There is no doubt that people in Egypt live in a dictatorship period that doesn t allow anyone to talk and if you talk you will be punished because they don t want to hear different opinions. Lately, a member of the parliament was requesting Sisi to cancel the amendments on the constitutions that enable Sisi to stay on power until 2032 and called Sisi to adopt an initiative for political reforms.
I must confess that writing a weekly column for Asharq Al-Awsat takes a certain strain. This writer firmly believes that the reader has a right to a well-rounded selection of topics on the Middle East and the world from someone whose academic and intellectual focus is the world. But China, for example, doesn t get its fair share of attention here, and Russia, which has become involved in this region in diverse and complex ways, from military intervention to building nuclear reactors, deserves more focus. Europe, in recent months, has largely been reduced to Brexit and the fate of the EU, which now leaves us waiting for UK parliamentary elections on 12 December and keeping track of that flamboyant, Trump-like Boris Johnson. Certainly, Brazil, who s leader, Bolsonaro, took centre stage in Saudi Arabia last week and underscored Riyadh s emergent realisations regarding the diversity of its choices in the East and West, also merits attention. The problem is that the US always comes up with something that steals the light. This is not just because of the US s global centrality as a superpower, albeit not the only superpower in the fullest sense of the term. In fact, it s mainly because US politics pack a certain sensationalism in their own right. And what makes politics there more exciting these days is the presence of Donald Trump in the White House, not just as a president but as a celebrity intent on staying in the limelight of political events with round-the-clock tweets. Last week, alone, President Trump starred in two major developments: the death of the Islamic State (IS) group terrorist leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and the House of Representatives vote to formalise the impeachment process against him. No other head of state in the world can boast of being at the centre of sensational events ranging from commando operations to investigatory probes. Or, even if some head of state of any other country were the subject of the latter, it would never be broadcast to the domestic and international public in such minute detail, hour after hour and day by day. If the first question that arose following the military operation that led to the death of Al-Baghdadi together with his wife and children had to do with the intelligence, preparations, leaks, surveillance and actions on the part of various countries and movements that made it possible to track him down and kill him that day, the second obvious question was whether his death would bring an end to terrorism or even just to IS. The answer, of course, is equally obvious. Eliminating fundamentalist extremism and terrorism will take much more than one man s death and the suicide of his two wives. The question of the president s impeachment is perhaps more exciting and more interesting because it has to do with the fate of the head of state of the most important country in the world up to now, and because behind the mysteries that the investigations are trying to clear up are many more secrets that are waiting to come out. The purpose of the procedure is to establish whether the president had violated the constitution and his oath of office by trying to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up evidence to incriminate Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden who had served as US vice president under Barack Obama, in matters having to do with his business dealings in Ukraine. What could amount to a criminal act here is whether Trump, in his communications with Zelensky, made the release of approximately $400 million in US military aid to Ukraine contingent on Zelensky s compliance with his request to launch an investigation into Biden. It appears that Ukraine had little choice in this matter. At the same time, it is unclear what, precisely, the former US vice president s son was doing in Ukraine (and China, as well, according to reports) that made Trump so fired up about the prospect of a criminally tainted Hunter Biden as an ace up his sleeve for his electoral campaign. Although there is still a long way to go until the 2020 elections, a long electoral path is one of the US s most distinguishing characteristics and it is a main reason why the US tends to steal the spotlight from other countries. The US may be a superpower in decline. But maybe this is what President Trump wants, since he doesn t see American world leadership as a means to disseminate “American values”, or the benefits of America s economic might, markets and human and material resources. In fact, he sees it in quite the opposite light: as a means for US friends and allies to sap US might and as something that opens US borders to various forms of invasion on the part of certain human populations and undesirable values. To Trump, values, security, reputation and the like are little more than commodities that should have a tangible return, in cash. He must be the only president in the history of the US who, whenever visiting a foreign country, makes a point of mentioning how many millions or billions of dollars the US has spent on that country. Once the House of Representatives draws up and passes the articles of impeachment — the “indictment” — the process is handed to the Senate which acts as court and jury. Impeachment requires the approval of at least two-thirds of the members of that house. Anything less and the president comes away not guilty, as occurred in the case of president Clinton who was subject to impeachment charges revolving around the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But whereas Clinton was nearing the end of his second term, the impeachment process, this time, comes as the US heads towards a presidential election in which the central question will be whether or not Trump wins a second term. According to the results of 38 opinion polls, 51 per cent of US voters back the House of Representatives in moving ahead with the impeachment process while 42 per cent are opposed, and 47.6 per cent of respondents are in favour of impeaching and removing the president while 43.4 per cent are opposed. Unfortunately for the Democrats, presidential elections are not determined by the overall popular vote but by the Electoral College, an institution that reflects the federal nature of the US. The Electoral College system gives each state a number of votes proportional to its relative demographic weight. The candidate that wins the majority of votes in a particular state wins all that state s electoral college votes. Therefore, opinion polls expressing overall popular sentiment in the US do not reflect political realities. State-by-state opinion polls provide a more accurate gauge of Trump s electoral prospects, especially when we recall that he won the last election not by the popular vote but by the Electoral College because of certain key states that swung from Democrat to Republican. On the basis of recent polls, Trump s position is pretty much the same as it was during the 2016 elections. If the elections were held today, he would carry all the swing states: Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona and New Hampshire. Thus, so far, his chances for a second term appear secure. But there remains the missing link: what the Congressional investigations bring to light, an important instalment in which will be the testimony of Trump s former national security adviser, John Bolton. The formal impeachment process in Congress has only just begun.
The 28 May 1991 is a day Ethiopia recalls very well and has adopted as its National Day. On that day, the forces of the Ethiopian People s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) surrounded and shelled the presidential palace and took control of the capital city of Addis Ababa, formally declaring the demise of the communist Derg regime that had ruled since the coup d état against the last emperor of Ethiopia in 1975. The ensuing incidents were never easy for the man who initiated the military struggle against the Mengistu-led communist regime, namely Ethiopia s strongman Legesse Zenawi, aka Meles, the name of his classmate who the Derg had brutally executed in 1975. After the secession of Eritrea in 1993, Ethiopia was feared to be a failed state because Eritrea s independence had turned Ethiopia into a landlocked country. Eritrea s secession was a blessing in disguise, however. The fear of a failed state made the other ethnicities rally behind Meles Zenawi s recipe of governance: an ethno-federal system in which each of the nine regions (the 10th region is in the pipeline as Sidama votes this November for statehood) of Ethiopia has its own government. Moreover, the 1994 constitution introduced the most controversial article so far —Article 39 that grants each region the right to secession under certain conditions. In 2012, modern Ethiopia s godfather Meles Zenawi died, but the monster he unleashed, the ethno-federal system, did not. Fueled by their grudge against the small minority that controlled almost everything under Zenawi, namely the powerful Tigray, other ethnicities banded together for the first time in almost two decades and challenged the Woyana, or the Tigray People s Liberation Front s (TPLF) monopoly over Ethiopia s political sphere. Unable to contain the growing dissidence, particularly coming from the Oromo, the largest ethnicity and the historically most marginalised one in the country, Zenawi s hand-picked and well-educated professional Hailemariam Desalegn, who hails from the southern nationalities, courageously submitted his resignation in 2018, a rare occurrence in Africa, hoping that this would be part of the political compromise in the Horn of Africa nation. To quench the Oromo rebellion, it was time to pick an Oromo politician to head the EPRDF, something that had never previously happened in Ethiopia s modern history. Hence, came the rise of the American-educated, young and charismatic Abiy Ahmed. The man, whose first name is a shortened form of the Amharic word Abiyot, which means “revolution”, really did revolutionise Ethiopian politics. He released all political prisoners, shut down the infamous Maekelawi jail where opponents were harshly tortured and killed, lifted the ban on Oromo movements, once formally labelled terrorist organisations, and allowed the return of opposition figures and all the armed militias back home, perhaps the last being his tragic flaw. Since their return back home, the armed militias have been stashing weaponry and getting more recruits every day. The government seems helpless in trying to control the day-to-day influx of arms into the nation. Such an accumulation of arms is the harbinger of a sad ending, however. In the past months, armed militias have burned houses, looted shops, and seized control over territory annexed to some regions under the previous governments, forcing some two million people out of their homes and causing one of the worst humanitarian crises Ethiopia has known since the famine that hit the nation in the 1980s. The reformist leader, who recently received a significant accolade in the Nobel Peace Prize, the first ever in Ethiopia, has reshuffled the country s political system. He introduced Medemer, a term floated when the prime minister was delivering his inauguration speech upon taking the oath of office in April 2018 and accidently on purpose the same day on which the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was launched. Medemer, seemingly the peak of Abiymania, the growing sense of a personality cult of the young prime minister, is a book in which he presents his political ideology and a reminder of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi s Green Book. The new ideology implies the national merging of all the country s ethnicities under a powerful centralised system in which ethnicity is abandoned for the sake of “Ethiopianness”, a term that has recently surfaced as a nationalist sensation in the second-most populous nation in Africa. By all appearances, the would-be system looks good, as it would join all the ethnicities under the banner of one united Ethiopia, except that it does not appeal even to a big portion of Ahmed s fellow Oromo, who burnt the book carrying his image in apparent defiance of the young leader s perceived notion of tomorrow s Ethiopia. Moreover, Ahmed was received with “Down with Abiy” chants by angry Oromo in the city of Ambo, the cradle of anti-government protests that brought to an end the Tigrayan hegemony over Ethiopia s polity. But this is not all the prime minister has to care about. Ahmed has to run the gauntlet of the opposition because lurking behind it are the Tigrayans, the once-powerful elite that swept Ethiopia s politics and economy under late prime minister Zenawi. They have their own woes because they feel marginalised. In June 2019, Debretsion Gebremichael, being groomed for the post of prime minister after the sudden resignation of Desalegn, uttered his ethnicity s outcry. Gebremichael, once infamously described as the “Joseph Goebbels of Ethiopia” due to his tight grip on all branches of the security apparatus, explicitly spoke of secession. He said there was a growing feeling in Tigray to secede from the rest of the country. In reality, Mekele, the capital city of Tigray, has turned into a hub for former intelligence and security chiefs, ministers, and media personnel who were removed from office either because of the atrocities they committed while in power or as a means to make it up to other furious ethnicities. Concurrently, fierce media campaigns have been directed against the Tigrayans, demonising the small minority and putting the blame on them for Ethiopia s current plight. As a response, outrage against Ahmed is rife in the region, something he has watered down by saying that democracy comes at a cost. Banking on the support of the Ethiopian people, Ahmed has distanced himself from the ill-famed EPRDF and sought its transformation into one single party, the Ethiopian Prosperity Party (EPP). This potential party would include all affiliated parties, with representation based on an ethnicity s size and population. No wonder the Tigrayans gnashed their teeth over the idea instantly. The whole idea hinges on a presupposition that Ahmed will get the so-called popular mandate he seeks when Ethiopians go to the polls in May 2020. Here, there are two divergent paths. Some active political forces, including the prime minister himself, are in favour of the idea of holding elections no matter what. This camp thinks that the newly elected MPs would be empowered enough to trigger the needed changes, both political and economic. The other camp wants a transitional period until constitutional and political reforms are introduced. Advocates here believe that the rush for elections, amid growing tensions and multi-ethnic rifts, would dearly cost the nation. They are also afraid that the nation itself may be at stake as everybody recalls the sad memories of the 2005 elections, held under Zenawi. That time round things almost got out of control as violence erupted in Oromia and Addis Ababa itself over claims of vote-rigging. The 2005 elections ended in hundreds dead, thousands arrested, many prominent political figures forced into exile, including the famed judge Birtukan Mideksa, who now serves as the chairwoman of Ethiopia s National Electoral Board. Like the godfather Zenawi whose ethno-federalism, seen as the cause of each and every plight in a highly-polarised Ethiopia, helped him to tighten his grip on power, Ahmed seemingly wants to attain the same goal, unleashing what others think of as another monster, the single party system. Zenawi s so-called notion of “Unity in Diversity”, which the country s ethnicities once celebrated, will be sent into oblivion given the new prime minister s philosophy of rule. The gains of the ethnicities, most importantly their sense, to say the least, of semi-autonomous rule, may vanish into thin air. Like turkeys voting for Christmas, to which camp will the Ethiopians align themselves: the hated EPRDF or Ahmed s EPP? Stay within the EPRDF and ethnic rifts could overwhelm Ethiopian politics for decades to come. Accept Ahmed s new recipe of rule, and then being Oromo, Tigrayan, Amhara will not matter, because what would matter the most would be that you are Ethiopianist.
In late September 2019, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) launched its annual Trade and Development Report, entitled “Financing a Global Green New Deal”. This UN report discusses the global economy and the recent economic challenges facing the developing World and proposes policy recommendations to meet these challenges and those of today s hyper-globalized world, shaped by the philosophy and policies of the wild, untamed neo-liberalism. This year s report discusses the role of public finance, and development and other public banks in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs); in balance with the role played by private finance. In today s globalized financial world, public funds are usually injected into the economies and the private sector through giant banking institutions or shadow banking systems. However, this is more costly and less capable of creating jobs than financing investments directly, through public and development banks, for job creation, development and cleaner energy. By their nature, public banks seek to invest in productive sectors (agriculture and industry) and are supposed to be designed to contribute to achieving public interest and the SDGs, including poverty reduction and environmental protection. Therefore, the rules of the game of the banking sector that have been established in the last four decades must be changed. The hyper-financialization that transforms everything with utility to humanity into a financial instrument, must be controlled and regulated. Public and development banks are different in nature from private banks. They focus on long-term projects whose social and development benefits exceed the narrow commercial returns. They target sectors of strategic importance that are usually ignored by private finance. Public banks bear the heaviest burden of development and should therefore receive the greatest attention from developing countries to allow them to contribute meaningfully towards achieving the SDGs. Despite the dominance of the neoliberal ideology, public development banks in many developing countries have been able to assume their role by injecting hundreds of billions of dollars in development loans. In the case of the China Development Bank, its current outstanding loans are estimated at more than 13% of China s GDP (nearly seven times the size of the Egyptian economy). The value of the outstanding loans of the Korean Development Bank represents 10.5% of Korea s GDP s. But on the other hand, there are public banks in countries such as Russia, South Africa, Mexico and India that have been less active, with outstanding loans not exceeding 1% to 2% of their respective GDP. In other countries, where the neo-liberal policies are followed with no questions asked, not only that development and public banks have been curtailed, but privatized as a condition of an IMF or World Bank loan/program. UNCTAD analysis indicates that in many developing countries, public banks, especially development banks, lack the capital needed for them to play their developmental role and to finance projects of strategic importance to the state and society. Furthermore, the policy space available to governments in developing countries is limited and does not allow policy makers to design and implement effective economic policies, be they fiscal, monetary, agricultural, industrial or commercial policies. Without additional capital and a wide range of policy instruments, it is not possible to take advantage of the positive opportunities that public and development banks could create. UNCTAD report proposes a number of recommendations for policies that may help decisionmakers in the third world to deal with these problems: Central banks should be freed from the narrow focus on inflation and targeting exchange rates. They should be allowed to regain their historical role for development support, creating jobs and driving investments into the productive sectors, developing credit instruments targeting industries of strategic importance, and playing active role in financing a “Global Green New Deal”; Development and public banks should be provided with additional, adequate capital to expand their base of productive lending. These banks should be supported by appropriate legal and policy frameworks and assigned a clear role and objectives; with a set of performance indicators and accountability mechanisms that fight corruption while focusing on social and long-term economic returns, not only short-term financial return. There is a need to reform banking systems to strengthen the role of public banks and granting them special treatment commensurate with their role in development; Public banks should stay focused on their purpose. There is a concern with what is being promoted as reforms of the banking system and presented as part of a package of conditions associated with World Bank loans, including privatization of public banks.
I am appalled by the situation at Egyptian universities. I can not imagine that there is dancing, smoking, and hashish in the lecture hall. I cannot believe that these students desire knowledge. I cannot imagine that a student could threaten their dean with “You ll see!”. What are we waiting for to fix these problems? A student smoking hashish in the lecture hall. Female students dancing and uploading videos onto the Internet. Are there any standards to study at universities? I ve read details of this kind regarding the “lecture hall incident” at Tanta University, and I heard from my friend the dean about female students dancing in the lecture halls, as well in a private academy. When the dean suspended the students, they returned after high-level mediation and interventions from significant bodies, who said the students “pay money for this education.” What happened to society in the past few years?! I was surprised that the students begged their parents to intervene and solve problems, without any shame. I was even more surprised the parents defend their children, and threaten the university professors. Certainly not all problem go viral in public as most of these are bypassed, after interventions and mediation of course. They communicate with the dean or rector, and it s over. Everything is regressing, and the standing of all university figures is regressing as well. Absolutely I did not make up these stories, because they have been “circulating” for days. The most famous of these incidents is the one at Tanta University, since it went public. And there other stories from an academy which I do not want to disclose, so as not to harm its reputation. But here is a glimpse of one incident there; a parent, coming from famous stores, threatens the dean and involves his customers in big positions and the elite in the issue! Did any of us, in the past, dare to speak, let alone dance? Did any of us dare to make trouble in the presence of the professor, let alone the dean? None of us even knew the way to the office of the rector. Now the situation is out of control. How exactly did all this happen? How did bullying get into the university? How can there be hashish, dancing, rudeness and misbehavior?! Surprisingly, when the Tanta dean asked the “defendant” about the smoking, he said: “I smoke a cigarette, and I ll smoke more.” Does this student deserve sympathy? Is it worth to disturb the universe for him? Who is he even? Are we aligned with the values of a university, which should be preserved, or are we biased in favor of a student who does not realize the difference between the university and the illegal hash cafes? The question is: where is the sanctity of the campus? And where is the respect? What does it mean when a student threatens their professor? What does it mean when a student smokes hashish during a lecture, or female students dance in the lecture hall? Where are the morals of the Egyptian family? Where is the standing of the university? How did we get such deterioration?
A hashtag then a trend then nothing…Thus goes the manufacturing of illusion. When the hashtag begins its journey towards a vacuum, many feel that the world is waiting for that launch. After a while, everybody forgets all about the previous trend amidst the new hustle of trends and the chaos of new “hashtaggers.” The hashtag rises and its opposite also rises, the hashtag and its anti-hashtag rise together. The hashtaggers are restless, for the main characteristic of this new thing is its mercuriality. No constancy, everything will perish after a while and the criteria that have governed the past hours may not be the ones that govern the next few hours. Endless fluid opinions and opinion leaders aren t ashamed of shifting their viewpoints around the clock, swaying from one side to the other. The virtual world is about to triumph over the real world. We are facing a mixed world where globalised man lives half in reality and half in imagination; half of his life based on planet Earth involving how to earn a living and meet his needs, and the other half clinging to the mobile screen, revolving with artificial satellites in their distant orbits. Governments and institutions as well as communities and individuals realise the big change that occurred to Man s nature, his reality having shrunk to a half, or less than half. As a result, the race has begun to invest in the virtual half in the new man. One of the biggest features of the contemporary world order has become cybernetic war. Within the battles of this global electronic war, new mechanisms have emerged: the electronic battalions. These battalions are made up of anonymous persons sitting before secret monitors to execute their masters vision -- to elevate those they deem worthy of elevation and tarnish those they think worthy of tarnishing. Electronic battalions were exclusive to a limited number of governments and intelligence services, but they have since expanded to be one of the mechanisms of groups and organisations as well as companies and persons. It is now in the capacity of a person to establish an electronic battalion that defends him and smear his opponents. Groups and movements have become capable of devoting their battalions to lie about other parties, describing them with all that denigrates them and undermines their stature and path. Electronic battalions sit in pitch-dark rooms without being seen and write whatever they like, for their names and accounts are all fake. The New York Times published a cartoon once of two dogs sitting in front of a computer screen, while one of them is hesitant about writing, the other dog says to him “don t worry, the internet doesn t know that you re a dog.” Electronic dogs have destroyed homelands and peoples. They have torn down social fabric and national belongingness amid the follies of millions of recipients, writing haughtily and arrogantly as if they are big philosophers or prestigious thinkers, while they are just a cheap tool in the hands of cybernetic dogs manipulating their minds with the tip of their tails. Global cybernetic war has transcended that old level of electronic battalions, and computer programs have been designed to work automatically to achieve the same objective. A wedge is driven between the people and the authorities, between the people themselves or between a state and another, and every party escalates its attack on the other party, while the person administering the escalation in reality is the one standing behind the flood of comments which the program has launched in specific directions. In my speech to the forum of the Strategic Vision Group – “Russia-Islamic World” (RIW Group) presided over by Rustam Minnikhanov, President of Tatarstan, which was held in St. Petersburg in September and was attended Farid Mukhametshin, Deputy Chairman of International Affairs in the Federal Russian Council, and Ambassador Veniamin Popov, I called the fake popular approaches produced by cybernetic wars “manufactured public opinion”. This isn t natural public opinion, whatever the foundation it is built upon or what it is moving towards. It is, rather, public opinion that is manufactured in other capitals and other bodies aiming at delivering an untrue public opinion on a certain issue. It is stealing the right of speech on behalf of the people by an unknown manufacturing source. Manufactured public opinion represents a great threat to freedom and democracy because it obscures the real public opinion. It invests in the “silent majority,” staying away from the scene. Thus, manufactured public opinion becomes more powerful and more present, given the absence of the majority and the ascendancy of the cybernetic minority. Contemporary democracy is threatened by a dangerous triangle, similar to the Bermuda Triangle, that is capable of swallowing everything. It is threatened by the ascendancy of money, manufactured public opinion and the silent majority. It has become absolutely impossible for a candidate to be engaged in an election in the West, or not in the West, without the financial support that in turn provides media support. It has also become impossible to attract the silent majority to a scene it realised has become captive to money and media. Moreover, it has become impossible to realise the real public opinion approaches in the light of the ascendance of manufactured public opinion. Pressure from sensible people against the chaos of opinion and the floods of accounts advocating crime or terrorism, or opposing security and peace, have now made big corporations respond positively. In April 2018, Twitter announced the deletion of 1.2 million accounts during the years 2015–2017. During the first quarter of 2018, Facebook deleted more than half a billion accounts, and in the last quarter of the same year it deleted more than a billion accounts. According to the Associated Press, Facebook deleted 2.2 billion fake accounts during the first quarter of 2019. Hence, more than 2 billion accounts were deleted from Facebook in three months only! These deletion numbers clarify the volume of tragedy threatening human thought. Undoubtedly, trillions of foolish, criminal and terrorist opinions are still steadfast and active. Manufactured public opinion is a great threat and confronting it is next to impossible. It is the biggest danger facing the national state in the 21st century. Of course, there exist those sensible persons using social media networks. They are sensible supporters and opponents possessing vision and perception and can offer brilliant ideas. They have fascinating viewpoints, profound knowledge and inventive visions. However, those sensible persons can t appear amid all this clamour. They are similar to a child who is shouting in a raucous square or like a person delivering an excellent speech in the Sahara.
In the streets and squares of Lebanon and Iraq, throngs of young people have been clamouring for sweeping reforms. They speak enthusiastically and passionately about the need to end the corruption and mismanagement that drove their countries to such dire economic straits, decaying public services and deteriorating standards of living. Their anger is understandable. They feel that the negligence and abuse have reached such a magnitude that it is no longer possible to remain silent and that those responsible must be brought to justice. But what is particularly interesting in these latest mass protests is their call for an end to the denominational system of government in accordance with which political offices, parliamentary seats and other government posts are divvied up on the basis of set sectarian quotas. It is a system that gives religious leaders enormous clout in decision-making processes and shaping public policies. Observers of Middle East affairs had long resigned themselves to the conviction that some countries in this region were doomed to denominational systems of government after so many years of civil warfare and ethnic and sectarian strife fed by outside interventions that capitalised on sectarian divides. But now we have a breath of fresh air! The majority of the participants in the demonstrations in Lebanon and Iraq are from middle class backgrounds. In recent years, this class has been severely eroded by the effects of poor governance and the lack of transparency and accountability. From it come the new generations of young people who are most in touch with the outside world and among whom we find a growing shift from a consciousness shaped by sectarian allegiances to one that embraces the value of living in a society in which all members of society are equal in rights and duties. It is here that we find the impetus behind the demands to reorganise government in ways that make it more just and more effective by reducing the sectarian influences that foster exceptions to the rules and facilitate corruption. The governments in Iraq and Lebanon have scrambled to announce reform packages and to take steps to fight corruption. Yet, something has changed in the general mentality of the people: they refuse to swallow the sedatives that are marketed in the name of reform. While such measures may have placated them in the past, people now realise that they do not address the sectarianism at the heart of the system which is the main impediment to any genuine process of political and economic reform. Against the backdrop of current regional circumstances, there is no guarantee that the protest movements in Lebanon and Iraq will yield the results to which the majority of the people in these two countries aspire. A number of factors militate against that quintessential anti-sectarianism of their movement. Above all, it runs up against the powerful influence of pro-Iranian forces in both countries. The weight of these forces in the political equations of the Middle East is not to be underestimated and they will not easily relinquish the influence over decision making processes they acquired through denominational systems. They got where they are today thanks to deals they made with other parties, and they will continue to make whatever deals they can, regardless of the concessions or accommodations they have to make, in order preserve their influence. The brightest aspect of the grassroots movements in Lebanon and Iraq is that they give hope to the possibility of ending medieval sectarianism and building modern societies based on the principles of equal citizenship, equal opportunity and merit. Unfortunately, the authorities in these countries appear unable to keep pace with the new consciousness that is coalescing among broad segments of the people. Governments might appeal to foreign powers for support to help them implement economic programmes to restore some vigour to the economy. But, this time, economic prescriptions from abroad will not suffice. What is needed is the ability to build a society from the ground up, politically, economically and socially, thereby building a consensus around a reform process acceptable to the majority of the people who now refuse to make concessions for little in return. The grassroots movement against sectarianism breaks free of the many moulds and taboos that trap the Arab world in general, and Levantine societies in particular, into forms of socio-political organisation that make it possible for sectarian outlooks to suppress all desire for political reform, and that encourage the pursuit of narrow sectarian interests over the higher interests of a state that embraces all its people. International media coverage of events in Iraq and Lebanon may have failed to grasp the profound change that has taken place in the general mood of two countries where sectarian strife has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and caused so much misery. Ultimately what matters is that this grassroots movement appears able to impose its will thanks to the grit and resolve of the youth.
With mass protests roiling Lebanon and Iraq, unsettling developments in Syria and Yemen, and the latest episode of the continuing soap opera that calls itself Israeli politics, little attention is being given to the plight of the Palestinians. One consequence of this neglect is that both Israel and the Trump administration feel they have been given a free hand to accelerate the oppression of the beleaguered Palestinian people. Two reports passed my desk this week, both of which make this point and require our attention. First, as a result of the loss of US aid to UNWRA, the agency reported that it has been forced to make drastic cuts in its programmes and personnel. I will quote freely from the UNWRA report in order to fully establish the magnitude of the loss. In Gaza, “in order to protect food assistance [UNWRA] provides to one-half of the population, other critical programmes were cut.” These included: all housing subsidies for those still rendered homeless from the 2014 war; drastic reductions in the “cash for work programme” (cut by 59 per cent) and the community mental health programme (cut by 40 per cent). In addition, UNWRA was forced to end all repairs to the refugee camps water and sanitation systems and to end “programmes supporting students whose education was impacted by conflict”. In the West Bank, funding was slashed by 67 per cent, resulting in: ending the community mental health and mobile health clinic programmes; ending the “cash for work programme for 90,000 refugees”, and limiting food assistance to only 30 per cent of eligible refugees. In addition, as a result of cuts to educational programmes, average class size in the West Bank has been expanded from 30 to 50 students. Even more desperate were the cuts to UNWRA programmes serving refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. All of this has been compounded by the Trump administration s decision to cut funding to American non-governmental organisations that provide important development and humanitarian support to Palestinians throughout the occupied lands. In addition to being denied essential services by these cruel decisions, Palestinians living under military occupation have been forced to endure continued acts of repression and brutality at the hands of the Israeli military and vigilante settler groups, both of which operate with impunity throughout the West Bank. This brings me to the second report— a weekly cataloguing of human rights violations compiled by Mondoweiss. While these Israeli behaviours are reported only occasionally in the press, seeing them collected, in full, each week presents a horrifying picture of life under Israeli military rule. Because this last week witnessed the celebration of Jewish holidays, there were a number of incidents directly related to hostile measures taken to allow Israelis to visit holy sites in the West Bank. For example, on 17 October, busloads of Israeli settlers, escorted by Israeli army personnel, entered Nablus without permission to pray at the site Jews believe to be the burial place of the Prophet Joseph. Since Nablus is within Area A, it is supposedly under full control of the Palestinian Authority. As Palestinians gathered to protest this incursion, they were fired on by Israeli soldiers. Four were shot and wounded with live ammunition, 17 were injured by rubber bullets and 34 were hospitalised suffering from smoke inhalation. The Israeli occupation forces also used the holy days to close Hebron s Ibrahim Mosque to Muslims for two days, giving Jewish worshippers full access to the mosque. They also closed several major arteries in the West Bank to allow for settlers to travel freely and to hold a “settlers marathon race”. During this same period, the Israeli military invaded at least 14 Palestinian villages, shot and injured nine young men, and detained over four dozen. These raids included a number of home invasions, which resulted in extensive property damage and theft, and an attack on a wedding party that witnessed beatings and injuries to some of those present who objected to the soldier s behaviour. A continuing reality of daily life in the West Bank are attacks by settlers on Palestinians farming their land located near Israeli settlements and outposts. The most notorious of these occurred in the village of Burin where settlers have engaged in numerous attacks disrupting villagers harvesting their olive crop. This past week, settlers uprooted olive trees, set fires that consumed hundreds of acres of farmland, and beat Palestinians who attempted to stop this vandalism. Settlers also attacked and beat Israeli volunteers who had come to assist and protect the Palestinians of Burin during the harvest. Settler attacks occurred not only in villages but on roads as well, harassing Palestinians on their way to work. These assaults and the Palestinians response to them prompted a bizarre warning issued by the military to some villagers cautioning them against taking action to resist the settlers vigilante behaviour. This was most likely prompted by a warning made by the Palestinian mayor of Sebastia who threatened to shoot or arrest settlers who might break into the town during the Jewish holidays, or the story of an elderly man who confronted Israeli settlers stealing his olive harvest and was beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalised. The above is only an excerpt of the many instances of abuse encountered by Palestinians during the week covered in the report. Also mentioned were: the shootings by Israeli snipers of 73 Palestinian protesters during the weekly “March of Return” protests that took place at five locations along the Gaza border; a number of home demolitions done either as an act of collective punishment or to limit Palestinian population growth in Jerusalem; continued repressive actions designed to increase Israel s control of Jerusalem; unprovoked attacks on Palestinian fishermen operating within the three mile limit allowed to them by the Israeli authorities and the announcement of the construction of 251 new Jewish-only settlement units on Palestinian land. What is most concerning about all of these horrors is how little coverage they receive not only in the US press but in the Arab world s press as well. With events in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen dominating the news, the plight of the Palestinians has taken a back seat. When news related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict receives coverage at all it is driven by the drawn-out drama of Israel s dysfunctional political system. Accounting for this, to be sure, is some weariness with the century old plight of the Palestinians and some justifiable frustration with the Palestinian leadership, which has lost its ability to inspire confidence. But, while all of this may be true, it is imperative that the Palestinian people not be forgotten. In this context I am reminded of a moving moment in Arthur Miller s powerful play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman, the salesman in question, is a tragic figure who has done little to earn the support of his two sons. As he nears his final breakdown, his wife speaks to her sons about the respect owed to their father. She says: “… he s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He s not to be allowed to fall in his grave... Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.” And so, my dear readers, I urge you to consider that as you focus on all of the other conflicts unfolding across the Arab world. Do not forget what is happening to the Palestinian people under occupation. Put aside your weariness and your frustrations and give attention to what they are enduring every single day. “Attention must be paid” before it s too late.
former White House chief of staff John Kelly told a conservative audience about this piece of advice he gave President Donald Trump before leaving his job: "I said, whatever you do -- and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place -- I said whatever you do, don t hire a yes man, someone who won t tell you the truth -- don t do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached." Kelly s comments drew a decent amount of attention right after he made them -- at a conference in Sea Island, Georgia sponsored by the Washington Examiner -- but got lost the second Trump tweeted "something very big has just happened!" just before 9:30 p.m. ET Saturday night. That tweet -- and Trump s subsequent Sunday morning announcement that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was dead -- overwhelmed all other news. But we shouldn t let the constant churn of covering Trump roll right over what Kelly said and why it s both telling and damning about this President. (Worth noting: Trump denied that Kelly had told him any such thing; "If he would have said that I would have thrown him out of the office," Trump said in a statement. "He just wants to come back into the action like everybody else does.") Consider carefully exactly what Kelly is saying here: If the President of the United States is allowed to do what he wants, he will act in ways that will lead to his impeachment. Which is remarkable! And terrifying! And potentially accurate! Following Kelly s departure, Trump named a loyalist -- Mick Mulvaney -- to the chief of staff post. Mulvaney, by his own admission, allowed Trump to be Trump -- with all the good and bad that comes with it. That includes Trump s coordinated pressure campaign against the Ukrainians -- run by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani -- to force that government to look into debunked allegations regarding Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. House Democrats are currently conducting an impeachment investigation to determine whether the President abused his office for personal, political gain. Yes, Kelly s comments are incredibly self-serving. He is essentially saying "I told you so!" when it comes to Trump s behavior and what would come from it. But ask yourself this: why would Kelly lie about his observations about the President? He s no Democrat and, unlike scorned former Trumpers like Michael Cohen and Anthony Scaramucci, hasn t spent his time after falling out of favor with the White House savaging the President. Kelly is a highly decorated Marine with a distinguished record of serving the country for the bulk of his adult life. Would he really risk all of that by making up lies about his conversations with the President? Seems unlikely. Especially when you consider that Trump, who is saying Kelly never said anything like this, has said more than 12,000 false or misleading things since coming into office in 2017. What s more important to consider is that someone who spent lots and lots of time with Trump -- and who has, throughout his life, interacted with leaders of all stripes -- believed that if left to his own devices, the President would commit an impeachable act. There s nothing more damning than a judgment like this one coming from someone who knows Trump well and has seen how the President goes about the day-to-day elements of the job. In short: When someone who has lived the life -- and done the jobs -- Kelly has, we would all do well to listen to him when he offers an opinion on the character of this President.
In our youth, we envied Lebanon for its democracy, its picturesque nature and the coexistence of its various sects with each other. The Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975. Syria stepped in to occupy, allegedly to defend it. The Palestinians swarmed it with the pretext of resistance. Lebanon emerged with deep wounds that are yet to heal, even after the Taif Agreement. Despite efforts by the late Rafik al-Hariri in the reconstruction and development of Lebanon, political decisions remained in Syria s hands. The repeated Israeli invasion of its territory since 1978, southern Lebanon s occupation, the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and Operation Grapes of Wrath did not weaken the will and patriotism of the Lebanese. However, lurking predators of this beautiful country chose to activate the 1943 constitution, and thus the Lebanese became slaves to sectarianism and political affiliation. The rulers were separated from the people. Financial and political corruption spread. Against the Maronite thieves there are their Shia, Sunni and Orthodox counterparts, including the Alawites, Protestants, and Syriacs. This corruption infiltrated the citizen. He sees violence in every spot, whether the Parliament, government or its Prime Minister, and even with their excellencies. A Lebanese is used to living under all circumstances, which is why he has accepted these increased restrictions on speech and the growing immunity of those in big positions who turned the concept of virtue into vice. Revealing their mistake has become a crime, exposing sins became a disaster, and condemning those who disregard people s destinies became a betrayal to national unity. The rulers became reassured that the people had forgotten their rights and duties. Forgetfulness became inevitable. The pressing need for jobs and bread has turned the citizen to a laborer, or rather a slave to those who would hired them even if the job was of a janitor or bailiff. The Lebanese who once prided themselves on their education, have now neglected their educational qualifications to seek jobs and food for their children from anywhere, though this also turned up to a bitter choice. Gradually, the citizen became a slave to their leader, be they a sect leader, an MP, or a minister. The bigshot corrupt people succeeded in tying the Lebanese to the chain of employment, education and securing a future abroad. A Lebanese s hope for their child is to have them emigrate to a better life. Even now the rulers and the people have become living “temporarily” in their homeland; neither are they family nor is this their country. The most radical protests from the Lebanese against their rulers were simple jokes in the cafes on immunity of these top people against criticism. But if the protesters came from a sect other than their own convicted of corruption, they criticize it in their homes and mock it among the members of their sect only. But suddenly the dream came true and demonstrators from all sects united under one flag. They stepped on the sects and revolted against the injustice and its people. The public dropped down all foreign influence and the Lebanese powers relying on it. The Lebanese were finally united in hunger, as they sought food and water from the leaders of each sect or party leader. The people suddenly became aware of their rights and unity. They remembered that they were once united, divided under the pretext of sectarian representation. Slogans calling for no solution but the departure of all rulers because the people are the decision-makers have dominated the scene. The Lebanese exposed their prime minister, who spent millions of dollars on a bikini-model. They degraded him, for had it not been for French President Emmanuel Macron, he would still be imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. The demonstrators stepped on pictures of all leaders and MPs in the largest uprising against corruption. The demonstrations served as public courts against those who stole railway tracks to recover land they had sold to the state to build compounds and private pools. They stole the land of the people twice. They destroyed agriculture to encourage import because its profits are higher. They destroyed national industry and closed the factories to make the Lebanese boast international brands, when once they were proud of their own clothes. Without any preparation, coordination or prior arrangement, the Lebanese realized that their homeland is being stolen through sectarian traps, and realized that they are one people in their demands and aspirations, whether personal or national. Awaking from their long slumber and slavery, the Lebanese noticed that they had no public hospitals or public schools, and even the national university is closed. Perhaps the Lebanese uprising will not win, yet half a victory or even a quarter is enough. But the real victory is that Nasrallah could not exercise his influence like in May 2007, when he occupied Lebanon. The patriarch did not even appeal to Christians to defend the Church. The March 14 bloc has withstood the anger. If the people are angry, they will not be silenced by any guns, influence or slogans. The current rulers – wallowing in their luxurious palaces overlooking private ports with their golden yachts- do not know a solution to the crises plaguing their homeland. Even if they knew it, they ignore it for fear that this will affect their political, sectarian and religious influence. The primary solution is that the rulers change their priorities, their tone of speech and give up their arrogance. “Fear God for Lebanon,” the call of the late Anwar Sadat after the assignation of Kamal Jumblatt, remains valid even now. They were betting that the revolution in Lebanon is impossible. But the homeland deserves to blow up this impossibility. Otherwise it will be overthrown by those who rule it. The revolution was impossible in this country of many sects; now it is a present fact at a level of a million-man protest. Without realizing the demands of the people, this revolution, this uprising, whatever its name will be, will continue.
I live in a neighbourhood in Cairo that hosts plenty of schools and colleges. On my way home a few days ago I shared a conversation with a number of university students who were also on their way home after finishing their classes. While walking home together, I heard them talking about politics. I respectfully asked to intervene, which they gracefully allowed me to do. I was attracted when I overheard the diversity in the conversation. And I was also alerted to the fact that there are many young Egyptians who do follow politics and understand the domestic and regional issues that the country is involved in. In just a few minutes of conversation with the students, I heard comments about internally contentious politics and the videos of the expatriate contractor Mohamed Ali, the economic reforms, the issues with Ethiopia and the matter of terrorism in Sinai. Here we have to pause to make several points. First of all, there are many young men and women talking about politics in Egypt, without their taking part in any violent actions or in any particular political organisations. Second, the level of political awareness within Egyptian society is definitely increasing, even among young people who do not necessarily subscribe to any political agendas. The experience of talking to these students led me to believe that it is necessary to adopt long-term policies on some of the political issues the Egyptian state is facing and explaining these to the younger generations that constitute the majority of Egyptian society. There are two points that need to be taken into consideration here. The first is how the state communicates with young people about politics, and the second is the need to develop long-term strategies to reach solutions to various political challenges. Both issues must be dealt with in parallel in order to resolve contentious issues within society. The state has been organising annual youth forums over recent years, in which meetings are held between representatives of the country s young people and the president. Although a fruitful process of interactions has taken place during these meetings between the highest executive of the state and the country s young people, long-term strategic plans may be of more use than episodes of regular interaction. There are many benefits to holding regular platforms for conversation, but there must also be a comprehensive platform where such meetings can result in positive results. Producing direct benefits from the politically aware youth of the country, and not merely communicating with them, could be of much greater benefit. Each one of the youth forums should thus come up with a list of recommendations that should be monitored by the state in order to see to it that they are acted upon. In this way, the state could make the best use of its interactions with the country s young people, with the latter being highly important owing to the demographics of Egyptian society. Egypt s current negotiations with Ethiopia over water security are part of another issue that is no less important for the country s young people. There are many concerns about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that Ethiopia is building on the upper Nile. Water security is indeed a strategic issue for Egyptian national security. It has become of paramount importance for today s young people, many of whom exhibit keen political awareness. It is also one of the main issues that require a long-term strategy from the Egyptian state in terms of both implementation and monitoring. Water security is also an issue that takes up a lot of space in public perceptions. Therefore, the course of action that the state should follow should take into consideration the effect of such concerns on politics in Egypt, particularly among the country s young people who have views on how the future should be formulated on domestic and regional issues. The expatriate contractor Mohamed Ali is another phenomenon that intersects with Egypt s young people, posing a threat that should not be ignored. Ali is causing arguments within the country s youth, and the allegations that Ali makes in his videos without providing any evidence to support them is one of the burning issues among popular public opinion. We need to ask how the questions concerning such issues are being manufactured. Because of the complete lack of evidence backing up any of his allegations, Ali lacks any form of credibility. However, the idea that YouTube videos could lead to threats of violent mobilisation should also be taken into consideration. There are also research questions that could be asked as to why such a figure can have an effect within the Egyptian public sphere. Although this effect is minimal, it exists nonetheless. Long-term strategies to counter such false information need to be developed. Several actors from civil society have already proposed solutions, but the state also needs a comprehensive strategy to deal with this issue once and for all. Once more, there is a dual track here, one side having to do with how to objectively discredit false information, and the other with the credibility of the state institutions that deal with political matters. In other words, the state institutions must develop a new relationship of trust with the country s young people by developing and adopting long-term strategies on various issues. Finally, there is the generation gap between the decision-makers in the Egyptian state and the country s young people who have political awareness on the ground. This gap could be bridged by adopting new policies to counter various political and social challenges. There are problems within Egypt that require the development of long-term policies that will not necessarily immediately yield results in the short term. However, these policies will eventually be reflected in practical decisions over longer timeframes depending on the overall political context. Regardless of the political contentiousness, there are many long-term strategies that Egypt must develop.
President Donald Trump stood in front of the microphone in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room and strafed the world with a barrage of lies and nonsensical, self-serving claims. We ve seen it before, but the spectacle Trump served on Wednesday when he bragged and boasted about his great achievement in Syria was even more grotesque than usual, because he sought to paint what has been a calamity for America s Kurdish friends -- and for US standing in the world -- as a great personal triumph. The "Alice in Wonderland" factor may have been lost on Trump s most devout followers, probably the intended audience for this spectacle of deceit, but the fact is that much of what Trump said wasn t just incorrect, it was the exact opposite of the truth -- contradicted even by the administration s own experts in remarks made recently and months earlier. In announcing that Turkey has agreed to a "permanent" ceasefire and taking credit for the possible end to the carnage he helped spark, Trump claimed, "We have done (Turkey and the Kurds) a great service," by removing US forces. Trump repeatedly lied about the American mission, which he said has lasted 10 years and was supposed to last 30 days. All of that is false, except for the great service to Turkey, which managed to gain everything it wanted from the US without making any concessions. Turkey has paid no price. The Kurds have lost the security and self-rule they enjoyed, and America has lost its credibility and influence in the Middle East, a vital region. Observers are openly asking who will trust America after this debacle. The low-cost, low-risk, high-return US mission had lasted a few years, and it never had a time limit. Turkey had long wanted the small American force to leave, seeking a free hand to remove the Kurds -- something the US sought to prevent until Trump s sudden and chaotic reversal. Trump didn t just give that to Erdogan, he wrapped it up as a nice gift, with acclaim for the Turkish autocrat and a prized invitation to visit the White House next month. The President s version of events was so divorced from reality that, only moments before he praised Erdogan, his own envoy to Syria, Amb. Jim Jeffrey, told Congress that the US has seen evidence of war crimes in a Turkish invasion he called "a tragic disaster." Trump lifted all the sanctions the US imposed on Turkey after it launched an invasion of Syrian territory that had been under control of the Kurds with US support -- until Trump agreed to remove US forces following a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan two weeks ago. The Turkish assault that followed Trump s abrupt withdrawal announcement forced hundreds of thousands of Kurds to flee their homes, prompting accusations of ethnic cleansing by Turkey and its allied Arab militias. Trump lied about the fate of ISIS, saying prisoners who were being guarded by the Kurds, are "under very, very strict lock and key," adding that a few who escaped had been "largely recaptured." Secretary of Defense Mark Esper just told CNN s Christiane Amanpour that more than 100 escaped, and Jeffrey told Congress, "We do not know where they are." Trump sought to throw sand in the eyes of his audience, pretending the past couple of weeks have been a triumph of US foreign policy. The precise opposite is true. According to the president, "People are saying, "wow, what a great outcome, congratulations. " It is, indeed, a great outcome for Vladimir Putin, who now becomes the dominant power broker in the area; for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose rule over all the Syrian territory has now become the official plan in a new Turkey-Russia agreement; for Iran, whose Syrian ally now gets to stay in power; for Turkey, who got to crush Syrian Kurds; and for Hezbollah, whose patrons now have the upper hand. His predecessor s Syria policy was disastrous, as many of us noted. It took Trump to unravel the one element that worked, and make a worse mess of the situation. In a moment of phony modesty, Trump said "It s too early for me to be congratulated," and proceeded to praise himself. It s not too early to note, as the Kurds and many others have, that Trump just authored a shameful, disastrous chapter in US foreign policy. No amount of lies and bluster can hide that fact.
In the recently held United Nation s Climate Action Summit, more than 70 countries committed themselves to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, however, major emitters have not yet done so. According to UN estimates, if our world is to avoid the climate catastrophe, we need to cut greenhouse emissions 45% by 2030, reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and limit temperature rise to 1.5 ˚C by the end of the century. But the question remains: who should pay the price of climate change? The problem is that climate change economic impact took its toll on poorer countries. Oxfam, a globally renowned aid and development charity, estimates that between 1998 and 2017, low-income countries reported climate-related disaster losses of $21bn, or an average of 1.8% of GDP.
The political fire on the streets of Lebanon is neither destructive so that it will consume the country, nor is it magically purifying so that Lebanon will emerge as a phoenix from the land of Phoenicia. Rather, it is a release of a long-simmering anguish in the Lebanese soul. This is healthy and could be the beginning of a new promise. Still, the anguish is deep, and it will not go away by protests, a change in government, or even fresh elections. The anguish stems from Lebanon s perpetual search for its meaning, and its perpetual failure to actualise any particular one. The meaning is the core. The state of Lebanon, founded almost a century ago, materialised the Maronite Christians long struggle for true independence from any regional lordship, be it Egyptian, Syrian, or Ottoman. The Maronites success, at the beginning of the 20th century, was in carving for themselves a place in the then crumbling Ottoman empire to be their political entity, recognised by their neighbours and protected by the Western powers that were then drawing the new lines in the sand. That entity was intended to be Maronite, not only in political leadership and social feel, but crucially in its identity. This meant the new state was anchored on the Maronites conviction of the notion of “Lebanon”and on their role in the Middle East. “Lebanon” in the Maronite psyche transcends the tangibility of the land; it is rooted in a religious view that this land, with “its sacred mountains”, embodies a certain manifestation of the Christ idea. And within that deep-rooted conviction lies a sense of martyrdom: of the suffering of Maronism at the hands of others (who, in this view of history, were the surrounding Sunni Muslim lordships, or at times, the ascendant Druze: their neighbours in the mountains). With regard to the role,the Maronites saw themselves as educators, intellectual leaders, cultural visionaries – basically, a bridge between the Arab-ness of the the Middle East and the West-ness of Europe. These convictions about the identity, the notion of Lebanon, and the role in the region were at the core of the political project that the Maronite Church led and which came into being in 1920, with the creation of the modern state of Lebanon. The materialisation of the state fuelled the ambitions. The Maronites, and with them in general the Eastern Christians who had surrounded and found refuge in the Maronite political project, were, indeed, the luminaries of some of the most progressive cultural projects in the Arab world at the time. And the largest among those were not even in Lebanon, but at the heart of the Arab world, at the centre from which the rays emanate to the rest of the region: Egypt. There, whether in education, journalism, theatre, or later cinema, Christian, and especially Maronite Lebanese, were leaders, directors, and true makers of those bridges of the imagination connecting Arab-ness with West-ness. It is not surprising that when the centre of gravity of Arab-ness moved from Egypt to the Arabian Peninsula, particularly to Saudi Arabia, the kings there turned to the Christian Lebanese for advice, not only on education and culture, but crucially on how to beautify the garb of the desert with sophistication and joie de vivre. To the Maronite mind, this was the role, the competitive advantage. The problem was that the political entity (the state that came about in the 1920s) turned out to be neither Maronite, nor even Christian. The tumult of the post-First-World-War Middle East meant that the Maronite dream had to accommodate itself within a bigger entity that included Sunni and Shia Muslims, along with the Druze. The notion of Lebanon, as per the Maronite view, got diluted. This was because neither the Sunnis, nor the Shias or the Druze have ever agreed to sign up to that notion of Lebanon. Actually, for some – including groups of the most prominent Sunnis who agreed to be part of the modern state of Lebanon – their identity was Syrian. Syria here is not a country, as much as another notion: the concentration of Sunni Islamism in the Levant. Those Muslims, and others, came into the new political creation that is Lebanon, with their own heritages, ambitions, hesitations even, and crucially with a vastly different view of what Lebanon ought to be, ought to mean. The existing together of all of those factions turned out to be tolerable – not because the different parties found love and harmony – but because there was a match between what Lebanon had to offer and what the Middle East, in the period from the 1930s to the 1960s, needed. Amidst multiple grand confrontations (between Arab Nationalism and the West, between Arab Nationalism and other interpretations of Arab-ness, and between Arab Nationalism and Islamism), the Middle East needed a ground to think, to talk, and to play. And Lebanon – primarily because of the Maronite competitive advantage – had what it took to meet those needs. Whether it was the permissive cafes of Al-Achrefieh and Ras-Beirut, or cabins and villas in Junieh and Al-Batroun, or the grand halls of the American University of Beirut, Lebanon was open for the talking, the thinking, and the playing. Lebanon rode the high, destructive waves that the Middle East was generating – with skill and luck. Its value was rising, for all around it. It was becoming not only the place for business to be conducted and pleasures to be sought; it became the place where the Arab imagination could be enriched or manipulated, especially as everywhere else around it, the minds, souls, and imaginations were gradually being closed down. Money rolled in. Laughs echoed high in the sumptuous rooms of the palaces in the mountains and the high-ceiling salons of Beirut s elegant apartments. The rulers of Lebanon intentionally set aside the differences of their histories, their identities, and their interpretations of what Lebanon is. Who would want to bring to the fore such abstractions at such good times? But times change. And after riding the high waves, Lebanon found itself under them. Lebanon was the victim of its success. The seductress who all had wanted became the one they actually fought to have. And gradually, the beauty that was showered with the gifts of admirers found itself at the very midst of their fights. The land of milk and honey became one of rivers of blood. But it was not “the wars of others in Lebanon” (as some Lebanese thinkers characterised the civil war from 1975 to 1990). The wars of the others brought to the fore that which the Lebanese had not wanted to discuss, to sort out, when the going was good. And what came to the fore was ugly. The blood that filled the cities, towns, and villages in those 15 long years was the price of a long failure of leadership, failure of politics, failure to pause and reflect and attempt to give a serious and sustainable answer to the fundamental question of: how to bring harmony, at least real conciliation, between very different understandings of the identity of Lebanon. The sad thing was that the war ended not because the fighters had come to accepting the others and their understandings of what “Lebanon” is. It ended because all were exhausted, and because geo-politics created a demand for the war in Lebanon to end. The US was willing to hand over Lebanon to Syria s Hafez Al-Assad in return for his acquiescence to what, at the time, were key American interests in the Middle East. And in the wake of the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait, a resurgent Saudi Arabia was willing to intervene. Saudi cajoled and effectively bought-off almost all of the combatants. The weapons were put down, and almost overnight, the war-lords, many of whom had not only killed “others” but had also killed and slaughtered among their own sects, became the faces of “peace”. With time, they entrenched themselves as the pillars of Lebanon s post-civil war political economy. Of course, those war-lords were the least qualified to try to reconcile the different ideas about the notion of Lebanon. Actually, some of the most qualified were consumed by the war, either literally or emotionally. The war consumed more than that. The blood that was spilled, the crimes that were committed, and the cruelty and barbarism that were unleashed left their shadows not only on the country s politics, but also on the prevailing psyche. But as always, every now and then, history offers an opportunity. The assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri struck the pride and stirred the dignity of many people. It ignited a flame which released an energy of renewal. New knights came to the illuminated bush; and some old warriors approached in what seemed to be repentance for old sins. It was a rare moment as the politics of Lebanon attempted to both: put forward a pragmatic way for the country to reinvent its system of governing (and of governance) and find a new meaning of Lebanon that brings together the different understandings and convictions of that notion. The potential of 2005 did not reside with one camp against another; was not in one view versus another. The potential was in the chance of change, of transcending the stronghold of the legacy and mindset of the war and what it has ushered in. Crucially, it was in bringing together the different components of Lebanon (all of them, by now, had established their presence, understandings,and traditions, as quintessentially Lebanese) to one table, on one premise: never to repeat the past and to forge a serious, sustainable basis for a truly one-Lebanon. But the flame of 2005 was put out by Lebanese, from all sides, from all sects. Not only did the country s extractive political economy remain in place; all the sins and ugliness that were there before remained as well. The statues of the grieving Virgin, dotted throughout the country s sacred mountains, were the true representatives of the psyche of Lebanon. If today s fire is neither the birthplace of the phoenix, nor a force of destruction…what is it, then? It could be a new flame, another hand history extends to Lebanon. It could mark the beginning of a journey. And for the journey to be successful, it must not be aborted in simple milestones (say, merely a new government). The journey must go all the way, where the different travellers arrive at the same shore: a single understanding of what Lebanon means. The often invoked mantra of “living together” has proven a mere first step. Lebanon not only deserves more than “living together”; it cannot function without finding an answer to its identity question. But two perils haunt that potential journey. The first is: succumbing to delusions of power. No one single identity, one single interpretation of Lebanon, can succeed in marginalising the other, either by weapons or rhetoric or by self-proclaimed righteousness. The second is moral infantilism. There are forces in Lebanon that have a strong tendency to see themselves as perpetual victims, to scope history from their narrow perspective, and with that goes a lot of doctoringof the truth. They also tend to see many of their killers as martyrs. Believing in this false history keeps them in a comfortable zone of fantasy. In turn, this keeps them from embarking on a journey of transformation. Lebanon is a special place – in terms of history and geography. But its dilemma goes far back. The dilemma was not in the past few years, and not in the period since the end of the civil war. It has been for the century that s the life of the modern Lebanese state.Those who love this beautiful country should hope that the current flame illuminate a new path, a journey towards a true salvation: where the Lebanese agree on what Lebanon is.
Protests in Lebanon have recently started up against poor economic conditions, quickly turning into a rejection of the entire ruling political class, with harsh slogans raised against the sectarian system and corruption in government and politics. Setting aside those trivial comments from a few ‘dull and unchivalrous’ Egyptians about the “beautiful” female protesters of Lebanon, to compare these protests with their counterparts in the Arab world must come from the perspective that the sectarian system is socially deep-rooted in Lebanon.
With a single stroke, President Donald Trump has effectively brought a newly resurgent and potent triad—Syria, Russia and Iran—to the very doorstep of their declared enemy, Israel, and given aid and comfort to Israel s longtime and persistent foe, Hezbollah, in Lebanon. The ceasefire and agreement with Turkey that Trump vaunted Thursday as "a great day for civilization," had already been demonstrated to be a potentially epic challenge to one corner of the world—Israel. It was a reality only highlighted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo breaking off from Vice President Pence s group in Ankara and taking a plane directly to Jerusalem to reassure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday morning. Suddenly, with not even a token American force remaining to monitor or check military activities of Russia, Iran or the Syrian army main force of President Bashar al-Assad, the entire map of the Middle East was being redrawn, and Israel left with few viable defenders. When the United States had even a minimal military presence in Syria, it was able to act as some restraint on aid that Iran was seeking to channel to this terrorist force, which continues to operate out of Lebanon, targeting Israel at every opportunity. In late August, anti-tank rocket attacks launched from Lebanon into northern Israel by Hezbollah led to the Israeli army responding with attacks on targets in southern Lebanon. Such effective shadow-boxing had been held in check by the apparent ability of Israel to interdict Iranian efforts to supply Hezbollah with arms and munitions through Syria. Now, with Syria reclaiming a large swath of the northeastern stretch of its country that had been held by the Kurds and their American allies, and with Russian forces moving as a backstop into the vacuum left by the US departure, Israeli efforts could become exponentially more complicated. At the same time, there is ever more leeway now for Syria, Russia and Iran to work their malevolence on a Lebanese government that is striving desperately to carve a middle road in the region. Hezbollah and Iran share a common religion—Shiite Islam—which has only opened up a host of problems for Hezbollah s principal host, Lebanon, as it tries to remain reasonably neutral in the Middle East and avoid a return to the decades of bloodshed during its civil wars of the 1980s. Hezbollah would like nothing better than a destabilized Lebanon bordering Israel s northern frontier. "Americans can t be trusted at all since they break promise with anyone who depends on them," said Seyed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, in a speech to his followers in Beirut on Wednesday, adding that the Kurds "fate awaits anyone who trusts Washington." Trump s new bond with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan—"a tough guy who deserves respect" and "my friend" as Trump described him after Wednesday s truce talks in Ankara, is also likely to have done little to reassure Israel. Turkey, which has moved into northern Syria with some impunity has demonstrated that it is no friend of Israel. Erdogan, accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, has called it "a terrorist state." Until now, it has been possible for Israel largely to ignore Turkey s impact on the Middle East, and its efforts of rapprochement with both Russia and Iran. But that may no longer be possible. On Tuesday, Erdogan is planning to travel to the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The American withdrawal and Wednesday s ceasefire can have few positive results for Israel, where Trump s actions "have stirred discomfort within Netanyahu s conservative cabinet," according to Israeli media reports. Amos Harel, military correspondent for the liberal Haaretz daily, said Trump s moves have "forced Israel to rethink its Middle East strategy." After his session with Pompeo, Netanyahu was only somewhat more circumspect. "We hope things will turn out for the best," he told reporters. Indeed, Netanyahu is facing a Wednesday deadline to cobble together a new coalition government after the recent national elections and has still not managed to do so. In short, any number of nations in the region are beginning a frantic reassessment of just what this new map of the Middle East promises—beyond the immediate prospects of a new round of chaos and destruction, with the United States on the sidelines. Somehow Washington must find a way to channel to players like Israel and Lebanon military aid and diplomatic reassurance that can help neutralize an increasingly dangerous situation.
A series of major events has shaken a number of Arab countries recently, threatening their individual national security as well as collective Arab regional security. The most recent was the Turkish invasion into northern Syria, targeting Syria s Kurdish citizens. The invasion should come as no surprise to anyone. Ankara had been preparing for it for months in the framework of a US-Turkish understanding in accordance with which the US would withdraw its forces from border areas, leaving its allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), exposed and vulnerable. Then the US and Turkey would create a “safe zone” in which would be collected the remnants of the Islamic State (IS) group. The US president s subsequent statements about Washington s continued support for the Kurds could not cover up that agreement and its consequences, no matter how much verbiage was given to the need for Turkey to adhere to its obligations to keep civilians out of harm s way, not to attack the Kurds, and to take custody of some 32,000 IS prisoners and their families and to prevent them from making a terrorist comeback. Shortly before this development, Iran staged a direct drone and missile attack against Saudi oil installations. This was not the first incident of its kind. Not long before that came similar attacks against the Emirati Fujairah Port, against oil freighters in the Gulf and against Abha airport in Saudi Arabia. Houthi claims of responsibility did not exculpate Iran of using those weapons itself or by proxy. All available evidence shows that Iran was behind those attacks either directly or through the provision of money, arms and training. These incidents occurred after the US opened a door to interact with the terrorist Houthi group. Despite US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo s condemnation of Iranian behaviour as “a declaration of war” and despite Iran s downing of a US drone over international waters, the bottom line in the US response to Iranian actions was that they did not take place on US territory. Thirdly, after many years of negotiation and despite numerous appeals on the part of research centres and assessment teams concerning the potentially detrimental impacts of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Sudan and Egypt, Ethiopia has once again moved to ignore Egypt s historical rights to the Nile, a transboundary watercourse. The US response to Ethiopia s attitudes was feeble and failed to appreciate Egypt s vital interests. How strikingly this contrasts with all the encourage Washington has given Israel, recently, by relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem and condoning the annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan and Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. The foregoing developments and many others show that all regional powers bordering the Arab world — Iran, Turkey, Israel and Ethiopia — have tried in one way or another to exploit the “immune deficiency” that has afflicted the Arab region since the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring in order to gobble up territory, expand their sway and augment their interests at the expense of Arab countries. If this tells us anything, it is that we need to thoroughly revise Arab strategies that have long been based on the existence of special relations with the US which would work to help us strike a balance with hostile regional powers, to build bridges with them or to deter their ambitions in our region. Actual practice has put paid to such thinking. Washington, under Donald Trump, is in a process of withdrawal. It is recoiling inward for fear of those “endless wars”, as Trump just put it a few days ago. The once mighty deterrent power has shrunk into a soft power that betrays its allies at every turn. Arab strategies also depended on special relations with other international powers, such as Japan, Germany, France and the UK, because of oil. But when it came to the crux, the reactions of those powers were not commensurate to the nature or magnitude of the crises. At best they made some ineffective stabs at mediating or other types of diplomatic action. But mostly, they were waiting for the US to shake itself out of its current mood as they struggled to contend with their own problems having to do with China, Brexit or the future of the EU. Lastly, our strategies were also informed by a belief that international law and UN bodies such as the General Assembly and Security Council had some special force when it came to settling disputes between the Arabs and their regional neighbours. Again, realities have proven that the force of law and these bodies carry little weight in the face of hostile powers bent on exploiting the current weakness of the international order in order to use military force for the purposes of blackmail and winning privileges and gains to which they have no right. These adverse developments are coming at time when Arab countries are working to implement radical reform programmes to set their countries and societies more firmly and dynamically on the path to progress and development. They do not need confrontations and tensions that obstruct the realisation of these goals and aspirations. Striking an appropriate balance between domestic and external challenges is not impossible once we come to the conviction that is pointless to wait for the US “Godot”. There are options available. Above all, formulating a new strategic revision should take place within an Arab framework and be based on what already exists, such as the quadripartite coalition and joint military manoeuvres, the most recent of which was the “Red Wave” joint exercises in the Red Sea. A feasible strategy must also be based on a clearer understanding of the contemporary global order in which the US is finished as the world s sole superpower, leader of globalisation and main driver of major technological developments in the world. The world has shifted to a tripartite order, headed by the US, China and Russia. The first is on its way out, the second is keeping its feet planted in the Middle East and the third is growing closer to this region s heart and has close relations with all parties. It should be stressed, here, that Russia, at present, holds the keys to the situation in the Levant and the complex weave of political and ethnic/sectarian relations that shape the Syrian crisis. Therefore, President Vladimir Putin s forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia may offer hope for new opportunities. Perhaps the Russian proposal for a regional security conference will open the door to Arab action, especially when security and development are brought together into a single package. The details of such a concept are not the sort of thing to be bandied about in the press. They need to be studied and discussed soberly in political and diplomatic frameworks whose priorities are stability in the Middle East, preventing foreign intervention in the domestic affairs of Arab nations, the preservation of territorial unity and integrity, halting the arms race and pressing the fight against terrorism. The starting point is to condemn Turkish and Iranian military interventions in the region and to establish relations based not just on nonaggression but also on good neighbourliness, mutually beneficial exchanges, a halt to antagonistic propaganda and ceasefires on all battle fronts, whether in Yemen or in Syria. An Arab summit is needed in order to set this in motion and its main focus would be to consider how to forge a new and serious Arab strategy.
Unfettered by global condemnations and warnings, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched an invasion on a sovereign state, targeting Syria s Kurdish population in a ferocious attack. Through his “Fountains of Peace” Operation, Erdogan hopes to crush Kurdish resistance fighters, especially the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) fighters and Syrian Kurdish fighters who are members of the Syrian Democratic Army. But this is only part of Erdogan s grand plan for Syria, since he has greedy ambitions for hegemony in the region extending to Syria and northern Iraq and not ending there. The operation is a desperate attempt by Erdogan to regain the momentum of his Islamist expansionist ambitions that were reversed by the fall of the Islamist regime in Egypt in June 2013 and then the fall of some of his staunchest allies including former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir. A pattern of anti-Islamist sentiment has grown in the region, with countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates banning the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, the Libyan army led by Khalifa Haftar is closing in on liberating the capital Tripoli from the clutches of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government and its allied jihadist militants despite the military and financial support it receives from Turkey and Qatar. Erdogan has had to gamble militarily in Syria in order to try to break the cycle of defeats he has been suffering across the region. That has been made even more pressing because of domestic disgruntlement against his tyrannical rule following years of oppression and iron-fist policies. Destroying the Kurdish resistance has always been high on Erdogan s agenda, and the latest invasion of Syria by Turkey is an attempt to finalise the problem once and for all by occupying the Kurdish-populated north of the country in order to quell any possible rebellion and calls for independence emanating from the region. As a result, Erdogan is committing his latest genocide against the Kurdish population in Syria through a new operation that carries a name that has nothing to do with its true aggressive nature. It is similar to the “Olive Branch” Operation carried out by the Turkish army in 2018, which ended up in the massacre in Afrin in Syria that saw the deaths of some 500 civilians. Early Turkish army reports indicate that the invasion in its first day left over 270 Kurdish fighters killed, and indications of a massacre can be found in reports that over 40 civilians were also killed directly as a result of shelling or even murder either by Turkish forces or allied Syrian militant groups. Hevrin Khalaf, a Syrian Kurdish politician and leader of the Future of Syria Party, was killed in the bombing. This brave woman had been an advocate of democracy in Syria and had resisted the Turkish invasion. Women and children were reportedly killed and injured during the first hours of the incursion. Over 100,000 civilians have also fled northern Syria, causing a new human catastrophe in the war-torn country. Moreover, an estimated 100,000 members of the terrorist Islamic State (IS) group including women and children are held in Kurdish-controlled camps in the region. Among them are about 12,000 foreign fighters of various nationalities whose countries have refused to permit them to return home. These terrorists are now on the verge of escaping as fighting breaks out with the Turkish invaders. The Kurdish fighters have declared that they will prioritise defending their homes and territory rather than guarding the prisoners, which signals another catastrophe in the making. Should these IS fighters flee, they will likely either join their terrorist comrades in Syria and Iraq or attempt to reach Libya or Egypt in case they decide to fight on in the region. This is what Erdogan hopes to attain as he has used the services of IS to serve his vile ambitions over the past five years. Other IS members may choose to return to their European countries of residence, which would spell disaster for European security. This danger has caused European Union members to condemn the Turkish attack and demand an immediate halt to it, particularly as the fallout from this operation will be felt in European cities later on. France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway and Holland have frozen weapons exports to the Turkish regime in an attempt to force Erdogan to yield to demands to cease his military operation. Similarly, the members of the Arab League have condemned the Turkish attack on northern Syria and have vowed to issue a series of sanctions against the Turkish state even if they have not yet indicated what these will be. It goes without saying that the Arab states resolutions unfortunately leave a lot to be desired in terms of a truly decisive stance against Turkish ambitions for hegemony. Prior to Erdogan s military campaign, US President Donald Trump committed one of his worst mistakes thus far by announcing the complete withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria where they had been part of the International Coalition to fight IS. Many considered Trump s move to be a stab in the back for the Kurds, who had fought side by side with the US in combating IS and had managed through enormous sacrifices to assist in destroying its so-called caliphate. Turkey has not spared the remaining US troops in its blind shelling of the region, even as the Pentagon has announced it might retaliate if this occurs again. The United States has also declared that it is mulling over imposing sanctions against the Turkish regime if it does not cease its hostilities despite the US abandonment of the Kurdish fighters. Meanwhile, Erdogan has praised his invading troops, labelling them “Muhammadan forces” in an attempt to paint the atrocities being committed by his marauding army in religious colours. As usual, the genocidal operation has been applauded by Erdogan s Islamist allies in Qatar and by Muslim Brotherhood members and media across the region. However, Erdogan s attempts to portray himself as a leader for the Muslims or a modern form of caliph will always fall on hard ground. His expansionist ambitions have been met by realities that he appears unable to understand, namely that in the 21st century and regardless of how much force he can muster the Turkish army s capabilities remain limited in the face of regional powers including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. This is not even to mention the forces of the three global powers of the United States, Russia and China, all of which will mean that Erdogan s dreams of a new Ottoman caliphate are simply delusions. Erdogan s real concern should not be ruling over the rest of the Muslims across the world, but ruling the rest of the Turks in fact, since they are growing weary of his mad adventures. Erdogan s days as Turkey s president are numbered regardless of the draconian measures he uses to instil fear into the hearts of Turkish citizens. “Aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed” wrote the Roman writer Phaedrus (15 BCE - 50 CE), a saying that seems to describe how the international community has treated Erdogan s repeated war crimes. Until Erdogan s aggression is met firmly, the world will need to brace itself for the next genocide to take place in Syria or elsewhere, as the Turkish president drives the region into wars that sooner or later will have global repercussions.
What was President Donald Trump thinking when he abruptly announced that he had agreed to reverse years of US policy in Syria and withdraw American forces, clearing the way for Turkey to launch an attack on what had been loyal US allies, handing a long-sought victory to America s foes, including Iran and Russia Indeed, Trump s decision came as a shock to America s Kurdish friends in Syria, who reportedly found out about America s betrayal from a tweet. "You are leaving us to be slaughtered," a Syrian Kurd leader told a US diplomat. Americans on the ground knew it. They knew many would die. Some Green Berets there said they felt "ashamed." US allies worried that if Trump (meaning the United States) can suddenly betray its friends without warning, they could be next. The decision, made after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, caused an easy-to-foresee chain reaction of disasters so egregious, that even many of Trump s most loyal Republican backers were appalled. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has bent and broken rules and norms to defend Trump, warned that a sudden withdrawal of US forces, "would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Assad regime." Sen. Lindsay Graham called the move, "the biggest blunder of [Trump s] presidency." Rep. Liz Cheney called it a "shameful disaster." Late on Monday, Trump announced new economic sanctions against Turkey for its "destabilizing actions in northeast Syria." If nothing else, this is an acknowledgment that the removal of US troops was a grievous mistake. But that in no way excuses it; rather, it highlights how disastrously incoherent, chaotic and contradictory the policy is. Trump s Syria decision is so harmful, that it is imperative we find out what was behind it. What exactly did Trump and Erdogan say to each other on that phone call? Why did Trump agree to stand back and allow Erdogan s forces -- the Turkish army and Islamist militias -- to make their move? These are compelling questions that demand an answer. Congress should require that Trump turn over a complete transcript or recording of the call with Erdogan. In fact, we also need to find out what exactly Trump has discussed with Putin on this issue. The transcripts don t need to be released to the public. Maybe a joint committee of Congress or even a panel of judges can hear the evidence. But the steps and reasoning that led to this catastrophic self-inflicted wound on American security and standing in the world must be scrutinized. If Trump refuses, we will know he has something to hide. American presidents enjoy a great deal of latitude, particularly on foreign policy. Trump, like his predecessors, has a right to make the wrong strategic decisions. He has a right to make stupid mistakes. God knows previous US presidents have made them before. But presidents must make these decisions, even foolish ones, based on what they think is in the best interest of the United States. Trump s order to clear the way for a Turkish attack on US allies does not meet that most basic test. There is no reason to expect that America will gain absolutely anything from this costly policy reversal. It goes against every geopolitical objective of the Unites States. Trump s claim that this was a move to "end endless wars," is baseless. This force was already a low-cost mechanism for ending endless wars, for preventing new ones and for keeping existing ones from getting worse. Even if he wanted to withdraw, why do it without preparation? To be sure, President Obama made terrible mistakes in Syria, but this small force, built over the course of half a decade, achieved impressive results. The Syrian Kurds were a force multiplier. They did most of the fighting against ISIS, losing thousands of men and women warriors. (Yes, women are an integral part of the Kurdish forces that Turkey views as a terrorist organization.) America s low-cost presence was a success story, helping to bring a measure of stability to northeastern Syria, curtailing Iran s advance and blocking Tehran s efforts to build a continuous land bridge to the Mediterranean -- aimed partly at threatening Israel -- and limiting Russia s advances The chances of war between Iran and Israel are now greater. The strength of Russia is enhanced as its ally Assad recaptures more of Syria, and emerges more beholden to Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. And then there s ISIS. If Obama s withdrawal from Iraq helped bring ISIS to life, Trump s withdrawal from Syria may just bring it back from near-death. The stain will not soon wash away. America s betrayal left the Syrian Kurds -- who have been trying to develop a working democracy -- with no other choice but to get help from Assad, the Syrian dictator who slaughtered civilians using chemical weapons and starvation tactics. America has betrayed its friends before, but it was always in the face of a profound moral dilemma. A moral compromise to avoid something worse, or to gain something different. But there was no dilemma here. Why did Trump do it? The President already told us, before becoming president, that he had "a little conflict of interest" with Turkey, where he has substantial business concerns, including not one but two Trump towers. But maybe that has nothing to do with it. Maybe it was just arrogance, carelessness, hubris. Under normal circumstances, we might shake our heads at Trump s decision; call it a horrible mistake and make the best of it. But these are not normal circumstances, and this is not just any poor tactical move. This foreign policy travesty demands answers.
The People s Republic of China celebrated 1 October the 70th anniversary of its founding. President Xi Jinping presided over the celebrations that included an 80-minute military parade that displayed the new-found might of the People s Liberation Army (PLA) and the unveiling of very powerful and long-range missiles. For example, the DF-41 has a range of 15,000 kilometres, which makes it the longest-range missile in the world. Also on display was the DF -17, a nuclear-capable glider that could reach the United States. The parade showed, too, the formidable advances that China has achieved in unmanned systems and electronic warfare. The top leadership of the State and the Communist Party were assembled atop the rostrum at the “Gate of Heavenly Peace.” Among the top leadership figured two former heads of states. President Xi waved at his own portrait that was put beside a banner reading, “Carry out Xi Jinping s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” In his remarks, President Xi referred to China s “century of humiliation” stressing that, “no force can shake the status of our great motherland, and no force can stop the Chinese people and the Chinese nation from marching forward.” As to the role of the PLA, the Chinese president emphasised that it “will serve its purpose in safeguarding the sovereignty, security and development interests of the country, and world peace”. He called on the ruling Communist Party and the country to unite and continue fighting for the realisation of what he described as the “Chinese Dream” and the nation s rejuvenation. He promised that the Chinese government would uphold the “one country, two systems” idea and it would protect the long-term stability of Hong Kong and Macau. As to Taiwan, he said that Beijing would stress the goal of “peaceful reunification” with the island state. It was interesting to see President Xi wearing a Mao suit instead of the normal dark suit. The message couldn t be clearer. It was a reaffirmation of the foundational legitimacy of the Chinese Revolution. It is interesting as well to note that President Xi, accompanied by a group of very senior Chinese officials, visited the mausoleum of the founder of the People s Republic, Mao Zedong on 1 October. It was the first time since the end of the Cultural Revolution that a Chinese head of state paid an official visit to the Great Helmsman, Mao Zedong. The Chinese president wanted to make clear that the revolution still lives on, stronger than ever. In fact, the whole celebrations were meant to highlight the progress that China has achieved and the military might it has developed. The use of the expression “no force” could impede China going forward was meant as an implicit warning to any international power, or a group of like-minded powers, that would try to enter into confrontation with China to slow its resurgence on the world scene as a great power. At the forefront of these powers, the United States is first. The celebrations of the founding of the People s Republic comes amidst a host of domestic, regional and international challenges facing a rising China. Domestically, the rates of growth of the Chinese economy have stalled while the tariff war between China and the United States has started taking a toll on the economy. And no one can predict when this trade confrontation will end. It is a war of nerves between Washington and Beijing that gets more complicated by the day due to the unstable political situation in Washington in light of the impeachment inquiry that the House of Representatives with its majority of Democrats has launched. Some people believe that the weakened American president would settle for less than he aspired to in terms of a global and fair trade agreement with China. If this proves true, the big winner would be President Xi. On the domestic front, the deteriorating political situation in Hong Kong poses one of the greater challenges that President Xi has to face. It was no coincidence that the Hong Kong demonstrations took a violent turn 1 October. The issue is not Communist Party rule, but rule by China and the Chinese president. Hong Kong has started to look like a trap for President Xi. Hong Kong experienced some of the most widespread scenes of violence in many years. One student protester died of a gun shot by a policeman, the first victim since the youth demonstrations began in Hong Kong in June. The police said the shooting came in self-defence as the victim was wielding an iron bar at the policeman. Whatever the reason, with the death of the 18-year-old student, the situation has become almost explosive. The executive authority in Hong Kong invoked emergency powers to prohibit demonstrators from wearing masks. However, the students defied the order. The last time Hong Kong experienced living under emergency powers was in 1967 when the British had to deal with students demonstrating in support of the Cultural Revolution on the mainland. What an irony. Professor Ho-Fung Hung, a professor of political economy at Johns Hopkins University, commented on the massive demonstrations in Hong Kong that coincided with national celebrations on mainland China. “It is a dark turn,” he said. He believes the student movement and the conflict have “passed the point of no return, and the use of live ammunition is adding fuel to the fire”. Regionally and internationally, the United States is leading a strategy of containment against China with support from strategic partners, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, while deliberately challenging the Chinese navy in the South China Sea to uphold the principle of freedom of navigation in international waters. Will the strategy of containing China succeed in preventing the gradual and inescapable rise of China as a superpower in the second half of the 21st century? The odds are not great. Maybe it would be better for the United States to accommodate the rise of China and enter into a functional strategic cooperation with Beijing to serve their best mutual interests in North East Asia, Southern and Central Asia and the Gulf plus the Arabian Sea, and the approaches of Bab Al-Mandab at the southern entrance of the Red Sea. Such a path forward will guarantee peace and security for decades to come.
Arab states have been through the toughest time of all. For the first time since their establishment, many of those states have been shattered by corruption, political differences, and foreign intervention, not to mention terrorism. The only institution that would have been capable of tackling such difficult files, which is the Arab League, is practically lost and became inactive, to say the least. It has been rather hard for any of the Arab states to singlehandedly solve any of the region s multiple issues,nor could the Arab League. Currently, we have several bleeding nations and Yemen comes at the top of them. The story of the Yemeni conflict has turned into a timebomb that could at any time explode at the doorsteps of the Gulf of Aden. In Libya, the issue is bigger than securing the unity of the Libyan territoriesandmaintaining the country s oil wealth.It s rather containing the impact of terrorism which has been threatening the neighbouring states with a clear international collusion. Despite the fact that countries such as Iraq and Syria have degraded the terror threat since the spectre of terrorism has retreated, the two countries have been struggling to get through the rehabilitation process which calls for Arab support, if not intervention. There are various regional and international powers that have been looking forward for the collapse of Damascus and Baghdad to create a new order that achieves their interests.Thus, Arab support would have been of great value for the two states. The dilemma of the Arab League which has been paralysed due to internal Arab conflicts has been a headache to its secretary-general, Ahmed Abul-Gheit. He explained to the present writer that the aggravation of internal conflicts among Arab states has side-tracked the League s role, benefiting some regional powers such as Turkey and Iran, and super powers such as the United States and Russia, in addition to Israel. The latter has been getting greedier and more voracious to control Arab territories as has been the case in the occupied West Bank, the Golan Heights and Jerusalem. We are currently facing a grave risk that calls for a strong and unified Arab stand. All parties have been paying dearly for the deterioration of the inter-Arab ties and regional polarisation has been high on the agenda of most Arab states. In most cases, Arab countries are looking forward to a foreign ally instead of calling on its natural Arab allies. The gap has been increasingly wide and the roads took each and every one of us to a different direction. Thus,it became easy to devour Arab lands. We are unable to see the path to saving their countries: Arab cooperation. Several Arab states have been paying hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain their security and pile up the most expensive weapons. If those billions were invested in the region s economy instead of war or to enhance trade exchange among Arab states, it would have created a strong bloc of an Arab nation. If those billions were used to develop industries, the banking system or to make better use of our natural resources, we would have been in no need to pile up all the machinery of the West to protect us from our neighbours. If we invested in strengthening our institutions like the Arab League, the Maghreb Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council, we would have been able to overcome the internal difficulties and differences that made the three institutions no more than a toothless lion. The Arab League would have played the role of the honest broker, capable of settling the Arab nation s problems and giving no room for the intervention of foreign parties that play to their interests. The super powers have been working to promote the ongoing conflict in the region to get the most out of its resources. The president of the United States, Donald Trump, has not moved a finger against Iran which shot down a US drone, saying almost nothing but vicious rhetoric that kept the Iranian threat all over the place. The silent and sometimes blindfolded presence of the US in this region has encouraged Tehran to enhance its operations in a number of Arab states. Turkey has also been extending its influence in Libya in support of some terrorist groups there, which is very much the same situation in Damascus where the Turkish support of terrorist groups in Adlib has become obvious. In Iraq, both Turkey and Iran are playing a leading role. What has been going on in Iraq is echoed in Yemen, but Arabs have not learned the lessons yet. The best possible and cheapest yet effective solution to the Arabs dilemma is to go back to their natural allies; to their Arab neighbours, to try to find out solutions to their problems. They should become a unified bloc politically, economically and socially. They should try to get rid of the US, the Russian, the Turkish and the Iranian umbrella in favour of their own. Only then will Arab states become a regional power that is hard to defeat and harder to fight.
The reactions to the family of Majdi McCain, who was killed by the police officer Karim Magdy because of torture inside the police department varied. Magdi s family had to change their testimony, and torturiang them is a kind of continuing injustice. They decided to be realistic knowing they are poor and weak. They are not trying to be ideal like those on Facebook and human rights activists. They lost a poor father