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Samir Yousif Articles

Islam, Terrorism and Middle East politics

The Unintended Consequences of Specific Policies in the Middle East, published in New English Review Oct 2015

by Samir Yousif (October 2015)

Introduction

The complexities of the political and the mutually-interrelated indigenous forces of the Middle East necessitate a multi-disciplinary approach. There are many interest groups, ethnic minorities, religions, and sects, in addition to the influence of the external interests that interact with each other on a daily basis. To initiate an action and to expect a specific outcome, under such circumstances, is highly unlikely. The events during the last decades provide ample evidence of such complexities. The theme of this work is inspired by the statement of an Israeli commentator regarding the Israeli[1] incursion into Lebanon during the 1980’s. In this present work I will present Saudi regional policies towards developments in neighboring countries and discuss the unintended consequences of such policies. This work will also touch upon the grave situation that resulted from the unintended consequences that took place. In addition I will discuss the consequences of the alternative options available. Taking Saudi Arabia as an example is entirely for academic purposes and other countries, like Qatar or Turkey, can serve the purpose as well.

Developments in Iraq

Since the USA liberation of Iraq in 2003, Saudi Arabia has had a clear perspective and understanding of what was taking place. Saudi Arabia[2] rejected the changes in the strict sense of the word and deviated sharply from its Western allies. All European countries recognized the new government and re-opened their embassies in Baghdad. Other regional countries did the same with the exception of Saudi Arabia, which rejected diplomatic ties with the new Shi’a-dominated govenment. The same attitude applied not only to diplomatic ties but also to other vital respects such as the Paris Club[3] and the issue of Iraq’s debts. While Paris Club recommended a cancelation of 80% of the debts, Saudi Arabia declined such advice.

Such developments are seen by Western commentators through different angles and in many cases, these are contradictory. But the final outcome speaks for itself. In a recent contribution, Tamara Wittes[4] while noticing the developments in the Middle East assumed an active Iranian role that led to a public outcry in Bahrain (providing an example of Iranian intervention in the internal affairs of Gulf States). Tamara Wittes while ignoring the prevailing apartheid regime in Bahrain considered the public cry, general dissatisfaction and deprivation as resulting from an Iranian plot. Such conclusions made by Western commentators shed the light in a clear way on Western understandings and methods of analysis. Tamara Wittes overlooked the fact that  the people of Bahrain have been engaged in political activities to bring down the present apartheid regime since the 1970’s[5]. What brought the Bahrain issue back to light was not the Iranian involvement but the rise of the Arab Spring[6].

It was the Arab Spring that encouraged the ordinary people to go out to the streets and demand their basic human rights, not only in Bahrain, but in other Arab countries as well. The Arab Spring cannot be attributed to an “Iranian Involvement” as the main victims of this upheaval were the Libyan and the Syrian regimes who were both strategic allies to Iran[7].

As mentioned above, Saudi Arabia had its own reaction towards the American liberation of Iraq in 2003. The Sunni rule in Iraq that lasted for over 1400 years was over. For many it was a nightmare and was totally rejected. These rejectionist forces decided to take whatever action they could to turn history back. The USA could not convince its Sunni allies of the democratic importance of turning a former Sunni state into a Shi’a-led one. King Abdulla II of Jordan wrote in 2004 his famous article warning of the development and dangers of a Shi’a Crescent[8]. So it was not only the Saudis who had serious worries and concerns of what was taking place in Iraq.

Let us use the term “opposition” to refer to all the forces which rejected the liberation of Iraq and the collapse of the Sunni rule in 2003. There were many “poles” for this opposition that are scattered in different neighboring countries like Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, Syria[9] and Saudi Arabia. The aim of all these opposition forces was (and still is) to bring down the new Shi’a-led political system in Iraq that was evolving under the control of the US Administration. By bringing down this system, the aim was to re-install a Sunni rule once again. That was the aim of all the opposition forces with the exception of Syria. While Syria (backed by Iran) was part of the opposition, its aim was to inflict as much damage as it could to the American presence in Iraq. Syria did not formulate a cohesive mature political perspective that provides a clear “road map” that shows what the final objective was at the end of the tunnel. Simply its aim was to create as much chaos as possible that would ultimately discredit the USA and show the bankruptcy of its plans in Iraq[10].

By stating the final objective, the opposition moved ahead in implementing their plans. So the common objective was clear: to bring down the newly-evolving Shi’a-dominated State in Iraq.

Now by stating the objective one can discuss the consequences of implementing the plans of the opposition. The consequences of implementing those plans, in turn, created new conditions and circumstances that had led to the establishments of undesired results and unintended consequences.

The Iraqi Scenario

The means of implementing the plans of the opposition concentrated on supporting the Sunni Rebellion[11]. Although the picture in Iraq is very complicated, the general lines of this support concentrated on specific areas. First, Sunni groups received enough funds to regroup and to expand and strengthen their groups and organizations. Secondly, general recruitment efforts were implemented outside Iraq to supply the local Sunni groups with volunteers. Most of the volunteers were suicidal-fighters who were ideologically-motivated against the Shi’a[12]. The routes these fighters took outside Iraq were carefully selected[13]. Thirdly, the opposition had plans to provide the internal Sunni groups with enough weapons and ammunition.

So, the action taken by the opposition (Saudi Arabia[14] in particular) was to undermine the ongoing political process by all possible means with the clear objective of installing a Sunni-led government, instead of supporting the ongoing Shi’a-led government.

Academically speaking, if the second option of supporting the ongoing Shi’a-dominated political process represented the objective of the opposition, especially Saudi Arabia, then a complete set of different scenarios could be visualized. To start with, Iran would have no excuse or reason to involve itself, or to increase its presence or its influence. There would be no power vacuum that required Iran to step in and fill it. instead, the political process would evolve, under normal circumstances, based upon the new Iraqi Constitution. There might have been no Sunni militias with no corresponding Shi’a counterparts. The development of events would essentially have been no different from the original US plans for building an example of democracy in the Middle East. Other Middle East countries could then follow. This option, however, is nothing but an academic exercise.

The second option, which represented the actual set of real events, led to the current grave situation. The tactics used by the internal Sunni groups aimed at undermining the efforts and plans of the Shi’a-led political process. The first step was to boycott the first General Election with the clear purpose of disqualifying the results, thereby rating the newly-elected government as illegitimate[15]. The second step would then be to use all means, especially armed resistance and other forms of violence, to bring down the newly-established state. Such tactics translated into car-bombs and various kinds of exploding packages and containers aimed at densely-populated Shi’a areas.

The human cost of such actions was enormous and various estimates suggested civilian casualties to exceed half a million innocent civilians[16].

When such developments take place one, should not assume that the victims will exhibit no  reaction. On the contrary, it is under such abnormal situations that one should not exclude any possible option. In addition, the presence of Iran next door opens up further possibilities.

The first step was the creation of local armed groups in each neighborhood acting as local guards. Their basic duty was to control the in-out movement of traffic. The second step was for Iran, from its side, to encourage the establishment of Shi’a-militias. These militias received full backing from Iran in the form of arms, ammunitions, training and finance[17].

The Unintended Consequences

The previous discussion’s starting point was the following statement:

Such understandings lead us to our main theme, i.e. the unintended consequences of an action by Saudi Arabia to have specific influence on the political developments of Iraq.

As has been shown, the actions taken by Saudi Arabia (referred to as the opposition) led to the following set of events.

A state of civil war took place after the year 2006 with numerous incidents of identity-killing[18]. Al-Qaeda was brought to Ramadi Province during 2006 and ISIL took over large areas of Iraq by June 2014.

So the consequences of dozens of plans and unlimited financial allocations by the opposition did not lead to, as originally perceived, to the overthrow of the newly-established Shi’a-dominated political process and replacing it with a Sunni-led government, but to establishing strong and powerful militias on both sides and a general state of civil war.

But there is another outcome of vital importance. The opposition in their plans neglected the role of neighboring Iran. For Iran the second option coincided with its plans of involving itself in Iraq and ultimately controlling it. Iran has succeeded in establishing loyal and very strong militias with increasing political power within the evolving political system in Iraq. This political power extends out from the Parliament to the State organs and the government. In parallel lines one can witness the increasing Iranian influence in Iraq as a consequence of the plans of the Sunni opposition[19].

Can we predict the future course of events?

Other significant and grave consequences resulted from the opposition plans, not on the Shi’a sect, but rather on the Sunnis themselves. Examples are the destruction of the Sunni cities and towns. The takeover of ISIL of very large Sunni areas[20]. Atrocities and other forms of violence against civilians. This destruction created refugees in the millions scattered in other areas inside Iraq as well as outside Iraq. In addition to the flow of Sunni immigrants through illegal routes into Europe.

If the government forces backed by Iranian-backed militias[21] achieve a decisive victory, the political consequence of such a development would lead to an Iranian-backed Shi’a-dominated political process, far worse than ever before. Shi’a forces loyal to Iranian Walayat-al-Faqih[22] will prevail and lead the political process from the majority side. Moderate segments of the Shi’a will be in a very disadvantageous situation and wither away. Such a scenario will ultimately lead to the establishment of a religious state in Iraq in full subordination to the Iranian Supreme Leader[23]. What increases the odds of such an outcome are the doubts cast on the professionalism of the present Iraqi Army.

The other possibility is to help the Iraqi State through rehabilitating the Iraqi army and enabling it to achieve victory without the involvement of the Iranian-backed militias. This option will enhance the political status of the moderate Shi’a, strength the whole political-set-up, drastically increase their credibility and put an end to the Iranian influence and involvement in Iraq. But this option can only represent a long-term and very costly strategy.

Is there another option?

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has issued a fatwa[24] to fight ISIL in Iraq. The public response was very significant and millions of men volunteered. The Iraqi State which is infiltrated by pro-Iranians officials made sure that this new large force was under their control and that the Iranian-backed militias would have a priority, whether in arms, ammunition or finance. Ultimately this led to the neutralization of this independent strong force. A clear victory to Iran.

This opens up a new option. If the USA can train the volunteers and establish a strong fighting force out of the Shi’a volunteers, then this newly-established force couls possibly replace the Iranian-backed militias and together with the Iraqi army could achieve a victory over ISIL without the involvement of Iran or its proxies.

The other possibility that Sunni tribes hostile to ISIL could be regrouped and trained to create an army capable of regaining the Sunni areas taken by ISIL. This option is debatable as the collapse of the Iraqi army in both Mosel and Ramadi provide ample evidence of the difficulty in distinguishing between Sunnis who are with ISIL and those who are against[25].

This last possibility requires further qualification. The Sunni tribes might be skeptical to the presence of the Iranian-backed militias, but they do not share such an attitude towards a friendly foreign force that promise them a clear political perspective. It could be argued that, under such conditions, the role of the Sunni tribes could be positive.

What are the consequences if the present standoff continues for years to come?

What will the consequences be if the Iraqi Parliament approves the National Guard Act[26]at a time when all the main Sunni cities and towns to have been taken by ISIL? If the government applies such an Act then it will be limited to central and south of Iraq – in addition to the Kurdish province (at a time when the Kurds have declared that it will not apply to their Region). Then such an Act will have no real significance in the relevant Sunni areas. Actually, the National Guard Act should be part of a wider political package that requires a modification[27] of the present Constitution in order to achieving long-term stability to all Iraq. Today there exist 350 different armed groups in Iraq each claiming to defend Iraq.

It seems that the unintended consequences of the first scenario for the future are still open to all possibilities, whether they are perceived today or not.

Russia and the New Alliance 4+1

Although this work is confined mainly to Iraq, yet the recent developments in Syria resulted in a different set of unintended consequences.

The only naval base the Russians have on the Mediterranean is located in Syria.

A new alliance has being forming. This new alliance is referred to as 4+1 indicating the presence of four countries (Russia +Syria + Iraq + Iran plus Hezbollah). Although the declared intention of this Alliance is to coordinate and share intelligence information, developments on the ground provide a different picture. What should be actually highlighted is the Russian involvement with ground troops. It is this development that represents the most important unintended consequence of the opposition plans in Iraq as ISIL occupies large areas in both Iraq and Syria.

This latest development confirms the immaturity of Saudi plans in Iraq. It also sends a message to the Saudis that they are in urgent need of foreign advice when formulating their own regional policies as the Saudi thinking is confined by the limits of Wahhabism.The unintended consequences of the Saudis rejecting American plans for introducing democracy in the Middle East have produced unexpected alliances that the Saudis themselves never wished to see.

*******

Iranian backed-militias in Iraq

The Militias

With the incursion of ISIL into many areas in Iraq and the failure of the regular government forces to control the situation, a new player imposed itself on the already-complicated political picture of Iraq. This new player was the Iran-backed militias. Most of these militias were also backed by Al-Maliki Cabinet especially Badr Legend commanded by Hadi Al-Amiri and League of the Righteous commanded by Shekh Qais Al-Khazali.

As Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani issued the famous Jihad Fatwa these militias were in a favorite position to take full advantage of the situation. Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis who was the original commander of Badr Legend (Iran’s Revolutionary Guards) was put in charge of the volunteers who responded to the fatwa. Al-Muhandis managed to channel all the military and financial resources available to the militias instead of the volunteers. This ensured that the Iran-backed militias became military powerful as well as politically influential.

We can distinguish between the following militias:

1. Badr militia

Was previously called Badr legion under the command of Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis and it was engaged in a direct war with the Iraqi troops during the days of Saddam Hussein. It was part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Today it is under the command of Hadi Al-Amiri. Politically they are under the umbrella of the main Shi’a Alliance in the Parliament and separately they are called Badr Organization.

 2. Assa’ab Ahl Al-Haq  (League of the Righteous)

This militia split from Sadrist. It is supported by Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and the Iranian Government. The commander is Shekh Khazali. they have a political bloc in the Parliament called Sadiqoun.

3. Hezbollah Brigades

This militia split from Badr legion. Shekh Al-Kaa’abi is in charge of its intelligence. This militia is the strongest and most advanced in what it possesses of weaponry. It possesses advanced communications systems, drones, S-S missiles, Rocket launchers, heat-tracing cameras. This militia follows Walayat-Al Faqih and receives all its weapons and ammunitions from Iran. Iran pays monthly salaries to all its members.

4. Nujaba’a Hezbollah

This militia split from No. 2 above. A new command was established and it is run by Iran 100%.

5. The Islamic Talia’a Party (The Islamic Forefront Party)

This party changed to Khurasani Forces, its commander is  Al-Yasseri (who worked with the US forces after 2003).

6. Junid Al-Imam (The soldiers of the Imam)

Its commander is Ahmed al- Assadi.This force used to follow Khadhim al-Khalisi who was arrested by the US forces.

7. Ansar Allah (God Supporters)

This militia was established by Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis three months after the fatwa.

8. Saraya Al-Salam (Peace Brigades)

Previously known as Muhdi Army established by Muktada Al-Sadr during the presence of the US troops in Iraq. There is an strong Iranian influence on the Mehdi Army but less on Saraya Al-Salam.

Militias and their increasing Political Influence

Most of the afore-mentioned militias were “sleeping cells” and they all entered actively into the political process as they managed to become members of the Parliament. They formed political blocks in the Parliament, such as Sadiqoun. When the fatwa was issued these political blocks turned into a military force supported and fully armed. It was clear that the original plan was to control the vital chains of the State. This was made possible due to the fact that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has no political parties or blocks that he supports.

Day after the other the pro-Iran militias are gathering further strength, whether through increasing their numbers or the type of weapons they possess. But what is noticeable, is the fact that their political role was surfacing. Such a role is backed by their military strength.

The incident that occurred during September 2015 in Baghdad where a number of Turkish workers were kidnapped was a turning point in this regard. The kidnappers’ demands exceeded Iraq and went across the borders into Syria and Turkey. Such demands are part of a regional agenda that coincide with Iran’s regional political objectives.

In addition to the incident of the Turkish workers, a more serious event took place unnoticed. During September 2015, the Iraqi Parliament was engaged in deep discussions and debates regarding the new National Guard Act. The Iranian-backed militias, based in the Capital Baghdad, disapproving this legislation and wishing to stop it, threatened all members of the Shi’a alliance that in case they approve it, they were risking their lives. The National Guard Act was rejected and had to be reviewed, changed and resubmitted to the Parliament once again. A clear political victory to the militias.


[1] See Caitlin Smith, (27.11.2012), The 1982 Lebanon War was Israel’s Vietnam. In this paper the unintended consequences took place as a reaction to the war inside Israel (served to act as a catalyst for political and social change, largely characterized by a move towards the political left, and a marked decrease in positive proclamations of the use of conventional military force), in International Relations Student, Link: http://www.e-ir.info/2012/11/27/the-1982-lebanon-war-was-israels-vietnam/. But more importantly, the Israeli incursion of 1982 led to the creation of Hezbollah, the most important unintended consequences of that war.

[2] Joseph MacMillan, “Saudi Arabia and Iraq,” The United States Institute for Peace, Special Report 157, January 2006. Actually history has shown that most of the assumptions of this Report were modest. In the Summary the author states:“Riyadh’s policy toward Baghdad over the next several years will probably be dominated by four key concerns about the future of Iraq: domestic stability, foreign meddling, oil production policy, and Iraq’s political evolution (especially the role of the Shi’a). Of these, far and away the most important to Riyadh is stability.” Actually History has shown that Iraq’s political evolution (role of the Shi’a) is Riyadh’s only concern. In addition, some commentators consider creating instability in Iraq to be one of Saudi Arabia  prime objectives and not one of its concerns.

[3] Martin A. Weiss, “Iraq’s Debt Relief: Procedures and Potential Implications for International Debt Relief,” in Congressional Research Service, January 26, 2009. Also, recently Thomas L. Friedman made a comment on Saudi Arabia in “Our Radical Islamic BFF, Saudi Arabia,” in the New York Times 2 Sept 2015.

[4] Wittes, Tamara Cofman, “An Iranian Deal won’t stabilize the Middle East-but maybe the Arab states can,” in Brookings Foreign Policy, July 14, 2015 (SERIES: debating the Iran deal| Number 6 of 10).

[5] During the 1970’s Iran was under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi whowas the main strategic ally to the USA in the region.

[6] See, Yousif, Samir, “Apartheid Under the Mandate of Islam: The Case of Bahrain,” in The New English Review, July 2011.

[7] There is an argument stating that the Green Revolution of 2009 in Iran was the “spark” for the Arab Spring.

[8] Jordan See “Threat to Election from Iran,” The Washington Post, 8 December 2004.

[9] Syria was allied to Saudi Arabia and other opposition force after 2003 although it had an Embassy in Baghdad.

[10] In an indirect way Iran was adopting a similar approach.

[11] The Sunni rebellion was indigenous and received significant support from regional powers.

[12] Mainly Wahhabi believers (Salafists).

[13] The influx of fighters to Iraq came through Syria, Turkey, Jordan and across the borders from Saudi Arabia. The JAMESTOWN FOUNDATION published “Islamic State of Iraq Gives Advice on Infiltration Routes into Iraq.” in Terrorism Focus Volume: 5 Issue: 8, on February 28, 2008, see the following link: http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=4747&no_cache=1#.Vdrhz_mqqko

[14] Thomas L. Friedman made a comment on “Saudi Arabia in Our Radical Islamic BFF, Saudi Arabia,” in the New York Times, 2 Sept 2015.

[15] The argument used by the opposition that proper elections cannot take place under occupation.

[16] Although the precise number is unavailable, Western estimates suggest high numbers and up to one million civilians, see the report issued by Body Count, First International Edition March 2015, see the Executive Summary, go to link: http://www.psr.org/assets/pdfs/body-count.pdf.

[17] Mahdi Army in June 2003 was established by Muqtada Al-Sadr and Iran strongly backed it against the US troops. As Muqtada tried to break from the Iranian influence, Iran ordered one of his main assistants Shekh Khazali to break away from him and to established his own Iranian-backed militia (Asayib Ahl al-Haq, “League of the Righteous”) , then later another commander broke away and established the Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades (run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards).

[18] Identity-killings refers to killing of innocent civilians based upon their identity (whether they are Sunni or Shi’a).

[19] In contrast to many commentators, actually the infiltration of ISIL into Iraq opened up an unexpected golden opportunity for Iran to step in. Iran possesses a strog media apparatus consisting of a number of Arabic-speaking Satelite TV channels (pro-Iran and anti-America) of which the following are the most important: 1. Al-Mayadeen, 2. Al-Furat, 3. Aafaq, 4. Beladi, 5. Al Ahad, 6. Al-Masaar, 7. Al-Gadeer, 8. Al-Itijah, 9. Al-Talia’a (coming soon), and 10. Al-Adwa’a.

[20] There are numerous references of the actions and crimes of ISIL, see for example, Yousif, S.,” A Note on the Origin of Al Bai’aa and the Self-Appointed Caliph,” in New English Review, Aug 2014.

[21] see the Attachment Iranian backed-Militias in Iraq.

[22] The conflict between the traditional Shi’a faith represented by Grand Ayatollah Sistani and the Iranian new theory of Walayat Al-Faqih (The Mandate-of- the Imam) is taking place openly. The traditional faith rejects the establishment of a religious state, while the Iranians call for the establishment of such a state in Iraq.

[23] Signs of such attempts are taken place right now as the main Iranian-backed militia (Shekh Khazali see footnote 16) are calling for a change in the constitution towards a Presidential system.

[24] The fatwa was issued in 13 June 2014.

[25] Many Sunni armed men working on the side of the Iraqi army changed sides overnight and joined ISIL.

[26] Actually the proposed National Guard Act contradicts the 9th Article of the Constitution.

[27] What type of State will ensure stability in Iraq? Centralization or decentralization and to what extent? The present Constitution lead Iraq to this deadlock

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The Ongoing Scenario in the Middle East and its Unexpected Outcome

 

Introduction

Since the “Khomeini Islamic Revolution” in 1979[1], and the Muslim World has not seen internal peace or social integration. Commentators from all sides never envisaged the rift that this Revolution has initiated. This process of “polarization” of the Islamic World has caused an enormous spread of sectarian hatred and terrorism that sent its waves to covered the whole world and not just the Muslim World. The progress in media technology enabled the efficient mobilization of the “blind” youth driven by sectarian hatred. The resulting consequences realized are surprisingly enormous. An unlimited supply of Jihadists from all over the world found its way to specific regions financed by the generously oil-rich countries from both sides of Islam.

A significant surge in terrorist activities is taking place worldwide.  From the USA to the Middle East, Africa, Asia (old Soviet Union Republics) and Far East Asia. Who has such means and ability to coordinate activities over 80 countries[2]? This coordination is not limited to the International movement of Jihadists but includes also logistics, arms and ammunition.

The theme of this paper

The theme of this paper is to present an unexpected scenario resulting from what is taking place today in the Muslim world and its outcome on other non-Muslim regions and countries. This paper holds the belief that this unexpected scenario is becoming the most likely outcome of  present day trends and circumstances. Therefore, this paper embodies a strategic perspective to present day developments:

The polarization of the Muslim World will eventually lead to the control of the extremists of power on both sides (Shia/Sunni) of the Muslim World. Such a development represents a threat and poses consistent danger to other countries and regions as the behavior, actions and reactions, of the extremists are unprecedented, unexpected and show no respect to International treaties or human rights standards.

The Igniting Incidents of 1970’s

During the 1970’s two main opposing developments took place. From one hand, the Saudis took serious steps to export their religious ideology (Wahhabism) through their religious schools (Madrassas) that they established all over the World[3]. Generations of terrorists and extremists have graduated (and still are) from these specific Madrassas.

Countries that were known for their religious tolerance suddenly started to produce terrorists and dangerous extremists. This phenomenon is best summarized by Obama Doctrine[4]. What is interesting to this paper is the unlimited supply of terrorists that is produced continuously. These terrorists represent the continued supply of a very cheap manpower that is self-willing to die in direct combat or during suicidal actions.

From the other hand, the Iranians, from their part, declared their plans for “exporting” their “Islamic Revolution” according to Khomeini’s new doctrine: Walayat-Al-Faqih[5].  Both of these opposing plans ignited hatred and strongly pushed toward sectarian affiliation on both sides of Islam. Prior to that, religion had marginal influences on politics in the Muslim World, especially in the Middle East.

The Shia Muslim traditional faith[6] throughout history kept the Shia sect away from politics deliberately. The Sunnis, even in countries where they were just a minority, managed to control power and run the country. Both Iraq and Bahrain provide perfect examples.

 

Modern Islamism: the prior picture

After the First World War the political picture prevailing throughout the Middle East and the Muslim World was characterized by secular and nationalist political movements. The reaction to the defeat and disintegration of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War was not only visible in Turkey with Ataturk[7] overtaking power and turning Turkey into a modern secular state, but also throughout the Ottoman colonies, especially the Arab Middle East where the trend to move away from the Islamic Caliphate was overriding. During the period of independence from classical colonialism, religion was nearly absent and played no part in such movements. This was valid not only for Muslim Middle East countries, but also for countries in both continents in Asia, Latin America as well as Africa. Third world independent movements were guided by national political parties and strongly backed by the Eastern Block. Communism and different Marxist groups played central roles in the independence movements after the Second World War. Take a well-known example from the Middle East: Egypt under Gamal Abdul Nasser[8].

In 1952 a young army officer called Gamal Abdul Nasser managed to take power in Cairo after a successful military coup. The ideology adopted by Nasser was that of “Pan Arabism” strongly backed by a socialist agenda. Later his ideology was known as “Arab Socialism”. His message was addressed to all Arabs throughout the Middle East. He used the struggle against imperialism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as his central theme of focus and a main tool for spreading his propaganda.

During the 1950’s and the 1960’s Gamal Abdul Nasser and the ideology of Arab Socialism monopolized the political arena in the Middle East. Military takeovers took places in different Arab countries following the guidelines of Nasser. Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Mauritania and Libya are good examples of that legacy. The same picture continued after the 6-Day War of 1967. The different Palestinian groups were either nationalist, like Fatah, or Marxist-oriented organizations.

In the Third World Marxism became the modern stream of “scientific” thinking and it was the most popular expanding ideology. This phenomenon represented the main challenge to Western Europe and the US during the post-Second World War era.

I believe that both the US and Western Europe encouraged religious centers and movements in both Asia and Africa as part of the imperatives of the Cold War. Religion was one of the main tools against the spread of Communism. It was under such circumstances that Grand Ayatollah Khomeini declared his revolt against the Shah of Iran at the end of the 1970’s. This declaration marked the birth of modern Islamism. The success of the Khomeini Revolution in Iran was followed by several attempts to ‘export’ the Revolution leading to the 8-year long Iraq-Iran war. Across the borders and into Afghanistan, the Soviet occupation was fighting fierce guerilla warfare with the Mujahedeen[9]. The international balance of power faced serious disequilibrium in that area. GA Khomeini and his Islamic Revolution received high levels of international publicity. Further political developments increased the attention to the Islamic Revolution such as the occupation of the American Embassy in Tehran[10] . All these developments gave great publicity to a Shiite version of Islam at a time when this sect represented less than 20% of the total Muslims worldwide, while the rest were Sunni Muslims.

The success of Shiite Muslims in Iran pushed to the limits Sunni Muslim traditional organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MBH) and led to the formation of new movements, especially  Sunni fundamentalist groups. Fierce competition between the Shiite and Sunni groups continued throughout this process. Regional conflicts further increased the formation and development of such groups as was seen during the Lebanese civil war, in Chechnya and the civil war in the Baltic caused by the dismantling of Socialist Yugoslavia. But the world had to wait until September 11, 2001 to witness the reply of Sunni Muslims to G.A. Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution of the late 1970’s.

Sunni Islamic groups and organizations were formed throughout the Arab and Muslim countries and were banned in one way or another. The suppression of these well-organized groups during the late part of the twentieth century in countries suffering from high levels of corruption and political mismanagement provided some popularity for these groups[11]. Islam is the Solution[12] was the slogan of these groups that spread strongly throughout the poor classes of society. The general political atmosphere during the last decades of the twentieth century excluded the participation of Islamism, and prevented them from taking power, as happened in North Africa. This exclusion further strengthened such groups and increased their popularity. Islamism had to move underground and to wait until the arrival of the Arab Spring.

 

Arab Spring, Civil Wars and Shia/Sunni Poles

While the “Arab Spring” started in Tunisia and led to the downfall of the regime, it causes civil wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen. Certain Gulf countries played a leading role in motivating and pushing such developments[13]. Competition increased significantly between Saudi Arabia, Qatar and later Turkey to have a stronger involvement in the ongoing civil wars and the final political outcome.

Currently there is a strong trend or “wave” that is pushing the Shia Muslims towards Iran as their only “pole”. Under such scenario Central and Southern Iraq, which is neighboring Iran, might constitute an independent Province that ultimately merge with Iran. This will create a Super Shia State run by Shia extremists in Iran. Other regions dominated by Shia, such as Southern Lebanon, Bahrain, or Eastern Saudi Arabia might declare their loyalty to Iran. The main concern with such development is that it is run by religious extremists.

The Liberation of Iraq in 2003 and the so-called “Arab Spring”, ignited the concern of the three main Sunni countries: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. What they have done in Iraq was repeated, without learning from their mistakes, in Syria[14] and Libya. “Encouragement of Sunni rebellion under the banner of Islam” was the only option they could come up with. Soon Sunni extremists took over the fight and extreme forms of Islam was practiced with devastating outcomes on the local populations[15].

The establishment of Al-Nusra and ISIL were a significant Sunni achievement. Both of these terrorist groups declared agenda was to accomplish clear ethnic cleansing of all non-Sunni Muslims especially the Shia, Yazidi and Christians[16].

ISIL became a magnate that pulled Jihadists from all over the globe including Europe and the USA. What is unexplainable is the fact that those jihadists from Europe and the USA accepted the barbarian nature of ISIL without hesitation, and they committed crimes of rape, theft and murder as if they were brain washed since childhood.

With the ongoing war efforts against terrorism, and especially ISIL, no signs of compromise are coming up from the Muslim World. Saudi Arabia has taken several measures to form and lead a Sunni Coalition. If the present trends continue then we should expect the formation of a Sunni Pole. Ultimately the Muslim World will “polarize” and sectarian affiliation will be the norm and not the exception. Turkey, under the present Muslim Brotherhood government, is planning to train hundreds of thousands of young men in 45000 Mosques and other religious centers. In other words, Erdogan is preparing an army for the coming sectarian war[17].

Actions Required

Having two Poles dividing the Muslim World and run by extremists on both sides of Islam is a serious concern to World Peace and International stability. Pakistan, a Sunni country, has already a nuclear arsenal, and when Sunni extremists control the Sunni Pole, such arsenal will be under their disposal.

To prevent the present circumstances and trends in the Muslim world from moving ahead towards such dangerous outcome, the US Administration should encourage secular and liberal forces to take power in as many Muslim countries as possible. Local and International efforts should work together to weaken the religious sentiment and sectarian affiliation. Instead they should be replaced by secular values and liberal thinking.

To achieve such a change in present day current trends, social change is required to initiated political development. World Organizations, media centers, Aid programs and direct involvement is required to have such an impact on local societies. Moderate religious centers should be encouraged to enable them to exert their proper impact.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_Revolution.

[2] http://www.christianpost.com/news/over-15000-jihadists-from-80-countries-flooding-in-to-fight-for-isis-un-reveals-128942/

[3] http://www.mintpressnews.com/time-of-looking-away-over-germany-warns-saudi-arabia-to-stop-funding-radical-islamists/211859/

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/barack-obama-saudi-arabia-us-foreign-policy-syria-jihadism-isis-a6927646.html.

[5] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Government:_Governance_of_the_Jurist.

[6] Represented today by GA Sistani in Najaf and upholds the belief of the 12 Imams. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twelve_Imams

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustafa_Kemal_Atat%C3%BCrk

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamal_Abdel_Nasser

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mujahideen

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_Student_Followers_of_the_Imam%27s_Line

[11] Under dictators, religion soon represents the country’s only ideology, even in non-Muslim countries.

[12] The poor and the illiterate hold the belief that the Islamists will save them from their misery.

 

[13] This was very clear in Libya. Through the interference of Qatar, the pro-Qatar Islamists managed to take over the rebel forces, especially when the General Commander was assassinated. General Abdul Fattah Younis was assassinated by pro-Qatar armed groups to clear the way for the Islamists to take full control of the rebel forces. It is also of importance to note that many of the leading Islamist figures controlling the Libyan rebel forces have participated on the side of Al-Qaeda in Iraq before moving to Libya. In both cases (Iraq and Libya) Qatar supported the insurgency. After all these years, the political picture in Libya is still developing.

[14] http://www.newenglishreview.org/blog_direct_link.cfm/blog_id/62419/The-Unintended-Consequences-of-Specific-Policies-in-the-Middle-East.

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISIL_beheading_incidents.

[16] All minorities suffered from ISIL, Yazidi, Christians, Dorus, Kurds…etc.

[17] https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/9539/erdogan-youth-army.

 

The Near East: Reflections on possible Geopolitical Futures

SAMIR YOUSIF 14 January 2013, First Published in Open Democracy.

On December 30, 2012 the Iraqi Prime Minister openly accused Turkey of plotting to divide Iraq into three states. But what might be the unintended consequences of any such division?

The Turkish-Qatari axis played a critical role in the escalating conflict leading to a state of civil war in Syria. Today the same axis is influencing internal forces in Iraq with the aim of establishing a new Free Army and starting an internal conflict. What Turkey has not fully understood is the special peculiarities in the composition of Iraqi society which are completely different from those of Syria. In Syria the Arab Sunni Muslims represent around 65% of the total population, while the rest of the population are Allawites, Shi’a Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Christian  Armenians, Circassians, Sunni Kurds, and Druze. The composition of Iraqi society is the opposite. The majority of Iraqi society is composed of Shi’a Muslims, while the Sunni are a minority, as are the Kurds.

The state of Iraq is represented by 18 counties (governorates) and the Sunnis are the majority in only three of these 18 counties – as well as the Kurds – mostly Sunni Kurds with Shi’a Kurds living to the North East of Iraq. So the middle of Iraq as well as the south is mainly composed of Shi’a, while the west of Iraq is inhabited by its Sunni population, and the North of Iraq is Kurdish. In addition to these main sects, other indigenous ethnic minorities have also existed in Iraq since its beginnings as a state.

The picture gets further complicated as we examine the countries that surround Iraq. Iraq is surrounded by Turkey to the North, Iran to the East, Syria and Jordan to the West, and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to the South.

Unintended consequences

The interference of the Turkish-Qatari axis in the internal affairs of Iraq may have hugely far-reaching consequences. First the pillar that this Axis rests on is the Arab Sunni sect. This sect lost control of Iraq as a result of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The political horizon of this sect is still limited to a return to the past. This is the root of a great dilemma as the ‘politicians’ representing this sect cannot live with the present as presently constituted. All their efforts and actions are directed towards gaining back their lost authority. This tendency prevailing within this sect receives unlimited support from neighbouring Sunni countries. Turkey has made its support to the Iraqi Sunni minority no secret as Turkey’s Prime Minister issues, from time to time, clear statements supporting the Sunnis, beside his open attacks on the Shi’a-dominated Government of Iraq.

What are the options open to the Iraqi Shi’s majority as they face serious confrontation from the Sunni minority backed by the Turkish-Qatari axis?

The answer will depend on the nature of these threats. If these confrontations escalate and represent a permanent threat, then the option of dividing Iraq will become a reality, since the three main social components of Iraq would no longer be able to co-exist. The establishment of a Kurdish State in the North of Iraq will have further knock-on effects in relation to Turkey. If this ever happens then the Kurds in Turkey will have enough reason to declare their independence and merge with the Kurds in the North of Iraq. Such a development will push Turkey towards an attempt to annex the North of Iraq and put an end to the Kurdish rebellion.

Across the border but to the East of the Kurdish State in the North of Iraq, the Iranian Kurds will be in a helpless predicament. Any movement from their side will lead to an overall Iranian military involvement. A Turkish annexation of the Kurdish State in Iraq might well be supported by Iran. And this annexation would end the dreams of the Kurdish movement in Iran.

The three governorates in the west of Iraq could establish an independent Sunni State. But what are the options lying before such a Sunni state? If the civil war in Syria leads to the establishment of an Islamic state run by the Muslim Brotherhood, then the Sunni state in the west of Iraq has the opportunity to merge with a newly-established Syrian Islamic state. The other alternative is to merge with Jordan. Otherwise, it is hard to see how the Sunnis in Iraq could establish an economically viable state.

The future of the Shi’a majority

But by far the most controversial of these futures is that relating to Iraq’s Shi’a majority. The establishment of a Shi’a state in the middle and south of Iraq will lead to significant and far-reaching geopolitical consequences. For this state will possesses one of the largest oil reserves in the world. And at the same time it is located next to another Shi’a state – that is Iran.

Any newly-established Shi’a state will have the following options. It is economically viable and can stay independent. This option will be the most likely scenario, especially if this state is not confronted by Sunni threats and conspiracies. Practically, and taking into consideration the prevailing regional axes and Turkish/Arab Sunni ambitions, the most logical conclusion would be a merger between a newly-established Shi’a state in Iraq and Iran. Although this conclusion is the opposite of what Turkey desires, it is the most logical conclusion given the continuous confrontations and conspiracies that have been and are being directed at the Shi’a in Iraq.

Such a scenario will turn Iran into a regional superpower controlling huge oil and gas reserves and moving very close to Israel. This development will create the need for entirely new balance of power calculations.

But, whether the Shi’a in Iraq will remain independent, or merge with Iran, a simple calculation can show that Iran under both scenarios is the real winner. This is basically the most important unintended consequence of Turkish sectarian involvement in Iraq.

The Failure of Democracy under Islamism

SAMIR YOUSIF 7 September 2012, first published in Open Democracy.

It all started in Tunisia, and is ending in Tunisia: the Arab Spring turning into a bad winter. The young revolted while the old reaped the benefits. But what has actually gone wrong? The uncontrolled, unorganized young masses went in peaceful demonstrations challenging the well-established dictator. Their demands were simple: a better life, and a better future. Their demands never had a religious dimension. No one ever demanded a return to Sharia. On the contrary, the demands were secular and liberal in their nature. They demanded a real democracy, an end to corruption and a fair economic establishment.

Then Islamists suddenly popped up, taking over and harvesting the fruits of the Revolution. These unexpected developments sent shock waves all over the region. Who are the Islamists and what was their origin? To understand this, you need to grasp the consequences of the cultural differences that have existed between Europe and the Arab / Muslim countries and their impact on the practice of democracy.

A prelude to democracy

Michael Mandelbaum once explained the difference between Eastern Europe and the Arab countries: “there are two big differences between Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Many Eastern European countries had a recent liberal past to fall back on-after artificially imposed Soviet Communism was removed. And Eastern Europe also had a compelling model and magnet for free market democracy right next door: the European Union. Most of the Arab Muslim world has neither, so when the iron lid of autocracy comes off they fall back, not on liberalism, but Islamism, sectarianism, tribalism, or military rule.”[1]

But, while I agree with Michael Mandelbaum’s analysis, I believe he jumped over the most important factor. In western Europe liberalism prevailed centuries after the defeat of the church and the spread of the revolutionary ideas of Martin Luther (1483-1546), John Calvin (1509-1564) and others. That has not happened yet in the Muslim world. On the contrary, the liberal demonstrations of the young generations in search for dignity, justice and freedom took place at a time when Muslim religion in its fundamental version was not only the strongest prevailing ideology in society, but practically the only one. [2]

This has produced disequilibrium in the political order in such societies. Modernity, civil institutions, equality, liberal thinking, and women’s rights, are all alien to fundamental and traditional Islamic values and are categorically rejected. The political values of Islam under the principle of shura are contradictory with the values of liberal democracy and both ideologies cannot co-exist. What is required in Muslim countries is not the political reform process many have espoused, but rather a radical reform within religion itself.

Modern Islamism

After the First World War the political picture prevailing throughout the Middle East and the Muslim World was characterized by secular and nationalist political movements. The reaction to the defeat and disintegration of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War was not only visible in Turkey with Ataturk overtaking power and turning Turkey into a modern secular state, but also throughout the Ottoman colonies, especially the Arab Middle East where the trend to move away from the Islamic Caliphate was overriding. During the period of independence from classical colonialism, religion was nearly absent and played no part in such movements. This was valid not only for Muslim Middle East countries, but also for countries in both continents in Asia as well as Africa. Third world independent movements were guided by national political parties and strongly backed by the Eastern Block. Communism and different Marxist groups played central roles in the independence movements after the Second World War. Take a well-known example from the Middle East: Egypt under Jamal Abdul Nasser.

In 1952 a young army officer called Jamal Abdul Nasser managed to take power in Cairo after a successful military coup. The ideology adopted by Nasser was that of “Pan Arabism” strongly backed by a socialist agenda. Later his ideology was known as “Arab Socialism”. His message was addressed to all Arabs throughout the Middle East. He used the struggle against imperialism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as his central theme of focus and a main tool for spreading his propaganda.

During the 1950’s and the 1960’s Jamal Abdul Nasser and the ideology of Arab Socialism monopolized the political arena in the Middle East. Military takeovers took places in different Arab countries following the guidelines of Nasser. Iraq, Yemen, Syria , Sudan, Mauritania and Libya are good examples of that legacy. The same picture continued after the 6-Day War of 1967. The different Palestinian groups were either nationalist, like Fatah, or Marxist-oriented organizations.

This picture of national plus leftist groups dominated the Third-World Liberation spectrum. Rebel organizations in different countries also adopted one form of Marxism as their official ideology. A religious man had no place within such circumstances for he was considered to be backward, uneducated and was despised by the elite, and by the politically-motivated masses.

In the Third World Marxism became the modern stream of “scientific” thinking and it was the most popular expanding ideology. This phenomenon represented the main challenge to western Europe and the US during the post-Second World War Cold War.

I believe that both the US and western Europe encouraged religious centers and movements in both Asia and Africa as part of the imperatives of the Cold War. Religion was one of the main tools against the spread of Communism. It was under such circumstances that Grand Ayatollah Khomeini declared his revolt against the Shah of Iran [3] at the end of the 1970’s. This declaration marked the birth of modern Islamism.[4] The success of the Khomeini Revolution in Iran was followed by several attempts to ‘export’ the Revolution leading to the 8-year long Iraq-Iran war. Across the borders and into Afghanistan, the Soviet occupation was fighting fierce guerilla warfare with the Mujahedeen [5] The international balance of power faced serious disequilibrium in that area. Grand Ayatollah Khomeini and his Islamic Revolution received high levels of international publicity. Later political developments increased the attention to the Islamic Revolution such as the occupation of the American Embassy in Tehran [6]. All these developments gave great publicity to a Shiite version of Islam at a time when this sect represented less than 20% of the total Muslims worldwide, while the rest were Sunni Muslims.

The success of Shiite Muslims in Iran pushed to the limits Sunni Muslim traditional organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MBH) and led to the formation of new movements, especially the Sunni fundamentalist groups. Fierce competition between the Shiite and Sunni groups continued throughout this process. Regional conflicts further increased the formation and development of such groups as was seen during the Lebanese civil war, in Chechnya and the civil war in the Baltic caused by the dismantling of Socialist Yugoslavia. But the world had to wait until September 11, 2001 to witness the reply of Sunni Muslims to Grand Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolution of the late 1970’s.

Sunni Islamic groups and organizations were formed in all Arab countries and were banned in one way or another. The suppression of these well-organized groups during the late part of the twentieth century in countries suffering from high levels of corruption and political mismanagement provided some popularity for these groups. Islam is the Solution was the slogan of these groups that spread strongly throughout the poor classes of society. The general political atmosphere during the last decades of the twentieth century excluded the participation of Islamism, and prevented them from taking power, as happened in Algeria. This exclusion further strengthened such groups and increased their popularity. Islamism had to move underground and to wait until the arrival of the Arab Spring.

Role of the Conservative Arabs

During the demonstrations and in a hidden and unpublicized way, Qatar [7] managed to be part of the Arab Spring [8]. The Qatari Al-Jazeera Satellite TV paved the way. The significant financial support that came from Qatar to the well-organized Islamists guaranteed it a permanent seat in the newly evolving power centre. While the youth were engaged in bringing down the regime, the Islamists were planning to take full advantage of the outcomes of regime change.

To achieve that, they used the financial support that was coming from Qatar, exactly as Qatar had planned. Through such ‘investments’ Qatar is expanding its influence beyond its borders, and it is benefiting considerably from such developments[9]. From the other side, it is noted that the newly evolving system in Tunis was unaware of such developments. The Islamist Leader Rachid Ghannouchi dismissed any plans to participate in the coming elections as he landed in Tunis Airport coming from London. By saying that, he succeeded in distracting attention away from the Islamists and their plans in the upcoming elections. The legal system of the countries facing regime-change lacks important aspects of proper electoral systems. Proper legislation should be in-place before elections take place. Such legislation should include a Political Parties Law that governs the process of elections and specifies the sources of financial support. This” legal gap” in the system was fully utilized by both Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Thses developments produced adverse effects and consequences that have changed the course of direction of the Arab Spring. By doing that, Qatar managed to introduce its conservative Islamic political agenda that provides support to specific political groups in Tunis and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa. The same applies to Saudi Arabia and its Al-Arabiya Satellite TV. The fundamentalists have increased their strength, making use of this huge financial support. This development will have serious consequences on the evolution of the Tunisian political system.

The success of the Islamists has alienated other segments in society that once played the leading role in the Arab Spring. These segments are representatives of the middle classes, and their role in society is vital for the success of the political process. The struggle between these two groups is very fierce. In Tunis, the strategy of the Islamists is to write the Constitution according to their agenda (Sharia) in order to ensure their continuation in monopolizing future elections. The middle classes and the young generations have shown great concern regarding the agenda of political Islam. Any introduction of Sharia shall represent a serious step backwards for society and further deterioration in living standards. Similar developments are taking place in Egypt. The Constitution Committee is dominated by Islamists.

For Tunisia what can political Islam achieve? The share of the service sector in the Tunisian economy is over 60% (2007), while the share of the industrial sector is around 25% and finally the share of the agricultural sector is just around 11%. Such figures should not be surprising in such a developing country that is located on the shores of the Mediterranean that suffers greatly from the absence of a fresh water source (river) and depends mainly on rain and high-cost underground water. These figures indicate the importance of tourism to the daily lives of the Tunisian population. Any interference by political Islam in the service sector will be catastrophic, and will aggravate the unemployment problem [10]. Now the aim of the Islamist Government of Tunisia is to pretend that everything in the country is back to normal and that tourism and foreign investment can return as it was before the Revolution. The agenda of political Islam provides no substnatial alternative vision or guidance in overcoming the daily challenges of unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment. Corruption is spreading as the fear from the state has vanished, and the ordinary man in the street has started to learn how to play the political game.

The election success of the Islamists in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere is not an indication of their popularity, but rather a result of a combination of factors. The most important are the Islamists’ full mobilization, the significant financial support received from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the general low  public participation in the 2011 elections, the existence of high levels of illiteracy and poverty [11],and most important of all, corrupted capitalism [12]. All these factors combined explain why the Islamists won the majority of the seats [13]. All the supporters of the Islamists participated 100% in the elections while the secular parties had no influence over their supporters. Democracy presumes the existence of political and social awareness and not widespread illiteracy and ignorance. Yet in Egypt, for example, the poor and illiterate represent around 40% of the population. What kind of free elections can be held under such circumstances?

The core problem leading to what is known as the Arab Spring in Tunis was the situation produced by the Structural Adjustment process that started in 1986 under the pressure of the World Bank. In many cases the application of specific criteria taken from highly industrialized countries and applied to developing countries like Tunisia (and Egypt) leads to a breaking down of the social fabric and disequilibrium in the political system. In order to move towards a ‘free market’, the government started dismantling the large public sector through a process well-known as ‘privatization’. In developing countries and due to existing social institutions (like nepotism) and prevailing cultures (which are absent in Industrialized countries) , the privatization process leads to few hands owning the majority of the sectors sold off in this way. Usually the new owners are members of the ruling family and other relatives of the government.  In Tunis the family of Ben Ali, and the close relatives of his wife, became the new owners of the most important newly-privatized companies. Corruption became “open” and overall. This development represented a serious setback to government efforts in combating poverty and reducing unemployment as the move away from the public sector aggravated the unemployment problem significantly. Corruption and unemployment [14] were the main factors behind the popular uprising that produced the Arab Spring in both Tunisia and Egypt and also the main factors behind the political upheavals in Libya and Yemen.

Today the Islamists after forming the Government in Tunisia and Egypt are facing the real test. They face real and serious economic issues as well as the social and political consequences of enacting religious-oriented laws in a country that enjoyed secular relationships for over a century.  The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for example, find themselves in a trap. The Egyptian-Israeli Treaty, foreign investment, unemployment, freedom of speech and religion and so many other real economic, political, and social issues are awaiting clear answers. If the ‘status quo’ continues, the Muslim Brotherhood using Egypt’s national interests as a scapegoat, then the Egyptian Revolution that led to the fall of Mubarak’s regime will have been reduced to nought.

[1] Islamism is the ideology of Political Islam, and the Principle of SHURA sets the political order of governance in a Muslim country.

[2] See Friedman, Thomas, L., “There be dragons”, International Herald Tribune, 1.03.2012, p.7.

[3] Under dictators, religion soon represents the country’s only ideology, even in non-Muslim countries.

[4] As a result of the end of the Cold War, the Khomeini regime in Iran lost the grounds for its survival; the regime is simply no longer needed. The US containment policies and isolation imposed on Iran will ultimately make Iran a regional superpower. The regime uses the US ‘threat’ to strengthen its grip internally, and to devote further resources to the military industries. It is time for the US to adopt a policy change towards Iran. A positive dialogue will weaken the extremist and strengthen the moderates. This policy change will enable the US to have a developing influence and a stronger leverage.

[5] Sayed Qutub explicitly rejected western type democracy, considering it alien to Muslim Rule. A Muslim political order calls only for the Caliphate to consult some of the ruled as defined in the principle of Shura.

[6] See Yousif, S., Apartheid Under the Mandate of Islam, New English Review, July 2011.

[7] See Yousif, S., The Downfall of Political Islam, New English Review, Dec 2010.

[8] Paradoxically, Qatar and Al-Jazeera Satellite TV pushes strongly for political reforms in specific Arab countries, while Qatar itself is a non-democratic country and should be with Saudi Arabia the first to adopt such reforms.

[9] This was very clear in Libya. Through the interference of Qatar, the pro-Qatar Islamists managed to take over the rebel forces, especially when the General Commander was assassinated. General Abdul Fattah Younis was assassinated by pro-Qatar armed groups to clear the way for the Islamists to take full control of the rebel forces. It is also of importance to note that many of the leading Islamist figures controlling the Libyan rebel forces have participated on the side of Al-Qaeda in Iraq before moving to Libya. In both cases (Iraq and Libya) Qatar supported the insurgency.

[10] As soon as the civil war in Libya was over, a Qatar-Libyan Oil Company was established. Also, the role of Qatar in supporting the Eritrean dictator is downgraded in the media although this dictator is the main supporter of the Al-Shabab movement in Somalia.

[11] Political Islam has already spread its politics in Tunisia, where the new Islamist Cultural Minister has introduced his own understanding of arts and entertainment.

[12] The poor and the illiterate hold the belief that the Islamists will save them from their misery.

[13] The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in developing countries . These policy changes are conditions for getting new loans from such financial institutions. These conditions are implemented to ensure that the money lent will be spent in accordance with the overall goals of the loan. Through the implementation of the afore-mentioned conditions, Structural Adjustment Programs generally implement ‘free market’ programs and policy.

[14] In Tunis the poorer classes suffered greatly from unemployment, whereas corruption was directed at the middle classes. Without the support of the middle classes the uprising of December 2010 would have had no chance of winning.

After the Liberation of Mosul

by Samir Yousif[1] Published in New English Review (December 2016)

The “Islamic State” is nothing but a paper tiger. That is the summary of the one month war between the Iraqi Army and ISIL in the north of Iraq. The strength of the terrorists was demonstrated, with no mercy, against women and children and other civilians. The population in areas taken by ISIL, two years ago, were simply taken by surprise. The barbarous methods employed by ISIL against the Yazidi community, the Christians, Shabak, Shia Turkmans[2], Kurds and even Arab Sunnis shocked the whole world. Out-of-date practices of Muslims were re-introduced such as enslaving of women (Sabaya= Slaves) and men, punishments based upon Islamic Sharia (cutting of hands and necks), burning POW alive, and stoning of women. Homosexuals were simply thrown from high buildings[3]– following the relevant Quranic verses[4]. In addition, ISIL managed to be innovative in the sense that it introduced new concepts such as Jihad Al-Nukah (women offering sex to the fighters after paper work with the presence of an ISIL clerk for one hour each)[5].

The Iraqi military units easily penetrated the areas controlled by ISIL and that represented a surprise to western observers as they expected a fierce battle. Such issues are outside the scope of this paper and will not be discussed further. The very purpose of this paper is to discuss the political implications of ISIL’s defeat on the balance of power inside Iraq – for sure the external implications may even be of greater value as such defeat can’t be isolated from other regional conflicts[6].

The Aftermath of 2003

Since 2003, large segments of the Sunni sect in Iraq felt alienated, and became part of external agendas and adopted hard line and extreme political views[7]. Other Sunnis were moderate and positive in dealing with the new realities. The hard-line Sunnis did everything to move history back but failed[8]. Today a clear division can be seen between the two groups of Sunnis.

The hard-line Sunnis faced with a historic defeat of ISIL called for an All-Sunni Summit in Jordan on Friday 25 Nov 2016. The very purpose of this Summit was to unite the various Sunnis factions and to have a common perspective for the next step. Regional involvement was very evident as players like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have different and sometimes conflicting agendas. The Summit was a complete failure[9] as Khamis Khanger[10] wanted to preside over the Summit. The moderate Sunnis rejected all that was proposed by the extremists from one hand, and from the other, the extremists themselves failed to agree between themselves.

The Sunni Province Scenario

The extremist’s solution was for the establishment of a Western Province, similar to the Kurdish one in the North of Iraq. The next issue on the agenda was: who is going to run this newly-established province? The various factions failed to agree. This failure to agree is not unique to the Sunnis as the Kurds for decades have never reached an agreement on how to run their province. The Kurdish experience indicated the difficulties in running a semi-autonomous entity with the absence of mature central authority and well-developed regional state organs. The Kurdish Leader Masood Barazani who presided over the Kurdish Province for nearly three decades became an absolute dictator. His family controls all the main titles and the head of the regional Kurdish government is his nephew. With the absence of transparency, millions of dollars disappeared from the province’s budget. No trace was ever found. To strengthen his hegemony, Barazani put a hold on all the democratic institutions in the province turning it to an absolute dictatorship. As his term of office expired, he rejected to leave the office and continued as the Head of the Province for an indefinite period.

The relationship between the province and the Central Government of Baghdad was very negative and the Kurdish province behaved as a hostile state. There were many examples of the forces of the province firing at the Iraqi Federal forces. In addition, the province prevented the enforcement of Iraqi law within its boundaries.

Today, the Kurdish Province is dismantling itself. Sulaymania[11] and Dahouk are planning to move back to the Central Government and break up with the province. The situation in Iraq is very complicated and no clear way ahead can be expected.

Establishing a Western Province for the Sunnis, although it looks as if it provides the only exit from the present deadlock, represents no permanent solution. On the contrary, many analysts indicate that the security situation and overall stability will be compromised as the Western province will prepare for a civil war to regain thee control of Baghdad[12]. In addition, the other components of the Iraqi society oppose such steps as they consider establishing new provinces to represent another step towards dividing Iraq into three countries.

The establishment of a Western Province for the Sunnis will lead to establishing another province for the Shia. Influential Shia will move ahead in establishing a province that includes central and south of Iraq. Such provinces will exhibit similar problems as did the Kurdish Province. Few strong and influential war lords will monopolies and run the Province. All signs of democracy will vanish.

An Alternative Scenario

The moderate Sunnis who are positively participating in the present political process in Iraq have a completely different solution, as do the Shia and Kurd moderates. Hard-liners on all sides make co-existence between the different components of the Iraqi society an impossibility that suggest separate provinces as the only way forward.

The other available option is for the moderates from all components of the Iraqi Society to form a national unity government: a government that is homogenous within itself. The moderates are national Iraqis and they don’t follow any foreign agenda – whether an Iranian agenda or a Saudi agenda.

This alternative scenario is not a theoretical hypothesis but to the contrary a real option available before Iraq. What makes this option closer to reality than the Western Province scenario is the support that it is receiving from Najaf (the main religious center). GA Sistani, well-known to his moderation, considers establishing a Western province as a last resort, and a heavy price to be paid.

A national unity government composed of moderates from all sides implies moving ahead in strengthening the establishment of a modern non-religious State. As the state moves away from the influence of Political Islam, sectarian and racial conflicts will gradually wither away.

As was stated above, the core of our argument, blames not only a specific sect (the Sunnis) for the instability in Iraq during the last decade, but rather the central government that is composed of hard-liners.

 


[1] Samir Yousif is a graduate of the London School of Economics (1976) and has worked in different sectors in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Bahrain, and in Europe. He worked as a professor in economics (1986-1994) at the University of al-Qadisiyah (Iraq), and at the University of Al-Fateh (1994-1996) in Tripoli, Libya. Mr. Yousif is a Norwegian Citizen, at the present living in the city of Stavanger, Norway.

[2] It should be noted that the bulk of the leadership of ISIL were Sunni Turkmans indicating a very close connection with Erdogan.

[4] There are many references documenting the atrocities and violation of human rights of the Islamic State, see for example: enslaving women and selling them, real pictures:  http://youtu.be/w92_qxwlT9g, also, raping of women, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtkSo6nkO8M, and http://youtu.be/_-vhnMi20CI.

[5] Jihad Al-Nikah was first introduced by Tunisian women, and later became a common practice. Each woman has to make sex with as many men as possible every day. First ISIL prevented women from using contraceptives and considered it to be forbidden (Haram), but due to pregnancies, they allowed the use of the pill. See, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_jihad, and also, https://www.jihadwatch.org/2015/09/islamic-state-quran-says-women-who-engage-in-sexual-jihad-will-gain-paradise

[6] For example, the Syrian and Libyan civil wars.

[7] They invited ISIL to Iraq see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6vMon7iYBY.

[8] They invited Al-Qaeda terrorist organization into Iraq, and later ISIL.

[10] Khamis Khanger is a businessman well-trusted by the dictator Saddam Hussein. With the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Khamis Khanger took over the huge investments entrusted to him by the regime. With huge wealth under his disposal he started financing the Sunni insurgency inside Iraq. Khamis Khanger from Amman, runs his agenda.

[11] Sulaymania is run by the rival Kurdish party as well as Dahouk.

[12] With the liberation of Iraq by the US forces in 2003, the rule of the Sunnis that lasted 1400 years, was over. Since then, thee Sunnis have tried every possible way to regain control of Baghdad. As long as they have not achieved that goal, we should expect instability and insurgency.

 

Apartheid Under the Mandate of Islam: The Case of Bahrain

Samir Yousif

Republishing this article came as a result of the following Report by Human Rights:

Amnesty: UK ‘utterly disingenuous’ about human rights in Bahrain, in the following link:https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/21/amnesty-uk-utterly-disingenuous-about-human-rights-in-bahrain

First published in the New Ebglish Review, July 2011.
Introduction

The Article: How Radical are Bahrain’s Shia? published by FOREIGN AFFAIRS[1] came across my desk. The author, Justin Gengler, clearly managed to reveal the true inner picture of the crisis in Bahrain. I was impressed by his conclusions, and consequently decided to go ahead in writing this paper. The case of Bahrain is unquestionably, an example of the existence of a well-developed Apartheid Regime.[2] This kind of regime was never alien to this area, and it has been practiced for decades, if not for the whole history of Islam, against specific groups of Muslims and non-Muslims. Since the very first days of the Muslim State, discrimination in different forms was practiced on religious and non-religious grounds (Muslims, non-Muslims, gender, and social status).  The originators of the present-day Apartheid Regime are the Saudi Wahhabi, and to a smaller or a larger extent, it has been applied in several Middle East countries. The victims are usually one or more of the various indigenous ethnic communities.

Original Islamic States practised discrimination by definition. The current article deals with present-day discrimination, which is Wahhabi-originated. Original Islamic systems differentiated significantly between its own citizens, and between Muslims themselves. Al-Ansar Wa Al-Muhagereen (The Migranters & Supporters) became a special class during early Islamic Rule. Later they represented the vested interest (using present-day terminology), which fought fiercely against the Fourth Khalifa (Ali Bn Abu Talib) when he tried to abolish discrimination between Muslims themselves, but kept discrimination against the non-Muslims and the slaves. Discrimination was legalised against Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims, but also against women and slaves.

The rulers of these Apartheid Regimes were convinced that any change in the status quo will ultimately lead to their departure from the throne. To stay in power, they practised all kinds of discrimination and ethnic cleansing. The presence of the British troops, and later the Americans, unwittingly enhanced such discrimination, and made it a fact of everyday life.

The recent, and surprising, Arab Spring poses a direct threat to such regimes, and cannot be tolerated by them. Ethnic cleansing is integral to all apartheid regimes, and it has been practiced by the Al-Khalifa Government of Bahrain as this paper will discuss later. The victims of such regimes are always the forgotten indigenous population who believe in a different understanding of the same religion.
Al-Khalifa Family

It comes to the surprise of many that the ruling family in Bahrain has no Bahraini origins. The implantation of the Khalifa family in Bahrain was a careful decision taken by the British colonial power.[3] Maybe this decision was made on strategic grounds; to create a permanent divide between the two sides of the Persian Gulf, Shia on one side facing Sunni on the other. But regarding this particular issue, I would argue differently. World War I created conditions that brought Great Britain to the Near East, and the Persian Gulf. During Britain’s postwar administration of Iraq, Shia religious leaders called for Jihad against the British army, and issued several Fatwa’s for this purpose. That fact put the Shia on the wrong side of the equation. It was a strategic mistake committed by these short-sighted leaders. The Sunni were just waiting for this to happen. It was very natural that the British would bring the Sunni to the throne. This short story applies to both Iraq and Bahrain equally. The Shia lost the game, and came to realise that when it was too late. The religious leaders never admitted their error, and never accepted the consequences of this historic mistake, made against their own people. What caused the Shia in Bahrain to become second class citizens was the unwillingness of their leaders to cooperate with the British Colonial power. The British needed cooperation with the locals, and the Sunni were very ready to provide for this.

The eastern parts of Saudi Arabia are dominated by Shia tribes. The natural extensions of these tribes cover the Island of Bahrain. This fact may be another reason behind selecting the Al-Khalifa family to rule this Island. To have Bahrain run by Shia might have led to unexpected regional developments that could have complicated  British interests in the Gulf.

Writers like Shirin Sadeghi[4] limit the explanation to the need to preserve specific Western interests. Using Shirin’s own words: “The so-called sectarian divide of Bahrain is a manipulative simplification of a far greater divide: that of the colonially-installed government that has no connection with or compassion for the people of Bahrain. The Saudis are there to preserve Anglo-American power- as they do in Saudi Arabia. They are Sunni. The people they rule over are primarily Shiite.” Even if we agree with the logic of Shirin Sadeghi,[5] still there are issues that challenge the validity of her argument.

The Shia in the Middle East never posed a threat to Western interests, especially before the Khomeini Revolution in Iran during the late 1970’s. To the contrary, the Shah of Iran was the closest ally to the USA, and Western Europe during the Cold War. One can further argue that the relationships that existed between Pahlavi’s Iran and the West were much stronger than that between the West and Saudi Arabia.

One of the arguments used to justify the free stay of Grand Ayatollah Khomeini in Europe during 1970’s, and his enhanced control and guidance of the revolution against the Shah, relates to the special circumstances of the Cold War. One theory goes on to claim that Khomeini had the indirect support of the USA in bringing down the Shah, and replacing it with an Ultra-Right-Wing religious regime that guaranteed the defeat and total liquidation of the Communist Part of Iran. Such a regime ended the hopes of the Soviet Union in ever approaching the Warm Waters of the Gulf.[6] This theory received strong support in light of the (temporary) success of the Communists in taking over Afghanistan in April 1978, and opening the doors in December 1979 for the Soviet Army. The Soviet presence in Afghanistan caused a total disequilibrium in the Balance of Power in the area.

But the collapse of the Berlin Wall in Nov 1989 changed international priorities, the Balance of Power, and made the Khomeini Regime no longer desirable or needed. It is this last development that influences the current events in Bahrain.
Elements of Apartheid in Bahrain

The success of Khomeini in taking power in Iran at the end of the 1970’s, and its attempts to “export” The Islamic Revolution to neighbouring Arab countries sent deep shocks to the existing political and social fabric in the Middle East. Members of Shia communities were accused of responding to such calls originating from Iran, and had to pay a high price. Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain represent good examples. But discrimination against the Shia in Iraq never developed into such an aparteid regime as it did in Bahrain and even Saudi Arabia. The Al-Khalifa family implemented clear policies that aimed at making the indigenous Shia population powerless politically, and barred them from having any important public office. The following summarises their well-articulated programme:

First. Shia were not allowed to assume a job in the Ministry of Interior (police, security, secret services..etc), nor in the Army (including the navy, air Force..etc). At the same time, the government secured these jobs to “loyal” Sunnis (most of them foreigners). By doing that the Bahraini government followed strictly the path of other apartheid regimes. It seems that this is a basic feature of apartheid: locals are not trusted by the system, but foreigners are. From the recent demonstrations in Bahrain one can learn that the security forces that were sent to crush the demonstrations were very indoctrinated, and brain-washed to become very anti-Shia. Foreign reports indicated how the security forces were treating the Shia as though they were not considered to be human beings, and that included the heath personal that treated the injured. The UN accused Bahrain of breaking International Law when the Bahraini Police stormed a hospital and arrested the Medical staff. The Medical Staff was subject to torture.

Second. Government Special Immigration Policy. Al-Khalifa tried to change the composition and the different percentages of the components of the Bahraini population. This policy is not alien to other apartheid regimes. Ethnic cleansing is practiced in different forms. Guaranteed Sunnis were imported from different countries (like Pakistan, and some Arab countries like Syria and Iraq) to serve with the government, and to increase the numbers of the Sunni minority. They were made aware of the purpose of importing them and granting them the Bahraini Nationality. They exhibit a very hostile attitude to the local majority becasue they have been informed that the Shia will send them back if they ever take power.[7]

Third. Through economic and commercial blockage, the Al-Khalifa family aimed at starving or at least keeping the indigenous Shia population very poor.[8] They believed that this policy, in the long term, will eventually lead to a reduction in the total Shia population, while increasing the favoured Sunni Minority.

Fourth. Contrary to what the Shia majority were facing throughout the years, the Al-Khalifa family were very generous with the Sunni minority. Free houses were allocated to both the Sunni Minority, and the Sunni immigrants. Other commercial measures “Sunni-Favoured” were introduced.[9] The aim was to create a “vested interest,” a new powerful class that runs the economy independent from the State. It is due to this fact that the Shia suffered from very high rates of unemployment. Both the State and the economy offered them no jobs. The workers were imported from Pakistan, India, Philippines, Indonesia and other Asian countries, while high qualified Europeans were treated as expatriates. As for the indigenous Shia they had no where to go to.

When the Shia-led demonstrations[10] started in Bahrain as a continuation of the Arab Spring, the Bahraini government claimed that it was part of an Iranian plot and called for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to send its troops to defend Bahrain against an imminent Iranian invasion. The whole government argument is baseless as the American 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain. Therefore, the real aim of the Saudi-led troops was very clear. The demonstrations were crushed, leaders of the opposition were arrested[11] (many of them died in prison from torture), religious places belonging to the opposition were destroyed, students studying abroad had their scholarships cancelled, and government employees were fired. The situation became even worse than before. What is most interesting here is that fact that all this happened without any international condemnation. The Leaders of USA, Great Britain, France and Germany made no press statements as they did in the cases of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen.

There are no hopes of introducing any real political reforms in Bahrain without outside pressure. The only country that can play a positive role is the USA.[12]
The Deceptive Role of Mass Media

It is very interesting to discuss, in this very context, the role played by the mass media, specifically Al-Jazeera Satellite TV, during what is known today as the Arab Spring. Hillary Clinton[13] on Wednesday March 7th, 2011, commented on the important role played by al-Jazeera in providing direct coverage – compared to local American Channels – for both the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions.

Actually the picture is completely different when one tries to make a comparative study of the professionalism exhibited by Al-Jazeera on two specific recent cases. This comparative study will show how Al-Jazeera is un-professional in both its coverage, and focus. Relationships between Qatar and Libya (as well Syria), and Qatar and Bahrain are very different.[14]

As the situation in Libya during February 2011 started warming up, and the demonstrations became nation-wide, Al-Jazeera presented a situation where the Libyan dictator Kaddafi was about to collapse. According to the coverage of Al-Jazeera, change in Libya was imminent, and in a few hours the dictator would be overthrown. This false message encouraged Western leaders to make urgent calls based upon reactions to incorrect Al-Jazeera daily news. NATO got involved, and the UN Security Council intervened. According to Al-Jazeera coverage, a non-fly zone was required to overthrow Kaddafi. That was done, but Kaddafi was not overthrown.

Now after three months of NATO air strikes Kaddafi is still as powerful as before.[15] It is in Qatar’s national interest that Kaddafi disappear. Therefore, we find that Al-Jazeera exhausted its full powers to achieve, or cause a collapse of Kaddafi regime, and by doing that it implicated the whole world.

On the other side, we find that the role played by Al-Jazeera and Qatar during events of Bahrain do not coincide with its declared role of defending freedoms, human rights and liberty. The demonstrations, arrests, torture and killings were not covered by Al-Jazeera. To the contrary, Qatar sent its military troops to join in crushing the demonstrations in Bahrain, instead of helping them in gaining their legitimate rights.

Western journalists managed to register many of the terrible events that took place in Bahrain. No calls were made to help the demonstrators, or to provide them with military help as the case of Libya. The UN was not involved although the crimes committed in Bahrain were worse than Libya taking into consideration the fact that the demonstrators in Bahrain were unarmed. Barak Obama himself talking on May, 19th, referred to the situation in Bahrain,[16] and mentioned the destruction of Shia religious places by the Bahraini government. Such a crime did not take place in Libya, Syria, Egypt or Tunisia.

This is a live example showing how the mass media is pushing hard to defend an existing Apartheid regime.
Bahrain and Western Journalists

A number of Western correspondents managed to stay in Bahrain during the recent demonstrations. I have selected the following examples. Amir Madani writing in the HUFFPOST[17] on April 27th, 2011 referred to events in Bahrain as “modern tragedy” and quoted what Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times‘ most authoritative columnist, had to say: ”In Bahrain in recent weeks I’ve seen corpses of protestors who were shot at close range, seen a teenage girl writhing in pain after being clubbed, seen ambulance workers beaten for trying to rescue protestors- and in the last few days it has gotten much worse. Saudi Arabia, in a slap at American efforts to defuse the crisis, dispatched troops to Bahrain to help crush the protestors.” Kristof goes on to say that he spoke with another reporter on the field: “My New York Times colleague Michael Slackman was caught by Bahrain security forces a few weeks ago. He said they pointed shotguns at him and that he was afraid they were about to shoot when he pulled out his passport and shouted that he was an American journalist. He said the mood then changed abruptly and the leader of the group came over and took Mr. Slackman’s hand, saying warmly:” don’t worry! We love Americans!”. We are not after you, We’re after Shia, the policeman added. Mr. Slackman recalls:”It sounded like they were hunting rats.” And finally…

The Washington Post,[18] on May 10th, 2011, published the editorial “Applying pressure on Bahrain.” While the paper confirmed the arrests were “another ugly campaign of repression,” it made it clear that “there is no evidence that Tehran had anything to do with the mass protest or their secular, pro-democracy agenda. Those on trial are accused, implausibly, of having ties to “a terrorist organization abroad working for a foreign country.” As the afore-mentioned examples indicate, the attention was focused on the protestors, not on the regime that the protestors were trying to change.


[1] Justin Gengler, How Radical are Bahrain’s Shia? FOREIGN AFFAIRS, May 15, 2011.

[2] The crime of apartheid is defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” On 30 November 1973, the United NationsGeneral Assembly opened for signature and ratification the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (ICSPCA). It defined the crime of apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” See: United Nations (30 November 2006). “International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid”. Archived from the original on 1 October 2006. Retrieved 8 October 2006.

[3] In 1820, the Al Khalifa tribe came to power in Bahrain and entered a treaty relationship with Great Britain. This treaty granted the Al Khalifa the title of Rulers of Bahrain.

[4] Shirin Sadeghi, “The Fabrication of Bahrain’s Shiite-Sunni Divide,” HUFFPOST WORLD, March 16, 2011.

[5] In 1927, Rez? Sh?h demanded the return of Bahrain in a letter to the “League of Nations”. Britain believed that weakened domination over Bahrain would cause her to lose control all over the Persian Gulf, and decided to bring uprisings amongst the people of Bahrain under control at any cost. To achieve this they encouraged conflicts between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Bahrain.

[6] The Shah did not only face strong opposition to his throne, but actually he failed in containing them. As time went by, those political movements gained strength and popularity. The only hope of stopping a change to a Communist regime, as happened in Afghanistan April 1978, was the right-wing Grand Ayatollah Khomeini.

[7] This might explain why many demonstrators recently died under interrogation from torture.

[8] What is interesting is that such discrimination is practiced before the whole world without proper reaction. Add to that the presence of the American 5th Fleet in Bahrain did not change this picture.

[9] One of the famous examples was the land granting, and buy-back policy. The government offered pieces of free land to Sunnis, then bought them back at very high rates per meter. The aim of this policy was to create a rich Sunni class, and it did.

[10] Shia-Led demonstration against the Apartheid regime in Bahrain has a long history, and did not start in 2011.

[11] Ali Abdulemam is among the activists who disappeared. He was known for his call for personal liberties, and freedom of speech. He was the young man who inspired a whole generation.

[12] Foreign observers can assume that Bahrain successfully convinced the USA of not giving the its citizens their legitimate rights in order to contain the Iranian influence in the region.

[13] Hillary Clinton speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee referred to Al-Jazeera as providing “real news”.

[14] GCC countries are against both Libya, and Syria, but not Bahrain which is a member of the GCC.

[15] According to statements made by NATO  during May 2011only 98 tanks were destroyed after more than 2000 air strikes at a time when Qadafi possesses more than 2000 tanks.

[16] Obama delivered a speech, on May 19th, defining the role of the USA before the developing events of the Middle East. He mentioned Bahrain several times.

[17] Amir Madani, “Arabian spring:The Hidden Tragedy of Bahrain,” in HUFFPOST WORLD, April 27th, 2011.

[18] The Washington Post, “Applying pressure on Bahrain,” May 10th, 2011.

What Future Norway? Some Wild Thoughts

This article was first published in the Norwegian On-Line newspaper Dagsavisen-Nyemeninger 26 Feb 2014.

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The consequences of having a declining Norwegian oil sector

In this introductory paper, I wish to share some thoughts, to open the discussion and to see what alternatives are available to respond to such title as What Future Norway.

Actually I should start this paper by mentioning the fact that for Europe this year marks 100 years since the First World War. So much has taken place since then, but maybe the central issue has not been solved yet: the economic issue. The Great Depression in the industrialized World of the 1930’s pushed Hitler up the political stairs, while today the economic recession caused by the so-called “Financial Crisis” in the United States have strengthen (or created) theGolden Dawn in Greece, the Jobbik in Hungary and the National Front in France (in the UK the National Front rose strongly since the 1970’s).

The reasons behind addressing such issue as What Future Norway relates to the recent developments in the World Oil Market and its expected repercussions on Norway.

Norwegian companies with Advanced-Technical know-how have already migrated to China (in pursuit of profit maximization); endless examples are available, take ABB most advanced manufacturing facilities ABB Robotics at Bryne. This development implies that building hopes on encouraging manufacturing industry as a possible substitute to a declining oil sector are absent. Many other companies have exported their manufacturing premises to Asia, while keeping a nominal number of employees, at their main HQ in Europe.

I guess we cannot count the number of American and European manufacturing companies that closed their doors and re-opened in China. How many millions of unemployed workers in Europe and the USA do we have today because of that migration?

In the USA or Europe there is always the persistent question: was the Banking System behind the financial crisis, or more correctly was the mass unemployed caused by the migration phenomenon behind the Financial Crisis (the real side of the economy verses the nominal side)?

What are the consequences, these days, of having mass unemployment? What happens when people become unable to pay back their loans to the banks? What happens to the banking system when the banks are unable to reclaim their debts?

It is a well-known fact that manufacturing industry, regardless of how advance technology is, requires large numbers of workers. While the Distribution “Industry”(assuming we can call it an industry) compared to it, requires much less workers. The difference is the amount of unemployment created.

This is the picture today. The Manufacturing Industry is located in China, while the Distribution Industry is located in both Europe and the USA. Put it in different words, Europe and the USA are today the Warehouse of what is manufactured in China.

This is the new International division of labour. This new division of labour creates structural unemployment. In addition, this structural unemployment does not possess the traditional options, for all other manufacturing industries have also migrated to Asia and the rest will follow.

We can take Apple as a simple example. All the IPhones, IPads and the Laptops are made in China, while the main distribution chains are located in the USA and Europe. Chinese labour is engaged in the manufacturing process while the American labour is confined to the marketing and selling chain. The design of the products of Apple is still done in the USA, but the Chinese have already started learning how to design new products. Soon they will be entering the American and European market with their own high quality products at less than half the American or European prices. What then are the consequences? There are significant direct and indirect repercussions on the National economy of such development (which are outside the scope of this paper).

In the North Sea we have witnessed many cases when Oil Companies, in their pursuit for profit-maximization, place orders with low-cost Asian contractors. Low cost when examined from the perspective of the companies, but not from the National perspective. National Norwegian calculations will indicate that placing the order with Norwegian contractors is actually cheaper than Asian contractors (when you take into account the huge taxes paid by Norwegian contractors to the State) add to that the secondary activities created and the income generated (through the usual Multiplier Effect). There are many adverse consequences generated when one technician from the Oil Sector is out of his job. If the number increases then this will create a significant deficit in the National Budget with serious political consequences.

FrP’s agenda of reducing the size of the Public Sector is an additional serious challenge. You cannot fire people from the normal jobs and expect them to “change” their qualifications, over night, and become doctors or engineers. In most parts of Norway you cannot actually find a job opportunity. Most of these opportunities are state creation. The market is very limited and under such market circumstances “the invisible hand” will not function. You cannot initiate a commercial viable enterprise unless there is enough demand. And that condition is simply absent.

With the expansion of the EU towards the East, the movement of labour from East Europe is becoming an increasing challenge to the local available jobs. Manual jobs like carpenter /plumber /electricians / builders/Hair Dressers in general are taken up by East-European low-priced workers. Many Norwegian businesses could not simply compete when faced with competitors using such cheap foreign labour and had to close down, take as a good example the Hairdressing Saloons. Such developments do not only have present day consequences but rather long term. In addition to the manual jobs group, Norwegian Airlines have introduced a new variable into the equation. They are proposing to employ cheap foreign labour onboard their airlines. This implies that more potential jobs are closed before the eyes of the local worker. If other commercial enterprises follow after then the employment situation for the local working force will look very depressing.

The Norwegian traditional sectors, such as Fishing, when examined from the point of view of employment-generation capability is very limited, and provides no alternative for the employment option before the young generation.

The successive Norwegian governments never had a plan for creating a viable self-generating economy, and never envisaged such a need. On the contrary, they continued their policy of investment abroad (Oil Fund) – that is the opposite of what is needed, one might argue.

In addition, the Norwegian Government sold part of the ownership of the main Norwegian company – Statoil. Oil producing Countries in the Middle East have done the opposite: they have nationalized the foreign oil companies and created national companies that follow the country’s national interest. As a simple example, take ARAMCO. After nationalization it became known as Saudi ARAMCO. This national oil company follows government policies and not the policies dictated by the oil market.

Inward-looking policies. Most of the Norwegian oil-and-gas-related companies are well-established within the confines of the North Sea. Although the International Oil industry has always witnessed strong expansion, yet most of the Norwegian companies prefer staying “at home”. Maybe one of the mail reasons for this attitude is based on the high standards of living in Scandinavia. But this “high-standard- model”is not limited to the Oil Sector. All Norway enjoys the same standard of living.

Therefore, what policies can be taken to ensure the stability of the Norwegian economy under such volatile conditions? Buying back all the shares of Statoil from other foreign oil companies would seem the most logical step. It will ensure that the policies taken up by Statoil reflect the National interest, and not the interest of the few shareholders. Maybe, the present Norwegian Government is not interested in matters relating to saving jobs more than their keen interest in improving the welfare of the rich through abolishing specific taxes. But, if what has been announced that Statoil will decrease its maintenance and modifications budget by 30% this year and 40% next year, then nobody should be surprised if the direct and indirect consequences of such a policy will lead to an increase in the rate of unemployment from its 3,5% present national level and up to 30% (if not more). With such a development, one might seek to envisage the consequences on the Housing market, or the banking system, just to mention a few. Having an unemployment rate of more than 30% will lead to political consequences beyond our present imagination.

Note / Sep 2016

Since the publication of this article back in Feb 2014 and history has shown that all its predictions  are correct. Unemployment is keeping rising, and China is becoming the major industrial country  exporting its own products internationally.

 

Religious Indoctrination and the Creation of Terrorists

Religious Indoctrination and the Creation of Terrorists

by Samir Yousif (first published New English Review April 2015)
Few days ago, I was listening to a program on the BBC. The program purported to discuss the serious issues that lead to the murder and killings of innocent people and yet, the program was considering nothing but a TV show, the content of which was an interview with a “British” Sunni Muslim father who has sent two of his sons to travel to Syria in order to join Al-Nusra Terrorist Organization.1

The father said: “As a father I want my sons to come back” (after the death of one of them)! But during the interview the father repeatedly declared that he wished all his sons would travel and fight with Al-Nusra. His sons who were still living with him at their comfortable house in London were all “enthusiastic” and eager to join terrorism. They were all self-motivated and impatiently awaiting the day they would join Al-Nusra Terrorist Organization. The family members envied the killed son and consider him as a “martyr” who isflying with his wings in Heaven” – how happy and privileged must he be.

The father is nothing but a blind man motivated by sectarian hatred, hatred against other religious sects, and unable to visualize the consequences of this hatred: his sons are butchering innocent civilians for no reason but that they belong to other indigenous religious or ethnic groups such as, Syriac Orthodox Christians, Shi’a, Druz, Ismailis, Alawaits or Sunni Kurds.2 His sons, on the other hand, are unaware that they are the victims of their family’s’ brain-washing. There is no way that they will ever discover that.

It is very interesting to reach such a state where a father admits publically that he is encouraging his sons to join Al-Nusra Terrorist organization and faces no legal consequences in a well-established democracy like Britain.

This is what makes the theme of this paper the statement that the terrorists are the victims of family indoctrination. Furthermore, this implies that the parents are the real criminals.

This statement has serious legal, social and political consequences.

From the legal point of view, the family should be held responsible. In this specific case, the father should be arrested and charged with aiding terrorism. The act of terrorism is the product or the outcome of family-indoctrination; the children are pushed persistently by their families towards such ends. Soon this “pushing” becomes self-motivation. This artificial “motivation” is the outcome of the daily indoctrination. Al-Qaeda, Dai’sh (ISIL), Al-Nusra, Taliban, Boko Haram, Askar Islam and Al Shabab, all belong to the Sunni Sect. They all grew up within Sunni families and failed to see beyond them.

While all the terrorist groups mentioned are Sunnis, no attempt has been made by any Sunni Scholar to discuss this issue or to understand its background and the factors causing it.

When this issue is looked at from a different angle, one might wonder if British society ever had any influence on the upbringing of this new generation. The sons who are potential terrorists or time-bombs, were fully influenced by the family’s brain-washing with little if any influence from society as a whole and the British education system in particular. What complicates this issue further is the availability of Muslim private schools in Britain. Such schools provide a very serious environment for indoctrination and the spread of extremism and fanaticism. Religious education deprives the students from the chance of having open minds and critical ways of thinking. It prevents them from accepting different points of view, and turns them into nothing but dogmatic fanatics. This picture becomes extremely serious under the Islamic education syllabus. The children will consider the teachings of the Quran as true and will accept the practices of Da’ish as legitimate. All the crimes committed against humanity by Da’ish are fully justified by Islamic doctrine. An un-refuted example is the reaction of the famous Egyptian Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Sheik Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Head of this institute, confirmed publically that he cannot consider Da’ish to be apostate.3 Looking at this statement upside down, it shows clearly that Sheik Ahmed Al-Tayeb considers ISIL (Da’ish) to be Muslims and their practices are indeed very Islamic.

One of the very interesting questions to ask, in this regard, is why have we witnessed the rise of such terrorist movements during the 21st century? These Sunni communities were there all the time, so what are the special circumstances that led to such development now? The statement that Sunni extremism is the product of Shi’a extremism is the most acceptable explanation available. This statement is derived from the following historical developments.

Modern Islamism

After the First World War the political picture prevailing throughout the Middle East and the Muslim world was characterized by secular and nationalist political movements. The reaction to the defeat and disintegration of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War was not only visible in Turkey with Ataturk taking power and turning Turkey into a modern secular state, but also throughout the Ottoman colonies, especially the Arab Middle East, where the trend to move away from the Turkish Caliphate was overriding. During the period of independence from classical colonialism, religion was nearly absent and played little part in such movements. This was valid not only for the Middle East countries, but also for countries in both continents in Asia as well as Africa. Third world independent movements were guided by national political parties and strongly backed by the Eastern Bloc as part of the prerequisites of the Cold War. Communist and different Left-Wing groups played significant roles in the independence movements after the Second World War. In 1952 a young army officer called Gamal Abdul Nasser4 managed to take power in Cairo after a successful military coup. The ideology adopted by Nasser was that of “Pan Arabism” strongly backed by a socialist agenda. Later his ideology became to be known as “Arab Socialism.”

During the 1950’s and the 1960’s Jamal Abdul Nasser and the ideology of Arab Socialism monopolized the political arena in the Middle East. Military takeovers took place in different Arab countries following the guidelines of Nasser. Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Mauritania and Libya are good examples of that legacy. The same picture continued after the 6-Day War of 1967. The different Palestinian groups were either nationalist, like the PLO, or Marxist-oriented organizations.

This picture of national plus leftist groups dominated the politics of the “Third World.” Rebel organizations in different countries also adopted one form of Marxism as their official ideology. A person with religious background had no place within such circumstances for he was considered to be backward, uneducated and was despised by the elite, and by the politically-motivated masses.

In the Third World, Marxism became the modern stream of “scientific” thinking and it was the most popular expanding ideology. This phenomenon represented the main challenge to Western Europe and the US during the Cold War.

I believe that both the US and Western Europe encouraged religious centers and movements in both Asia and Africa as part of the imperatives of the Cold War. Religion was one of the main tools against the spread of Communism. It was under such circumstances that Grand Ayatollah Khomeini5 declared his revolt against the Shah of Iran at the end of the 1970’s. This declaration marked the birth of modern Political Islam6 since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The success of the Khomeini Revolution in Iran was followed by several attempts to export the Revolution leading to the 8-year long Iraq-Iran war. Across the borders and into Afghanistan, the Soviet Army was fighting fierce Western-backed guerilla warfare with the Mujahadeen. The international balance of power faced serious disequilibrium in that region. Khomeini and his Islamic Revolution received high levels of international publicity.

All these developments provided the Shiite version of Islam with International publicity at a time when this sect represented less than 20% of the total Muslims worldwide, the rest were Sunni Muslims. This is the central theme of my argument.

The success of Shiite Muslims in Iran pushed to the limits Sunni Muslim traditional organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and led to the formation of new extreme movements, especially fundamentalist groups. Fierce competition between the Shiite and Sunni groups continued throughout this process. Regional conflicts further increased the formation and development of such groups as was seen during the Lebanese civil war, in Chechnya and the civil war in the Balkans caused by the dismantling of Socialist Yugoslavia. But the world had to wait until September 11, 2001 to witness the reply of Sunni Muslims to Khomeini’s Revolution of the late 1970’s.

Sunni Islamic groups and organizations were formed in all Arab countries and were banned in one way or another. The suppression of these well-organized groups during the late part of the twentieth century in countries suffering from high levels of corruption and political mismanagement helped push the popularity of these groups. Islam is the Solution was the slogan of these groups that spread strongly throughout the poor classes of society. The general political atmosphere during the last decades of the twentieth century excluded the participation of Islamism, and prevented them from taking power, as happened in Algeria. This exclusion further strengthened such groups and increased their popularity. Islamism had to move underground and to wait until the arrival of the so-called “Arab Spring” for legitimacy. The so-called Arab Spring created a legal framework for the previously-underground groups to participate in general elections – as was the case in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt. As for Libya, the Islamic groups entered into the first general elections under secular platforms that deceived the public and opened the door for a bloody internal conflict.

ISIL (Da’ish) and Islam7

Serious and widespread discussions are ongoing all over the Muslim world regarding the behavior of the Islamic State (Da’ish). Is Da’ish behavior alien to Muslim history? Is Da’ish an Islamic State? Does history confirm Da’ish practices or reject them? Can we find answers to such questions by examining Islamic history, especially the conduct of “Mohammed”?

Many contemporary Muslims reject the very idea that Da’ish represents true Islam. Their understanding of Islamic history is one sided where they see nothing but “victories,” thinkers, philosophy, in other words: Islamic history written by a biased Muslim. Actually, Islamic history before the Umayyad Caliphate,8 which is known as the Rashidun9 is significantly different from the history of this Caliphate and may be as much mythological as historical. During the days of “Mohammed” and the Rashidun one can find ample examples of similar incidences as committed by Da’ish. Killing of POWs, burning people alive, taken women as slaves, and destroying ancient temples and statues. In addition, and during the days of the first Rashidun Calipha Abu Bakr who had to engage in the so-called Ridda Wars10 also known as the Wars of Apostasy. Under these circumstances Abu Bakr ordered the killings of all the men of Ridda tribes without mercy, while their families were taken as slaves. That included even the tribes which accepted Islam but refused to pay taxes to Abu Bakr. Da’ish considers these events as guidelines for their daily practice in the 21st century.

On the other hand, the Umayyad Caliphate was founded by Muawiya ibn Abi Sufian, long-time governor of Al-sham, after the end of the first civil War in 661 (year 41 according to the Islamic Higeri Calender). Muawiya was the descendant of a wealthy family that was in charge of running the City of Mecca. He possessed strong insight, was flexible and his style in politics represents a separate school. His family never accepted “Mohammed’s” claim that he was the messenger of God, and kept firm until the Muslims controlled Mecca. This piece of information is vital to the understanding of the events that occurred after the year 661. Muawiya, whose wife Maysum was a Christian, started to establish a modern state (very alien to the Arabs who lived in the desert un-controlled by any central establishment). To do so he used the expertise of the Persian as well as the Roman Empires. In simple terms, he managed to establish a modern state through his famous religious tolerance.

Under this modern state, the various ethnic and religious groups, like the Christians, enjoyed self-rule and a great degree of prosperity. The society was very multi-cultural. Alcohol and music had a central place in the social life of this new Empire. In other words there was nothing that indicated that this new Empire was Muslim. This took place just 41 years after the supposed death of “Mohammed.”

The indigenous Christians in Syria today are facing extermination by Da’ish. Churches which were built 2000 years ago are been blown up or stolen. It is clear that Da’ish considers itself to be a continuation of the original Muslims, the Rashidun, and not the Umayyad Caliphate or what came after that.11

This short history provides an answer to our central issue: is ISIL a true Islamic state? And the answer is yes. Modern Muslims today who claim that Dai’sh does not represent Islam are unaware of the realities of their own religion and what it actually calls for.


[1] Terrorist because it declared its loyalty to AL Qaeda and it is classified as a terrorist organization according to the US State Department.

[2] Both Syria and Iraq are multi-cultural societies. Syria was a Christian country during the Roman Empire and was the first Christian country to be ruled by Muslims. Actually the first Muslim Empire (The Umayyad Caliphate) had its Capital in Damascus. Wikipedia has detailed links on this matter.

[3] This statement by Sheik Ahmed Al-Tayeb, issued on 11.12.2014, led to huge demonstrations and protests in Cairo. For details, go to the following Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/02/azhar-egypt-radicals-islamic-state-apostates.html#

[6] At this point I disagree with many scholars who claim that Political Islam was a product of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement, especially the works of Hassan Al-Bana (1906-1949)  who established the Muslim Brothers organization in March 1928, and Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) who published a number of works calling for the return to basic Islamic values and Sharia. It is of vital importance that we realize that this political movement had the Hanbali School of religious thinking as its central ideology.

[7] Charles Lister,Profiling the Islamic State,” Foreign Policy at Brookings, Number 13, November 2014.

Religious Schools, Ideology and Terrorism

Religious Schools, Ideology and Terrorism

by Samir Yousif (first publish New English Review July 2015)
Introduction

Is it possible that a man commits suicide without being aware of what he is doing? How can we conceive what perspective, hopes and goals he wishes to accomplish by committing such an act? In this context the subject of our examination is a young healthy man, or maybe a woman. In our previous work “Religious Indoctrination,”[1] the issue of creating terrorists through family indoctrination was presented. This kind of scenario is found with Muslim families in Western societies where the parents play the central role of religious indoctrination due to the absence of well establish social institutions that take care of such religious indoctrination. In both Asia and  Africa it is crystal clear that Islamic Religious Schools were established with the basic aim of spreading terrorism through education. These Schools are scattered internationally and are well-financed and attract generations of young men from the surrounding poor and mostly illiterate Muslim communities.[2] It is of great interest to note that all these schools adopt the Sunni version of Islam, and to be more specific, they aim at spreading the Wahhabi doctrine.[3]

Madrassas (Schools)

A madrassa is an Islamic religious school. Many of the Taliban were educated in Saudi-financed madrassas in Pakistan[4] which teach Wahhabism, a particularly austere and rigid form of Islam which is rooted in Saudi Arabia. Around the world, Saudi wealth and charities contributed to an explosive growth of madrassas during the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. During that war (1979-1989), a new kind of madrassa emerged in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region — not so much concerned about scholarship as making war on infidels. The enemy then was the Soviet Union, today it’s America.[5]

The first purpose of these schools was to support the anti-Soviet resistance movement during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The Afghani Mujahedeen received strong support from the US. Saudi Arabia, at that time, was closely working with the US against the Soviet Union. The schools that were established and financed by Saudi Arabia were, in fact, recruiting, organizing schools which also use “Islamic ideology as a way of creating a very efficient guerilla army with a very clear anti-communist ideology.”[6] Those graduates from the madrassas who do not directly join war fronts, become (at best) hot-headed preachers in mosques that encourage fighting Christians in Nigeria or in Indonesia. And in worst case, they actually recruit or participate in terrorism.[7]

Wahhabism is very suitable for this purpose. As it uses the pure text of the Quran for brain-washing purposes. The Quran contains endless verses that encourage racism and hatred and calls for never-ending jihad. The teachers at these religious schools have prepared long lists of the Qur’anic verses to convince the students to adhere to the message of Wahhabism. The terrorists are convinced that they are the hands of God. In return God promises these jihadists eternal life in Heaven.

The word terrorist has no negative impact on the students as they accept to be called terrorists. This is derived from a verse from the Quran where “God” orders the Muslims to prepare every force available in order to terrorize the enemy of God who is the enemy of the Muslims[8] at the same time.

Taliban

The roots of this movement originate in Pakistan. The Taliban was the movement originating from the religious schools (madrassas) run by Jamiat-Ulma-e-Islam (Group of Islamic Scholars) for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. So Taliban is actually what it means: students. It is well-documented that the Taliban was strongly supported by both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia which led to their final victory and control of Kabul in 1996.[9] What is of vital importance in this context is that the Taliban is a product of the education of the madrassas.

While the Taliban was originally supported by Pakistani intelligence in order to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, soon the ideas of Wahhabism spread inside Pakistan and led to the establishment of PakistaniTaliban. Some commentators indicate that the US drone strike in Oct 2006 on a religious school in Bajaour that was run by Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi was the turning point in the establishment of Taliban in Pakistan.[10]

Lal Masjid in Islamabad

The Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) in Islamabad is one of the very controversial centers for recruiting terrorists in Pakistan. Although its history and daily conduct confirm such a conclusion, little action has been taken by the Pakistani government to curtail its influence. There have been several clashes and confrontations between the Government and the mosque, but the Red Mosque managed to continue delivering its message to the young.

The Red Mosque has provided many suicide bombers whether to the Taliban in Afghanistan or in Pakistan. What is of importance today is that this mosque through its Chief Cleric Abdul Aziz has declared its allegiance to ISIL and to its Caliph Abu Bakr Al- Baghdadi.[11]

Boko Haram

From the very name of this terrorist group Boko Haram, one can understand the impact of religious schools. The word refers to considering Western Education to be forbidden (Haram) and Boko is the closest word to the English “book.” The original name of the group refers to its being a classical Sunni group as its name was (Jam?’atu Ahli is-Sunnah lid-Da’wati wal-Jih?d ), but the second part indicates that it is a Jihadist group (lid-Da’wati wal-Jih?d) and part of Al-Qaeda indicating a change from Classical Sunni to Wahhabism. The latest developments in the Middle East has had consequences on the loyalty of Boko Haram as it changed its allegiance from Al-Qaeda and to ISIL[12] in 2014 and adopted the administrative name Wil?yat al S?d?n al Gharb?.

The founder, Mohammed Yusuf, started teaching Wahhabism in Maiduguri in 2002 after establishing a religious teaching complex. This religious complex had the aim of establishing a Muslim State and became the main jihad recruiting center in the area.

As it is clear from the Taliban in Asia and Boko Haram in Africa, that Wahhabism is the common factor for both terrorist groups. Actually the ideology Wahhabism is the ideology for all terrorist groups all over the world. Many International Reports blamed Saudi Arabia for financing religious schools that becomes recruiting centers for terrorists.[13]

Saudi Arabia and Education

The interest in the type of the education system in Saudi Arabia started after 11 of September terrorist attacks in 2001. Many commentators accepted the hypothesis that the very nature of the Saudi education system leads to the creation of suicide bombers. The Quran is presented to the young as the actual words of God. Western Civilization is presented as the product of evil, and God is waiting for the “corrective” action to readdress this injustice.

The official Saudi education syllabus consists mainly of the teachings of the Wahhabi version of Islam. The teaching material is universal to all schools in Saudi Arabia. The religious part of the syllabus represents 98% of the total syllabus. Only 2% of the classes cover subjects other than religion. What this actually implies is that Saudi students do not get a modern education as is the case in other parts of the world. English Language, Chemistry, Physics, History…etc, are all very alien to the syllabus adopted by the Saudi government. In the Eastern Provence of Saudi Arabia where the majority are Shia as well as Zaydiya Muslims, the same syllabus prevails. So the Shia students are taught that the Shia are heathens or infidels and that they should be exterminated. Teaching of hatred is the essence of the Saudi education system. Killing of Shia and other non-Wahhabis is taught as a duty and an obligation.[14] Recently two mosques belonging to the Shia sect in the Eastern province witnessed two suicidal bombings. ISIL (Da’ish) issued a statement taking full responsibility for the two terrorist bombing and used a language similar to the official Saudi teaching at schools that killing the heathens Shia is a duty that will never end.[15]

What comes next?

What is required to produce unlimited supplies of terrorists is the availability of three factors: finance, schools and ideology and today these are abundantly available.

The primary purpose of this paper was to draw the attention to the increasing number of these religious schools and their connection to terrorism.

Today, religious schools are found everywhere including the USA and Europe. Granting Schools the right to teach Wahhabism is similar to licensing Neo-Nazism. Democratic and liberal societies should look beyond the surface and comprehend the consequences of implanting ideas of hatred in the minds of the young. Teaching Wahhabism in the USA and Europe means implanting the seeds of self-destruction.

The real issue is what happens if the terrorists acquire some form of nuclear weapons. Nuclear knowledge is already available in Pakistan and one cannot assume that such knowledge will never leak. The terrorist organizations have shown how much wealth and influence they have. Also the number of their sympathizers is increasing. What will all this lead to?

[1] See, Yousif, S. New English Review, April 2015.

[2] It is of relevance that while this piece of work was under consideration President Obama criticized the Arab Gulf Countries of having no future for their young generation but to join Da’ish (Islamic State), i.e to become terrorists, and this represents the real danger facing these countries. In addition and during the Meeting at Camp David on 14.05.2015 with the Leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the President referred to the dangers that confront the Arab Sunni countries to originate from inside their countries and not from outside threats.

[3] In my previous work “Religious Indoctrination,” New English Review, April, 2015, reference was made to the following” Al-Qaeda, Da’ish, Al-Nusra, Taliban, Boko Haram, Askar Islam, Jund Allah and Al-Shabab, all belong to the Sunni Sect. They all grew up within Sunni families..”…”While all the terrorist groups mentioned are Sunnis, no attempt has been made by any Sunni Scholar to discuss this issue, or to understand its background and the factors causing it.”

[4] The number of them in Pakistan alone reached 17000 religious schools having two million students, see BBC report, follow the link: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-18590978.

[5] [5] See Saudi Time Bomb, Analysis madrassas, following the link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saudi/analyses/madrassas.html.

[6] See Interview with Prof Vali Nasr, follow the link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saudi/interviews/nasr.html.

[7] Interview with Vali Nasr, previous reference.

[8] ?????? ??? ?? ??????? ?? ??? ??? ???? ????? ?????? ?? ??? ???? ??????

[9] Marcin, Gary, 1998, The Taliban, King’s College History Department, go to the following link: http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/taliba.htm. Various credible sources confirm the fact that Taliban was created by Pakistan’s Secret Services.

[13] The are numerous references. See for example: Saudi religious funding fosters terror, study says, link : http://pointdebasculecanada.ca/saudi-religious-funding-fosters-terror-study-says/, see also, WikiLeaks: Saudi-Financed Madrassas More Widespread in Pakistan Than Thought, Link: http://fpif.org/wikileaks_saudi-financed_madrassas_more_widespread_in_pakistan_than_thought/. Also, see The Wahhabi Invasion of America,in CITIZEN WARRIOR, link : http://www.citizenwarrior.com/2007/11/wahhabi-invasion-of-america.html.

[14] This paragraph is based upon my personal experience as I spent two years living in Saudi Arabia where I checked different schools and interviewed many students. Young Saudis, under the age of 10 years, used to tell me that the purpose of their life is to kill a Shia. And when I asked them why, they would repeat some sentences indicating that the Shia were heathens and that they all were strongly pushed by their teacher. Their teacher implants the ideas of hatred in the minds of the young.

[15] Saudi Arabia attack: Islamic State claims Shia mosque bombing, go to: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-32843510

The Failure of Democracy under Islamism

The Failure of Democracy under Islamism

Samir Yousif

 

The Revolution of the Young

The Arab Spring that created unprecedented hope turned to be a bad winter. The young revolted, while the old reaped the benefits.  But what has actually gone wrong? The uncontrolled, unorganized young masses went in peaceful demonstrations challenging the well-established dictator. Their demands were simple: a better life, and a better future. Their demands never had a religious dimension. No one ever demanded a return to Sharia. On the contrary, the demands were very secular and liberal in their nature. They demanded a real democracy, an end to corruption and a fair economic establishment.  All the demands of the young were never part of an Islamist agenda.

Then Islamists suddenly popped up, taking over and harvesting the fruits of the Revolution. These unexpected developments sent out shocking waves all over the region. Who are the Islamists and what was their origin? Let’s start this article by quickly reviewing the prelude to democracy and then   to grasp the consequences of cultural differences that exist between Europe and the Arab / Muslim countries and their impact on the practice of democracy.

A prelude to Democracy

The difference between East Europe and the Arab countries as Thomas L. Friedman, writing in the International Herald Tribune on March 1st, 2012, puts it: “… Michael Mandelbaum, the foreign policy expert at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, noted that  ”We …tend to believe that inside every autocracy is a democracy dying to get out, but that might not be true in the Middle East.” It was true in Eastern Europe in 1989, added Mandelbaum, but there are two big differences between Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Many East European countries had a recent liberal past to fall back on-after the artificially imposed Soviet Communism was removed. And Eastern Europe also had a compelling model and magnet for free market democracy right next door: The European Union.  Most of the Arab Muslim world has neither, so when the iron lid of autocracy comes off they fall back, not on Liberalism, but Islamism, sectarianism, tribalism, or military rule”.

But, while I agree with Michael Mandelbaum analysis, I believe that he has left behind a crucial factor unmentioned.   In Western Europe Liberalism prevailed centuries after the political defeat of the Church and the spread of the ideas of reform of Martin Luther (1483-1546), John Calvin (1509-1564) and others.  That has not happened yet in the Muslim world. On the contrary, the Liberal demonstrations of the young generations in search for dignity, justice and free expression took place at a time Muslim religion in its fundamental version was not only the strongest prevailing ideology in society, but practically the only one.

This fact produces disequilibrium in the political order in such societies. Free elections, modernity, civil institutions, equality, liberal thinking, and women’s rights, are all alien to fundamental and traditional Islamic thinking and are categorically rejected.  The political values of Islam under the principle of SHURA are contradictory with the values of Liberal democracy and the co-existence of both ideologies is under question.  What is required in Muslim countries is not a Political Reform process, as many espouse for, but rather a radical reform within religion itself.

The Origin of Modern Islamism

After the First World War the political picture prevailing throughout the Middle East and the Muslim World was characterized by secular and nationalist political movements. The reaction to the defeat and disintegration of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War was not only visible in Turkey with Ataturk overtaking power and turning Turkey into a modern secular State, but also throughout the Ottoman colonies, especially the Arab Middle East where the trend to move away from the Islamic Caliphate was overriding.   During the period of independence from classical colonialism, religion was nearly absent and played no part in such movements. This was valid not only for Muslim Middle East countries, but also for countries in both continents in Asia as well as Africa. Third world independent movements were guided by national political parties and strongly backed by the Eastern Block. Communism and different Marxist groups played central roles in the independence movements after the Second World War. Let us take a well-known example from the Middle East: Egypt under Gamal Abdul Nasser.

In 1952 a young army officer called Gamal Abdul Nasser managed to take power in Cairo after a successful military coup.  The ideology adopted by Nasser was that of “Pan Arabism” strongly backed by a socialist agenda.  Later his ideology was known to be “Arab Socialism”. His message was addressed to all Arabs throughout the Middle East. He used the struggle against imperialism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as his central theme of focus and a main tool for spreading his propaganda.

During the 1950’s and the 1960’s Nasser and the ideology of Arab Socialism monopolized the political arena in the Middle East. Military take overs took places in different Arab countries following the guidelines of Nasser. Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Mauritania and Libya are good examples of that legacy. The same picture continued after the 6-day War of 1967. The different Palestinian groups were either nationalist, like Fatah, or Marxist-oriented organizations.

This picture of national plus leftist groups dominated the Third-World Liberation spectrum. Rebel organizations in different countries also adopted one form of Marxism as their official ideology. A religious man had no place within such circumstances for he was considered to be backward, uneducated and was very despised by the elite, or the politically-motivated masses.

In the Third World Marxism became the modern stream of “scientific” thinking and it was the most popular expanding ideology.  This phenomenon represented the main challenge to Western Europe and the USA during post-Second World War Cold War.

I believe that both the US and Western Europe encouraged religious centers and movements in both Asia and Africa as part of the imperatives of the Cold War. Religion was one of the main tools against the spread of Communism. It was under such circumstances that Grand Ayatollah Khomeini declared his revolt against the Shah of Iran at the end of the 1970’s. This declaration marked the birth of modern Islamism.

The success of Khomeini Revolution in Iran was followed by several attempts to “export” the Revolution leading to the 8-year long Iraq-Iran war. Across the borders and into Afghanistan, the Soviet occupation was fighting fierce guerilla warfare with the Mujahedeen.  The international balance of power was facing serious disequilibrium in that area.

Grand Ayatollah Khomeini and his Islamic Revolution received high levels of international publicity. Later political developments increased the attention to the Islamic Revolution such as the occupation of the American Embassy in Tehran. All these developments gave great publicity to Shiite version of Islam at a time when this sect represented less than 20% of the total Muslims worldwide while the rest were Sunni Muslims.

But regardless of the sectarian division in Islam, the revolution of Khomeini pushed Muslim societies 1400 years backwards. The interest in Islam was revived significantly and turned to be the “modern”, or the latest fashion. That interest included all sides of life from an upsurge in Islamic studies to wearing Hijab by secular-minded women. 

The success of Shiite Muslims in Iran pushed to the limits Sunni Muslim traditional organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MBH) and led to the formation of new movements, especially the Sunni fundamentalist groups.  Fierce competition between the Shiite and Sunni groups continued all the way along. Regional conflicts further increased the formation and development of such groups as was seen during the Lebanese civil war, in Chechnya and the civil war in the Baltic caused by the dismantling of Socialist Yugoslavia.

But the World had to wait until September 11, 2001 to witness the reply of Sunni Muslims to Grand Ayatollah Khomeini Revolution of the late 1070’s.

Sunni Islamic groups and organizations were formed in all Arab countries and were banned in one way or another. The suppression of these well-organized groups during the late part of the twentieth century in countries suffering from high levels of corruption and political mismanagement provided general popularity to these groups. Islam is the Solution was the slogans of these groups that spread strongly throughout the poor classes of society. The general political atmosphere during the last decades of the twentieth century excluded the participation of Islamism, and prevented them from taking power. This exclusion further strengthened such groups and increased their popularity. Islamism had to move underground and to wait until the arrival of the Arab Spring.

 Role of the Conservative Arabs

During the demonstrations Qatar managed to play a vital role in influencing the course and direction of the so-called Arab Spring. The Qatari Al-Jazeera Satellite TV paved the way. The significant financial support that came from Qatar to the well-organized Islamists groups guaranteed it a permanent seat in the newly evolving power center. While the Youth were engaged in bringing down the regime, the Islamists were planning to take full advantage of the outcomes of the regime change.

From the other side, it was noted that the newly evolving system in Tunis was unaware of such developments. The Islamists Leader Ganushi dismissed any plans to participate in the coming elections as he landed in Tunis Airport arriving from London. By saying that, he succeeded in distracting the attention away from the Islamists and their plans in the upcoming elections. The legal setup of countries facing regime- change misses important aspects of proper electoral systems. Proper legislation should be in-place before elections take place. Such legislation should include Political Parties Law that governs the process of elections and specifies the sources of funding.  This” legal gap” in the system was fully utilized by both Qatar and Saudi Arabia.  Through the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera Satellite TV and the Saudi Al-Arabiya Satellite TV, both Qatar and Saudi Arabia managed to have their places within the revolutions.

Paradoxically both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have no democratic experience and suffer from human rights abuses, yet they claimed to be the main supporters of the democratic changes taken place in specific countries of the Middle East.  That was clear in the case of Syria as they provided clear support to the Sunni insurgency, in sharp contrast to the case of Bahrain as they supported the ruling establishment in crushing the reform movement. Their attitudes are determined by sectarian considerations. For this reason, the term Arab Spring includes popular revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, but excludes Syria. The reform movement in both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain was brutally crushed.

The challenge facing Political Islam

The success of the Islamists alienated other segments in society that once played the leading role in the Arab Spring. These segments are representatives of the middle classes, and their role in society is vital for the success of the political process.  The struggle between these two groups is very fierce.  In Tunis as well as in Egypt the strategy of the Islamists is to write the Constitution according to their agenda (Sharia) in order to ensure their continuation in monopolizing future elections.  The middle classes and the young generations have shown great concern regarding the agenda of political Islam. Any introduction of Sharia shall represent a serious step backwards for society and further deterioration in living standards. Similar developments are taking place in Libya.

For Tunisia what can Political Islam achieve? The share of the Service Sector in the Tunisian economy is over 60% (2007), while the share of the industrial sector is around 25% and finally the share of the agricultural sector is just around 11%. Such figures should not be surprising in such a developing country that is located on the shores of the Mediterranean that suffers greatly from the absence of a fresh water source (river) and depends mainly on rain and high-cost underground water.  These figures indicate the importance of tourism to the daily lives of the Tunisian population. Any interference by Political Islam in the Service Sector will be catastrophic, and will aggravate the unemployment problem.  This was the first challenge that faced the Islamists and their political agenda.

The core of the crisis that is facing Political Islam in all the Muslim countries is the simple fact that Sharia which is considered to be the Universal Code of Conduct provides no solutions or guidelines to present day economic problems. On the contrary the application of Sharia will aggravate the existing social and economic problems and it will lead to closing down of complete sectors and limiting the participation of women. This crisis represents the real challenge that Political Islam has to solve. Political Islam won the first elections in Tunisia on the promise that “Islam is the Solution” as Sayd Qutb and other Islamists have promised. Now if Political Islam runs the country without introducing Sharia then it will lose its supporters. This case is similar to a socialist party that claims it can run a capitalist economy better than the capitalists themselves. We just have to wait and see, and I expect to find that political Islam is no different from other political parties that aim to win the elections and nothing else.

The success of the Islamists in Tunisia during the first general elections and in Egypt and elsewhere is not an indication of their popularity, but rather a result of a combination of factors. The most important were the Islamists full mobilization, significant funding from Qatar or Saudi Arabia , the general public low participation in the 2011 elections, the existence of high levels of illiteracy and poverty, and most important of all corrupted capitalism. Add to that the “promise” that Islam is the solution. Many educated segments of society wanted to give the Islamists the opportunity to fulfill their promise. All these factors combined explain why the Islamists won the majority of the seats. All the supporters of the Islamists participated 100% in the elections while the secular parties had no influence over their supporters. In Egypt the situation was worse than in Tunisia.  The poor and illiterate represent around 40% of the population. What kind of free elections can be held under such circumstances? Democracy presumes the existence of political and social awareness and not widespread illiteracy and ignorance.

This paper holds the belief that the core problem leading to what is known as The Arab Spring in Tunis was the situation produced by the Structural Adjustment process that started in 1986 under the pressure of the World Bank. In many cases the application of specific criteria taken from highly industrialized countries and applied to developing countries like Tunis and Egypt as well, leads to breaking down of the social fabric and disequilibrium in the political system. The following facts may explain the reasons for such a conclusion. In order to move towards a “free market” the government of Ben Ali started dismantling the large public sector through a process well-known as “privatization”. In developing countries and due to existing social institutions (like nepotism) and prevailing cultures (which are absent in Industrialized countries) that rule over other practices, the privatization process leads to few hands owning the majority of the sold assets.  Usually the new owners are members of the ruling family and other relatives of the government.

In Tunis the family of Ben Ali and their relatives became the new owners of the most important newly-privatized companies. Corruption became “open” and overall. This development represented a serious setback to government efforts in combating poverty and reducing unemployment as the move away from the public sector aggravated the unemployment problem significantly. The same argument applies to Egypt. Jamal son of Mubarak and other officials in the ruling National Democratic Party divided between themselves the main resources of the country. The underground political movements, especially the Islamists, were eager and ready to benefit from the general dissatisfaction generated by the outcome of the privatization process. This paper holds the belief that corruption and unemployment were the main factors behind the popular uprising that produced the Arab Spring in both Tunisia and Egypt. Actually corruption and unemployment were also the main factors behind the political upheavals also in Libya and Yemen.

Correcting the Mistake: Tunis, Egypt and not Iraq

The Islamists after forming the Government in Tunis and occupying the Parliament in Egypt had to face the real test. They found out that their ideology provides no guidance before real and serious economic issues.  Add to that the social and political consequences of enacting religious-oriented laws in countries that enjoyed secular social relationships for over a century. All that led to a real popular revolution in Egypt that changed the “elected” president and brought down his backward government. As for Tunis that change came directly from the general elections. Both countries are now back to square number one. Political Islam simply failed to pass the first test.

In Iraq Political Islam represented by corrupted political parties and corrupted politicians managed to strengthen their grip on the State’s organs and implanted their loyalists everywhere. The Justice system, Army, Police, the banking system and most importantly the Independent Elections Commission is now fully controlled by the same corrupted parties. Hopes of removing the corrupted political parties looks very remote under such circumstances.

Under such unfavorable circumstances, the people of Iraq, from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, look to Grand Ayatollah Sistani for help. If no action originates from this main religious centre then hopes of moving Iraq forward are completely absent and the status que will continue under different plateforms.

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