Fuad Chehab’s presidency set a precedent for his successors
On 17 October 2019, more than a million people took to the streets of Lebanon to express their discontent and dissatisfaction over their government’s mismanagement of the economy and its proposal to implement new taxes. In what had been termed as the ‘Tax Intifada’ or the ‘WhatsApp Revolution’ (pertaining to the government’s imposition of charges on Voice over Internet Protocol calls), the WhatsApp-tax proved to be the trigger which culminated in mass-demonstrations against the Lebanese government. Country-wide protests have persisted tirelessly for ten days, with methods such as demonstrations, internet activism, strikes, sit-ins and civil resistance employed. A country which has been embroiled in bloody sectarian and confessional politics since Lebanon’s independence from the French Mandate in 1943, anti-government demonstrations and protests are not exactly unfamiliar. However, the spontaneous, spirited and non-sectarian nature of these protests have caught the government, as well as the leaders of the Amal Movement and the powerful Shia-Islamist Hezbollah group off-guard.
With the impassioned slogan ‘All of them means all of them’ aptly capturing the sentiments of the protestors, calls for a “sweeping overhaul of Lebanon’s political system” have and continue to gain momentum. Amid animated chants for a revolution against what protestors singled out as rampant corruption, rising social inequality and an ensuing economic crisis, it is worth mentioning how demonstrators have ardently beckoned Lebanon’s army to “side with them, arrest politicians accused of corruption, and even steward a transitional period.” Considered one of the more transparent national institutions of the country which has managed to cut across sectarian lines, it was reported that the army had vowed to protect protestors especially after a video circulated showing Lebanese soldiers thwarting suspected Amal and Hezbollah supporters from attacking protestors in central Beirut. Continue reading
The turning point was when the Houthis took control of Sanaa, the capital in 2014 and from there they started to expand to the west and east of Yemen.
In order to fully understand the current state of Yemen, it is important that we zoom into history and try analyzing what went wrong and where. For much of the past century, the country has been divided into The Yemen Arab Republic in the north and People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the south. Ottoman and British rule managed to keep the two separated but in 1990 these were unified under one flag and this was the beginning of crisis. If we look at the cultural and political divisions, these two parts are way different in two aspects. For almost a thousand years, the north had been under the theocratic rule of the Zaidi Shiites (the Zaidi sect of Islam is almost wholly present in Yemen and they believe that Muslims should only be ruled by the Imams – those who are the descendants to the Prophet), as opposed to this, the south was transformed from a scratch by the British during their rule. These differences took a conflicting turn after the two were united in 1990.
Looking at the religious division more closely the Zaidi Shiites predominate the north, with a minority Ismaili sect, whereas, the Sunni sect of Islam dominates elsewhere. Sectarianism was not really a problem until recently. Previously, a more tolerant society prevailed. Indeed, various exchanges between the two communities had been observed and inter-community marriages were normal and considered a routine in Yemen. However, the rise of political Islam led to an upsurge of tensions and with the emergence of radicalism, groups like Muslim Brotherhood and Zaidi Houthis emerged and expanded. With the spread of Salafi ideology in the predominant Zaidi areas, the expansion of Houthis was needed. Initially Houthis emerged as a theological revivalist movement in 2004 fearing the spread of Salafi ideology in the dominant Shiite areas.
We have no problem with Iran. Besides, we share a long border and are culturally more akin to Iran than to Saudi Arabia.
The standoff in Yemen between the Saudis and Iranians shows that a high death toll and human suffering alone will stop neither side from trying to build up its influence in the region. In Syria, after a relentless war which has left countless innocent people dead, Iran’s influence is in the ascendency along with its old ally Russia. The fall of Ghouta confirms this point. It demonstrates the impotence of the West as a player in the Middle East. After Saddam’s fall in 2003, Iran quickly developed its importance in Iraq. Iran was also quick to protect its neighbour when ISIS took over large parts of Iraq in 2014. Interestingly, John Bolton, who has been made Trump’s national security advisor after general McMaster was cashiered, wants to destroy the Iranian regime and advocates its replacement by Maryam Rajavi’s Mojahedin-e Khalq organisation, whose members had been proscribed as terrorists in many western countries. Mohammed bin Salman, who has recently been on a charm offensive and has been rubbing shoulders with Theresa May and schmoozing with president Trump making billion dollar deals, is now on a mission to win over support in Iraq.
The Saudi crown prince, who is on a quest to remake the Middle East, also says that Riyadh also has strategic interests with Tel Aviv despite the ongoing slaughter of the Palestinians by the Israeli military machine. Anyhow, the Wahabi Saudi regime is extending a hand of friendship to disillusioned Shias in Iraq who do not wish to align their interests with Tehran. For example, Muqtada al-Sadr, the stern leader of the Saraya al-Salam met Mohammed bin Salman in Najaf last year. Najaf is a natural place for the Saudi-Iranian rivalry to pan out further, of course Tehran has much more experience than Riyadh on the ground in Najaf and Southern Iraq. In these interesting times Pakistan’s former ambassador Karamatullah Ghori delivered lecture on The Arab World on Turmoil on 31 March, 2018 at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA). Continue reading
Filed under Discussion, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Islam, Israel, Karachi, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, Palestine, Politics, The Arab Spring, The Middle East, Trump, United States
‘The Arab elite responsible is for Middle East crises’ – Watch Video.
As seen on this blog, the German chancellor Angela Merkel has become rather controversial because of her “open door” or Willkommenskultur policy in relation to refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia. Last year, Merkel was involved in a tug of war involved in a tug of war with her uneasy ally Horst Seehofer (premier of Bavaria) and even members of her trusted cabinet openly challenged her over her refugee policy. The chancellery ultimately bowed down to pressure from finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble and interior minister Thomas de Maizière – Schäuble accused her of being a “careless” skier who has caused an “avalanche” which needs to be contained. Equally, Mrs Merkel has been under pressure from the extremist right-wing populist eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) party and its charismatic co-leader Frauke Petry; a 40-year old chemist/businesswoman with four children turned politician who very radically argues that the German authorities must “use firearms if necessary” to “prevent illegal border crossings”.
Given that a million people have penetrated Europe’s border in just a year, Petry argues that the “police must stop refugees entering German soil.” Against that background, German diplomat and scholar Dr Gunter Mulack spoke at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) and shared his views on the crisis in the Middle East from a German Perspective. Continue reading
Filed under Al Qaeda, China, CPEC, Discussion, Europe, Germany, Human Rights, Immigration, ISIS, Islam, Karachi, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, Politics, Russia, Syria, The Arab Spring, The Middle East
The region is an ‘enigma wrapped in a riddle’ … the Saudi Arabia-Iran spat is ‘a hot potato’ … Pakistan should not lean to one side and should play the role of a conciliator, peacemaker.
When asked whether he agreed with Donald Trump that president Putin ate “Obama’s lunch” over Syria, former Pakistani ambassador Karamatullah Ghori replied “yes”. Ghori, who is retired and presently lives in Canada, served as Pakistan’s envoy in numerous Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq and Algeria. His talk was chaired by the chairman of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), Dr Masuma Hasan, who served as Pakistan’s ambassador in Vienna and also as cabinet secretary. Ghori began his hour-long lecture, which packed the PIIA’s historic library, by emphasising that the Middle East is the most sensitive part of the world. The recent mass beheadings in Saudi Arabia, which demonstrate the sheer brutality of the regime in that country, remained his alternative point of departure. Alive to the “new” Middle East crafted by the western powers – which is based on a dictatorial model of capitalism – he noted that our relationship with the oil rich kingdom is important because of the remittances sent by 1.5 million Pakistanis employed there.
However, he did not think that it was enough to make Pakistan lean in Saudi Arabia’s favour. In a two-day visit, Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir arrived in Islamabad arrived on 7 January to discuss Pak-Saudi relations with Pakistan’s leadership. The visit, the second by the Saudi minister in the past 12 months, also explored Pakistan’s potential role in Saudi led alliance against ISIS and terrorism. It is an oddity that Continue reading
Filed under Al Qaeda, Discussion, Events, Human Rights, Iran, ISIS, Islam, Israel, Karachi, Pakistan Horizon, Palestine, Politics, Russia, The Arab Spring, The Middle East, United States
Everyone has strategic interests in Syria … Syria was enjoying a lifestyle like nowhere else in the Arab world. We were almost free …
Syria was once the underlying bedrock of Arab nationalism; it used to be a source of pride for Arab secularists. At least in Arab eyes, it was a bastion of resistance against Israeli tyranny and American imperialism. But these days the country that exerted such significant political and military clout in the bloody Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) is mortally wounded by its own apocalyptic war, nothing short of a Jihād. On 27 November 2015, the Syrian ambassador in Pakistan, HE Radwan Loutfi gave a talk entitled The Future of Syria in the historic library of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA). The astute diplomat was unforgiving in his denouncement of foreign interests plaguing the survival of his country. But eager to build unity among his fellow Syrians, he explained: “I am Sunni, but I will be the first to protect the shrine of Sayeda Zainab.” Urging world leaders against further warmongering, he called for an immediate ceasefire followed by a strong willed political process “that would leave only Syrians to discuss” and decide the future of their annihilated homeland.
Yet the diplomat explained that a ceasefire in Syria remained “impossible” until the terrorists were rooted out. He also accused Turkey of having trade links with ISIS. His talk comes against the backdrop of the terrorist attacks in Paris, killing 130 and wounding hundreds of others, and the downing of the Russian Metrojet airliner in Egypt causing 224 fatalities. Insofar as military action is concerned, these days an “ISIS first” mentality prevails because its extremists in Raqqa are the “head of the snake” and must, of course, be “crushed”. Despite the rhetoric constantly pouring out of London, Paris and Washington Continue reading
Filed under Discussion, Drones, Iran, ISIS, Karachi, Pakistan Horizon, Politics, Russia, Sanctions, Syria, The Arab Spring, The Middle East, United States
One year after he took a stand on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Obama finds himself trapped in his own rhetoric:
The world set a red line when governments representing 98 per cent of the world’s population said the use of chemical weapons was abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war. That was not something I just kind of made up, I did not pluck it out of thin air.
When United States President Barak Obama said this at a news conference in Stockholm last week, it sounded like he was trying desperately to justify the off-the-cuff comment he made a year ago. In August 2012, he had given a clear message to the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad: that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would change the ‘calculus’ and the ‘equation’.
It may seem a bit strange that the President is clarifying what he meant by something he said a year ago while the whole world is on edge waiting to find out how the US House of Representatives will vote on a proposal by the White House to take ‘limited military action’ to ‘punish’ President Assad for ‘using’ chemical weapons on his own people. That is because Obama is finding it increasingly difficult to sell another war to the majority of the American people and their elected representatives, who will decide on his proposal. Continue reading
In March 2011 the despot Bashar al-Assad probably never imagined that a small demonstration would eventually turn into an insurrection. The Arab Spring has paved the way for political transition in Tunisia, Libya and perhaps more questionably in Egypt. Concurrently, it also provoked the Syrian people against the authoritarian regime of Assad. The ongoing civil war has intensified a lot: the whole world has seen the abhorrent images of chemical weapons attacks. This galvanized major powers (the US, France and Great Britain) to take military action against the Assad regime but on 29 August 2013, the British House of Commons voted against possible military intervention which only left France and the US as the main backers of the military option.
Syria’s regime is one of a handful of UN members – including Angola, North Korea, Egypt and South Sudan – who are not a party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling on the Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction drawn up in 1992 (administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or OPCW). Israel (which is thought to possess chemical weapons) and Myanmar are signatories to the Convention but since they have not ratified it the OPCW considers them to be “non-member states”.
Bahrain is one of the earliest lands to have converted to Islam. It has a rich history and has been ruled by the Persian Empire, the Portugese, the Safavid Empire. Subsequently, the Bani Utbah tribe captured Bahrain from the Persians: the island has been ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family since. With a population of 1.4 million people of which the majority are Shia Muslims, Bahrain has been experiencing a political crisis for a few decades.The Arab Spring has heightened political activism in the Middle East. Consequently, the political crisis has turned into a popular political uprising in Bahrain.
Like the world’s historic revolutions and uprisings (e.g. the Iranian Revolution), Bahrain’s fragile political structure and suppression by its monarchy were two considerably important reasons for unrest. Shia Muslims always demanded a share in power as they constitute the country’s majority population. In 1973, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain promulgated a constitution that allowed an elected parliament and created an opportunity for maximum participation in politics by Bahrainis, but it only lasted for two years. Salman Al Khalifa dissolved the Assembly and imposed State Security Law. Continue reading
Arguably, the Middle East is the most volatile region on the planet. It is home to over 1.4 billion Muslims, constituting more than one-fifth of the world’s population. The Middle East has a rich religious and intellectual tradition that evolved over a long period of time and the region’s centrality to economics, politics and international relations is undeniable: it plays an important role in global peace, security and prosperity. A relatively recent phenomenon of sectarian conflict on a regional scale can be observed. A lot has been said and discussed about the new and dangerous Shia-Sunni divide in the Middle East. This resurgence of the ancient schism in Islam threatens to undermine the state – based on already frail national identities – as the primary political actor in the region.
The history of Muslim civilization, if defined in terms of ‘search for a common identity’, has passed through several phases. The initial concept of a Muslim Ummah, having survived through a phase of Arab nationalism, was translated into pan-Islamism in the 21st century. In the post-1980s period, the Shia-Sunni strife has witnessed a major upturn; particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Bahrain. Continue reading