Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2016-06-25T05:19:59Z WordPress Juan Cole <![CDATA[The Greater Middle East Reacts to British Exit from EU]]> 2016-06-25T05:19:59Z 2016-06-25T05:19:59Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The oil-rich Gulf Cooperation countries may see additional buying opportunities in the British market after Brexit. BBC Monitoring reports:

“Political analyst for regional issues and Gulf Cooperation Council Hamad Ahmad Abdul Aziz al-Amer says in Saudi pro-government Ukaz that the Britain’s leaving the EU “might lead to successful talks with the Gulf Cooperation Council to reach distinctive partnership as the dropping of the British sterling will lead to increasing Gulf investments in Britain . . .”

In general, former British colonies often feel they have a special opportunity for trade and investment with the UK, with which EU commitments sometimes interfered. They now hope to step in to fill the vacuum left by UK departure from the EU.

A senior aide to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said that Brexit offered Iran “a historic opportunity.” Countries that had been informally colonized by the UK are afraid of European power, and anything that weakens the former is seen as a great good thing.

Meanwhile Turkey seems to be offering itself to the European Union as a substitute for the UK. Turkey’s officials said that they hoped the EU would now become more inclusive. Turkey has been in a queue for EU membership since the late 1990s, .


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contributors <![CDATA[The Middle East Dimension of Brexit]]> 2016-06-25T04:52:01Z 2016-06-25T04:52:01Z Middle East Eye | (Video News Report) |

Brexit will affect Syrian and other Refugees at Calais, intelligence sharing on ISIL, and Palestine-Israel diplomacy among other pressing issues. ”

Middle East Eye: “90 Seconds: Impact of ‘Brexit’ on the Middle East and UK foreign policy”

contributors <![CDATA[Why did UK leaving European Union hit your Retirement Account so Hard?]]> 2016-06-25T04:38:19Z 2016-06-25T04:36:55Z By Andre Spicer | (The Conversation) | – –

Despite reassurances that we shouldn’t listen to the experts, the financial markets have gone and behaved almost exactly as the experts predicted. Following the news that the UK will be leaving the EU, the pound has dropped to a level not seen since 1985. The FSTE has had the biggest one day drop ever.

On top of this, the yields of UK government bonds has hit an all time low. The price of commodities such as oil dropped 6% on the Brexit vote. House builders have been particularly hard hit, suggesting massive declines in the property sector. Alternatives assets like gold and bitcoin have rallied as people look for safe places to stash their money.

This very British crisis has quickly cascaded across national borders. The German share market fell 10% and the French market fell 8%. Outside of Europe there have been big falls on Japanese and Australian share markets too. Futures suggest that the American S&P 500 and the Nasdaq indexes will both open down 5% as well.

So what started out as a vote by some angry people in England has rapidly become a global economic event. It has spread across continents and asset classes. It has unleashed a kind of contagion which was last seen during the financial crisis of 2008.

Complex web

This contagion happens as falls in one asset class start to make another look more vulnerable. For instance as shares in banks go down, other funds which hold shares in these banks are likely to look increasingly shaky. Given the complex web of interlocking assets in the global financial system, it is often difficult to say when the contagion might stop. It could mean that assets which are not fundamentally affected by Brexit take a price hit – at least in the short term.

Another common dynamic which kicks off when there are large scale and complex economic events such as Brexit is herd-like behaviour. The surprise of the referendum outcome led to usual assumptions being thrown out the window. In these situations traders increasingly look to each other for a sense of what an asset is actually worth.

As a result, they can start to ignore the fundamentals and start to follow what the crowd is doing. Social proof is relied on by traders, rather than actual proof. In some cases this leads to the creation of asset bubbles. In other cases, like Brexit, it can create negative feedback loops which lead to massive falls in assets.

As falls in markets around the world pick up steam, they could easily start to connect up with wider global economic issues which have been simmering away in the background. These include the slow burning debt crisis in China, problems with the Brazilian economy in recent months, or over-inflated housing markets in some parts of the world. And, given that most trading strategies today are automated, there could be some nasty and unpredictable surprises hiding deep within a company’s algorithms.

When economic news sours, investors tend to start being more vigilant. They look more closely at their portfolios and are more likely to dispose of assets which they are a bit concerned with. As a result they get rid of good assets in an attempt to put their mind at rest. This can then create falls in asset prices.

Stopping the rout?

Central banks usually have the ability to step in to calm things down – mainly by lowering interest rates to encourage additional economic activity. The problem is that with interest rates at close to zero, central bankers don’t have a lot of room for manoeuvre. This only leaves the option of quantitative easing – a solution that can simply kick the can down the road. It is uncertain whether slick communication from central bankers – as the Bank of England governor Mark Carney was swift to do on the heels of Brexit – is enough at moments like this.

Contagion, herding and misplaced vigilance are only likely to create more uncertainty about when financial markets will settle. It may be some time before we actually know how they will settle down after their Brexit shock. After all, we have no idea what Brexit will actually look like and it will likely be two years before we do.

In the meantime, HSBC predicts the pound will continue to fall to as low as US$1.20 by the end of the year. And market volatility is likely to continue for some time as the news triggers off all sorts of contagion, via the complex networks that financial markets run on.

The Conversation

Andre Spicer, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Cass Business School, City University London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Juan Cole <![CDATA[Did Trump-Style Islamophobia break up the European Union?]]> 2016-06-24T05:39:24Z 2016-06-24T05:19:21Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In a historic referendum, the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. The motivations were complex, including a lack of trust in Prime Minister David Cameron, but it seems undeniable that an irrational fear of Muslim immigrants played at least some part in the vote.

A recent ITV poll showed a surge in concern about immigration, with only 15% of respondents saying it was their number one concern in the Brexit issue in early April, which grew to 20% by late May. Arguably, that shift was the margin of victory for the Leave side.

The same surge was apparent in Northern Ireland, according to a poll reported by the Belfast Telegraph.

“Like our March and April Opinion Panel Tracker poll the No. 1 reason for voting ‘Leave’ is Immigration, and lack of border controls. However, again in this May poll (like our April poll) this reason was even further ahead of Reason No. (2), showing that Immigration/Border Controls and controlling immigration is increasingly now becoming the overwhelming reason for NI people voting ‘Leave’.”

While there are Britons who worry about too much immigration from eastern Europe via the EU, immigration discourse is often dominated by Islamophobia.

Far right nationalist leader Nigel Farage has accused British Muslims of disloyalty to their country and has asserted that the EU endangers the UK because of risk of terrorists posing as EU migrants.

Aljazeera points out,

“With net migration to the UK rising to 330,000 [per annum] – over half of which was from the EU countries in 2015 – this gave huge ammunition to the Leave campaign.”

The hysteria about Muslim immigrants is irrational in a number of ways. Some of it derives from a fear that Turkey will be let in by the EU and Britain would be flooded by Turks. But neither thing was likely to have happened.

Immigration to the UK is evenly divided between EU nationals and those from the rest of the world, including former British colonies. It is the second source of immigration that accounts for most of the Muslims coming in, not the EU. If Britain didn’t want Muslim and Hindu citizens, it shouldn’t have ravaged India for 200 years.

The hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees admitted to Continental Europe this year and last raised fears among the British pubic that many of them would gravitate to the strong British economy.

British Christians are the religious group most likely to favor leaving the EU, while Muslim were the most supportive among religious groups of staying.

Still, the more than three million British Muslims (in a population of 64 million for the UK) were themselves divided on whether to leave the European Union.

The UAE’s The National reports,

“Miqdaad Versi, an Oxford-educated management consultant, [believes] that the benefits of remaining far outweigh the bloc’s imperfections.

Mr Versi says Muslims, too, are swayed by “the impact on their wallets”. He cites data showing their importance to Britain’s economy – £34 billion (Dh182.5bn) of Islamic finance issued through the London Stock Exchange, £20.5bn of spending power, businesses creating 70,000 jobs in London alone and a £1bn halal industry.”

Versi also said that it only costs £350 per capita per year for Britain to stay in the EU, whereas each realizes £3,000 in economic benefit. Ooops.


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contributors <![CDATA[Iraq after ISIL: Liberated Ramadi 80% Damaged, has only gotten $1 mn from Gov’t]]> 2016-06-24T03:54:08Z 2016-06-24T04:25:41Z By Kamal al-Ayash | Ramadi | ( | – –

As the clean up in Ramadi continues, locals and officials are applying for reconstruction aid. But there are problems already, with calls of foul and favouritism and a lack of billions in funding.

After the extremist group known as the Islamic State was pushed out of the central Iraqi city of Ramadi, the city was a disaster zone. Estimates suggest that almost 80 percent of the buildings here – including the majority of around 32,000 residential housing units, infrastructure, government departments and schools – have been damaged or destroyed.

Special engineering committees have been created in order to assess the damages, to award compensation and schedule re-building. Forms are being given out to members of the public that they can fill in, applying for a case number and detailing the damages to their property and even their furnishings. According to local administrators they will need around US$19.5 billion to rebuild the city.

It sounds well organised. But already problems are starting. Nasser Abed Mohammed, 52, lives in Ramadi’s eastern Bakr neighbourhood and says he has been waiting for days for members of one of the committees to come and assess the damage to his home. “Members of the committee know very well that this area has been almost completely destroyed,” Mohammed complains. “But the way they are dealing with these issues is not neutral. They are really slow – they don’t have enough vehicles to take the assessors around town – and there is favouritism and nepotism at work. Some people are even driving the assessors around town themselves so they can inspect the sites,” he adds. “But this further undermines the committees’ integrity because that means other people who are also waiting, must wait even longer.”

Since the committees started work in May, they have received around 17,000 applications for compensation, says the mayor of the Ramadi district, Ibrahim al-Awsaj. “By the time all of the people of Ramadi return we expect to receive up to 50,000 applications,” he noted.

The committees are made up of around 60 specialists, including engineers and staff from various ministries, the mayor explains. “They have managed to check around 3,000 applications so far and they are all working full time, making between 30 and 50 visits every day.”

In fact, al-Awsaj notes, work is proceeding faster than expected. The committees had thought they would only be able to check on around a thousand sites a month and they’ve already been to three times that many.

One of the problems the local authorities currently face is a lack of funding, al-Awsaj said. While the local authorities were working hard to deal with the problems, the federal government had not sent them enough funds – only around a million US dollars – to do anything other than get the most important government departments running again. Yet conservative estimates meant that the owners of apartment buildings in Ramadi would be getting anywhere between US$2 billion and US$4 billion in compensation.

“The Anbar provincial council is serious about removing all obstacles to the return of local people,” says Taha Abdul Ghani, a member of Anbar’s provincial council. “We are working hard to assess as many applications as possible by increasing overtime and staff numbers. The council and the local people are really cooperating well on this,” he added. “Although even when everything has been paid out, the reconstruction of the city will still require at least five years of non-stop work.”

While the local authorities seem to have high hopes, albeit with some reservations, not everyone is as optimistic. “The destruction in this province, and in Ramadi in particular, is huge,” argues Bilal Ibrahim, a local economist. “It requires a correspondingly huge amount of money for reconstruction – some estimates put the figure as high as US$15 billion. That figure may well be correct. However the funding just isn’t there – Iraq is suffering from an economic crisis and finding the cash is going to be a major challenge for the local authorities, the federal government and donor countries.”



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contributors <![CDATA[Britain votes to leave the EU, what happens next?]]> 2016-06-24T05:22:00Z 2016-06-24T04:02:54Z By Gavin Barrett | (The Conversation) | – –

Britain [is leaving] the EU. This is having an immediate effect on markets. It will have immediate political ramifications too. David Cameron will, fairly soon, need to decided if he can continue in his role as British prime minister.

Legally speaking, though, the process of actually leaving will take a lot longer. Britain will now enter a kind of phoney Brexit period. It is still a member of the EU. The referendum vote is not as such legally binding. It is advisory only – but . . . it creates a political imperative for the UK government to arrange its exit of the EU.

The law governing Brexit is found in Article 50 of the EU Treaty. This is a provision adopted by EU member states in 2009 to govern Brexit-like scenarios. It puts a two-year time limit on withdrawal negotiations. When the two years is up (or on the date any agreement reached before this enters into force) the UK is officially out of the EU.

Article 50 requires the UK to trigger the exit process by notifying its intention to withdraw. Not one, but rather a cascade of agreements, will follow this Brexit notification:

  1. The Article 50 exit agreement
  2. A separate treaty governing the UK’s future relationship with the EU – which could take many years to negotiate (and which, if it goes beyond trade, will require ratification by every single EU member state)
  3. Trade agreements between the UK and up to 134 other WTO members
  4. A tidying-up treaty between all the remaining EU states that removes all references to the UK from the EU treaties.

The initial main focus, however, will clearly be the Article 50 Brexit agreement.

How will it work?

The UK would be the first state to leave the EU but it is most likely that the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, will do the negotiating on behalf of the remaining 27 member states. They will no doubt cast a watchful eye on proceedings, before voting on the deal.

That vote will be by a weighted majority, with bigger states like Germany, France and Italy having a more powerful voice than smaller members (although in practice, strong efforts are made to ensure every member state can live with a deal before a matter is approved). Above and beyond this, should the Article 50 Brexit agreement venture beyond trade matters, it will then need to be ratified by every EU member state.

The European Parliament has a veto option, making it an important player too. Article 50 negotiations will thus have a lot of players with powerful voices – and many not necessarily be inclined to give the UK a very favourable deal lest “exiters” in their own countries get any ideas.

Could the UK delay giving Article 50 notification?

Legally, yes, the UK could delay giving Article 50 notification or avoid it altogether. But other EU states will probably refuse to negotiate until they get the notification.

Brexit campaigners have suggested adopting a swathe of domestic laws so that the UK can short-circuit Article 50. But such measures would violate EU law and probably won’t see the light of day. Enacting them would pointlessly violate EU and international law, alienate the UK’s future negotiating partners and jeopardise the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

Also, in terms of domestic politics, since referendum votes demand respect, it will be difficult to avoid providing the notification. Moreover, David Cameron has indicated he will give it, although it remains to be seen whether he will remain long enough in office to have to meet that commitment.

Can the UK withdraw notification?

This might be attempted if, for instance, the UK doesn’t like the way negotiations are going. It is unclear if it is legally permissible. The EU Treaty certainly doesn’t prohibit it in so many words. Political misgivings would abound – but might possibly be met by having a second referendum to reject any Article 50 deal ultimately reached.

Ireland, after all, had referendum second thoughts on the Lisbon and Nice Treaties, Denmark had them on the Maastricht Treaty and France and Holland agreed to a Lisbon Treaty deal very similar to the 1994 Constitutional Treaty earlier rejected by both states in referendum.

What will the UK get from negotiations?

That depends on how (and who) conducts the negotiations for the UK, and what the other states are prepared to offer it. Even assuming they prove pleasantly amenable, the UK will be left with awkward choices.

Does it want continued access to the single market with its 500m consumers? If so, it is may have to make Norway-like concessions – including continued EU migration and cash payments for the privilege. Does it want to block out EU migrants? Then it may well have to say goodbye to single European market access.

No matter what the UK chooses, it will unavoidably find itself outside the corridors of power in the EU for the first time in over forty years.

Is there any way back in?

Article 50 does envisage the possibility of UK re-entry to the EU one day – but subject to a unanimous vote of member states. This pretty much guarantees it will only ever happen by the UK accepting the euro currency, participation in the Schengen area of free movement and no rebate.

Welcome to the brave new world of Brexitland.

The Conversation

Gavin Barrett, Associate Professor, Jean Monnet Professor of European Constitutional and Economic Law, University College Dublin

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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contributors <![CDATA[Will Gov. Cuomo’s executive order against Israel Boycott strengthen movement?]]> 2016-06-24T03:35:15Z 2016-06-24T04:01:40Z By Tekendra Parmar | ( Waging Nonviolence ) | – –

On June 5, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order to create a blacklist of entities that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, movement for Palestinian rights and remove New York State funds from any “institution or company” determined to advocate for or participate in the BDS movement.

In response, protesters picketed outside Cuomo’s New York City office on June 9. The crowd was a mix of old and young — teachers, musicians, lawyers and journalists. They sang, “He blacklists. We protest. Boycott, sanctions and divest,” as a drummer marched them along. “Boycott worked in Montgomery and South Africa and it will work in Occupied Palestine,” read a sign carried by one protester.

“He [Cuomo] was telling us we can’t boycott — that hit my heart,” said Robert Hubbard, a 29-year-old veteran. “They were taking away our freedom of expression. Right is right. Wrong is wrong.” Hubbard said his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan drew him to social movements and activism. “I know real Muslims aren’t bad,” he said. “The people in Palestine are the real victims.”

After the order was signed, an emergency meeting was convened between members of Jewish Voice for Peace, Adalah-NY, and Jews Say No, to organize a concerted effort against the executive order. Mindy Gershon of Adalah-NY said more protests were to come, until the executive action against the BDS movement is rescinded. Another protest is scheduled to take place in Albany on Wednesday.

Adalah-NY, among many other civil liberties groups, have called the executive order “blatantly unconstitutional and shamelessly designed to attack the movement for Palestinian rights.” However, in doing so, the governor may inadvertently be making the movement stronger by drawing supporters of not only Palestinian rights, but also free speech advocates who see the action as an afront to a constitutionally-protected right to free expression — which political boycotts fall under.

“Thankfully, we have a constitution in the United States that protects our rights to dissent from the views of political elites like Cuomo, who believe they are scoring political points by trampling on our First Amendment rights,” said Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal. “The order is unconstitutional and Cuomo will find himself on the wrong side of history.”

If anything, this latest maneuver by the governor only emphasizes the growing strength of the BDS movement and serves as a recognition of its threat to Israel’s political status quo. “In signing the order, Gov. Cuomo only made BDS stronger,” said Beth Miller, an organizer for Jewish Voice for Peace.

Cuomo seems to be an attempting to co-opt the language of BDS in order to de-legitimize the movement. After signing the executive order, Cuomo told members of the Harvard Club in midtown Manhattan that, “It’s very simple. If you boycott Israel, New York will boycott you.” However, if the action outside the governor’s office is any indication, New Yorkers will continue to boycott and protest for Palestinian rights despite his political calculus.

This article was originally published on Waging Nonviolence and appears here courtesy of a Creative Commons license.


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Juan Cole <![CDATA[As Putin Slams NATO, Russia loses Patience with US-Backed Rebels in Syria]]> 2016-06-23T13:33:59Z 2016-06-23T04:44:19Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

On Wednesday President Vladimir Putin addressed the Russian parliament on the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s attack on his country. He said Russia would have to increase its military preparedness given NATO’s “aggressive” actions on Russia’s borders. (He was talking about NATO defensive moves in Poland and the Baltic states). Putin lamented that it would have been possible for the West to find a way to cooperate on security with Russia in the face of the threat from terrorism, but that it hadn’t tried.

At the same time, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu made a surprise visit to Damascus. Speculation ran rife as to the reason for the visit.

BBC Monitoring translates from Trud, “The Russian defence minister’s visit was somewhat of a surprise to experts, although he does visit Syria regularly,” Boris Dolgov, senior scientific assistant at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies Arab and Islamic Research Centre, explained to Moskovskiy Komsomolets. “But the meeting with Al-Asad was important. Of course, it was connected to the memorandum from the State Department officials, who were demanding that the US authorities undertake more resolute actions against the Syrian government army, and to the US complaints about the actions of the Russian Aerospace Forces. In my view, Shoygu saw for himself on the spot the plane on which the Russian Aerospace Forces’ operations are proceeding and what the situation in Syria is like. One further point about the visit: It is the continuation of the process of the signing of the agreement on a cease fire by the armed groups which are operating against Al-Asad’s army but which are not radical. In my view, that was also within the sphere of what Shoygu was inspecting.”

The deputy Minister of Defense, Gen. Valery Gerasimov (also the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia) implicitly hit back against US Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry had warned last week that the US was losing patience with the Syrian regime’s attempt to take east Aleppo, in violation of the cessation of hostilities arrived at in February. On Wednesday, Gerasimov said it was Russia who is losing patience, with US-backed rebels who are sometimes making tactical battlefield alliances with radical groups.

Gerasimov said that for the past three months, Russia has been supplying the US with detailed information on the locations and movements of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) and al-Qaeda in Syria (the Nusra Front), but that the US appears to have made no use of this information in its bombing raids at all. He blamed American refusal to cooperate for the ripostes that Daesh has been able to make against the campaign of the Syrian Arab Army to retake a military base in al-Raqqa province, a campaign that has failed.

The Russian press is also suggesting that there is a split between President Obama and John Kerry on Syria, inasmuch as Obama is said to be tired of the State Department’s requests that he expand US military operations in Syria. This week some 50 hawkish State Department employees called for Obama to bomb the Syrian government, which is said to have alarmed Moscow (which is backing the regime of Bashar al-Assad.)


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