Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Middle East Press On King Salman, Human Rights in Syria and Legacy of Gamal Abdul Nasser: New Age Islam's Selection, 29 September 2020

 By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

29 September 2020

• King Salman’s Last Call before Iran Drags World into Chaos

By Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

• Syrian Opposition’s Human Rights Abuses Undermine Cause

By Chris Doyle

• ‘Nasser’s Legacy Continues to Cast a Long Shadow’

By Sami Moubayed

• Iran Is Approaching a Boiling Point And The Regime Is Ready With Bloodshed

By Amir Toumaj


King Salman’s Last Call before Iran Drags World into Chaos

By Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

September 28, 2020


Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. (File photo: AFP)


A historic address was delivered virtually last week by King Salman on Saudi Arabia’s behalf at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). The speech was given at a crucially sensitive time, during which the world is passing through an extremely dangerous and decisive turning point. The levers and balances controlling the equilibrium of power both regionally and internationally are in a volatile state. The constant factors affecting this equilibrium have been mixed with variable ones due to the lack of a correct assessment by the major powers of the threat posed by the Iranian regime to global peace and security.

In this dangerous climate, King Salman’s address came as a last call before the world slides into chaos, as it undoubtedly will if the major world powers allow Iran, which has proved on multiple occasions that it is an irresponsible rogue state, to acquire weapons. This could happen due to a variety of reasons: Some are political and linked to changes in the relationship between the major world powers and the US, while others are pragmatic and linked to greed and profit from signing strategic arms deals with Iran. None of these pay any heed to the constants that have contributed to maintaining the balance of power in the world since the end of the Second World War.

Are the countries that support Iran or turn a blind eye to its transgressions and excesses prepared to face the ramifications that could result from a change in the international balance of power? Such dangerous interactions cannot be controlled if unleashed and cannot be dealt with by a policy of brinkmanship.

Allowing the creation of an international coalition that unites Iran, Russia, China and other regional parties in the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia — a move that the Europeans have turned a blind eye to — cannot be considered as a safe interaction along the lines of a pressure or negotiating card that can be reversed with some gains.

In his speech, King Salman reviewed the history of the Iranian regime’s excesses toward the Kingdom over the past four decades, providing compelling evidence that the policy to integrate Iran into the international community via the lifting of sanctions with the aim of offering incentives for the Tehran regime to change its hostile approach that is supportive of terrorism and extremism has not paid any dividends. On the contrary, this policy has offered support to bolster the Iranian regime’s hostile approach, with it taking advantage of the financial resources made available to it to support its armed militias in the region and use these to undermine regional security and stability.

This review of the Iranian regime’s excesses was not aimed at seeking international help to counter Iran, but was rather intended to highlight that the danger the Iranian regime poses is a threat to global peace and security, not only in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia has gone through different phases in the context of its relations with Iran since the establishment of the so-called Islamic Republic in 1979. The Kingdom began by showing respect to the choice of the Iranian people, recognizing the new regime immediately upon the announcement of its establishment.

When signs of openness emerged in Iran in the 1990s under former Presidents Mohammed Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani and until the end of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s first term, the Kingdom sought to strengthen its ties with Iran. It did so despite Tehran violating the sovereignty of Arab nations and attempting to infiltrate Arab societies and extend its influence within them.

Despite this effort to strengthen ties, however, Iran’s regime has pursued hostile policies, such as supporting sectarianism and extremism and meddling in the internal affairs of Arab countries in general and in Saudi Arabia in particular. Although Iran carried out these policies covertly in the 1990s and 2000s, it has publicly and brazenly executed them since the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings in Syria and Yemen. Before this, it had permeated and taken control of the apparatuses of the Lebanese and Iraqi states.

The Lebanese Hezbollah, the official arm of Iran in Lebanon and the Middle East, has become a formidable burden for the Lebanese state because it has continued to implement the Iranian regime’s agenda in the region, which is inconsistent with the interests of the Lebanese state and not aligned with the pluralistic model of Lebanon. Last month’s explosion at Beirut port provided further evidence of Lebanon’s ongoing pain due to Hezbollah’s monopolization of the state and its total submission to Iran

When the Kingdom’s leadership decided to end the chaos, which gripped several neighboring Arab countries and encompassed Saudi Arabia itself, it was directly targeted by Iranian-backed militias, with the Houthis launching drone attacks targeting Aramco’s oil facilities, threatening the global economy in its entirety. The Houthis have fired more than 300 ballistic missiles and 400 drones toward cities in the Kingdom.

The world should be well aware of the fact that the Iranian threat has gone beyond the boundaries of the Middle East. Anyone can see how many bombings and attacks have taken place in Europe, with the Iranian regime seeking to eliminate dissidents. Also, the Lebanese Hezbollah has undertaken dangerous movements and criminal operations in Africa and Latin America.

King Salman’s speech provided a stark warning to the UNGA and a final call to the world powers before a point of no return is reached if they continue to manipulate the Iranian card, ignoring the threat Tehran poses to the world and its support for global terrorism and extremism.


Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah).



Syrian Opposition’s Human Rights Abuses Undermine Cause

By Chris Doyle

September 28, 2020

That the Assad regime bears primary responsibility for the conflicts and crises in Syria should be beyond doubt. Its human rights record of targeting civilians, including with chemical weapons and barrel bombs, mass detentions and disappearances and torture, ranks it among the worst offenders anywhere on the planet.

Never forgetting the above, it is also vital to hold its opponents of all types to account. What is the point of struggling to see the end of one barbaric regime merely to see another take its place? Human rights and governance standards matter. The standards adopted by the Syrian opposition, civil society groups and others matter.

This is why, from the outset of the conflict back in 2011, the Syrian regime has sought to weaken the opposition groups. The regime released hard-line Al-Qaeda extremists from Sednaya Prison fully aware that its forces would be fighting these same people in the months to come.

This is why the latest report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic to the UN Human Rights Council should give considerable pause for thought. The investigations were conducted from Jan. 11 to July 1.

Most of the commission’s reports since it was established in August 2011 focused on the ills of the regime. This one contains what should make for uncomfortable reading for the Syrian opposition and its backers. In the polarized world of Syrian politics, shining a light on opposition abuses often casts the accuser as some sort of regime stooge. But for those who truly wish to see a different, more humane and effective government in Syria, turning a blind eye to such abuses hurts the cause. That the regime is far worse offers little excuse.

Much of the report covers the actions of the Syrian National Army (SNA), an armed force that Turkey helped set up in 2017 and used in three invasions of Syria — in Afrin, the area around Jarablus, and the Kurdish-dominated areas in the north.

The SNA is accused of a multitude of wrongs, particularly in Afrin, including holding civilians in undisclosed locations, murder, rape, kidnap, and the looting of Kurdish homes. “The Commission remains concerned by the prevalent and recurrent use of hostage-taking by Syrian National Army forces,” the report stated.

The Syrian regime also does not have a monopoly on torture. “One of the victims described how, during interrogation, she had been threatened with rape and beaten on the head by Syrian National Army members, in the presence of Turkish officials,” it was reported. In another case, a boy was handcuffed and hung from a ceiling. Two detainees were forced to watch the gang rape of a minor. Yazidis were abused as well as Kurds. Most of the above constitute war crimes, as the commission asserts. Such abuses are also going on in the areas of the northeast that Turkish-backed forces seized in October 2019, as highlighted in a recent US government report.

Turkey cannot ignore what is going on in areas that are under its effective control. “Turkey carries a responsibility to, as far as possible, ensure public order and safety, and to afford special protection to women and children,” the independent commission stated. Reports indicate Turkish forces were aware of and even present at many of these abuses. Transferring Syrians into Turkey, as has been happening, is also a war crime. Further down the line, Ankara may even face legal consequences.

At the start of this civil war, many of the young Syrian fighters who are now in the SNA were just children. Many had grown up in Ghouta, east of Damascus, where there were no Syrian Kurdish communities. Forcibly transferred to the north, they are now sucked into Turkey’s wars to fulfill Ankara’s objectives. It is not so dissimilar to the way many of them have been dispatched to Libya to fight Turkey’s war there, often against Syrian mercenaries recruited by Russia. More recently, Turkey has been sending Syrian fighters to Azerbaijan to help fight Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Other parties in Syria are likewise guilty on the human rights front. Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham in Idlib, which is effectively an Al-Qaeda offshoot, treats human rights as an alien concept. More embarrassingly for those in the anti-Daesh coalition that backs it, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a largely Kurdish force, is also accused of a similar litany of war crimes. The SDF is US-backed and controls much of the east of Syria.

But it is the focus on the Turkish-backed forces that stands out in this latest report. Turkey is playing an ever dirtier game in Syria, re-engineering the demography to create an Arab-dominated buffer zone along its border at the expense of Kurdish populations it accuses of abetting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group Turkey views as terrorist. Setting Arab against Kurd in Syria is sowing the seeds of generational conflict.

The public Turkish response was outright denial. Ankara did, however, summon commanders of the SNA to a meeting in Gaziantep. They were reportedly lectured on the issue of human rights abuses as a consequence of the UN report. Time will tell if this leads to any long-term change in behaviour.

The international community has so far paid scant attention to these abuses. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on Turkey to investigate, but few other international figures echoed her request. That should change. The reaction of the international media has likewise been disappointing, with at best passing reference to all of this. Then again, events in Syria are increasingly just ignored or glossed over.

The future of Syria depends on developing alternatives to authoritarian dictatorship. Those who replicate the brutality of the Syrian regime have no answers to the challenge of any transition. Worst of all, they betray the brave and principled protesters who gave their lives in peaceful resistance to this regime — a movement dedicated to a united Syria with one people. Sadly, from the regime to the SNA and others, those with guns on the ground in Syria are more dedicated to fracturing and fragmenting this great country and its people.


Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding.



‘Nasser’s Legacy Continues to Cast a Long Shadow’

By Sami Moubayed

September 28, 2020


Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970). Photo: AFP


Fifty years ago, on this day Gamal Abdul Nasser was putting an end to the war in Jordan, otherwise known as Black September. It had been fought on the streets of Amman between King Hussein’s army and the Egypt-backed Palestinian Liberation Organisation of Yasser Arafat.

After announcing success seeing off Arab kings and presidents to the airport, he suffered a heart attack and died at 6pm on September 28, 1970. He was only 52.

The date, September 28, had already been inscribed into Arab history books. It was on this same day back in 1961 that Nasser had faced the first defeat in his illustrious career, when Syrian army officers launched a coup in Damascus, toppling the Syrian-Egyptian Union that he had co-created with Syrian President Shukri Al Quwatli. Nasser hated that date, not knowing that it would become that of his passing just nine years later.

A Career Of Much Success, And Failure

Until then, Nasser had encountered nothing but astounding success since toppling the Egyptian monarchy in 1952. He came to power in 1954, at the young age of 36. In July 1956 he successfully nationalised the Suez Canal and fought off a tripartite war launched against his country in October by Great Britain, France, and Israel.

In 1958, Syrian officers came to his doorstep, begging him to merge their coup-plagued country with Egypt. He promised that the union republic would last 100-years but it collapsed just 43-months later in September 1961.

September 28 would once again become a day to remember when in 2000, the second Palestinian intifada was launched after Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem.

“Nasser’s legacy continues to cast a long shadow” said Syrian historian Fadi Esber, explaining: “His overwhelming charisma and political machinations drove Syria into a union with Egypt. The fateful marriage had a lasting impact on Syria’s politics and economy. Nasser upended the economy of post-independence Syria through agrarian reform laws and nationalization, paving the way for a socialist system that would last for nearly half a century.”

Speaking to Gulf News, he added: “Many Syrians, nevertheless, especially those ardent Arab nationalists, mourned Nasser on September 28, 1970, and still mourn him today.”

Many Syrians blame Nasser for introducing hardline socialism into their economy, seizing private banks and factories while confiscating lands of the urban notability, which had ruled the country since Ottoman times.

Others remember him for making Egypt the bastion of Arab nationalism. “He introduced Arabism to Egypt” said Kamal Khalaf Al Tawil, a medical doctor, political analyst, and specialist on Gamal Abdul Nasser.

His promises to the nation included, according to Al Tawil, “sufficiency and justice, planning, equal opportunity, industrialisation, free education, national independence, Arab unity, and war on imperialism.” Those promises, he added, “still live within us.”

One of his most important achievements was striking at the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which he prophetically expected to bring nothing but anguish and terrorism to the Arab World.

Six Day War

His biggest defeat, however, and without shadow of a doubt, was the Six Day War of 1967. That war led to the occupation of the West Bank, Sinai, and the Syrian Golan Heights. Historians disagree on who was to blame for the defeat, Nasser himself or his right-hand-man Abdul Hakim Amer, commander of the Egyptian Army who was subsequently arrested and died in prison in September 1967.

Nasser himself preferred to take personal blame for what happened in 1967, stepping down while setting a precedent in Arab politics. In what has now become an all-time classic in Arab speeches, he coined the defeat as a “naksa” or disaster, delegating his trusted colleague Zakariya Muhiddine to run the affairs of Egypt.

Spontaneous demonstrations broke out Cairo, Baghdad, Beirut, and Damascus, pleading Nasser to reconsider. King Hussein famously remarked: “Only Abdul Nasser got us into this and only Abdul Nasser can get us out.”

“The defeat of 1967 did not break Nasser but actually encouraged him to lead a war of attrition against Israel” said Al Tawil. “The three years of attrition were Nasser’s moment of glory,” he added. It convinced the Americans to unwillingly accept him as an interlocutor, on his terms, especially after he had invited the Soviets to Egypt and two of his allies to power in Libya and Sudan.”

Since then, many Arab leaders have tried walking in Nasser’s footsteps, inspired by his revolutionary rhetoric and Arab nationalism. Hafez Al Assad of Syria was one of those presidents, who came to power just two months after Nasser’s passing. So were Arafat and Muammar Gaddafi, who premiered in Libya back in September 1969, often citing Nasser as his role model?



Iran Is Approaching a Boiling Point And The Regime Is Ready With Bloodshed

By Amir Toumaj

28 September 2020

The Islamic Republic of Iran has recently stepped up its repressive tactics with a series of high-profile executions in response to mass anti-government protests over the last two years. As the root causes of protests remain unaddressed, more violence and terror should be expected.

Despite global protest, the state executed national wrestling champion Navid Afkari on September 12, after rights group raised concerns that he had been tortured and forced to confess without a fair trial.

Afkari’s execution follows a successful high-profile campaign against death sentences imposed on three young men convicted for their involvements in the November 2019 protests. Like Afkari and countless other political prisoners, authorities tortured them, denied them a fair trial, and tormented their families. A court upholding the men’s death sentences triggered global outcry including from US President Donald Trump, and an unprecedented online campaign on Iranian social media. In response, authorities commuted their death sentences, although they are still imprisoned indefinitely.

After that tactical retreat, Iran’s judiciary executed an alleged spy and then political prisoner Mostafa Salehi, arrested during the late December 2017 – early January 2018 protests, to fortify the state’s wall of fear.

Protests mobilized again on the web and the global stage after the judiciary announced it would uphold Afkari’s death sentence for allegedly stabbing a water municipality employee in a mass protest in August 2018. Afkari’s brothers too have been given lengthy prison sentences. International athletic associations and Trump called for Afkari’s release. It seemed as if the international and domestic pressure would work again. Or so people thought.

Authorities suddenly announced Afkari’s execution; he himself was apparently unaware until the last minute, and his lawyer and family say he was denied a last visit. Authorities have reportedly blocked roads in the vicinity of Sangar village in Fars Province to prevent more people coming to his grave.

The judiciary does not plan to stop with Afkari. At least 30 political prisoners are reportedly on death row Activists have warned that one Kurdish man and 4 Ahwazi-Arab political prisoners are at risk of imminent execution.

Rights groups have recently warned of an increase in the use of execution. Prominent political prisoner Narges Mohammadi on September 18 penned a letter from prison warning about the gravity of political prisoners’ plights, urging to act before it is “too late.”

Repression has also tightened. Mohammadi and another prominent prisoner Nasrin Sotoudeh say their treatment in prison has deteriorated. Dozens of members of the Baha’i faith were arrested over the summer. A number of Christian converts were exiled to cities far from their homes after their prison sentences, a new form of punishment for them according to International Christian Concern. At least 3,600 such as whistle-blowers have been arrested and at least one newspaper suspended for spreading “fake news” about the spread of COVID-19 in Iran.

More Protests Expected

The Islamic Republic is preparing to crush more protests. Since November of last year, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has introduced neighbourhood-based Basij paramilitary units across the country to, as a senior commander put it, deal with “thugs and disruptors of security” in cooperation with the security and judicial apparatus. The Law Enforcement Forces (LEF), the first line of defines against protesters, has also restructured and declared commitments to implement more advanced weapons and technology. This allocation of resources amid a budget shortfall and cuts to salaries of security forces including in the IRGC reflects fears of more unrest.

The mounting use of execution is rooted in the Islamic Republic’s desire to secure its rule amid shaky grounds and fears of more looming protests. The regime has used repressive tactics throughout its history, including when authorities hung over 5,000 political prisoners toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988. One of the judges who liberally handed death sentences was Ebrahim Raisi, who today is the chief of Iran’s judiciary.

Since the end of 2017, Iran has witnessed two massive, nationwide protests, as well as other sporadic protests like the one Afkari was arrested in, that have engulfed the Islamic Republic’s traditional support base that encompass religious, working-class rural and urban areas. The state’s crackdown in 2019 was far bloodier than ever before. Whereas before security forces primarily used street melee and arrests to crush protests, this time they opened fire from the onset. The death toll has been in the hundreds - 1,500 according to Reuters - surpassing in a matter of days the death toll of months of 2009 post-election protests.

Iran is facing more mass protests because the Islamic Republic because is incapable or unwilling to address society’s political and economic grievances. Reformists, who were instrumental in propelling Hassan Rouhani to presidency in 2013 and 2017, have experienced a crisis of public confidence since the 2017-2018 protests, as they have been unable or unwilling to deliver on promises to meaningfully implement reform through the ballot for over two decades.

Iranian officials are particularly concerned about economic triggers for more nationwide protests. The 2017-2018 protests started in response to skyrocketing staple prices, most notably eggs, and the 2019 protests followed sudden cuts to fuel subsidies; both then spread to encompass broader political and economic grievances aimed at the Islamic Republic. While re-imposed US sanctions designed to pressure Iran into a new nuclear deal have significantly damaged the Iranian economy and contributed to a plummeting currency, protesters called out the Islamic Republic itself rather than US sanctions before and after the US exit of May 2018, most notably in the bloody November uprising. Iranian newspapers openly discuss how corruption and mismanagement have hit Iran’s economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded Iran’s economic misery, raising the risk of further economic-induced protests.

Indeed, while Iran has a long history of labor protests, strikes in August spread from strategic energy-sector facilities like petrochemicals and refineries in the south to the north. While a deputy minister recently blamed foreign media coverage of strikes, accusing them of a plan to “Syrianize Iran,” he did concede that calls for protests had tripled in the last year, and acknowledged that “some” Iranians were involved – a tacit recognition that protest calls were not just a foreign plot.

All signs suggest the Islamic Republic is expecting more protests. On this point, they are probably correct. Iranians will likely soon reach another boiling point, and Tehran will only commit more violence to cling to power at any cost.


Amir Toumaj is an independent researcher focused on Iran who has experience in the private sector and think tanks. He has published dozens of articles and reports, and his research has appeared in congressional testimonies and prominent global media outlets.



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