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Ed Webb

Qatar removes Saudi Arabia from traffic signs - Middle East Monitor - 0 views

  • Social media users today circulated a photograph of what they claimed to be the Qatari Interior Ministry removing Saudi Arabia from traffic signs on roads leading to the Kingdom.
  • The Qatari move follows a similar move by Saudi Arabia; in September 2018, the Saudi authorities removed Qatar’s name from all traffic signs and replaced it with the name Salwa.
Ed Webb

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer: Harsh Turkish condemnation of Xinjiang crack... - 0 views

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    Note how competing identity questions linger from the 19th century ferment in the Ottoman world and beyond: Turkey aspires to leadership in the Islamic world, particularly the Sunni world, but also in the pan-Turkic cultural space. Nation-state interests, such as economic ties to China or geopolitical rivalry with Iran and Saudi Arabia are also part of the picture.
Ed Webb

Syria Liable in Killing of Journalist Marie Colvin, Court Rules - The New York Times - 0 views

  • A federal court has held Syria’s government liable for the targeting and killing of an American journalist as she reported on the shelling of a rebellious area of Homs in 2012. The decision could help ease the way for war-crimes prosecutions arising from the Syria conflict.
  • awarded $302.5 million to relatives of the journalist, Marie Colvin. Of that sum, $300 million is punitive damages for what Judge Amy Berman Jackson, in her ruling, called “Syria’s longstanding policy of violence” that aimed “to intimidate journalists” and “suppress dissent.”
  • The large size of the award sends a message, he said, that “the rule of law is still a force to be reckoned with,” even amid a global trend toward authoritarianism and the killing of journalists like Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian slain in his country’s consulate in Istanbul.
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  • Syria did not respond in court to the lawsuit, and Mr. Assad has publicly blamed Ms. Colvin for her own death, saying she had been “working with terrorists.”
  • the first court decision drawing on a pool of smuggled Syrian government documents that are being used in criminal prosecutions of Syrian officials by courts in Germany, France and elsewhere.
  • While the standard of proof is higher in criminal cases, war crimes lawyers welcomed the success of the Colvin lawsuit as an indication that the archive contains convincing evidence.
  • The plaintiffs detailed, through government records and defectors’ and other witnesses’ accounts, how the Syrian government had made a policy of cracking down on journalists and their assistants; how security officials tracked Ms. Colvin through informants and intercepted communications; how Syrian forces killed Ms. Colvin, hours after her last broadcast from Homs, by shelling the makeshift media center where she was staying; and how officials celebrated her death.
  • Ms. Colvin, a Long Island native who was 56 when she was killed, was a star of the British press, known for dedication and pushing the limits of risk to tell the stories of civilians affected by war. She was less of a household name in the United States, but the court’s decision comes amid a wave of new attention to her life and death.She was played by Rosamund Pike in the recent feature film “A Private War,” and was the subject of a biography by a fellow journalist, Lindsey Hilsum, and a documentary by Paul Conroy, the photojournalist who was her longtime reporting partner. He was seriously wounded in the attack that killed Ms. Colvin and Remi Ochlik, a French photojournalist.
Ed Webb

Thousands of Gulf Arabs are abandoning their homeland - Voting with their feet - 0 views

  • The absolute numbers look small: 815 Saudis applied for asylum in 2017, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency. But that is a 318% increase over 2012
  • 815 Saudis applied for asylum in 2017, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency. But that is a 318% increase over 2012 (see chart).
  • About three times as many from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) sought asylum in 2016 as in 2012. Tiny Qatar saw its count more than double in the same period. Saudi Arabia has seen the steepest increase, though
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  • Liberal-minded Saudis who can afford to leave the country often cool their heels in London or Washington.
  • Though most Gulf states weathered the Arab spring without serious unrest, the revolutions elsewhere unnerved them. The UAE stepped up domestic surveillance and rounded up activists. Qatar passed a “cyber-crime” law that is broad and easily abused. Political activity was never encouraged in the Gulf, but after 2011 it was ruthlessly punished.
  • Barely two years ago young people were flocking home to work with Prince Muhammad. Many found the kingdom’s social strictures stifling. In the crown prince, though, they saw a kindred spirit, a fellow millennial who wanted to reform the economy and culture. He delivered on the latter, permitting women to drive and allowing once-banned cinemas and concerts.“And then everything changed,” says one 30-something who took a government job. Hardly a fire-breathing dissident, she supports the monarchy and the goals of the Saudi-led war in Yemen (if not Saudi tactics there). But after Khashoggi’s murder and the arrests of hundreds of activists at home, she is planning to resign.
Ed Webb

Palestinian in Israel - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • “I don’t use the term Arab-Israeli,” said the 30-year-old journalist, who was born in the Galilee and now lives in the northern city of Haifa. “We are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. It’s very important for us, the terms and the terminology we use.”
  • Arab-Israeli—the official media and Israeli government term for the 20 percent of Israel’s almost 9 million citizens who are Arab-Palestinian—is increasingly unpopular among the people it’s meant to describe. Only 16 percent of this population wants to be called Arab-Israeli, according to a 2017 survey by the University of Haifa professor Sammy Smooha provided to Foreign Policy.
  • Last summer’s adoption of the new nation-state law, which demoted the status of both the Arabic language and non-Jewish minorities in Israel, accelerated an ongoing shift in the public identity of the Palestinian population in Israel. It is a political statement to use Palestinian as a modifier—a link to cousins in the West Bank and Gaza and an identity distinct from fellow Jewish Israeli citizens.
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  • the increasingly assertive identity of Palestinians in Israel runs parallel to an ongoing reframing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a civil rights struggle, both in Israel and the occupied territories
  • Palestinian citizens of Israel—also now referred to as Palestinians inside Israel, ’48 Arabs, Palestinian Arabs, Palestinian Israelis, Arab-Israelis—are part of the communities that remained inside the so-called Green Line drawn between Israel and Jordan after the 1948 war. They include Druze (a religious minority), Bedouins, Christians, and Muslims. This group, in theory, has the same rights as Jewish Israelis. In practice, though, they’ve long faced institutional discrimination, and about half of the population lives in poverty, the highest rate in Israel. Even the Druze, who have historically been the most integrated into Israeli society, including serving in the Israel Defense Forces, are furious that the new nation-state law targets them, too. (Among the different Druze communities, a minority is located in the occupied Golan Heights and still rejects Israeli citizenship and identifies as Syrian.)
  • with talk in Israel and the Palestinian territories of a two-state solution shifting now toward a one-state reality—be it either one binational state or one Jewish state where not all Palestinians have equal rights—some Palestinians inside Israel are asserting these two parts of their identity as the core of a more rights-based discourse
  • one significant finding of Smooha’s data is not simply that Arab-Israeli is an unpopular option but rather that more people are rejecting the Israeli part of the identity all together. Since 2003, about 30 percent of respondents have reported that they prefer the term “Palestinian Arab in Israel.” But while in 2003 just 3.7 percent said they prefer the term “Palestinian Arab” (which doesn’t reference their Israeli component at all), in 2017 that number rose to 17 percent
  • “We are not here nor there,” she said. “They [outsiders] think the ’48 [Arabs] live so well. We are poor! In the West Bank, they think that we ’48 Arabs are like Jews. … And here the Jews say we are Arabs.”
Ed Webb

Club Med: Israel, Egypt, and Others Form New Natural Gas Group - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • a forum joining Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, and other neighbors to develop their new natural gas discoveries. The Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, announced Monday in Cairo, formalizes growing energy ties among recent rivals and could spur much-needed development of energy infrastructure required to tap the region’s potential as a source of energy for Europe and beyond. The forum in particular cements the growing commercial links between Israel and Egypt; Israel expects to start shipping natural gas to Egypt in the next few months as part of a landmark, $15 billion deal between the two countries.
  • a few notable absences, including Syria and Lebanon—both of which are trying to develop potential offshore gas fields—and especially Turkey
  • The new body will promote “discussions among countries that already have cooperation with each other,” said Brenda Shaffer, an energy expert at Georgetown University. “Hopefully, in the next round of the forum, Turkey will be involved, and that would make it much more significant and not just include the happy campers.”
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  • even with the creation of the new organization and increased energy exploration, the Eastern Mediterranean has a long way to go to truly become the kind of energy hub that many in the region and even in Brussels hope to see. The European Union’s top energy official, for instance, has repeatedly pointed to the Eastern Mediterranean’s potential as an alternative source of energy to importing gas from Russia, and Egypt dreams of again becoming an exporter of natural gas to Europe, as it was until 2012
  • grandiose plans, such as a pipeline snaking across to southern Europe via Crete, keep colliding with political and economic realities. Deep waters and high costs make building a pipeline to Europe an expensive proposition
  • Another option to market the gas would be to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals; liquefied gas can be shipped on tankers around the world. But the problem, aside from the upfront cost of building the expensive infrastructure needed to superchill natural gas, is the economics of the gas trade, especially when it comes to competing with Russian energy supplies to Europe. LNG costs a lot more than natural gas shipped through a pipeline, and Russian gas is especially cheap.
  • Europe’s dependence on Russian energy is growing,
  • Tapping its own natural gas fields would enable Cyprus to replace costly energy imports and power its economy. Israel has already turned its first offshore gas discoveries into a new, cleaner source of electricity, and the country hopes to phase out coal entirely over the next decade. Egypt, too, is using domestic natural gas resources to keep the lights on and factories running, and natural gas demand there is expected to keep growing and potentially gobble up whatever is produced by additional offshore discoveries.
Ed Webb

Army releases long-awaited history of war in Iraq - News - Stripes - 0 views

  • The U.S. Army released on Thursday its history of the Iraq War in an exhaustive two volumes that seeks to draw lessons from the military’s many missteps during the eight-year campaign that left 4,000 U.S. troops dead.
  • The study, dubbed “The U.S. Army in the Iraq War,” highlights numerous failures during the conflict, including a lack of awareness among military leaders about the sectarian, social and political dynamics in the country that would fuel much of the violence
  • efforts to train Iraq’s military were insufficient and led to a force that was over-reliant on the U.S
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  • an institutional tendency to punish the best innovators
  • “U.S. military plans did not anticipate the fall 2011 decision to withdraw all troops,” the study said. Those plans were based on “mistaken assumptions” that the State Department would sustain training efforts. “This mismatch of ends and means was more serious than U.S. government leaders understood in 2011-2012, partly because of the U.S. misinterpretation of low reported levels of violence and the difficulty of maintaining situational awareness as U.S. forces drew down,”
  • “OIF is a sober reminder that technological advantages and standoff weapons alone cannot render a decision; that the promise of short wars is often elusive,” wrote Milley. “Our Army must understand the type of war we are engaged with in order to adapt as necessary; that decisions in war occur on the ground in the mud and dirt; and that timeless factors such as human agency, chance, and an enemy’s conviction, all shape a war’s outcome.”
Ed Webb

Denmark suspends arms exports to UAE over Yemen war: Report | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • Denmark announced the suspension of arms exports to the United Arab Emirates and the withdrawal of export permits approved by the Danish government, the Copenhagen Post reported on Thursday.The decision comes as a result of the UAE’s involvement in the conflict in Yemen, according to Denmark's foreign minister, Anders Samuelsen.
  • Denmark followed Germany last November and suspended future arms exports to Saudi Arabia over the kingdom's role in the war in Yemen and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.
Ed Webb

Secretary Pompeo's Speech in Cairo: POMED Experts Respond - POMED - 0 views

  • Pompeo delivered a speech that lacked any overarching policy message. Pompeo did spell out what this administration sees as the main problems in the region: the Islamic Republic of Iran, radical Islamist terrorism, and even the policies of the Obama administration. But he failed to outline a coherent vision, strategy, or policy approach for addressing these problems
  • To many, Pompeo confirmed widespread fears that the Trump administration simply lacks seriousness of purpose in the Middle East. The speech strongly resembled the rhetoric of many of the region’s own authoritarian regimes—full of bluster, hyperbolic language, attacks on political rivals, and boasts of the administration’s tremendous policy successes that felt divorced from reality
  • The Trump administration played up Pompeo’s remarks as a big deal, but a clear policy roadmap and announcements of any new initiatives were missing. The language on Syria, the most newsworthy topic, did little to end confusion over U.S. policy. The speech’s vacuity likely is because President Trump is simply not interested in the Middle East, and is known to make sudden foreign policy declarations on Twitter. Pompeo seemingly had little policy substance to work with and probably didn’t want to get out ahead of his boss
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  • Pompeo’s speech was not a statement of foreign policy strategy, but rather a rambling screed dominated by distortions, falsehoods, and outright lies. His claims fall into three categories: (1) gratuitous potshots at former President Barack Obama; (2) dubious defenses of the Trump administration’s reckless foreign policy decisions, such as withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran; and (3) misrepresentations of the administration’s policies. Let’s be clear: this was a political stump speech, not a statesman’s address
  • aside from several authoritarian regimes who profess unbridled support for Trump but do little to advance U.S. interests, the United States has never before been more alone
  • Pompeo’s small and homogenous audience of elites reflects the very limited and narrow relationship the United States has chosen to have with the societies in the region
  • rather than speak sternly and honestly to the Egyptian regime, for all of the Egyptian people to hear, he praised al-Sisi for his tolerance and progress despite the totalitarian direction the Egyptian president has taken the country since he led the coup in 2013
Ed Webb

Turkey Rattled by Weak Hand in Libya as Russia and Egypt Advance - 0 views

  • By assisting Egypt to protect its western border, Moscow has re-forged the military links of its former alliance with Cairo
  • The 75-year-old Haftar, who retains the loyalty of the parliament in Tobruk, is a central actor in the Libyan civil war. A former ally of deposed Libyan strong man Moammar Gadhafi who received his military training in the Soviet Union, Haftar maintains deep ties with Russia. Haftar’s forces control most of Libya’s oil facilities, particularly after they captured the ports along Libya’s “Oil Crescent” in September 2016, resulting in a rise in oil production from 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) to over 700,000 bpd in January 2017.  On February 21, 2018 Russian oil giant Rosneft signed an investment and crude oil purchasing agreement with Libya’s National Oil Corporation, paving the way for a major Russian role in Libya’s oil industry.
  • In January 2017, Haftar was invited aboard Russia’s aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean in order to conduct a video conference with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu
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  • During Ahmet Davutoğlu’s tenure as Turkey’s prime minister, relations between Ankara and the Tobruk-based parliament deteriorated to the point where all Turkish firms were expelled from Libya. 
  • Ankara's efforts to gain influence in Libya pale in comparison to the security assets that Moscow and Egypt may be preparing for a more expanded military presence in Libya. On November 7, 2018, Haftar and his senior staff visited Moscow for their latest meeting with Russia's defense minister Sergei Shoigu. Following the session, the Libyan Armed Forces released a video showing the presence of Yevgeny Prigozhin, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin and linked to several Russian private military companies, including the Wagner Group that allegedly participated in operations in Syria. Prigozhin's presence at the Haftar-Shoigu meeting has suggested to observers within Russia and beyond that Moscow may be gearing up for some form of increased intervention in Libya with operations similar to those conducted in Syria.
  • from November 3 to 16, Egypt hosted a two-week long joint exercise with the militaries of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Jordan. Dubbed Arab Shield 1, the exercise involved land, naval, and air forces as well as Special Forces and took place at Egypt's base in Marsa Matrouh. While some view the exercises as a step toward creating an 'Arab NATO' to confront Iran, the massive joint Arab exercise on Egypt's Mediterranean coast sent a clear signal to Turkey and demonstrated the sort of coalition Egypt could muster should it decide to expand its military footprint in Libya
  • both Russia and Egypt have strategic incentives to escalate their support for the aging Libyan commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.  In April 2018, the general suffered a stroke and required hospitalization in an intensive care unit in Paris.  Although two of Haftar's sons are commanders in the Libyan National Army, it is unclear whether either one of them could maintain the loyalty of the coalition of diverse factions that have united under the figure of Khalifa Haftar.  It would behoove both Moscow and Cairo to press their current advantage and deepen their respective positions in preparation for a post-Haftar era.
  • Moscow’s military presence in Libya would enable the Kremlin to complete a Russian ring around the southern half of the eastern Mediterranean. It is worth noting that Vladimir Putin's Russia is more popular than NATO in Greece and among Greek Cypriots. With only 195 nautical miles (360 km) separating Tobruk and Crete, Turkey thus faces the prospect of eventually finding itself encircled by a Russian presence among all of its regional adversaries
  • The change in the balance of power in North Africa in favor of Russia and Egypt inevitably and severely undermines Turkey's already challenging strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Ed Webb

Iran confirms it has detained US Navy veteran Michael White | World news | The Guardian - 0 views

  • Iran has confirmed it is holding a US Navy veteran, Michael R White at a prison in the country, making him the first American known to be detained under Donald Trump’s administration. White’s detention adds new pressure to the rising tension between Iran and the US, which under Trump has pursued a maximalist campaign against Tehran that includes pulling out of its nuclear deal with world powers. While the circumstances of White’s detention remain unclear, Iran in the past has used its detention of Westerners and dual nationals as leverage in negotiations. The semi-official Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, reported the confirmation, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi.
Ed Webb

Abandoned Frank Lloyd Wright - Tour of Shams Palace, Iran - YOMADIC - 0 views

  • In the mid-1960’s William Wesley Peters – son-in-law of Frank Lloyd Wright, his protégé, first apprentice, and chief architect of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation – responded to a unique architectural calling. Shams Pahlavi, the older sister of the last Shah of Iran (self-anointed King-of-Kings Mohammad Reza Pahlavi), needed a palace to call her own. The end result is simply magnificent – not only one of Iran’s most outstanding homes, Shams Palace is also an important architectural example for the world at large.However, in the little-known Iranian city called Karaj (population two million, zero tourists), Frank Lloyd Wright’s figurative fingerprints are disappearing fast. Unfortunately, after recently touring through the abandoned and severely decaying mid-century wonder, I have sadly concluded <leans against the fireplace, gazes out the window, removes smoking pipe from mouth> that Sham’s Palace may be experiencing its final days…
  • For centuries in Iran, there’s been an unbreakable relationship between gardens and buildings. Interwoven with each other, the outdoors and indoors became united in Iran long ago. Visitors to historical Iranian homes will recall the main features of typical estate architecture – traditionally, bedrooms and family rooms open directly onto internal courtyards. Typically, the rectangular courtyards feature manicured gardens, ponds, and open-spaces to work and socialise within the privacy of an extended family unit.Inspired by this traditional design, Peters decided to create a large, circular, internal garden space, and surround this contemporised courtyard area with various dwelling-rooms. Filled with exotic plantings and ponds, the garden is consolidated with the rooms by an elegant, translucent, domed roof.
  • Once inside, through a relentless harmony of circles and spirals, the interior continually reveals itself as a consequent extension of the outdoors. Floors gently ramp, straight lines are minimised, the sky is everywhere. Shams Palace sits on the boundaries of mid-century architecture – organic, playful, and unequivocally hyper-modern.
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  • Decades after Shams Palace was abandoned, the remaining plants are scrappy, but surviving. The largest of the two domes has succumbed to the elements – the cathedral-like array of acrylic glass windows has been completely destroyed, leaving only the metal flower-like framing to cover the once lush cascaded internal garden.
  • Generally, acrylic structures are considered inexpensive and utilitarian – seen throughout Iran covering the courtyards of traditional homes and hotels, but perhaps this is the only palace in history that employed such a light-weight synthetic material.
  • Nezam Amery was the indispensable link in the Frank Lloyd Wright/Iran/Shams Palace story – and his father had been assassinated by the father of his client, Princess Shams.
  • In 2003, Shams Palace was finally registered by Iran’s National Heritage Foundation. However, despite being recognised as an important historical monument deserving restoration, since this time the condition of the palace has further declined.Restoration would now be incredibly expensive – and there is certainly no financial incentive. Iranians would not pay more than a token entrance fee, and foreign tourists in Iran remain few. In 2018 a capitulation of the Rial has occurred, part of the ongoing effects of forty years of economic sanctions that have prevented Iran from fully participating in the international economy. Iran currently has much more to worry about than the restoration of the Pearl Palace – after all, this is just one of an astounding nine-thousand registered historic sites located all over the nation.
Ed Webb

Let Them Eat Heritage - 0 views

  • The UN has estimated that, in Mosul’s old city alone, nearly 6,000 houses were damaged or destroyed in the battle to retake the city. NPR reported in August — a year after Mosul had been retaken from ISIS — that the Iraqi government claimed it had no money for reconstruction, and that it was relying on private donations, of which it had received enough to rebuild 250 houses. In other words, some 95% of the residents of Mosul’s old city are on their own in rebuilding their homes and their lives. Basic infrastructure is badly lacking. Perhaps 40% of the old city still has no water, and electricity is unreliable. And the social structure of the entire city has changed so drastically that it is essentially unrecognizable to its own residents.
  • the focus of much media attention and international aid seems to be the important but often symbolic cultural heritage of the city. The UAE has pledged more than $50 million for a five-year reconstruction project for the mosque. The situation is especially puzzling given that the mosque and its minaret seem of greater importance to international media than to Moslawis themselves.
  • This scene of disturbing priorities in reconstruction and in media attention has replayed itself over and over again in Iraq and Syria over the last few years
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  • At their best, these heritage reconstruction efforts offer not just symbolic progress but jobs to local residents. The UAE projects that the reconstruction of the al-Nuri mosque will employ 1,000 Iraqi graduates. The World Monuments Fund is training Syrian refugees in Jordan to assist in heritage reconstruction efforts when they return home. But even then, these projects suggest a skewed set of priorities.
  • Who is this reconstruction for, and for what purpose?
  • Reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Syria have been a top-down process, as several architectural experts have warned. Their agendas are set not by the needs of communities so much as the interests of national governments. And it is in the interests of those governments — not only the Iraqi and Syrian governments themselves, but also Russia, the UAE, and others — to promote the restoration of cultural heritage. Heritage tourism is very lucrative. Heritage also allows governments to burnish their image and questionable legitimacy, to consolidate their power after civil wars, and to project a false sense of normalcy. And funding heritage allows other countries to pose as the saviors of civilization. There is much less symbolic value, or money, in practical things.
  • Culture is important, but it’s hard to enjoy it when you can’t find food to eat or a place to sleep … or a city to return home to.
  • “Rebuilding is easy. People can rebuild their city and go back to their lives. They just need some money.” Iraqis and Syrians know what they want to rebuild (notably, ruins like Palmyra do not top the list). Local architects are full of ideas of what they want their cities and towns and villages to look like in the future. We only need to start listening.
Ed Webb

PRESS RELEASE: While overall violence has declined in 2018, conflict is spreading | Acl... - 0 views

  • Despite a decrease in total fatalities this year, the majority of countries experienced more conflict, expanding the scope of political violence across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)’s 2018 data show that both the number of new locations experiencing violence and the number of armed actors engaging in violence have risen since 2017. ACLED data also confirm that conflict hotspots like Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria still have the highest rates of organized violence and highest death tolls, with a combined total of nearly 100,000 reported fatalities this year.
  • While political violence decreased overall in volume, it also expanded. In 2018, more locations saw violence, more conflict actors emerged, more actors targeted civilians than before, and more countries saw disorder increase than decrease within their borders
  • Despite the growing prevalence of non-state actors, state actors remain the most violent actors worldwide: State actors in Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan were active in the highest number of conflict events in 2018
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  • Conventional warfare dominates: The most violent countries in the ACLED dataset in 2018 are those with large conventional conflicts: Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Together, these four countries make up nearly 70% of all organized violence events recorded by ACLED in 2018
  • The war in Afghanistan is the most lethal conflict in the world: Afghanistan was by far the deadliest country covered by ACLED in 2018, with nearly as many fatalities as Syria and Yemen combined, and 30% of all fatalities reported by ACLED during the year at more than 41,000*
  • Syria and Yemen remain flashpoints: The conflicts in these two countries had the highest number of organized political violence events in 2018 and were also the most dangerous places for civilians. Syria alone made up nearly 40% of the total number of violence events recorded for 2018, while this was the deadliest year for Yemen since ACLED began monitoring the war in 2016, with over 28,100 fatalities
  • Syria is the deadliest place for civilians: In 2018, nearly as many civilians were killed in Syria (over 7,100) as were in Nigeria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and the Philippines combined (over 7,600 total)
  • The Philippines is a war zone in disguise: Over 1,000 civilians were killed in the Philippines in 2018 – more than in Iraq, Somalia, or the DRC – highlighting the lethality of Duterte’s state terror campaign dubbed the ‘War on Drugs’
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.)
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • “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

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer: The rise of Eurasia: Geopolitical advantages... - 0 views

  • a report by the Astana Club that brings together prominent political figures, diplomats, and experts from the Great Game’s various players under the auspices of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Entitled, ‘Toward a Greater Eurasia: How to Build a Common Future?,’ the report warns that the Eurasian supercontinent needs to anticipate the Great Game’s risks that include mounting tensions between the United States and China; global trade wars; arms races; escalating conflict in the greater Middle East; deteriorating relations between Russia and the West; a heating up of contained European conflicts such as former Yugoslavia; rising chances of separatism and ethnic/religious conflict; and environmental degradation as well as technological advances. The report suggested that the risks were enhanced by the fragility of the global system with the weakening of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and NATO.
  • Erdogan’s vision, according to Eurasia scholar Igor Torbakov, is built on the notion that the world is divided into distinct civilizations. And upon that foundation rise three pillars: 1) a just world order can only be a multipolar one; 2) no civilization has the right to claim a hegemonic position in the international system; and 3) non-Western civilizations (including those in Turkey and Russia) are in the ascendant. In addition, anti-Western sentiment and self-assertiveness are crucial elements of this outlook. Expressing that sentiment, Turkish bestselling author and Erdogan supporter Alev Alati quipped: “We are the ones who have adopted Islam as an identity but have become so competent in playing chess with Westerners that we can beat them. We made this country that lacked oil, gold and gas what it is now. It was not easy, and we won’t give it up so quickly.”
  • Turkey and Russia still “see themselves as empires, and, as a general rule, an empire’s political philosophy is one of universalism and exceptionalism. In other words, empires don’t have friends – they have either enemies or dependencies,” said Mr. Torbakov, the Eurasia scholar, or exist in what Russian strategists term “imperial or geopolitical solitude.” Mr. Erdogan’s vision of a modern-day Ottoman empire encompasses the Turkic and Muslim world. Different groups of Russian strategists promote concepts of Russia as a state that has to continuously act as an empire or as a unique “state civilization” devoid of expansionist ambition despite its premise of a Russian World that embraces the primacy of Russian culture as well as tolerance for non-Russian cultures. Both notions highlight the pitfalls of their nations’ history and Eurasianism.
Ed Webb

Lawsuit over Washington violence looms over US-Turkey relations - 0 views

  • Yasa found himself semi-conscious in hospital along with nine other protesters after Erdogan’s bodyguards and thugs for hire set upon them. One yelled “Die Kurd” as they kicked and struck the demonstrators with discernible glee. Lucy Usoyan, a young Yazidi woman who was repeatedly hit on the head, fell unconscious, despite Yasa’s best efforts to shield her. The images captured on video and later subjected to forensic scrutiny leave no doubt as to what had transpired. “I didn’t know if I would ever see my children again,” Yasa said. “I thought I was dying.”
  • In May, Yasa and a dozen and a half fellow victims filed a civil action lawsuit in US federal court against Turkey. They are demanding at least $300 million in compensation on multiple counts ranging from bodily harm to psychological trauma — including, in at least one case, damage to conjugal relations.
  • the tort case against the Republic of Turkey rests on the Foreign Sovereignties Immunity Act, which stipulates seven violations for which foreign governments can be sued in US courts. “I’d love to see Turkey argue that under US law, ‘We are entitled to beat up people on the streets of Washington, DC,'” Perles said. “No dictator gets to come to my country and beat up citizens of my country on my watch. I’ll take that argument all the way to the Supreme Court.”
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  • Turkey has breezily denied any wrongdoing, branding the protesters as “terrorists” and the actions of its security forces as “self-defense.” Its reaction to the legal case so far has been to act as if it doesn’t exist. Turkey’s toothless media, which is almost fully controlled by Erdogan’s business cronies, has followed suit.
  • In November 2017, federal prosecutors dismissed charges against seven members of Erdogan’s security detail who had been indicted by a federal grand jury that July on a slew of charges, including aggravated assault, conspiracy and hate crimes. Although the men had already left the country, the warrants seemed to carry a powerful message that foreign agents could not act with impunity on US soil. Then in February 2018, the cases against four others were quietly dropped, leaving only four guards on the hook.
  • a strong whiff of diplomatic appeasement hung in the air. The Trump administration was trying to secure the release of North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson and to calm Turkish fury over its continued support for the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG)
  • The first hearing of what will be a bench trial could be held as early as June depending on when the US Embassy in Ankara formally relays the summons. A State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity declined to confirm whether that had happened yet, but acknowledged that US law requires it. “The US government makes no judgment on the merits of the litigation in question, or whether Turkey enjoys immunity from suit, which is a question to be decided by the courts,”
  • if the Turkish government does not acknowledge service within 60 days of the delivery of the summons by a US diplomat, “a federal judge will proceed without Turkey at that moment.”
  • Turkey has allegedly resorted to bullying relatives of the plaintiffs who are in Turkey in hopes of getting them to drop the lawsuits. Several have filed as “John Does” precisely to avoid such harassment. One of them told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that police had hauled in family members for interrogation, but declined to provide details for fear their identity may be revealed. Three other victims approached by Al-Monitor declined to speak, even off the record.
  • Clobbering dissidents in foreign countries is not a uniquely Turkish habit. In January 2018, a federal judge ruled that the Democratic Republic of Congo had to fork over more than $500,000 to three protesters who were savagely attacked by the security detail of President Joseph Kabila Kabange outside the luxury Georgetown hotel where he was staying. Much like Erdogan’s security detail, the Congolese security officers flew out of the United States within hours of the incident. One of the protesters, Jacques Miango, who was kicked in the throat, the face and the spine, shared Yasa’s disbelief that such violence could unfold in the heart of Washington. “You imagine that those kinds of things can’t happen in America,” Miango told The Washington Post. “But after it happened to me, I know nothing is impossible.”
  • In the unlikely event that Erdogan were to resume peace talks with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, Yasa said he would withdraw the case “without a second thought.”
  • “Peace is what we were demonstrating for in Sheridan Circle,” Yasa said. “And if peace were the outcome, our suffering will not have been in vain.”
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