out that the region “has become a dystopia marked by violence, resurgent authoritarianism, economic dislocation, and regional conflict, with no clear way out.”

The article fits into a long tradition of dystopian pronouncements about the Middle East. After all, the best-known apocalyptic view about the end of the world came from our region. There are similar dystopian traditions in the West and elsewhere, and numerous books, films, songs and works of art that have pronounced the end of the world, the end of “Western civilization,” the end of Europe or the end of America, only to be proven wrong every time. So far.

Cook’s piece is more nuanced and well-argued than many of those works, but it is also just as gloomy and inaccurate.

While attaching greater weight to internal factors, Cook correctly points to another source of despair: How different powers have disturbed the delicate balance that existed in the region until recently. He mentions the “Russians in Syria and Libya, the Turks in the same two countries, or Iran in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.” He also mentions the destabilizing role that the US has, at times, unwittingly played. One clear example is the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was waged against the advice of its Gulf partners.

Cook also appears critical of the “permissive international environment” that has tolerated and even aided sources of destabilization in the region.

He correctly identifies several internal and external sources of Middle Eastern instability and deprivation, but then gives up on how to deal with them. Losing hope dangerously denies the people of the region the agency to change their current predicament, as they have done many times before.

This region has lived through tougher times than the present situation and survived. There have been high peaks and very deep troughs during its 6,000-year recorded history, from cruel wars to disease and devastating natural disasters. During those millennia, the region beat all others to the invention of writing, the alphabet, agriculture and many other innovations that we take for granted today. It was the birthplace of great religions that are followed by most people around the globe today. The Middle East and North Africa region is today home to nearly 600 million people, mostly young. It is rich with diverse and vibrant cultures, and is endowed with more than its share of natural resources. It is unlikely that such resilient people are going to succumb to hopelessness and die, as Cook seems to suggest at times.

During the past 1,000 years, the region has managed to beat and survive multiple attacks, which at the time seemed like they might be fatal. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, it faced and defeated fanatical Crusaders from the West. During the following two centuries, it was overrun by marauding hordes from the East, who controlled much of the region and destroyed whole cities. Then there were the waves of colonial powers, which until recently dominated political and economic life in the region.

But the Middle East survived. No matter how dark things look now, they are not as dark as matters looked during the Crusades or when Genghis Khan’s hordes attacked. Nor is the region as seemingly hopeless as it was during the time of colonial rule by successive foreign powers. This region has shown great resilience and has been able to rebound after every shock and thrive.

During its darkest hours, the Middle East has never reached the bottomless depths of the European experience of endless wars and destruction that culminated in the most destructive wars in human history, the First and Second World Wars. Just as Europe was able to pull itself back together against crippling odds, so can the Middle East.

Losing hope, as Cook suggests we should do, means that we stop searching for a way out. In indirect ways, Cook implies that the failures are innate, could not be helped, and it is futile to search for the causes of and any ways out of the current morass affecting the Middle East.

However, giving up is not an option for the people who live in this region. In almost every conflict that he cites in his article, it is possible to point out the precise causes and a clear timeline of the missteps and mistakes that were made by internal and external powers. In nearly every conflict, the international community has, in one way or another, prescribed a plausible and equitable solution. It is also possible, in most conflicts, to identify the spoilers who have obstructed those solutions.

Leaving the Middle East alone to deal with its problems should not be an option for outsiders either. Continued instability in this region, which straddles many trade routes, negatively affects the rest of the world. That it is rich in energy sources highlights its essential role in global prosperity. The 600-million-strong population of this region, with its growing needs and spending habits, could represent a thriving market. It could also provide the manpower for business and industry once stability is restored.

Cook cited Libya as evidence for hopelessness and despair, but in recent weeks and days the Libyans have been proving him wrong. They ceased fighting and began in earnest a process toward peace and reconciliation. Other parts of the Middle East could follow suit, as the formulas for success have been identified for nearly every other conflict. The international community should play a supporting role and deal with the spoilers effectively.

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Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the Gulf Cooperation Council’s assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent those of the GCC.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1735591

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Time for The Palestinian People to Take the Initiative

By Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

September 16, 2020

As Palestinians protested against the deals signed in the White House by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain on Tuesday, and despite the various criticisms, those agreements should send a sign to the Palestinians that it is time to get their act together.

Many analysts offered different explanations for the drivers behind the deals and their expected results. Some said they are setting the stage for a comprehensive peace in the region. Others saw in this the death certificate of the Arab Peace Initiative that conditioned Arab normalization on a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, while Israeli analysts viewed it as the start of a new era of Arab-Israeli relations, where peace is no longer conditional on land concessions but more as a materialization of a “peace for peace” concept.

The unsolvable 70-year conflict no longer defines regional dynamics and relations. Unlike in the 1970s, when the Arab League boycotted Anwar Sadat’s Egypt for normalizing ties with Israel, the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to issue a condemnation statement of the UAE-Israel deal was quickly rebuffed by the Arab League. Arab countries now have other priorities: Namely, Iran and Turkey.

Sandwiched between what is perceived as Iranian expansionism and Turkey’s hegemonic ambitions, Israel becomes a necessary ally. To add to that, there is a general fatigue with the Palestinian cause. Arab states feel the futility of standing by the squabbling Palestinian leaders. The late Saudi monarch King Abdullah tried in good faith to bring the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas together under the Makkah Agreement, only for his attempt to fail due to the two leaderships’ ego clashes and conflicts of interest.

The UAE and Bahrain deals can be a good wake-up call for the Palestinian leaderships, who should move beyond lament, condemnation and self-pity to get in touch with reality. They should look back at their history: In 1948, they left their homes in Palestine, hoping they would go back at the head of conquering Arab armies, only for their dream to be shattered on the shores of time. This has resulted in third-generation refugees lingering in less than humane conditions in camps in neighboring countries.

It is time for the Palestinian people to get disillusioned about what they can get from Arab states. Each state has enough to worry about in the dangerous environment the region is currently experiencing. No state will forgo what it perceives as its national interest to champion the Palestinian cause. Dictators like Hafez Assad used the Palestinian cause as a narrative to justify their brutal rule and the imposition of emergency laws, where all personal freedoms and basic human and civil rights were stifled. The narrative is that human rights and economic growth should be put aside for the moment because the “dictator” is preparing for something grand and noble, which is the liberation of Palestine. The Islamic Republic in Iran infiltrated Arab societies by adopting the Palestinian cause, only to later reveal with its interventions in Syria, Iraq and Yemen that its real project is a sectarian one unrelated to Palestine. With the Arab uprising, the legitimacy of those dictators — which was based on them hiding behind the lie pertaining to the liberation of Palestine — fell.

Palestinians need to get a grip on reality and they should start by putting their own house in order. The people should no longer be fooled by Ismail Haniyeh, who leaves Gaza on a private jet after getting approval from Israeli officials to head to Lebanon and threaten the “Zionist enemy” from Hezbollah’s stronghold.

They should no longer let the corrupt leaderships in Gaza and the West Bank divide them. They should unite and prepare their own plan for the future of their nation. Whether that consists of resisting the occupation or negotiating with the occupier, it is their call to make. Whether they want political independence from Israel or they want equal rights inside Israel, that is again their call to make.

They should no longer take a back seat while others present plans to determine their fate. They should stop others from hijacking their cause for political gain. They need to have a clear vision of where they want to end up, what they want from Israel, and what they are ready to offer in return.

One thing is for sure: It is time to bypass the internal political bickering and take firm action. The Palestinians have to remember that self-determination cannot happen without self-help. It is time to reject the corrupt leaderships that do nothing but work to perpetuate their own existence. The people should start working on an alternative to the sagging leaderships. They should connect with the Palestinian citizens of Israel and with the wider diaspora to come up with a plan of action that will determine their fate.

Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is the co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building (RCCP), a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II. She is also an affiliated scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1735596

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Iran Regime’s Paranoia Over Future Widespread Protests

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

September 16, 2020

Although Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has in the past admitted that people have the right to protest, the Iranian authorities have become increasingly paranoid about demonstrations erupting across the country.

The Iranian leaders’ paranoia is being demonstrated through their brutal suppression of peaceful protesters and political prisoners. The judiciary has ratcheted up its harsh punishments for those who protest, even if they are peaceful, and those who dare to oppose the regime’s policies.

Although the regime has, on occasions, commuted death sentences when there has been an international outcry, the theocratic establishment went ahead this week and executed champion wrestler Navid Afkari by hanging him in the southern city of Shiraz, according to Iranian state media. His execution was clearly carried out in a hurried manner and he was even denied a last visit from his family.

The Iranian leaders most likely wanted to make an example of the highly respected wrestler, to impose fear in society, and send a strong message to the people that anyone who dares to protest can face severe consequences.

Another high-profile figure that the regime has arrested and tortured is 20-year-old Ali Younesi, a student who in 2018 won a gold medal as a member of Iran’s national team during the 12th International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics. He and his friend Amirhossein Moradi have been held without charge since April, accused by the authorities of having connections to the opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq.

Iran’s Revolutionary Courts and the judiciary are known for their lack of due process, forced concessions, and for denying detainees access to lawyers. As Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Middle East Director Michael Page explained: “Iranian authorities have a history of targeting dissidents’ family members on bogus charges and, after nearly two months, they have failed to provide an iota of evidence against Younesi and Moradi. The prolonged solitary confinement, lack of access to a lawyer, and the judiciary’s history of coerced confessions signal that there’s almost zero chance that the due process rights of these two students will be respected.”

The Iranian regime has also been escalating its excessive punishment against minority religious groups. For example, last week, the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of seven Sunni political prisoners. They were sentenced to death on vague charges including “corruption on earth,” “acting against national security,” and “propaganda against the state.”

Last month, the judiciary also secretly hanged another protester, Mostafa Salhi. Amnesty International condemned his execution, stating that it “was carried out… despite serious unfair trial concerns including torture and other ill-treatment and the denial of access to a lawyer during the investigation phase of his case.”

Since 2018, every wave of protests has questioned the legitimacy of the regime and challenged its hold on power. The regime is now particularly concerned due to the tremendous pressure it is facing. This is largely because the country’s economic outlook is extremely dire and its currency has again lost a significant amount of its value in the last few months. The rial hit a new low against the dollar last week, with one US dollar selling for about 262,000 rials in Tehran’s exchange market. A dollar was worth 200,000 rials in late June and about 85,000 rials only a year ago.

Desperate for cash, and in a rare move, the regime has even turned to other governments and international organizations to lend it money. But its attempts to secure funds have failed, mainly because of the US’ veto power or its pressure on other governments. That is why Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at the US on Saturday, stating: “We requested a $5 billion loan from IMF (International Monetary Fund) and all members agreed but America does not allow the payment of this loan… The White House today has no sense of humanity. Even more importantly, we have friendly countries that have our money deposited in their banks and they do not unfreeze these assets and say that America is putting pressure and threatening them against the unfreezing.”

The US’ sanctions on Iran’s oil industry and financial system, in addition to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, have crippled the country’s economy. But, even if the US sanctions are lifted and COVID-19 disappears, the damage that has been inflicted on Iran’s economy will not be undone for a long time to come because years of growth have been lost. The IMF this month estimated that Iran’s foreign exchange reserves will decrease by up to $19 billion this year (from $85 billion), with another $16 billion fall expected in 2021.

The Iranian regime is escalating its suppression due to its fears that protests could overthrow the political establishment. It is incumbent on the international community to investigate Tehran’s excessive punishment of peaceful protesters and to hold the Iranian leaders accountable for their egregious actions.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1735611

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Historic Agreements Boost Trump’s Image As A Peacemaker

By Osama Al-Sharif

September 15, 2020

US President Donald Trump’s quest for a second term this November is proving to be difficult but not impossible. The coronavirus disease pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 190,000 Americans so far and it is now the single main factor that threatens his comeback. But, as recent polls show, the gap between him and Democratic candidate Joe Biden is closing as the US enters one of the most bizarre election seasons in history. A defiant Trump is questioning the integrity of mail-in voting, which favors the Democrats, and is warning that the Nov. 3 poll could be rigged.

Pundits are predicting that the final election results could take weeks and maybe months to tally and that a cumbersome legal battle lies ahead. If he loses, Trump will contest the outcome amid a deeply polarized America. Either way, the US faces some tough months ahead.

But what would a second term for Trump mean for the Middle East? A flamboyant Trump has secured a couple of important foreign policy victories ahead of the election. Last week, Bahrain followed the UAE in announcing it would normalize ties with Israel, and these historic agreements will boost Trump’s image as a peacemaker in a region beset by conflicts and turmoil.

Other Arab countries could take similar steps before Nov. 3 and, if Trump wins a second term, one could expect to see a new normal in the region, where Israel emerges as the backbone of a new regional alliance. Trump will continue to decrease America’s physical presence in the region, while backing a proxy Israeli-Arab alliance that is aimed at confronting the threats posed by Iran and Turkey. Gulf countries, in particular, see both of these rivals as aiming to expand their influence in the Arab region and as posing an existential threat. This is Trump’s new security doctrine for the region. Among its chief consequences is the disengagement by Israel’s new allies from what used to be the central Arab cause: The Palestinian question.

Trump’s vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians will remain as one of many initiatives to settle this decades-old conflict. A second term for Trump is less likely to push for such a settlement. Trump’s peace team will instead focus its efforts on cementing the new Israeli-Arab alliance. Its gestures toward the Palestinians, if any, will be disingenuous.

Trump will push for further US troop withdrawals from Iraq, Afghanistan and, at some point, Syria. His anti-Iran strategy will remain intact in line with the newly formed Israeli-Arab alliance. A second term for Trump would be catastrophic for cash-strapped Iran. The containment of Tehran will add pressure on the regime, but will also push it further toward Russia and China. The collapse of the regime will not be imminent and hard-liners are likely to expand their control of the state at the expense of the so-called moderates. Iranian meddling in Iraqi and Syrian affairs will continue. For Iraq, further US troop withdrawals will make Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s mission in confronting rogue militias even harder. Trump’s priority will be to bring the troops home at any expense.

Regional polarization will deepen as the US relies further on regional proxies. Trump has no clear strategy in dealing with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is emerging as a destabilizing factor in the region. Whether it is in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Qatar or the Eastern Mediterranean, Ankara has become a key player with an ambitious colonial agenda. Its alliance with Russia, in defiance of NATO, of which it is a member, has gone unchecked by Washington. A second term for Trump is unlikely to change his attitude toward Erdogan’s regional adventures.

The biggest regional challenge during Trump’s second term will be the question of who will fill the vacuum left by the US departure. Russia’s intervention in Syria in 2015 has become a milestone in Moscow’s rising regional influence, which has now stretched to include Libya, Turkey, Iran and even Iraq. One is more likely to see active Russian diplomatic, economic and military activity in the region under a second Trump term. America’s departure from the Middle East will also give China the chance to extend its economic influence and build new partnerships.

A Trump victory would underline new geopolitical realities, with the Israeli-Arab alliance taking center stage. It will be interesting to see how long this alliance can endure and how it will be tested. The US will nurture it, but it will coincide with a deliberate withdrawal from a region that Trump sees as becoming less important strategically for America. It remains to be seen what this US disengagement will lead to in terms of the formation of new alliances and the evolution of local conflicts in countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya.

Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1735051

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Iran, The Envoy of Peace!

By Tariq Al-Homayed

September 17, 2020

Who is the most prominent peace envoy to have convinced the region and its countries, to a large extent, of the necessity to establish peace with Israel?

Do you think it's US envoy Brian Hook or President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner? My conviction is that the main peace envoy is Iran, with the help of Turkey, a torchbearer of Tehran.

Saudi Arabia knows that it is Iran that supports Houthis in Yemen who are targeting our borders just as they target our neighbor Yemen and its legitimacy. The Iranians have been targeting our security for four decades, sometimes with direct terrorism, even in Makkah during the Hajj, and sometimes through Al-Qaeda, and so on.

As far as the United Arab Emirates is concerned, it is also Iran that is the one occupying its islands and threatening its ships off their coasts, and more.

And if you are a Bahraini, you will never forget or forgive Iran because it was Iran that planned and sought to make the Kingdom of Bahrain the first republic affiliated with Iran in the Gulf, in what was known as the Arab Spring.

And if you are a Syrian, you cannot forgive either Iran’s crimes against defenseless innocent people of Syria or Ismail Haniyeh for describing the terrorist Qasem Soleimani as the martyr of Jerusalem. Soleimani was the one who perpetrated killing and other crimes against the Sunnis in Syria at the hands of Shiite terrorist militias.

Here, the story does not confine to Sunnis. We saw Shiite demonstrators taking to the streets in Iraq and Lebanon, condemning and rejecting Iranian influence in their countries. In Iraq specifically, we saw how demonstrators and activists were killed and assassinated by Iranian militias.

If you are a Palestinian, you will repudiate the Iranian project that orchestrated the division and split among Palestinians. If you are an Egyptian and saw how your country’s sovereignty was infringed upon during the Egyptian revolution, and how prisons were broken in by Hezbollah and Hamas militants who act under Iranian instructions and funding.

I would say like what the Bahraini interior minister said in his comment about his country’s establishing peaceful relations with Israel. Minister of Interior Rashid Bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa said: “If Palestine is our Arab cause, then Bahrain is our fateful cause.”

If the people of Gaza had full freedom, they would have said so as they are reeling under the arms aggression of Hamas in addition to the Iranian domination.

Hence, we can say that the most significant peace envoy in our region is Iran, and that is with the support of the reckless Erdogan’s Turkey. Therefore, what Iran has done in our region is devastation and destruction that is not an insignificant matter. It has also contributed to the collapse of the concept of the Arab state, and even its downfall.

Iran has exhausted all its slogans and lies, undermining people’s beliefs and exposing them to killing at the hands of terrorist groups. This scenario is what precipitated and fructified the peace process.

The evidence for this is that there was no demonstration to denounce the normalization of relations or establishing peace with Israel, and even the Assad regime itself remained silent. And this is another story.

The main story here is that Iran’s crimes in the region have convinced the broad spectrum of our region about the necessity and inevitability of peace in order to protect our homelands.

https://saudigazette.com.sa/article/598070/Opinion/Voices/Iran-the-envoy-of-peace!

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Abraham Accords: An Opportunity For People In The Arab World

By Haleema Humaid Al Owais

September 16, 2020

The true growth of a Nation is more than economic accomplishments and world-class infrastructure. It is the ability to nurture peace and camaraderie within and outside its borders and take uninhibited action for it.

The UAE has been a beacon of tolerance and peace among its Arab counterparts as well as globally, and this historic peace treaty makes the UAE the first Gulf Arab state to extend its hand for Arab-Israel cooperation since 1994.

To take this first step, for hope to prevail over despair, amid the risk of scepticism is profound. While now the move is being lauded by many for ‘Different Reasons’, it is essential to recognise the spirit in and for which the agreement was made.

‘Hotels’ within the territory were one of the most searched for words online in the UAE right after the historic peace treaty was announced according to an Emirati official quoted in a BBC story on this game-changer agreement.

This can be understood as an indicator of the number of people who would like to visit Palestine setting aside long-standing and/or inherited dispute.

We often claim ‘Dialogue’ to be the channel of choice to resolve differences, and just as often ignore that in order to have dialogue, there has be an open channel of communication.

It needs to be borne in mind that UAE, its people and the region on a wider scale have been the most vocal advocates of Palestine and the rights of its people.

This move will only strengthen that resolve and open positive avenues for the facilitation of the rights of our Palestinian brothers and sisters. Why you ask? well because all other approaches of the past have failed to worked.

Bold step forward towards fostering reconciliation

Mohammed S. Dajani, an adjunct fellow at The Washington Institute commented, “For many observers and officials worldwide, the normalisation agreement was viewed as a bold step forward towards fostering reconciliation and coexistence, boosting the UAE’s image as a beacon of tolerance and moderation”.

“The deal represents the potential for a new type of ‘road map’ for resolving the conflict, using government-to-government normalisation as a path to people-to-people normalisation”, explains Dajani.

The first commercial flight from Tel Aviv that landed in Abu Dhabi carried a delegation, comprised of representatives from the investment, finance, health, civil space and aviation, foreign policy, diplomacy, tourism, and culture sectors.

But outside of the political interests of the countries that have come together for this treaty, this is an opportunity for people in the Arab world, who for a long time have dwelled in the shadows of mistrust and dissatisfaction, to take on a fresh perspective.

Sharing and learning from each other’s cultures

Many years and lives have been spent on both sides of the fence about resolution and ties, and this could be an opportune moment for common people to work towards the goal of our leaders in their own capacity.

Sharing and learning from each other’s cultures is another suitable opportunity presented by this treaty for the present and future generations to develop progressive and peaceful cooperation that may not have been a possibility before now.

In the Unesco World Report Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue, Francoise Rivière Assistant Director-General for Culture says, “culture is not simply another sector of activity, a mass consumption product or an asset to be preserved.

Culture is the very substratum of all human activities, which derive their meaning and value from it. This is why the recognition of cultural diversity can help to ensure that ownership of development and peace initiatives is vested in the populations concerned”.

In today’s fast-paced world, it is easier to get caught up in conflict and despair, and sadly terrorism and war reach faster than health care and education.

In these circumstances, if we can take slow but steady steps towards building a more peaceful and trustful future where people of the world, can depend on each other instead of being seeped in conflict, this treaty would be the exemplification of that.

Haleema Humaid Al Owais is an Emirati businesswoman and writer

https://gulfnews.com/opinion/op-eds/abraham-accords-an-opportunity-for-people-in-the-arab-world-1.73891149

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