Analysis: Syria Neighbors Fear Future Without Assad Family

April 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Samia Nakhoul

BEIRUT (Reuters) – From Israel to Iran, Syria’s neighbors are starting to contemplate the possibility of a future without the Assad family as Lords of Damascus, and, whether friends or foes, some don’t like what they see.

Indeed, some are in denial about what they are witnessing.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite movement widely seen as an Iranian proxy in the Middle East, purports to believe the government of President Bashar al-Assad is putting down an insurrection by armed gangs of Salafi or Sunni Muslim fanatics.

In its report of the Syrian army’s assault on the southern city of Deraa, epicenter of the revolt which began last month, Al Manar, Hezbollah’s television, stuck to the official version that the army responded to citizens’ pleas to put an end to “killings and terrorizing operations by extremist groups.”

Hezbollah greeted with glee uprisings that overthrew dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt and championed the rights of Bahraini protesters against Saudi military intervention to quash Shi’ite demonstrations.

But it is distinctly unenthusiastic about the risk of losing the support of a Syrian government which is not only its main protector but the conduit for arms supplies from Iran.

Tehran, which regards Syria as a close ally in a mainly Sunni-dominated region suspicious of non-Arab Shi’ite Iran, has called the revolt in Syria “a Zionist plot.”

Yet Israel too seems deeply uneasy about any change in the status quo.

Although they are still formally at war, Syria under the current president and his late father, Hafez al-Assad, has maintained a stable border with the Jewish state since 1973 even though Israel still occupies the Golan Heights.

Fear of Islamists

Israel’s fear — voiced more openly by commentators plugged in to its security establishment than by politicians — is that a successful uprising might replace firm Baath party rule with a more radical government, or one less able or willing to keep radical forces on a leash.

Although Assad sponsors Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, he has played a cautious hand.

Behind the strident Arabist rhetoric and ties with Tehran he has kept the option of peace with Israel in play and sought acceptance by Western powers.

“The implications are enormous and totally unpredictable,” said Lebanon-based Middle East analyst Rami Khouri.

“What makes Syria distinctive is that the regime and the system have close structural links with every conflict or player in the region: Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, Lebanon, Israel, America, Iraq, Turkey. In all these (cases) there is a Syrian link.”

Demonstrations have spread across the country and grown in intensity, he said, and protesters who began calling for reform of the system were now demanding “the overthrow of the regime.”

At the back of many minds is the experience of Iraq, plunged into years of chaos and sectarian savagery after the US-led invasion in 2003 and removal of Saddam Hussein.

“Everybody in the region is concerned about the destabilization of Syria, even those who don’t like Assad, because there is one thing he brings to the region: a certain kind of predictability and stability,” Khouri said.

“He maintained the truce along the Syrian-Israeli border, people know how his government behaves. Nobody knows what will happen afterwards.”

Alex Fishman, a military affairs journalist for Israel’s best-selling daily Yedioth Ahronoth, summed up Israeli apprehension after the Syrian army stormed into Deraa.

“However odd it may sound, the Israeli establishment has a certain sentiment for the Assad family. They kept their promises throughout the years and even talked about an arrangement with Israel on their terms,” he wrote.

“It’s hard to part with a comfortable old slipper, but the top members of the political and security establishment believe that the Syrian regime, in its current format, will change within weeks or months,” Fishman said.

He added: “The sole interest guiding Israel’s conduct is: if what is happening in Syria will ultimately weaken the Damascus-Iran-Hezbollah axis — we’ll come out ahead.”

For Hezbollah and Iran, losing Assad would certainly be a big blow.

“If it (Syria) splits into mini-satellite states that will be bad news for everybody,” Khouri said, suggesting that as in Iraq this might provide an opening for al Qaeda militants.

Across the border in Lebanon, arena of a sectarian civil war in 1975-90 that sucked in regional and world powers and left Syria in control for 29 years, people are also worried.

Any prospect of a new sharpening of tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites, Arabs and Kurds, or Christians and Muslims, all simmering across the region after being brought to the boil by Iraq, produces shudders.

“I don’t think any wise man is not worried about what happens in Syria because it is a neighbor,” said Talal Salman, editor of Beirut’s daily as-Safir.

“Any earthquake in Syria will shake Lebanon with its fragile make-up. Syria’s stability is in our interest.”

For now, Assad has decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and resort to military force, not reform, to put down the protests at a cost so far of more than 400 lives, according to human rights groups.

Monday’s deployment of tanks in Deraa looks like an indicator of what is to come. A source close to the Syrian military said Assad and his security establishment had taken a decision to wage war on protesters across the country.

But Ali al-Atassi, a prominent Syrian activist whose father was a former president jailed for 22 years by the elder Assad, said “another Hama” was impossible.

In 1982, Hafez al-Assad sent in the army to crush an armed lslamist uprising, killing of up to 30,000 people.

“Syria has reached a turning point. It cannot go back to where it was,” said Atassi.

He said the Western habit of accommodating dictatorships in return for stability was no longer valid.

“In Tunis, Egypt and elsewhere for years, Arab leaders and the West gave the Arab people a binary choice: stability or chaos; despotism or Islamism.

“After what happened in Tunis and Egypt, we discovered that there is a third option which is the democratic way. Sure, the Islamists will play a role in it, but they will not have the leading role,” Atassi said.

While many analysts argue that life after Assad would be hazardous or that he may prove impossible to remove, others say a relatively smooth transition is imaginable over time because Damascus has institutions that can shoulder responsibility.

They include the army, whose backbone is Sunni although key posts are controlled by members of Assad’s Alawite minority.

What most observers now dismiss is the possibility of reforms substantial enough to meet popular demands.

Even if Assad wanted to enact wide-scale reforms, they argue, he lacks the power to prevail over entrenched interests in the security forces and military intelligence.

“He is the prisoner of a certain structure and at the same time part of it,” Atassi said.

“The next 2-3 weeks are really critical. They will determine whether he will remain in power or whether his regime will collapse,” Khouri told Reuters.

(editing by Paul Taylor)

13-18

Heavy Fighting in Misrata and Libyan Mountains

April 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Lin Noueihed

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s rebel-held city of Misrata won no respite from two months of bitter siege as Muammar Gaddafi’s forces bombarded the city and battled rebel fighters, despite pulling out of the city center.

Gaddafi’s forces were also pounding Berber towns in Libya’s Western Mountains with artillery, rebels and refugees said, in a remote region far from the view of international media.

Italy said its warplanes would join the British and French bombing of Libyan targets for the first time and NATO flattened a building inside Gaddafi’s Tripoli compound, in what his officials said was a failed attempt on the Libyan leader’s life.

Late on Monday, the “crusader aggressors” bombed civilian and military sites in Bir al Ghanam, 100 km (60 miles) south of Tripoli, and the Ayn Zara area of the capital, causing casualties, Libyan television said, without giving details. A Reuters correspondent heard explosions in Tripoli.

The report said foreign ships had also attacked and severed the al-Alyaf cable off Libya’s coast, cutting communications to the towns of Sirte, Ras Lanuf and Brega.

But more than a month of air strikes did not appear to be tipping the balance decisively in a conflict increasingly described as a stalemate.

People in Misrata emerged from homes after daybreak on Monday to scenes of devastation after Gaddafi’s forces pulled back from the city under cover of blistering rocket and tank fire, said witnesses contacted by phone.

Nearly 60 people had been killed in clashes in the city in the last three days, residents told Reuters by phone.

Although rebels’ celebrations of “victory” on Saturday turned out to be very premature, it was clear they had inflicted significant losses on government forces in Misrata.

“Bodies of Gaddafi’s troops are everywhere in the streets and in the buildings. We can’t tell how many. Some have been there for days,” said rebel Ibrahim.

Rebel spokesman Abdelsalam, speaking late on Monday, said Gaddafi’s forces were trying to re-enter the Nakl Thaqeel Road, which leads to Misrata’s port, its lifeline to the outside.

“Battles continue there. We can hear explosions,” he said by phone. He said Gaddafi’s forces positioned on the western outskirts of the city had also shelled the road from there.

Another rebel spokesman, Sami, said the humanitarian situation was worsening rapidly.

“It is indescribable. The hospital is very small. It is full of wounded people, most of them are in critical condition,” he told Reuters by phone.

U.S. officials said relief groups were rotating doctors into Misrata and evacuating migrant workers.

Mark Bartolini, director of foreign disaster assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said aid organizations were aiming to create stocks of food in the region in case Libyan supply chains began breaking down.

Among the places in particular need of food aid were isolated towns in the Western Mountains, from where tens of thousands of people have fled to Tunisia from the fighting.

REFUGEES FLEE MOUNTAINS

“Our town is under constant bombardment by Gaddafi’s troops. They are using all means. Everyone is fleeing,” said one refugee, Imad, bringing his family out of the mountains.

NATO said its attack on the building in the Gaddafi compound was on a communications headquarters used to coordinate attacks on civilians. A Libyan spokesman said Gaddafi was unharmed and state television showed pictures of him meeting people in a tent, which it said had been taken on Monday.

Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam said the Libyan government would not be cowed.

“The bombing which targeted Muammar Gaddafi’s office today … will only scare children. It’s impossible that it will make us afraid or give up or raise the white flag,” he was quoted as saying by the state news agency, Jana.

Italy said its warplanes would join British and French aircraft in carrying out bombing of Libya. Geographically the closest major NATO member state to Libya, Italy had until Monday provided bases and reconnaissance and monitoring aircraft only.

The surprise decision immediately opened a fissure in Italy’s coalition government.

The African Union held separate talks on Monday with Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi and rebel representatives in Addis Ababa to discuss a ceasefire plan.

The rebels had earlier rebuffed an AU plan because it did not entail Gaddafi’s departure, while the United States, Britain and France say there can be no political solution until the Libyan leader leaves power.

(Additional reporting by Guy Desmond and Maher Nazeh in Tripoli, Alexander Dziadosz in Benghazi and Sami Aboudi in Cairo; writing by Andrew Roche; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

13-18

IFLC Responds to Threat to Religious Harmony

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

IFLC Press Release

The Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit  (IFLC) has launched a petition drive in response to a potential threat to religious harmony rumored for our region later this month.

An extremist group has announced plans to demonstrate in Dearborn on April 22.

“We are asking people to sign on to ‘A Simple Affirmation for our Community’ as a way to indicate their rejection of fear-mongering and intolerance,” according to Rev. Daniel Buttry, a minister with the American Baptist Churches and a board member of the Interfaith Leadership Council.

The text of the petition reads:

We, as caring neighbors in southeastern Michigan, stand together in condemning the actions of those who spew hate and fear, and who misuse and desecrate holy books of faith.  Instead we call on people to carry out the best traditions of all religious faiths, embodied in the idea of doing to others as we would have them do to us.

In the spirit of cooperation and harmony, the essential basis of this great country, we affirm our support for religious freedom and civil discourse.  We stand together strong in our vision of the beloved community where all are respected and treasured.

The petition is being circulated among religious congregations throughout the metropolitan area and also is available at change.org.

“Our goal is two-fold,” Buttry said.  “We want to give folks the chance to express their own support for the idea of harmony and peace among all people in our region, and we also want to demonstrate to the rest of the world that there are thousands of people in our region who reject hate and support conciliation.”

The Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit is a civic organization comprised of religious and lay leaders of many faiths “who work together to build a community of good will.”

http://www.detroitinterfaithcouncil.com/welcome/2011/4/9/iflc-launches-a-simple-affirmation-for-our-community.html

The InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit is made up of independent, visionary clerical and lay leaders of many faiths whose shared values and desire to build a just community where we live in harmony with one another compels us to be dedicated to the support of interfaith community organizing.

We fully respect our religious differences while building a unified, but not uniform community, where we work together on our shared interests and values.

In short, we bring people of faith together so that we can live together. We have much to do, and are looking forward to working with you to build the beloved community.

Sincerely,

Robert A. Bruttell, Board Chair, InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit.

13-16

Bahrain or Bust?

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Pakistan should think twice before meddling in the Middle East.

By Miranda Husain

Less than three weeks after Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces, led by Saudi Arabia, entered Bahrain to aid the anti-democracy crackdown there, dignitaries from both oil-rich kingdoms did their separate rounds in Pakistan. The royal houses of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are nervous, and they need Pakistan’s mercenaries, and—if necessary—military muscle to shore them up.

This is a remarkable turn of events for Asif Ali Zardari, who had been trying since he was elected president in 2008 to secure Saudi oil on sweetheart terms. He had been unsuccessful in his efforts because the Sunni Saudis view his leadership with some degree of skepticism. It also doesn’t help that Zardari, a Shia, is big on improving relations with Shia Tehran. Riyadh now appears inclined to export oil on terms that better suit cash-strapped Islamabad. Manama, too, wants to play ball. It wants increased defense cooperation and has pledged to prioritize Pakistan’s hopes for a free-trade agreement with the GCC in return. But Zardari and his Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, should fight the urge to get mired in the Middle East.

Pakistan already has a presence in Bahrain: a battalion of the Azad Kashmir Regiment was deployed there over a year ago to train local troops, and retired officers from our Navy and Army are part of their security forces. Media estimates put the number of Pakistanis serving in Bahrain’s security establishment at about 10,000. Their removal has been a key demand of protesters in the kingdom. Last month in Islamabad, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly assured Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, that Pakistan would offer more retired manpower to help quell the uprising against Bahrain’s Sunni rulers by its Shia majority. Gilani’s spokesman was unable to confirm the pledge.
Islamabad’s support to the tottering regime in Manama is not ideal.

“It’s like our version of Blackwater,” says Talat Masood, a former Pakistan Army general, referring to Bahrain’s recruitment drive in Pakistan. “We’re doing [in Bahrain] exactly what we have been opposing here,” he says. Pakistan, he maintains, has no business in trying to suppress a democratic, people’s movement in another country. Short-term economic gains cannot be the only prism through which Pakistan views its national interests, he says.

Pakistan has a long history of military involvement and training in the Arab world. Its pilots flew warplanes in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, and volunteered for the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Involvement in Bahrain’s current strife would not be the first time that Pakistan has used its military might to thwart an Arab uprising against an Arab regime. In 1970, future military dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, then head of the Pakistani military training mission in Jordan, led his soldiers to intervene on the side of Amman to quash a Palestinian challenge to its rule.

Some Bahraini opposition groups have called on the U.S. to intervene to get the GCC troops out of their country, fearing it could become a battleground in a Saudi-Iranian battle for regional supremacy. They stress that they share no real affinity with the theocratic regime in Shia-majority Iran, while noting that a number of Bahraini Sunni Muslims have also come out in the streets to call for greater reforms.

Pakistani involvement, therefore, could result in it being embroiled in a proxy war, with serious implications for its own security interests.

The issue of Iran is important, but there’s a deeper issue, according to author Noam Chomsky. “By historical and geographical accident, the main concentration of global energy resources is in the northern Gulf region, which is predominantly Shia,” he told Newsweek Pakistan.

Bahrain, he points out, neighbors eastern Saudi Arabia, where most of the latter’s oil is. “Western planners have long been concerned that a tacit Shia alliance might take shape with enormous control over the world’s energy resources, and perhaps not be reliably obedient to the U.S.”

Bahrain, which like Pakistan was designated a major non-NATO ally by the George W. Bush presidency, is home to the Fifth Fleet. It is the primary U.S. base in the region and allows Washington to ensure the free flow of oil through the Gulf, while keeping checks on Iran.

Chomsky believes that Pakistani presence in Bahrain can be seen as part of a U.S.-backed alliance to safeguard Western access to the region’s oil.

“The U.S. has counted on Pakistan to help control the Arab world and safeguard Arab rulers from their own populations,” says Chomsky.

“Pakistan was one of the ‘cops on the beat’ that the Nixon administration had in mind when outlining their doctrine for controlling the Arab world,” he says. Pakistan has such “severe internal problems” that it may not be able to play this role even if asked to. But the real reason that Pakistan should avoid this role is so that it can stand on the right side of history, alongside those who are fighting for democracy.

Newsweek

13-16

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton Appreciates Muslims’ Contribution to America at US-Islamic World Forum Washington DC, April 12, 2011

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Remarks of Hillary Clinton

2011-04-12T183609Z_1139682385_GM1E74D07DD01_RTRMADP_3_USA

“Thank you, Strobe. It is a pleasure to join this first U.S.-Islamic World Forum held in America. His Highness the Amir and the people of Qatar have generously hosted the Forum for years. I was honored to be a guest in Doha last year. And now I am delighted to welcome you to Washington. I want to thank Martin Indyk, Ken Pollack and the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution for keeping this event going and growing. And I want to acknowledge all my colleagues in the diplomatic corps here tonight, including the Foreign Ministers of Qatar and Jordan and the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Over the years, the U.S.-Islamic World Forum has offered a chance to celebrate the diverse achievements of Muslims around the world. From Qatar — which is pioneering innovative energy solutions and preparing to host the World Cup — to countries as varied as Turkey, Senegal, Indonesia and Malaysia, each offering its own model for prosperity and progress.

This Forum also offers a chance to discuss the equally diverse set of challenges we face together around the world – the need to confront violent extremism, the urgency of achieving a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, the importance of embracing tolerance and universal human rights in all our communities.

I am proud that this year we are recognizing the contributions of the millions of American Muslims who do so much to make this country strong. As President Obama said in Cairo, “Islam has always been a part of America’s story,” and every day Americans Muslims are helping write our story.

We are meeting at a historic time for one region in particular: the Middle East and North Africa. Today, the long Arab winter has begun to thaw. For the first time in decades, there is a real opportunity for change. A real opportunity for people to have their voices heard and their priorities addressed.

This raises significant questions for us all:

Will the people and leaders of the Middle East and North Africa pursue a new, more inclusive approach to solving the region’s persistent political, economic and social challenges? Will they consolidate the progress of recent weeks and address long-denied aspirations for dignity and opportunity? Or, when we meet at this Forum in five years, will we have seen the prospects for reform fade and remember this moment as just a mirage in the desert?

These questions can only be answered by the people and leaders of the Middle East and North Africa themselves. The United States certainly does not have all the answers. In fact, here in Washington we’re struggling to thrash out answers to our own difficult political and economic questions. But America is committed to working as partners to help unlock the region’s potential and realize its hopes for change.

Much has been accomplished already. Uprisings across the region have exposed myths that for too long were used to justify a stagnant status quo: That governments can hold on to power without responding to their people’s aspirations or respecting their rights. That the only way to produce change in the region is through violence and conflict. And, most pernicious of all, that Arabs do not share universal human aspirations for freedom, dignity and opportunity.

Today’s new generation of young people rejects these false narratives.

They will not accept the status quo. Despite the best efforts of the censors, they are connecting to the wider world in ways their parents and grandparents could never imagine. They see alternatives. On satellite news, on Twitter and Facebook, and now in places like Cairo and Tunis. They know a better life is within reach – and they are willing to reach for it.

But these young people have inherited a region that in many ways is unprepared to meet their growing expectations. Its challenges have been well documented in a series of landmark Arab Human Development Reports.

Independently authored and published by the United Nations Development Program, they represent the cumulative knowledge of leading Arab scholars and intellectuals. Answering these challenges will help determine if this historic moment lives up to its promise. That is why this January in Doha, just weeks after a desperate Tunisian street vendor set fire to himself in public protest, I talked with the leaders of the region about the need to move faster to meet their people’s needs and aspirations.

In the 21st century, the material conditions of people’s lives have greater impact on national stability and security than ever before. The balance of power is no longer measured by counting tanks and missiles alone. Now strategists must factor in the growing influence of citizens themselves — connected, organized and frustrated.

There was a time when those of us who championed civil society, worked with marginalized minorities and women, and focused on young people and technology, were told our concerns were noble but not urgent. That is another false narrative that has been washed away. These issues – among others – are also at the heart of smart power – and they must be at the center of any discussion attempting to answer the region’s most pressing questions.

First, can the leaders and citizens of the region reform economies that are overly dependent on oil exports and stunted by corruption? Overall, Arab countries were less industrialized in 2007 than in 1970.

Unemployment often runs more than double the world-wide average, and even worse for women and young people. While a growing number of Arabs live in poverty, crowded into slums without sanitation, safe water, or reliable electricity, a small elite has increasingly concentrated control of the region’s land and wealth. The 2009 Arab Development Report found that these trends – and I quote — “result in the ominous dynamics of marginalization.”

Reversing this dynamic means grappling with a second question: How to match economic reform with political and social change? According to the 2009 Global Integrity Report, Arab countries, almost without exception, have some of the weakest anti-corruption systems in the world. Citizens have spent decades under martial law or emergency rule.

Political parties and civil society groups are subject to repression and restriction. Judicial systems are far from free or independent.

Elections, when they are held, are often rigged.

This leads to a third and often-overlooked question: Will the door to full citizenship and participation finally open to women and minorities? The first Arab Human Development Report in 2002 found that Arab women’s political and economic participation was the lowest in the world. Successive reports have shown little progress. The 2005 report called women’s empowerment – and I quote – a “prerequisite for an Arab renaissance, inseparably and causally linked to the fate of the Arab world.”

This is not a matter of the role of religion in women’s lives. Muslim women have long enjoyed greater rights and opportunities in places like Bangladesh and Indonesia. Or consider the family law in Morocco or the personal status code in Tunisia. Communities from Egypt to Jordan to Senegal are beginning to take on entrenched practices like child marriage, honor crimes and female cutting. All over the world we see living proof that Islam and women’s rights are compatible.

Unfortunately, some are actually working to undermine this progress and export a virulently anti-woman ideology to other Muslim communities.

All of these challenges — from deep unemployment to widespread corruption to the lack of respect and opportunities for women – have fueled frustration among the region’s young people. And changing leaders won’t be enough to satisfy them. Not if cronyism and closed economies continue to choke off opportunity and participation. Or if citizens can’t rely on police and the courts to protect their rights.

The region’s powerbrokers, inside and outside government, need to step up and work with the people to craft a positive vision for the future.

Generals and imams, business leaders and bureaucrats, everyone who has benefited from and reinforced the status quo has a role to play. They also have a lot to lose if the vision vacuum is filled by extremists and rejectionists.

So a fourth crucial question is how Egypt and Tunisia should consolidate the progress that has been achieved in recent months.

Former protesters are asking: How can we stay organized and involved?

It will take forming political parties and advocacy coalitions. It will take focusing on working together to solve the big challenges. In Cairo last month, I met with young activists who were passionate about their principles but still sorting out how to be practical about their politics. One veteran Egyptian journalist and dissident, Hisham Kassim, expressed concerns this week that a reluctance to move from protests to politics would, in his words, “endanger the revolution’s gains.” He urged his young comrades to translate their passion into a positive agenda and political participation.

And as the people of Egypt and Tunisia embrace the full responsibilities of citizenship, we will look to transitional authorities to guarantee fundamental rights such as free assembly and expression, to provide basic security on the streets, and to be transparent and inclusive.

Unfortunately, this year we have seen violent attacks in Egypt and elsewhere that have killed dozens of religious and ethnic minorities, part of a troubling world-wide trend documented in the State Department’s annual human rights report released on Friday. Communities around the world, including my own, have struggled to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and tolerance of unpopular views.

But each of us has a responsibility to defend the universal human rights of people of all faiths and creeds. And I want to applaud the Organization of the Islamic Conference for its leadership in securing the recent resolution by the UN Human Rights Council that takes a strong stand against discrimination and violence based upon religion or belief, but does not limit freedom of expression or worship.
In both Egypt and Tunisia, we have also seen troubling signs regarding the rights and opportunities of women. So far women have been excluded  from key transitional decision-making processes. When women marched through Tahrir Square to celebrate International Women’s Day in their new democracy, they were met by harassment and abuse. You can’t claim to have a democracy if half the population is silenced.

We know from long experience that building a successful democracy is a never-ending task. More than 200 years after our own revolution, America is still working on it. Real change takes time, it takes hard work and patience – but it is possible. As one Egyptian women’s rights activist said recently, “We will have to fight for our rights… It will be tough, and require lobbying, but that’s what democracy is all about.”

We also know that democracy cannot be transplanted wholesale from one society to another. People have the right and responsibility to devise their own government. But there are universal rights that apply to everyone and universal values that undergird vibrant democracies everywhere.

And one lesson learned by transitions to democracy around the world is that it can be tempting to refight old battles rather than focus on ensuring justice and accountability in the future. I will always remember watching Nelson Mandela welcome three of his former jailors to his inauguration. He never looked back in anger, always forward in hope.

The United States is committed to standing with the people of Egypt and Tunisia as they work to build sustainable democracies that deliver real results for all their citizens, and to supporting the aspirations of people across the region. On this our values and interests converge.

History has shown that democracies tend to be more stable, more peaceful, and ultimately, more prosperous. The trick is how we get there.

So this is a fifth question: How can America be an effective partner to the people of the region? How can we work together to build not just short-term stability, but long-term sustainability?

With this goal in mind, the Obama administration began to reorient U.S. foreign policy in the region and around the world from our first days in office. We put partnerships with people, not just governments, at the center of our efforts.

We start from the understanding that America’s core interests and values have not changed, including our commitment to promote human rights, resolve long-standing conflicts, counter Iran ’s threats and defeat al Qaida and its extremist allies. We believe those concerns are shared by the people of the region. And we will continue working closely with our trusted partners – including many in this room tonight — to advance these mutual interests.

We know that a one-sized fits all approach doesn’t make sense in such a diverse region at such a fluid time.

As I have said before, the United States has a decades-long friendship with Bahrain that we expect to continue long into the future. We have made clear that security alone cannot resolve the challenges facing Bahrain. Violence is not and cannot be the answer. A political process is. We have raised our concerns about the current measures directly with Bahraini officials and will continue to do so.

The United States also strongly supports the Yemeni people in their quest for greater opportunity and their pursuit of political and economic reform that will fulfill their aspirations. President Saleh needs to resolve the political impasse with the opposition so that meaningful political change can take place in the near term in an orderly and peaceful manner.

And as President Obama has said, we strongly condemn the abhorrent violence committed against peaceful protesters by the Syrian government over the past few weeks. President Assad and the Syrian government must respect the universal rights of the Syrian people, who are rightly demanding the basic freedoms that they have been denied.

So going forward, the United States will be guided by careful consideration of all the circumstances on the ground and by our consistent values and interests.

Wherever we can, we will accelerate our work to develop stronger bonds with the people themselves – with civil society, business leaders, religious communities, women and minorities. We are rethinking the way we do business on the ground, with citizens themselves helping set the priorities. For example, as we invest in Egypt ’s new democracy and promote sustainable development, we are soliciting grant proposals from a much wider range of local organizations. We want to find new partners and invest in new ideas. And we are exploring ways to use connection technologies to expand our dialogue and open new lines of communication.

As we map out a strategy for supporting the transitions already under way, we know that the people of the region have not put their lives on the line just to vote in an election. They expect democracy to deliver jobs, sweep out corruption, and extend opportunities that will help them prosper and take full advantage of the global economy. So the United States will work with people and leaders across the region to create more open, dynamic, and diverse economies where all citizens can share in the prosperity.

In the short term, the United States will provide immediate economic assistance to help transitional democracies overcome their early challenges — including $150 million for Egypt alone.

In the medium term, as Egypt and Tunisia continue building their democracies, we will work with our partners to support an ambitious blueprint for sustainable growth, job creation, investment and trade.

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation will provide up to $2 billion to encourage private sector investments across the Middle East and North Africa —especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. We are working with Congress to establish Enterprise funds for Egypt and Tunisia that will support competitive markets and provide small and medium-sized businesses with access to critical low-cost capital. Our Global Entrepreneurship Program is seeking out new partners and opportunities. And we are exploring other ideas, such as improving and expanding the Qualified Investment Zones, which allow Egyptian companies to send exports to the United States duty-free.

To spur private sector investment, we are working with Partners for a New Beginning, an organization led by former Secretary Madeleine Albright, Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola and Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute. It was formed after the President’s Cairo speech and includes the CEOs of companies like Intel, Cisco, and Morgan Stanley.

These leaders will convene a summit at the end of May to connect American investors with new partners in the region’s transitional democracies, with an eye toward creating jobs and boosting trade.
Under the auspices of Partners for a New Beginning, the U.S.-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity is already building a network of public and private partners and programs that deepen economic integration among the countries in North Africa. This past December in Algiers, the Partnership convened more than 400 young entrepreneurs, business leaders, venture capitalists and Diaspora leaders from the United States and North Africa. These people-to-people contacts have helped lay the groundwork for cross-border initiatives to create jobs, train youth, and support start-ups.

For the long term, we are discussing ways to encourage closer economic integration across the region, with the United States and Europe, and around the world. The Middle East and North Africa are home to rich nations with excess capital and poorer countries hungry for investments. Forging deeper trade and economic relationships between neighbors could create new industries and new jobs. And across the Mediterranean, Europe also represents enormous potential for new economic partnerships and greater shared prosperity. Reducing trade barriers in North Africa alone could boost GDP levels by as much as 7 or 8 percent in countries such as Tunisia and Morocco, and could lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in new wealth across the region every year.

The people of the Middle East and North Africa have the talent and drive to build vibrant economies and sustainable democracies – just as citizens have done in other regions long held back by closed political and economic systems, from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe to Latin America.

It won’t be easy. Iran provides a powerful cautionary tale for the transitions under way across the region. The democratic aspirations of 1979 were subverted by a new and brutal dictatorship. Iran’s leaders have consistently pursued policies of violence abroad and tyranny at home. In Tehran, security forces have beaten, detained, and in several recent cases killed peaceful protesters, even as Iran’s president has made a show of denouncing the violence against civilians in Libya and other places. And he is not alone in his hypocrisy. Al Qaida’s propagandists have tried to yoke the region’s peaceful popular movements to their murderous ideology. Their claims to speak for the dispossessed and downtrodden have never rung so hollow. Their arguments for violent change have never been so fully discredited.

Last month we witnessed a development that stood out, even in this extraordinary season.

Colonel Qadhafi’s troops had turned their guns on civilians. His military jets and helicopter gunships had been unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assault from the air.

Benghazi’s hundreds of thousands of citizens were in the crosshairs.

In the past, when confronted with such a crisis, all too often the leaders of the Middle East and North Africa have averted their eyes or closed ranks. But not this time. Not in this new era. The OIC and GCC issued strong statements. The Arab League convened in Cairo, in the midst of all the commotion of Egypt’s democratic transition. They condemned the violence and suspended Libya from their organization, even though Qadhafi held the League’s rotating presidency. They went on to call for a no-fly zone. I want to thank Qatar, the UAE and Jordan for contributing planes to help enforce it.

But that’s not all. The Arab League affirmed – and I quote – “the right of the Libyan people to fulfill their demands and build their own future and institutions in a democratic framework.”

That is a remarkable statement. This is reason to hope.

But all the signs of progress we have seen in recent months will only be meaningful if more leaders in more places move faster and further to embrace this spirit of reform… if they work with their people to answer the region’s most pressing challenges: How to diversify their economies, open their political systems, crackdown on corruption, and respect the rights of women and minorities.

Those are the questions that will determine whether the people of the region make the most of this historic moment or fall back into stagnation.

The United States will be there as a partner, working for progress. We are committed to the future of this region and we believe in the potential of its people. And we look forward to the day when all the citizens of the Middle East and North Africa and around the world have the freedom to pursue their God-given potential.

13-16

Bahrain Foreign Minister’s India Visit

April 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Bahrain Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa was in India last month as a part of diplomatic drive to assure the Indian government about the security of Indians living there. He held detailed discussions with his Indian counterpart SM Krishna on issues of mutual interest, including recent developments in Bahrain and the region (March 30). Ahead of their talks, the two ministers laid stress on “traditionally friendly relations” between India and Bahrain, “which are based on historical and civilizational ties.” This “long standing relationship” is reflected by presence of a large Indian community in Bahrain.

During their meeting, over lunch hosted by India in his honor, Bahraini foreign minister gave “firm assurance” about “safety and security of Indian community” in Bahrain. He also appreciated their contribution to “progress and development of Bahrain.” There are around 350,000 Indians in Bahrain. Khalid drew Krishna’s attention to his having met more than 200 Indians in Manama on 26th March, 2011. On his part, Krishna thanked Khalid for his reassurance with regard to Indian community’s well being. The former also expressed confidence that “law-abiding Indian community would continue to be a partner in Bahrain’s growth story well into the future.”

Referring to recent developments in Bahrain, Krishna expressed the hope that “peaceful resolution of all issues through dialogue would pave the way for continued development and prosperity of friendly people of Bahrain.”

During an exclusive interview with this scribe, Khalid acknowledged: “There is no doubt a wave of transformation in the Arab world.” Accepting that winds of transformation were sweeping across the region, he pointed to the human development index in the six Gulf Coordination Council countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar – being much higher than that of other countries. In other parts of the region, the people on the lower end of the scale were vying for a change, he said. Referring specifically to Bahrain, he said that though sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shias have prevailed for “around 1400 years,” they have taken such a major turn for first time, reaching the “stage of polarization.” “Sectarian turn is the biggest threat to whole region,” he said.

Laying stress that there was a need for “true transformation” in many parts of the area, Khalid expressed that this “movement” had been “hijacked and had taken a sectarian turn” between Sunnis and Shias. Expressing favor for a political dialogue to sort out the problem, he said: “Political dialogue would be way forward in future.” The priority at present was to maintain law and order, Khalid emphasized.

Refuting the impression generated about Bahrain taking help of Saudi forces to control protestors, Khalid said that these belonged to Peninsula Shield Force. “We take our security seriously,” he stated. The troops would stay as long as they were needed, he said. Khalid specified that their help was essential to prevent the tension from escalating into a civil strife. The situation was “under control,” he said.

A “very negligible” population had left Bahrain because of tension in the country, he said. Though certain elements’ aim was to scare the expat community, Indians were not targeted, he emphasized. “I am visiting India before Europe or America. This is more important. We are regional stakeholders. Without India, we do not have a solution. We need to reassure India about the Indian community in Bahrain,” the minister asserted.

Elaborating on security architecture in the region, Bahrain cannot envisage this without India, Khalid said. India’s Deputy National Security Advisor Vijaya Latha Reddy called on Khalid ahead of his meeting with Krishna. She discussed issues of bilateral interest with him.

Bahrain also favors a role for Pakistan as well as Iran. “We want Iran to be part of this security architecture. We want it to prosper and be as active as in the past as a responsible country in the region,” he said.

Without elaborating on diplomatic tension between Bahrain and Iran, Khalid categorically stated: “We are for good relations with Iran.” “The result of bad relations with a neighbor can be more lethal than that of a nuclear bomb,” he said.

Diplomatic tension between Bahrain and Iran has been marked by the former holding latter as responsible for provoking Shia-Sunni tension in the region. Bahrain has warned Iran to keep away from “meddling” in its internal affairs. On its part, Iran has strongly criticized the arrival of external troops in Bahrain.

Bahrain is also not pleased with external strikes supporting rebels in Libya. When asked to comment on this, Khalid said that Bahrain had no objection to maintaining a “no-fly zone” over Libya. He was, however, skeptical about role of external strikes. “We were a part of the GCC and Arab League resolutions supporting no-fly zone. But we feel there is no clarity whether external strikes can really help in protection of people and their security.”

This was Khalid’s second visit to India. His visit, according to official sources, “has strengthened the excellent relationship between the two countries.”

13-15

Every Child Left Behind

April 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

child-desk-400The allure of the Middle East, for western foreigners, is primarily found in monetary perks that makes life in the region more financially savvy than back at home.  First of all, skilled and specialized workers from the US and Europe stand to earn three to four times more money than could be earned at home and they face less job competition. Second, not having to pay taxes and enjoying heavily governmentally subsidized utilities as well as health care are added bonuses. However, what most expatriates do not realize is that there is a heavy price to be paid. And it is in the form of the education of their children.

Wealthy Middle Eastern countries like Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE provide a cradle-to-grave welfare system that keeps their citizens living a very comfortable life with free education only being one out of hundreds of social benefits. Expatriate children are not allowed to attend public schools which are reserved exclusively for the children of the citizens of the country. Expatriate parents must put their children in private schools which are often costly, poorly managed, overcrowded and understaffed. Many Gulf nations are host to several European and American private schools which boast a curriculum on par with the most exclusive schools in the world. Unfortunately, the tuition fees are so high that many expatriate parents can only afford to send one child, if any, to school while the others must attend less expensive private schools. And that is in the event that the child can even get into the school.

For countries, like Kuwait for example, private schools are regulated by the Ministry of Education. Each school is ranked according to student performance and receives special preference as well as accolades based on the percentage of students that do well. What is unfortunate is that most private schools in Kuwait require an admission test to ensure that only the best and brightest students get admission which guarantees a high percentage of student performance. Prospective students are not given a book or even a manual to study from in preparation for the test. All they can do is hope that they have the knowledge to pass it. For those who do not pass, they will most probably miss an entire school year or more. Until a student can pass the admission test there is no hope that his journey for a quality education can begin.

What is painfully ironic is that, while there are stringent controls for the admission of students to private schools, there are no such requirements for the hiring of teachers. The private schools in Kuwait, and other regions of the Gulf, are full of teachers who do not possess college degrees and have little experience teaching in the classroom. It is not uncommon for housewives to become teachers without having even a basic college degree. And for many teachers who do possess a “degree”, a careful inspection of the document will most likely reveal that it is a fake certificate obtained from a country in Southeast Asia. So even for children who do pass the admission test, the catch 22 is that the standard is far less than what the school administration purports.

For Shermyla Mohammad, a housewife and mother in Kuwait, her journey to enroll her son in school has been a twisted battle that has spanned more than five years. “My son studied the Holy Quran for several years and met with a tutor to teach him school subjects privately at home.” When her son was ten years old she began visiting various schools in order to enroll him. He is now fifteen years old and has never seen the inside of the classroom. “My son failed several admission tests because he could not prepare for the specific questions asked. One time he did pass but the school administration refused to accept him because the percentage was not high enough.” Her son is waiting to take yet another admissions test in the hopes that he can finally begin his education.

There are countless numbers of children all across the Gulf region who deserve an education but it remains out of reach. It is a basic human right to be able to attend school and not be barred from an education that will most certainly define every aspect of life and determine its quality.

13-15

Gulf Islamic Banks Eye Conversion of Conventional Peers

May 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Frederik Richter and Shaheen Pasha

MANAMA/DUBAI (Reuters) – More banks in the Gulf Arab region may convert to Islamic finance in a bid to tap rising demand for sharia-compliant products and to avoid the heavy investment required to launch new banks.

A source told Reuters this month that Qatari investors are planning to buy a 25 percent stake in Ahli United Bank <AUBB.BH> <AUBK.KW> from Kuwaiti investors and have plans to convert Bahrain’s largest retail bank, which itself plans to take its Kuwaiti unit Islamic.

“Converting to Islamic is compelling in the region. In Kuwait Islamic banks have rapidly won market share from conventional ones,” said Sayd Farook, senior consultant at Dar Al Istithmar.

Converting conventional banks would help the industry expand its retail footprint — for instance in countries where no new licenses are given out but conversions are allowed –, which experts say the industry needs to develop a more sustainable business model.

The Islamic banking industry in the Gulf Arab region has mostly relied on channeling the region’s oil wealth into real estate and private equity, and was badly hit by a regional property correction late in 2008.

“I would say between 70 to 80 pct of the Muslim market (in the region) would bank with an Islamic bank….if you are an Islamic bank you get to capture that market,” said Sameer Abdi, head of Islamic finance at Ernst & Young.

Scholars have said they do not oppose converting conventional banks as long as their investments and debt levels are brought in line with sharia, which bans investments in certain sectors such as alcohol, over a grace period.

“There is usually a two-year conversion gap from the moment you convert….during which you need to give away to charity any income from conventional instruments,” said Farook.

Experts say that converting a bank comes cheaper than launching a green-field retail bank, but costs associated with revamping the bank’s work-flow, accounting and core banking IT systems are still high.

“Depending on the scale of the bank and the market in which it operates, it could take two or three years before the investment pays off,” said Hatim El Tahir, a Bahrain-based director at Deloitte & Touche.

Abdi said he estimated that up to 15 percent of existing customers could leave a converted bank, not necessarily because they disapprove of the switch to sharia, but because the bank might struggle to maintain its service level during a difficult transition period.

Bahrain’s Al Salam Bank <SALAM.BH> is converting Bahraini Saudi Bank <BSBB.BH>, which it bought last year, as is Egypt’s National Bank for Development <DEVE.CA> after Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank <ADIB.AD> partially bought the lender in 2007.

But the Gulf Arab region is rarely seeing mergers and acquisitions due to cultural sensitivities and opaque ownership structures, which could be the biggest obstacle to the conversion of conventional assets.

Bahrain’s Ithmaar Bank <ITHMR.BH> this month concluded the transformation from an investment house to an Islamic retail bank to improve its funding base, but could do so because it fully owned Islamic retail bank Shamil.

But Kuwaiti banks and merchant families have been badly hit by the financial crisis and are trying to sell down their international assets, which could be a way in.

Their ownership in many banks in the off-shore banking center Bahrain, both Islamic and conventional, could migrate to Qatari investors and banks that are awash with cash, bankers and analysts say.

“Qatar is a small economy…the bigger banks are looking at other markets,” said Janany Vamadeva, banking analyst at HC Brokerage, adding that Qatari companies would also be best positioned to raise money in current capital markets.

(Reporting by Frederik Richter and Shaheen Pasha; Editing by Dinesh Nair and Louise Heavens)

12-18

Preconceptions, Misconceptions: Disaster in Afghanistan

March 18, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

PRECONCEPTIONS, MISCONEPTIONS AND “NO FEEDBACK LOOP” LEADS TO AMERICAN DISASTER IN AFGHANISTAN

By Gordon Duff

I have only recently returned from the region where I toured as a journalist and lecturer.  Our group included Jeff Gates, Raja Mugtaba, BG Asif Haroon Raja and BG Ali Raza and me of Veterans Today and Opinion Maker.  We met with some people we will not mention and many we can.  Prince Ali of Afghanistan had a delegation with us headed by Fayyaz Shah,  as advisors.  BG Ali Raza was primary coordinator on the ground for Pakistan during the “Charley Wilson War” against the Soviets.  No person has spent so much time “where he isn’t supposed to be” as General Ali Raza.  BG Asif Haroon Raja is Pakistan’s best known military analyst and author and an invaluable resource.

I would thank the Director General of the ISPR,  Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas and Director BG Syed Azmat Ali for their detailed briefing and great courtesy.

Background on the critical border regions was supplied by the former military head, BG Amir Gulistan Janjua.  His vast experience in the region was an invaluable aid to our understanding.  I would also thank Ahsan Rashid and Col. Javed Mujtaba for their advice, hospitality and analytical skills.

Our primary briefer and advisor for the region and constant correspondent is Admiral I A Sirohey, former Chairman, JCOS of Pakistan.  General Aslam Beg, former Army Chief of Staff and General Hamid Gul, former DG ISI, also briefed us extensively on military affairs.  These three, along with our companions, BG’s Raja and Ali, are the primary experts on regional military affairs and the Taliban.

We also want to thank Tarik Jan of the ISSI for his kind assistance.  I am leaving out two dozen names, some out of kindness.  Many political leaders met with us who normally would never see Americans.  We were treated with more than courtesy and kindness in some of the most unexpected places.

My close friends and personal advisors, Col. James Hanke, USA SF (ret) former Defense Attache to Israel and Fred Coward, former FBI counter-terrorism expert were a continual help.  Their knowledge and extensive contacts in the region were vital.

The question, of course, what did we learn?  Does anyone learn anything if weighed down by prejudiced, misconceptions or military and political theories based on flawed analyses or policies?  Our job is simply to listen, learn and use our best judgment.  Our responsibility is to be honest in our assessments.  The findings in this work are entirely my own.

The root of the problems in the region are historical in nature.  Unless you go back 200 years or more, something we aren’t doing here, nothing will make sense.  The region, Af-Pak, is a creation, primarily of Britain’s, seemingly created out of a design to stimulate instability and conflict to enable “the great game” Britain is famous for to be played, one side against the other.  In 1893, when Afghanistan and India/Pakistan were split by Durand, dividing tribes and even families, continual war was guaranteed.  In 1947, when Pakistan was created out of a group of peoples, roughly “Islamic” but otherwise unrelated, we were guaranteed even more instability.  Pakistan would be a combination of advanced culture, warlike tribes and resentful quasi-independent regions constantly at odds with their powerful neighbor, India.

The alliances that have defined the region, India and the Soviet Union, Pakistan and the United States (and China) and now, India and Israel and the United States(maybe Russia again and part of Afghanistan) and Pakistan and the United States (and China) have led to continual military buildups, including nuclear weapons and other advanced strategic technologies, all within a framework of acrimony and continual terrorism.

India, Israel, the United States, Afghanistan, China and Britain are all accused, on a daily basis, of coordinating terror attacks inside each country of the region, including Iran.  Accusations of training and arming terrorist groups, numbered in the dozens, perhaps the hundreds, in each of the countries involved, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, are continually voiced.  In the process, everyone denies involvement in the vast drug trade that has reemerged with the American occupation of Afghanistan and the vast network of corruption based primarily on what seems to be an American policy to stimulate waste.

Permanent war, in itself, has become the only business of the region, other than drug trafficking, with endless thousands of “contractors” from around the world flocking to the region to suck down the American dollars carelessly thrown at every imaginable perceived threat or ill, often with little or no consideration for end result or attempt at accounting.

This has brought American war planners to a number of disastrous conclusions about the area, ones that defy any historical or strategic model.  The gutting of the intellectual capabilities of American policy planners during the Bush administration, based on an overlay of an Evangelical Christian model, applied, not only to the Pentagon but intelligence services, State Department and many key decision making environments has left the United States unable to process and respond properly to feedback.  Thus, failed policies are replaced by untested experiments and short term fixes, none based on broad or sound analysis.

All advice comes from groups tied financially to the continuation of the war and even the destabilization of Pakistan.  One major unseen actor is Israel, whose powerful lobby in Washington is capable of making policy for the region.  Israel’s military alliance with India and extensive investment in the regions gas and oil industry is a major driver in, what has become a suicidal American effort.  With Israel benefitting from billions in arms contracts with the United States and India along with becoming a defacto “super power” of the region by proxy, their “special interest” and unique ability to use their control of media, their massive influence over the electoral process in the US and their long relationship with the Pentagon, continual regional conflict may be a hidden agenda.

Current American policies in the region, both military and economic, seem to prove this out.  All are doomed to eventual failure, seemingly purposely so and all are the result of reliance on advice from sectors profiting from war and destabilization, not only of the region, but of the United States itself.  It is a unique possibility that the series of ill conceived wars begun under the Bush administration may eventually bring about the economic collapse of the United States as had happened to the Soviet Union some years before.

Afghanistan

America claimed they came into Afghanistan seeking the terrorists who attacked on 9/11.  This is blatantly dishonest.  Osama bin Laden had been a guest of the Taliban for some time but had been put under severe restrictions by that group.  There is no evidence any terrorist organizations were being run by Bin Laden in Afghanistan and current intelligence has proven, despite “media” coverage to the contrary, that bin Laden had no involvement in 9/11.  Broad evidence exists that bin Laden died during the initial US attack in 2001.  All intelligence and informed opinion leads to this conclusion causing both embarrassment and consternation when “press driven” demands for a continued hunt for bin Laden come from the United States.

Less publicly, the United States has long accepted the death of bin Laden yet has spent millions of dollars and hundreds of lives in a dishonest attempt to keep a “branded” big name terrorist in front of the public. 

This has caused a general distrust of the United States among its military allies who, universally, believe that the phony “hunt for bin Laden” is proof, not of a need to resurrect a phony “boogieman” for public consumption but rather to create an artificial “icon” to cover massive corruption and a history of failure.

At the outset, America’s approach in Afghanistan was flawed.  Our dependence on the Northern Alliance, a group of warlords wishing to restore drug production, prohibited by the Taliban, to assist us led to establishing a regime in Kabul that was never accepted by the people of Afghanistan.  President Karzai, not only notoriously corrupt and weak but closely allied to India, would make an unlikely leader in a war requiring continual coordination with Pakistan, a country nearly as distrustful of Karzai as his own people.

The decision by the US to support Karzai, even after a rigged election and to build an army and national police force primarily out of tribal minorities from the Northern Alliance who are hated by the majority of Afghanis has led to the need for the current increase in American presence and the stalled military operations in Helmand, the nation’s primary opium producing region since 2001.  Current American plans to consider restructuring the massive national police force on regional ethnic lines is encouraging but doomed to failure.

Tribal traditions in Afghanistan are based on a system called Pashtunwali.  All judicial and police functions reside within a long established tribal structure, one that functioned well prior to the Soviet occupation and one which could be restored.  Replacing this with a “northern occupation” will only lead to continual warfare.

Gun Culture

The economy of Afghanistan is almost entirely non-existent.  Warring groups are living off American bribes, payments to allow supplies to pass unharmed to American forces or from taxes on the massive opium harvest.  With the destruction of tribal cohesion under the Russian backed government and the mining of Afghanistan, the traditional yearly migrations of the large pastoral population within Afghanistan has stopped.  This group, numbering as many as 15 million, are a recruiting ground for “gun culture.”

Replacing normal occupations, farming, husbandry or small industries is a vast number of fighters, many simple bandits and criminals but untold thousands fighting out of a belief they are opposing a foreign occupation.  Discerning the difference between the two and restoring a traditional economy to replace warlord-ism, drug production and mercenary activities is the only way of bringing about stability.  The cost of these programs, some of which the USAID is working on now, is low in comparison to military action.

However, too little is being done and, for every successful program, ten “boondoggle” programs are put in place, building useless projects with massive cost overruns and corruption.

Military Action

American military planners are currently trying a variety of approaches, including working with the Afghan army, a vast mercenary group, primarlily of the northern tribes that is, on the whole, both unsupportable economically and totally helpless when used in any independent capacity.  Afghanistan has a tradition of compulsory military service, a “people’s army” of lowly paid but highly motivated soldiers from every area of the nation.  These troops are paid as little as $5 per month but receive food subsidies for their families and extensive training in civilian trades as part of their service.

This successful system has been destroyed by the United States and the Karzai government, replaced with a “paid” professional army untrusted by any group within the country.  Pakistan fears that this army will fall under Indian command and threaten their borders and, perhaps, rightly so.  The model used is based on Blackwater, a private military contractor, not any national army.  The new national army in Afghanistan is quite likely to work for any group capable of paying them.  The nation of Afghanistan itself will never have that capability.

American efforts to occupy destabilized regions thru “civil affairs” operations used in Vietnam with some success can only function as they did in Vietnam, as part of a permanent occupation force which will be immediately replaced by an opposing “occupation force” of domestic fighters, the enemy, when Americans leave.  In fact, Taliban units simply melt into the civilian population when confronted by American forces beyond their capability of defeating.

Only the foreign fighters in Afghanistan, those who came to fight and die, continue action against the US forces under unfavorable conditions.  Others, trained in “irregular warfare” from birth, simply wait out America’s resolve, exactly as had happened in Vietnam.  Pentagon planners understand this, thus making our current efforts by cynical and deceitful.

America is unaware that most of the Taliban live in Pakistan.  The total number of Taliban exceeds 50 million, a number America and Pakistan can never fight successfully nor do they need to.  The vast majority of those the US considers enemy combatants can be rehabilitated, but not under programs currently being initiated by the United States.  The idea of paying “fighters” or members of the “gun culture” to stop resisting is hardly a thoughtful strategy but it is the one the United States has chosen.

There are forces that need to be defeated and that could be defeated by an Afghan army, a traditional force based on compulsory service and fighting for a government with wide support among the tribes, a government Afghanistan currently doesn’t have.

Current military operations are likely to recruit more fighters against the United States and the unpopular Karzai government and, as things are going, eventually lead to a wider conflict in Pakistan and the economic destruction of that nation, a vital US ally.   We are well along that road already and are more than well aware of it despite our protestations to the opposite and the total lack of media attention to any “reality based” assessment.

Economic development programs being enacted in Afghanistan are primarily based on supporting a corrupt culture and maintaining “cover” for the massive drug trade that powerful groups among all the players, Afghanistan, Israel, the United States, India and Pakistan, are growing immensely wealthy and powerful on.  A restructuring of the economies on both sides of the Durand Line separating Pashtun regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan along lines suggested by Imran Khan and Jeff Gates and groups supporting Prince Ali Seraj may be the best solution.

Simple “grass roots” development built on supporting and expanding traditional industries while providing improved delivery of educational and health care services is a start.  Only education of men and women can fight the cycle of extremism, broad public education delivered at village level within a social and economic environment supporting a traditional model.  These plans exist, are inexpensive and have broad support among nearly all tribal leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The only thing stopping their implementation is the current much more profitable and corrupt system that is creating a new ruling oligarchy based on American money and continual chaos.

Solutions?

They have always been there but real solutions have been opposed by those profiting off the war and the environment the war has created.  Too many with too much money and power want the wars to continue for too many reasons, including long term geopolitical goals unfavorable to the United States and Pakistan.  With a lack of strong leadership within the United States compounded by the disastrous policies of the Bush administration, US foreign policy will continue to be a “runaway train.”

The first step toward enacting known solutions would be getting real information to decision makers and keeping the American people properly informed.  Currently, media in the United States is so heavily skewed toward misinformation and propaganda that political accountability has nearly disappeared.  An systematically misinformed populace negates all concepts of democracy and representative government.   There can be no accountability and no national policy as long as the mechanisms for disinformation that have taken control of America’s news media exist.

Defacto control of Americas media by foreign nations and a cabal of corporations tied to the war economy has ended effective public participation in American policy and decision making and, in the process, ended Congress’s ability to oversee policy.  Grassroots movements in Afghanistan, while America remains the “prime mover” depend on restoration of similar authority in the United States.

12-12

Breaking the Chains of Labor

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan – MMNS Middle East Correspondent

DUBAI_WORKERS_(409_x_279) They say it takes a village to raise a child and, at least in the Middle East, that sentiment is taken quite literally. For decades, the wealthy denizens of the oil-drenched Gulf region have relied heavily upon an army of laborers numbering in the millions to help raise their families. Most of the laborers hail from the poorest nations of Southeast Asia, like India and Sri Lanka. They fulfill jobs that no one else wants to or seem beneath the wealthy elite class. Some serve as housemaids, nannies, cooks, gardeners and chauffeurs. Others have managed to crash through the ‘domestic servitude’ ceiling and work both in the private sector and public sectors as janitors, office boys and the like.

For many of the poor laborers, the jobs that they are contracted to do in the Gulf region are the only means of financial support for their families back in their homelands. And the support is often meager as the salary contracts are rarely enforced. The actual salary they receive is, typically, at least 60% lower than the original salary that was contractually agreed upon. Not only are the laborers exploited financially, but they are also often abused, both verbally and physically. Regardless of the drawbacks, the quality of life in the Gulf is a lot better than that in their poor homelands.

However, the result of the dependence upon such a huge force of laborers for so many years has come at a hefty price. There simply are not enough jobs for Gulf nationals. Well-educated and trained Gulf citizens are left redundant in most cases, as there are not enough of the highly coveted government jobs, with perks like obscenely high salaries and extra holidays, to go around. For this reason, many Gulf countries have little choice but to take drastic measures to release its dependence on a largely foreign workforce in order to free up jobs for their own people.

One such country is the State of Kuwait, who this week announced that the Kuwaiti government is initiating plans to replace its estimated 600,000 strong foreign workforce, in various sectors, at a rate of 10% per annum. The government also plans to ban hiring foreign workers, with the exception of those who are highly skilled, and will begin purging existing workers right back to their homelands.

The rationale behind the Kuwaiti government’s move is to cut spending and open new employment opportunities for eager Kuwaiti workers. According to a recently conducted study by the Kuwait Parliament, there are an estimated 60,000 foreign-held jobs today that could be handed over to Kuwaitis tomorrow.  The decision is also a preemptive strike to secure Kuwait’s borders as foreigners out number Kuwaitis 3 to 1. Other Gulf countries have already taken initiatives to break the chains of reliance upon a foreign workforce.

Further governmental plans include specialized training courses for Kuwait citizens so that they can step right into a skilled job previously held by a foreign laborer. And the government will also pay special attention to the Kuwait youth, which makes up a whopping 50% of the Kuwaiti population. Ignoring this segment of the future Kuwaiti workforce would be fatal as the next generation has the potential of meeting all of the employment needs of the country.

The impact of Gulf states sending much of their foreign workforce packing will have far reaching effects, most notably with the foreign laborers themselves. Once back in their homelands, there is little guarantee that they will be able to earn a quality living, as unemployment is usually high and community programming to help the poor is sparse. Being forced ‘out to pasture’ before their time is like a cold hard slap in the face for a foreign workforce that has helped build the Gulf region up to global contender that it is today.

12-10

Iran, Syria Leaders Brush Aside US Call to Weaken Ties

March 4, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Two countries scrap visa requirements

By Roueida Mabardi, Agence France Presse (AFP)

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DAMASCUS: The presidents of Syria and Iran signed a visa-scrapping accord on Thursday, signaling even closer ties and brushing aside United States efforts to drive a wedge between the two allies.

“I am surprised by their call to keep a distance between the countries … when they raise the issue of stability and peace in the Middle East, and all the other beautiful principles,” Syrian President Bashar Assad told a news conference in Damascus with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“We need to further reinforce relations if the true objective is stability. We do not want others to give us lessons on our region, our history,” the Syrian president said.

Ahmadinejad, who flew in to Damascus earlier in the day and later met exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, stressed that ties between the two Muslim states, both outspoken critics of US ally Israel, were as “solid” as ever. “Nothing can damage these relations,” he said.

On the same day in occupied Jerusalem, the United States and Israel resumed an annual “strategic dialogue” for the first time since US President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009, with Iran prominent on the agenda.

US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

Assad said his country was always on the alert against Israel.

“We are always preparing ourselves for an Israeli aggression whether it is small or big scale,” he said.

Afterward, Ahmadinejad met Meshaal, Ahmed Jibril – leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – and other Palestinian leaders critical of the peace process for talks focused on “the Israeli threats made against Syria, Iran, the Palestinians and Lebanon,” a participant in the meeting said.

Ahmadinejad told the Palestinian leaders that “Iran places itself solidly beside the Palestinian people, until their land is liberated,” the participant said, and that resistance was the “likeliest path to liberation.”

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington has been pressing Damascus to move away from Iran

Questioned on Clinton, Assad adopted an ironic tone.

“We met today to sign a ‘separation accord’ between Syria and Iran, but because of a bad translation we ended up signing an accord on scrapping visas,” he quipped.

Assad said the agreement would serve “to further reinforce relations in all fields and at all levels” between the two countries, which have been close allies for the past three decades.

In the face of US-led efforts to slap new sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its controversial nuclear program, he also defended Iran’s right to pursue uranium enrichment.

“To forbid an independent state the right to enrichment amounts to a new colonialist process in the region,” he said.

The visit came after Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Syria was determined to help Iran and the West engage in a “constructive” dialogue over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Western governments suspect that the program in Iran is cover for a drive to produce a bomb.

Tehran vehemently denies the allegation.

On the eve of Ahmadinejad’s visit, Clinton was blunter than ever about the bid to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran.

Testifying in the Senate, she said William Burns, the third-ranking US diplomat, “had very intense, substantive talks in Damascus” last week on what was the highest-level US mission to the Syrian capital in five years.

Syria is being asked “generally to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran, which is so deeply troubling to the region as well as to the United States,” Clinton said.

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Russia, China, Iran Redraw Energy Map

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By M K Bhadrakumar

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The inauguration of the Dauletabad-Sarakhs-Khangiran pipeline on Wednesday connecting Iran’s northern Caspian region with Turkmenistan’s vast gas field may go unnoticed amid the Western media cacophony that it is “apocalypse now” for the Islamic regime in Tehran.

The event sends strong messages for regional security. Within the space of three weeks, Turkmenistan has committed its entire gas exports to China, Russia and Iran. It has no urgent need of the pipelines that the United States and the European Union have been advancing. Are we hearing the faint notes of a Russia-China-Iran symphony?

The 182-kilometer Turkmen-Iranian pipeline starts modestly with the pumping of 8 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Turkmen gas. But its annual capacity is 20bcm, and that would meet the energy requirements of Iran’s Caspian region and enable Tehran to free its own gas production in the southern fields for export. The mutual interest is perfect: Ashgabat gets an assured market next door; northern Iran can consume without fear of winter shortages; Tehran can generate more surplus for exports; Turkmenistan can seek transportation routes to the world market via Iran; and Iran can aspire to take advantage of its excellent geographical location as a hub for the Turkmen exports.

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Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

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Mall of the Emirates, Dubai

Stolen glances, quiet giggles and flushed faces are just a few of the hallmarks of mingling with the opposite sex in the Middle East. Dating is wholly unacceptable and considered politically incorrect in the conservative Gulf region, which applies the letter of the Islamic law when it comes to relations between members of the opposite sex. However, as with most social aspects of life that governments attempt to control, where there is a will there is a way.

Tweens, teens and twenty-some things in the Middle East have come up with their own brand of dating that is not only secretive but also kept largely away from the public eye. Since a suitor driving up to a girl’s home is not an option, many Arab youths have capitalized on the abundance of luxury malls in the region. Many boys and girls cruise the malls looking for someone that catches their eye. Most malls are so enormous that is it easy to slip away from one’s family should the occasion arise. And while the ‘hunt’ may be extremely public, communications are kept excruciatingly secret. In many cases the boy will walk past a girl that catches his eye and slip his phone number to her on a piece of paper. It’s really up to her what she does with it, as some girls might call the boy and others may simply crunch the paper into a nearby garbage can. And in other cases both boys and girls interested in this new form of dating use technology to hook up.

Bluetooth cellular phone technology is the biggest ally for Arab youths wanting to find that special someone. Amorous boys and girls often send out random Bluetooth messages in both Arabic and English. Then they wait to see who will respond and reply back. It’s a little known fact that Bluetooth messaging has ignited countless numbers of romances in the Gulf. Unfortunately, many married men and women that happen to have their Blue Tooth switched on in the vicinity often get caught up in the wide-scoped message, which can create suspicion within their own union.

Once the match is made, actually going out on a date is almost a mission impossible. In the conservative Middle East, males enjoy more freedom than their female counterparts. For a girl to successfully get away from her parent’s watchful eyes she would have to lie and, most likely, enlist the help of some of her girlfriends to turn the date into a reality. And the date itself typically takes place on a local beach or garden, as it would be impractical to go to a restaurant or even the movies.

Two of the most relaxed Middle Eastern countries, when it comes to cruising for dates, are Kuwait and Bahrain. The opportunities for meeting are immense and there is very little enforcement when it comes to youths of the opposite sex scoping each other out. Contrastingly, Saudi Arabia takes a hard line against co-mingling and has its own religious police force to maintain segregation between the sexes. Even the UAE is becoming more stringent when it comes to public displays of affection.

The reality of this secretive form of dating is that Arab youths are dealing with adult issues that they may not be ready to cope with due to lack of sexual education in the region. They also lack parental support and intuition since the dating falls far below most parent’s radar. It’s very common to read in local newspapers about a young girl running off with a boyfriend. Instances of sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy and ‘date rape’ are on the rise. Unfortunately, due to the secretive nature of relationships between youths in the Gulf and most Arab governments unwillingness to admit that there is a problem, statistics revealing the magnitude of the issue are not readily available.

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US vs. Taliban in Afghanistan

November 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Inter Press Service, News Analysis, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad

2009-11-01T035748Z_200158948_GM1E5B10X8201_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 30 (IPS) – To the west of Peshawar on the Jamrud Road that leads to the historic Khyber Pass sits the Karkhano Market, a series of shopping plazas whose usual offering of contraband is now supplemented by standard issue U.S. military equipment, including combat fatigues, night vision goggles, body armour and army knives.

Beyond the market is a checkpoint, which separates the city from the semi-autonomous tribal region of Khyber. In the past, if one lingered near the barrier long enough, one was usually approached by someone from the far side selling hashish, alcohol, guns, or even rocket-propelled grenade launchers. These days such salesman could also be selling U.S. semi-automatics, sniper rifles and hand guns. Those who buy do it less for their quality—the AK-47 still remains the weapon of choice here—than as mementos of a dying Empire.

The realisation may be dawning slowly on some U.S. allies, but here everyone is convinced that Western forces have lost the war. However, at a time when in Afghanistan the efficacy of force as a counterinsurgency tool is being increasingly questioned, there is a newfound affinity for it in Pakistan.

A survey conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) in July 2009, which excluded the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP)—the regions directly affected by war—found 69 percent of respondents supporting the military operation in Swat.

A different survey undertaken by the U.S. polling firm Gallup around the same time, which covered all of Pakistan, found only 41 percent supporting the operation. The Gallup poll also found a higher number—43 percent—favouring political resolution through dialogue.

The two polls also offer a useful perspective on how Pakistanis perceive the terrorist threat. If the country is unanimous on the need to confront militancy, it is equally undivided in its aversion for the U.S. Yet, both threats are not seen as equal: the Gallup survey found 59 percent of Pakistanis considering the U.S. as the bigger threat when compared to 11 percent for the Taliban; and, according to the IRI poll, fewer saw the Taliban (13 percent) as the biggest challenge compared to the spiralling inflation which is wrecking the economy (40 percent).

In 2001, when the United States launched its ‘war on terror’, many among Pakistan’s political elite and intelligentsia supported it, miscalculating the public mood, which was overwhelmingly hostile. This led to the protest vote which brought to power the religious alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in two of the frontier provinces. The MMA had been alone in openly opposing U.S. intervention.

However, as Afghanistan fell, things went quiet and passions subsided. Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator, was able to present his decision to participate in the “war on terror” as a difficult but unavoidable choice. Internationally, his isolation ended, and as a reward the various sanctions imposed on Pakistan after the nuclear tests of 1998 were lifted.

The economy grew, so did Musharraf’s popularity. When under intense U.S. pressure in 2004 he sent the Pakistani military into the restive FATA region, people barely noticed. He managed to retain his support despite reports of atrocities, which, according to Human Rights Watch, included indiscriminate use of force, home demolitions, extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances. Indeed, if he was blamed at all, it was for not going far enough.

Things changed when on Musharraf’s orders, soldiers stormed a mosque in Islamabad held by Taliban sympathizers in August 2007, which resulted in the deaths of many seminarians. The Taliban retaliated by taking the war to the mainland and terrorist attacks hit several major cities.

Musharraf was blamed, and with an emerging challenge from the civil society in the form of a lawyers’ movement and an insurgent media, his popularity went into terminal decline. Meanwhile, in the Malakand region, Swat and Dir emerged as new flashpoints. The threat from Taliban militants could no longer be ignored, but opinions differed as to how best to confront it. The majority supported a negotiated settlement.

The turning point came in May, when, after a peace deal between the government and militants had broken down, the military embarked on a major offensive in Malakand. Though the truce had temporarily brought calm to the region, both sides had failed to live up to their commitments.

Yet, in the aftermath the Taliban alone were blamed, and in the media a consensus developed against any further negotiations with the militants. The operation was hailed as a success despite the loss of countless lives and the displacement of up to three million people.

However, in the frontier itself, analysts remained less sanguine. Rahimullah Yusufzai, deemed the most knowledgeable commentator on frontier politics, considered it an “avoidable” war. Another leading analyst, Rustam Shah Mohmand, wondered if it was not a war against the Pakhtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and the NWFP, since no similar actions were considered in other lawless regions.

Roedad Khan, a former federal secretary, described it as an “unnecessary war” which was “easy to prevent … difficult to justify and harder to win”. In the political mainstream all major parties felt obliged to support the war for fear of being labelled unpatriotic. The opposition came mainly from religious parties, and from cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice).

Opinions were reinforced in favour of a military solution when militants launched a wave of terrorist attacks in anticipation of the Pakistani army’s new operation in FATA.

While the effects of the terrorist atrocities were there for all to see, the consequences of months of aerial bombing and artillery shelling that preceded the operation were less known.

A third of the total population of South Waziristan—site of the government’s newly launched anti-Taliban offensive—has been displaced, and it has received little relief. When an Associated Press crew met the refugees, they expressed their anger at the government by chanting “Long live the Taliban”.

Instead of winning hearts and minds, the Pakistani government is delivering them to the enemy.

Despite the best efforts of sections of the elite to take ownership of the war, the view persists that Pakistan is fighting an American war. That the military operation in South Waziristan follows an inducement of 1.5 billion U.S. dollars from the U.S. government, and is supported by U.S. drone surveillance, does little to disabuse skeptics of their notions.

Following the bombing of the International Islamic University in Islamabad last week, an Al Jazeera correspondent—a Scot—was accosted by an angry student who, mistaking him for an American, held him responsible for the attack.

Pakistanis are acutely aware that before 2002 there was no terrorist threat, and they remain equally convinced that the threat will vanish once U.S. forces withdraw from the region. But before that happens, some fear, Pakistan will have compromised its long-term stability.

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad (m.idrees@gmail.com) is the co-founder of Pulsemedia.org.

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Mall Rats

November 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

wallgarden The Middle East is world-renowned for hosting some of the tallest buildings in the world. However, the region is also home to some of the largest and most luxurious shopping malls in the world. As a result of almost year-round scorching temperatures and excess oil wealth that flows out of banks just as quickly as the bubbling crude can be exhumed from the earth, shopping is the new national pastime for most Middle East nations.

It’s primarily the elite and wealthy denizens of the Gulf region, in countries like Kuwait, Dubai and Oman, that can afford to shop til they drop in the most prestigious designer boutiques and stores from the global arena. And since the wealthy clearly outnumber the less fortunate in the Gulf region, malls go up at a record pace, each bearing a signature style to lure customers and ring up sales.

Built across 12 million square feet, the largest mall in the Middle East can be found in the United Arab Emirates.  With more than 1,200 stores ready and open for business the Dubai Mall attracts approximately 750,000 visitors each week. The mall is part of the Burj Dubai Project, which is the tallest building in the world. Some of the features that make the mall unique include the biggest gold market in the world with more than 220 jewelry stores. It also has more than 70 stores that carry exclusive haute couture designer clothing. And as for entertainment, the mall is home to the first SEGA indoor theme park in the Middle East and a 22-screen movie theater.

However, the undisputed crown of the region’s largest mall is set to topple by next year’s end. Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Dubai, the leading contender for the most lavish and gargantuan mall in the Middle East can be found in Kuwait. ‘The Avenues’ mall lives up to its name. This monster of capitalism and sheer consumerism is as big as it gets with several hundred stores and plans to house a European-styled ‘Grand Mall’. The mall has already opened despite the fact that only two out of the proposed three phases have been complete. Security is also very tight as the mall features its very own police department with a force of 350 ‘mall cops’ that work around the clock to ensure public safety. The command center of the police department receives live feed from over 350 security cameras situated all over the interior and exterior of the mall.

Size, however, does not always matter. There seems to be a mall on every corner in the biggest cities of the Gulf region with most of the smaller malls mimicking each other and offering little more than a rehashing of the one prior. However, there is one mall that while small is standing out as a veritable gem in the crown of all things commercial. The ‘360 Mall’ of Kuwait was built in a perfect circle and is an architectural feat of sheer minimalism and art. The most attractive features of this mall are not a giant store or an enormous entertainment center. What makes the 360 Mall unique is that it houses two very unique and permanent art installations. The first is the largest vertical garden in the world, which was grown by French botanist Patric Blanc and is the size of four tennis courts in length. The second are two glass sculptures, made to look like the moon and the sun, by renowned American glass artist Dale Chihuly.

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Qur`an Passages ‘Appear on Baby’s Skin’

October 22, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Muslim World News

 

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A Muslim cleric holds baby Ali Yakubov at his house in Kizlyar in Russia’s Dagestan Region, October 19, 2009. A miracle baby has brought a kind of mystical hope to people in Russia’s mostly Muslim southern fringe who are increasingly desperate in the face of violence. From hunchbacked grandmas to schoolboys, hundreds of pilgrims lined up this week in blazing sunshine to get a glimpse of 9-month-old baby Ali Yakubov, on whose body they say verses from the Qur`an appear and fade every few days. Picture taken October 19, 2009. 

REUTERS/Amir Amirov

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Ali Yakubov’s skin, with Qur`an

 

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Ali Yakubov with his mother and father.

The parents of nine-month-old Ali Yakubov claim the phenomenon began when the word Allah showed up on their son’s chin when he was a few weeks old, British newspapers report.

Other words then started appearing on other parts of his body, including his arms, legs and back, before mysteriously fading away, the parents claim.

“Ali always feels bad when it is happening — he cries and his temperature goes up,” his mother was quoted as saying.

“It’s impossible to hold him when it’s happening, his body is actively moving, so we put him into his cradle … it’s so hard to watch him suffering.”

The marks usually appear each week on a Monday and then again sometime between Thursday and Friday, she claims. Medics at the family’s town in Daghestan province, near Chechnya, are said to be baffled by Ali’s condition.

They have reportedly dismissed speculation someone the words are caused by someone writing on his skin. The phenomenon has reportedly made Ali the subject of religious homage by many locals in the troubled region.

One local MP even hailed Ali as “a pure sign of God.”

“Allah sent him to Daghestan in order to stop revolts and tension in our republic,” Akhmedpasha Amiralaev was quoted as saying.

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Saudi to Launch Elite Science, Tech University

October 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tarek El-Tablawy

Capture9-30-2009-12.20.22 PM Cairo–Saudi Arabia has dug into its oil-fueled coffers to set up a new research university, a multibillion dollar coed venture built on the promise of scientific freedom in a region where a conservative interpretation of Islam has often been blamed for stifling innovation.

The King Abdullah Science and Technology University — complete with state-of-the-art labs, the world’s 14th fastest supercomputer and one of the biggest endowments worldwide — is poised to officially open its doors Wednesday on a sprawling campus nestled along the Red Sea coast about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the commercial center of Jeddah.

Saudi officials have envisaged the postgraduate institution as a key part of the kingdom’s plans to transform itself into a global scientific hub — the latest effort in the oil-rich Gulf region to diversify its economic base.

But KAUST, whether its founders intend it or not, has the potential to represent one of the clearest fault lines in a battle between conservatives and modernizers in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is the most religiously strict country in the Middle East with total segregation of the sexes and practices Wahhabi Islam — a byword for conservatism around the region. But the new university will not require women to wear veils or cover their faces, and they will be able to mix freely with men.

They will also be allowed to drive, a taboo in a country where women must literally take a back seat to their male drivers.

With KAUST’s inauguration, “we see the beginning of a community that is unique” in Saudi Arabia, the university’s president, Choon Fong Shih told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“We recruit the very best in the world …. and we give them the freedom to pursue their scientific interests,” said Shih, a mechanical engineer by training who headed the National University of Singapore for nine years.

While it takes decades to develop world class institutions like what KAUST hopes to become, the university’s breakneck inception in many ways reflects Saudi Arabia’s rise to wealth and power in the global political and economic arena.

The inaugural ceremony is to be headed by its namesake, the Saudi monarch, as well as several world leaders, dignitaries and officials who will stand on what three years ago was just a sweeping acreage of sand, but is now a 36 square kilometer (13.9 square mile) campus with its beach on the Red Sea.

In a region where Internet access can often be lackluster, KAUSTS boasts Shaheen, a 222 teraflops supercomputer which officials says is the fastest in the Middle East and 14th fastest in the world. The computer is named after the Arab Peregrine falcon, believed to be the fastest animal on earth.

It also boasts a fully immersive, six-sided virtual reality facility called CORNEA that officials say, for example, can allow researchers to visualize earthquakes on a planetary scale.

Among the other equipment and facilities are 10 advanced nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, a coastal and marine resources laboratory and bioengineering facilities with labs needs to study cell molecules for DNA sequencing.

The English curriculum is focused on the sciences, with masters and doctoral degrees offered in nine fields including computer science, bioscience and various engineering specialties. The university is also focused on collaborative work with the private sector, as well as other research institutions.

KAUST has enrolled 817 students representing 61 different countries, of whom 314 begin classes this month while the rest are scheduled to enroll in the beginning of 2010. The aim is to expand to 2,000 students within eight to 10 years.

Of that total, 15 percent are Saudi, say university officials.

With research institutions, cash is king, and KAUST, thanks to Saudi’s oil wealth, has plenty.

It has tossed generous salary packages to prospective hires from around the world, an offer made more tempting by a multibillion dollar endowment that Shih says is “one of the biggest in the world.”

The 71 faculty members include 14 from the U.S., seven from Germany and six from Canada.

Shih did not provide a specific figure, but the funding allows all the students to receive full scholarships covering their tuition plus a stipend.

He says without that aid, students would have to pay about $60,000 to $70,000 per year — roughly comparable to the cost of attending elite U.S. schools like California’s Stanford University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The university is being launched at a time when the OPEC powerhouse has been upping its push to focus on education and development programs aimed at boosting economic growth.

Saudi officials have said they are committed to spending $400 billion over the next five years on various development and infrastructure projects, and the kingdom set a 2009 budget that ran a deficit for the first time in years specifically to sustain spending on such ventures.

But more than a projected research juggernaut in a region where other oil-rich nations are also embracing similar initiatives — albeit on a much smaller scale — KAUST may indirectly challenge the brand of conservatism that critics say has stifled progress in the Muslim world.

“We do not restrict how they wish to work among themselves,” Shih said, referring to whether men and women can freely intermingle on campus. “It’s a research environment …. driven by scientific agenda.”

In many ways, the campus is similar to other Western-style compounds in Saudi where residents are often allowed more flexibility in embracing liberal Western values shunned outside the confines of their community in the kingdom.

But the university also could also be seen as a return to Islam’s golden age — an era centuries ago when Muslim scholars took up the mantle of the Greeks and were pioneers in the fields of medicine, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, among others.

This tolerant and inquiring period was snuffed out under pressure from invasions by Crusaders, Mongols and nomadic desert hordes in the Middle Ages and was replaced by an age where faith superseded reason amid unstable times.

In the modern era, bureaucratic bungling, a lack funds, and a general stifling of freedoms has left much of the Arab Middle East in a state of academic and scientific atrophy.

Officials say KAUST’s embrace of scientific freedom marks Saudi Arabia’s determination to not be left behind as technology increasingly drives global development.

“In a way, we are paving the way,” said Shih, referring to the university’s focus on pure science. But if “KAUST is leading the way, it has to meet global standards of excellence, otherwise how else can we be a global player.”

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Iraqi Mujahideen

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Iraqi Resistance Responds to President Obama

Press Release, The Political Committee / Baghdad / The Republic of Iraq, Official English Transcript

Editor’s note:  We are printing this March 2009 announcement because it is absolutely newsworthy and even essential to consider in order to understand Iraq, and absolutely not as an endorsement of the insurgency in Iraq.  Also due to the length of the statement only part of it is here, for the rest please see our website.

Statement in Response to President Obama’s Remarks made on the 27th or February 2009 regarding the proclaimed ending to the occupation of The Republic of Iraq.

Good Evening, 

In Respect to the remarks of President Barak Hussain Obama, The president of the United States of America. The Political Committee of a number of factions in the Iraqi Resistance, mainly the factions present in our front, respond with our point of view on the contents of his speech.

Over the last four months, as the battle of our people continues to free Iraq of all foreign occupation. We have been studying the movements on the ground as well as analyzing the intelligence in order to assess the next strategy that the US administration will take under the leadership of the new presidency. 

We had formulated our own plan of action based on the above mentioned, but have chosen to give the new president enough time to gather his thoughts and have a suitable amount of reports & briefings that would give him also a good picture of the daily developments on the ground. 

President Obama, After listening to your speech on the 27th of February 2009, in which you declared your general and public understanding of the ongoing war against our people, and gave your military and the honorable people of the United States brief points on your intentions in our country, we felt the spirit of the speech that your predecessor President JFK gave on the 20th of January 1961, on his inaugural address. In this speech, he offered a turbulent world, a way out of tensions and paid with his own blood for challenging the interests of those in your consecutive governments who hold the true keys to power. Those who would do anything to preserve their interests, wealth, & power to create wars & conflict.  

We mention this with great honesty in hope to spread awareness and remembrance that a new Caesar may be betrayed, by his own, if he chooses to follow a different path. We do believe, on the other hand, that the spirit of the speech was well chosen. 

We have listened well to your economic plans for your country released before this speech as well, and as ambitious as it may seem, we believe that if intentions are genuine within your congress, a considerable number of  what you seek will eventually be fulfilled, but in case of failure, the republicans will be looking for a scapegoat to relate all their failures to. In this case it would be your administration. This will guarantee them a fast comeback. 

You have inherited a nation at war, a failed economy, and a desperate people who are bearing the full brunt of an economic crisis that was not of their making. As well as thousands of young men dead and handicapped. 

We have inherited a foreign occupation, endless counts of innocent dead, injured, and handicapped, millions of refugees, in essence, Mr. President, the complete and planned disintegration of our nation and people. 

We believe that the funds wasted in this war would have been more useful if it were spent on research to develop alternative energy, which no doubt would have reduced energy conflicts, cures for cancer, agricultural solutions to prevent worldwide poverty, advancements to develop Africa, where people still die of starvation and intentional neglect. Endless causes, all in need of immediate attention.

By the will of God almighty, the resilience of our men, and the patience of our humble people, we have so far managed to halt and render useless all imperialist agendas set for Iraq and the region in whole. Simply by choosing to resist occupation, a right guaranteed by God first and then by international conventions to all men. A right your country’s policies continue to disrespect and dishonor, in clear example to state sponsored Terrorism. 

You have spoken to our people in part of your speech, and we thank you for these words, you have displayed a far better understanding our nation, than your predecessor, who preferred to dive deep into the oceans of illiteracy and ignorance. Despite the fact that you did not mention the Iraqi resistance in your speech, and chose to label us as terrorists along with those who arrived with your troops, we will set that aside for now, and mention a few facts for the record.

1-     The people of Iraq whom you addressed, in all their sects colors and religions, refuse your occupation, and those who accept it, are those who benefit from it.

2-     The Iraqis you addressed, as we truly hope, are not the ones who bathe in the riches of treason, behind your walls of the green zone, nor are they the likes of Ahmed Al Chalabi, whom your previous government conspired with and his likes from the dark alleys of 5 star hotels in the US and Europe prior to your occupation.

3-     The Iraqi people you talked to, are those who never invited your occupation, and were trying their best to survive on what was possible, under the criminal sanctions that went on for 13 years only to be crowned with a foreign occupation, unmatched in criminal acts, in today’s modern world.

President Obama, The suffering, that our people had to go through is beyond comprehension. And the endless crimes of your troops as well as that of neighboring countries, cannot simply be undone or dismissed, nor can they be brushed under the carpet. Your troops still occupy the land and kill the innocent, that is why we can only address you as the president of an occupying nation.  

The Iraqi People are disappointed in your plan. They expect your troops to leave our country in full and not in part. Our people, seek a complete end of occupation and not the fulfillment of a strategic treaty that was rushed against the will of our people, in the last few days of your predecessor. 

Our people, as well as the majority of people around the world, and in your country, want to see the last president be presented to an international war crime tribunal for all the crimes he has committed in the name of your country, only to benefit those who brought him to power in the first place.

We have never invited your occupation, nor have we asked your country to steal our country’s resources to benefit your corporations and to those neighboring states which historically fall under your influence. We have never asked you for your precious blood or ours, to us, all blood is precious even that of the your soldiers sent by your government to die not knowing what they were truly fighting for. This has to be addressed to the man who started this war, and is hiding now in Texas, while you try to undo his damage. 

We the Iraqi People and their resistance demand the following:

1-     The fulfillment of all the conditions presented to your government through the mediators you sent in 2006.

2-     The hand over of all the traitors & Collaborators in the green zone to the Iraqi people where they will be dealt with as any nation would do with in cases of high treason. 

3-     The full & just compensation for our people for the losses they have suffered.

4-     The halting of all compensations paid to those who fall under your umbrella in the region from the resources of our people.

5-     The return of all land stolen from our country.

6-     The departure of all foreign corporations mainly in the sectors of energy, communication, & infrastructure rebuilding, specifically those linked to Neocon interests. Our people are more than qualified to rebuild and operate our institutions.

7-     The hand over of all mercenaries accused of killing innocent civilians mainly security contractors in Black Water and their CEO to be tried for murder.

8-     All foreign advisors are to leave Iraq with your troops.

9-     The dismantling of all militias equipped by your country and Iran together to shift the nature of battle towards the sectarian nature in order to allow your troops to concentrate on the major resistance activities in the central region of Iraq.

10-  The halting of all support to the sectarian government elected in the orchestrated elections in the green zone.

11-  The reduction of the influence of your Persian allies in Iraq which your previous government worked with in close conjunction and who continue to fund Al Qaeda on behalf of  your intelligence agency’s behalf.

12-  The return to the old constitution of a unified Iraq. And the Upholding of new elections Within 6 months of the resistance taking power of the nation, this will be supervised, by must be conducted in the presence of a number of credible international monitors. Not the ones sponsored by the CIA.

13-  Cities and provinces are to be handed over one by one starting with the four main cities and airports of  Baghdad, Basra, then Mosul and Kirkuk in the same order. The rest will fall immediately in our hands. The borders will have other arrangements. 

The list goes on, but the intention is to give you an idea of what we pledged our people to achieve. In return for our people’s demands, we will cease to attack all occupation forces withdrawing to the south and beyond the border post of Safwan.  

Without these straightforward moves on your part, we regret to inform you that the resistance of the people of Iraq will continue until that last boot of US/British/Persian occupation is thrown across the borders of our country. 

If you choose change as you claim, then you must have reached the conclusion that to continue dealing with the same people your predecessor appointed to fulfill his dirty work, will fail to deliver positive results for both our people. It is not the thieves of the green zone who brought the defeat of your military. 

You must search further for the honest Iraqis and from the ranks of our people and not those of your collaborators to achieve a  just solution. You can also recognize the right for the Iraqi people to resist and publicly ask for our advice and representation. The Iraqi people intend to be masters of their own house as they always have, and by following the plan you have declared, you have not yet fully understood Iraq well.

There are those who will claim, that a quick  withdrawal from Iraq will cause civil war, and that is a possibility, but we would also like to clarify that the forces of the puppet government which has been equipped to defeat the resistance will not stand ground, nor will they block our efforts to liberate our cities one by one if we had to, and all the efforts of your collaborators to move to the north and south of the country and create their own federal states have been studied well for their weaknesses and will be crushed within a short period. This is a more realistic scenario. True there will be still the Persian occupation which will offer it’s militias support, but we know that the US cannot leave the oil rich south to be occupied by Iran, and they would rather see it fall in our hands instead. As it would be giving too much to a close yet not so trust worthy ally, and would deprive your military necessary funds that would support long-term military presence necessary in Iraq and throughout the region. Funds that  some in your government think they can still rely on. Funds that your economy can no longer bear in the midst of the turmoil in the globalized economy of your nation, to control the world.  

The Iraqi resistance understands well that the US could not continue to sell oil at a high price of 120 USD/Barrel to cover the costs of it’s war, as this strengthens old adversaries. And it would be only a matter of time before this tactic backfires on the US foreign policy. But it also understands that the US cannot fund foreign occupation any more without depending on local resources and revenues to cover the expenses. This is the true cause of the change of “Strategy” as you named it President Obama.

With oil prices falling to their true realistic market values, & the winter ending in the consuming economies, the oil prices should fall to 30 USD plus mark, which is also effecting the local economies of your allies in the region, as anything below 55 USD per barrel, is already becoming a burden on these economies, which in turn can no longer assist to their full potential in funding and supporting the costs of US aggression in the Region. 

The Declining of oil revenues, which we truly thank you for mentioning in your speech, will make it more difficult to fund your military’s operations in Iraq, and that is why the numbers of your troops is to be reduced. To match the income predicted from the oil projects sponsored by your corporations in the south and the oil theft operations run by your agent, Hamid Jaffar in the north of Iraq in collaboration with NGO oil of Norway, is what your strategists think is possible. 

Yes President Obama, we do agree with you, that the US needs a smarter, more sustainable & comprehensive approach, but rest assured, that what your predecessor has failed to achieve with all the military might at his disposal, we will make sure that you will fail to achieve the same goals through the soft hand of the Democratic party. 

In fact, it is more logical and practical to follow the alternative energy programs that you have set wisely, to ensure the non reliance of your economy on oil as well as the utilization of  advancements and added fruits of R&D to employ the unemployed, and support a new and young market for the shift in energy dependence, and in turn end the monopolization of energy, practiced by the corporations that control it and control world political and social stability, than to merely dream of  expecting the Iraqi People to hand you over their resources. 

We on the other hand intend to nationalize and use our resources to build an alternative energy base our selves and offer our people a life of prosperity, & stability, as well as supporting the energy transition of other nations that are oil dependant, a task we truly believe is noble and worthwhile. 

The Iraqi Resistance will not accept any short term or long term energy contracts with the US until we ensure that the rights of our people are properly addressed. And within the parameters of relations based on mutual respect first and mutual interests second. 

President Obama, It is time that people in Washington understand that there are no shared interest between an occupying tyrant and an oppressed victim of occupation. 

Your government would have stayed forever in Iraq if the traitors who conspired with your consecutive administrations had their way in starving the Iraqi people into submission and force them to welcome your occupying troops with flowers as Chalabi promised you. But after three wars and over a decade of sanctions, there were enough honest men to defeat the world’s most powerful army & play a major role in destroying the most imperialistic Globalized economy ever developed by expansionary capitalism. 

These are the type of people you are speaking to Mr. Obama. And if you were not presented with this reality throughout the briefings that occurred, and understood the true scale of the economic disaster with all the social and geopolitical  implications of your military defeat in Iraq, then please allow us to mention a few of the major achievements that the Iraqi Resistance have promised it’s people and the free people of the world and has delivered:

1-     We promised to pin down your troops in Iraq and drain your economy until you admit defeat and withdraw your troops. And this we fulfilled.

2-     We promised to halt the US plan for Middle East in full, and prevent the loss of other innocent lives in other neighboring countries, and that we fulfilled.  

3-     We embraced the war and continue the fight on behalf of all the oppressed world, which not only stood still and watched the massacre of our people and the illegal occupation of our nation, but many of it’s leaders participated and continue in harming our people inside and outside Iraq and assist in the theft of our resources. This, apart from the support of honest people all around the world,

4-     including citizens of your country, who marched day and night to support the cause of Iraq’s right to resist, marches that defied the weather, and weathered criminal defiance and ignorance of world politicians. Marches that we will ever be indebt to, and in gratitude & in appreciation for. May God bless those people wherever they are.  And this we fulfilled and continue to do so.

5-     We have understood the nature of international balances of power and most importantly predicted the primitive mind of the occupation and played a major role in forcing the US to increase oil prices in clear desperation for cash. And use that to allow other powers to recover. And the numbers never lied, this we also fulfilled.

6-     The Iraqi People wrote a new chapter in Urban warfare, and invented the art of remote combat, and in turn gave the world lessons and set a new standard in how to defeat the world’s most powerful army. In this, the most dangerous achievement that threatens US global influence is that all the oppressed people who suffer from negative US influence, can use this experience to free themselves as well. This also has been delivered. 

7-     The Resistance has already drafted its 2, 5 and 10 year plan to engage Iraq in rebuilding programs that will set a new standard for development in the Region and restore Iraq to it’s rightfully earned place in world politics and positive human development. This while maintaining Iraq’s isolation from harmful neighboring countries at the same time, these plans was prepared and drafted in the early months of 2007 and are ready to implement once we see the end of your occupation.  

8-     The resistance created a new battle field and utilized every tool available to break free of the corporate media and tell, inform, and educate the world of the true nature of the struggle, and present every curious man and woman daily reports and videos of your military’s defeat and in every language possible. People from all over the world, chose out of their own free will and time, people of different religions and backgrounds chose to be soldiers  of the cyber wars and translated all what we had to tell, asking nothing in return but the truth. The true casualties of your war are yet to be declared. (We refer to the green card soldiers) 

9-     The resistance has sparked not only the collapse of the US economy, but also caused the domino effect and the destruction of your fine tuned and delicate Globalized economy, and forced the return to national economic protection, and the rights of local and regional economies to grow and ensure a decent life and practice their right to develop as well.  All your efforts to restore the globalized economy  will deliver nothing of value, and puppet governments that maintain your oversight of world resources will eventually fall, one after the other, as their faults will be more evident to their average citizens, and that is why you are now receiving daily reports, from the CIA about the world economy. 

ALL THE ABOVE, AND YOU STILL CHOOSE TO IGNORE THE RESISTANCE OF THE IRAQI PEOPLE AND THE RESISTANCE OF THE GLOBAL ALLIANCE OF THE FREE, WHICH WE INTENT TO PROPOSE TO THE WORLD AS THE NEXT STAGE OF FREEING THE PLANET FROM YOUR DOMINENCE WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT. 

ALL THIS SAID, AND THE GLOBAL MEDIA WHICH YOU STILL MAINTAIN CONTROL OVER STILL LABELS FREE PEOPLE AS TERRORISTS AND EQUALS THE RESISTANCE OF OCCUPATION WITH CRIMINAL ACTS OF STRIKING CIVILIANS IN BUILDING AND TERRORISING THE LIVES OF THE INNOCENT. 

TRULY IRONIC !! Nevertheless represents the true state of shock you policy makers have reached. But all can be reversed if you truly believe in Change Mr. President. 

The resistance along with the votes of the peace loving people in your country and choice of the world

Who brought you to power, are more than capable to pull you down and defeat your new strategy, if you choose to lie to them and follow the plans of your predecessor.  

You must understand that the time when your foreign policy bullied and bribed people into submission is over and for a considerable time. And your politicians and strategists have to understand that to be accepted as a superpower you must first learn to speak to the world with modesty and respect that others in this planet, also have the right to provide for their families a decent life, the right to food and water, the right to education and knowledge, the right to industry and employment, and free from your corporate despotism. 

We in the Iraqi resistance, renew our pledge to our people and to our brothers and sisters in the global family, to continue the fight and struggle to free Iraq and give our allies the chance to follow suite. 

While you were preparing your new strategy in leaving the streets and highways of Iraq to your collaborators, and hiding your troops behind the walls of the castles and green zones you have prepared for your minimized long term presence, we have been preparing to address your new tactics and will deal with them in the proper manner.

Remember, that hiding behind and holding castles is no longer sustainable in modern warfare!  

Your finest fighting force as you name it, is up against the most witty, resilient & innovative self-propelled resistance honorable humanity has ever presented. Rest assured that we are not impressed with your plan and will follow your movements on the ground and cross examine them to your declared intentions and daily economic reports. There is no such thing as friendly occupation, and we advise you to revise your plans to vacate Iraq at a time suitable for our people and not suitable for your agents in the green zone. 

And if you need to talk to honest Iraqis, then you know very well, where to find them. John F Kennedy also said “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate” 

You choose to negotiate with all the parties that worked for your predecessor and have caused all this harm, yet you choose to ignore the only true party that can offer you a decent outcome.

Good Luck President Obama! 

Uyghurs & Chinese Can Live Together in Peace in East Turkestan

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Harun Yahya

www.harunyahya.com
www.eastturkestan.net

2009-07-17T085631Z_01_DBG207_RTRMDNP_3_CHINA-XINJIANG

Ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese Muslims pray together during Friday prayers at Yang Hang mosque in the city of Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region July 17, 2009.       

REUTERS/David Gray

The efforts being made today to stir up ethnic conflict in East Turkestan are extremely dangerous. Our Muslim brothers in East Turkestan have been subjected to various difficulties for the last 60 years or so, but have never turned to violence and conflict. The Uyghur Turks are a noble people, known for their good manners, honesty, fortitude, reconciliatory natures, obedience to the state, loyalty and devotion. These fine people possess excellent virtues, such as forgiveness, loving peace, lovableness, respect for different ideas and beliefs and judging people according to their moral values rather than their race. There has therefore never been any conflict based on ethnicity with the other peoples living in the region, especially the Han Chinese, and neither will there be any in the future. The Uyghur Turks want a climate in which everyone can live together in peace and security, respecting the right to life of everyone in East Turkestan, no matter what their religion or ethnic origin. Some of the main ways in which this can be brought about are as follows:

1. It is obvious that the Uyghur Turks favor peace and security. But peace in the region can only be ensured if the security of our Uyghur brothers is guaranteed. The international community has important responsibilities in that respect. The support of international societies and organizations is essential if it is to be possible for our Uyghur Turk and Chinese brothers are to be able to live in peace. Democratic pressure from these organizations, especially the UN, on the Chinese government, will ensure that the administration follows a line that is more peaceable toward the problems and legitimate demands of our Uyghur brothers and respects their human rights.  When the necessary encouragement and direction is provided, when the international community acts as a guarantor, it will be easier to establish peace in the region.

2. It is natural for China to be keen to protect its national and economic interests. But this cannot be established through oppression and aggression. The path that will make China prosperous and strengthen its economic and social regeneration lies in a conception that respects human rights, is democratic and loving, and that defends freedom of ideas and belief. The only solution that can calm Chinese fears, such as lack of access to energy resources, economic losses, loss of territory or fragmentation is the foundation of the Turkish-Islamic Union. The Turkish-Islamic Union will establish an environment in which borders are lifted, there is freedom of trade and investment and in which all communities have equal access to energy resources. In this way, China will be able to spread its investments over a wide area from Tanzania to Indonesia and sell its good across a wide territory, and Muslims will be able to invest in China on a large scale. China will regenerate rapidly with the establishment of the Turkish-Islamic Union, will be spared from having to use its citizens as a cheap labor force and will enjoy abundance and plenty all over. 

3. Islam is a religion of peace. All forms of violence are sinful in Islam. In the Qur’an, Allah commands Muslims to be forgiving. A Muslim who abides by the Qur’an and follows our Prophet (s) has a duty to be peace-loving, affectionate, loving, compassionate, patient and moderate. The moral values of the Qur’an oblige Muslims to control their anger, to respond to evil with good, to always speak and behave in a pleasant manner, to forgive under even the most difficult circumstances and to behave justly, even if that conflicts with their own interests. The spread of and learning about Islamic moral values is a great benefit for China. If the Chinese government is concerned about the Han Chinese taking in action in terror attacks and wishes to avoid anarchy and violence, then it must encourage the teaching and dissemination of Islamic moral values. In a China inhabited by people who live by the moral values of the Qur’an there will be no need for military occupation and security measures. The unrest and unease will come to a complete stop. The result will be a society made up of individuals who trust and respect one another, treat one another with understanding, are respectful of and loyal to the state and who all live in peace, that spends its money on the wealth of its own citizens instead of military investment, without investing millions of dollars in armaments and employing thousands of security personnel. And the order and equilibrium sought by China will be established naturally.

4. Our Uyghur brothers’ demands for humane conditions, to live freely according to their religion, to be able to worship as they wish, to protect their own culture and maintain their own existence are all justified and human ones. The most effective way of bringing these about is for the Uyghur people to make a cultural leap forward, to improve themselves with an anti-materialist and anti-Darwinist education, to increase their economic strength, and strengthen themselves both materially and spiritually. The Turkic Uyghur people must not forget that they are the most important representatives of Muslims and Islam in China. They must act as models to the Chinese people with their good manners, nobility, modesty, balance and moderation. An Uyghur people who are culturally advanced and materially stronger will clearly have wide opportunities to defend their own rights and also to describe and spread the moral values of Islam. By Allah’s leave, the future of an Uyghur society that loves Allah, protects its own national culture, is anti-Darwinist and anti-materialist, whose members love one another, which perfectly implements Qur’anic moral values and supports peace, love, tolerance and compassion, will be a very bright and excellent one.

The time we are living in is a very holy one, in which Hazrat Mahdi (as) will appear and in which the Prophet Jesus (as) will return to Earth. The time has now come when war and conflict will come to an end, when armament will come to an end, when people will love and embrace one another as brothers, when they will trust one another and when moral virtues will reign. This is the destiny of Allah. That destiny will also manifest itself in China, and this will be a time when Chinese and Uyghurs live together in friendship, when they all attain wealth, and when they build a bright civilization with joy and enthusiasm.

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China’s Rodney King Riots

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Vivian Po, New America Media

New America Media Editor’s Note: Tensions between Muslim Uighurs and majority Han Chinese escalated July 5 when a peaceful protest over the deaths of two Uighur workers in Southern China turned into riots, leaving at least 156 dead and more than 1,000 injured. China expert Dru C. Gladney, Ph.D., says the riots reflect longtime ethnic tensions caused by unequal resource distribution and employment. Gladney is president of the Pacific Basin Institute and professor of anthropology at Pomona College. His most recent book is “Dislocating China: Muslims, Minorities, and Other Subaltern Subjects” (2004). He was interviewed by NAM reporter Vivian Po.

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What was your first reaction when you learned about the riots in Xin Jiang?

I think it is quite remarkable. Mostly, incidents have taken place in the south of the province, so this is quite extraordinary to have such a high number of people involved in this many casualties, in the downtown district of Urumqi. This place has really a small Uighur population, about 11 to12 percent of the entire city population. Urumqi has never been a Uighur city. It is just one small district. I understand there is a sympathy riot in support of them in Kashgar, so it is interesting to see whether it will spread to the rest of the region.

What really caused the riot?

Clearly, there is a lot of tension underneath the surface. Though a lot of people make references to the uprising in Tibet, I think a better analogy is what happened in the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. There was a terrible beating of Rodney King, but there were so many other tensions in the city, racial tensions that were ignited by this incident. I think the Tibetan situation is different. It was much more internationally focused, monks were involved, and religion was a factor.

Is religion playing a part in this riot?

It is not. In the past, the problems of the region have been attributed to Islam and to complaints about religious freedom, independence, separatism and even jihad. But none of them seems to be an issue here. There are many complaints from the Uighurs about wanting more roles in government, and more freedom to practice religion, but that is not what prompted this riot.

The Uighurs organized the protest as a response to a fight that took place at a factory in Guangdong, after a Han Chinese man who used to work there accused Uighur men of raping two Han Chinese girls. How did relations between the Han and the Uighurs in China’s labor market contribute to this riot?

Labor is a very important issue in this whole situation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Han Chinese man who accused the Uighurs of rape did it because he was angry over losing his job. Uighurs from Xin Jiang had jobs but he couldn’t get a job, so he made these allegations about rape that are totally unsubstantiated.

And Uighurs in Xin Jiang have complained that they get squeezed from both ends of the labor market, as both the skilled jobs go to the Han and then the unskilled and low-wage jobs go to the Han migrants, so Uighurs are really stuck in the middle. And when they go outside of the region to look for work, they are discriminated against and are not protected by the government. That was what a lot of the protests in Urumqi were about.

What is the Chinese government’s approach to ethnic minorities in China?

The policy and constitution in China are extremely enlightened and have some very positive policies for minorities, but the reality is that there is discontent. It is clear that these people have some legitimate concerns. You do not get that many people out on the streets if they are satisfied with their situations. So there are real problems.

How did technology play a role in the riot?

The role of the Internet in fostering Uighur national consciousness is very important. Now, Twitter and cell phones, YouTube and Youku, all this technology has made the region much more accessible. In the past, the region was very cut off and in some ways less accessible than Tibet because Tibet was a place people were interested in and people knew the history. Uighurs have always been isolated, and nobody really knew or cared about them. Now through technology, international organizations of exiled Uighur groups, as well as the media attention that the Uighur detainees in Guantanamo Bay have gotten, it has become a global issue.

The Chinese government claims political activist Rebiya Kadeer masterminded the riots. What do you think?

I think it is true that several international organizations, not just Rebiya’s, were engaged in this issue, but to suggest that any one of them has masterminded the event in Xin Jiang is very difficult to prove. I think the Chinese government is taking a cue from the Iranian situation, where they blamed the Americans for inciting people to go into the streets.

How would you compare the ethnic conflicts in China and those in the United States?

The Rodney King riots were an example of these extraordinary racial tensions. Hopefully we won’t have to wait for a Uighur to become president or premier of China before racial tensions improve. They run very deep. We also have the issue of the indigenous people here, like the Native Americans and their concerns, and many have similar problems such as joblessness and high mobility.

Is there any solution to the ethnic conflicts?

Uighurs are demanding a greater voice in their own affairs and greater representation. There are Uighurs in the government but they are handpicked by the party, so their real concerns aren’t being addressed. There are some policy issues the government could address, such as limiting Han migration, ensuring that Uighurs are given equal opportunities or even greater compensation for the mineral wealth that is extracted from their province. Residents of Xin Jiang should get some special privileges. Also, the Chinese have the “hukou” (household) residential privilege system where residents get certain benefits, such as education, and Uighurs do not feel they are getting those benefits in their autonomous region.

What do you think about the way China’s state-sanctioned media has approached covering the riots?

I find it quite striking that they immediately reported the uprising in the region. I think they’ve recognized the fact that they can’t keep a lid on the news anymore because of cell phones and easy access to media outlets. But you also see their bias. It is really extraordinary that the level of animosity between the Uighur and the Han population exhibits itself so clearly, so you can actually see Uighur men kicking a Han Chinese girl on TV. I am concerned that the reason this was shown on Chinese television, as opposed to a policeman beating protesters, was deliberate and can be very counterproductive.

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