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Ed Webb

Russia Promotes Politically Pacifist Islam - The Atlantic - 0 views

  • Moscow’s focus on promoting politically pacifist Islam, which has coincided with an aggressive push by certain Arab countries to combat Islamism
  • Russian emissary for this effort is Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic
  • An early example of the Russian-Arab religious alliance was an international conference of Islamic scholars held in the Chechen capital, Grozny, by Kadyrov in September 2016
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  • co-organized by religious leaders with close ties to the governments in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates—two countries widely perceived to be particularly hostile to political Islam
  • In October 2017, during a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz reportedly discussed Islamic proselytization in Russia. Saudi and Russian officials told Theodore Karasik, a Russia expert in Washington, that the king agreed to pull the plug on mosque funding and proselytization. (Last February, Riyadh made a similar move when it gave up control of Belgium’s largest mosque, notorious as a breeding ground for extremism.)
  • Russia’s Islamic outreach became more visible, at least in the Middle East, in 2016, precisely when anti-Muslim sentiments in Western countries appeared on the rise, and Russian trolls and bots were spewing anti-Muslim rhetoric on American political forums
  • while theological schisms remain vast between the views of Kadyrov and his Saudi hosts, the Russian-Saudi relationship is strong
  • Russia may also be attempting to counter the widespread perception that Moscow is hostile to Islam (because of the lingering legacy of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) or to Sunni Islam in particular (because the country is associated with Iran and its proxies)
  • Moscow’s desire to distinguish itself from the United States
  • Over the summer, Kadyrov was welcomed like royalty in Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities let him inside Prophet Mohammed’s room, which is closed to all but special guests
  • “Ramzan Kadyrov has made it one of his top priorities in recent years to build friendships throughout the Middle East, in particular the Gulf. Kadyrov portrays Chechnya as essentially an independent Islamic state,” says Neil Hauer, a Georgia-based political analyst on Syria, Russia, and the Caucasus. “Kadyrov also offers Arab and Gulf leaders … his experience in crushing a domestic Islamist insurgency.”
  • Several countries in the Middle East and North Africa are working together more closely than ever to suppress extremism and steer local populations to a new understanding of street protests as a tool of jihadists and an obstacle to social peace
  • The U.S. and other Western countries may not accept the principle that Islamists and Salafis are as dangerous as militant jihadis. Russia, by promoting a particular brand of Islamic moderation in unison with Arab powers, could cement its position in the region more deeply than through economic and military means alone
Ed Webb

Insurgents Again: The Islamic State's Calculated Reversion to Attrition in the Syria-Ir... - 0 views

  • since losing Mosul, its most sizeable and symbolic territorial possession, the Islamic State has not fought to the last man to maintain control of any other population center.
  • While a loss of morale after the fall of Mosul, the desire by less ideologically driven fighters to save themselves, and the degradation of command and control structures all contributed to some Islamic State fighters fleeing on certain fronts,7 the available evidence suggests the withdrawals were part of calculated strategy by the group to conserve its forces and pivot away from holding territory to pursuing an all-out insurgency
  • despite its supposed significance, Mayedin fell almost abruptly and with little fighting in October 2017. Local sources speaking to Deirezzor24,37 a grassroots organization specializing in documenting violations by both the regime and jihadis, denied the city was retaken by forces loyal to Assad. The regime, uncharacteristically, produced little footage to prove it recaptured a key city. The local skepticism was an indication that the sudden withdrawal from the city was surprising to locals,38 who, along with U.S. officials, had reported that the city had become a center for the group after it came under attack in Raqqa
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  • Al-Naba, the weekly newsletter issued by the Islamic State’s Central Media Department, hinted at a major change of strategy in a series of articles published between September and October 2017 on the topic of dealing with the U.S. air campaign. In a series of two reports in September 2017,42 the newsletter explained that Islamic State militants, having suffered heavy losses, especially in Kobane, were debating how to evade the “precision” of U.S. air forces in the face of ground assaults on multiple fronts. These fronts included the disguising of weaponry and engaging in military deception. The article concluded that it would be a mistake for the Islamic State to continue engaging forces that enjoy air support from the United States or Russia because the function of these forces was not to serve as conventional fighting forces, but mainly to provoke the militants and expose their whereabouts and capabilities for drones and aircraft to strike them. In order to prevent the depletion of its forces by air power, the article pushed for the Islamic State to adopt a counter-strategy in which it would refrain from sustained clashes in urban centers with its enemies as it did formerly
  • In another report, issued in Al-Naba on October 12, 2017,45 the Islamic State suggested that it had again been forced to switch to insurgency tactics like in the spring of 2008 under the leadership of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and his war minister Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. The article related how the group’s predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq, had been forced to dismantle its fighting units in March 2008 and pursue a different strategy to preserve what was left of its manpower. Providing details never before disclosed, it described how the Islamic State of Iraq had become exhausted and depleted after two years of fierce fighting against U.S. and Iraqi troops to the point that it was no longer able to stand and fight for long. “In early 2008, it became clear that it was impossible to continue to engage in conventional fighting. That was when Abu Omar Al Baghdadi said: ‘We now have no place where we could stand for a quarter of an hour.’”46 The article argued the situation was now comparable and that this justified a switch of approach.
  • Reverting back to the old insurgency and terror tactics enabled the Islamic State to penetrate otherwise well-secured areas. Previous attempts to attack them through conventional fighting units had failed, even while the group was at the height of its power
  • The Islamic State’s reversion to insurgency tactics increased as it lost more territory. Hit-and-run attacks and notable assassinations returned to newly liberated areas, such as in Salah ad-Din, Diyala, Anbar, and Raqqa,53 although such attacks were rarely accounted for in official and public statements related to progress against the group.
  • The Islamic State’s apparent decision to conserve forces for insurgency in the region stretching from Deir ez-Zor Governorate in Syria to Anbar Province in Iraq makes strategic sense given it has frequently highlighted the area as key to its survival and best suited for the base of a guerrilla war. For the Islamic State, rural- and desert-based insurgency is no less important than urban warfare to deplete its enemies, recruit members, and lay the groundwork for a comeback. The geographic and human terrain of the region provides the jihadis with an area in which they can regroup, run sleeper cells, rebuild finances through extortion, and plot attacks.
  • Territorial demise, he made clear, was merely the beginning of a new chapter in which the process of depleting the enemy does not get disrupted but persists in different forms. If and when a new opportunity for another rise presented itself, his logic went, the process of depletion will have laid the groundwork for a deeper influence than the previous round.
  • defeat is the loss of willpower and desire to fight
  • the Islamic State began to talk about the desert as a viable place to launch its post-caliphate insurgency. Its propaganda has since prominently featured desert combat. Through such messages, the group hopes to show it can still inflict damage on government forces in remote areas and on critical highways linking Syria and Jordan to Iraq and to draw parallels to the fact that the last time the organization was deemed defeated in Iraq, in the late 2000s, it came back stronger than ever
  • It appears that a key target for the Islamic State as it reembraces insurgency are Sunnis opposing its worldview. In its recent propaganda, the Islamic State has focused on the role of fellow Sunni collaborators in its demise in the late 2000s and has vowed to keep up the pressure against emerging ones. It is interesting that “Sahwat” was originally restricted to the tribal Awakening Councils68 established in Iraq to fight al-Qa`ida during the 2007 troop surge,69 but the group has since broadened the reference to mean opponents and collaborators from within Sunni communities writ large
  • Headquartered in the desert or hidden in populated areas, the Islamic State aims to run a far-reaching and ceaseless insurgency in rural areas and urban centers to deter and stretch thin its opponents and to abrade any emerging governance and security structures in areas it previously controlled
  • This contiguous terrain in Iraq and Syria is akin to the region along the Afghan-Pakistani border that previous U.S. administrations dubbed “AfPak” and treated as a single theater requiring an integrated approach. The “Syraq” space, which stretches from the areas near the Euphrates and Tigris river valleys in northern and western Iraq to Raqqa and Palmyra, looks set to be to the Islamic State what AfPak has been to the al-Qa`ida and Taliban factions, providing a hospitable environment and strategic sanctuaries. And by conserving fighters rather than fighting to the death in the battles that followed Mosul, the Islamic State still has significant manpower to sustain a campaign of terrorism and insurgency in the area
Ed Webb

Gulf Islamist Dissent Over Egypt | Marc Lynch - 0 views

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    Gulf Islamist dissent over Egypt | Marc Lynch http://t.co/OnpSpVYU1Z
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia and Turkey Falter Over Egypt - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • After a lengthy historical impasse, common strategic, regional and economic interests brought about an unusual partnership between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Relations were strengthening under the pressure of the Arab uprisings, in which both countries were destined to coordinate their support for the Syrian rebels and counterbalance Iran’s expansion in the region. Yet, in the wake of the Egyptian coup, this partnership appears to be strained as the two countries’ visions collided over the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.
  • it is not clear whether this current impasse will have long-lasting negative consequences for cooperation between the two countries. Saudi Arabia needs Turkey in Syria, while Turkey remains eager to attract more Saudi investment, estimated at more than $1.9 billion
  • The Turkish press' criticism of the Saudi position in Egypt — this time originating with pro-Turkish government sources — replicated what had already been noticeable in the secular or independent press. Turkey is one country in the region where Islamists, secularists, leftists and liberals all concur on a negative image of Saudi Arabia, with each doubting its policies. Perhaps this is only replicated in post-revolution Tunisia.
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  • On the Saudi side, while the Turkish-Saudi partnership is officially celebrated as a great new strategic alliance, the Saudi press occasionally launches attacks that undermine this veneer of cooperation. Accusations that “Sultan Erdogan” longs for the return of the Ottoman caliphate regularly appeared in the Saudi sponsored pan-Arab press. Such attacks are often backed by appeals to Arabism and the historical animosity between Turkey and the Arab people.
  • More ferocious attacks are clothed in religion, with Turkey’s Islamism mocked as an aberration that remains tolerant of alcohol consumption and debauchery in the red light districts of Istanbul. Turkey’s Sufi tradition stands at the opposite end of the dominant Saudi Salafist religious outlook. Its half-hearted appeal to Sharia is contrasted with Saudi commitment to Islamic law. Such attacks echo similar ones that flourished more than a hundred years ago when Wahhabi expansion in Arabia and constant harassment of pilgrimages prompted the Ottoman sultan to reassert his authority over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Ironically, in 1818 he relied on the Egyptian army under the leadership of Ibrahim Pasha to rid him of this menace and deliver the Saudi rulers and their religious aides to Istanbul where they were executed. While this is history, the memory seems to linger in the minds of religiously-inclined Saudis when they denounce Turkey's version of Islam for its laxity.
  • When you take oil out of the equation, it is unlikely to find a sensible country that would aspire to a Saudi model of governance.
Ed Webb

Drowning in Sectarianism - 0 views

  • the problem has become so acute that the Associated Press last week published a kind of "beginner's guide" for Westerners to the explosion of Sunni-Shiite hatred throughout the region. It drew on the work of no less than 10 of its regional correspondents, and yet it barely scratched the surface. And, of course, beneath Sunni-Shiite tensions bubble dozens of other fault lines in the shuddering Middle Eastern landscape
  • Obviously we’re not really seeing the revival of religious and political arguments more than 1,000 years old. If the hatreds were really this deep, endemic and theological, no amount of dictatorship could have suppressed them in the past.   No. This is power-politics pure and simple, in its most savage and bestial form.
  • It's about authority, and the battle for social and political dominance in the context and opportunity of a sudden and yawning vacuum.   The formula is simple enough. People are most powerfully motivated by fear and hatred, which relentlessly feed off of each other. So, political legitimacy and the development of a constituency for power is most quickly and easily acquired and consolidated by promoting fear and hatred of the other. And it doesn't matter whom.
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  • It's easy to point to the Salafists, because they are often the most obnoxious and vicious in their rhetoric and well-funded by their official and private Gulf backers.   But there are no clean hands.   The Muslim Brothers agree with them on many matters of intolerance, especially against Shiites.   Some Iranian and other Shiite leaders in the region return the affection in full, with catalogues of anti-Sunni calumnies. Many backers of Bashar al-Assad, often themselves sectarians, paint all Syrian rebels as flesh-eating al-Qaeda Sunni monsters.   Disaffected Christian communities, particularly in exile, seethe with undisguised and irrational rage. Israel is seeing a rapid rise to prominence of racist, annexationist Jewish chauvinists, unabashed backers of a separate and distinctly unequal “Greater Israel,” and practitioners of "price tag" violence.   In the absence of local, national and regional order, hate-mongers deliberately set in motion the process of demonization in their own narrow, parochial interests.
Ed Webb

Welcome to the Syrian Jihad - By Marc Lynch | Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • in today's Arab world, there is nothing particularly distinctive about his comments at all. For many months, Arab and Muslim figures of all stripes have been loudly calling for support to the predominantly Sunni Syrian rebels, as have many Arab governments (and the United States and its allies, of course). The Muslim Brotherhood's branches have strongly supported the Syrian opposition -- acquiring too much power along the way, in the minds of some. Egyptian Salafis have described providing arms and funds to the Syrian rebels as "a form of worship" and killing Assad as a religious obligation. As the killing and destruction has escalated, such support for Syria's rebels has rapidly morphed into extreme anti-Shiite and anti-Alawi rhetoric
  • In January 2007, for example, he tried to use his influence to rein in spiraling sectarian rage following the execution of Saddam Hussein. At that time, Qaradawi was only weeks past a controversial appearance at a Doha conference on Sunni-Shiite relations, in which he had made a number of controversial remarks viewed by many as overly provocative toward the Shiite. But at that crucial moment, Qaradawi invited former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani on al-Jazeera to push back against the rabid sectarianism then roiling the Middle East.
  • Qaradawi has long been described as among the most influential clerics in the Sunni world. A savvy political opportunist, he has long been one of the best barometers for the mood of a major swathe of the Arab mainstream, uncannily attuned to shifts in the political mood. He cleverly triangulated Arab politics, adopting populist positions on foreign policy while pushing for democratic reforms across the region and advancing a "centrist" Islamist ideology. In recent years, the Egyptian-born cleric has strongly supported most of the Arab uprisings, including a controversial late February 2011 appeal to Libya's army to kill Muammar al-Qaddafi.  In Egypt, he was welcomed the Friday following Mubarak's fall to lead prayer and deliver a pro-revolutionary speech in Tahrir. But he disappointed many observers by describing Bahrain's uprising as "sectarian," in line with the Arab Gulf country's collective stance intended to delegitimize it.
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  • His core doctrine of wasatiyya was always better understood as "centrism" than as "moderation" (whatever that might mean)
  • Qaradawi's alignment with the Saudi position has less to do with his theology or his personal views on the Shiites than with his calculation of regional political trends
  • Team Saudi is now celebrating Qaradawi's capitulation to their own anti-Hezbollah, anti-Shiite prejudices. No words could have been sweeter to Qaradawi's Saudi critics than his recent reversal on Hezbollah: "I defended the so-called Nasrallah and his party, the party of tyranny... in front of clerics in Saudi Arabia. It seems that the clerics of Saudi Arabia were more mature than me."
  • like it or not, his broad themes -- such as support for "resistance" from Palestine to Iraq, criticism of al Qaeda, calls for democracy, denunciations of most Arab regimes, and conservative social values -- generally seemed to reflect mainstream Arab political views.
  • Like al-Jazeera, Qaradawi's stances now seem to more closely follow Qatari foreign policy, and his influence has waned along with his host station and Qatar itself, which has experienced a regional backlash
  • Qaradawi now finds himself speaking to a narrower, more partisan audience. What does it say about his influence that his preferred candidate in Egypt's presidential election, the former Muslim Brotherhood leader and Islamist reformist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, won less than 20 percent of the vote?
  • Qaradawi can no longer claim to speak to a broadly unified Arab public because such a creature no longer exists
  • The proliferation of media outlets and assertive new voices that define the new Arab public sphere tend to undermine any efforts to claim the center ground
  • Qaradawi has opted to join the bandwagon rather than try to pull Sunni-Shiite relations back toward coexistence. He clearly calculates that anti-Shiite sectarianism in support of the Syrian insurgency is both strategically useful and a political winner.  And those in the Gulf and in the West eager for any opportunity to hurt Iran seem happy to go along
Ed Webb

BBC News - Syria: Proxy war heats up as endgame inches closer - 0 views

  • Knowing that the west is nervous about providing the Free Syrian Army and other "mainstream" rebel groups with serious, balance-tilting weaponry for fear that it may fall into the hands of the radicals, al-Qaeda may have decided deliberately to contaminate the entire opposition by association, and deter western arms to the moderates, in order to preserve the jihadis' ascendancy on the ground.
  • The dilemma the Americans face - and which they will be trying to resolve in a series of meetings between President Barack Obama and Middle East allies in the coming weeks - is how to back the rebels enough to induce the stubborn regime to negotiate a controlled transition, but not enough to trigger an abrupt regime collapse which might allow the radicals to take over. It may be impossible to get that balance right. The inner core of the regime might not opt out until collapse is already there.
  • Well-placed diplomats believe Hezbollah is also providing part of the regime's inner praetorian guard, as some of the big Alawite clans have become so alienated by the level of casualties they have suffered that their members are no longer regarded as fully reliable.
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  • both in Iraq and in Lebanon, Sunni and Shia activists and militants are displacing their internal struggle onto Syrian soil - with the clear risk that it could blow back into aggravated conflict at home
  • Palestinian fighters are also reported to be involved on both sides, although their divisions are more to do with politics and patronage than sectarianism.
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