Category: Middle East

In early October, New York lawyer Stanley Cohen found himself at the forefront of a private effort to negotiate the release of Islamic State captive Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig, documented in a recent report by The Guardian. Cohen, whose past legal clients have included members of Hamas and Hezbollah, used his extensive contacts in the region to help arrange a promising dialogue between a prominent Jordan-based Salafi Islamist scholar and his counterpart in Islamic State.

Barely a month later, Kassig was dead at the hands of his captors — thanks to U.S. authorities who refused to intervene with a friendly government, Cohen now says. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog


A year on from a U.S. drone strike in Yemen that hit a wedding convoy, killing 12, the United States government have refused to formally recognise the attack, or publicly acknowledge that unarmed civilians died as a result of the strike. However, recent investigations have found that they have secretly paid a record sum of over $1 million in compensation to the families of the victims.

According to the victims, on 12th December 2013, Abdallah Mabkhut al-Ameri, his new wife and about 60 of their friends and family, were travelling in a wedding procession outside the city of Rada’a when four Hellfire missiles hit the convoy, resulting in the deaths of more than 10 people, including the groom’s son from a previous marriage, and injury of 24 more. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

Meet the Christian soldiers fighting for their lives against ISIS | Haaretz

Commander Johan Cosar stands on the rooftop of an abandoned home in the Syriac Christian village of Gharduka, about 60 kilometers southwest of Malikiya in Syria’s northeastern corner. He points toward a vast field: “That’s where Islamic State is, one and half kilometers from here,” he says, referring to the organization that is also known as ISIS or ISIL.

The rundown building serves as a military base for the Syriac Military Council (also known as MFS), the Syrian-based military branch of the Mesopotamian National Council, an international organization founded to aid Syriac communities around the world. The soldiers, members of the oldest Christian community in the world, are fighting a battle to keep their identity alive and their homeland from falling into the hands of what they call foreign invaders. They work hand-in-hand with the community’s security force, Sutoro. [Read more]

Turkey’s Religious Schools Rise as Erdogan Exerts Sway | New York Times

When Semra dropped off her 13-year-old daughter for the first day of high school, she had to fight back tears as she entered the dimly lit basement classroom, brightened by the red of the girls’ head scarves and the walls emblazoned with Quranic verses written in Arabic script.

Semra had spent years working overtime at her cleaning job, saving enough to pay for extra courses that she hoped would secure a place for her daughter at an academically rigorous secular school. But after taking the admissions test under Turkey’s system for allocating slots in public schools, her daughter was one of nearly 40,000 students assigned to the state-run religious schools. [Read more]

Turkey’s ultras at the forefront of resistance | Al Jazeera

Being a Besiktas suporter, a member of the renowned Carsi ultras, is not just about being a football fan. Founded by a group of school friends in 1982, the Carsi ultras have been struggling against despotism and tyranny for more than thirty years now. The famous Turkish writer Esber Yagmurdereli once said: “I am not in opposition because I’m a Besiktas fan, I’m a Besiktas fan so I am in opposition.”

For 35 Carsi ultras this idea is all too real. Today they are facing trial in Turkey for their participation in the Gezi protests last year. The have been charged with plotting to overthrow the government and are facing lengthy prison sentences. They are also accused of being part of an “armed group” and “possessing unlicensed weapons”. [Read more]

Middle East ‘most dangerous’ for journalists in 2014 | Al Arabiya

As 2014 comes to an end, international media watchdogs highlight another gloomy year for journalists in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Armed conflicts and the fast military expansion and savagery of ISIS militants witnessed this year have guaranteed that the MENA region is once again ranked amongst the world’s most dangerous regions for journalists to report from, with Syria leading the “world’s deadliest countries for journalists” list for a third year in a row, according to Reporters Without Border’s (RWB) annual roundup report released on Tuesday. [Read more]

The Statue of Liberty Betrays Syrians | Syria Untold

In the collective memory of Syrians, the United States has been long associated with vicious conspiracies, to the point where its name became synonymous with the word evil. This was partly because of US policy, and specifically its support for Israel and Arab tyrants. However, it was also influenced by the nationalist agenda of the Ba’ath party, which had Syrians convinced that there is no time for internal reform, while America is at the door.

In the wake of the uprising, Syrian people found solace in the speeches of president Obama that periodically emphasized that “Assad’s days are numbered”; and observing the firm stance of the US against Assad, they were willing to offer America a clean slate. [Read more]

Libya’s Tawerghans stuck in limbo | Al Jazeera

Tawergha remains a desecrated ghost town more than three years after the Libyan revolution, when armed groups from Misrata, nearly 40km to the west, drove their neighbours from their homes.

A desolate silence hangs over Tawergha’s empty residential flats, schools and shops, which have been looted and smashed by mortar and bullet shells. Graffiti covers the charred concrete walls, including tributes to revolutionary fighters and caustic insults about the town’s former residents. [Read more]


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The floodgates have opened across Europe on the issue of Palestinian statehood. On Friday, the Portuguese parliament became the latest European legislature to call on its government to back statehood, joining Sweden, Britain, Ireland, France and Spain.

Similar moves are expected in Denmark, and from the European Parliament. The Swiss government will join the fray this week, inviting states that have signed the Fourth Geneva Convention to an extraordinary meeting to discuss human rights violations in the occupied territories. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

Ever since then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led a coup against the country’s elected president, Mohamed Morsi, the coup regime has become increasingly repressive, brutal and lawless. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, the Obama administration has become increasingly supportive of the despot in Cairo, plying his regime with massive amounts of money and weapons and praising him (in the words of John Kerry) for “restoring democracy.” Following recent meetings with Sisi by Bill and Hillary Clinton (pictured above), and then Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, Obama himself met with the dictator in late September and “touted the longstanding relationship between the United States and Egypt as a cornerstone of American security policy in the Middle East.”

All of this occurs even as, in the words of a June report from Human Rights Watch, the Sisi era has included the “worst incident of mass unlawful killings in Egypt’s recent history” and “judicial authorities have handed down unprecedented large-scale death sentences and security forces have carried out mass arrests and torture that harken back to the darkest days of former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule.” The New York Times editorialized last month that “Egypt today is in many ways more repressive than it was during the darkest periods of the reign of deposed strongman Hosni Mubarak.” [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

Nothing brings a family together like a new baby. The tiny, fragile miracle that once was merely an idea becomes a reality and starts to grow and develop. All who are connected to it guard and nurture the new creation as it grows, marvelling together at every milestone. Their mutual love and concern is a sturdy glue that helps bond their relationships to one another as strongly as their attachment to the child

The State of Israel has long played the role of beloved common project for North American Jewish communities.

Support and concern for it has brought together Jewish communities. They may have been divided between Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, in prayer, and between those who choose day school and those who send their children to public schools when it comes to Jewish education. But they have traditionally come together to rally and stand together for Israel, to raise money for emergency campaigns to help distressed Jewish immigrants settle there or rebuild after war and strife took its toll. Their precise views on Israel may not have been identical, but basic underlying support of the state of Israel was something most everyone in the family of Jews could agree on. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

Hindsight can be cruel. In 1932, amid a global economic slump, the impoverished Saudis came to London looking for a loan. They also had an offer: would Britain like to try drilling for oil? A disdainful Foreign Office mandarin gave the fateful reply, writes Matthew Teller – no loan, and no drilling.

In the spring of 1932, King Abdulaziz – widely known as “Ibn Saud” – was ready to declare the foundation of a new united Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. To get the message out and to secure the support of the global superpower – Great Britain – he sent his son, Faisal, on a European tour including London.

Faisal arrived at Dover on Saturday 7 May and was soon installed in London’s fashionable new Dorchester Hotel. After a Monday morning audience with George V, he spent most of his visit at leisure, including visits to a Surrey stud farm and RAF Hendon. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

Thousands of Israeli Arab protesters massed Saturday afternoon and evening along the main street of the Galilee town Kafr Kanna, protesting what they said was state terror in the death of 22-year-old local man Kheir Hamdan on Friday night. The town mayor called the incident “murder in cold blood.”

Demonstrators carried posters bearing Hamdan’s picture which read “His only crime was being Arab,” and chanting “Zionists, get out of our lives.” They waved Palestinian flags, and called for the dismissal of the police officers involved in Friday night’s shooting, senior police chiefs, and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. They decried the police’s “light trigger finger” which they said led to Hamdan being shot and killed. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

America needed a leader with a sense of history and an ability to act. In his sudden rise to power, Obama aroused hopes he possessed both. In reality, he delivered neither.

Humbled, embattled and living on borrowed political time, the waning American president will now seek a place in history somewhere between Iran and Iraq. Unseasonable snowflakes emerged last week in Illinois, Indiana and Vermont, staining New England’s foliage white and adding ice to Halloween’s spooky atmosphere.

The unusual weather soon proved a fitting setting for winter’s premature landing on the presidency of Barack Obama. What began six years ago as the political Cinderella tale of the century has given way to an epic tragedy, whose last act began this week with an electoral trouncing that is its supreme victim’s doing as much as it is his undoing. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

Why is there such an explosion of violence across the Middle East? Here’s an alternative view… | The Independent

What on earth has descended upon the Middle East?

Why such an epic explosion of violence? It feels strange to ask these questions of Dr Bouthaina Shaaban, one of President Bashar al-Assad’s close advisers and former translator to his father, Hafez. Her office is spotless, flowers on the table, her female secretary preparing a morning round-up of the world’s press on the Middle East, the coffee hot and sweet. At one point, when she spoke of the destruction in Syria and the mass attacks on the region’s Arab armies, it was difficult to believe that this was Damascus and that a few hundred miles to the east Isis have been cutting the throats of their hostages. Indeed, Shaaban finds it difficult even to define what Isis really is. [Read more]

Back to the future in Turkish politics? | War on the rocks

As Turkey celebrates its 91st anniversary as an independent state since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk forged a modern republic from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, much of today’s tumult in its region is eerily reminiscent. Having once ruled from Istanbul through Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem to Tripoli, no country has more at stake than Turkey; and no leader has more to prove than its first popularly elected president: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has always sought to overturn the effects of early Republican Kemalism. Claiming that his domestic win was a victory for all these regional capitals he even stated that, “The only loser is the status quo.” Having set 2023, Turkey’s centennial, as the deadline for his ambitious slate of reforms, Erdoğan will be celebrating this Republic Day as the first president outside of Ataturk’s shadow as he plans for the next decade ahead.

In the last decade, under Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) rule, momentous strides in development, together with an increase in Ankara’s political activism abroad, have undoubtedly positioned Turkey as an emerging power.  The weakening of the traditional centers of Arab influence, namely Iraq, Egypt and Syria, has also heightened Turkey’s role in regional and global affairs.  Unfortunately, the future risks looking a lot like the past.  Two recurrent themes—the over-concentration of executive power and destabilizing dynamics of exclusionary nationalism—have remained perennial features of Turkish politics and could again hinder Turkey’s ability to lead. Therefore as modern Turkish leaders look towards its centennial as a moment of global arrival, learning from the past and not repeating certain mistakes will be critical for reaching the full potential of this “new Turkey.” [Read more]

Obama’s Quagmire | Slate

America’s war against ISIS is quickly turning into a quagmire.

A few signs of progress have sprung up in recent days. U.S. airstrikes have slowed down the Islamist group’s onslaught against the Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria. A much-cheered caravan of Kurdish peshmerga fighters is making its way from Iraq to join the battle. [Read more]

Flying Blind in Iraq and Syria | New York Times

THE Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, has accompanied its brutal takeover of large swaths of Iraq and Syria with the kidnapping and beheading of journalists. Any Western journalists who would dare to venture into ISIS territory today would be risking their lives every second. So the United States is now involved in the first prolonged war in the modern Middle East that American reporters and photographers can’t cover firsthand on a daily basis, with the freedom to observe and write what they please and with the sustained presence to offer perspective on how the story is evolving. That is not good.

But it gets worse. The Times reported last week that ISIS had one of its British hostages act as a combat reporter in a propaganda video from the Syrian town of Kobani, “forecasting that the town is about to fall to militants despite waves of American airstrikes,” and suggesting that ISIS was getting even more savvy in promoting its cause by adopting the techniques of a 24-hour news channel. “ ‘Hello, I’m John Cantlie,’ the hostage says in the video, dressed in black, ‘and today we are in the city of Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border. That is, in fact, Turkey right behind me.’ ” [Read more]

Egypt court sends eight men to prison for ‘inciting debauchery’ | LA Times

In Egypt, it isn’t a crime to be homosexual – at least in theory. But a high-profile court case, resulting in three-year prison terms handed down to Saturday to eight defendants for “inciting debauchery,” pointed up the increasingly hostile climate toward gays in a country where repression of all stripes is on the rise. [Read more]

Obama’s ISIS Strategy: Doomed for Failure | National Interest

In the spring of 1956, the prominent U.S. columnist Joseph Alsop, who enjoyed wide access to world leaders around the globe, traveled through the Middle East on an extended reporting trip. He got numerous interviews with Egypt’s leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser. He visited Saudi Arabia and dined at King Saud’s Jeddah palace. He visited Kuwait, which struck him as “little more than a vast oil well with a small town on top of it.” He fulfilled extensive reporting missions in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel.

After ten weeks, he returned to Washington and produced a series of columns on what he had seen in the region and how it had struck him. “The picture there is ominous,” he wrote. “Unless present trends can somehow be reversed the free world must eventually expect a Middle Eastern disaster on the approximate scale of the disastrous loss of China to the communists.” [Read more]

Iraqi peshmerga fighters prepare for Syria battle | AP

Iraqi peshmerga fighters prepared Saturday to battle Islamic State group militants in the Syrian border town of Kobani, just hours after they arrived in a town that’s become a focal point in the battle against the extremists.

The force brought in badly needed heavy weapons including artillery, heavy machine guns and anti-tank missiles, material that could tip the balance of power in favor of the embattled Kurds fighting there. [Read more]

Analysis: In Syria, no good options for West | Daily Herald

With the U.S.-led assault on the Islamic State group, the world community is acting in Syria, but not in the Syrian civil war. When it comes to the issue that has undermined the region — the survival or fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad — there is still no plan.

And that means the West’s goal to defeat the militants of IS may also be doomed to fail. [Read more]

When Saudi Arabia Ruled the World | The Daily Beast

Monumental sandstone statues, tools more than a million years old, a gold funerary mask from the tomb of a young girl, and gilded silver doors from Mecca’s most holy site, the Ka’ba, are some of the more than 200 pieces in Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a show at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum through January 18.

For most people, Saudi Arabia means camels, oil, and Islam, says Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a member of the royal family, which rules in a theocratic monarchy, who was in San Francisco for the opening.  Prince Sultan, says he hopes Roads of Arabia, the first comprehensive international exhibit of Arabian historical artifacts, will open a larger window on the country for people in the United States and beyond. [Read more]

The West needs to re-engage with democracy in Libya | Libya Herald

Three years ago, the mantra that backed NATO’s six-month air operation which saw the fall of the Qaddafi regime was democracy. Today, Libya’s fledging democracy seems on the brink of vanishing from western agendas. Political speeches and recent analyses all call for dialogue – but dialogue between whom, exactly?

Libya has managed, against some fairly challenging odds – not least a dearth of political experience and know-how, an incalculable proliferation of arms and strong tribal allegiances that underpin much of the country’s daily existence – to proceed, albeit stumbling, down a democratic path. There is now an urgent need for the alliance countries to re-engage in Libya, not militarily but politically, to stave off disaster and support the democratic processes the West claimed should replace Qaddafi’s dictatorship. [Read more]


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