Omar Ahmed – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sat, 23 Jul 2022 03:18:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Before Turkey can normalize with Syria, it must agree with Iran and Russia who the ‘Terrorists’ are Sat, 23 Jul 2022 04:04:52 +0000 ( Middle East Monitor ) – Despite being at the forefront of states determined to see the overthrow of the Syrian government by throwing its weight behind armed opposition factions over a decade ago, Turkey has hinted that it could follow other countries in the region in normalising relations with Damascus. As it stands, Ankara remains a resolute obstacle to the Syrian Arab Republic being fully rehabilitated and, together with close ally Qatar, is opposed to seeing the state readmitted to the Arab League.

Signals from Turkey about its willingness to resume diplomatic ties with Syria are not a recent development. In 2016, five years after the Syrian civil war started, the last Prime Minister of Turkey Binali Yildirim remarked unofficially, that, “I am sure that we will return [our] ties with Syria to normal. We need it. We normalised our relations with Israel and Russia. I’m sure we will go back to normal relations with Syria as well.”

In the wake of the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Oman re-establishing ties with Damascus, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, last month became the latest entity to be associated with possible normalisation of links with the Bashar Al-Assad government. However, it was only in April that Turkish media began to run with the idea of restoring relations between the two countries.

The pro-government daily newspaper Hurriyet cited anonymous sources and claimed that Ankara, looking to expand on its role as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, is considering opening up dialogue with Damascus. This was also timed around Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announcing plans for the “voluntary and safe” return of Syrian refugees, raising speculation further of possible contact between the intelligence agencies on both sides of the border.

The report also alleged that the Turkish government had gone as far as to convey messages to this effect to its neighbour. However, sources at the Syrian Foreign Ministry denied receiving such communications, dismissing this as propaganda in the run up to Turkey’s presidential election.

It has been suggested that the two main points of discussion preceding any normalisation efforts are the issue of refugees returning to Syria and the presence of US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The latter has led to Turkey violating Syria’s sovereignty in a bid to establish what it says is a safe zone in the belief that the SDF is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliates. Turkey regards the PKK as a “terrorist organisation” so the issue is one of national security for Ankara.

It therefore goes without saying that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plans announced in late May for a fresh offensive against the SDF in northern Syria would impede any possible inroads to normalisation with Damascus. Ahead of the planned move, pro-Turkish armed groups operating under the loose umbrella of the Syrian National Army (SNA) were beset by infighting in the countryside around Aleppo between the Sham Legion and the Idlib-based Ahrar Al-Sham which has close links with former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham. The latter cooperates with Turkey.

In the way of these plans are both Russia and Iran, Assad’s main backers who have expressed their own concerns and opposition. These were reiterated during the Tehran Summit as part of the Astana Process on Tuesday, which saw trilateral talks between the presidents of Turkey, Russia and Iran with Syria at the top of the agenda.

This was also conveyed at the highest level in the Islamic Republic, during a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, who warned that, “Any sort of military attack in northern Syria will definitely harm Turkey, Syria and the entire region, and will benefit terrorists.” However, Khamenei also expressed Iran’s readiness to cooperate with Turkey in its fight against terrorism.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke of the need to eradicate all terror groups from Syria, including Daesh. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi also called for “ending the presence of terrorist groups” in Syria.

Importantly, the trio were in agreement that the illegal US occupation of Syrian land and the theft of its natural resources must end. According to an official statement, the three “expressed their opposition to the illegal seizure and transfer of oil revenues that should belong to Syria,” and “rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground… including illegitimate self-rule initiatives.”

Nevertheless, Erdogan called on Moscow and Tehran “to support Turkey in this fight against terrorist organisations,” a reference to the Kurdish separatist element. He now has to decide whether to launch the offensive; the option remains on the table as long as the perceived threat persists.

Yet it is also important to consider the views of the Syrian government. Yesterday in Tehran, Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisa Mekdad voiced his country’s opposition to any proposed Turkish offensive on its soil. “Turkey working to establish safe zones on Syrian soil will put it in a position of conflict with Damascus,” he insisted. “We oppose any Turkish involvement in Syrian territory to establish safe zones, and we are against the policy of Turkifying Syria and [Ankara’s] support of terrorist organisations.”

The joint statement by Turkey, Iran and Russia expressing their “determination to continue working together to combat terrorism in all forms and manifestations” is vital for safeguarding their respective interests and the territorial integrity of the Syrian state. There is, though, clearly a divergence, particularly between Turkey on one side and Moscow and Tehran on the other with regard to who is a “terrorist” operating in Syria.

While there is a consensus on opposing US-backed Kurdish factions, the status of the “Syrian opposition” is where the three countries do not see eye to eye. If anything, this is where much of the conflict arises, with Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian forces engaged directly with Turkish-supported militias, many of which operate in the “rebel-held” province of Idlib, described by Foreign Policy earlier this year as the “new capital of global terrorism”.

A way out of this conundrum could be for Erdogan to end his support for the SNA, in exchange for the approval of Moscow and Tehran for the offensive against the SDF. This scenario becomes more feasible as the regime-change project once championed by Ankara becomes less attainable and practical.

As Turkey has shown with Saudi Arabia and Israel this year, it is not against rapprochement and normalisation per se. It is thus also possible with Syria and appears to be on the agenda, pending further negotiations and political agreements. In order to get to this stage, the key stakeholders involved in the country must find some common ground and be prepared to make the necessary concessions.

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Why are States we don’t like ‘Regimes’ while friendly ones have ‘Governments’? Sat, 18 Jun 2022 04:08:09 +0000 By Omar Ahmed | –

( Middle East Monitor ) – On Monday, recently-promoted White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, when mentioning US President Joe Biden’s planned trip to Riyadh (which has now scheduled for next month) almost referred to the “Saudi regime“, before abruptly correcting herself, instead used the more sanitised word “government”. The official White House transcript, which is usually pretty accurate fails to mention this near, slip-up.

As we are so used to hearing the R-word being used to describe adversarial or hostile states to the US and collective West, especially those in need of “regime change”, this could have cast a dark shadow, if not another diplomatic storm, ahead of Biden’s meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, aimed to improve already strained relations at such a critical epoch. But if regime can essentially mean a government, then why did Jean-Pierre feel the need to rectify her language? Why is regime used almost exclusively in reference to the current bad guys?

The word regime can refer to a “system of government or rule” and is borrowed from the French régime, itself derived from the Latin regimen, which simply means “to rule”.

Although the term may technically be applied to any country’s form of government, in its modern usage it has become heavily politicised, generally taking on a negative connotation as it is used to describe authoritarian and repressive governments.

This application has even found its way into dictionaries. One definition, according to the Macmillan Dictionary, can be “a government that controls a country, especially in a strict or unfair way”, while the Oxford Learners Dictionary states: “a method or system of government, especially one that has not been elected in a fair way” and The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), defines a regime as “a government, especially an authoritarian one”.

H/t Pixabay

It is unclear when exactly this evolution occurred, but “regime” first entered the English lexicon in the 18th century where it came to mean a “method of system of rule, governance, or control”, before taking on a negative sense in the early 20th century, referring authoritarian governments in an age which witnessed the rise of fascism and communism. According to Political Anthropology, this distinct negative connotation “is used outside of anthropology to refer to governments or administrations in order to mark them as “non-democratic”.”

The problem however, arises when the term is not fairly or consistently applied, usually owing to political interests or agendas. It is for this reason, with the exception of using quotations, that I personally avoid using the term altogether in my writings as I recognise it is used selectively to feed a particular narrative. This includes articles on MEMO, a recent example being an opinion piece entitled “Will Syria’s opposition defeat Assad while Russia is tied down in Ukraine?, where the word “regime” appeared 10 times in reference to the Syrian government — which was not once referred to as such.

With regards to western media, it is worth asking if this as frequently applied to say the absolute monarchies in the Gulf who are not exactly known for their human rights records nor democratic leanings and, if not, why?

One plausible answer to this was put forth in a 2018 article on Salon by Professor Greg Shupak who specialises in Literary Studies, entitled “What is a “regime”? Apparently, it’s any government opposed to U.S. policy“, which as implied, suggests the term is used selectively, mostly against those states who act in opposition to Washington’s interests. The usual suspects of Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea come to mind.

Shupak notes that “Calling a government a “regime” suggests a lack of legitimacy, with the implication that its ousting (by whatever means) would serve humanitarian and democratic ends”, as we were supposed to have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At the time of the article, the author found that, since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011, “Syrian regime” had been used 5,355 times, “Assad regime” 7,853 times, “regime in Syria” 836 times, and “regime in Damascus” 282 times in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. During the same time period, these same papers collectively used the phrase “Saudi regime” 145 times.

While the word regime is used more liberally in the media, and in Saudi Arabia’s case, more so following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, politicians are more reluctant to use the term as broadly, depending on whether the authoritarian state in question is friend or foe.

On the other hand, over the years the “regimes” themselves have democratised the term so to speak, by referring to other states as such. For example, Iranian politicians and media frequently refer to Israel as the “Zionist regime” and, during his 2019 interview with Italy’s Rai24, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad accused the “French regime” of sending armaments very early on in the conflict. In April, Syrian Foreign Ministry sources were quoted by the daily Al-Watan that “Damascus cannot consider any dialogue with Erdogan’s regime unless it first withdraws the Turkish forces illegally present on Syrian soil”, and ending its support for opposition forces.

This illustrates to us that the loaded term in its modern political sense is almost redundant due to the double standards and selectivity at play. Application of the word ultimately boils down to whether one opposes the rule of a particular country’s government – if so, then it is a “regime”. Due to its Western alignment, Saudi Arabia is unlikely to be officially designated as a regime, despite having all of the apparent hallmarks of one. Professor Shupak stated in his article, “Saudi leaders can rest assured that their names are unlikely to be associated with running a “regime”, that almost happened this week, and could still, if the “long and historic relationship” is not maintained, going forward.

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In Demolishing Muslim protestors’ homes, India is taking a Leaf from of Israel’s Book Wed, 15 Jun 2022 04:06:29 +0000 ( Middle East Monitor ) – Over the weekend Indian authorities bulldozed several homes belonging to Muslims in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). The homeowners were alleged to have taken part in organised protests on Friday in response to inflammatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) made by the now ousted spokesperson for the country’s ruling-Hindu hardline BJP party. It is the latest provocation against India’s sizeable Muslim population, following a high-court decision in March in the southern Karnataka state to ban women wearing the hijab in schools and colleges.

The Indian government was forced to distance itself from the comments amid a diplomatic storm between New Delhi and several Muslim majority countries, including Iran and strategic partners in the Gulf. However, on the ground the damage had already been done, as popular anger gave way to demonstrations by India’s significant but marginalised Muslim minority.

Among those whose houses were razed to the ground was a young Muslim activist Afreen Fatima who is the daughter of Javed Mohammad, an activist himself associated with the Welfare Party of India, a political party launched by the Muslim organisation, Jamaat-e Islami Hind.

Indian police accuse her father of being one of the main organisers of the protests which erupted in the UP city of Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad but renamed in 2018 in line with Hindu nationalist sentiments) while many ended peacefully, some soon turned violent and tensions arose between Muslims and Hindus, spreading to other parts of the country. Hundreds have since been arrested and police forces shot dead at least two Muslim protestors in the eastern city of Ranchi in a bid to disperse the protestors

The decision to demolish homes of people associated with the protests was ordered by the chief minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath, who justified the actions claiming the properties were illegal establishments. Since the order, three demolitions have taken place in two days – the properties of two people were razed after they were accused of stone throwing. The firebrand Hindu monk and politician who belongs to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP party has since vowed to continue with “bulldozer action”.

As footage of the demolitions fast became viral on social media, observers and critics were quick to point out the stark parallels with long-standing policies implemented by Israeli occupation forces against the homes of Palestinians, ordinary citizens, protestors and resistance members alike. Just last year it was estimated that Israeli forces demolished 937 structures, displacing nearly 1,200 people.

Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor reacting to Afreen Fatima’s house being demolished yesterday questioned whether the local government had exempted itself from the country’s Constitution. The Thiruvananthapuram MP tweeted: “Due process of law is fundamental to democracy. Under what law and following what process has this been done? Has UP exempted itself from the Constitution of India?”

While a worrying development, razing people’s homes are expected as Israel and India forged strong ties in recent years, with both countries governed by religious-nationalist ideologies (Zionism and Hindutva, respectively) with both facing accusations of apartheid policies, in fact these charges date back as far as 2002, when Modi was chief minister for Gujarat, when the state witnessed some of the worst anti-Muslim violence in decades. These comparisons are all the more compelling when both countries pride themselves on their supposed trademarked democratic values – Israel “the only democracy in the Middle East” and India being “the largest democracy in the world”.

It has become evident that Modi’s government is taking a leaf out of Israel’s book when it comes to the practise of destroying homes, ironically citing “illegal settlements” and “security concerns”. India’s recent disproportionate activities over mere stone-throwing in two cases, is also reflective of similar Israeli actions. Only last week, an Israeli lawmaker drafted a draft law seeking to double the punishment for throwing stones to four years and last year the Israeli military’s rules of engagement were revised to formally permit the opening of fire against Palestinians who throw stones, even as they flee.

Even the case of bulldozing illegal settlements raises fundamental rights issues and concerns over due process. The Indian Express noted yesterday in a report that “In many cases, notices are issued but the demolition is timed with a protest and a particular section is targeted giving the subject no time to appeal.”

Former Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Govind Mathur was quoted in the report as saying: “This is totally illegal. Even if you assume for a moment that the construction was illegal, which by the way is how crores of Indians live, it is impermissible that you demolish a house on a Sunday when the residents are in custody. It is not a technical issue but a question of rule of law.”

The recent razing of houses belonging to India’s Muslim minority is a dangerous precedent and illustrative of the direction the country is heading, following Israel’s lead. However, the practise itself is not unprecedented, as in April authorities in New Delhi bulldozed a number of “illegal” Muslim-owned businesses, requiring the Supreme Court to step in and halt further destruction. Following this incident, Pranay Somayajula, an advocacy and outreach coordinator for the US-based Hindus for Human Rights, opined last month that “The fact that bulldozers have cropped up in both India and Israel as a chilling symbol of state repression is no coincidence.”

India’s continued adherence and emulation of Israel’s apartheid policies against a significant and politically-inconvenient minority, is further proof that neither country is the secular, value-based democracy it claims to be.

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Does the end of Bromance between Saudi’s Bin Salman and UAE’s Bin Zayed mean Breakup of OPEC? Fri, 09 Jul 2021 04:02:49 +0000 ( Middle East Monitor ) – The disagreement between the UAE and Saudi Arabia over a proposed deal by OPEC+ to increase oil production is the latest sign that the close relations between the two Gulf states, and in particular those of their respective de facto rulers, are turning into a bitter rivalry.

The Saudi-led cartel was forced to postpone the planned output increases on Monday for the third time as the UAE, despite agreeing in principle to the increase, demanded a higher baseline believing it to be “outdated”. The UAE’s oil production is anticipated to rise as a result.

On Friday, the 23-member bloc voted in favour of increasing output by 400,000 barrels a day from next month until the end of the year, “adding another 2 million barrels a day of production by the end of the year.” The impasse sent US benchmark oil prices to a six-year high at the start of the week before taking a fall, linked to the market’s concerns that the UAE would unilaterally add barrels, forcing other OPEC members to follow suit and increase supplies, said the director of energy futures at Mizuho, Bob Yawger.

However, the OPEC stand-off represents just one example of the growing rift between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, whose Crown Princes, Mohammed Bin Salman and Mohamed Bin Zayed respectively, were once lauded for their “bromance”. This is said to have blossomed during a desert camping trip in 2015 and a mutual love of falconry. The Wall Street Journal called this the “turning point in the burgeoning friendship” two years later, and compared it to a presidential golfing vacation.

Further camping trips are said to have followed, along with at least one excursion to the Seychelles involving luxury yachts. “Bin Zayed has been cultivating Bin Salman now for half a decade,” commented Ahmed Gatnash, co-founder of the Kawaakibi Foundation.

The bond between the two princes has been crucial in Riyadh’s noticeable foreign policy shift. The Kingdom has aligned itself with its smaller, liberal neighbour and emulated Abu Dhabi’s aggressive stance towards Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood at home and abroad.

The connection between Bin Salman and Bin Zayed has been described as one between a mentee and mentor, with the wily Emirati taking the younger, inexperienced Saudi under his wing. While the disastrous 2015 war against Yemen is viewed widely as a Saudi-led coalition, the UAE under its crown prince’s influence has arguably been the driving force behind efforts to overthrow the Iranian-supported Houthi-led government in Sanaa and reinstate the internationally-recognised President-in-exile, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Both objectives remain elusive.

Bin Zayed took a leading role in the Gulf Crisis of 2017 by imposing a blockade on neighbouring Qatar over allegations of supporting terrorism and the state’s close ties with Iran. Earlier this year, the dispute came to an unremarkable end with a US- and Kuwaiti-brokered reconciliation. While the blockade was also a UAE initiative, the Saudis under Bin Salman chose to bring about an end to the stand-off, much to the apprehension of Abu Dhabi which had a longer-term strategic vision for it.

According to Dr Andreas Krieg, Assistant Professor at the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London, this trend whereby Bin Salman takes an increasingly assertive role has effectively meant that “the honeymoon period between the crown princes is certainly over.”

Crucially, much of the tension that has built up between the two has been due to Bin Zayed’s insistence on maintaining his own distinct foreign policy, which is something that Qatar was punished for. For example, while both states headed the Arab coalition in Yemen, the UAE sought to carve out its own influence by directly supporting the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), whose militia has been fighting against the pro-Hadi, Saudi-backed Islah forces. This conflict of interests has had a negative impact on the coalition’s efforts against the Houthis and caused several setbacks in the power-sharing deal known as the Riyadh Agreement. The STC presently dominates the port city of Aden, which is meant to be the interim capital of Hadi’s government, in addition to exercising considerable control on the island of Socotra, where the UAE is accused of violating Yemeni sovereignty.

Moreover, the UAE has maintained important and lucrative trading ties with Saudi’s regional arch-rival Iran, despite a presumed “cold war” between the two powers. According to Courtney Freer, an expert on the Gulf states and research fellow at the London School of Economics Middle East Centre, “Iran figures largely in Bin Salman’s thinking if only because his ambition to be the regional leader is thwarted by Iran. For Bin Zayed, Iran is not as big an issue.”

Whether it serves as a testing ground for the Saudis, or is another example of the UAE diversifying its security and economic interests, last year’s normalisation between the Emirates and Israel has shown, as with Abu Dhabi’s rejection of the OPEC+ proposal, that the UAE is determined to forge its own path by placing self-interest at the heart of its foreign policy decisions. The consequences of this threaten not only the OPEC bloc, but also the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which in turn could present future opportunities for both Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. The bromance is not quite over, but the power couple are a long way away from those fraternal camping trips in the desert.

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Riots or Uprising? If this Turmoil were in Iran, Trump would be Cheering on Arsonists and Dreaming of Regime Change Tue, 02 Jun 2020 04:03:50 +0000 (Middle East Monitor ) – The scenario is all too familiar: the almost casual murder in Minneapolis of an unarmed African American citizen — say his name: George Floyd — by police officers has sparked a wave of social unrest and protests across the country. Since Floyd’s killing on 25 May, we have seen what are arguably the worst “race riots” in a generation, following Los Angeles in 1992 and Detroit in 1967, for example. What makes the current protests different, though, is how rapidly they have spread across America helped in part, no doubt, by the availability and use of social media. The events are taking place with the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic in a country with the highest recorded number of cases and deaths.

Yet while numerous cities are burning, stores are being looted and violent clashes are occurring between citizens and law enforcement officers, the framing of these events as “riots” is hypocritical. Commentators and politicians may well be blinded by US exceptionalism as they rush to describe similar protests in the Middle East and Hong Kong, for example, as “uprisings” or “revolutions”, while home-grown unrest is labelled as anything but. With “riots” implying that blame lies with the citizens on the streets, the subtle distinctions are rarely explained.

Last year, I wrote about the Iranian protests in reaction to the sanction-hit government’s raising of subsidised fuel prices. Many Western officials and analysts at the time were salivating at the prospects of a popular uprising against the “Mullah regime”, as they have for the past 40 years. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the developments and said at the time, “The world is watching”, as did President Donald Trump. Indeed, in a supreme irony given the current situation in the US, Trump tweeted: “To the leaders of Iran – DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!” He has, of course, threatened to turn “ominous weapons” and “vicious dogs” on US protesters. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

The world is now watching the US as Black Lives Matter protests spread to over 30 cities, including the capital. Secret Service agents clashed with protestors who knocked down security barricades outside the White House, where Trump and his family were taken to a secure bunker.

In Iran, as I pointed out last year, amidst the legitimate protests there were also arson attacks on state institutions, banks and other properties. Similar events have occurred in Iraq and Lebanon. As I said, “Reactions may differ, but no government would tolerate arson attacks on state institutions.” What’s more, in the aftermath of Iranians’ angry protests over the downing of the Ukrainian passenger plane in January, Ali Motahari MP said that such reactions were natural to a degree, but no government would accommodate protests with “subversive agendas.”

We are now witnessing such events in the US, with the National Guard fully mobilised in the State of Minnesota and Trump announcing that the left-wing anti-fascist movement Antifa will be designated as a “terrorist” organisation.

The Arab Spring, it is worth recalling, was ignited by the self-immolation of a Tunisian man in protest at the injustice of local police officers. The civil war in Syria was kick-started by the government’s brutal response to protests that followed the torturing of some young boys by police officers for spraying graffiti on some walls. George Floyd was killed because of a similarly minor infringement of the law. Indeed, there are numerous examples of black US citizens being shot and killed, or brutalised and abused for traffic offences and other incidents that would warrant a caution or fine in any other democracy.

While in places like Syria the divide is drawn along religious lines, in the US it is most definitely race which is the defining factor, along with the low social status that too many non-whites experience. Foreign states backed armed opposition groups and army defectors during the early days of the conflict in Syria. The US was one of a number of countries financing and arming terrorist groups in the country, often including foreign fighters not even from Syria.

As is usual when governments are faced with any kind of opposition, the spectre of “extremists” was invoked in Syria and now we are hearing the same mantra in the US. Attorney General William Barr has said that peaceful protests were “hijacked by violent radical elements”, while the Governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, blamed the violence and criminal activity on “outsiders” from other states within America.

Although widespread defections from the security forces are very unlikely in the US, we have seen footage of at least one Sheriff, Chris Swanson from Flint, Michigan, siding with the protestors. There have also been satirical posts on a Twitter account of the “Free American Army”, reversing the role that the US usually plays when meddling in other countries’ affairs.

Another phenomenon in common with the dictatorial regimes of the Middle East and elsewhere are “regime loyalists” and paramilitaries who seek to crush popular dissent by any means. Many Trump supporters are gun-owners and activists. As recently as April, armed Trump supporters, some brandishing Confederate flags, staged protests of their own in response to social-distancing orders intended to curb the coronavirus outbreak. The state and federal responses were muted compared with those facing the Black Lives Matter protesters. In a worst-case scenario, the die is cast for conflict along racial lines, but there is hope: white citizens have also taken to the streets as the #ICantBreathe protests spread.

Nevertheless, the deliberate targeting of journalists in an effort to stifle the media has been seen in the US over the past week. Such crude attempts at press censorship are more associated with non-democracies, but one Denver-based journalist said that her cameraman was hit four times by police with paintballs and his camera was also hit, while a black CNN correspondent was arrested live on air while reporting, despite showing his press ID. Another reporter and her cameraman filming in Louisville were shot at by police using rubber bullets.

What is missing in America at the moment is the overseas funding and arming of protesters. The US has geography on its side, but is already awash with weapons and ammunition in any case. If terrorist groups do emerge as they did and continue to do so in Syria with the help of neighbouring, regional and international actors — including the US — would Washington have a moral leg to stand on?

While it may be argued that at least the US authorities are not bombing their own citizens that has actually happened. On 13 May 1985, Philadelphia police dropped a satchel bomb made up of FBI-supplied C-4 explosives and Tovex, on a largely African-American residential neighbourhood targeting the black liberation group MOVE. Eleven people were killed, including five children, and 61 homes were destroyed; hundreds were left homeless. The scant regard that too many people in power and in uniform have for the human rights of their fellow citizens in America mirrors in many respects the dehumanisation endured by people and states facing US and US-funded aggression and occupation.

At the time of writing, it is unclear where the Black Lives matter protests are going in the US, but doubts are already being expressed about whether George Floyd’s family and friends can expect justice for him any time soon. Not only did it take days for the police officer involved to be arrested and charged, but his colleagues who stood by and did nothing to stop him are also still at liberty.

Floyd’s murder could be an era-defining moment, with the Trump administration’s disastrous response to Covid-19, mass unemployment and a devastated economy all thrown into the mix. Far from “making America great again”, Trump is presiding over a country whose standing in the world has never been lower. China’s GDP is on course to overtake that of the US by the end of the decade and the declining power of the petro-dollar means that Americans face tough times ahead. They need to get a grip on the racism that blights their society before it is too late; it could be the factor that tips the balance.

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Despite Trump support for Saudi Arabia, it is finally on the verge of defeat in Yemen Thu, 16 Apr 2020 04:02:34 +0000 By Omar Ahmed | –

( Middle East Monitor ) – Exactly five years ago, the US-backed, Saudi-led Arab coalition carried out its first air strikes on Yemen in an effort to reinstate the disgraced, exiled President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. He is a statesman in name only who I have argued previously has neither power, authority nor legitimacy. The strikes targeted the Houthi movement, which is supported by the Yemeni armed forces, and the war, claimed the Saudis, was supposed to be over in a matter of weeks.

The war’s devastating effects have claimed over 112,000 lives and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The steadfast and resilient Yemeni people have prevented the coalition from toppling the Houthi-aligned government in the capital, Sanaa.

After five years, in fact, it is fair to say that the Saudis and their mercenaries are on the verge of defeat. The Yemeni armed forces and “popular committees” which include Houthi forces are continuing their advances with their sights set firmly on the stronghold of Marib and the pro-Hadi, Islah militia which makes up the coalition-backed force on the ground.

The province of Marib is currently facing onslaughts on several main fronts: from the Nahm district of Sanaa province to the west; much of the recently-liberated Al-Jawf in the north; and from Sirwah district – a part of Marib already under Houthi control — and from the south in the Baydah province. Saudi air strikes continue in support of its mercenary ground forces although, as the years of conflict have shown, they are strategically ineffective.

The terrain, internal divisions among the mercenary forces, local distrust of Hadi and the relative ease of establishing relations in tribal areas captured by the Houthis are also reasons for their advance. Developments in missile defence systems which, according to the Yemeni armed forces, have been effective against some Saudi air strikes, coupled with more pre-emptive cross-border operations targeting Saudi military and economic interests are likely to change the direction of the war.

READ: Houthis: More than 1,000 ballistic missiles targeted Saudi Arabia and UAE

The Saudis know that the stakes are high in Marib, and losing it would be the end of the Saudi ground war against the Houthi-Yemeni army forces, which is why there have been fierce counterattacks, especially in Al-Jawf, which until recently had been in the hands of pro-Hadi fighters for the past five years. The province not only shares a border with Saudi Arabia, but the region is also rich in natural resources. Decades of Saudi policy, though, have ensured that Yemen has remained poor and unable to exploit its own oil reserves fully.

It is clear that the so-called Riyadh Agreement has failed to prompt a concerted effort among Saudi and UAE proxies to set aside their political differences and refocus their attention on the Houthis in the north. Clashes between the Saudi-backed Islah militia forces and those aligned with the UAE-supported separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) are now routine, and have intensified in recent days in the southern port city of Aden.

The Sanaa-based government has made it clear that it will confront the coalition and its mercenaries in the country’s south and east. This not only implies fighting in the de-facto STC-held Aden, which was under the control of the Houthis back in 2015 before they were driven out, but also the oil-rich Shabwa province.

Having control of most of the population and the capital Sanaa; having a lot of the Yemeni military, including the Republican Guards, on their side; and with potential access and control of Yemen’s resources, the Houthi-aligned National Salvation Government (NSG) may finally get international recognition at the expense of the “legitimate” UN-recognised Yemeni government in exile under Hadi in Riyadh. At the moment, the NSG only has diplomatic relations with Iran and Syria.

READ: The fall of Hazm is the latest strategic blow for Saudi’s war in Yemen

Earlier this week, the Houthi-aligned Yemeni military spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Saree, told a press conference that there have been more than 257,000 coalition air strikes over the past five years and warned that the sixth year “will be harsher and more painful”. In doing so he affirmed that Yemen is not in the same position militarily that it was at the start of the conflict.

In light of the Houthi forces’ strategic advances and superior political resolve, it is thus possible that we will see a political agreement to end the war, if not this year then next. In a promising sign, a leading member of the Supreme Political Council, Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, tweeted that he welcomed Saudi Arabia’s decision to support a ceasefire at the behest of the UN Secretary-General due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It remains to be seen, therefore, how much longer the Saudis will continue their disastrous and illegal intervention in Yemen, especially with the oil war and looming bankruptcy as oil prices fall, not to mention domestic political crises between de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and his rivals. The Saudis will soon find that they have neither the will nor the wealth to carry on.

That being said, the fall of Marib to the Yemeni military and its Houthi allies might be the catalyst to bring about an end to the war, but there are reports of thousands of civilians being displaced as a result of the current escalations. There is also the brutal siege of the port of Hudaydah by the coalition that needs to be addressed; the UAE occupation of Socotra; and — arguably the most worrying — the direct Saudi military presence in the eastern province of Al-Mahrah.

Earlier this month I speculated how the resistance movement in Al-Mahrah may soon turn into an armed struggle against a Saudi occupation. This materialised several days later, with the Southern National Salvation Council (SNSC) announcing a call for armed resistance against the foreign forces.

Following the coalition defeat, the future of the NSG and the alliance between the Houthi movement and Yemeni military will be tests of the stability and security of Yemen. Alliances tend only to serve a purpose against a common enemy. That’s an issue for the future, though; for now, that enemy is on the verge of defeat.

READ: Saudis torture and ‘disappear’ civilians in Yemen, claims HRW

Omar Ahmed has an MSc International Security and Global Governance from Birkbeck, University of London. He has travelled throughout the Middle East, including studying Arabic in Egypt as part of his undergraduate degree. His interests include the politics, history and religion of the MENA region.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

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TRT World: “Ceasefire called in war-torn Yemen amid first COVID-19 case”

Are Syria’s Social Media Meme Wars the Face of Modern Warfare? Sat, 07 Mar 2020 05:02:15 +0000 ( Middle East Monitor) – Social media continues to influence our perception of conflicts around the world, though rapid updates around the clock on developments on the battlefield often hours before mainstream news picks it up, disseminating propaganda or spreading misinformation and fake news to the sharing of graphic content and the ugly brutality of the realities of war and its atrocities on combatants and civilians alike. However just as much as social media is shaping the way we follow war-related news, can it also serve as a tactical tool in contemporary warfare? One recent incident in Syria appears to suggest so.

The Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) operation codenamed “Dawn of Idlib 2” commenced in December in an effort to reclaim more state territory from various factions of the armed opposition holding onto their final Syrian province, Idlib. It followed on from the previous operation which ran over the summer of 2019 leading to an unsteady ceasefire, similarly to the one presently in place.

Supported by Russian airpower and Iranian and Hezbollah allied forces, the SAA has made rapid advances in reclaiming sovereign territory, despite increased Turkish military presence, offenses and support offered to foreign fighters who form the main forces fighting against Damascus.

In line with working towards the strategy of retaking the M5 and M4 highways, the SAA managed to reclaim the iconic town of Kafr Nabl, known as the “heart of the Syrian revolution” due to its residents making use of humour in their anti-government banners which naturally became viral online in the early years of the conflict in Syria.

On 25 February, Kafr Nabl fell back under government control having eluded it for eight years. Turkey and its allies have been seeking to push back SAA gains beyond the de-escalation zone boundaries and there have been ebbs and flows along east and southern Idlib. The strategic town of Saraqib , currently held by the SAA , has exchanged hands several times over the past month.

On Twitter, there are a plethora of accounts belonging to supporters on either side of the conflict in Syria including those of belligerents active on the ground, or those claiming to be in contact with them creating a (sometimes dubious) form of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) or what is called Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT). Following an intense Turkish-offensive over last weekend which resulted in significant loss in terms of manpower and equipment of the SAA, the government forces managed to reverse the losses made in the following days.

In what could arguably be seen as a form of using social media as a war tactic, on 3 March accounts affiliated or in support of the SAA began to proliferate word that the Syrian armed forces had withdrawn from the captured town of Kafr Nabl to shift attention on more strategically pressing fronts in Idlib or that the opposition had recaptured it. In fact, SAA units were lying in position to ambush the incoming jihadists who undoubtedly followed the “news” online. They were “annihilated”, with the SAA retaking two further towns.

Describing the events, Colonel W. Patrick Lang, a retired senior US Military Intelligence officer remarked: “The jihadi counteroffensive in southern Idlib was blunted in a unique way.”

“This ambush is something I would have advised them to do. I love the ambush.”

Other observers had reported that pro-opposition accounts had confirmed that “mujahideen” had indeed been ambushed having followed “regime media”. It is clear that followers and belligerents on both sides keep track of one another’s accounts as a form of intelligence. But it can sometimes be lethally deceptive.

It may not be the first time that such a tactic has been used, but it seems to be unprecedented in modern warfare.

War of memes on social media [Twitter]

However, the use of social media in contemporary warfare is certainly not new. The Vietnam War was known as “the first television war”, the Gulf War was known as the first war broadcast around the clock, the 2003 Iraq War became the first internet war, though social media was still in its infancy, information, propaganda and war footage was being shared and streamed on blogs and YouTube bypassing mainstream media coverage.

By the time of the emergence of Daesh in Iraq and Syria in 2014, the use of social media as a tool of warfare was already set on its way, hashtags were in use and Daesh members openly discussed tactics and shared information on Twitter for all to see. It was a direct result of these online tactics that Daesh was able to recruit some 30,000 fighters from more than 100 countries. Although strategically defeated, Daesh remains a security threat. Late last year there were reports the group had tried to infiltrate the video-sharing app Tik Tok in order to recruit and spread its ideas.

As with most online communities, there are inevitable memes mocking or satirising developments in the conflict in Syria. They may appear to be harmless fun but can also act as propaganda and psychological warfare. Such imagery can be used to discredit, “troll” and drive a wedge between the opposing party.

The unfortunate inevitability of war and conflict being an intrinsic part of human nature and the increasing democratisation of online access across the globe means social media will continue to play an ever-important role in not only shaping the way in which we all follow but also the way in which we conduct, warfare.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

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