Saturday, March 5, 2016

Citizens Are Also Responsible For Bangladesh Violence: New Age Islam's Selection, 05 March 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau
05 March 2016
Citizens Are Also Responsible For Bangladesh Violence
By Abdur Razzaq
Egypt: With Turkey Or Iran?
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
The Unison among Iran’s Political Parties on Syria
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
What the Israeli-Turkish Reconciliation Says About Gaza
By Geoffrey Aronson
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Citizens Are Also Responsible For Bangladesh Violence
By Abdur Razzaq
04 Mar 2016
US President Barack Obama recently wrote an article in The New York Times on the issue of gun control in the United States. It's a passionate article, but it also shows the helplessness of the most powerful man on earth.
Obama does not expect things to change during his presidency or during this Congress, but he seeks to send this message to the American people: "I will not campaign for, vote for, or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform. And if the 90 percent of Americans who do support common-sense gun reform joins me, we will elect the leadership we deserve."
Finally, he reminds the American people that "we all have a responsibility".
Bangladesh is very different from the US, but it faces similar challenges. Each year, thousands of Americans lose their lives because of gun violence.
In the past year in Bangladesh, according to Odhikar, a Bangladeshi human rights organisation, 64 people disappeared, 185 died in extrajudicial killings, and a further 197 died in political violence.
Trivial Deaths
Most of the deaths and disappearances are politically motivated. However, deaths are also occurring for non-political and trivial reasons. The perpetrators are mostly unaccountable, and the bodies are often untraceable. This ought to shame us as a nation.
The degeneration of our society is a root cause. Ours was a healthy society; ours was a caring society. In the not-too-distant past, our people used to follow certain norms in all matters - be they social or political.
There used to be checks and balances in our society, and although change has taken place in all countries, and in all societies, in Bangladesh they are distinct and startling.
The tendency is to blame the government and this is not wholly correct. While the government bears the greater part of responsibility, citizens must accept their share.
On October 31, the publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan was killed, like others in the past, in broad daylight in Aziz Supermarket. It was a shocking incident, but more shocking was Dipan's father's reaction: "I don't want the trial of my son's killers as I know I won't get justice."
Such a reaction from a bereaved father was the first of its kind in Bangladesh, and it is a sad indictment on society and our governmental institutions. In the face of such dreadful violence and perceived and actual impunity, many in our society see themselves as helpless. We are not helpless, we can and must act.
Every problem has its solution; every crisis has an appropriate response. We - all Bangladeshis - should be courageous enough to find a solution. Ours was, and still is, a resilient nation. We fought against colonial powers, and we fought for democracy. The vast majority of Bangladeshis are still fighting against poverty and fighting for survival. It is this attitude that must be nurtured.
Culture of Disappearances
The power of citizens is formidable; if used appropriately, this power becomes invincible. What can be nobler than trying to save the lives of innocent people, to put an end to the culture of disappearances and deaths?
There needs to be a social movement supporting the families of victims, a movement devoid of political agendas, and all Bangladeshis should pledge their support.
We have all seen the children of victims weeping in the press. On December 5, Ridi Hossain, daughter of victim Parvez Hossain, wept in a press conference, saying: "I want to go to school with Dad. Mum has no money, she can't buy me chocolate."
Ridi was too young to realise that her father would never return. It is heartbreaking to hear the family members of those disappeared pleading to those responsible to at least return the bodies. It is only the "lucky" ones who are afforded this courtesy.
There needs to be a social movement supporting the families of victims, a movement devoid of political agendas, and all Bangladeshis should pledge their support.
Duty to Act
At the outset, we may not be successful, but even if one life is saved, or the members of one family are spared the agony of a lost father, a brother, a sister, or a close relation, our efforts would be justified.
As a nation we all share responsibility in our failure. As a nation - whether one is in the government, the opposition, or a private citizen - whatever one's station in life, we have a duty to act. We must find the courage to stand up and address the crisis that faces us all.
Let us make an appeal to the heads of all political parties not to give shelter to criminals. Let us appeal to all members of parliament, to all government functionaries, and holders of all public office, and to all those who have some influence in society. This is a national crisis, and as such it requires a national response that runs across party lines and unites our society.
Let us resolve to fight and make our country a safer and more dignified place to live for our present and future generations.
Abdur Razzaq is currently a practising barrister in the English Bar.
Egypt: With Turkey or Iran?
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
4 March 2016
We’ve been hearing about alleged reconciliation efforts between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian government as recently reported by different sources.
In this same context, we’ve been hearing about similar efforts between Turkey and Egypt, which were jumbled by some Hamas leaders’ comments in Gaza, who were positively praising the Egyptian leadership, namely by hardliner Mahmoud al-Zahar and moderate Osama Hamdan.
The cause behind these comments can be two things that are incompatible: Hamas is with the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand and a permanent ally of Iran on the other hand. In the past, it was possible to support the Turks and the Iranians together, but today supporting both is impossible; one should either be with Turkey or supporting Iran exclusively as both countries are currently engaged in wars. Iranian militias are fighting the pro-Turkish opposition in Syria and the clashes are raging today on the borders of Turkey.
Since Mohamed Mursi time in office, Cairo has chosen not to support any party in the Syrian war; the same position persisted since the second Egyptian revolution, which pushed the government of Abdel-Fattah ell-Sisi to be all-out against the Turkish intervention in its affairs and thus, resorted to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood opposition.
Historical Relationships
At the same time, the Egyptian government has moved away from Iran, on the grounds that at the heart of Cairo’s historical strategy, and since the days of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt played the role of a balancer against Tehran. Abdel Nasser stood against the Shah's quest to dominate the Gulf in the sixties, and Anwar Sadat was against Khomeini’s regime and received the deposed shah. On the other hand, the Iranians glorified Sadat's assassin and put his name on one of the main streets in Iran. Isolated President Husni Mubarak and Sadat adopted Nasser’s policy. The only one who opened a window of dialogue with Tehran was the second isolated President Mohamed Mursi, who broke the ice when he visited the Iranian capital, and then received president Ahmadinejad, which was the first visit of an Iranian president to Cairo.
What Does The Future Hold?
Despite the frequent rumours, I believe that Cairo cannot come to terms with Tehran, especially in such serious circumstances where the Iranian regime is waging the broadest expansive war since the revolution, about 40 years ago.
Ending the conflict between the two regional countries, Egypt and Turkey, will strengthen the Arab side in the conflict in Syria, especially in its confrontation against Iran.
It would be a miracle if the Egyptian leadership reconciled with its sole adversary, the Muslim Brotherhood. Will the group’s cessation of activities against the Egyptian government, mean opening the doors of Cairo’s airport to the repentant persons wishing to return? The miracle would happen if Cairo got closer with Tehran, but two miracles can’t happen at the same time, and of course, this does not include the improvement of protocol relations because they do not mean much.
If the reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood takes place according to Cairo’s terms, it would have extinguished one of the greatest fires and tensions in the region. The Muslim Brotherhood is an interface to a regional camp and it fought on his behalf on several fronts. The reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood will inevitably lead to the Egyptian-Turkish reconciliation. Ending the conflict between the two regional countries, Egypt and Turkey, will strengthen the Arab side in the conflict in Syria, especially in its confrontation against Iran, and will ease the pressure on the Iraqi government that was secluded after the departure of the Americans; Iraq is currently trying to undertake internal and external domination alone.
The second miracle, which is the end of the Egyptian-Iranian dispute as Hamas is trying to suggest, will bring the Egyptian government to one achievement: weaken the Turkish front and thus marginalize the Brotherhood. In contrast, Egypt will lose its strategic front with the Gulf. Despite the conflict inside the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) regarding the Egyptian affairs and other issues, the GCC countries agreed on the rejection of any bias for Iran, and this is a very important reason behind their position in Syria. However, Egypt's shift toward Iran is far from being imagined, although some Egyptian observers talk about the need for rapprochement with Iran.
Sisi’s government has charted for itself an internal strategy and focused on the legitimacy of development and solving the accumulated problems faced by the country and on the needs of its citizens. It distanced itself from going into the external conflicts.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
The Unison among Iran’s Political Parties on Syria
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
 4 March 2016
During recent political campaigns, Iranian candidates from various political parties discussed the economy, inflation, unemployment, engagement with the West and the nuclear deal. The candidates came from three political camps - reformist, hardliners (including the principalists), the moderates, and some independents.
Nevertheless, there was one crucial issue missing from the political campaigns; Iran’s role in the Syrian civil war which has resulted in millions of refuges and a death toll of over 250,000. The public did not appear to question Iran’s role in Syria either.
Iran in Syria
Iran’s engagement in the Syrian civil war should have been a crucial issue in the election campaigns for several reasons. First of all, Shiite Iran is haemorrhaging billions of dollars on the Alawaite state to keep Bashar Al-Assad in power.
The fact that no Iranian politician has criticized Iran’s military, financial, intelligence and advisory involvement in the Syrian civil war suggests that there exist no differences among the factions of various Iranian political camps on Syria.
The Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite branch the Quds Force, which operates in foreign countries, have increased the number of Iranian troops in Syria in order to dominate the political, military and security apparatuses of the Syrian government. The number has grown substantially in the last few months since Russia’s military joined the Iranian forces in support of Assad.
The public funerals of Iranian soldiers killed in Syria are increasing all over the country. Iran is now investing on deploying new special operations from the Saberin commandos of the IRGC Ground Force.
IIRGC senior cadres have also turned to training, financing, and creating other Shiite militia groups in the region including “Katayeb Hezbollah”, “Imam Ali Battalions”, “Al-Nojaba Movement”, the “Badr Corps”, “Asaeb Ahl al-Haq”, “Abolfazl Brigade”, “Khorassani Brigades”, and Hezbollah, to name a few.
The Red Lines
The fact that no Iranian politician has criticized Iran’s military, financial, intelligence and advisory involvement in the Syrian civil war suggests that there exist no differences among the factions of various Iranian political camps on Syria.
In addition, Syria is the red line that reformist, moderates, or independents do not dare to cross. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly made it clear that the Islamic Republic will not abandon the Alawaite state. Recently, He described Iran’s role in Syria as the fight between Islam and Kufr (disbelief).
“The door for martyrdom, which was closed by the end of the Iranian-Iraqi war, is now open in Syria… Youth have persistently called for going to the battlefield in Syria, where Islam is fighting Kufr as was the case during the Iranian-Iraqi war.”
It follows that any political candidate daring to question Iran’s involvement in Syria will be indeed standing against Mr. Khamenei who enjoys the final say in Iran’s foreign policy. This will basically trigger the end of that political candidate’s career since the office of the supreme leader has major control over the political process.
In addition, IRGC leaders have already consolidated their power in Syria making it clear that there exists no change of plans for Syria. Anyone who opposes their agenda will run the risk of standing against this military empire and powerful hard line organization which wields significant influence in other decisive hard line institutions such as the Judiciary, the Ministry of Intelligence (etela’at), the office of the supreme leader, and the Guardian Council.
Furthermore, Iranian leaders and state-controlled media outlets have created a powerful narrative for Syria, aiming to impose fear in the public. Their argument is that if the Islamic Republic does not support the Syrian government, radical Islamist Sunni groups such as ISIS and Jubhat Al-Nusra will take control over the region, endangering the lives of Shiite communities and Iranians both at home and abroad. Hence, any candidate who opposes Iran’s engagement in Syria would be aligning himself or herself on the side of ISIS and terrorist groups.
Finally, Iranian politicians across the political spectrum do share the same nationalistic and ethnic objectives when it comes to Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and pursuit of regional pre-eminence and supremacy. From their perspective, abandoning the Alawaite government will result in empowerment of Sunni in Syria which will tip the balance of power in favor of Arab states and against Iran.
The unison among Iran’s reformists, hardliners, principalists, moderates, and independent politicians will continue to last due to the above factors and their shared convergence of interests in keeping Assad in power.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC.
What the Israeli-Turkish Reconciliation Says About Gaza
By Geoffrey Aronson
03 Mar 2016
The oft-postponed and much discussed reconciliation between Turkey and Israel appears to be approaching its endgame. The strictly bilateral understandings on compensation and an apology by Israel for the deadly assault on the Mavi Marmara passenger ship almost six years ago have been finalised.
As both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently got elected for the office, there is no question about their power and influence in the foreseeable future. Like it or not, if there is to be an agreement, Erdogan and Netanyahu will have to overcome their mutual antipathy in pursuit of a mutually advantageous strategic payoff.
The long-awaited rapprochement now centres on an unlikely competition for advantage in the all but abandoned Gaza Strip, against a background defined by the regional fallout from Turkey's mistakes in Syria and the slow if deliberate turnaround in Israel's view of the permanence of Hamas' presence.
Closing Mavi Marmara File
Turkey has long insisted that closing the file on the Mavi Marmara should include an end to Israeli restrictions on trade with Gaza.
In this context Turkey has demanded, and Israel has rejected, "unrestricted access" to Gaza for Turkish assistance and trade.
For many years, Turkey has tried to play an economic role in Palestine, both in Gaza and more successfully in the West Bank. To that end, the Turkish think-tank the Centre for Multilateral Trade Studies at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), together with the powerful Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB), has recently prepared an ambitious $5bn Gaza reconstruction plan that includes a port.
When Hamas first raised the idea of rebuilding the simple port destroyed by Israel during the Second Intifada, it was dismissed as impossible.
"We have made a strategic plan," explained Guven Sak, the foundation's managing director who prepared the report. "A Gaza port will be one of the most important projects of this plan."
In Israel, the prospect of a port in Gaza has travelled a tortuous road. When Hamas first raised the idea of rebuilding the simple port destroyed by Israel during the Second Intifada, it was dismissed as impossible.
Now after many years and much conflict, the issue has been placed squarely on the desk of Netanyahu.
The engine driving this change is, as always, Israel's security establishment.
After Hamas established uncontested control of Gaza in June 2007, Israel, together with the international community, adopted a draconian policy of restricting imports into Gaza and banning all exports, in the hope of fatally weakening the Islamist government.
Eight years and three wars later, Hamas is still in the chair, presiding over a besieged population of close to two million people and is heading full steam in a race to the bottom.
Gaza - and Palestine as a whole - is paying an extraordinary price for this policy. According to the United Nations, Gaza will be "uninhabitable" by 2020 if current conditions persist.
The UN report didn't reveal anything that Israel's defence and intelligence officials - the architects of this policy - do not already know. But they now warn that Palestinians will not be the only ones to pay the price for Gaza's engineered descent into penury.
At a recent closed briefing on Gaza by the head of Israeli military intelligence, Major General Herzl Halevi reportedly said that, "If there won't be improvement [in Gaza], Israel will be the first to feel it when things explode".
Halevi explained that the critical difference between Hamas' military capabilities, which continue to increase, and its intentions. Hamas, he said, does not want another round of hostilities with Israel and is working to prevent rocket fire into Israel. Gaza's reconstruction, he told the Knesset, is the best way to prevent another war.
A Feasible Port Of Gaza
In recent weeks numerous reports, inspired by progress with Ankara and the dawning realisation that Israeli security can be improved by opening Gaza to trade and commerce, have highlighted the role of a Gaza seaport as the keystone of a new, more benevolent, if self-interested, strategy.
For more than a year, Israeli security and trade officials have studied the numerous security and administrative aspects of a Palestinian seaport, defining at least five options and outlining the security and operational challenges that each presents. The options range from an offshore port and airport on the Dutch model, to privileged use of the Israeli port of Ashdod or the Egyptian port of al Arish.
Senior Israeli military officers are confident that security issues regarding the port's administration can be addressed, and they made clear that the security implications of a seaport are manageable. What is now required is for Israel's politicians, notably Netanyahu and his minister of security, Moshe Yaalon, to address the issue.
Hamas' political leadership, which has long understood both the strategic and political advantages of a maritime outlet, has made supportive noises.
"The Strip needs and wants a seaport, and that issue has also been conveyed to the Turks. The siege on Gaza will not be lifted without the establishment of a seaport," senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said at a recent symposium in Turkey.
"What does the world fear? That we'll smuggle weapons? We have no intention to smuggle weapons and the world is invited operate any monitoring mechanism it wishes on this port," he added.
The Egypt factor
Egypt is the other key player contesting for influence in Gaza. In Cairo, two views prevail: One opposes a seaport if Hamas is to reap the benefits promised by an end to the siege. The other favours any move - including a port - that reflects Israel's continuing responsibility for Gaza's welfare and security as the internationally recognised occupying power.
Trumping each view is the continuing antipathy between Ankara, which has yet to recognise the Abdel Fattah el-Sisi government, and Cairo, which opposes Erdogan's support for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and his desire to be viewed as Hamas' patron and Gaza's saviour.
However, a tentative engagement between the rivals, hastened by regional upheavals, may occur at the April Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Istanbul.
If Erdogan and Sisi can resolve their differences and end their zero-sum game in Gaza, another impediment to Israel's endorsement of a Mediterranean seaport in Palestine will be removed.
Geoffrey Aronson writes about Middle Eastern affairs. He consults with a variety of public and private institutions dealing with regional political, security, and development issues.

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