The Arab Spring has made prominent a number of phenomena that find their roots in the distinguishing features of the region, especially the Arab Levant. These features are religion (and, more precisely, sect) and oil. Analysis of these two features may help clarify the current situation and the growing chaos.
Steadfastness of oil-monarchic states
Phenomenon One: Some states have been steadfast in the face of the region’s uprisings, which broke out three and a half years ago. Except for Algeria, whose civil war is still grinding in the minds and imaginations of its sons, it seems as though the states that have not been affected by the storm that has shaken the region apply Sharia and are based on a monarchical political system. With the exception of Jordan, which was able to stem the beginnings of the popular movement within its borders with relative ease, all of these states have rentier economies based on oil and gas. It seems at first glance that the “backbone” of the Arab world is based on religion and oil. Supposedly, religion provides coherence and oil secures abundance. This is the best that a ruler can hope for to guarantee his authority and power over his territory.
August was packed with heightened political action from different Sudanese forces — both governmental and opposition — thus revealing the gravity of the crisis. Will there be a detente, consensus or positive response to the critical developments, as was the case in Tunisia? Or will Sudan waste yet another opportunity and drive itself into further division?
The electoral commission announced the registration and campaign agenda. It also set an April date for the elections. The government was faced with a boycott announcement only two days later from the two largest forces opposing President Omar al-Bashir’s regime: the armed Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), which includes the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North and the Darfur rebel groups, and the National Umma Party led by Sadiq al-Mahdi. The largest opposition party in Sudan, the National Umma Party which is determined to use peaceful action to impose change.
A week later, the 7+7 National Dialogue Committee — which represents both government and opposition, and which arose from the National Dialogue Conference that Bashir initiated in early 2014 — announced its decisions. This came after eight months of obstruction against the dialogue and pushing Mahdi, one of the main participants in the conference at the time, to announce its clinical death.
It is wrong to think that the war between the Kurds and takfiri groups only started after the Islamic State (IS) took control of Mosul and advanced toward the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
In fact, Kurdish fighters fought fierce battles against takfiris — battles that began about two years ago — when IS tried to take control of the Kurdish areas in northern Syria, and especially the strategic town of Ras al-Ain (Siri Kania) on the Turkish-Syrian border. At the time, the radical group was fiercely resisted by the People’s Protection Units and the Women’s Protection Units, the most prominent Kurdish formations in Syria.
Yesterday [Sept. 16], Kurdish fighters achieved significant progress in the countryside of Qamishli in Hassaka province following clashes that began last Thursday [Sept. 11]. They managed, with the help of fighters from Arab tribes, to regain control of 14 villages in this region, in northern Syria.
Despite recent events, the latest being the abduction of military members at the hands of armed terrorist groups, former President Michel Suleiman clings to his optimism. In an interview with As-Safir at his residence in Yarze, he recalled the past, confirmed facts of the present and tackled how the future should unfold.
Suleiman expressed satisfaction with the wide international and regional support garnered by the army, and said, “Russia has repeatedly voiced its readiness to supply the army with weapons, particularly helicopters, tanks and ammunition. The only pending point is the availability of specific amounts capable of enabling Lebanon to logistically receive these weapons. This is being seriously studied in light of the grants and the [military] programming law, and it needs to be approved by the parliament, but the army may receive part of this amount pending the ratification of the law.”
The former president of the republic said, “Lebanon is starting to receive what it asked the American side for, namely programs previously decided upon but that have been expedited. There is a gift of $1 billion, with which [Lebanon] will buy equipment from the United States and other countries, but the purchase of arms needs time. This is why I called for dropping the routine procedures in order to deliver weapons, munitions and ammunition. As for the gift of $3 billion, it exists, even if it took time to materialize due to the difficult administrative procedures. Moreover, it is easy to haphazardly throw around rumors about commissions delaying the implementation of the grant, which sometimes gives me the feeling that there are people who do not favor the implementation of the grant. To put an end to these rumors, I asked the prime minister to mandate a committee tasked with following up on the issue, and the most important thing in this gift is that it did not come through to Lebanon, noting that reports about deals and commissions harm the general mood, and we have unfortunately failed to deal with the grant in an honorable way.”
Angelina Eichhorst, EU ambassador to the Lebanese Republic, revealed that during her last visit to Brussels, she came under a barrage of questions about Lebanon’s ability to continue as a nation and state in light of such a large number of displaced Syrians in the country. She stressed the need not to limit services and aid to Syrians only, but to include the Lebanese as well, who have suffered a great deal.
“Terrorism and extremism cannot be confronted through security measures only. Establishing a social, economic and development safety net would help create job opportunities and tackle poverty,” Eichhorst said. “The EU is carrying out its duties in providing help for the displaced, but the Lebanese are also in need of aid.”
Eichhorst, who visited As-Safir's office in Tripoli on Sept. 11, said, “Lebanon is under great pressure as a result of the Syrian refugees in the country. Political, economic and social solutions ought to be found in this regard, which come through a sense of responsibility toward the situation.”
“The solution for the refugee issues is to end the war in Syria so that they can return to their country. There is a country called Syria, and Syrians ought to return there,” she said, stressing the need to “share responsibility between all parties, through unified visions and goals.” Eichhorst called upon Lebanese leaders to take on responsibility and implement a strategy in cooperation with the EU, “which is assuming this responsibility, as a prelude to the refugees’ return to their country, in addition to providing the Lebanese with job, education, economic development opportunities, especially in northern Lebanon Tripoli.”
The grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, fiercely attacked the Islamic State (IS) yesterday [Sept. 8], describing its members as “criminals tarnishing the image of Islam.” He said IS and other terrorist groups are “products of colonialism serving Zionism.”
Tayeb's speech — which he gave while presenting Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal an honorary doctorate for Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in humanitarian and social sciences at Al-Azhar University — was the strongest stance from the grand imam against this extremist organization.
Tayeb criticized Western countries in general, and the United States in particular, for slackening their fight on terrorism, as seen in comparison with their incredible speed in occupying Iraq and disbanding its army.
Tayeb praised the Saudi king, particularly “his constant efforts to fight the dark forces of terrorism that have burdened the nation and the whole world.”
He said, “The perpetrators of this kind of terrorism are not afraid of slaughtering, killing and beheading people, causing terror and fright and annihilating others in a savage way that history has never known before.”
At first, the picture seemed blurry from afar: an extremist fundamentalist organization known today as the Islamic State (IS) officially emerged in its current form in April 2014 in Syria and Iraq. It quickly gained force on the ground and in the media, abandoning al-Qaeda, which chose to officially recognize Jabhat al-Nusra.
IS, an emerging organization internationally classified as the richest terrorist organization in the world, is quickly expanding in Syria. It is invading, slaughtering and fighting the armed factions opposing the Syrian regime, the extreme and the moderate ones as well. It is attracting fighters who are looking for the bloodiest and strongest party on the military level, in the name of Islam.
Fears of invasion, occupation, and slaughter were far from the Lebanese [political] setting but they began to become closer and closer after the battle of Arsal Aug. 2. Horror from the bloodthirsty IS started to spread throughout all Lebanese regions, across all sects and political colors. Fear of this extremist organization grew increasingly. In this respect, one may ask a fundamental question: Is it actually possible that some areas of Lebanon may turn into Islamic emirates for IS or Jabhat al-Nusra, as in Iraq and Syria?
With the exacerbation of the threat of terrorist extremists and its spread to Lebanon, talk has escalated about Lebanese people’s increased inclination to carry weapons, especially in regions that might be targeted by the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra, as is the case in the northern Bekaa Valley. There has been a lot of talk about the phenomenon of armament and whether it's justified or not. This discussion is especially heated in the Christian community, first because of considerations about the pronounced alignments and second due to the increased sensitivity among Christians to self-security.
Since the political conflict between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces is deep and intense, the armament issue quickly turned into a subject of debate. The Lebanese Forces (LF) clearly accused the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of encouraging Christians generally and in particular their supporters, to carry arms under the pretext of fighting the threat of IS. The March 14 General Secretariat formally made this accusation and recently included it in one of its weekly statements.
Although the FPM understands the concern of Christians regarding the existential threat that the growing extremist wave poses and although it is trying to address this threat in its own way, a source in Rabieh confirmed that General Michel Aoun is still warning against calls for armament. He clearly told some people close to him that he opposes this issue but that, “People who already have a rifle at home and use it to protect their families are a different issue.”
Egyptians are busy with a controversial religious edict [fatwa] issued by the Fatwa Secretariat of Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta. The edict prohibits “electronic conversations between the sexes on social media, except when necessary.” Dar al-Ifta removed the edict from its official website less than 48 hours after it was posted last Friday [Aug. 29], but that did not stop the debate on social media, especially as the edict was issued in conjunction with a government decision banning the mixing of the sexes in health clubs.
Did the Egyptians revolt against President Morsi’s religious state only to find themselves in a state that is not much different? That was the question asked by Twitter users as they commented on the religious edict, which was linked to Dar al-Ifta’s invitation almost two weeks ago to issue a code of conduct for social media users (see As-Safir, Aug. 19, 2014 edition).
Aleppo is witnessing a state of cautious calm that is occasionally interrupted by an exchange of fire between armed groups and the Syrian army. The balance of power does not tip [decisively one way or the other], but it's currently favoring the Syrian army, which was able to cordon off the city and isolate the militants from the rural [areas] north of Aleppo that extend to Turkey. In this area, exchange of fire between the Islamic State (IS) and armed groups occurs in the vicinity of Marea city, with no advancement by either party.
A source on the ground told As-Safir that the battles in Aleppo and the surrounding areas had come to a halt temporarily due to the battles that erupted in rural Hama.
The regime forces conducted a series of consecutive military operations in rural northern Aleppo, where they gained control of the areas surrounding the industrial zone [of Aleppo], which is now completely secure and ready to be revived. An industrial source reported that more than 85 factories restored their activities. The army operations also included expanding toward the Handarat camp to cut off the supply route of militants into Aleppo and the towns Nebel and Zahraa. The said route is currently cut by force of shelling in an attempt to lift the siege of the two towns.
Arab regimes excel at creating policies. They have outdone the world in creating and finding legal means to enrich their punitive history toward their people. Lately, one regime decided to strip its citizens of citizenship so it could continue its rule and silence the people, thus blocking out any interpretation that highlights its oppressive measures.
Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa signed a law to amend some provisions of the 1963 Bahraini Citzenship Act, which details the reasons and procedures of withdrawing citizenship. A clause stating, "Harming the interests of the kingdom or behaving in a way that contradicts the duty of loyalty toward it — " was added to the provision that facilitates the withdrawal of a Bahraini national's citizenship.
This amendment had many hidden motives. The punishment was no longer related to high treason. Instead, it was turned into a punitive measure to be used against anyone who opposes the government. It is a way to pressure Bahraini activists and opposition members who have been rebelling against the politics of this regime for the last 3 ½ years.