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Contents contributed and discussions participated by Ed Webb

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Trump has vowed to eradicate 'radical Islamic terrorism.' But what about 'Islamism'? - ... - 0 views

  • The very notion of Islamism often elicits fear and confusion in the West. Used to describe political action where Islam and Islamic law plays a prominent public role, it includes everyone from the European-educated “progressives” of Tunisia’s Ennahda Party to the fanatics of the Islamic State. Not surprisingly, then, “Islamism” can confuse more than it reveals.
  • The “twin shocks” of the Arab Spring and the rise of the Islamic State have forced mainstream Islamists — Muslim Brotherhood-inspired groups that accept parliamentary politics and seek to work within existing political systems — to better articulate their worldview and where it converges and diverges with the post-World War II liberal order.
  • While the Islamists we talked to unanimously opposed the Islamic State and were disgusted by its brutality, some couldn’t help but look with envy at the group’s ability to shatter “colonial impositions” — the Islamic State’s symbolic razing of the Iraq-Syria border, drawn up by Europeans, is perhaps the most infamous example. It’s not so much the arbitrariness of state borders as much as the fact that they exist.
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  • A general dislike of modern borders has been a feature of Islamist politics for some time now, and not just among the young and zealous. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for example, has been candid on how Turkey’s “emotional borders” extend far beyond those drawn on the map.

  • After the Arab Spring, a growing number of Islamists have begun to challenge what they see as uncreative approaches to the state — an overly centralized state, and one which, in its very constitution, is unable to tolerate dissent or alternative approaches to organizing society. There is a sense, as one participant put it to us, that the state actively interferes with everything, including religion.
  • What’s discomforting is that many Muslims — and not just the Islamic State or card-carrying Islamists — might prefer, in an ideal world, to be free to pledge their ultimate loyalty to the ummah in the abstract, rather than to a nicely bounded nation-state. And while survey data shows the overwhelming majority of Muslims strongly oppose the group, the Islamic State nonetheless draws strength from ideas that have broader resonance among Muslim-majority populations
  • The Islamic State’s model is actually quite modern, with government control taking precedence over social and religious institutions rising organically from the grass roots.
  • As the scholar Ovamir Anjum has argued, pre-modern Muslim thought was not concerned with “politics” in the traditional sense, but with the welfare of the ummah — what he cleverly calls “ummatics.”
  • a sort of libertarian streak
  • Maybe the reason Islam hasn’t fallen in line isn’t just the poverty, the lack of education, colonialism or wars. These all play a role, of course. But maybe the ideas Islamism brings to the fore also have a resilience and appeal that we have been reluctant to admit. And maybe the liberal order is not as desired, inevitable or universal as we thought.
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    Islamists pose intellectual challenge to liberal world order
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'It felt like the heavens were falling': Afghans reel from Moab impact | World news | T... - 2 views

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    Winning friends...
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President Trump's thoroughly confusing Fox Business interview, annotated - The Washingt... - 0 views

  • When you see that, I immediately called General Mattis.

    I said, what can we do?

    And they came back with a number of different alternatives.  And we hit them very hard.

    Now, are we going to get involved with Syria?

    No.  But if I see them using gas and using things that — I mean even some of the worst tyrants in the world didn't use the kind of gases that they used.  And some of the gases are unbelievably potent.

    So when I saw that, I said we have to do something.

    • Ed Webb
       
      This seems to confirm that the President decides to act based on what he sees on television.
  • people just don't see this, the level of brutality, the level of viciousness.
    • Ed Webb
       
      Plenty of people have been documenting the brutality of the conflict for over five years, including journalists and activists who have given their lives to do so.
  • I was sitting at the table.  We had finished dinner.  We're now having dessert.  And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it.

    And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do?

    And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way.  And I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you.  This was during dessert.

    We've just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing.

    BARTIROMO:  Unmanned?

    Brilliant.

    TRUMP:  It's so incredible.  It's brilliant.  It's genius.  Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five.  I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing.

    • Ed Webb
       
      I wonder if delivery of this news put Pres. Xi off his chocolate cake. It is striking that both Trump and the interviewer are astonished by guided missile technology that has been around for decades.
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  • So what happens is I said we've just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq and I wanted you to know this. And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.
    • Ed Webb
       
      Maybe he was silent because he was very confused about why you would be attacking Iraq, rather than Syria...
  • But I think he understood the message and I understood what he was saying to me.
    • Ed Webb
       
      I am sure Xi understood what he was dealing with.
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Trump aide drew plan on napkin to partition Libya into three | World news | The Guardian - 0 views

  • A senior White House foreign policy official has pushed a plan to partition Libya, and once drew a picture of how the country could be divided into three areas on a napkin in a meeting with a senior European diplomat
  • Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to Donald Trump under pressure over his past ties with Hungarian far-right groups, suggested the idea of partition in the weeks leading up to the US president’s inauguration, according to an official with knowledge of the matter. The European diplomat responded that this would be “the worst solution” for Libya
  • Gorka is vying for the job of presidential special envoy to Libya
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  • sharp differences have emerged over how much say Russia should have in Libya’s fate
  • While the GNA has been seen by some as the best option for achieving stability in the country, it has struggled against a rival government based in Tobruk, eastern Libya, backed by Khalifa Haftar, an anti-Islamist military strongman. Haftar, who would not back partition, has support in some parts of the Egyptian and Russian governments
  • Haftar, a 73-year-old field marshal and former Gaddafi general who later became his bitter opponent, presents himself as a bulwark against Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood, which makes him appealing to elements of the Trump foreign policy team
  • Gorka has alarmed foreign diplomats with his views on Libya’s future. The map he drew on a napkin during the transition period cut Libya into three sections, apparently based on the old Ottoman provinces of Cyrenaica in the east, Tripolitania in the north-west and Fezzan in the south-west.
  • Gorka’s rivals for the envoy job include Pete Hoekstra, a former congressman and lobbyist, and Phillip Escaravage, a former US intelligence official who worked on Libya for more than a decade
  • At least one European ally has privately expressed frustration at the US state department’s lack of a position on Libya, voicing concerns over Russia’s growing influence
  • Representatives of the Tobruk government, including Haftar, have sought to influence the Trump administration, calling for the US to radically change its position and withdraw support for the Sarraj government.
  • Ari Ben-Menashe, an Israeli security consultant based in Canada, whose company has a $6m (£4.9m) contract to lobby on behalf of Haftar and Aguila Saleh Issa, the head of the Libyan house of representatives in Tobruk, said the White House had been “briefed” on Libya and was “willing to play on our terms”
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Trump's Syria Strike Was Unconstitutional and Unwise - The Atlantic - 3 views

  • Congress erred by doing nothing when Obama waged war illegally in Libya. It will compound that error if there are no consequences now for Trump.  Every legislator who has expressed the belief that it would be illegal to strike Syria without their permission should start acting like they meant what they said. Given what recent presidents have been permitted, impeachment over this matter alone would understandably lack popular legitimacy. But I wouldn’t mind if anti-war legislators created a draft document titled “Articles of Impeachment,” wrote a paragraph about this strike at the top, and put Trump on notice that if he behaves this way again, a coalition will aggressively lobby their colleagues to oust him from office.
  • The alternative is proceeding with an unbowed president who is out of his depth in international affairs, feels entitled to wage war in ways even he once called illegitimate, and thinks of waging war as a way presidents can improve their popularity.
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Trump May Have Changed His Syria Policy And The Pentagon Is Confused - 1 views

  • three defense officials told BuzzFeed News they cannot begin to craft a military response, if that is what Trump wants, without a clear understanding of what the president wants to see happen in Syria. Does he only want the Assad regime to stop using chemical weapons? Does he want regime change? Is he seeking a negotiated settlement? Or were Trump’s comments simply rhetoric?
    • Ed Webb
       
      When you're in a powerful political position, words matter quite a bit. Bullshitting won't cut it.
  • Assad may have launched Tuesday’s attack to test the president, particularly after members of his administration had indicated Assad could stay in power
  • On Tuesday, as reports of the chemical attack became public, the White House stuck to its new policy. It called Assad’s grip on power, despite a six-year civil war, a “political reality,” and that it was up to the Syrian people to decide the country’s future.
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  • On Wednesday, however, Trump and Haley shifted tones again.

    Haley portended US intervention, saying: "When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action. Pointing the blame at Russia, she added: "For the sake of the victims, I hope the rest of the council is finally willing to do the same."

    But both stopped short of outlining what an acceptable outcome was or what US intervention could look like.

  • military options in Syria are limited. Under the current strategy, the US could destroy air strips or Syrian aircraft, but that would only have a short term effect. The Syrians could easily repave an airstrip or obtain planes from their Russian allies. Non-military options like sanctions have the same problem; the Russians would likely supplement any lost funding
  • under what authority would it enter Syria? The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which has become the catch-all legal justification for military operations against groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, would be hard to contort towards Assad. After Tuesday’s attacks, Trump faced criticism from fellow Republicans, who have long argued for greater intervention in Syria, but have yet to vote on new authorities
  • Crafting a new policy does not happen in a day and the civil war in Syria transcends its borders; it’s become a regional, global proxy war as well. But the absence of answers to the questions that shape policy makes its hard to say for sure what kind of change is happening, if any, officials around the Pentagon explained.
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Tunisia preparing to join COMESA in October - Common Market for Eastern & Southern Africa - 1 views

  • Article 4 of the Treaty provides that the COMESA Authority may admit a country which is an immediate neighbour of a Member States upon fulfilling conditions set forth including acceptance of the COMESA aims and objectives, compliance with the general undertakings and fundamental principles and wishing to co-operate with COMESA
    • Ed Webb
       
      Libya is a COMESA member, making Tunisia eligible, despite not being Eastern or Southern Africa.
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Saudi Arabia, China Sign Deals Worth Up to $65 Billion | Foreign Policy - 2 views

  • Saudi Arabian King Salman traveled to China Thursday to deepen economic ties between the world’s biggest oil exporter and the world’s second-largest oil consumer. It’s a key stop in the king’s six-week trip to Asia that comes as Riyadh struggles with a slumping oil market and a desperate need to diversify its economy.
  • up to $65 billion worth of economic and trade deals, spanning sectors from energy to space
  • more than 20 agreements on oil investments and in renewable energy
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  • China even discussed taking a stake in Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil firm, which is preparing for a public listing
  • King Salman, and especially crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, have launched an ambitious campaign to shock the country out of oil-dependency and diversify the economy under the auspices of its Saudi Vision 2030 plan. It’s culminated in the unusual six-week trip to Asia that includes stops in Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Maldives as Salman courts foreign investors
  • Xi couched China’s future role in the Middle East in purely economic terms, citing his country’s ambitious One Belt One Road initiative, China’s state-run Xinhua News reported. He stressed China would continue its longstanding policy of non-interference in the Middle East, in contrast to the United States and European counterparts
  • But China has steadily ramped up involvement in the region as its dependence on Middle Eastern oil grows. Beijing began building its first overseas military outpost, a naval base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, in 2016. And it funneled thousands of peacekeepers to U.N. missions, including in oil-rich countries like South Sudan.
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Can Cairo stave off discontent over soaring prices? - 0 views

  • As pressure builds on Egyptian livelihoods following the devaluation of the pound and the slashing of fuel subsidies in November, some analysts are wondering if another uprising is looming on the horizon for Egypt. They warn that a new wave of unrest would be bloodier than the 2011 uprising and could spell disaster for the country, still reeling from the turbulent post-revolution transition.
  • Prices of basic food items, medicine, transport and housing have soared, prompting Egyptians to cut spending to make ends meet. The prices of some basic food items have shot up by up to 40%, according to CAPMAS, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics
  • protests broke out in at least four Egyptian provinces March 7. The demonstrations were triggered by bread shortages in some bakeries after Supply Minister Aly Moselhy announced a new bread subsidies system that he defended as “necessary to curb waste and corruption.” Hundreds of demonstrators blocked roads and cut railways in Alexandria, Giza, Kafr El Sheikh and Minya in protest at the minister’s abrupt decision to reduce the share of bread allotted to holders of paper ration cards to 500 loaves per bakery a day from the original 1,000 and 4,000 loaves (depending on the number of consumers in the bakery’s vicinity.)
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  • The decision to implement the new system was quickly reversed, however, over fears that the simmering bread crisis could provoke wider tumult. Seeking to allay citizens’ concerns that the move was a prelude to a reduction in their quotas of subsidized bread, Moselhy held a televised press conference on the day of the protests, apologizing to “all citizens who had not received bread” and asserting that their quotas would remain untouched. Promising to resolve the crisis within 48 hours, he blamed bakery owners for the crisis, hinting they were making profits off the subsidized flour they received from the government.
  • In the last six years, government spending on food and fuel subsidies has represented more than a quarter of annual government expenditure (more than the country spends on education and health services combined)
  • a thriving black market for the subsidized wheat, which is often resold by the bakeries at a profit rather than turned into bread
  • “The patience of Egyptians is wearing thin,” Cairo University political scientist Hassan Nafaa told Al-Monitor. “Despite the economic pressures they are facing, citizens have so far restrained themselves from protesting because they are weary after two revolutions. They also fear further turmoil as they see the civil wars in some of the neighboring Arab countries. But if people are hungry and if their basic needs are not met, there is likely to be another rebellion,” he warned, adding that if that happens, “It would be messy and bloody.”
  • Tensions have been simmering since the pound’s depreciation — a key requirement by the International Monetary Fund for Egypt to secure a $12 billion loan needed to finance the country’s budget deficit and shore up dwindling foreign currency reserves. Economists and analysts have lauded the flotation as “a much-needed reform that would restore investors’ confidence in the economy, helping foster growth and job creation.”
  • shrinking middle class was already struggling with flat wages, high inflation and mounting unemployment
  • Sisi’s approval ratings, which according to a poll conducted in mid-December 2016 by Baseera (Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research) fell by 50% during his second year in office
  • the weak currency is helping the economy by boosting exports and luring back tourists. A 25% increase in non-petroleum exports in January (compared with the same month last year), along with new loans from the IMF and other sources, is beefing up foreign currency reserves, according to The Economist. The weaker currency is also proving to be a blessing in disguise for local manufacturers as more consumers are opting to purchase local products, which are more affordable than their imported alternatives
  • The real test will be the government’s ability to stave off unrest that could undermine the progress made so far. Nafaa said it is possible to quell the rising anger over soaring prices “through more equitable distribution of wealth, better communication of government policies, transparency and accountability.”
  • “The government must also ease the crackdown on dissent, release detainees who have not committed terror crimes and bring more youths on board,”
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Sovereignty for cash? The Saudi-Maldives island deal making waves | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • It’s one of the world’s top tourist destinations, with more than a million scantily clad foreigners enjoying its glistening white beaches and crystal clear waters each year.

    Later this month, the Indian Ocean state of the Maldives – particularly popular with honeymooners – is scheduled to play host to a very different kind of visitor when King Salman bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia arrives for official talks and a holiday. 

    Top of the agenda in talks with the government in Male, the Maldives small, cramped capital, is likely to be a $10bn Saudi investment project, believed to include the Saudi purchase or long-term lease of a string of 19 of the island state’s coral atolls.

  • “international sea sports, mixed development, residential high-class development, many tourist resorts, many airports and other industries"
  • “The plans would allow a foreign power control of one of the country’s 26 atolls. It amounts to creeping colonialism.”
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  • The opposition says part of the rational behind the multi-billion dollar Saudi development could be a plan by Riyadh to establish a staging post and special economic zone, complete with port facilities, for oil and gas exports to Asia, particularly to China.
  • with climate change and rising sea levels, there is a very real possibility that the majority of the island nation’s land area will be underwater by the end of the century
  • Abdulla Yameen, the current president – who has strongly denied allegations about government corruption made recently by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network - has stressed the need for economic growth and sees the giant Saudi investment as key to future prosperity.

    “We do not need cabinet meetings under water,” says the government. “We need development.”

  • There are also fears that the development, with its large-scale building work and dredging activities, will threaten irreparable damage to what is one of the world’s most pristine but vulnerable ecological regions.
  • Islam in the Maldives has traditionally blended elements of Sufism and other religions; in recent years, a stricter form of Saudi-style "Wahhabism" has predominated. There are concerns that a number of people from the Maldives are believed to have joined the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq.
  • The Saudis have pledged to build what they describe as 10 "world class" mosques in the archipelago and have donated $100,000 for scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia. 
  • In early 2016, the government in Male cut diplomat ties with Iran
  • The growing ties between Riyadh and Male have been causing some concern in the region, particularly in India.

    Last year the Binladin Group, the troubled Saudi construction conglomerate, was awarded – for an undisclosed sum – a contract to build a new international airport in the Maldives. 

    A previous agreement with an Indian company to build the airport was terminated; it is likely the Maldives will have to pay millions of dollars in compensation. 

  • Analysts say the Asia trip is about extending Saudi influence and diversifying the Kingdom’s economy away from oil and gas and investing in the region.
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