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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