Showing posts with label International Affairs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label International Affairs. Show all posts

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Seven inconvenient truths about ISIS, terrorism

Guest Editorial (first published on Des Moines Register)

American Muslims now live with three interconnected and devastating burdens: disastrous civil wars that are turning Syrians and Iraqis into unwanted refugees, acts of terrorism by fanatical groups that are distorting their faith, and racist attitudes and acts inspired by politicians claiming to represent the citizens of the United States. None of these issues are of American Muslims’ own making. Yet they are called upon to clear their religion of perversions, argue the virtues of admitting refugees, and fight new expressions of persistent racism in America. The real perpetrators of these burdens continue to profit from their trade in the sweat and blood of the vulnerable, and the real causes continue unabated.

Undoubtedly the couple Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who murdered 14 people in San Bernardino, were inspired by ISIL. There is also no doubt that the order to commit such murders came from ISIL, although law enforcement officials claim that they have no evidence that “ISIS directed or ordered the attack.” The distinction between attacks inspired by ISIL and the ones ordered by ISIL reveals a lack of understanding of the ideology and practices of ISIL and an incoherent response that allows this group to carry out its genocidal agenda. This willful ignorance is present among federal law enforcement officials and politicians, especially those who are supposed to formulate a comprehensive strategy to neutralize and eradicate such threats. Importantly, the occurrence of these brutal attacks in many countries, with both Muslim and non-Muslim majorities, underscore the link between the crises in Syria and Iraq, the spread of terrorism, and increased hateful speech against Muslims. It is now abundantly clear that the longer the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars are allowed to continue, the graver the threat of terrorism around the world. Therefore, properly defining the nature of the terrorist threat facing the world and defeating ISIL in Syria, Libya, and Iraq will protect American citizens — all of them — at home and abroad, and will end the cycle of violence that is killing and displacing people from their homes and countries.

Defeating ISIL and its current and future derivative requires a comprehensive principled strategy that is built on facts, not on imagination or political spin. Through such a strategy the administration should be able to protect American citizens — including American Muslims — effectively counter ISIL’s propaganda, and stop the violent civil wars that create the kind of environment where ISIL thrives. Fearing being perceived as sympathizers to authoritarian regimes, most experts and media outlets avoid reminding the public and our political leaders of the facts and the hard truths that must guide U.S. foreign policy and security strategy. Here are some of these facts and hard truths:

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Genealogy, Ideology, and Future of ISIL and its Derivatives

Founder of Wahhabism

The organization known today simply as the “Islamic State,” or by its Arabic acronym, Daesh (English, ISIL), has historical and ideological roots that go beyond the territories it now controls. These deep roots give Daesh confidence that it will succeed in dominating the world, but give others reasons to believe that it will fail in controlling even a single nation. Mixing puritan religious and political discourses, ISIL managed to dominate all other armed opposition groups in conflict zones (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya) and has inspired individuals in many other countries (Egypt, Pakistan, France, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia) to carry out brutal attacks in its name.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Qatar's weakening foreign policy following the coup in Egypt and changes on the ground in Syria

 Interviewer: Chris Arsenault, a reporter with Al Jazeera online based in Doha
Subject: Qatar's weakening foreign policy following the coup in Egypt and changes on the ground in Syria, September 24, 2013.

Do you think Qatar has overplayed its foreign policy hand in the last few years?

I don’t think Qatar has overplayed its hand with its foreign policy. The rulers of Qatar simply overestimated the durability of assets (Aljazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood) and underestimated the Arab public’s skepticism of politicians and governments. Clearly, the outgoing Emir, who came to power by overthrowing his own father, was very aware of the disconnect between the Arab masses and their leaders. He engineered Aljazeera as a tool to capitalize on that trust deficit and befriended a religious and political movement that was very popular among the disenfranchised segments of Arab societies but shunned by all Arab regimes—the Muslim Brotherhood. That worked for a while. What they did not anticipate is that the Arab masses’ capacity for authoritarianism was rapidly declining, ironically enough thanks in part to Aljazeera, and the public support for the Muslim Brotherhood was mathematically limited (40% support max.). In other words, the people wanted the old system gone, not replaced by a new brand of authoritarianism. Egypt’s events highlighted that: Egyptians equated secular authoritarianism (Mubarak’s) to the new emerging religious authoritarianism (The Muslim Brotherhood). As for Aljazeera, taking side of one party over another irreparably damaged its reputation; and once the link between Aljazeera editorial decisions and Qatar’s foreign policy became obvious, Aljazeera-Arabic became another partisan agency, not as the fiercely independent channel it marketed itself to be when it first started.

Do you think there is any link between the former Emir stepping down and Qatar's decision to focus on domestic priorities rather than foreign policy endeavors?

The outgoing Emir needed to step down one way or another. He needed to do that because he put his personal credibility on the line when he supported all uprisings and civil wars that removed (or threatening to remove) the regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. The Emir and his Prime Minister insisted that the Arab world must be ruled by governments chosen by the people. Of course for that position to remain consistent, he (and the other rulers of the Gulf States) needed to make political concessions, too. Stepping down was the best way to accommodate that rhetoric. But he would not have stepped down when he did if it were not for the crisis in Syria. Egypt’s events (which happened after the handover) was just another reason that forced the new ruler (Tamim) to take a step back. I don’t think there has been a planned total shift from foreign to domestic, it is just the complexity of the situations in Syria and Egypt that are forcing the new ruler to take a more measured positions than that of Saudi Arabia for instance.

Qatar spent nearly 4% of its GDP propping up Mohammed Morsi's government in Egypt. Why do you think the country hasn't condemned the military's actions more forcefully?  

The crisis in Egypt was unexpected and the removal of Morsi took place just 8 days after the handover. Moreover, the change in Qatar was necessitated, in part, by the Emir’s failure in Syria, which meant that a new strategy was needed. That strategy was not in place when Morsi was ousted. Based on (Arabic) Aljazeera coverage, and when compared to Alarabiyya’s, Tamim’s foreign policy regarding Egypt is still pro-Muslim Brotherhood, just not as forceful at the moment. 

In terms of Qatar's large ambitions - its desire to try and mediate regional conflicts and its hosting of high-profile conferences - how much of this is linked to security concerns following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait? And how much of this is linked simply to egotism and a desire to be noticed?

Indeed, the outgoing Emir was a very ambitious person. I am not totally convinced that his disproportionate foreign policy was dictated by his concern for foreign threats. If there was a serious threat to his rule or his country, it must have been domestic, especially given the way he came to power. His personal ambitions, however, are present in every endeavor from hosting global conferences to hosting the World Cup (still a controversial decision), he wanted Qatar to be known around the world. He was able to achieve many milestones because he had run the country like a corporation and his foreign policy was more like Public Relations than Diplomacy.


* The reporter expressed regret that not all the comments (especially those deemed controversial) could be published on Aljazeera due to legal restrictions. The full conversation is published here to provide full context.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Revolutions and rebellions and Syria's paths to war and peace

In less than a month, peaceful Tunisian and Egyptian protesters ousted two of the most authoritarian rulers of the Arab world. The human and economic costs: a total of about 1100 people dead (300 in Tunisia and 800 in Egypt) and some decline in economic growth. These were the dignity revolutions. In contrast, the Syrian peaceful uprising quickly turning into armed rebellion is now 22 months old with over 60,000 people (civilians, rebels, security and military officers, women and children) dead, more than 4,000,000 persons displaced from their homes, and destruction estimated at $70 billion. This is now, without doubt, an ideological/sectarian civil war. Short of a genocidal outcome, the only path to peace is that which relies on reconciliation and dialogue. There can be no preconditions because all sides have blood on their hands at this point. This reality, and the staggering numbers cataloguing death and destruction might, forces all sides to reassess their previously held positions. Ideologues who wanted to bend the path of a legitimate peaceful revolution to meet their narrow political and sectarian ends can no longer ignore this reality and the state of the country. The fast emerging developments support these hypotheses.

Earlier this week, the president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (the National Coalition), Mouaz al-Khatib, announced that he is ready to talk directly with representatives of the Syrian regime. He insisted however, that the regime releases 160,000 detainees and renew or extend expired passports for Syrians living outside the country. Meeting on Wednesday in Cairo, some members of the National Coalition slammed al-Khatib, accusing him of straying from the Doha agreement, a document on the basis of which the National Coalition was formed.

In the light of the disagreements, one must ask: why did al-Khatib offer to hold direct talks with representatives of the regime? For answers, we must look at the recent events related to the Syrian crisis. I will highlight some of these events that could reconstitute the National Coalition or force the resignation of its current president.

1. Immediately after the formation of the National Coalition, the U.S. administration placed one of the main Syrian armed groups, Jabhat al-Nusra, on the list of terrorist organizations. The measure created a filter that limited the flow of arms into Syria. The legal implications of the label of terrorism split the opposition and tempered Saudi and Qatari enthusiasm for arming it. The categorization of the opposition into terrorist and non-terrorist groups was further enhanced by France’s intervention in Mali and the French media’s accusation of Qatar of supporting extremist groups in the Maghreb.

2. Three weeks ago, Assad gave a speech in which he called for reconciliation talks that excluded opponents he called "terrorists." Syrian officials said this week that political opposition figures could return to Damascus for "national dialogue" and that any charges against them would be dropped. In the same speech, Assad announced plans for a reconciliation conference with opposition figures "who have not betrayed Syria.” He totally ignored plans by the UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who, according to some observers, was close to bridging the gap between Russian and American plan for solving the Syrian crisis. Assad’s speech practically rendered Brahimi’s efforts irrelevant.

3. This week (on Thursday), EU foreign ministers agreed to keep in place the ban on exporting arms to the Syrian opposition. This decision was a upset to efforts by some leaders of the National Coalition who met earlier in the week (Monday and Tuesday) to ask for $500 million and arms. The meeting, which al-Khatib did not attend, failed to provide the National Coalition with any tangible support. Moreover, early last week, France’s foreign minister acknowledged that there is no indication whatsoever that Assad is about to be overthrown and he communicated this new assessment to the so-called “Friends of Syria” when representatives of about 50 countries and organizations met in Paris. Initially, the National Coalition planned to announce the formation of a government in exile during this meeting. But the lack of enthusiasm “delayed” the announcement.

4. Compared to the failed meetings in Paris and Cairo, several other international gatherings about Syria were held around the world and have produced actual results that could help the Syrian people mitigate the economic and political problems they face. One of such meetings was held in Kuwait to raise money for Syrian refugees and displaced civilians. This meeting was not political and perhaps because it was not political it was very successful. More than $1.6 billion was raised in two days. Importantly, the meeting, which was attended by representatives of many countries, including Russia and Iran, highlighted the extent of human suffering and the horror of war. Although the Syrian government was not represented, its authority was nonetheless preserved since the money that is intended to be used to help displaced Syrians inside and outside Syria will be managed by a UN agency, which will coordinate parts of its activities with the Syrian government. This fact could explain al-Khatib’s comment about expired passports. Apparently, he realized that despite France’s (and a handful of other countries’) recognition of the National Coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, Assad’s regime is still the only legitimate government in Syria. A second gathering was held in Geneva and it brought together about 300 representatives of the so-called “civil opposition” and international NGOs. The participants issued a declaration calling on the world community to take steps to end the violence in Syria on the basis of the International Geneva Agreement. Specifically, the participants agreed to “negotiations between the opposition and the regime to implement the International Geneva Agreement, for issuing a constitutional declaration to create a Government with full power to administrate this stage, and work to bring about fair legislature and presidential elections, under international supervision.”

5. This week, too, more shocking images of horror emerged: 80 bodies of Syrian civilians were pulled out of a river near Aleppo. The images showed more victims of summary executions. The Syrian government accused “terrorists” of kidnapping and executing civilians living in neighborhoods known for their support to Assad. The opposition groups accused the regime of the brutal killings. Only an independent investigation could determine the identity of the victims and the perpetrators. Nonetheless, regardless of the identity of those who committed this horrible crime, the images remain shocking. The horrific scene of bodies scattered along the river bank made more people realize that the agony of the Syrians is indescribable.

6. Adding to these crucial developments, a spokesperson for the National Coalition announced today (Friday) that “Syrian National Coalition President Moaz Alkhatib will meet U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.” Reacting to this announcement, Lavrov’s deputy Gennady Gatilov tweeted, “Media reports about the upcoming Munich meeting… are not true.” It is not surprising that Russia would hesitate in granting al-Khatib a high profile meeting given that the latter, when he was selected to head the National Coalition, demanded that “Russia apologizes to the Syrian people.” Russian officials are unlikely to agree to a multilateral high profile meeting that includes a figure they characterized, then, as “amateur.” In other words, this proposed meeting might turn into a series of one-on-one conversations to assess the situation and suggest a path forward. It is unlikely that such a meeting, even if it were to happen, will result in a breakthrough given the gap between Russia and U.S. positions on Syria and the disagreements within the National Coalition.

Notwithstanding this public dissent, and in the light of all these important developments, it is likely that some leaders on both sides are now convinced that there must be an end to the bloodshed, suffering, and destruction. Al-Khatib might be one of them. After all, and despite being attacked by his colleagues from the National Coalition, al-Khatib appeared on an Arab television after the Cairo meeting and declared that he is master of his own decision. He said that he stands by his statement on talks with the regime. He also said that he was not pressured or enticed by anyone or any country but his stand is based on his personal concern for the lives and welfare of the Syrian people. When asked if he is acting in contravention of consensus among the leaders of the Coalition, he replied, “the Coalition members have agreed always to alleviate the pain and suffering of the Syrian people.”

Indeed, al-Khatib’s new position might be dictated by his realization that Syria could not and should not endure this horror for another 22 months. It is also possible that he finally realized that the support promised by the sponsors of the National Coalition may never materialize. In a sense, his about-face regarding talks with the regime to which he previously vowed not to talk is either an act of political maneuvering or a cry of despair. Perhaps, now, the Syrians can trust each other and rely on one another and put an end to an unwinnable civil war. Relying on the regional and world powers has proven to be a costly participation in a proxy war that is devastating the country and further pushing Syrians to the brink of sectarian and ideological war that will certainly fragment the Syrian society and destabilize the entire region.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of a number of books and articles. Opinion herein are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Hitched to Qatar's rising star, Al Jazeera takes a bumpy ride skyward

Al Jazeera's relationship with Qatar's emir, who founded the channel in 1996, has drawn more criticism as Qatar takes an increasingly prominent role in the region.

To some viewers, the coincidence of Qatari policy and Al Jazeera’s aggressive reporting on Libya and Syria seemed too close for comfort, particularly when other revolutions – those that hit closer to home for Qatar and its Gulf allies – got less attention.
As daily reports streamed in from the Libyan capital of Tripoli and the Syrian border, Al Jazeera “forgot there was a country called Bahrain for three or four months,” recalls Mehran Kamrava, director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

Others are more measured in their criticism. Ahmed Souaiaia, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Iowa who has written extensively about Al Jazeera in the Arab Spring, says he believes the Qatari-friendly glaze was evident mostly on the Arabic channel, which is geared toward a regional audience.

Anstey and Khanfar have defended their Bahrain coverage, noting that the station was trying to cover five revolutions in a limited amount of time. “We did not give the same weight to the Bahrain story,” Khanfar admitted in the forum at MIT, explaining that he believed Bahrain was not a revolution but a sectarian conflict. “[Bahrain] did not end with a majority – and overwhelming majority of people – who could revolt against the regime.”

That explanation will hardly allay criticism, however, since the government's campaign of sectarian repression also played a key role in tamping down protests, which were predominately Shiite – reflecting the country's large Shiite majority, who have long felt sidelined by the country's Sunni leaders.

Arabs 'very adept in flipping channels to find truth'
For the moment, Al Jazeera appears to be going nowhere but up. It plans to open a Balkan channel and a Swahili channel soon, the first language channels since English was introduced in 2006. Other languages, such as Spanish, may follow.

Anstey knows it’s the audience who will ultimately decide the broadcaster’s fate. “Yes we are headquartered here, [but] we are wholly independent from the state of Qatar,” he maintains. “Our coverage absolutely demonstrates to our viewers that we are impartial.”

Mohamed Nanabhay, head of online at Al Jazeera English, told the February panel at MIT that the channel has already proven itself able to ask hard questions of Doha; the channel broadcast several reports questioning Qatar’s readiness to host the 2022 World Cup.

If viewers perceive a bias, real or imagined, Al Jazeera and its critics alike know the stakes.

“The Arab peoples are used to state-controlled media and it will not be a shock for them to see Al Jazeera sliding back into that category,” says Prof. Souaiaia. “They are very adept in flipping through the channels to find the truth.”

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

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