Hariri turns witness for MBS defense

One of the forgotten issues in the Middle East is that Lebanon has been without a government since May. On 9 October, Saad Hariri, the Lebanese Prime Minister, said that if a government was not formed without 10 days he would resign. That hasn't happened and he still waiting. (Lebanese also has a complex power sharing structure so that all factions...
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Turkey jails more journalists than any other country

Turkey jails more journalists than China, Russia and Egypt combined. Yet Erdogan speaks about the need to uphold the truth. This doesn't add up. What does Erdogan want? For many Turks, Erdogan is authoritarian and a dictator who is trying to change Turkish society from a secular state to increasingly Islamic. What will happen? This is what The Wash...
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Is Trump pushing Abbas to dismantle the Palestinian Authority?

I’m in the UK currently and the news is full of stories, especially about Jeremy Corbyn- the leader of the Labour Party and the opposition- and about how the media and politicians are antisemitic. Some of the concerns are true; some are not. No doubt, this comment will be deemed antisemitic.

On reading the article below (which appeared in Al Monitor) I recall a conversation I had in Bethlehem, Palestine, by someone who had negotiated with the Israelis. He said that for the Israelis the “status quo” would always be better than any future deal.

 Is Trump pushing Abbas to dismantle the Palestinian Authority?

Ben Caspit September 13, 2018

 Article Summary

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UNRWA's work in Palestine

 President Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is reportedly pushing to annul the refugee status of millions of Palestinans and shutter the UN agency tasked with their welfare.

Reading the article, which I have posted below, I was reminded of a case study I wrote for a book on refugees- just being published. It is entitled: "Refugee reflections: a study of employment and health in New Zealand".

Here is what I wrote.

UNRWA’s work in Palestine has some lessons for New Zealand.

 The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) working with Palestine refugees has introduced a “family-medicine” approach in its treatment of Palestine refugees. This is because of the high incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) - which includes diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and smoke-related chronic lung diseases. Director of UNRWA’s health programme for Palestine refugees, Akihiro Seita says the new programme was introduced four years ago and is working well. NCDs account for 70 per cent to 80 per cent of deaths of Palestinian refugees, he notes.

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Saudi Arabia- how much has changed?

Women in Saudi Arabia don’t get it easy. A great deal is made of the fact that they can now drive but how much has really changed?

My short trips to Riyadh haven’t been easy. Strange men knocking at the hotel room door at 10pm; trying to get food at a hotel and walking down the street to buy a kebab with rows of men staring at me.

So how have things changed? Can they change that quickly?

This feature article by Louise Callaghan, Middle East correspondent at The Times, sets about answering this question.

Go to: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/women-in-saudi-arabia-can-work-party-and-now-drive-but-is-their-newfound-freedom-all-it-seems-p97qt7xvp

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What does an empowered Saudi woman look like?

 

 

 Being a woman in the Middle East is not easy, a single woman in Saudi Arabia in particular. I am an expert on that. But things are slowing changes so that woman from the West are yearning to go there. This article from the Brookings Institute explains how Saudi Arabia is changing.

 

What does an empowered Saudi woman look like?

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The summer of Israel

I haven't written a blog for about a week because my Apple Mac Pro went kaput and I've been arguing with Currys PC World (in the UK) ever since. For the meantime, I've now got a PC but I miss my Mac. It was going to cost me £800 to have a new screen fitted- on a computer which needs replaced anyway because the memory was overloaded. I was first told by Currys that I could get the screen repaired for £60 plus the cost of the repair- which I was told would be about £60, a big difference from £800, which all the Mac shops also told me. Why the difference? Currys PC World  buys at trade so it's therefore cheaper. Turns out it isn't. To cut a long story short I am going to get my retrieved data tomorrow, for the fifth time.

Maybe this is just a deviation from the day-to-day writing I must do. But I'm not the only one who's deviating it seems- Israel is too. This article, from Brooking s Brief, (which first appeared in Foreign Policy) below explains why this is the case, and why "friends" might be fleeting.

Blind Spot

By Khaled Elgindy

U.S. President Donald Trump took a bipartisan hit after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki earlier this month, with Republicans and Democrats alike assailing what’s being peddled as his full capitulation to Putin. Undercutting the U.S. intelligence community to endorse Putin’s denial of Russian tampering with the 2016 election, Trump won wall-to-wall scorn for his performance. Meanwhile, in Israel, the summit was understandable cause for celebration.

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Does Israel need to be in a state of emergency?

Israel is in a state of emergency, and has been since 1948. How can this be allowed and what does it mean for the population? Reading this article in Al Monitor by a former justice and religious affairs minister, Yossi Bellin, t shows there is a whole list of ramifications.

Does Israel need to be in a state of emergency?

A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was announced the night of July 14, following large exchanges of fire between the Islamist movement and the Israel Defense Forces. That there is an undeclared cease-fire — one not officially authorized by the Israeli government — does not, however, end Israel’s state of emergency. Actually, the state of emergency is always in effect, making it unnecessary to declare it every time there is an escalation of violence. There is no need to declare a state of emergency for an urgent call-up of the reserves, because such a call-up, under Order 8, does not depend on that. Whether dealing with people from Gaza setting nearby fields on fire or with using heavier weapons systems, there is no need for a formal decision on a new security status. The state of emergency is always present in Israel, because the tail wags the dog.

On July 12, Haaretz announced that a joint committee of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee had decided to respond positively to a government request and recommend to the Knesset that it extend the current state of emergency by another year. No one was upset about it. How can anyone get excited over a situation that has existed since May 19, 1948?

It began at the height of the 1948 War of Independence. Israel needed to ensure that the public received goods and services, and there was nothing more natural for the interim government than deciding that a country that was just 5 days old, and already in a state of war, to declare a state of emergency. This way, it could procure existing resources from the public on behalf of the security effort. The war ended less than a year later, but the state of emergency remained in effect. Someone forgot to revoke it, or perhaps it was just all too convenient to give it up so easily.

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Rouhani goes on offense against critics

Everything to do with Iran and how it interacts with the other members of the Iranian elite and the West is interesting to me. In Dubai, when Iranians could enter easily, and many worked for the government or pseudo-government agencies, the people provided a great deal of information- far more than the Saudis, for example

This article from Al Monitor explains the difficult relationship between President Hossein and members of his own elite and the West.  

Rouhani goes on offense against critics, shady interests and ‘culture of opacity’

Week in Review July 8, 2018

Iranian President Hassan Ruhani attends a news conference at the Chancellery in Vienna, Austria, July 4, 2018.

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Israeli president stands up against Arab discrimination

The dislike of the Arabs by the Israeli/Jewish State, and the Jews by many Arabs runs deep. This hostility is neither a one-off, nor short lived. As a non-Jewish, non Arab person the tension in Israel and the West Bank is palpable, even after a short visit.

 This article written by Yossi Beilin for Israel Pulse, produced by Al Monitor Group, explains some of the underlying issues.

Yossi Beilin July 11, 2018

Article Summary

In a letter to the prime minister and the Knesset, President Reuven Rivlin pleaded with Benjamin Netanyahu to remove a clause in the proposed Nationality Law that would make it legal to deny Arabs the right to live in Jewish villages.

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What will happen with the Iran nuclear deal?

Today marks the historic meeting between US President Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong-UN. It is a shame that nothing like this meeting has taken place between the US President and the Iranian President, Houssan Rouhani.What will happen now that the US is not going along with the nuclear deal. Here's a view from experts at Brookings as to what might happen.

Around the Halls: Brookings experts discuss the implications of President Trump’s Iran nuclear deal announcement

Suzanne Maloney, Natan Sachs, Bruce Riedel, Daniel L. Byman, Hady Amr, Mara Karlin, Samantha Gross, Frank A. Rose, Richard Nephew, Steven Pifer, Célia Belin, Dror Michman, Tamara Cofman Wittes, Tanvi Madan, and Kadira Pethiyagoda Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Order from Chaos

Editor's Note:

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Is Trump really so popular in Israel?

Is Trump really so popular in Israel?

 

It is easy to think that everyone’s on board with its stance on Iran - given the current rhetoric coming out of Israel- and with the US. While there are doubters I’m sure there are detractors too. I remember the occasion I entered Jerusalem via the Wall from Bethlehem. When I finally got through the other side- it wasn’t easy- and got on a bus- the Israeli man sitting beside me said: “Not everyone agrees with the Government’s policies”.

 

Uri Savir from Al Monitor explains.

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Secrecy in the Middle East; US Congress rebels

Until I read this article below I hadn’t realised there was a problem with transparency and the US over war in the Middle East. A problem with the US? This is surprising since all of the Middle East countries are accused of being less than transparent. This is what Bryant Harris in Al Monitor newslwtter had to say.

Congress rebels against Middle East war secrecy

 Article Summary

Fed up with increased restrictions on information and less on-the-ground access, some Democrats are seeking more transparency regarding the Donald Trump administration’s military operations throughout the region.

REUTERS/Hadi Mizban/Pool

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Irani administration fights back against the critics

There is so much happening in the Middle East I wish I was there. So much material and so many insights. One of the big issues is the ditching of the Iran nuclear deal by the US. What now?. Can it be salvaged by Europe? For some thinking on the future and what might happens, here are some thoughts by staff at Al-Monitor.

Since President Donald Trump fulfilled his campaign promise of breaking the nuclear deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1), Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been working to determine whether the deal can still be salvaged.

After visiting China, Zarif, who was Iran’s lead negotiator during the marathon nuclear talks, traveled to Moscow. He called the Russian opposition on the US exit from the nuclear deal “hopeful.” He said he would later travel to Brussels and continue discussions with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on “guaranteeing Iran’s interests within" the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Zarif tweeted, “Good and substantive meetings with counterparts in Beijing and Moscow; heading to meet with EU High Representative and E3 foreign ministers in Brussels. Will soon determine how P4+1 can guarantee Iran’s benefits under the JCPOA, and preserve this unique achievement of diplomacy.” Zarif’s reference to the US absence in this round of talks was addressed by calling it the P4+1 rather than the P5+1. E3 in this case stands for France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Zarif also discussed current events, tying the US decision to move its capital to Jerusalem to a long trend where the United States ignores international consensus and agreements. “Unfortunately, opposition to international agreements and world agreements for the American regime has become normal,” he said in Moscow.

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Iran: religious titles lie at heart of political games

Increasingly, Iran is hitting the news. Will Trump scrap the nuclear deal? Is Iran worse then Saudi Arabia? They are both theocracies after all. I've heard arguments that the clerics don't have much say in Saudi Arabia. They do! This article in Al Monitor looks at the religious clerics there. It is by Rohollah Faghihi , an Iranian journalist.

In Iran, the robing ceremony of Ahmad Khomeini, the great-grandson of Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has stirred some debate about the Shiite clergy. The traditional ceremony where he was given his turban comes against the backdrop of a process in which clerical titles in the country have increasingly come to be driven by political rather than scholarly considerations, with virtually all factions, parties and groups using ranks in the Shiite theological hierarchy for their own political purposes. But has it always been like this in Iran?

Before engaging in the debate on the politicization of clerical titles, it is perhaps best to explain their origins. In broad terms, Shiite clerics fall under five categories: Seqat al-Islam, Hujjat al-Islam, Hujjat-al-Islam wal-Muslemin, Ayatollah and Ayatollah al-Uzma.

Before the reign of the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979), titles like Ayatollah or Seqat-al-Islam were used chiefly as honorifics, albeit rarely and only with reference to a limited number of prominent Islamic scholars. For instance, Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni (864-941) was a well-known Shiite scholar and hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) collector. His important hadith collection Kitab al-Kafi, which is respected by both Sunnis and Shiites, earned him the honorific Seqat al-Islam, which means “Trusted by Islam.” Indeed, to this day, Islamic scholars commonly refer to Kulayni when mentioning the term Seqat al-Islam. There is also the example of Iranian-born Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali, one of the most prominent philosophers, jurists and mystics of Sunni Islam. He was often referred to as Hujjat al-Islam, which means “Proof of Islam.”

From the Qajar era (1794-1925) until the early Pahlavi period, many great scholars and high-ranking clerics in Iran were still referred to with simple titles, including the honorific “Sheikh,” which is used to refer to clerics who are not descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.

In 1921, Sheikh Abdolkarim Haeri Yazdi, a high-ranking teacher in the holy Iraqi city of Karbala who had established a successful seminary in the central Iranian city of Arak, established the Qom Seminary. Known as the “Founder Ayatollah,” he organized seminary affairs, including standardizing courses and ranks. Clerical titles have since gradually been employed to designate scholarly achievements. Of note, the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was one of Haeri Yazdi’s students.

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Saudi King reiterates support for Palestine

In recent months we have seen the Arab Gulf countries getting closer to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular. This is not surprising. israel, the UAE and Saudi are all anti-Iran, for different reasons. Although Iran is Islamic it is Shi'ite- a brand of Islam that Sunnis- the UAE and Saudi in particular, detest.

Certainly from the UAE, and from Saudi too, you can't telephone Israel directly, they do do business with the each other. In fact, in the UAE I telephoned Israel and sent an email. The telephone rang and rang. At that stage I didn't realise that you couldn't contact Israel. I hear its the same in Saudi.

Given the complex dynamics between the various parties it's surprising that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reportedly said to a group of Jewish Americans that it is time the Palestians accepted a peace agreement and that Israel should be entilted to live peacefully in its homeland. This happened in March it was reported. His father, King Salman, has commented that the Saudis stand behind Palestinian, according to a report by Reuters. Here is what he reportedly said.

Saudi king reiterates support for Palestinians after Israel comments

RIYADH (Reuters) - King Salman reiterated Saudi Arabia’s support for a Palestinian state after his son and heir apparent said Israelis were entitled to live peacefully on their own land - a rare statement by an Arab leader.

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What Houthi revenge could mean for Saudi elites

The war in Yemen is really a war between the Saudi, and the UAE and Yemenis loyal to the current president (or some would say Iran). This article from Brookings Institute discusses what the outcome of a long drawn out war might be.

 

The killing of a prominent Houthi leader in Yemen by a Saudi airstrike this month has prompted threats of retaliation by the Houthis and other pro-Iranian militants in the region, including threats specifically against Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (known as MBS). Could that raise new questions about Saudi leadership succession?

By Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, Center for Middle East Policy

Director - The Intelligence Project

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Billboards bashing social justice in Tel Aviv

BillIsrael is intriguing. We rarely hear about what goes on there, more often hearing about Palestine. What is interesting is the rise of the far right in that country, a phenemonon that the US and the West generally seldom speaks about. In this artice by Al Monitor we learn what is happening.

 Shlomi Eldar April 30, 2018

Article Summary

The far-right Im Tirzu group is behind a hate campaign targeting the US-based New Israel Fund.

The far-right movement Im Tirzu began a smear campaign against the New Israel Fund last week. The timing offers further evidence of the pivotal role Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plays in fanning flames of hate in Israel.

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Talk of PLO restructuring

I’m curious as to what is happening in Palestine and the PLO. Not only have I visited the West Bank but I have also spoken with some of the leaders in the organisation. I even had dinner (along with the Gazans) at the home of Munib Masri, who is a key man in Palestine since he owns most of it and has Yasser Arafat’s closest friend.

So with the PLO restructure and is it overdue?

Here’s a take on it from Al Monitor

 Talk of PLO restructuring

 Palestinian council meeting

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Saudi Arabia opens first cinema in 30 years

So today, Wednesday 18 April is the first day in 30 years that people in Saudi Arabia can go to the cinema. But although the cinema has been banned to the public, those living in compounds, usually ex-pats, have still been able to go to their own set-up. People have also bought pirated DVDs, rather than going to the movies.

That’s true of many people living in Dubai. Although I went to the movies a great deal initially I soon took to watching DVDs at home, by preference. When I watched “The Wolf of Wall Street” at the cinema I wondered why it seemed so short. When I watched the movie again, probably in the UK, it was so much longer. One hour had been cut out of it.

 Let’s hope that doesn’t happen in Saudi Arabia where censorship laws are bound to prevail.

 Here’s an article about cinemas in Saudi Arabia in Khaleej Times, a Dubai-based national newspaper, for which I used to work.

 AMC Entertainment has been granted the first licence to operate cinemas.

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