Archive for November, 2020

Geo-Political Dynamics of Arabia and the Gulf

Monday, November 30th, 2020

[This is a summary of a panel discussion chaired by Dr. Abdullah Baabood, Waseda University on the second day of the 29th National Council on US-Arab Relations Conference held on November 18, 2020. These notes summarize my impression of highlights of the presentation and are not an attempted transcription.]

H.E. Dr. Mohamed Al Hassan, Sultanate of Oman Ambassador to the United Nations; former Oman Ministry of Foreign Affairs Acting Undersecretary for Diplomatic Affairs; former Ambassador of Oman to Russia.

Recent normalization of relationships between certain Arab states and Israel is not a substitute for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. We in Oman believe in a two-state solution that takes into account the aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis. How can we get out of the currently unpromising dilemma? It requires recognition of certain facts including the importance of acting within international law, the necessity of taking into account the rights of the other side, the recognition that we hold the future in our own hands and the avoidance of blaming others, to acknowledge the tools available to resolve differences, and most importantly to heed the voices of youth. It would be wrong to exclude Iran or Iraq or Yemen from any future security or economic arrangements. Isolating Iran is a doomed policy. Peace is sustained only by giving everyone a stake in it, and not by the sound of guns. What is important is to stop the war in Yemen immediately and to give the Palestinians some light at the end of the tunnel.

Mr. Timothy Lenderking, U.S. Department of State Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary for Arabian Gulf Affairs; former U.S. Department of State Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

If we are ever to diffuse the tensions with Iran, we must negotiate in a broader spectrum of issues than prisoner releases (as important as that is). We cannot stand by and watch the situation of the Yemeni people continue to deteriorate, but we need to see outside parties wind down their presence, including Iran. Americans must be sympathetic with the marginalization of the Houtis, but we cannot be sympathetic to the attacks on civilians nor on the burgeoning relationship with the IRGC. We are pleased at the normalization of Israel’s relationship with some Arab parties, but it cannot be on the back of the Palestinians. How is it that Arab states can more easily make peace with Israel than resolve their issues with Qatar? Gulf countries do not benefit in the long run from a rift among Arab countries, nor does the United States. Separate countries will of course have differences, but this kind of rift impedes progress on a variety of matters including Iran, COVID, and economic issues. Our advice is to maintain strong American engagement as partners. Our engagement with Saudi Arabia will have to remain strong and our relationships with other Gulf states can and should be strengthened.

Dr. John Duke Anthony, NCUSAR founding president and CEO.

Despite my focus on the region, I bring the perspective of an outsider. The region is preoccupied with two kinds of oil: turmoil and the other kind. Stability, security and peace are necessary objectives. It is noteworthy that the cease fire that ended the Iran-Iraq War, accepted immediately by Saddam Hussein, took 13 months to be approved by Iran. Oman chaired the UNSC during the time of that conflict. Omanis fought in Qatari uniforms in defense of Kuwait against Saddam’s invasion. To my knowledge, Iran is the only country in the world to have in its constitution the necessity of exporting its revolution. The US has free trade agreements with Oman and Bahrain. The dialog between the US and the GCC needs to peopled by the best diplomats on both sides. Look at what we have accomplished in the past. No one can say we cannot do it again.

Dr. Abdullah Al Shayji, Kuwait University Professor of International Relations and Post Graduate Political Science Program Director; Author, The GCC Crises: The Root Causes, The Mediation Efforts, and the Future of the GCC Alliance. 

After the collapse of the Arab Spring the GCCC was thought to be the de facto leader of the “Arab political system,” but it has been weak and ineffective. There is a “trust deficit” between the U.S. and its Arab allies at a critical time that has the Arab states wondering, “How much we can rely on the U.S. if push comes to shove?” Trump did nothing when the Iranians attacked the ARAAMCO installations. We have seen a lack of comprehensive policy. We need a functional GCCC and US leadership.

The day after Robert O’Brien called for a resolution of the Qatari issue, the UAE ambassador in Washington said this was not a priority. How can the incoming Biden administration reassure us on the engagement issue? In 2015 Obama started an annual US-GCCC summit, but this has not been held since Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 2017. If there is to be a JCPOA 2.0, there should be GCCC involvement.  Why has the US not classified the Houtis as a terrorist organization? The normalization of relations with Israel is splitting the GCCC. Normalization absent resolution of the Palestinian problem is capitulation to the Netanyahu. Biden will be too distracted with domestic issues (COVID, the economy, and the legitimacy of his own election) to be able to address this issue. 

Ambassador (Ret.) Susan L. Ziadeh, Georgetown University Adjunct Professor; former United States Department of State Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary for Arabian Peninsula Affairs; former United States Ambassador to Qatar.

We have 30-35,000 troops deployed in the region and that shall remain under the Biden administration. First and foremost there is the issue of Iran. We know that relationships with our allies have been shaken by the withdrawal from the JCPOA. We know the Iranian presidential elections are coming up.  Who will have charge of the JCPOA file? Will there be a unified view within the GCCC on a resurrected JCPOA? Will sunset clauses be on the table?  What WILL be on the table? Reuters has reported rumors of discussions between Saudi Arabia and the Houti movement that the Saudis would accept a cease fire if the Houtis agreed to a buffer zone along the border. Even if that came to pass, what would it mean for the situation within Yemen? Any drawdown or peace negotiation in Yemen would require a unified GCCC position. If the Houtis are designated as a Foreign Terorist Organization, nonprofits would be prevented from distributing humanitarian aid in Houti controlled areas, even when the locals are not supportive of the Houtis. The US relationship with Saudi Arabia will continue under a Biden administration, but the Saudis could be helpful if they would help cool tensions with Qatar. There will be concerns in Congress over UAE possession of F-35 technology and trade relations with certain countries.

Amb. Ziadeh. European alliances will be the first U.S. foreign policy priority.  Scrutiny of China (trade relations, etc.) and Russian expansion (including the ME, but also Europe). After those Yemen, Iran, and military involvement.  I do not think the Palestinian-Israeli issue will be high in the near term, but it will come up eventually.

Dr. Al Shayji. Russia, China, NATO, and when it comes to our region Iran will be at the top of the agenda, then GCCC. I think Trump is trying to box in Biden before he even comes into office, and designating Houtis as terrorists may be a tactic he uses to that end.

Dr. Anthony. Can we not move beyond this tactic of shunning people as if they possess some horrible contagious ideological disease?  You must have a communication line to the people who started or are sustaining the conflict.  The US pushed and pushed Hanoi and the Viet Cong to recognize the South Vietnamese government and they failed.  But once we began to speak with them in Paris, although it took a while, the killing came to an end. Same for the French in Algeria and the demands that the French be exempt from Algerian national government. It goes back to America’s emergence as a national entity. It was only when Britain accepted America’s national ambitions that the fighting stopped. Let us stop treating those whose ideological inclinations we find distasteful, or even dangerous, as lepers.

Dr. Mohamed Al Hassan. The U.S. and other countries including new partners like China and India have a role to play, but ultimately the future of the Gulf states lies in their own hands. Putting political groups on a terrorist list has catastrophic results.

Mr. Lenderking. The designation of the Houtis as terrorists is a raging debate.  If the Houtis would lessen ties with the Iranian regime it would be very helpful in demonstrating that they are a Yemini organization devoted to Yemenis.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (11/30/20)

Monday, November 30th, 2020

14 years before Donald Trump threatened to refuse to a peaceful transition of power, Mahmoud Abbas “refused to share power” with the winners of the Palestinian elections. This time he signals he won’t even allow elections already delayed for ten years to be held now:

“[T]he Israeli magistrate court of Jerusalem ruled to evict 12 of the 24 Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and to give their homes to Israeli Jewish settlers. The court also ruled that each family must pay 70,000 shekels ($20,000) in fees to cover the settlers’ legal expenses”:

Israeli home demolitions as well as cutting off the water supply of whole communities are “extreme manifestation of Israel’s policy designed to empty entire areas of the West Bank of their Palestinian residents”:

“[T]he assassination of Fakhrizadeh serves multiple purposes for those that would seek to keep the United States and Iran far away from the negotiating table”:

Scientists aren’t the only targets of Israeli assassins. “Since 2000, Israeli forces have murdered about 70 Palestinians, some of whom were clearly political activists and not militants, in planned, targeted killings”:

We might give the party ticket to any community among Hindus. Whoever we might give it to — maybe Lingayats, Kurubas, Vokkaligas, or Brahmins but definitely, it will not be given to Muslims” — BJP leader KS Eshwarappa:

Unable to convince farmers to support its farm reform bills on the merits, the BJP resorts to an Internet disinformation campaign that opposition to its legislation is a Muslim conspiracy:

News and Analysis (11/28/20)

Saturday, November 28th, 2020
“Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on International Relations said on Twitter that the ‘objective behind the killing wasn’t to hinder (Iran’s) nuclear programme but to undermine diplomacy,'” and the National Iranian American Council feels the same way:
The IDF “claimed the incidents were part of Israel’s armed conflict with Hamas — even if the protesters were largely unarmed civilians who took no part in hostilities”:

“Israeli forces have a long history of attacking Palestinian medics and healthcare workers in the occupied territories. Last year, a UN investigation called the occupied Palestinian territories ‘one of the most dangerous places in the world for healthcare workers'”:

To the BJP, Muslim men are demons, Hindu “women are so ‘silly and helpless’ that they will be seduced (by Muslim males, of course) and bring dishonour to the family and community,” and love is weapon against which the state must legislate:

The PDP chief minister is detained to prevent her from meeting with a party leader who has been arrested and her daughter is out under house arrest one day before election:

The fact that her husband was an Israeli citizen “led Iranian authorities to genuinely think it was proof of a conspiracy she was an Israeli spy, and [moreover] the regime knew it could use it to pressure Australia and Israel for something big in return for her release”:

A court upheld the city’s charges “that the hotel had failed to meet safety regulations,” but the hotel owner charges that the city never issued citations against “other hotels with similar problems” that were not housing Syrian refugees:

News and Analysis (11/26/20)

Thursday, November 26th, 2020

Denmark’s foreign affairs and integration minister, who also seeks to regulate the dowry brides may receive in dowry from their husbands, commands Muslim women not to “be ruled by either imams or outdated norms.” The women push back that they won’t be deprived of their agency or their wealth by government bureaucrats:

“It is tragic and outrageous the way right-wing media and Republicans all the way up to President Trump attempted to destroy the lives of an immigrant Muslim-American family based on scurrilous allegations” — Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fl):

“Of the 13 countries temporarily banned, 11 have been outspoken in their condemnation for normalisation of relations with Israel”:

From the state that brought you the copes Trial. A woman who “garnered national attention when she led efforts to oppose the construction of a Murfreesboro mosque” and who attempted to ban a textbook she had never read has now been charged with selecting Tennessee’s textbooks”:

“A statement released by the OIC made no mention of Kashmir and there will be no special session to discuss India’s draconian military measures that have resulted in a lockdown of the region lasting over a year”:

“Under Australian law, a person can only be stripped of their citizenship if they are dual citizens. … Australia argued he was a dual citizen as he also has Fijian citizenship, though Fiji denied the claim, souring the bilateral relationship”:

While the campaign encouraged consumers to “find your style” – Aden said she felt she had lost her own” such as when she agreed to drape a pair of jeans on her head in place of a headscarf.” She urges her fans “not to ‘sell out'”:

A skeptic of Western media reports about the Chinese camps accepted an invitation to visit them and was shocked to learn the accusations are largely true:

“At least 3,793 Palestinians were killed, some 18,000 were wounded and more than half of Gaza’s population was displaced, according to the UNCTAD’s report”:

News and Analysis (11/23/20)

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

In an “unprecedented move” the lame duck Secretary of State makes a “‘deliberate effort’ to prevent non-violent opposition to the occupation” by “turning international law on its head” …

… becoming “the first US secretary of state ever to visit an Israeli settlement in the illegally occupied West Bank” …

… and then meeting with Netanyahu and MbS in Saudi Arabia in a meeting kept so secret that neither Israeli “Defense Minister Benny Gantz nor Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi were informed before it took place”:

“With a lack of ventilators, PPE, and medicine, officials say Israel’s siege is a ‘death sentence’ for Gaza’s coronavirus patients”:

Astronaut Tahani Amer, the female car racing team of Marah Zahalka, Noor Daoud and Mona Enna, and thrash met6al band backer Gisele Marie Rocha are among the women validating “the premise behind Dr. Seema Yasmin’s new book — that Muslim women can be anything“:

“Intellectuals are … looked up to as the arbiters, the judges of what is the real Islam, and so they make an attractive target for a government that is interested in either controlling cultural expression or trying to completely reengineer it”:

“Politicians and activists in the region consider these acts to be part of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s project to dispossess people of their land and property in order to change the demographic status of the Muslim-majority region”:

Enraged by “scenes … between a Hindu and a Muslim, … [m]embers of the Hindu nationalist party that controls India’s central government have asked the authorities to investigate Netflix … at a time when the government is increasing censorship of what Indians watch online”:

Marvel’s Muslim superheroine is “the glue that binds two key installments of the new Disney+ docuseries, Marvel’s 616 — a reference to the main Marvel Comics timeline. Premiering on Nov. 20, the eight-episode show offers inside-the-bullpen accounts of major and minor stories from the publisher’s rich history”:

“To put a revived JCPOA on firm foundations, he needs to be able to guarantee that if Iran sticks to its part of the bargain, the U.S. will too” — Catherine Ashton (L), High Representative of the Union of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union:

News and Analysis (11/19/20)

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

Keeping perspective.  Reducing armed forces to 2.500 troops each in Afghanistan and Iraq constitutes a reduction of about 40% in the first case and 17% in the second (and even in the case of Iraq, 50%):

According to the PA’s civil affairs minister, its “’relationship with Israel will return to how it was following ‘official written and oral letters …’ confirming Israel’s commitment to past agreements,'” which is expected to jeopardize its reconciliation with other factions, and therefor, make overdue Palestinian elections less likely:

“The subtext in the scholars’ writings and statements is that a failure to reduce tension, particularly with Iran, could persuade China to either reduce its economic involvement in the Middle East or focus on relations with non-Arab states, two of which are arch-rivals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE”:

“In the fight against political Islam, we will create a criminal offense called ‘political Islam’ in order to be able to take action against those who are not terrorists themselves, but who create the breeding ground for such” — Austrian PM:

“Women are infantilized and their agency completely trivialized when they are deemed incapable of making their own decisions in matters of their body and sexuality along with other matters. Such patronizing laws reinforce that women are “properties” of the communities they belong to”:

Pompeo “said products from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories can be labelled ‘Made in Israel'” …

… but a “Biden presidency will attempt to return to the hawkish Democratic status quo on Israel.” Right-wing Zionist, Zev Chafets predicts change the difference between Biden and Trump will be “more in tone than substance”:

“Some NGOs operate in Taliban territory quite happily, working with ‘NGO co-ordinators’ appointed by the local commander. ‘It is the government we are afraid of,’ says one employee of an aid agency. ‘With the Taliban, we can co-ordinate'”:

“We have decided to terminate our relationships with all data partners, including X-Mode, effective immediately” — Muslim Pro:

“The love stories with Muslim characters usually force women to make a choice between love and faith: the girl falls in love with a white non-Muslim boy, she fights with her family, struggles with her faith, takes off her hijab, and chooses the boy. That storyline functions as a symbol for newly gained freedom. But I am a Muslim girl, and I see myself as empowered”:

“Trump was advised against strikes on Iranian nuclear sites by senior officials warning of the risk of triggering a major conflict. But … the president may not have entirely given up on the idea of staging attacks on Iran or its allies and proxies in the region”:

News and Analysis (11/17/20)

Tuesday, November 17th, 2020

Big Brother is watching. “The most popular app among those targeted was a Muslim prayer and Quran app called Muslim Pro, with more than 98 million downloads worldwide. Others included a Muslim dating app”:

A former chief minister accuses the government of launching a drive to demolish the summer shelters Gujajrs have used “in pasture lands since times immemorial during the grazing season” to drive them out of their pastures and sell off the forest land:

“In the letter written by Senator Chris Coons, who is being considered as a potential Secretary of State in the next Biden administration, the senators called on Facebook to fully address the problem” and Facebook employees have also written a letter demanding action on anti-Muslim bigotry”:

How a 14-year-old boy was seduced by racist ideologues’ professions of patriotism into believing that the enemy of Britain “was Islam, was the Muslim people, was almost the police as well as the government, and journalists as well.” He is “now ‘massively ashamed’ of what he said and believed but admits at the time he found this sickening ideology ‘thrilling'”:

“Russia, Turkey, Egypt, and France are all positioning themselves to supplant the U.N. as the leader of the Libya file during this critical stage”:

“Non-BJP parties, worried that putting up Muslim candidates will only polarise the electorate, to be “tactically prudent” also hesitate in supporting Muslim candidates, leading to a further dip in representation”:

“Pompeo and his current Iran envoy, Elliott Abrams, recently revealed that they intend to announce a new sanction on Tehran every week until Inauguration Day” …

… but China and Russia’s “deepening collaboration … make[s] Iran far less susceptible than it once was, either to Trump’s campaign of ‘maximum pressure’ or to Biden’s hoped-for engagement”:

“Despite the president’s anti-Muslim policies, the margin between Trump and Biden among Muslim voters was closer than experts predicted”:

“Detroit Lions guard Oday Aboushi wants to use his place in sports and society another way, by shedding light on the plight of Palestinians and promoting religious harmony as a Muslim with friends of different faiths”:

News and Analysis (11/14/20)

Saturday, November 14th, 2020

“U.S. Department of State plans to label three leading global human rights groups—Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam—’anti-Semitic’ … will not only move forward, but will be geared to have even broader impact than originally suggested … [stipulating that claiming] that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” is anti-Semitic:

A “Zoom spokesperson … wrote that anyone was welcome to use the company’s platform so long as they didn’t run afoul of ‘applicable U.S. export control, sanctions, and anti-terrorism laws’, but declined to explain which anti-terrorism law would have applied, nor how the SFSU event [or other events critical of Zoom’s censorship] would have violated it”:

‘In order to dodge responsibility for the criminal activities of this group and other terrorist groups in the region, Washington and Tel Aviv from time to time try to paint Iran as being tied to these groups through weaving lies and leaking fabricated information to the media’; — Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh:

Heads of foreign Muslim states have no “real interest in improving lives of European Muslims. Nor do they share their concerns, priorities and values. Truth be told many European Muslims fled these very countries to find shelter here”:

Are the Roshni laws land reform to benefit the poor and landless or a scheme to enrich corrupt “bureaucrats, politicians and police officers” or a “land jihad” designed to give “Muslim occupants … ownership rights in Hindu-majority Jammu”:

India isn’t the only country persecuting Kashmiri separatists …

… but India persecuted even pro-India Kashmiris …

… and innocents are dying in the crossfire:

“We’re very happy [supervisors] repealed the ordinances. I think that’s a great move. Obviously [the ordinances] weren’t necessary in the first place, and an impediment to development of the cemetery, but until Stafford County allows AMAA to build its cemetery, this case isn’t going away” — Melanie Westover Yanez, an attorney representing the AMAA:

TSA directed the man to the pre-check line and the woman to the non-pre-check line, so it is unclear how they got into the same line or why American Airlines had the woman arrested after their inconsequential he-said, she-said dispute:

When the husband of the victim “asked for his family to be left alone, [a male attacker] — who’s still at large — pushed him to the ground, kicked him in the head and face and threatened to kill his family. [The woman then] kicked him in the stomach and yelled obscenities, according to prosecutors”:

News and Analysis (11/11/20)

Wednesday, November 11th, 2020

“The United Arab Emirates announced on Saturday a major overhaul of the country’s Islamic personal laws, allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate and loosening alcohol restrictions. The Gulf country also sought to criminalise so-called ‘honour killings’, a widely criticised tribal custom”:

The EU wants to legislate against the encrypted communication of messaging apps on the pretext that the “assault on privacy and expanding government surveillance … is necessary to ‘protect people in Europe from Islamism'”:

Three young women have been held for months on charges of “affiliating with a legitimate university student group at Birzeit University and for being present at one of its meetings” as Israel continues the criminalization of “the peaceful exercise of basic and fundamental human rights: the right to freedom of association, expression and assembly”:

The two assailants grabbed the woman in hijab, telling her, “We are in America, and when her husband “told them to leave, … began to b eat him in front of his family while calling him a ‘f—— Muslim.,” and then fled when the woman called 911:

More American Muslims elected to public office:

UI calls its part-time employee’s comments “antithetical to our university values of exclusivity and respect for others” but has declined to discipline him or dismiss him from his position doing “incident data entry” out of a concern for free speech flagrantly absent when it rescinded its offer of tenure to Steven Salaita for criticizing Israel’s bombing of Gaza in 2014:
If Biden wants to restore the agreement that kept Iran from moving towards nuclear armament, he can’t afford to dally:
“The proposals, as reported by chess24 website, will be taken up during FIDE General Assembly on December 5 and 6”:

“The notice also prohibited the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association from holding elections, besides imposing prohibitory orders in premises of the district court complex”:

News and Analysis (11/8/20)

Sunday, November 8th, 2020

Biden’s meeting with Golda Meir “marked the beginning of his unwavering support for Israel and close ties with many Israeli leaders since then,” including his three decades long friendship with Benjamin Netanyahu:

“The Trump administration, in coordination with Israel and several Gulf states, is pushing a plan to slap a long string of new sanctions on Iran … [to] increase pressure on the Iranians and make it harder for the Biden administration to revive the 2015 nuclear deal” …

… but Biden himself is complicating the issue by demanding that Iran be the first to blink:

The Syrian born restauranteur celebrated his first vote in a U.S. election by donating sandwiches to election workers:

Muslims are alarmed that “details sought like GPS location, mobile numbers of family member of house owners” go beyond tenant verification and constitute an invasion of privacy:

“What is also overlooked is the role of liberal American and French governments in sustaining the very illiberal systems of oppression they claim to oppose. The US and France are staunch allies of Israel, India, Egypt and the Gulf Arab states”:

“Players of many faiths celebrated FIBA’s decision, including Jewish players who wear kippahs and Sikhs who wear turbans,” but the woman who sacrificed her career to fight for the rule change finds “most teams now considered her too old to play professionally”:

“Sotoudeh was arrested two years ago on charges of collusion, spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader. She was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes in 2019”: