Showing posts with label Dissent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dissent. Show all posts

Thursday, December 8, 2016

UK's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson comments anger the rulers of Saudi Arabia, forcing Downing Street to distance itself from his views

    December 08, 2016   No comments

When the British government is forced to choose between factual truth and political imperatives, it chose politics

The UK's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stated a fact almost universally known by now. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia is fomenting sectarian war in the region. Saudi officials were angered by the comments and Saudi media accused British media of having an Iranian bias when reporting his comments.
Saudi rulers’ unhappiness with UK media is not specific to this particular instance. They are threatened by the rise in news stories portraying the Saudi military campaign in Yemen in a negative light. BBC had several programs that put the blame for the horrific conditions of children in Yemen on Saudi Arabia. Moreover, UK media in general is highlighting the hypocrisy of UK government, which criticizes Saudi War in Yemen, but keeps selling weapons that enable the rulers of the kingdom to conduct its destructive war in Yemen.
In its attempt to manage this crisis, especially that UK premiere was a guest during the GCC summit in Bahrain, Downing Street was forced to release a statement distancing itself from Johnson’s views.
Johnson’s comment is just one in many negative statements made by Western leaders, in the last two years, accusing Saudi Arabia of spreading an extremist interpretation of Islam

and supporting terrorist groups around the world. Outgoing U.S. president, Barack Obama made the case against Saudi Arabia in a 90-page long article summarizing his views in The Atlantic. Last summer, German intelligence officials also accused Saudi Arabia of building Islamic centers in the West that promote Wahhabism. The incoming U.S. administration will likely take a harsh stance against Saudi Arabian leaders as well.
In short the Saudi rulers must reform their political and religious institutions to be able to live in peace with their neighbors or risk crippling isolation.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Standing with Syria, Where The Black Left Should Be

    September 19, 2016   No comments
The destruction of Syria
by Margaret Kimberley*

American and NATO aggressions must be opposed wherever they surface in the world. That statement ought to be the starting point for anyone calling themselves left, progressive, or anti-war. Of course the aggressors always use a ruse to diminish resistance to their wars of terror. In Syria and elsewhere they claim to support freedom fighters, the moderate opposition and any other designation that helps hide imperialist intervention. They label their target as a tyrant, a butcher, or a modern day Hitler who commits unspeakable acts against his own populace. The need to silence opposition is obvious and creating the image of a monster is the most reliable means of securing that result.

The anti-war movement thus finds itself confused and rendered immobile by this predictable propaganda. It is all too easily manipulated into being at best ineffectual and at worst supporters of American state sponsored terror.

For five years the United States, NATO, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar and Turkey have given arms and money to terrorist groups in an effort to topple Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Some of those bad actors felt flush with success after overthrowing and killing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. They had high hopes of picking off another secular Arab government. Fortunately, Assad was hard to defeat and the barbarians cannot storm the gates. Most importantly, Russia stopped giving lip service to Assad and finally provided military support to the Syrian government in 2015.

American and NATO aggressions must be opposed wherever they surface in the world. That statement ought to be the starting point for anyone calling themselves left, progressive, or anti-war. Of course the aggressors always use a ruse to diminish resistance to their wars of terror. In Syria and elsewhere they claim to support freedom fighters, the moderate opposition and any other designation that helps hide imperialist intervention. They label their target as a tyrant, a butcher, or a modern day Hitler who commits unspeakable acts against his own populace. The need to silence opposition is obvious and creating the image of a monster is the most reliable means of securing that result.

The anti-war movement thus finds itself confused and rendered immobile by this predictable propaganda. It is all too easily manipulated into being at best ineffectual and at worst supporters of American state sponsored terror.

For five years the United States, NATO, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar and Turkey have given arms and money to terrorist groups in an effort to topple Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Some of those bad actors felt flush with success after overthrowing and killing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. They had high hopes of picking off another secular Arab government. Fortunately, Assad was hard to defeat and the barbarians cannot storm the gates. Most importantly, Russia stopped giving lip service to Assad and finally provided military support to the Syrian government in 2015.

Obama didn’t start a proxy war with an expectation of losing, and Hillary Clinton makes clear her allegiance to regime change. The United States will only leave if Syria and its allies gain enough ground to force a retreat. They will call defeat something else at a negotiating table but Assad must win in order for justice and reconciliation to begin.

Focusing on Assad’s government and treatment of his people may seem like a reasonable thing to do. Most people who call themselves anti-war are serious in their concern for humanity. But the most basic human right, the right to survive, was taken from 400,000 people because the American president decided to add one more notch on his gun. Whether intended or not, criticism of the victimized government makes the case for further aggression.

The al-Nusra Front may change its name in a public relations effort, but it is still al Qaeda and still an ally of the United States. The unpredictable Donald Trump may not be able to explain that he spoke the truth when he accused Obama and Clinton of being ISIS supporters, but the anti-war movement should be able to explain without any problem. Cessations of hostilities are a sham meant to protect American assets whenever Assad is winning. If concern for the wellbeing of Syrians is a paramount concern, then the American anti-war movement must be united in condemning their own government without reservation or hesitation. 
* Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Kurds One Hundred Years after Sykes-Picot

    May 26, 2016   No comments
by Mohammad Ali Dastmali*

About one hundred years have passed since the conclusion of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and now neither Sykes is alive nor Picot.

Britain’s Sir Mark Sykes and France’s François Georges-Picot started a saga through conclusion of a short and apparently simple agreement, which later on affected the lives of many peoples and nations in the Middle East and became a turning point for determining the fate of Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Palestinians and other people in the Middle East.

Now, in the modern times in which unlike one hundred years ago, Britain and France are not big global powers, as was the case in the time of Sykes and Picot, and the United States, Russia and regional powers are more determining and more powerful than others, Kurds have decided to change the situation in their own favor. The question is “when there is talk about Kurds objecting to Sykes-Picot’s approach to borders and political structure in the region, does it represent the dynamic and consolidated demands of all Kurds in the region?” The answer is no, because unlike past decades, Kurds, and in clearer terms, Kurdish parties in four countries of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, are not of the same opinion when it comes to necessity of independence and secession, and establishment of a common geographical unit. They are not only discordant in practice, but do not even support such an ideal in their slogans. The following points are noteworthy in this regard:

1. In Iran, due to many reasons, including special bonds that exist between Kurdish people and the Iranian society in general, extreme weakness and withering away of various anti-government parties, the fact that such parties do not enjoy strong political and popular base, and also due to religious and other differences, Kurds are not on course to raise any protest or rise against the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

2. In Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as the most important political and military Kurdish group in this country, has chosen such a course that its jailed leader has frequently announced there is no need for Kurds to seek independence and establish a government of their own. On the other hand, at least during the past year, this party has become so weak and has suffered such heavy casualties that it cannot practically have a serious say in this regard. Also, it is not unlikely that judicial immunity of PKK lawmakers at Turkey’s national assembly would be revoked in the next coming months as a result of which the way would be paved for leaders and other effective members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which is the most important legal institution affiliated with the PKK, to go to jail. At the same time, the PKK has not been able to take its name off the list of international terrorist groups and, as such, does not enjoy international legitimacy.

3. In the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, the situation is quite different and there is the highest preparedness and willingness to build an official, separate and independent Kurdish entity among political parties in this region. Masoud Barzani is the vanguard in this regard and is doing his best to take this case to a final positive closure during the period of his political and personal life. Of course, there are serious differences among various Kurdish parties in Iraq, which follow different nationalist, leftist, Islamist and social democrat approaches, over a variety of issues and interests, but when it comes to the necessity of dismantling the Sykes-Picot Agreement and form an independent Kurdish government in Iraq, all of them are unanimous and even if there is a difference in this regard it is about such marginal issues as the timetable and ways of achieving this goal.

4. In three Kurdish regions of Syria, that is, in Jazira, Kobani, and Afrin, political and military institutions affiliated with the PKK have full control over the power reins. They enjoy a special geographic and defensive position as a result of which, with the exception of Daesh and other terrorist and Takfiri groups, they can cooperate with the United States, Russia, Syria’s President Bashar Assad, and even Iran and others. Although this group of Kurds is still on Bashar Assad’s side in line with an unwritten agreement, they have raised certain claims about how to manage these regions, which have not been accepted by the government in Damascus. As a result, during the latest conflicts in Syrian city of Hasakah, more than 10 armed man affiliated with Assad’s army were killed by Kurds and more than 100 Syrian soldiers were taken into captivity by Kurdish defenders. Therefore, if the scenario, which seeks to oust Assad from power, is put in gears, Kurds in these regions would seek to establish a political structure, and even if it would not be an independent state, it would not be anything less than the current structure in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region either. However, even if Assad remains in power, Syrian Kurds would not go back to the past situation.

What if the Iraqi Kurdistan Region declares independence?

It is possible that in order to declare their independence, Kurds would not wait for permission from the United States, Europe, Iraq, Iran and other regional countries forever, and may face these countries with fait accompli. In view of the current situation in Iraq and the country’s ailing government, it seems that not only there would be no firm opposition in the face of such a possibility, but it is even not improbable that part of Shia political institutions and a large portion of Sunnis would agree to it. In the meantime, let’s not forget that in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Kurds enjoy such facilities and important drivers for independence as military and defensive power in the form of the Peshmerga forces, relative economic power based on the region’s oil and gas reserves, as well as official international relations and political experience. In recent years, Kurds have proven in Iraq and Syria that they have no problem with non-Kurdish citizens in their region, but can also make them a partner to their political and executive power by giving big concessions. It should be also noted that serious threats posed by the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group and dangerous measures taken by this group in Iraq and Syria, in addition to serious fight against Daesh by Kurds have all created a new situation in the region, which makes resilience toward and interaction with Kurds look like a wise and logical option.

It may seem strange, but it is very unlikely that a sudden declaration of independence by Kurds in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region would elicit sharp international reactions. Now, one must wait and see whether the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, especially the Kurdistan Democratic Party and its leader Masoud Barzani, would accept such a risk, or prefer to listen to their consultants and neighbors and defer the implementation of the secession scenario to a later time.
* Expert on Turkey Affairs

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

#IslamicSocietiesReview : The end of political Islam starts in Tunisia

    May 25, 2016   No comments
#IslamicSocietiesReview Comment:  
Adjusting to domestic, regional, and international challenges, Ennahda, the leading Islamist movement in North Africa, charted a new path that embraces pluralism and co-existence. Recalling that the rise of political Islam was necessitated by tyranny and oppression, Ennahda, now, embraces politics and honors Islam, but not mix them. Its leadership has chosen to distinguish between the ethical/theological and the political. In doing so, Ennahda has all but repudiated the actions taken by the Muslim Brotherhood which wanted to dominate the political and social life in Egypt. Realizing the enormity of the transition, Ennahda opted to re-elect its founder, Rached al-Ghannouchi, president one more time. Should he manage to keep the movement united and prevent it from bleeding members to militant Salafi groups, Ennahda would be a model for Arab countries' religious movements.
Underscoring these challenges, Ghannounchi delivered a key address to the movements' members; below is the original speech and a translation.


In the Name of God, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful

Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds, and prayers and peace be on his messenger

Your Excellency President of the People's Assembly

Your Excellencies,
Members of the diplomatic corps in Tunis,
Representatives of parties and organizations,
Dear friends and guests who have honored us by coming from abroad to attend our Congress,

Dear Guests,

Peace be upon you all.

And I also greet Nahdha's faithful supporters - whether those inside the stadium, or the thousands more outside to whom I apologize - this opening ceremony should have been held in an open space; those who were afraid that this stadium may not be filled, are still not familiar with Nahdha.

Ladies and gentlemen, guests and delegates,

Today, we inaugurate, by God's Grace, the tenth national party congress of Nahdha Party, the second national congress after the revolution.

Even during the most difficult periods of secret activity and police harassment under dictatorship, our Movement was committed to holding its national congress regularly, as a way of evaluating and reforming its path, reviewing its policies, and renewing its leadership. I do not believe that there is another party in the country, despite the great number of parties, that is holding its tenth party congress - which means that you are the oldest amongst political parties. Our first congress was held in 1979 - which means that in a period of around a third of a century, ten congress were held - that is an average of one congress every less than four years. That is an expression of the fact that Nahdha is run by institutions, by democracy, by consultation - an important Islamic value.

At the beginning of this occasion, we pray for the souls of the martyrs of the revolution and martyrs of the struggle against dictatorship, led by martyrs of the movement, such as student Othman Ben Mahmoud- through whom we salute Tunisia's youth.

We also remember the martyrs of the national army and police, and victims of the war against terrorism, and victims killed by terrorism, led by martyrs Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi.

We reaffirm to all those that we remain faithful to the martyrs and that their sacrifices will not be in vain.

Our accumulated experience in the war against terrorism has struck fear into the opposite camp, which is now receding at the hands of the successful preemptive operations by our security and military forces. As we reaffirm Nahdha's absolute support for the state in its war against ISIS and takfiri extremists, we say to them that Tunisia, despite all the sacrifices, is stronger than their hatred, and it will, God willing, defeat them. In this regard, the great city of Ben Guerdane set a living and striking example that our people will never be defeated by terrorism. A small city that refused to allow evil terrorists to settle in it - for Tunisia will not allow terrorism to triumph, thanks to its national unity and to the well-established concept of the state in this country - even if they may protest against the state or criticize it, they refuse to move from order to chaos - we salute the Tunisian state.

The path of the revolution, therefore, is one of political successes, re-establishing  security, and strengthening international solidarity, culminating in Tunisia being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the National Dialogue Quartet. Tunisia remains the shining candle among countries of the Arab Spring, having sparked the revolutions, demonstrating that democracy in the Arab world is possible.

In 2011, the spark was lit. Five ships sailed, carrying the hopes of their peoples for freedom and dignity. However, sadly within two years, storms and hardships surrounded those ships - storms of conspiracies, division, ideological polarization, mutual hatred, exclusion, revenge, assassinations, and terrorism.

Some ships met with destruction; others drowned in coups, civil wars and chaos. Tunisia's ship was the exception. It was able to overcome the storms of the counter-revolution, chaos and destruction, thanks to Tunisians adopting the principle of dialogue, acceptance of the other, and avoidance of exclusion and revenge. We were able, by God's grace, to bring Tunisia to the shores of safety.

At the height of the acute crisis of 2013, which threatened to drown Tunisia's ship in the swamps of division, His Excellency President Beji Caied-Essebsi invited me to a dialogue, in a historic step. I agreed, and I said to those who criticized me at the time for going to Paris to meet him, that I was ready to go anywhere for the sake of Tunisia's interest.

As I renew Nahdha's wholehearted support for the policy of consensus, I say today to those who seek political gain through hostility to Nahdha: Do not divide our country. Our hands are stretched out to everyone; the system of consensus accommodates everyone; Tunisia's ship can only sail safely if it carries all Tunisians.

In this context, I would like to commend members of the outgoing Consultative Council of the Party, and Nahdha members of the National Constituent Assembly who facilitated Tunisia's path towards social peace and consensus through their difficult and wise decisions: when they chose to preserve the first article of the Constitution of 1959, when they voted against the political exclusion law, and when they approved the national dialogue roadmap. Thus they proved that Nahdha is a national party that places Tunisia's interest above its own. And when we were discussing stepping down from legitimate elected government, we repeatedly said: We may lose power, but Tunisia will win.

I am full of pride in our sons and daughters who were patient and persevered, and withstood the campaigns of doubt, demonization and provocation against their Party.

At this sensitive juncture, I urge them to continue in the same way, for the most important thing for us, before anything else, is our country's stability and prosperity. We stress that Nahdha will remain a pillar of support for Tunisia's stability. We renew our support for the government of Prime Minister Essid and our commitment to the unity of the governing coalition and to the method of consensus which created the Tunisian exception.

We, in Nahdha, are serious and sincere in our desire to learn from our shortcomings before and after the revolution. We admit them and we humbly address them through reform. In our Congress we have an "Evaluation motion" - we are a party that evolves and reforms itself, and are not afraid to admit our mistakes.

We are a party that never stopped evolving - from the seventies to this day - from an ideological movement engaged in the struggle for identity - when identity was under threat, to a comprehensive protest movement against an authoritarian regime, to a national democratic party devoted to reform, based on a national reference drawing from the values of Islam, committed to the articles of the Constitution and the spirit of our age, thus consolidating the clear and definitive line between Muslim democrats and extremist and violent trends that falsely attribute themselves to Islam.

The specialization and distinction between the political and other religious or social activities is not a sudden decision or a capitulation to temporary pressures, but rather the culmination of a historical evolution in which the political field and the social, cultural and religious field were distinct in practice in our movement.

We are keen to keep religion far from political struggles and conflicts, and we call for the complete neutrality of mosques away from political disputes and partisan utilization, so that they play a role of unification rather than division.

Yet we are astonished to see the insistence of some to exclude religion from public life, despite the fact that the leaders of the national liberation movement considered religious sentiments to be a catalyst for revolution against occupation - just as today we see the values of Islam as a catalyst for development and promoting work, sacrifice, truthfulness, and integrity, and a positive force in our war against ISIS and extremists and supporting the state's efforts in development. Otherwise, if we do not counter ISIS - which claims to represent Islam - through using Islamic values, how can we counter it? We need scholars who champion Islamic moderation and refute extremism in the name of Islam.

Despotic regimes disfigured Nahdha's relationship with the state, through repression, defamation and fear mongering. But they have failed, by God's Grace, to make the state and Nahdha mutual enemies. Our experience in government after the revolution proves that Nahdha is part of the state and a source of significant support for it. Our leaving government to promote the country's unity proves that we are not power seekers, nor after domination nor monopoly of power.

The Tunisian state is our ship, which must carry all Tunisian men and women without any exception, exclusion of marginalization.

We ask here: when will attempts to undermine the state stop? And in whose interest are these attempts to weaken it, while it is combating terrorism, and seek anarchist methods to promote breaking the law?

The time has come not only to condemn that behavior, but to consider it a crime against the nation, martyrs and future generations.

Our call for a just state becomes devoid of meaning and value if that state is not also strong, able to apply the law and the Constitution and protect freedoms, under the supervision of the legislative and judicial powers, the specialized oversight bodies, civil society and the media.

Freedom does not mean chaos, just as the state's power does not mean repression and denial of freedoms. It is necessary for the revolution to reinstate the role of our well-established state and of its institutions and members, providing for their needs, adopting incentives that encourage productivity and eliminate the mentality of routine administration, the "come back tomorrow", "no network connection", and "A little something for me".

The dignity of public administration workers is part of the state's dignity, and no economic or social renaissance can take place without a real administrative reform that includes full digitization and elimination of paper administration. When will we be able to have an administration where a businessman or a young entrepreneur can create a company in a few hours instead of wasting his life from one department to another.

While it was one of the gains of the revolution to develop administrative working hours by adopting the five-day week, it is now necessary to accelerate the pace of reform far from slogans and political wrangling.

We are proud of our state, we demand rights from it, and we fulfill our duties towards it. Amongst the prerequisites of reinstating respect for the state is that we announce a war on corruption, and that no one should enjoy impunity that places him above the law.

I say clearly that Nahdha Party is committed to combating corruption, bribery, tax evasion and wasting of public wealth. Our call for reconciliation does not mean whitewashing corruption or justifying or recreating a new system of corruption.

Our aim is to distinguish between the majority of businessmen and the minority implicated in corruption, and giving the latter the opportunity to own up, apologize and give back that which they acquired illegally. That would help encourage free economic enterprise.

We have stressed our support for the President's economic reconciliation initiative, while we await the discussion of its details at the Assembly of People's Representatives.

I also stress our commitment to the Transitional Justice process. Furthermore, I call for a comprehensive national reconciliation that turns a new page and prevents the perpetuation of enmity. The comprehensive national reconciliation we all seek is not the initiative of one person or one party, but for a whole country looking forward to the future.

Thus we have said repeatedly, we are for a comprehensive national reconciliation and for cooperation and consensus-building with all those who recognize the revolution and its martyrs and respect the Constitution, a partnership with all those who regard the revolution as  an opportunity for all of us - islamists, destourians, leftists, and all intellectual and political trends, so we can all go forward steadily towards a future that is free from grudges and exclusion.

Nor is it a "deal under the table" but rather a national vision of reconciliation between the state and citizens, between the state and deprived regions, between opposing political elites, between the past and the present - because Nahdha is a force of unification not one of division.

This also applies to the way we view our history, not as contradictory phases and figures - rather we see Khaireddine Al-Tounisi, Ahmed Bey, liberator of slaves, Moncef Bey, the late leader Habib Bourguiba, Farhat Hached, Abdelaziz Thaalibi, Salah Ben Youssef, Sheikh Mohamed Taher Ben Achour, and Tahar al-Haddad, God's mercy be upon them all, all those and others, as leading symbols of our dear nation, as sources of inspiration for us all, which must all enjoy our respect. They undoubtedly had their mistakes, but we take the positives and build on them.

Tunisians are tired of politicians bickering on media debates; they are concerned about security, terrorism, the cost of living, economic development, and the struggle of vulnerable groups, the poor and deprived, and marginalized regions. You, Nahdha members and supporters, must not be drawn into the elite's ideological battles, but should rather focus on the concerns of fellow citizens. A modern state is not run through ideologies, big slogans and political wrangling. It is guided by social and economic programs and solutions that provide security and prosperity for all.

Nahdha had evolved from defending identity, to ensuring the democratic transition, and today moves on to focus on the economic transition. The new phase is primarily about the economy.

Since liberation from colonization, Tunisia has achieved much in the fields of education, health, women's rights, literacy and other fields of human development. We embrace and value those achievements. We commit to preserving and developing them, within the framework of the continuity of the state and our pride in the republican system and Tunisian society and its choices, as enshrined in the Tunisian Constitution.

I salute Tunisian women, in urban and rural areas, in Tunisia and abroad, in schools, universities and workplaces, in society and at home. Our movement is very proud of the gains and rights achieved by Tunisian women, and will continue to support them to guarantee further freedom and advancement in fulfilling their potential, and preserving the social fabric and the family as the source of social cohesion and unity.

We, Tunisians, are the product of the struggle of our mothers - Sheikh Abdelfattah Mourou sitting here in front of you is the fruit of a hard-working illiterate woman, who gave Tunisian such a man. My own mother was also illiterate, but while my father merely focused on teaching us the Quran, she insisted on sending me and my brothers to continue our education, and accepted to work in the field with my sisters to give the males - only unfortunately the chance to be educated. My own wife, a university graduate, devoted her life to her children's education such that my four daughters obtained their PhDs or masters, as did our two sons who have masters in law and economics. I salute Tunisian women, who made this nation an educated developed nation.

I say to young people, torn between ambition and despair, who are disappointed in the outcome of the revolution and the political class: We hear you.

You are the future for which we work. The difficulties you face today must not be a source of pessimism or disengagement from public life. We need to overcome these challenges together, through sincere attachment to the nation, determination and persistence.

We call on the political elite to think about the youth and to provide them with the space to participate and to assume responsibility. It is high time for a national pact for youth development, so that no young man or woman is left marginalized, with no job, house, or prospects to establish a family.

Education is Tunisians' most valued capital. Today we are required to agree on a national vision for its reform in such a way that guarantees balance between knowledge and ethics, and employability. We have to address the dangers in young people's environment: violence, drugs, all the ways to exploit young people's minds through terrorism's evil plots. We have to address how education has become divorced from the job market.

We must break with ad-hoc reforms and with the search for quantity without quality. It is necessary to stress that education must be a door to work, not a bridge to unemployment.

No human development can take place without a cultural renaissance, without supporting creativity, without establishing cultural and sports activities in all regions, particularly in marginalized regions and popular urban neighborhoods. We want to see in every popular neighborhood a swimming pool, a sports centre, a cultural centre.

Strengthening the vocational training system and promoting it and reinstating its value are undoubtedly among the pillars of our reform plan.

The post-revolution state inherited an unemployment rate that was close to 14% according to official statistics in 2011, and the current rate is close to that.

Unemployment is the result of historical accumulations in the fields of education and training, the restriction of economic enterprise by laws that restrict freedom of investment, and by weak infrastructure in most regions of the country making them unattractive for economic projects.

Overcoming unemployment can only take place within a holistic economic model based on investment, which creates jobs and achieves balanced regional development and eliminates the mentality which eschews entrepreneurship and even the value of work.

We believe in the necessity of implementing the principle of positive discrimination enshrined in the Constitution for the benefit of deprived regions. We welcome and support the coming process of decentralization after the local elections, just as we support the right of the regions to a percentage of their natural resources in order to achieve regional development.

As I call upon businessmen to invest, particularly in the inner regions, I stress the necessity to lift all restrictions placed before them in this regard.

I call from this platform for an urgent economic recovery program that prioritizes reactivating obstructed production in certain strategic sectors and implementing stalled public projects. This program must adopt exceptional measures in all fields related to employment, investment and developing deprived regions, and mobilize internal financial resources and reduce dependence on external debt by encouraging national savings, reforming taxation and further simplification of the procedures for creating companies and initiating projects.

It is necessary to seek to implement a major economic project in each priority district over the next five years, to begin to distribute national lands to young entrepreneurs, to launch a legislative and administrative revolution to lift restrictions to investment and entrepreneurship, and to support the government's work through a major economic ministry.

It is also important to stress the need to spread social welfare coverage particularly for workers in the agricultural field, and to direct subsidies to those who need them, to reinstate the culture of work and the link between fulfilling one's duty and demanding one's right.

As I renew my call for a social truce that preserves the rights of workers and protects economic institutions, I salute the important role played by the Tunisian General Workers' Union, the Union of Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts, the Union of Agriculture and Fisheries and all national organizations for their role in development.

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The revolution gave Tunisians abroad for the first time the right to be part of parliament and to elect their representatives, as an integral component of Tunisia. I call for further support to them as they face a new wave of xenophobia. And I call on them to further strengthen their economic ties to their beloved homeland through increasing transfers and spending their summer holidays in Tunisian hotels, as well as investing, and it is necessary to create incentives for them to do so.

It is important in this regard to support Tunisian diplomacy in its official and cultural dimensions, and economic diplomacy in particular. I stress Nahdha's commitment to supporting the state's foreign policy, and Tunisia's role in spreading peace, consensus and combating terrorism around the world. As I commend the steps made by our Libyan neighbors towards reconciliation and unity, it is our hope that the Arab world will soon inaugurate an age of peace and comprehensive reconciliation.

We also express our commitment to the Arab Maghreb Union, and we salute our neighbors Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Libya, and renew our commitment to strengthening our relations with our Arab, Muslim and African neighbors, and our pride in the good relations between Tunisia and Europe, the United States of America and all countries around the world.

We are proud that the Tunisian experience, which has won international acclaim, has proven that the solution to conflict is consensus-building and seeking the foundation for co-existence. We have demonstrated that democracy is possible in the Arab world, and that democracy is the solution to corruption, bribery, despotism, chaos and terrorism, and that investing in democracy is better and more effective than supporting regressive dictatorships.

The solution is reconciliation between the poor and the rich, between the north and south, between cultures and civilizations, between faiths. Our world needs mutual understanding, peace, solidarity, security and tolerance.

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Nahdha's members, with their blood, tears and sacrifices, have gone through trials and tribulations that taught us courage to admit our errors and review our policies far from any arrogance or egoism.

Self-criticism is a condition for evolution in the modern world, and just as we have practiced it throughout our history, we will consolidate it in our Tenth Congress, for which Tunisians have many expectations.

The success of this congress is primarily about presenting a renewed united Nahdha that is able to participate in solving Tunisia's problems, a party of national ambition, a party of objective analysis and constructive criticism that give rise to a democratic alternative, a party that is open to its environment and to all capabilities and potential, a party that is proud of its members - women and men.

Every individual in Nahdha is a story of sacrifice and heroism. Families that have been torn apart and exiled; tens of thousands of prisoners..

Nahdhaouis sacrificed a lot for the sake of Tunisia - that is why we regard Nahdha as the shared possession of Tunisia and all Tunisians, before belonging to Nahdha members and supporters. That is what strengthens our conviction that the choice of reform is our path to rising to our people's aspirations, and that partnership and cooperation are our choice. Tunisia cannot be ruled in the coming years by the logic of majority and minority but rather by the logic of consensus and partnership.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For many years, I was banned from entering Tunisia. When I used to see Tunis Air flights at any airport around the world, I would dream of returning to my land, dreams that were then very far from reality.

Will I return home one day?

Will I once again meet our sons and daughters scattered between dozens of prisons and places of exile?

Will I ever have the right to walk the streets of my country and congratulate my fellow Tunisians, my friends and family on festivals and Eids?

That dream has become a reality, by God's Grace. And it continues to grow inside me day by day, turning from the dream of return to the dream of building a new beginning for Tunisia.

A dream of a better Tunisia - a united Tunisia; a democratic, developed and inclusive Tunisia.

We must share this dream with all Tunisians, as we look together with optimism, determination and hope to the future, not towards the past.

It is the Tunisian dream that motivates us to work hard and sacrifice in order to turn the revolution's dreams into reality.

You, Tunisian men and women, are stronger than all difficulties and challenges.

You, grandchildren of Hannibal, Jugurtha, Oqba, Ibn Khaldun, el-Chebbi; children of Carthage, Kairouan, Mehdia and al-Zaytouna; you are able, God willing, through your unity and solidarity, through your attachment to your beloved country and your belief in yourselves, to achieve what we aspire to, and more - to achieve the Tunisian dream, just as you created, through your consensus, the Tunisian exception; and just as you sparked, with your courage and defiance, the flame of the Arab Spring.

It is time for Tunisia's ship to leave the shore, to sail on its journey towards development and prosperity for all its people.

By God's grace, we inaugurate this Congress, and we ask God to guide us to choose what is best for our country and our shared future.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Saudi Arabia’s Impracticable Alliances

    February 25, 2016   No comments

Saudi Wahhabism at home and abroad and the arrogation of Islam

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia *

Abstract: Before WikiLeaks released the Saudi diplomatic cables in 2010, the rulers of Saudi Arabia had cultivated the image of being deliberate, moderate, and averse to confrontation. Since the start of 2011, the Saudi rulers have behaved in ways that annulled that perception. The Saudi rulers hosted the Tunisian dictator and refused to extradite him to face criminal and corruption charges, criticized the U.S. for not standing by Hosni Mubarak, turned down a coveted seat on the UNSC, sent its armed forces to crush a peaceful protest in Bahrain, armed Salafists to overthrow the Syrian government, engineered a political coup that displaced the democratically elected prime minister of Iraq--Nuri al-Maliki, and launched a brutal war on Yemen committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the process. Days before beheading a religious leader who spoke against the oppression of Shias, the deputy crown prince and minister of war of the kingdom announced the creation of an “Islamic military coalition,” consisting of 34 countries to combat terrorism. These are not the actions and temperament of deliberate, moderate leaders. These are the actions of impetuous, nervous, and paranoid autocrats who seem to be running out of options as their internal, regional, and global allies abandon them.


In order to forecast the future of the Saudi monarchy, one must understand its origins, culture, and friends and allies within and without the kingdom. Most of the territory known today as Saudi Arabia was under the suzerainty, if not the full control, of the Ottoman Empire since 1517 CE. The modern kingdom, however, has its origins in 1744, when the two Muhammads--Muhammad Ibn Saud and Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab formed an alliance to control the region near Riyadh and start their expansion to rule over almost all of the Arabian Peninsula. This alliance made the monarchical system, ordinarily frowned upon in conservative Islamic legal traditions, a viable form of government in a deeply conservative society. 

The second pivotal point started in 1938 after oil was discovered and the Saudi-U.S. alliance was born. This alliance, too, brought together two countries that, by most standards, reside in opposite extremes of political and cultural spectrums. The United States is a nation with a self-declared commitment to human rights, religious freedom, political pluralism, and civil liberty. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is a country ruled by a regime that imposes the strictest social and political codes that prohibit women from driving cars or traveling unaccompanied by a family member, systemically discriminates among people on sectarian and religious grounds, bans political protest and public dissent, and imposes a criminal justice regime that is in conflict with international treaties and humanitarian law and conventions.
Yet, it is these unlikely alliances that the Saudi rulers have struck that provide the regime with relative stability at home and sweeping influence around the world.
While the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance defined the religious and political character of the kingdom, the Saudi-U.S. alliance spelled out the economic and security terms that guided the kingdom’s regional and international affairs. The Saudi-U.S.alliance was built on reciprocated leverage. The Saudi regime needed stability and legitimacy given its extremist religious creed and its staggering human rights record. The United States needed a reliable source of cheap oil to power its manufacturing-based, transport-dependent economy and life style. There was also an added benefit of this unlikely relationship: the presence of a U.S. ally, like Saudi Arabia, in the Persian Gulf region limited the Soviet Union’s reach into the region. 
When the Soviet Union’s increased influence in the Middle East was the primary threat to U.S. interests in the region, Saudi Arabia was crucial in firewalling the Arab world against Soviet intrusion. The Kingdom used both a religious discourse that deaminized communism and dramatized the threat of socialists’ takeovers, and oil-generated wealth to buy Arab regimes’ compliance.
With the exception of the pseudo socialist (or pseudo revolutionary) regimes in Egypt (during the rule of Nasser), Algeria (during the rule of Boumediane), Syria, Iraq (under Ba`athist regimes), and Libya (under Qaddafi), Saudi Arabia was able to use religion and money to keep other Arab regimes in the West’s camp. 
The Saudi assistance to U.S. went beyond the Arab world. The rulers of Saudi Arabia were instrumental in making sure that Pakistan was on the side of the United States during the U.S.-USSR proxy war in Afghanistan. Pakistan served as the ideological and military training ground of the Wahhabi-Salafi fighters recruited from all over the world to fight the Soviet Union in central Asia.
The U.S.-Saudi alliance also allowed the Saudi rulers and wealthy individuals to build and control Islamic centers in North America and Europe and use these centers to spread Wahhabism cloaked as orthodox Sunni Islam. The presence of Saudi-linked Islamic centers explains the disproportionate number of European citizens, as opposed to Muslims from other Muslim-majority countries, joining ISIL in Iraq and Syria in the last five years.  

ISIL condemned Saudi religious and political leaders in its recent publication, Dabiq, NO. 13.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S.-Saudi alliance continued their joint efforts of undermining governments deemed unfriendly to either or both countries. To topple the revolutionary Shi`i regime that overthrew the Shah of Iran, whom the U.S. and UK intelligence services installed in the stead of the democratically elected government in the 1953 coup, U.S. administrations and the Saudi rulers worked together to instigate and support Saddam’s war on Iran from 1980 until 1988. The two governments collaborated to confront Saddam when he invaded Kuwait. Lastly, Saudi Arabia was instrumental in muting Arab opposition to U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. However, the outcome of the invasion of Iraq turned out to be catastrophic for the U.S and for the rulers of Saudi Arabia. One of that invasion’s byproducts was the creation of a path to political power for Iraqi Shi`as—the Iraqi majority long oppressed under the Ba`ath regime.

To manage this and many other side effects of the invasion of Iraq, the Saudi rulers, first, attempted to limit the power of the Shi`as by promoting and eventually implementing a political arrangement that gave Kurdish and Sunni minorities virtual veto powers either through the presidency or the parliament that paralyzed Shia-led governments. The so-called safeguards that were said to protect ethnic and religious minorities produced a very weak government and fractured institutions that continue to threaten the territorial integrity of Iraq. 
Weak government coupled with instability in Syria provided the kind of environment in which Combatant Salafists thrive. In the summer of 2014, the Salafist group known as ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), used the instability created by the protest movement in Sunni towns moved quickly and took over Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, and a number of other Sunni cities and towns in northern Iraq, linking them with territories the group controls in northeastern Syria. Subsequently, the group’s leaders declared that they have re-established the Islamic caliphate and adopted the name, the Islamic State. The group went on to absorb other smaller Salafi fighting groups in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and North Africa. Before the end of 2014, the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, condemned the Saudi regime calling it the illegitimate, infidel Salul Clan. That declaration essentially damaged the bond between Salafism and Saudi Arabia. The state of Saudi Arabia is no longer the sole protector and enabler of Wahhabi-Salafism.
The illegal invasion of Iraq and the subsequent material and human cost increased Americans’ reluctance to intervene militarily, especially when there is no strategy for the day after regimes fall. Moreover, the wave of peaceful protests, popularly known as the Arab Spring, removed two of the regimes that were part of the so-called “moderate axis” and threatened every other regime in the Arab world, including the Saudi rulers. The fact that the U.S. was willing and able to let close allies, like Ben Ali and Mubarak, fall alarmed the Saudi rulers not because of perceived ingratitude to Mubarak and Ben Ali, but because they feared that the U.S. government could abandon them, too.
The Iran Deal that resolved the nuclear standoff between Iran and Western powers only increased the Saudi rulers’ anxiety. However, when Wikileaks released the Saudi diplomatic cables and revealed its secret dealings, the Saudi rulers decided to take off the mask of moderation and act aggressively, assertively, and without restraint.
To stay in power, and due to their peculiar alliances, the rulers of the Saudi kingdom need to pursue two paths that necessarily lead to different outcomes. They need to secure their people’s consent and international legitimacy at the same time. However, what they must undertake to appease the Saudi people, the majority of whom are by now fully indoctrinated in Wahhabi-Salafism, will necessarily alienate other Muslim and non-Muslim countries who suffered acts of terrorism perpetrated by followers of Combatant Wahhabi-Salafism. This paradox stems from the kind of arrangement the Saud clan has made with Wahhabi clerics during the formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi rulers often accuse other governments, including the ones with a history of shared governance and the presence of democratic institutions--imperfect as that might be--of lacking legitimacy. Yet, they often reject criticism of their treatment of women, religious minorities, and lack of legitimacy as blatant interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom. They often argue that that Saudi society, due to its religious and cultural heritage, has its own form of social contract that bestows the Saudi regime with legitimacy and sovereignty.
Culturally, Arab communities living in the Arabian Peninsula have generally recognized a tribal system that allows the most dominant clan to preside over all other clans granted that all other clans are represented in the advisory council, known as the shuraor ahl al-hall wa-‘l-’aqd.  
Religiously, the Saudi form of government echoes the 7th century Umayyad model whereby the most powerful of clans monopolized political power and the institution of religious scholars, `ulamā, dispensed religious decrees and counsel to the caliph. In this paradigm, the political leaders were legitimized by the religious scholars, but religious scholars depended on the protection and patronage of the political leaders. 
The Saudi rulers have decided from the outset to rely on only one traditional school of thought, Hanbalism, and adhere only to the advice of the most conservative modern authorities of that school of thought, Wahhabists. Modern Saudi society has been engineered to reflect Arabic tribal culture and live by Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, which makes the kingdom very unique politically, religiously, and socially. The combination of Saudi Arabia’s economic power and ultraconservative religious discourse produced supremacist attitudes.
The political and military actions the Saudi rulers have undertaken in the past five years reveal serious flaws in defining problems, understanding global trends, and designing long term strategies to reform their political and religious institutions. In order to overcome some of the existential threats to the current regime, the Saudi rulers must learn, adapt, reform, and respect their neighbors. Their actions, thus far, however, are rooted in ignorance, arrogance, and sectarianism. 
1. The Saudi rulers have failed to understand that the post-digital media era is fundamentally different from the pre-digital media era. There is no amount of money that could enable any government to filter all information indefinitely.
2, The Saudi rulers want to preserve a culture and religious tradition that is in conflict with the traditions and practices of the rest of the Islamic world. The Saudi practices and the demands of the modern world are in conflict. They have to choose between being part of a diverse world and a unitary society. They cannot be part of the world and broader Islamic societies without reforming their way of life to accept other expressions of Islam as valid and to peacefully co-exist with other religious and non-religious communities.
3. The Saudi rulers want to remain relevant in the world and appear strong at home. To be strong at home, they have to live by a religious code that is shared with al-Qaeda and its derivatives. For them to earn the support of the public they have to take positions that would place them, ideologically and politically, to the right of ISIL. They understand that. That is why they beheaded 44 people in one day in the first month of 2016. That is unprecedented even by ISIL’s standards. To remain true to their religious and cultural norms, they have to maintain the theological position that the Shias are heretic, outside Islam. They understand that. That is why they beheaded the most prominent Saudi Shia on the same day they killed 46 Wahhabi-Salafi extremists.
4. The Saudi rulers want to appease their Wahhabi-Salafi religious establishment by appearing tough on heretic Shi`as. However, that same position creates problems for them with the world community. There is no place for supremacist ideas and practices in this ever more connected world. 
5. Their strategy is to cloak their disdain for Shi`as in the false claim that Iran is interfering in the affairs of Arab and Sunni Muslim countries. That strategy failed since no country cut diplomatic relations with Iran on that account. Instead, the small number of countries cut their relations or recalled their diplomats to protest the attacks on the Saudi diplomatic buildings, not to protest Iran’s condemnation of the beheading of the Shia scholar. Desperately, the Saudi rulers called for emergency meetings of the Arab League and OIC to rally Muslim countries against Iran, but none of the other 57 Muslim majority countries cut diplomatic relations with Iran. In fact, even Pakistan, a close ally of Saudi Arabia for decades, offered to mediate between the two countries; it did not side with the kingdom. Frustrated by the lack of solidarity from some Arab countries, the rulers of Saudi Arabia rescinded a decision to gift Lebanese military security agencies four billion dollars and threatened similar actions against other governments that threaten “Arab unity”, which meant not going along with Saudi directives. These actions backfired, prompting Morocco to refuse to host the year Arab League summit, citing discord and lack of consensus among leaders.
In the end, the Saudi rulers’ current strategy for staying in power is doomed to fail because it is built on too many contradictions. The harder the Saudi rulers work to appease the Saudi people at home the harder it becomes for them to convince the rest of the world that they are inclusive, non-sectarian, and serious about fighting terrorism. The anti-terrorism law the late king laid out in March 2014 was a cover for persecuting, and prosecuting peaceful dissenters. The law equated between a blogger who raises awareness for social justice and a genocidal fighter who sees himself in pursuit of a divine mission to purge the world of all who are not true Muslims. 
Similarly, the “Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism” will fail once its members realize that the Saudi rulers want to use it as a cover to pursue a sectarian agenda and an attempt to legitimize their rule within and outside the kingdom. The rhetoric of “hazm” seems to be directed at the Shi`as. The Saudi military forces avoided any level of confrontation with al-Qaeda and ISIL fighters in Yemen. In fact, since these groups did not exist in large numbers in Yemen before Saudi Arabia had begun its bombing campaign, and since they are now in control of a number of Yemeni cities and provinces, it stands to reason that the Saudi air force provided the cover and support to insert those groups in southern and eastern Yemen.
What is at stake?
The Saudi rulers’ actions in the region, their attempt to create coalitions of Islamic nations to define and confront terrorism, and the increased reach of Combatant Wahhabi-Salafists lead to the conclusion that the future of Islamic thought and practices and welfare of Muslims is at stake. The link between the brand of Islam that is espoused by al-Qaeda and its derivatives and that which is taught and practiced in Saudi Arabia is established beyond any measure of reasonable doubt. That version of Islam is a frozen reconstruct of some practices and thought from the eighth and ninth centuries. The religious clerics of that brand of Islam do not distinguish between the immutable theological creed and the circumstantial political and legal enunciations. Simply put, the Wahhabi-Salafi interpretation of Islam is not compatible with other expressions of Islam, including the teachings of Sunni Muslim jurists of Malikism, Hanafism, and Shafi`ism.
Should Sunni Muslims allow the Saudi rulers and their Wahhabi-Salafi muftis to define Islamic orthodoxy and orthopraxy, Islamic thought and practices will be rendered incompatible with international law treaties, universal declarations, and the requirements of modern life in this increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. 
This is not to suggest that Wahhabi-Salafism should be outlawed or eradicated because suggesting so will be an affirmation of al-Qaeda’s and its derivatives’ practices. Freedom of thought, conscience, and worship guarantee everyone, including Wahhabi-Salafis, the right to believe whatever religion or interpretation thereof they wish to follow. Indeed, if Saudi Arabian society wishes to believe and practice only Wahhabism, then the Saudi people should be able to do so, as long as they refrain from imposing their beliefs on others by force.
Muslim communities, especially the Sunnis, must challenge the Saudi rulers’ attempt to project themselves as the defenders and exemplars of true Islam, because Wahhabi-Salafism hardly represents historical Islam that inspired the Islamic civilization. Muslim scholars must speak clearly and forcefully against the teachings and practices that are abusive to human dignity. Sunni Muslim scholars, especially, must speak against the genocidal practices that have taken many lives and endangered the wellbeing of millions more, in their name.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.


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