Monthly Archives: September 2016

Arabia will have to change drastically. The tectonic plates are shifting

The US is sending some kind of message to the Saudis, as Congress votes overwhelmingly by 348-76 (well above the two-thirds majority needed for an override) to reject Obama’s veto of the bill allowing relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, the first veto override of Obama’s eight-year-long presidency.

The Senate had earlier opposed the veto by 97-1, so the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” now becomes law.

As it is money is fast running out for the Kingdom. The 32.5 million bpd production “limit” that OPEC have just agreed will not hold oil prices in the mid-forties for very long.

The strikes of foreign hospital workers in Saudi Arabia, who have been unpaid for seven months, follow the complaints of those in work camps far out in the desert that they are no longer even receiving supplies of food and electricity, let alone salaries.

Now for the first time financial cuts are hitting public sector workers who are Saudi citizens, 70 per cent of whom work for the government. So far the austerity is limited with lower bonuses and overtime payments and a 20 per cent reduction in the salaries of ministers, though those close to political power are unlikely to be in actual need.

Some $120 billion, or half of Saudi government spending, went on salaries, wages and allowances in 2015. But with a Saudi budget deficit of $100 billion, the haemorrhage of cash will neither be sustainable nor possible to rein in. Construction companies like Oger and Binladen that are the backbone of the Saudi economy are not getting paid and are owed billions of US dollars.

Meanwhile, the war in Yemen drags on – a war that Mohamed bin Salman can only stop at his peril, since the power of the Saudi clan both internally and externally depends on a victory.

Unlike Morsi, Corbyn was able to rout the plotters

Peter Oborne writes

There are some intriguing parallels between the disloyalty of Blairite Labour MPs towards Corbyn and the attitude of the Egyptian deep state towards President Mohamed Morsi after he was elected president in free democratic elections in 2012.

The Egyptian Army and intelligence services, the business elite and the Nasserite left simply refused to recognise the legitimacy of multiple elections and would not enable Morsi to govern. They had their way, but the democratic transition was set back years in the process.

So far, that has been the approach of Hilary Benn, Tom Watson, Ben Bradshaw and the other Labour wreckers and saboteurs. They are refusing to accept that Corbyn has a democratic mandate and, as a result, are determined to destroy him from within.

read the full article here

Syria is someone’s home and they aren’t going to give up

Bilal Abdul Kareem writes

The horror of Aleppo, words such as “unbelievable” and “shocking” fill news broadcasts. But in besieged Aleppo, the events of the day were normal.

I am a person that believes strongly in dialogue and trying to see multiple viewpoints. However, there are some conflicts that cannot be solved by dialogue and compromise.

Paralysis of the world community

There is a well known saying: “All evil needs in order to spread is for good men to do nothing.” The reality is that Bashar Assad has been able to kill a half million people live on television with the world watching using chemical weapons, and barrel bombs, targeting hospitals and rescue personnel, starving prisoners to death on a daily basis: all of this documented .

Nothing was done to stop the dictator. The numbers are staggering: more than a half million dead and nearly tens of millions displaced. Somehow the focus of this crisis has turned to fighting the Islamic State (IS) group and Jabhat Fateh al-Shams (Nusra) and no one is talking about militarily taking on Bashar Assad.

Syrians receive treatment at a make-shift hospital following air strikes on rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo on September 24, 2016. Heavy Syrian and Russian air strikes on rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo city killed at least 25 civilians on Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, overwhelming doctors and rescue workers. / AFP PHOTO / KARAM AL-MASRI

Syrians receive treatment at a make-shift hospital following air strikes on rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo on September 24, 2016. Heavy Syrian and Russian air strikes on rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo city killed at least 25 civilians on Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, overwhelming doctors and rescue workers / AFP PHOTO / KARAM AL-MASRI

Protecting the Arab Syrian people means fighting the Russians

Oil and natural gas has a way of helping Western powers understand their “responsibilities” very well. The Libyan rebels did not have to beg NATO to come to their assistance. NATO was prepared to intervene and all that was needed was for the hapless Arab League to “request” their help and Voila! Instant help. Is it possible that the huge oil reserves within Libya’s borders had anything to do with it?

The Syrians, however, have very little oil. To be honest, Syria is really only valuable to the Russians and not so much to the West. Syria is home to the only military base the Russians have in the entire Middle East. So to be real, the Russians need Syria in a big way and they have demonstrated that they are willing to fight any and everyone for it.

The West would like to contain Russia’s influence but not so much that they have to commit troops to it. Thus instead of hearing phrases like “coalition of the willing” and “global responsibility”, we are forced to hear slogans like “there is no military solution to this conflict” and “let’s have a ceasefire and negotiate”.

Exactly how do you negotiate with a government which has killed more than a half million of its own citizens? The answer is: You don’t.

Islamic rebel fighters will not call off the fight and share power

Western powers would like to window dress. In the past, Bashar Assad was rarely in opposition to Western interests.

So the idea of an Islamically oriented government in Syria is frightening for the West. It is well-known that the driving force behind this revolution (IS excluded) are Islamic brigades. Free Syrian Army groups militarily play a distant secondary role on the battlefields.

Western powers want another strongman, but they have not been successful, although not from a lack of trying. Western powers have tried to support the FSA, Jamal Marouf, and the Hazim movement. That doesn’t include all of the soldiers they tried to train to fight their enemies (al-Qaeda/IS) under the condition that they would use their new skills only for targets that Washington chose and not against Bashar Assad.

All this has been a huge failure.

The West must understand that the Syrian people are no longer willing to simply march and beg for their rights as they did in March 2011. This is now 2016 and they are a battle-hardened people willing to fight even a superpower in Russia to safeguard their right to self-determination.

This leads to one conclusion: either the West will genuinely recognise the Syrians’ right to self-determination (and not subjugation) or there will be fighting in this part of the world for a long time…..

Russian crimes against humanity in Aleppo

The Russians have overplayed their hand. Riad Hijab tells us in this Al-Jazeera video that there can no longer be any expectation of future negotiations: the Russian-Iranian-Assadi axis should now expect a violent backlash on the ground. And he clarifies that the Turkish Operation Euphrates Shield is a totally separate endeavour to create a safe zone in northern Syria, with or without US help, and clear the area of DAESH/ISIL, who in fact more often than not cooperate with the Assad régime.

Coptic Church astonishingly ties itself to the mast of the sinking ship

Amr Khalifa writes

For most world leaders, a visit to the UN general assembly is a political formality. But for an Egyptian head of state hemorrhaging support, it was life or death.

This is doubly compounded when the Coptic Church, a powerful entity in Egypt, hitches itself to the state’s wagon. An approach derided by almost everyone didn’t stop Pope Tawadros from declaring “’Egyptian dignity is represented by how Sisi is received“, thus politicising the church for the umpteenth time since the coup.

Domestic strife abroad

Across the street from the UN, where Sisi gave an extraordinarily ordinary speech on 20 September, two groups of Egyptians confronted each other. The pro-Sisi crowd was sprinkled with healthy doses of Egyptian Copts, while the opposing Islamist camp was a sea of yellow flooded with Rabaa signs.

Dynamics of the day: greatly reduced numbers all around but an inversely proportional increase in venom. Only one day after Sisi told renowned American journalist Charlie Rose on his PBS show that “there can be no return to dictatorship“, the madness of the statement was reflected in the insanity of  mini-war outside the UN, with Sisifites and Islamists barking at one another.

Appropriately, and with equal irony Obama, droned on in his UN speech: once strongmen take over via the military, said Obama, there are only two paths: “permanent crackdown which causes strife at home or scapegoating enemies abroad, which can lead to war”. Furthermore, in the case at hand, the strife spreads to Egyptians living abroad.

Under the leadership of H H Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, the Coptic Church has supported  the Sisi régime ever since the 3 July 2013 coup d’état.

The pope’s decision to commit his all, including financial backing for buses to ship Egyptian Christians from local New York and New Jersey churches to the UN, only helped to inject more venom into protests that can best be labeled as a “rent-a -protestor” fiasco.

Further complicating the scenario was the decision by the evangelical church to join the melee.

The mini-war outside the UN

So confrontational and nearly violent were the previous skirmishes between the Sisifites and Islamists in New York City that the police saw fit to separate them by placing two other, cordoned, smaller demonstrations between them.

This did little to quash the ugliness. With faith the engine, religion becomes the match to politics’ gasoline. Each brainwashed side, however, left the politesse of their respective faiths behind at home.

“Sisi is their uncle and he makes their blood boil,” chanted the Sisi camp in rhyme in Arabic. Those brandishing the internationally known four-finger Rabaa salute instead used a middle -finger salute while shouting “Masr (Egypt), El Sisi 3ar (is a pimp)”.

Just for fun, a very agitated Sisi fan raised his shoe in the direction of the Islamists, a very insulting gesture in the Arab world.

So charged was the atmosphere, this writer felt the palpable danger that he should be identified as a journalist. Organisers – clearly aware of the threat of violence – had in excess of a dozen mammoth-sized bodyguards sprinkled throughout a pro-Sisi crowd of no more than 150. This did not temper the barrage of insults from both sides.

“The Brotherhood is terrorism,” volleyed the mostly Christian, pro-president group while the other side, numbering approximately half its counterpart, retorted, “Bye bye, bye bye, you sons of a wh*re.” These were supposedly adults, uninterested in anything but expressing their bigoted views. Sisi “is the president we chose and love” said the pro camp but, a pebble’s toss away, he was a man “who does not represent” the anti camp, guilty of grave human rights violations and crimes rising to the level of “high treason”.

Reality bites

The regime and the upper ranks of the church inhabit an alternative universe. In that world, the Egyptian autocrat insists that Egypt is a friendly home for 5 million refugees but, per the UNHCR, the figure is only a quarter million.

In this universe, Egyptian Christendom “is on the runway, on course [for]…a fantastic beginning”, according to a senior church official visiting New York as part of the Sisi visit.

Mind you, two weeks ago, the New York Times wrote of Egyptian Christians at “breaking point” amid rising sectarian attacks in the volatile south, where a large concentration of Christians live and the mention of a church being built can result in bloody riots.

In fact, with the recent passing of a controversial “new Church law”, it is a situation replete with unfairness towards a systematically trampled upon minority. Authorities “are sending a message that Christians can be attacked with impunity,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch.

In reality, there is no “runway” for the betterment of Christian lives. There are only sectarian attacks that often result in the burning of Christian homes, kidnappings and forced migration of Christians. The new church law requires “church building be commensurate with the number Christians in the area” and gives governors vague veto rights with no recourse for appeal.

Because of a lack of separation between church and state, “reality”’, as seen by the Church’s upper rungs, bears no resemblance to the everyday reality of the congregation.

With anger rising among the church ranks, dissenting voices are not a majority yet are far from absent. A well-known and respected US-based church official, with over 100 books to his name, Father Morcos Aziz, recently called Sisi “the worst president” in an emotional video on YouTube. “We were deceived… in him I see treason,” blasted Aziz.

Shortly before the Sisi speech this week, 82 Copt activists also voiced their displeasure with church support for Sisi’s visit. “The Coptic church’s support of Sisi will result in negative outcomes for Copts,” said well-known activist and Coptic scholar Ishaq Ibrahim, one of the activists who signed a statement. Ordinary citizens, especially in the south, continue to suffer from “’discrimination and sectarian violence,” said their statement.

The marriage with no end?

So why does the church ignore increasingly disgruntled voices and put all its weight behind a regime that has made little, if any, structural changes to a minority under fire?

Political calculations are cynicism embodied. On 3 July 2013, while Sisi informed Egyptians of Morsi’s removal, sitting just to his left were the leaders of Al-Azhar and the Coptic church. Both leaders of the preeminent religious institutions of a nation that likes to describe itself as “religious” harnessed their political fortunes to Sisi’s horse.

So it goes, the Tawadros and Sisi marriage cannot end in divorce. Even as prospects for a successful Sisi presidency dim by the day, the Coptic patriarch holds Sisi’s hands stubbornly and publicly. In so doing, the Egyptian pope ignores the lessons of successful democracies. “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries,” once said James Madison, the fourth American president.

Even if Pope Tawadros is unfamiliar with Madison’s separation, his memory need only drift back to 2012 and the Muslim Brotherhood rule to understand the underlying logic behind it.

Millions of Egyptians rejected Morsi’s rule because of the intertwining of religious rhetoric with political rule. It is a major omission of historical memory to neglect that SCAF put their hands firmly in those of the Brotherhood. What makes Tawadros so certain Sisi won’t betray the church again?

Moreover, did the holy body’s patriarch forget that, until this day, the terrorist behind the Al-Qaddissin Church bombing, which occured days before the 2011 revolution, has yet to be caught? Accordingly, it seems rather mind numbing to many that church support for Sisi is cloaked in religious blessing.

Only days ago, a prominent church official, Bishop Beeman, dispatched by the pope to New Jersey to rally support for Sisi explained, “what I am doing here is patriotic work not politics”. Minutes later, his cohort Bishop Yoaanis, explained how buses, paid for by the church, would transport church goers to the UN. Actions, always, belie words.

In Egypt, instead of separation, we have desperation of church and state. Fail to understand the past and an entire nation will be doomed to emulate those UN protestors.

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