Hamas: Constrained or Nimble?


While other Palestinian institutions are in crisis, Hamas has maintained its integrity and survived political turmoil. But to capitalize on this, it will need to revise its strategy.

n 2017, the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas made news by taking three major steps that did not involve firing a single shot: it issued a new charter; it elected a new leadership; and it allowed the administration in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to answer to the ministries of the Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank, a relationship that had been sundered a decade earlier.

These measures were interpreted by observers as having been brought about by external political constraints. There were good reasons for reaching such a conclusion, since Hamas was, and to an extent still is, hemmed in from all sides. However, focusing solely on external considerations misses a great deal and is hardly sufficient for explaining why and how Hamas behaves as it does. The movement’s ability to take observers by surprise was dramatically illustrated in April 2018 with a series of marches on the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip.

Rather, three additional factors must be taken into account. First, Hamas’s leadership does not passively respond to outside conditions, but actively evaluates them in order to optimally manage its responses. Second, international pressure does not so much directly affect Hamas’s calculations as it has an impact on domestic public opinion, which in turn shapes the group’s understanding of opportunities and constraints. And third, Hamas is distinctive on the Palestinian scene in that it has developed an institutionalized rather than a personalized organization, one with mechanisms linking its leadership with the rank and file.

Understanding Hamas’s internal dynamics helps to show how its actions reflect strategic choices, allowing for a better comprehension of the way the organization interacts with political realities, makes concessions, and capitalizes on these to maximize its gains. This, in turn, allows observers to grasp how Hamas achieves its goals, manages challenges, maintains its integrity, and survives, despite the formidable obstacles it has encountered in recent years. Such resilience has particular resonance at a time when Hamas’s main rival, Fatah, is showing signs of incoherence and decay, when many Palestinian political structures are in crisis, and when the Palestinian national movement is facing an uncertain predicament.


Hamas was founded on the eve of the First Palestinian Intifada (1987–1993) as an “Islamic resistance movement.” While it has long sought to join the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), this has never happened. Fatah has dominated the PLO since 1969 and is unwilling to cede to Hamas any part of its power. Hamas rejected the Oslo Accords of 1993 and the negotiations with Israel that followed. When this process led to the election of a Palestinian president and parliament in 1996, as part of a supposedly temporary Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas refused to go along with it.

In 2000 the Second Intifada broke out, following the failure of the Oslo process to establish a Palestinian state. Hamas was active in the protests, solidifying its standing in Palestinian society. When new parliamentary elections were scheduled for January 2006, Hamas decided to participate, even though it continued to reject the Oslo process. The organization quickly showed a remarkable capacity for mobilizing in opposition to the PA, and this helped propel it to a stunning electoral triumph.

A picture and its story: Smoke clears and photographer captures momentÊof protest

That triumph, which led to Hamas’s entering government for the first time, was met with a harsh international response. The Middle East Quartet—an ad hoc body created to mediate in Middle East peace talks, made up of the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations—sought to impose conditions on Hamas for negotiations to continue. These involved recognizing Israel, accepting past agreements with Israel, and renouncing violence. When Hamas demurred, Israel and the United States took steps aimed at generating popular discontent with the Hamas government in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel ceased transferring tax revenues to the new Hamas-led Palestinian government while Western backers stopped providing it with budgetary support. Even private banks, fearing sanctions, put an end to their dealings with the new government. Under such pressure, Hamas did agree in principle with Fatah to form a national-unity government in 2007, but the efforts to unseat it continued. These efforts, spearheaded by the Palestinian security forces loyal to Fatah, failed, showing Hamas’s significant ability to maneuver domestically.

Power struggles between Fatah and Hamas over control of PA institutions escalated during that period, until there was a major outbreak of violence in June 2007, when the two groups engaged in a military showdown in Gaza. The ensuing Hamas victory allowed the organization to take over PA institutions in the territory. This provoked a rift in Palestinian areas, with Hamas ruling over Gaza and Fatah over the West Bank, from where it retained control of the PLO. While Hamas’s refusal to comply with the Middle East Quartet’s conditions had led to a momentary increase in its popular support, this did not help Hamas to overcome growing public dissatisfaction with the tightened blockade on Gaza imposed as a result of its victory, which began eating away at its popularity.

Hamas’s leaders justified their military takeover in 2007 as a reaction to what they said was a planned coup by Fatah, but their actions placed them in a difficult position. The organization had crossed its own self-imposed redlines of never killing Palestinians or attacking other Palestinian groups. Hamas imposed a tight grip on power in Gaza, but it also lost its reputationas a more principled movement in the eyes of much of the population.

Even if the situation was corrosive to Hamas’s status, it was manageable. The PA deposed the Hamas-led cabinet after its takeover of Gaza, but this came with a decision to continue funding the salaries of PA employees in the territory, allowing it to retain a base of loyalists there. In response, Hamas set up a parallel administration, hiring thousands of people, whose salaries the PA refused to pay. To counter the stranglehold on Gaza by Israel and Egypt, Hamas encouraged the growth of a “tunnel economy,” whereby economic activity took place through hundreds of tunnels dug under Gaza’s border with Egypt. This provided Gaza’s inhabitants with work and cheap goods, generating renewed satisfaction.

As a result of the tunnels, Hamas’s revenues rose, so that by 2009 they totaled $150–$200 million annually, a figure that would rise to about $375 million in 2011, when the regime of Egypt’s then president Hosni Mubarak fell. During the same period, unemployment in Gaza dropped from 45 percent to 32 percent. This led to the increased stability of Hamas rule and a bigger regional role for the organization after the election of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s president in 2012. All this seemed to promise an end to Hamas’s isolation.

Periodically, the rival Palestinian leaderships would pledge to reconcile, and at times specific steps were taken to further this, such as extensive negotiations in 2011. Generally, it was the weakness of one side or the other at a particular time, and sometimes both, that led to efforts to appear to favor unity. However, neither side was willing to risk surrendering authority in its respective realm and international actors remained guarded, with some even hostile to such attempts.

Things changed for the worse for Hamas after July 2013, when Egypt’s military overthrew Morsi and the political system led by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s sister organization. The military-dominated regime in Cairo put an end to the tunnel economy, exacerbating the impact of the blockade on Gaza. The ensuing economic strains forced Hamas to accept the Shati Agreement of April 23, 2014, an unprecedented development in the Fatah-Hamas relationship that was aimed at allowing the Fatah-led PA to govern Gaza again. The accord collapsed following the war between Hamas and Israel in summer 2014, as both Palestinian groups focused on retrenchment rather than reconciliation. However, the brief opening revealed that Hamas was looking for a way out of the Gaza straitjacket in a manner that would strengthen its domestic popularity.


In early 2017, amid the continuing stalemate in Hamas-Fatah relations, Hamas once again faced a crisis. In an attempt to raise the heat on Hamas, the PA cut the salaries of some of its own employees in Gaza as well as other forms of support for the territory, because such revenues facilitated Hamas’s continued rule by reducing discontent. The organization concluded that, despite widespread dissatisfaction with the PA, “popular agitation would turn against [Hamas] rule,” as one activist put it.1 The collapse of the tunnel economy and the PA’s punitive measures had pushed Gazans to their limit, given the misery in which they lived. Hamas’s stark choice was either “reconciliation at any cost” and handing Gaza’s administration over to Fatah, or accepting an “inevitable catastrophe.”


This new reality forced Hamas and its electorate to be pragmatic with regard to the internal and external challenges the organization was facing. Hamas elections in February and October 2017 brought in Saleh al-Arouri, as deputy head of the Hamas Political Bureau, and Yahya al-Sinwar, as the movement’s head in Gaza. While both were seen as hardliners, they moved forward on a reconciliation agreement with the PA. The difficulties all around seemed insurmountable, but the two new leaders’ status as former Israeli prisoners and the fact that they represented new faces gave them the latitude to take Hamas in a new direction. As Sinwar stated in a meeting with Gaza trade unions in October 2017, reconciliation was a collective decision by the movement at home and abroad.

Under the reconciliation agreement that ensued, ministers from the PA in Ramallah are supposed to take formal control of political structures in Gaza, with Hamas ending any governing role there. However, full implementation seems unlikely at present. A unified cabinet in Ramallah nominally governs Gaza, but its effective control of the bureaucracy there is shaky and untested. Several outstanding issues, such as Hamas’s insistence on retaining an armed wing, will likely remain unresolved. But even if parts of the agreement remain frozen, it has allowed Hamas to cede governing responsibility without losing influence over much of what goes on in Gaza. Even a bomb attack in Gaza in March 2018 targeting visiting PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, though it raised tensions, failed to bring about a collapse of the accommodation between Fatah and Hamas.

Why was Hamas willing to discontinue governing Gaza? And how did the election of seemingly uncompromising figures lead to its more relaxed grip on power and a more flexible ideology? External constraints, acting on public discontent in Gaza, had generated enormous pressure on Hamas, making its leaders realize that they could no longer govern, let alone wait out the blockade. However, Hamas also had choices, and in 2017 it showed that it could react not by accepting defeat passively but by turning crisis into opportunity.

Hamas was able to do this because its internal deliberations are conducted in such a way as to allow for the emergence of a broad consensus. The organization has always striven to have in place mechanisms allowing it to sustain itself, maintain links between the leadership and the base, and ensure that its members are united around party structures and a common strategy. That is why when Hamas faced external challenges, geographical isolation, a lack of allies, and rising popular discontent in 2017, it reacted by electing a new leadership. During this period it also altered its charter in a protracted, movement-wide process that suggested a willingness to compromise without formally repudiating past positions. These moves, aimed at giving new momentum to the organization, came as part of Hamas’s preparation to disengage from its governing role in Gaza.

While Hamas has decisionmaking institutions, it gains by being able to anchor its choices in interactions between these institutions and local activists on the one hand, and between the organization and the broader public on the other. Hamas activists emphasize that all members were involved in deciding on a number of strategic choices in recent years, through forums providing for intense discussions—including whether to participate in local or legislative elections, to approve of a truce with Israel, or to endorse reconciliation talks with Fatah.2

A mechanism that Hamas uses for internal dialogue is monthly gatherings that it calls lailat katiba (or “battalion night”), in which its leaders share the movement’s ideas with all members in each region.3 Hamas also depends upon local bodies to create informal networks based on kinship, friendship, and neighborhood ties. In addition, these local bodies build a profile of the population by conducting surveys and registering people in the organization’s database of inhabitants.4 This allows Hamas to get a sense of the public mood about issues, in particular its standing and general attitudes toward its behavior and political choices.


Were the measures Hamas adopted in 2017 anything more than a quick fix? Hamas’s ability to reestablish its position will depend on regaining the popular support it once enjoyed in Gaza, as well as on its success in rebuilding regional alliances to mitigate its political and geographical isolation. Achieving breakthroughs on these fronts depends on Hamas’s organizational potential and its strategic choices.

Hamas’s support dropped sharply as a result of its military takeover of Gaza and preservation of order through the heavy hand of its security forces. The organization realized it had to pursue conciliation as the violence had led to the death of dozens of people, leaving influential local families embittered. Hamas’s social and political interaction with the public had shifted its initial approach, from direct and largely unrestricted access toward more limited contact suiting an autocratic governing authority. Hamas sought to reverse course and once again position itself as the protector of the population, rather than as a force policing society and suppressing the political opposition.

Hamas does have a history of reviving itself. During the Second Intifada between 2000 and 2005, after years of repression by the PA at a time when Palestinian-Israeli negotiations were ongoing, Hamas was able to persuade many of its compatriots that the arrest of its cadres and the torture of some of its top leaders had been necessary to defend popular interests.5

However, while the post-2007 period allowed the movement to organize freely at the local level throughout Gaza, its current quest to regain public support could prove more difficult. Hamas’s decision to abandon governance in the territory and work in favor of Palestinian reconciliation, particularly societal reconciliation in Gaza, might facilitate this task. However, the organization’s enemies will not make it easy for Hamas to regain its previous stature.

Regionally, Hamas is attempting to revive its past relationships in a highly contested environment. The Middle East is polarized between a Saudi-led coalition that includes Egypt, Jordan, and the PA, and an Iran-led alliance that includes Syria and Hezbollah. Hamas is caught between the two poles. To bridge the gap with the Saudi-led camp, Hamas accepted some ambiguity about a two-state solution in its amended charter. It also dropped any mention of its links with the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt and Saudi Arabia consider a terrorist organization, a contrast with how Hamas had presented itself in the past. However, such efforts will be complicated by the fact that Sinwar and Arouri come from Hamas’s military wing, whose primary supporter has long been Iran.

It is unlikely that Hamas will be able to navigate the regional split for long. The divisions are too strong and bitter for the organization to succeed in retaining a foot in both camps. Today, Egypt and Iran are the main rivals for Hamas’s allegiance, each important with regard to the organization’s specific political priorities, which are themselves a reflection of its multifaceted identity.

Hamas’s relations with Egypt deteriorated after Mohamed Morsi’s removal from power. However, the organization cannot afford to be on bad terms with the largest Arab country and the neighbor that controls Gaza’s major lifeline, its twelve-kilometer southwestern border. Egypt is also the one actor that can persuade the PA to implement a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, and push Israel to go along with it. For its part, Egypt needs Hamas’s cooperation to combat the Islamic State, a common enemy that has been effectively contained in Gaza, but not on the Sinai Peninsula, where an insurgency continues.

At the same time, there are strong forces attracting Hamas to the Iranian camp, even if the relationship worsened in 2012. Khaled Mishal, then the head of the Hamas Political Bureau, publically supported the uprising against the Syrian regime, Iran’s major regional ally. Yet Hamas needs Iran’s financial support, which was suspended following that fissure, to pursue its social and political activities. Rebuilding the alliance would allow Hamas to resume providing services to the population and would help it regain regional standing as a major opponent of Israel. Iran, in turn, believes that renewed ties with Hamas would permit the Islamic Republic to recover its reputation as leader of the regional “resistance axis,” rather than just as the sponsor of a sectarian Shia coalition.

The regional context suggests that the Iranian pull may be stronger since it is based on a longer-term, strategic concurrence of views. Arouri has described the relationship as being built on “solid ground.” By contrast, the connection with the Saudi-led coalition seems to reflect détente more than any strong alignment. However, the lesson that Hamas learned from the failure of its alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood after the Arab uprisings in 2011 is that it is better not to be tied to an ideological framework, but, instead, to pursue Hamas’s interests according to circumstances. A Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, has emphasized this, arguing, “We are not at a stage where we are comfortable with ideological alliances [as they involve us in] regional [political] games.”

But the cold pursuit of Hamas’s interests may prove tricky today. Regional polarization between the Saudi- and Iranian-led camps leaves little room for the organization to maneuver as it pleases. Hamas is also at its weakest internally and regionally since its establishment in 1987, which means that it is not in a position to play each side off against the other. Any attempt by Hamas to generate advantage from one camp will provoke problems with the rival camp.


Hamas has stood out among Palestinian groups for its ability to maintain its power and effectiveness over time, while remaining united and cohesive. But if the organization is strong, its strategy has been more problematic. Hamas’s control over Gaza highlighted the contradiction between the organization’s resistance role, intended to defend Palestinians, and its governance tasks, which frequently meant imposing strict, unpopular control over the population.

Against this backdrop, Hamas and its electorate reacted in 2017 by bringing in a new leadership, introducing hints of compromise into its charter, and showing a greater readiness to adjust to internal Palestinian and regional political realities. In a comparison that Hamas leaders would find distasteful, the organization had to manage the same tensions faced earlier by Fatah in the period after each Palestinian intifada, when it sought to prioritize a political strategy over armed resistance. Fatah’s unpersuasive performance led directly to its electoral defeats in local elections in 2004 and legislative elections in 2006.

As an organization, Hamas may fare better than Fatah, because it has a greater ability to deliberate, decide collectively, and even vote internally. But while the organization is likely to survive and renew itself, it faces a real problem down the road. The new leadership of Hamas has no clear solution to the strategic vacuum lying at the heart of the Palestinian national movement that it seeks to lead.

Source: Carnegie ME Center

أصوات مهمّشة: ما يحتاجه اللاجئون السوريون للعودة إلى الوطن

مهى يحيَ,  جان قصير,  خليل الحريري

مع استعادة النظام السوري السيطرة على مناطق عدّة، تصاعدت الدعوات، في الدول المجاورة، المطالبة بعودة اللاجئين إلى بلادهم. لكن اللاجئين يرهنون عودتهم بشروط لطالما أُهملت إلى حدّ بعيد في خضم المساعي السياسية الرامية إلى إيجاد حل للنزاع السوري. وفي سبيل فهم مواقف اللاجئين من العودة، أنصت مركز كارنيغي للشرق الأوسط إلى مخاوف مروحة من السوريين- من ذكور وإناث، وشباب ومسنّين – الذين يسعون جاهدين إلى بناء حياة ذات معنى في لبنان والأردن. واللافت أن غالبية اللاجئين، وعلى رغم تفاقم التحديات التي تواجههم – لايرغبون في العودة مالم يتوافر انتقال سياسي يضمن سلامتهم وأمنهم، والوصول إلى القضاء والعدل، وحق العودة إلى مسقط الرأس. وعلى الرغم من أن توفير الفرص الاقتصادية والسكن اللائق يُعدّ من أولوياتهم، إلاّ أنها لا تُعتبر من متطلبات العودة. وفي المرتبة الأولى، أظهرت مواقف اللاجئين بجلاء أن وجود حل سياسي مستدام وعودة جماعية وطوعية هما على السواء رهن عمليات سلام دولية تأخذ أصواتهم بعين الاعتبار.

الاستماع إلى اللاجئين

  • في مواجهة صعوبات اجتماعية واقتصادية متفاقمة، يشعر اللاجئون بأنهم عالقون بين رحى مطرقة بلدان مضيفة لا ترغب فيهم وبين سندان سورية لايسعهم العودة إليها
  • ينظر اللاجئون بتشاؤم إلى آفاق اتفاق سلام سوري. وهم يلفظون أي اقتراحات قد تؤدي إلى تذرر سورية، ويعارضون فكرة إنشاء مناطق خفض تصعيد، ولايثقون في المناطق الآمنة
  • شرط اللاجئين الأولي للعودة يتمثّل في ضمان سلامتهم وأمنهم. لكنهم يرون أنه لايمكن تحقيق ذلك من دون انتقال سياسي، وهم لايعتقدون أن في مقدورهم العيش قريباً في سورية التي يتوقون إليها
  • لايثق اللاجئون باللاعبين السياسيين الضالعين في سورية. ولايرى شطر راجح من اللاجئين المعارضين للنظام أن المعارضة تمثّلهم فعلياً
  • النساء والشباب اليافعون هم أكثر من يخشى العودة إلى سورية. فهم ينظرون بقلق إلى غياب الأمان واحتمال أن يضطهدهم نظام بشار الأسد. ويخشى كثير من الشباب التجنيد العسكري الالزامي
  • مع توالي الحرب فصولاً وتدهور ظروف اللاجئين في البلدان المضيفة، يدرس عدد متزايد من اللاجئين إمكانية التوطّن خارج المنطقة، تحديداً في أوروبا. لكنهم يخشون أن يعجزوا عن العودة إذا ما غادروا الشرق الأوسط
  • يتلاشى ببطء معنى فكرة العودة الطوعية للاجئين. فالسياسات المقيّدة في لبنان والأردن قد تحمل اللاجئين على العودة إلى ظروف غير آمنة في سورية، في حين قد تجعل سياسات النظام في سورية – تحديداً تلك المتعلقة بالإسكان وحقوق الملكية والتجنيد العسكري وإجراءات التدقيق – عودتهم عسيرة أو حتى غير محبّذة.

إرساء إجراءات سياسية مُيسِّرة

  • تقتضي العودة الآمنة والمستدامة للاجئين إرساء إطار عمل يقرّ بالجذور السياسية للأزمة السورية، ولايكتفي باحتساب أبعادها الإنسانية وحسب، وبأن السلام مستحيل من دون العدالة؛ ويعترف بحقّ اللاجئين في العودة إلى مسقط رأسهم.
  • لايمكن ضمان الأمن والسلامة سوى من خلال عملية سياسية ترسي آليات حكم شاملة، وتضع حدّاً لإفلات المجرمين من العقاب، وتيسّر إعادة الدمج ونزع السلاح، وتوفر القدرة على الوصول إلى القضاء والعدل.
  • على الرغم من أن إرساء هذه العملية يتطلّب وقتاً، نظراً إلى أن قوات كثيرة تنشط في سورية، حري بجهود الإعداد لعودة اللاجئين أن تبدأ الآن. وقد تشمل هذه الجهود إعداد أصحاب الكفاءة، من محامين سوريين أو مدربين في الشؤون القانونية لاطلاع اللاجئين على حقوقهم والمساهمة في حل كثير من النزاعات المحلية المتوقّعة. وكذلك قد تشمل المساعي هذه إرساء شبكة من الوسطاء المحليين الموثوقين.
  • ينبغي ألا يساهم تمويل إعادة الإعمار في تعزيز النظام السوري من دون قصد. لذا، قد يكون بدء تمويل إعادة الإعمار على نطاق ضيق في مناطق غير خاضعة إلى سيطرة النظام، بديلاً أمثل في دعم مساعي إعادة الإعمار المحلية.
  • يجب أن يكون التمويل مشروطاً بعودة اللاجئين إلى منازلهم والحصول على ملكياتهم. ولابدّ من إرساء عملية تدقيق تثبت عدم ضلوع الكيانات المحلية التي تتلقى تمويلاً دولياً بجرائم حرب، وتتأكد من أنها ليست واجهة للنظام.
  • في هذه الأثناء، يجب احترام حق اللاجئين في العودة. وفي سبيل تشجيع البلدان المضيفة على التزام سياسات توفر حاجات اللاجئين الأساسية، حري بالدعم الدولي أن يجمع بين المساعدات الإنسانية والاستثمارات الاقتصادية التي تهدف إلى خلق فرص عمل لمواطني البلدان المضيفة واللاجئين على السواء
  • Source: Carnegie ME Center
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Unheard Voices: What Syrian Refugees Need to Return Home



As the Syrian regime regains territory, there have been growing calls in neighboring countries for refugees to go home. Yet refugees have conditions for a return—conditions that political efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict have largely ignored. To understand refugee attitudes toward return, the Carnegie Middle East Center listened to the concerns of Syrians—both male and female, young and old—struggling to build meaningful lives in Lebanon and Jordan. What is most striking is that despite the increasingly difficult challenges they face, a majority are unwilling to go back unless a political transition can assure their safety and security, access to justice, and right of return to areas of origin. Economic opportunity and adequate housing are important but not requirements. Above all, their attitudes make it clear that both a sustainable political settlement and a mass, voluntary return are contingent upon international peace processes that account for refugee voices.


  • Facing mounting social and economic difficulties, refugees feel trapped between host countries that do not want them and a Syria to which they cannot return.
  • Refugees are pessimistic about the prospects for a Syrian peace deal. They reject any proposals that could lead to Syria’s fragmentation, oppose the idea of deescalation zones, and have no confidence in safe zones.
  • The refugees’ primary conditions for return are safety and security. But they do not believe they are achievable without a political transition and have little faith that the Syria to which they aspire will soon be attainable.
  • They have no confidence in the political actors involved in Syria, and most anti-regime refugees do not believe the opposition truly represents them.
  • Women and young men are among those most fearful of returning to Syria. They are concerned about the lack of security and possible persecution under President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Many young men fear conscription.
  • As the war drags on and conditions in their host countries worsen, an increasing number of refugees are considering resettling outside the region, particularly in Europe. However, they fear that once they leave the region, they may not be able to return.
  • Essentially, the notion of a voluntary return of refugees is losing meaning. Restrictive policies in Lebanon and Jordan may force refugees to return to an unsafe environment in Syria; while the regime’s policies in Syria—on housing and property rights, military conscription, and vetting procedures—may make it difficult, if not undesirable, for them to return.


  • A safe and sustainable return of refugees requires a framework that acknowledges the political roots of the Syrian crisis rather than just its humanitarian dimension; concedes that peace is not possible without justice; and recognizes the right of refugees to return to their areas of origin.
  • Safety and security can only be guaranteed through a political process that creates inclusive governance mechanisms; ends criminal impunity; and facilitates reintegration, demilitarization, and access to justice.
  • While this process will take time given the many forces operating in Syria, efforts to prepare refugees for a return should begin now. These could include creating a cadre of Syrian lawyers and paralegals to inform refugees of their rights and help resolve the many anticipated local disputes. They could also include establishing a network of trusted community mediators.
  • Reconstruction funding should not inadvertently empower the Syrian regime. Starting on a small scale in regions that are not under regime control could provide a better alternative for local rebuilding efforts.
  • Any funding should also be conditional on the return of refugees to their homes and access to their property. A vetting process should be established to ensure that local entities receiving international funding have not been involved in war crimes and are not regime fronts.
  • Meanwhile, the refugees’ right to a voluntary return must be respected. To encourage host countries to adopt policies that secure the basic needs of refugees, international support must include both humanitarian aid and economic investments geared toward job creation for host country nationals and refugees.
  • For access to the full article, please write to ME Politics via the contact page.
Source: Carnegie ME Center


A Review of Jonathan Brown’s ” Perspectives on Salvation Outside of Islam “

By Mobeen Vaid
A common misunderstanding among Muslims is that criticism is equivalent to denunciation. When people disagree, it must be out of a deep-seated hatred, or an underlying contempt for those with whom they disagree with. This, however, is rarely the case (though of course it sometimes is). Perhaps some of this is due to the WWE/Kardashian/Democrat v. Republican/etc. style of arguing that we have grown accustomed to witnessing and finding amusement in. At its core, there is something satanic about relishing unhinged disputation, and many otherwise kind people absorb this behavior and manifest it in their online persona. I pray to Allah that I am not of them, and welcome any  naṣīḥa (publicly or privately) should it seem that I am headed down that path.
I offer this as a disclaimer for what follows. Below is an admittedly brief reflection and review of Jonathan Brown’s recent Yaqeen Institute piece on Salvation and Non-Muslims. Prior to proceeding, it should be noted that I think very highly of Dr. Brown as a scholar and person. He has an endearing personality (and odd interest in movies!), and his erudition puts him in rare company. Indeed, very few people exist today with his ability to defend the Islamic tradition against those who call into question its foundations. But it is not merely his abilities that are worth noting, but his willingness to employ those abilities in addressing some of the most complex and sensitive topics of the day. Here, he should be lauded for addressing  and rather directly so the hadith tradition, the scriptural integrity of the Quran, the presumption of innocence, Islamic political engagement, homosexuality, slavery, the age of Aisha (ra), and much, much more. These are not easy subjects to broach, and plenty have elected to avoid them altogether.
For that, Dr. Brown should be commended, and readers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with his scholarly works, including, but not limited to, his excellent treatment of the interpretive legacy of Islam in Misquoting Muhammad Given this history, it should come as no surprise that Brown has elected to once again broach a rather delicate and complex subject in attending to the question of salvation and non-Muslims in the hereafter. There are many strengths in the paper, and I will begin by highlighting them. Thereafter, I will address what I consider to be problematic in the paper and conclude with a few thoughts for reflection.

The Islamic Tradition

Brown should be credited for a number of things in this piece. He correctly asserts, and categorically so, the correct position, namely, that salvation is found in Islam alone. This should not be made light of, particularly given the many voices misrepresenting Islamic soteriology, either on account of alternative philosophies/worldviews, or after succumbing to the ‘all paths’ model as cohering more readily with a pluralistic and ecumenical society (a notion Brown discusses well in the piece). Aside from the correct position of salvific exclusivity, Brown attends to two approaches that admit a more expansive notion of salvation. In presenting these two approaches, Brown problematizes key arguments made by their exponents and proceeds to ultimately repudiate them as inconsistent with Islamic teachings found in the Quran and Sunnah.
In addition to this survey of varying approaches, God’s mercy is appealed to, alongside God’s ultimate judgment being just, and that the justice of God is something believers should find comfort in. That said, the article suffers from several problems, some less severe, while others are rather significant. To begin, perhaps the first issue stems from the general framing of approaches, all of which are said to belong to the “Islamic tradition.” However, the two other views, as Brown himself notes, are relatively recent and hold no precedent in what would qualify as the Islamic tradition. Fazlur Rahman, Farid Esack, and Perennialists (exponents unnamed, though tendentious attribution to Ibn Arabi is thankfully rebutted) are all modern advocates of the two heterodox views Brown adumbrates. Accordingly, it would have been better to characterize them as contemporary approaches to make clear their newfangled revisionism, and to describe only the “correct” position, alongside the annihilationism of Ibn Taymiyya, as part of the Islamic tradition proper. Although such a concern may seem pedantic to some, what we construe as representing the tradition is in fact quite serious, particularly insofar as we consider that tradition as meaningful and representing a discourse that we hold fidelity to.

How Important is Islam?

Aside from dubious attribution to the Islamic tradition, Brown’s piece is replete with an attitude of internal conflict. The correct position is outlined briefly and declared correct in the conclusion, but only as an academic, theoretical submission that is then attenuated immediately thereafter. Brown asks his reader in the concluding remarks to consider the following question: Does one believe that accepting the specific religious message of Muhammad , as it has been preserved and transmitted down to our times, is so important that rejecting it means suffering eternally in Hellfire, whether that punishment is physical or a spiritual alienation from God? Put more simply, is believing in Islam so important that you’re willing to declare that non-Muslims have no hope for peace in the Afterlife? In an egregious sleight of hand, Brown imputes blame upon his readership for the position of Islam and the words of Allah.
The problem here is not that Allah has stated unequivocally that shirk is unforgivable, or that Allah and His Messenger (pbuh) have required submission to the Islamic message for salvation, but that obdurate believers have chosen to put themselves in God’s place. Who are you to say which doctrine is salvifically acceptable? What qualifies  you to place judgment, even in conceptual terms (that abstain from individual judgments aside from those designated in scripture and reliable hadiths), on those who refuse the call of Islam and persist in unbelief and associationism? But the rhetorical ask is not merely one of blame, but of inquisition. Is Islam really that important to you? Must Islam be made into the ultimate human pursuit such that unbelief leads to eternal damnation? It is unclear what the alternative would look like.
If following the specific religious message of Muhammad (pbuh), which itself claims to abrogate all pre-Muhammad dispensations, is an inadequate basis for eternal damnation, then why did Allah and His Messenger (pbuh) mention eternal damnation at all? And given that they did, what sin would truly qualify for this ignominious end? The question Brown presents speaks to larger existential questions of existence, the afterlife, human purpose, and devotion. Muslim theologians agreed that the fundamental tenets of Islam had to be rationally apprehensible for this exact reason, and the human condition is such that Allah created in all the primordial disposition recognizing in these tenets Truth. Indeed, the path of Islam is the purpose for which we were created, and it is only through it that we can find complete peace, spiritual fulfillment, and an opportunity for paradise. We ask Allah to forgive us and grant us entry into it.


Though there is much laudable and important in this latest Yaqeen Institute paper, it ultimately falls short in significant areas. Brown’s piece reads with a stream of uncertainty, containing rhetorical asks of whether believing in Islam is “important enough” to declare which doctrines qualify as salvifically efficacious. At times, one feels when reading the paper that finding comfort in God’s absolute justice and mercy is done
as a concession for a belief that doesn’t entirely seem to make sense it seems, or perhaps is too judgmental when taken at face value. Given the stakes, we should be confidently explaining what the consensus-based position of Islam is and offering a full and comprehensive treatment of it as understood and expressed by our tradition, and then defending it against contemporary accusations of arrogance, bigotry, hatred, and the like.
The net result of the paper is to see the question of salvation as a complicated one that requires no direct engagement or reflection for the average Muslim. Who is saved and not saved is beyond our calling, so we shouldn’t worry about it it seems. Yet this is precisely the opposite of what we should be calling our community and youth to be considering – salvation is an essential question for all individuals, and our commitment to Islam’s exclusive salvific efficacy should be something that motivates us to live according to its tenets such that we can faithfully claim Islam on the Day of Judgment and perhaps then find ourselves worthy of Allah’s Mercy and the Prophet’s (pbuh) company.
It should further prompt us to care about spreading this message and teaching it to those ignorant of its teachings and are inundated with misrepresentations. On a final note, I wish here to remind my readers what I mentioned in the outset. Dr. Jonathan Brown is a scholar of the highest order, and this critique should not be construed as a slight in any form or fashion against his scholarship, integrity, piety, or contributions to the community. We are blessed to have him as a voice representing Islam, and I certainly look forward to future writings of his (particularly his forthcoming book, which as I understand is in the works). May Allah bless him, his family, and the Yaqeen Institute for the good that they do, and may He overlook their shortcomings. Ameen.
“Our Lord, pour upon us patience and let us die as Muslims (Q 7:126). Ameen.
Allah Knows Best
Source: Academia

Syria After the Missile Strikes: Policy Options

Michael Singh
Lane-Swig Senior Fellow and Managing Director, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Engel, and members of the committee, thank you for this oppor- tunity to testify on American policy in Syria. This is rightly a topic of renewed attention in the aftermath of the April 7 cruise missile strike on Shayrat airfield, which came in response to the horrific use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against the population of Khan Sheikhoun.

At first glance, there seems to be a tragic repetitiveness to the conflict in Syria—a drumbeat of bombings, battles, and refugee flows punctuated now and then by some new, more extreme out- rage perpetrated by the Assad regime, ISIS, or another group. The unrelenting nature of this con- flict not only threatens to desensitize us to the tragedies unfolding daily in Syria, but to mask the war’s fundamental transformation from 2011 to today.

The Syria conflict began as a peaceful protest that was brutally suppressed, with an increasingly illegitimate regime fighting its people while creating the conditions for the development of an extremist opposition, albeit one which served as a useful foil for the regime. The United States and others long hoped to contain this conflict, but failed utterly; it is now a regional conflagration whose geopolitical ramifications have been felt far beyond the Middle East. One can draw a straight line from the conflict in Syria to the rise of ISIS, which prospered in the vacuum left by the Syrian state’s decay; to Russia’s reassertion of its power in the Middle East; to the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East; to the political turbulence which played a role in the British decision to leave the EU and continues to roil European politics today.

Our relative neglect of the Syria conflict has thus not served our interests, but has set them back in the Middle East and beyond. Nor has it spared us the expenditure of resources—the U.S. has provided at least $6.5 billion in humanitarian aid to Syrians (more than any other country), pro- vided at least $400 million in aid to the Syrian opposition, and spent billions of dollars more on the campaign against ISIS in Syria.1


Those who defend American policy in Syria over the last eight years must depend on the non- falsifiable claim that whatever the costs of inaction, a more assertive policy would have been worse. The Trump administration has started out on the right foot by rejecting this approach and acting decisively in service of a clear U.S. interest. I believe the April 7 cruise missile strikes in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons stand a good chance of deterring the

1 These figures are drawn from “Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response,” Congressional Research Service, April 7, 2017, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33487.pdf.

further use of CW in Syria and reinforcing more broadly the international norm against the use of such weapons, which appears to have been the administration’s narrow intent.

Devising and executing our broader policy in Syria will be more complex, but will benefit from a similarly clear assessment of U.S. interests and objectives and the development of options to ad- vance them. In doing so, we cannot afford to focus narrowly on one or another aspect of the con- flict, such as defeating ISIS. Instead, we will need to consider how the policy choices we and oth- ers make in Syria will impact the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East and beyond in the fu- ture. That will be the focus of my testimony.


The war in Syria today is not a single conflict, but comprises multiple arenas, which are not whol- ly distinct but overlap with one another:

  •   First, western Syria, where the regime, supported by Russia, Iran, and Iranian proxies like Hezbollah, are fighting an opposition dominated by jihadist groups, primarily Hayat Tah- rir al-Sham (which includes the former Jabhat al-Nusra). This fighting is currently most intense around Idlib. Millions of Syrian civilians, including internally displaced persons from other areas such as Aleppo, are caught in it. It is this region that includes Khan Sheikhoun, which was the target of Assad’s chemical attack.
  •   Second, northern Syria, where Turkish-backed and Kurdish forces have both clashed with ISIS, in close proximity to Syrian regime and Russian forces, as they jostle for position. Turkish-backed forces maintain a triangle of territory including the towns of Jarabulus and al-Bab, in large part to prevent Syrian Kurdish (YPG) forces from linking territory they control in northwestern Syria around Afrin with the territory they control in the country’s northeast stretching from Manbij to Qamishli, and thereby consolidating con- trol of the entire Syrian-Turkish border area. This has in turn strengthened the incentive for the YPG to cooperate with regime and Russian forces, which control the area south of al-Bab and east of Aleppo, which forms an alternate land route between the Kurdish are- as.
  •   Third, southern Syria. This area is contested by the Syrian regime, opposition groups, and ISIS. While it has generally been quieter of late than other areas, it is of particular strate- gic importance to two of our closest regional allies, Israel and Jordan.
  •   Fourth, eastern Syria, which along with a swath of central Syria around Palmyra remains in the hands of ISIS. ISIS’ territory has slowly eroded thanks to coalition air strikes in conjunction with a ground campaign being waged largely by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes both the Kurdish YPG militia and local Arab elements.

    Each of these conflicts has drawn in various actors from inside and outside Syria. These include the following (NB—Because this testimony focuses on the regional geopolitics of the conflict, only external actors are listed; this is not intended to downplay the central role of Syrian actors in the conflict and its resolution):

 Iran—Arguably the most significant outside actor in Syria, Iran has reportedly provided the Assad regime with tens of thousands2 of fighters, arms, training, and other forms of support. While most of the Iranian-backed forces in Syria are proxies—most notably

2 Majid Raided as quoted in Melissa Dalton, Testimony Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Feb- ruary 14, 2017.

Hezbollah but also Iraq, Afghan, and Pakistani Shia militants—numerous IRGC person- nel, including high-ranking officers, have been killed in Syria and other Iranian security agencies have reportedly been involved.

Iran’s involvement has been focused not on fighting ISIS, but on fighting opposition forces in western Syria, leading one to surmise that its objective is to defend the Assad regime. Ensuring Assad’s survival is vital to Iran’s effort to project power into the Levant against U.S. allies, primarily Israel. Were Assad to fall, Iran’s channels to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups could be disrupted, and Iranian forces would not likely enjoy the freedom of action they long have had in Syria.



Iran’s involvement in Syria has led to several concerning developments. While the IRGC and its proxies such as Hezbollah had typically engaged in insurgency in the past, their defense of the Assad regime has forced a shift to counter-insurgency. Whether this leads to overextension or aggrandizement is an open question, but there is evidence that their experience in Syria has increased their capacity for conventional operations.3

In addition, the Syria conflict appears to have cemented the Russia-Iran alliance, as vivid- ly demonstrated by Russia’s use of an Iranian airbase. It should be noted that sanctions barring the sale of conventional arms systems to Iran will lapse in 2020 as a result of the nuclear deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), opening further possibili- ties for conventional military cooperation between Russia, Iran, and Iran’s proxies.

Finally, while Iran has thus far been focused on western Syria, one cannot dismiss the possibility that after the liberation of Mosul, Iraqi Shia militias beholden to Iran will seek to become involved in eastern Syria.

  •   Russia—While Russia’s footprint in Syria has been smaller than Iran’s, it has played no less decisive a role in safeguarding the Assad regime. With a relatively small (and thus perhaps sustainable) intervention, Russia arguably saved the Assad regime from severe contraction or destruction in late 2015 and enabled it to reverse some territorial losses, providing the air power to complement Iran’s efforts on the ground.

    Russia, which like Iran has operated chiefly in western Syria rather than against ISIS, al- so aims to defend the Assad regime but for reasons which are different from Tehran’s. It is perhaps the clearest case of what seems to be a global effort by Russian President Putin to restore Russia’s status as a great power, in a place that was the last bastion of Russian influence in the region. Moscow likely also aims simply to thwart U.S. ambitions, in re- sponse to what it sees as U.S. efforts at regime change in Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere. Russian officials routinely claim that their purpose is to fight ISIS and that they have no special attachment to Assad himself, but neither assertion is borne out by Russian actions.

    Russia’s intervention has had implications for the freedom of action of other forces. The U.S. cannot contemplate military action in Syria or the surrounding region without taking Russian air defenses into account, though their impact should not be exaggerated. And any action Israel contemplates in Lebanon or Syria also depends to some extent on Rus- sian forbearance.

  •   Turkey—Ankara is a partner in U.S. efforts in Syria, providing access to the Incirlik air base and taking in millions of Syrian refugees. Turkey has long insisted that Assad

    3 See Genevieve Casagrande, “How Iran Is Learning from Russia in Syria,” Institute for the Study of War (http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/how-iran-learning-russia-syria) for more on this topic.

should step aside, but in recent months its chief concern in Syria appears to have been the territorial expansion of the Syrian Kurds, whom Turkey considers to be in league with the PKK terrorist group. As noted above, in 2016 (and continuing into 2017), Turkish-backed forces seized a swath of territory along the Syrian-Turkish border to prevent the YPG from linking its territories around Afrin with the area it holds in the east between Manbij and Qamishli. Turkey is likely to remain in control of this territory for the foreseeable fu- ture. While much was made of a softening of Russian-Turkish relations last year, the ten- sions between Moscow and Ankara over Syria are likely to persist, especially if links be- tween Russia and the YPG deepen.

Turkey’s concerns about the aggrandizement of the YPG has complicated the US-led campaign to oust ISIS from Raqqa, as the YPG-dominated SDF was seen as the likeliest candidate to lead that effort. The SDF-led “Euphrates Wrath” operation has been clearing territories around Raqqa in anticipation of the city’s eventual liberation, while at the same time Turkish-backed opposition forces have stated their intention to roll back both ISIS and the YPG in the same area. Maintaining good relations with Turkey while mounting an effective campaign against ISIS in Raqqa has thus proven a conundrum for the U.S. and its coalition allies.

  •   Jordan—Amman’s chief concerns in Syria are fourfold. First is the flow of refugees from Syria into Jordan, which already hosts nearly a million of them. Coalition operations in Raqqa and western Iraq, or renewed fighting in southern Syria, could trigger another out- flow of refugees to Jordan. Second is the possibility of further ISIS attacks against Jor- dan, beyond the border (although until now all the major terrorist attacks that have oc- curred in the kingdom have been perpetrated by radicalized Jordanian nationals). Third is the outbreak of renewed fighting near Jordan’s borders, whether between the Syrian re- gime and opposition or Israel and Iranian-backed forces, which could have dire conse- quences for Jordan’s own security. Finally, Jordan seeks to prevent Iran and Hezbollah from establishing a base of operations along its northern border, which could be a desta- bilizing factor after the war eventually ends. To safeguard these interests, Jordan has been practical, seeking to maintain constructive relations with the Assad regime and Russia in recent months. Jordan has also reportedly been conducting, along with other anti-ISIS co- alition forces, air and ground operations in southwest Syria, targeting ISIS and Al-Qaida militants.
  •   Israel—Israel’s concerns in Syria appear to be threefold. The first is deterring any attacks from Syria into Israeli territory, regardless of the source. To this end, Israel has respond- ed proportionately to projectiles originating in Syria and striking Israel, and these ex- changes have thus far not escalated. Second, Israel is concerned about the possibility of Iranian and Iranian-backed forces, such as the IRGC and Hezbollah, establishing a new front with Israel on the Golan Heights. In fact, the Institute for the Study of War indicates that these groups have already established positions close to the northern edge of the Go- lan.4 Third, Israel is concerned about the emerging alliance between Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia, which if it advances could severely undermine Israel’s qualitative military edge and security broadly. Israel also has a longstanding interest in preventing the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah via Syrian territory, and has reportedly conducted strikes inside both Syria and Lebanon to halt such transfers.

    4 See “Posture of Syrian Regime and Allies: March 21, 2017,” Institute for the Study of War, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Regime%20- %20Iranian%20Posture%20MAR%202017_2.pdf.

 Others—Many other outside actors have interests and limited involvement in the Syrian conflict. The Gulf states have provided support to Syrian opposition groups in an effort to counter Iranian regional influence, but over time their focus has largely shifted to the Yemen conflict, which poses a more direct threat to the Arabian peninsula. Iraq is closer to Syria than other Gulf Arab states, and the U.S. should use its leverage with Baghdad— which presumably is stronger now than it will be in the future—to ensure that Iraqi Shia militias do not enter the fray with fellow Iranian-backed forces in Syria after Mosul’s lib- eration.

Europe is arguably more threatened by the Syrian conflict than is the U.S., given the far larger number of refugees who have fled to Europe and the more significant ISIS pres- ence there. However, the involvement of European states in the Syria conflict has been limited so far. Finally, China has had a small role in the conflict, reportedly cooperating with the Syrian regime on intelligence matters as a result of Chinese nationals traveling to fight with ISIS, and supporting Russian efforts to block UN Security Council action on Syria until Beijing’s recent absention on a draft resolution condemning the Khan Sheikhoun attack. All of these actors are to some extent possible partners for the United States in Syria.


As the Trump administration crafts its policy toward Syria, it will need to take as a starting point today’s reality. This might seem obvious, but there is a temptation in policymaking to use current policy to correct for past errors. But whatever one’s criticisms of President Obama’s approach to Syria, the mistakes of 2011, 2013, and 2015 cannot be revisited, and the policy recommendations made then must be put aside in favor of ones suited to the present situation.

Today’s realities are stark. As noted above, Syria is fragmented. Reunifying Syria does not, for the time being, appear to be within the power of any Syrian or outside actor, whether the Assad regime or the opposition. While it is still right to insist that Assad is illegitimate and should step aside, it is important to recognize that in reality his government no longer rules the majority of Syria.

Russia and Iran are deeply entrenched in western Syria, and entangled with one another. While their interests are not the same, as noted above, they depend operationally on one another to ad- vance their respective interests, and thus will be difficult to split. In addition, Russia’s presence constricts American freedom of action not just against Assad, but also to a large extent against Iranian and Iranian-backed forces, given their close coordination. However, this does not mean splitting Russia and Iran, or at least limiting the extent of their alliance, should not remain a long- term U.S. objective in Syria. Nor do the constraints on our freedom of action render us impotent; demonstrating this was one of the most important consequences of the U.S. cruise missile strike on April 7.

In addition, the anti-ISIS campaign has already accomplished much of what it ultimately will. The group’s territory has been steadily shrinking, and while it may break out in minor ways, it is unlikely a serious threat to seize territory on a significant scale in Syria or Iraq given our current policy. The coalition must still finish the job, but we should be realistic about the extent of the impact Raqqa’s liberation will have on the Syria conflict at this stage, and we should already be planning for the next phase of that conflict.

Finally, in designing a Syria policy, the Trump administration should resist “solutionism.” The roots of the conflicts in Syria run very deep; the United States will not and should not “solve”

Syria, even if we expend vast resources in the attempt. Instead, the U.S. should determine what objectives are necessary to advance our vital interests, and devise strategies and policies to ac- complish them.

These objectives should include the following:

1. Prevent the Syria conflict from further destabilizing the region. While the fighting in Syr- ia has already drawn in numerous regional actors and had a serious economic and securi- ty impact on the region, it could get worse yet. The U.S. should consider steps that inde- pendently stabilize each of the conflict’s areas of fighting, and be modest about any grand diplomatic effort to settle them all at once.

  1. Around Idlib, American options are limited given that both sides—the Assad re- gime and its Russian and Iranian partners on the one hand, and jihadist groups such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham on the other—are anathema to the U.S. Rather than involving ourselves in the fighting, the U.S. should, in conjunction with our Eu- ropean allies, focus on the protection of civilians and the provision of humanitar- ian relief. Following up on the April 7 strike and to deter Assad and Russia pri- marily, the U.S. should warn that we and our allies reserve the right to respond with force to atrocities committed against civilians.
  2. In southern Syria, the U.S. should urge Russia to refrain from large-scale bomb- ing in order to prevent the region’s further destabilization. The U.S. should con- tinue to aid Jordan, Israel, and/or non-jihadist opposition forces as needed with any operations to push ISIS, other jihadist groups, or Iranian-backed groups away from their borders. Preparation for Raqqa’s liberation should include provision for refugees within Syria, lest they flee for Jordan.
  3. In northern and eastern Syria, the U.S. should lead a diplomatic effort to calm tensions between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds. Washington should seek Kurdish guarantees that they will not seek to extend their territory further, and Turkish pledges to respect core Kurdish territory in Syria. Because of Turkey’s concerns about the U.S. provision of heavy weapons and training to the SDF, and local Arab concerns about Kurdish influence, the U.S. should seek to involve both Turkish-backed and SDF forces in any Raqqa operation. In addition, we should consider greater involvement by U.S., European, and Arab forces to minimize the roles of both Turkey and the Syrian Kurds.5 Assad, Iranian and Iranian-backed forces, and Russia should be excluded from any effort to liberate Raqqa.
  4. Rather than pursuing a diplomatic settlement in the manner of the Obama Ad- ministration, the Trump administration should withhold U.S. endorsement from any diplomatic process that does not require Assad to step aside and hold him to account. U.S. acquiescence is valuable to Russia and Iran, and it should not be given away freely, especially because they have demonstrated little ability or will to guarantee Assad’s adherence to agreements. This should not rule out local ceasefires, however.
  5. The U.S. should create, as CSIS’ Melissa Dalton has suggested, a “U.S.-led mul- tilateral forum in which tensions and conflicting objectives can be addressed with

5 For a fuller treatment of this issue, see testimony by Ambassador James F. Jeffrey to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, February 7, 2017.

key allies and partners on the Syria problem set (including Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and the Gulf partners).”6

  1. Limit Iran’s projection of power and the aggrandizement of Iranian-backed forces. One of the most dangerous flash points in the Middle East remains southern Lebanon, as a re- sult of the massive armaments and extensive training that Iran has provided to Hezbollah for the purpose of threatening Israel. It should be our objective not only to prevent the growth of this threat, but to counter Iran across the Levant through the following actions.
    1. The U.S. should treat Iranian-backed forces as any other foreign fighters, and in- sist that others do so as well; any internationally recognized settlement to the conflict in Syria should require Iran to withdraw its forces and its proxies from the country. Similarly, any discussion of terrorist groups in Syria should address not only Sunni, but Shia terrorist groups such as Hezbollah as well.
    2. The U.S. should warn Iran that it reserves the right to use force, or back Israel’s use of force, against any IRGC or Hezbollah positions established in proximity to the Israeli or Jordanian borders.
    3. The U.S. should aggressively target Iranian entities that violate sanctions on Syr- ia, and block any aircraft sales to Iran unless the recipient airlines can positively demonstrate that they are not involved in ferrying fighters or materiel to Syria. In addition, the U.S. should ramp up sanctions and other pressure on Hezbollah and its supporters in Lebanon and elsewhere.
    4. The Trump administration should work with the Iraqi government to prevent the travel of Shia militias from Iraq to Syria following the liberation of Mosul.
    5. The U.S. should reinvigorate efforts, largely dropped by the Obama administra- tion, to support Lebanon’s sovereignty, to ensure that it is not subsumed into western Syria should Syria’s fragmentation persist.
  2. Deny safe haven to jihadist groups including ISIS and Al-Qaida and prevent the return of ISIS after Raqqa’s liberation. Perhaps the most significant challenge surrounding Raqqa’s liberation is what follows afterward. Unlike in Iraq, there is no established au- thority to whom the U.S. can pass the baton; one must instead be fostered.
    1. Any international train-and-equip mission for local Arab forces in eastern Syria should emphasize not only the urban warfare that will be required to oust ISIS from Raqqa, but the follow-on operations that will be required to provide security for the local population and prevent ISIS’ return or the emerge of Al-Qaida.
    2. Security assistance should be paired with aid to civil society organizations – not only those providing humanitarian relief, but also ones which can help restore law, order, and services in liberated areas.
    3. The role of both the Kurds and the Turks in eastern Syria should be limited, and Arab states, and to a lesser extent European forces, should instead be encouraged to play a role, especially in counter-terrorism.

6 Dalton.


The ideal outcome in Syria from the point of view of American interests is a unified Syria with a pro-Western, pluralistic government. This is perhaps the least likely outcome in the foreseeable future, however, given the country’s increasing fragmentation and demographic polarization and the failure of diplomatic efforts to date. Equally unrealistic is an outcome in which the Assad re- gime reasserts control over all of Syria; it lacks the capacity to do so, and even if it had those ca- pabilities, its rule would trigger continued violent resistance from Syrians who reject Assad’s le- gitimacy. More realistic, perhaps, is a federal Syria comprised of semi-autonomous regions. But few actors in Syria or the region favor such an outcome, and they could be expected to resist it long after it had become a reality. The best approach for the United States is to pursue our inter- ests while promoting stability in each of the conflict’s disparate arenas, gradually expanding our zone of influence with an eye toward a broader diplomatic settlement down the road.

Testimony submitted to the House Foreign Affairs Committee April 27, 2017


القمة العربية التي تستضيفها السعودية توازن بين الواقع وعدم الأهمية

سايمون هندرسون

متى كانت المرة الأخيرة التي اهتم فيها الكثيرون بالقمة العربية؟ إما كان ذلك منذ زمن بعيد أو، على الأرجح، لم يكن هناك أي اهتمام. لكن قمة هذا العام، التي تستضيفها السعودية يوم الأحد، 15 نيسان/إبريل، ربما تستحق الاهتمام. فهناك الكثير الذي يحدث في الشرق الأوسط، وقد يكون اجتماع القمة العربية ناتجاً عن ذلك. وفيما يلي خطاً توجيهياً عاماً لتمييز المضمون من الدعاية الرسمية، بدءاً من المؤشر الرئيسي لكيفية الحكم على أهميته – أي مَنْ الذي سيحضر مؤتمر القمة.

هناك 22 عضواً في جامعة الدول العربية، لكن عضوية سوريا معلّقة منذ عام 2011 بسبب الحرب الأهلية، لذا ليس هناك فرصة لأن يصل الرئيس بشار الأسد لإفساد الحفل. أما المضيف السعودي في الاجتماع، الملك سلمان البالغ من العمر 82 عاماً، فلا يسافر كثيراً هذه الأيام بسبب تدهور حالته الصحية. وكان الملك سلمان هو الذي دُعي في الأصل إلى واشنطن لمقابلة الرئيس ترامب في الشهر الماضي، لكن ابنه البالغ من العمر 32 عاماً، ولي العهد العبقري الأمير محمد بن سلمان، هو الذي قَبِل الدعوة.

لقد عاد محمد بن سلمان لتوه من رحلتين إلى فرنسا وإسبانيا. وحول ما إذا كان سيجلس إلى جانب والده في اجتماع القمة، هو أمر يستحق الترقب؛ وإذا كان الأمر كذلك، فمن المحتمل أن يتصرف كالإبن المطيع، المساعد، بدلاً من الصورة المتمثلة بـ “أنا الوجه الجديد للسعودية“، التي عرضها خلال فترة زادت عن ثلاثة أسابيع كان خلالها غائباً عن البلاد.

والسؤال الأكثر أهمية هو ما إذا كان أميرقطر  تميم بن حمد آل ثاني سيقبل الدعوة. فقطر محاصرة حالياً من قبل السعودية والإمارات والبحرين ومصر بسبب مجموعة من نقاط الفشل المفترضة من بينها دعم قطر للإرهاب وبثها التحريضي [في وسائل الإعلام] واستضافتها لجماعات المعارضة. وفي البداية كرر الرئيس ترامب هذا الانتقاد، ولكنه غيّر موقفه منذ ذلك الحين، واعترف مبدئياً بأن المشكلة هي شجار بين البلدان التي تُعتبر جميعها حليفة مهمة للولايات المتحدة.


وفي اجتماع للرئيس الأمريكي مع الأمير تميم في المكتب البيضاوي يوم الثلاثاء المنصرم، قال ترامب: “نحن نتأكد من أن تمويل الإرهاب قد توقف في البلدان التي نرتبط بها حقاً. … ويشمل ذلك الإمارات والسعودية وقطر، وغيرها”. ونظراً للنجاح الذي حققته زيارة الأمير تميم للولايات المتحدة، والتي كانت مشابهة للأجواء المؤاتية التي حققتها زيارة الأمير محمد بن سلمان في الصحافة، فإن الزعيم القطري سيهدر فرصة كبيرة لكي يُظهر أنه ليس معزولاً إذا ما بقي في بلاده. ولكن إذا شارك الأمير تميم في المؤتمر، فربما لن يشارك عدوه اللدود ولي عهد الإمارات الأمير محمد بن زايد آل نهيان من أبو ظبي. ولكن على نحو مناسب، وطبقاً للبروتوكول، يمكن أن يمثل الإمارات رئيس وزرائها، الشيخ حمدان بن محمد بن راشد آل مكتوم من دبي.

وتُعقد القمة العربية في الدمام على ساحل الخليج – الذي يُطلق عليه الكثيرون الخليج الفارسي، على الرغم من أن العرب يفضلون وصف “الخليج العربي” – في المملكة على بعد مائة ميل من إيران، التي تعتبرها العائلة المالكة السعودية أكبر تهديد على العالم العربي. والسؤال الذي يطرح نفسه هنا، لماذا اختار السعوديون استضافة القمة هناك؟ لم يوضح أحد السبب لذلك، لكن النقطة السياسية الواضحة هي “الإشارة الوقحة باليد” عبر مياه الخليج. وبالمثل، تتعرض الرياض الآن لصواريخ (إيرانية محسّنة) يطلقها المتمردون الحوثيون في اليمن، لذلك ربما لم تعد آمنة لمثل هذا التجمع الكبير.

وحول جدول أعمال مؤتمر القمة، ليس هناك شك بأنه سيتم ذكر إيران لدورها المشاغب في اليمن وسوريا ولبنان، ولكن وفقاً لوزير الخارجية السعودي عادل بن أحمد الجبير، سيكون التركيز الرئيسي على القدس والفلسطينيين. (أما حول قضية قطر، فيقول إنها لن تُحل هناك).

وقد أعرب العالم العربي عن قلقه البالغ من اعتراف الرئيس ترامب بالقدس عاصمة لإسرائيل – رغم أن الإعلان عن ذلك، على عكس بعض التوقعات، فشل في تأجيج المنطقة. وهناك أيضاً قلق كبير من الأحداث [الأخيرة] في غزة، حيث قام القناصة بإطلاق النار على المتظاهرين الذين حاولوا اقتحام السياج الحدودي مع إسرائيل.

وسيكون الموقف السعودي في هذا الشأن موضع اهتمام بسبب ملاحظة أبداها محمد بن سلمان عندما كان في الولايات المتحدة حيث قال، يجب أن يكون الإسرائيليون قادرين على العيش “في أرضهم الخاصة“، وهي ملاحظة حادت عن الأعراف العربية والموقف الدبلوماسي الرسمي للمملكة. إلّا أنّ تكرار الخط المتشدد السابق لن يُنظر إليه بالضرورة على أنه يقوّض المغازلة الواضحة لمحمد بن سلمان مع إسرائيل. وبدلاً من ذلك، قد يشير إلى أن جامعة الدول العربية والكثير من دول العالم العربي قد فقدت الصلة فيما بينها.

وستشمل بنود جدول الأعمال الأخرى استعراض الشكاوى التي وقعت خلال العقود الماضية – وهي علامة أخرى على أن جامعة الدول العربية نادراً ما تحقق أي شيء. وقد يكون تصاعد التوتر الأخير بين المغرب والجزائر على الأراضي الاستعمارية الإسبانية السابقة في الصحراء الغربية، التي أصبحت الآن جزءاً من المغرب، محاولة متعمدة لضمان [نوع من] الإدانة في البيان الختامي. أو قد يكون ذلك نتيجة استعراض للقوة في الجزائر، حيث أن الرئيس الطاعن في السن عبد العزيز بوتفليقة مُقعد على كرسي نقال. وهذا بحد ذاته وصف مجازي للزعامة العربية: فالزعماء البارزون في الجزائر وتونس وفلسطين والكويت والسعودية والإمارات وعُمان هم إما كبار السن أو في صحة سيئة أو كليهما.

والسؤال للمستقبل هو متى ستأخد القيادة الشابة النشطة – والتي تختار نهج المواجهة – والمتمثلة في محمد بن سلمان، وتميم، ومحمد بن زايد، زمام الأمور في النهاية.

سايمون هندرسون هو زميل “بيكر” ومدير برنامج الخليج وسياسة الطاقة في معهد واشنطن.


إعادة انتخاب السيسي ومستقبل المؤسسة السياسية في مصر

هيثم حسنين

علنت الهيئة الوطنية للانتخابات في مصر في 2 نيسان/أبريل فوز الرئيس عبد الفتاح السيسي بولاية رئاسية ثانية بنسبة 97 في المئة من الأصوات. وخلال فترة ولايته الأولى، ركّز عمل السيسي على خنق الحياة السياسية وتهميش أخصامه، وبالتالي سيتحول اهتمامه الآن إلى إعادة بناء المؤسسة السياسية. وبالفعل، تم زرع بذور النظام السياسي الجديد، من دون أن تلاحظ واشنطن ذلك.

ومنذ انقلاب عام 2013، سعى السيسي وحلفاؤه إلى تدمير المعارضة من خلال قمع الإسلاميين، ولا سيما جماعة “الإخوان المسلمين”. وشكّل “حزب النور” السلفي الاستثناء الوحيد كونه دعم الانقلاب وقدّم شرعيةً دينية لحكومة السيسي. وبالمثل، تم طرد الكثير من أعضاء المعارضة اليسارية والليبرالية خارج البلاد أو تم حظرهم من جميع وسائل الإعلام، في حين، وللمرة الأولى، بدأت أجهزة الاستخبارات في شراء الوكالات الصحفية أو الاستثمار فيها بشكلٍ مباشر. وفي هذا الصدد، حظّرت الحكومة أيضًا جميع الأنشطة السياسية في الجامعات.

من جهة أخرى، اختارت الأجهزة الأمنية غالبية أعضاء البرلمان بعناية، وذلك لضمان أن تلقى مشاريع القوانين التي يقررها السيسي الموافقة التلقائية. ومن بين التشريعات الجديدة تأتي القوانين التي تفرض عقوبات صارمة على أي مواطن يجرؤ على تنظيم مظاهرات غير مرخصة، كما تم اعتماد “تصاريح احتجاج” شديدة التقييد.

وفي هذا الإطار، تنبثق كل هذه الأعمال من الاعتقاد المتأصل بأن التشاحن السياسي والسياسة عامةً يشكلان مصدر إلهاء للبلاد. ويبدو أن السيسي نفسه يحتقر السياسيين، ويصفهم بأنهم منافقون وفاسدون ولا يخدمون سوى مصالحهم الشخصية. ففي رأيه، إنّ المؤسسة التي هيمنت على مصر، بعد أن أعاد الرئيس أنور السادات فتح المجال السياسي في السبعينيات من القرن المنصرم، قد تجاوزت الغرض الذي كان منشودًا منها.

ففي ذلك الوقت، أعاد السادات العمل بالأحزاب السياسية لتقديم هالة من الشرعية والديمقراطية. ومع مرور الوقت، تمكنت المعارضة من تحقيق دور سياسي كبير بلغ ذروته في ثورة عام 2011. ووفقًا للسيسي وحلفائه، كادت تلك الانتفاضة أن تدمّر الدولة والجيش عن طريق جلب الإخوان المسلمين إلى السلطة. وبرأيهم، إنّ الحفاظ على مثل هذا الحيز السياسي الواسع يمكن أن يؤدي إلى انتفاضة أخرى.

ومن هنا، يتطلع السيسي إلى إعادة تعبئة المجال السياسي بشبان “أوفياء ووطنيين” من اختيار الأجهزة الأمنية ومكتب الرئيس، على أن يحل هؤلاء الشبان محل النخبة من المسنين الذين بدأوا حياتهم المهنية في السبعينيات من القرن المنصرم.

وبعد وفاة الرئيس السابق جمال عبد الناصر، واجه الزعماء في مصر صعوبات كبرى في صياغة أيديولوجيا سياسية قادرة على التنافس مع اليساريين والإسلاميين والليبراليين. ولا شك في أنّ السيسي قد لاحظ فشل أسلافه. لذلك، يبني المؤسسة الجديدة حول قضايا مثل محاربة الإرهاب وحماية الوطن من محور الشر المحسوس والمؤامرات الأجنبية والجيل الرابع من الحروب ـ وبعبارة أخرى، يكمن الحل بنظره في تجييش الحس الوطني.

والجدير بالذكر أن الحكومة تعمل على هذه الخطة منذ فترة، إذ أعلنت عن “المؤتمر الوطني للشباب” الأول في كانون الثاني/يناير 2016 وأجرته في شرم الشيخ في تشرين الأول/أكتوبر من ذاك العام. كما نظّم قسم الإعلام التابع لمكتب الرئيس هذا الحدث بالشراكة مع وزارة الشباب والرياضة و”البرنامج الرئاسي لتأهيل الشباب للقيادة” ووكالات أخرى. أمّا المشاركون الذين قدّر عددهم بنحو 3 آلاف فرد فقد ضموا الطلاب الجامعيين والرياضيين والمثقفين والسياسيين الناشئين. وحضروا محاضرات ألقاها حوالي 300 “خبير” وشخصية عامة. ومذاك، تم عقد ما لا يقل عن ثلاثة مؤتمرات وطنية للشباب.

وتجدر الإشارة إلى أن “البرنامج الرئاسي لتأهيل الشباب للقيادة”، الذي تأسس في أيلول/سبتمبر 2015 بهدف خلق قادة سياسيين جدد، يشكّل العمود الفقري لهذه الفعاليات. فينقسم المشاركون إلى مجموعات ويوضعون في ورشات عمل حول الاقتصاد والإعلام والعلوم السياسية والاستراتيجية والأمن القومي، وذلك ضمن برنامج مدته تسعة أشهر. ووفقًا لمقابلة أجريت مع وزير التربية طارق شوقي في تشرين الثاني/نوفمبر 2017، تخرجت من هذا البرنامج مجموعتان حتى الآن، ويعمل حاليًا اثنان وعشرون من خريجيها في مناصب وزارية مختلفة.

يتمثل هدف السيسي على المدى الطويل بإنشاء طبقة سياسية خالية تمامًا من جماعة “الإخوان المسلمين” وأعضاء المعارضة الآخرين. وقد تكون هذه الرؤية على وشك الإثمار خلال الانتخابات المحلية القادمة، والتي أجلتها الحكومة مرارًا وتكرارًا بهدف إعداد مرشحين مناسبين – وبالتحديد المشاركين في “البرنامج الرئاسي لتأهيل الشباب للقيادة” ومؤتمرات الشباب. وفي هذا الصدد، أشار وزير التنمية المحلية أبو بكر الجندي إلى أن البرلمان سيعتمد التشريع التنفيذي المتعلق بإدارة هذه الانتخابات بعد انتخابات الرئاسة.

وبصرف النظر عن مشاعر واشنطن تجاه حكومة السيسي، فإن رعاية هذا الجيل السياسي الجديد وإشراك أفراده خلال سنواتهم الأولى قد يؤديان إلى مساعدة المسؤولين الأمريكيين على إعادة ترسيخ نفوذهم في القاهرة. وهذا يشمل دعوتهم إلى الولايات المتحدة من خلال المبادرات الدبلوماسية العامة التابعة لوزارة الخارجية مثل “برنامج الزائر الدولي القيادي”. وستزداد فرص نجاح هذه الجهود في حال تم التعاون فيها مع الحكومة المصرية.

Source: The Washington Institute

The Arab World Today

By David G. Hogarth

THE Arab world is the world that speaks Arabic. Language is its one satisfactory test, and a much better one than the territorial. It is true that a continuous and fairly well defined area of the earth’s surface contains all the Arabic-speaking peoples (except voluntary exiles living in Java, America, East Africa and other foreign regions); but the same area includes too many speakers of other tongues — of Turkish, for example, or Kurdish or Armenian or Hebrew or Berber or some European language — whose non-Arab speech invariably goes with lack of conscious community with Arabs and even with contempt or hostility. A religious test would be more faulty still; for Christian minorities, which are not only in, but of, the Arab world are numerous. Such are the Egyptian Copts and several denominations which carry on in Syria a pro-Arab tradition, dating from distant days when hatred of Greeks drove Syrian Christians, as eager allies, into camps of the Prophet’s Companions. On the other hand, roughly speaking, all societies whose mother tongue is Arabic, whatever they be racially, are more or less conscious of integral community with an Arab world.

These societies fall into two divisions, Asiatic and African. Such dictotomy by continents is no mere fiction for classification’s sake. It does, in fact, correspond to a difference of political outlook. While the societies of the Asiatic Arab world feel some sense, however faint here or there, of political community, the African Arab societies have little or no such sense in regard to the Asiatic Arabs (or, indeed, to their African fellows), despite religious and linguistic community and the just claim of many to as pure Arabian blood as flows anywhere in Asia. For this duality the variation of geographical conditions is, of course, chiefly responsible; but it is variation of political rather than of physical conditions. The physical circumstance of North African life is not sufficiently dissimilar from that of southwestern Asia to account for the duality, nor has the Red Sea, impaired as it is by the Suez land-bridge, ever been a strong geographical barrier. On the other hand, Egypt, not racially Arab, dominated for the last thousand years by non-Arab foreigners, and pervaded for two centuries at least by European influences, has constituted a sufficient barrier, whose separative effect has constantly been reinforced by influences of opposite lands along almost all the long Mediterranean seaboard of Africa. The encroachment of Europe has provoked many counter-movements of revolt, of which that of Abd-el-Krim and his Rifis is the latest; but it is significant that the most thoroughgoing and best known of all revolts, that of the Senussiya, has issued, not in solidarity with a general Arab Cause, but in withdrawal from all connection with any other societies into a quietist isolation. Accordingly, since my theme is an Arab World, and that must have some community of tradition and hope to be a recognizable entity, I say no more of Africa, but confine myself to the Asiatic block of Arab societies and territories.


The most Arabist of these is, undoubtedly, Syria. Iraq might well have been its rival and even leader, were it not for the strong Iranian leaven in the latter’s social composition, and its remoteness from the western birthplace and focus of nationalist ideas. Therefore, though Iraq is equally exposed to the influence which continually renews the Arab strain in Syrian society — namely, persistent infiltration of desert folk, whose homeland is ever increasing its population but never increases its food-supply — it is less looked to than Syria for the expression and guidance of Arabism. Admitted that its potential resources are much better able to meet the waste which an imperial position would entail. If there ever should be a united Arabia the imperial centre would swing over from Damascus to Baghdad as inevitably as it did more than a thousand years ago, when the Abbasid Caliphate replaced the Ummayad. But the character of the resultant imperial state would be like that of the Abbasid, scarcely more Arab than Persian.

Westernized Egypt and the United States of America have educated, but not de-Arabized, Syria; a lesser, but not unimportant, part has been played by France and other South European lands. In Syria the idea of Arab nationality was first born within the memory of a living generation chiefly through the influence of returned emigrants, which was enforced by that of such home-keeping Syrians as had attended, or been affected by, the Western schools established and maintained in the East by America and the Latin peoples. All these Syrians had imbibed and assimilated ideas of self-determination, even before President Wilson gave them expression and currency. Syrians are quick-witted and commercially minded. By contact with Western societies they quickly learned and thoroughly appreciated one fact at least — that, under Turkish rule, opportunities for making money were less; still less the chances that money made would be retained and enjoyed. The Turks did not govern Syria particularly ill; they were treating it better before the war, indeed, than most of their provinces. But that root fact remained — that Syrians were at a conspicuous disadvantage in comparison with other lands which had become familiar to them, while others, rather than they, enjoyed the best of such fruits as Syria had to offer.

The movement for “Arabia-for-the-Arabs,” which germinated obscurely in Syria about the opening of the current century, found sympathizers in all denominations. Though inspired and supported to some extent by Moslems who resented the eclipse of the race that had founded and led the Faith, and who used its sacred tongue, the movement was not at the first, and is not today, essentially Islamic, much less pan-Islamic. Moslems and Christians have lived in Syria on the whole more peaceably together and with less lively consciousness of their religious difference than, perhaps, anywhere else in the Islamic world. With the single exception of Damascus itself, which is an oasis city of the desert rather than one of Syria, the history of its towns contains singularly few episodes of massacre for religion’s sake. In Aleppo and its province, for example, during the black “nineties,” a large Armenian population went about its business in tranquillity. The long story of Druse versus Maronite has been always political — a story of tribal feud, into which creed only entered when either party desired to enlist an ally.


Syrian Arabism being thus a political movement whose aspirations in twenty years rose through decentralization, homerule and self-determination to sovereign independence, it was bound to give serious trouble to any occupying Power. The Turks, through the agency of Ahmed Jemal Pasha, scotched it in 1915; but they had far from killed it when Allenby, on their expulsion in 1918, gave it a conspicuous fillip by putting Damascus and the other chief inland towns under an Arab administration. The desert influence which demands, not good government necessarily, but necessarily self-government, became more operative than ever. If America or Great Britain had acceded to the Syrian prayer that one or the other should accept a mandate for Syria, either would have found its initial popularity but short-lived. As it was, a Power not popular even at the outset except with one Christian denomination and a few “gosmopolites” — one whose former prestige in the Near East had suffered severely of late by invidious comparison of its war effort in that region with the achievements of its chief ally — a Power which the sagacious Arab well knew would prove the most exhausted of the victors — this Power insisted on taking charge. Of the local unpopularity of France — still less of its causes — the unofficial Frenchman, it is safe to say, was wholly ignorant. It takes a world of experience to render him critical of France abroad. I never met one in Egypt who entertained the slightest suspicion that all that was being thought, or spoken, of the British there, would inevitably be thought and spoken of the French, if they should replace Great Britain as the occupying Power. Perhaps even the French Government in 1919 had little better knowledge of the facts, if one may judge by the attitude held and the language used by the best informed French officials during the Peace Conference. None had grasped that the most conspicuous virtue of French colonial administration — its assimilative capacity — was reckoned by the mass of Asiatic Arabs the prime count against French control. At all costs they would remain Arabs. And who in a society of returned emigrants, in contact with the powerful Damascene family sprung from the Algerian hero, Abd-el-Kader, did not know of the assimilative policy of France? When we British, in 1919, knew that any revision of the Sykes-Picot Agreement was out of the question short of open rupture with France, who intended to honor not our, but her own, pledges to the Arabs, as she, not we, understood them, we made many an honest effort (though probably few Frenchmen will believe it) to argue down the anti-French feeling of Syrians. They were bidden consider Morocco and Lyautey rather than Algeria. But in vain. Lyautey they believed an individualist, not a faithful interpreter of the common policy of his race. In any case they objected that, whether a Lyautey came to rule them or not, all profitable enterprises in their country would fall to French financiers; and they said many other things about the destiny of their language, their faiths, their women, which were at worst but half truths, and more often chimerical.

The French Government and the French press have this excuse — that on many points they were misled by a small group of super-patriots active in Paris before, during and after the Peace Conference. These Syrians, many of whom resided and intended to reside out of their native land, put a united Syria in the forefront of their case, inveighed against Great Britain as a partitioner, and called on France to be the agent of re-union with Palestine. Occasional demonstrations and fiery language held publicly in Damascus gave color to their assurance that such was the first aspiration of Syrians. But in reality there was no deep-seated or sustained feeling behind those local utterances. They had issued from no more than spasms of academic altruism in this or that urban society. Syrian towns feel little sense of community even with one another; and if any one could get self-government, it would care little what might become of the rest. Detachment of town from town, district from district, tribe from tribe, is instilled and ever reinforced and maintained by the influx from Arabia, and it is a fundamental instinct — fortunately, after all, for the French, since probably it will save Syria to them. They have only to hold on a little while to see Druses, now used as a spear-point by the Syrian rebels, come to blows with and be repudiated by the other Lebanese, to see men of Homs at odds with men of Hamah and Aleppines with Damascenes. Not in Syria by the armed forces of rebellion will the fate of the French Mandate be decided, but by the situation in France. The first two High Commissioners, Gouraud and Weygand, may have embittered the Moslem majority by reliance on Christian minorities and by exalting the Lebanon over the rest of Syria. The third, the anti-clerical Sarrail, may have failed through defects of temper and manner to reconcile the Moslems by his change of policy, while his administration disappointed the Christians and incensed the Druses to ebullition. All three had too many indifferent or frankly bad tools to work with — officers without training or aptitude for dealing with peoples of alien customs and tongues — colored conscripts of indifferent morale and little French civilization. But all the mistakes and defects of the French régime taken together have not united Syria sufficiently to make her capable of thrusting her masters forth — unless at the same time these should be pulled out by failure of French will-power, begotten of the war-weariness of white troops and matured in financial despair. If this ever happens, the last to rejoice should be Great Britain; for white rule is white rule everywhere, and very few in the East discriminate long or deeply between one wielder of it and another. Withdrawal of the French High Commissioner will make every other High Commissioner in the Near and Middle East sit upon a very uneasy throne!

In Iraq (as those on the spot bear witness) the Syrian outbreak has evoked no sympathetic reaction. Certainly there has been no overt sign, and likely enough Iraq is and will remain cold. It has been jealous of Syria since Ummayad days. Further, it has already made and lost its own main effort against western control, and in its failure had certain experiences that abide in memory: first and foremost, that sufficient water is not forthcoming for agriculture in a time of disturbance. Nor does the Iraqi cultivator trust any uncontrolled native government, of whose establishment at Baghdad he can conceive at present, to keep him supplied with enough water for needs that have increased considerably since the Turks left. At worst too, he does not regard the British in his midst, as the Syrian regards the French, as masters come to stay. He half believes that, however it were five years ago, there is something in the actual British profession of being in Iraq simply to guide and protect an infant state constructed out of destruction for which the British were responsible; in fact, that the British advisers will go as soon as they feel that they have made an honest job of their undertaking to set an Arab state of Iraq on its legs. Have they not installed an Arab king (the Iraqi are not very enthusiastic about him) and more than a façade of Arab administration, with which, from year to year, they appear less and less to interfere? They do not keep in the country a quarter of the alien troops that are kept in Syria, and (though only the literati comprehend this) they did exchange their Mandate for a treaty, made as between independent parties and implying full recognition that Iraq is and will be Arab, not British. How the issue of the Mosal dispute may affect this last consideration it is too soon to judge.

The Iraqi is inclined the more to trust the actual British attitude because he has some inkling of the political and economic forces in Great Britain itself which have fostered its development out of a very different attitude held during and immediately after the war. He knows that the British Indian element, which bulked so large among his liberators, did, in fact, assume annexation or, at the least, such an occupation as then obtained in Egypt, to be the inevitable and legitimate sequel of conquest. But the post-war taxpayer at home and the mood of Labor quickly modified this aspiration, and the Iraqi expects that it will not be allowed to revive.


All this statement of his thoughts implies, of course, that beyond all else the Iraqi aspires eventually to uncontrolled self-government and that he does not wish the British or any other aliens to become fixtures in his country. To be candid, he does not wish it. It may be true that the presence of Britons galls him less than that of Frenchmen galls the Syrians, and that, thanks to the better average quality, the better training and the better tradition and practice of the young men exported to overseas administration in Iraq, British relations with the native population are, on the whole, more cordial and intimate. I have read lately an emphatic American testimony, borne by one long familiar with the country and people, to the quality, the honorable intention and the practical devotion to duty of the British officials in Iraq. But that same witness declined to conclude that, either on that or on any other account, British advisers are accepted with uncritical acquiescence, still less with general affection. Their very virtues irk the Iraqi — their energy, their efficiency, their incorruptibility, their insistence on sanitation and cleanliness. He dislikes their superiority and grumbles at the cost of them. But he is prepared to bear them awhile yet. He feels weak within weak frontiers which are beset by more instant and disagreeable foes than immediately threaten Syria — Wahabis on the southwest, Kurds on the north-east, Turks above Mosul; and he is aware that he lives in a house divided against itself. In the face of external danger the partition of Iraq between Shiah and Sunni would be a more serious defect than all the multiple partition of Syria.

The rest of the Asiatic Arabs enjoy, more and less, except in a few inconsiderable coastal districts, the self-government that all desire. Their greater enjoyment is in the extreme north and the extreme south; their less in the center between the eastern and western seas. The latter region, comprising spatially the larger part of peninsular Arabia, is experiencing again one of those recurrent phases of its history, when its essential disunion has been obliterated for a time (never long lasting) by the genius of one strong man armed, backed by a small but resolute and disciplined force. The present Wahabite domination of Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, Amir or Sultan of Nejd, is the most widely flung Arabian empire since the Prophet’s, and may conceivably prove to emulate even this in respect of duration, by outliving its founder for something like the half-generation which divided the deaths of Mohammed and Ali. At present it rests on three positive supports and a negative fact. First, on the magnetic and powerful personality of Ibn Saud himself, who is as certainly by as much the most remarkable Arab of his generation as Mohammed ibn Rashid was a generation ago. Second, on the suitability of austere Wahabite Puritanism to the mind of the Bedouin, wherever he has not been contaminated by contacts with higher civilization. Third, on the apostolic fanaticism of a comparatively small but single-minded body of Wahabite zealots, drawn from Bedouins and oasis folk of the interior, who live under very primitive conditions. Finally, on the negative fact that, since the withdrawal of Turkey, there is no extra-Arabian power which feels disposed in the least to meddle in the affairs of Inner Arabia.

These assets contribute better to the making of Arab Empire than to its retention. Zealotry, which may render ten men more than a match for a thousand, cannot be sustained at white heat longer by Arabs than by others; and as it cools, the paucity of the zealots and the meagre home resources on which they rest will begin to be patent. Moreover Wahabite zealotry, engendered by primitive conditions of life and ignorance of all but these, has reached the fringes of higher civilizations, where new contacts will modify it, as rapidly as they did after its first ebullition more than a hundred years ago. The settled fringe-folk are not, and will never be, Wahabite. On the east they are not predominantly even Sunnite, while on the west they are Shiite in most of Yeman and loose luxurious livers in the Hejaz cities. In neither quarter is dour Bedouin Puritanism found congenial. The nomads, for their part, have a different grief, which has always awakened sooner or later to dissolve empire in Arabia. A “sheikh of sheikhs,” such as on the largest scale is Ibn Saud, must necessarily prohibit inter-tribal warfare within his borders, and the wider these are, the wider the enforced peace. But since the beginning of time mutual raiding has been the one zest of the Bedouin’s starved life, and its prohibition is no more welcome to him than is prohibition of a national sport anywhere. Add to the account that the maintenance of this empire depends on the character and energy of one man who is little likely to be succeeded by any one at all his equal (Arab “emperors” have rarely found worthy successors, thanks in great part to the immoderate sexual indulgence which their position allows), and the sum will be found to hold out little promise of long duration to Wahabite rule outside Nejd. At this moment it has probably reached its high-water mark on frontiers beyond which there is no sympathy with its peculiar creed and stronger forces wait than its own. A few months ago a body of nearly two thousand mounted zealots tried to pass the frontier into the Trans-Jordan lands. They were met by a couple of armored cars and a couple of aeroplanes, which in a few minutes accounted for just half their number and sent the rest flying for scores of miles. For his own sake it is to be hoped that Ibn Saud will not yield to any Syrian prayer that he should come out against the French, and offer more of his warriors to machine-guns.

Wahabism has enlisted a few supporters outside — for instance in India, in which land, as everywhere else, there are some Moslems of Puritan tendency. But it is inconceivable that it should ever lead a pan-Islamic movement. Even in Arabia itself the creed has always failed of appeal where desert conditions cease to predominate — for instance in Yemen, in Hadhramaut and in Oman. What chance then in Iraq, Syria or Egypt?

As one looks over the Arab World to-day, it appears not less a house divided against itself than it has ever been. Nor does the larger Islamic World, of which it is in name alone the spiritual center, seem in different case. One may trace here and there and now and again some sign of common policy and action, as perhaps in the coincidence of Abd-el-Krim’s effort in the Riff with that of the Syrian rebels. But no sign that now or in the future, any more than during the late war, Moslems will, or can, unite forces in a common effort to prevail again as their first Caliphs prevailed.

Source: Foreign Affairs

Has the Use of Chemical Weapons Become A New Norm in International Relations?

Alastair Hay | Professor emeritus of environmental toxicology at the University of Leeds

Not in my opinion. Syria is an aberration. Before Syria, the last large-scale use of chemical weapons was the Iraqi attacks against the Kurds in 1988, in which some 8,000 people died and many more were injured. It was another 25 years, in August 2013, before a nerve agent, Sarin, was used in Syria—killing over 1,400 people in the Ghouta, and in April 2017, killing perhaps over 100 people in Khan Sheikhoun. Unknown agents appear to have killed many people on April 7, 2018, in Douma. Sandwiched between these attacks were many more using chlorine.


Smaller-scale, but isolated, attacks with nerve agents have also taken place. Sarin was used to kill 20 people, while injuring hundreds, in Japan in 1994 and 1995. VX was used in the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in Kuala Lumpur in 2017. And a Novichok-type agent was used in the attempted murder of the Skripals in the United Kingdom in March 2018. Most of Syria’s chemical weapons have been destroyed under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, but clearly not all. Worldwide, over 96 percent of declared chemical weapons have been destroyed, with 192 countries and much of the chemical industry supporting these moves. In the longer term the outlook is positive, even if current events suggest otherwise.

Natasha Lander | Senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation

The recent chemical attack in Douma was not an aberration. Despite concerted international efforts over the past several decades to ban chemical weapons, such weapons have been used in recent years by Syria, the Islamic State, North Korea, and even Russia. The lack of concrete measures to hold perpetrators of chemical attacks responsible creates a dangerous shift that treats chemical weapons as tacitly accepted weapons of war. The United States, many of its European allies, and the European Union have levied sanctions against Syrians and Russians in response to such attacks. Some have expelled Russian diplomats from their countries. The United Nations Security Council holds meetings in response to chemical weapons use, but meetings alone do not produce results.

Military options have been employed against Syria in retaliation for chemical attacks—as recently as April 14, 2018—but sustained military action may be politically unpalatable. At a minimum, likeminded allies must sustain public condemnation of such attacks and continue to levy sanctions. They should also consider releasing more information to disprove narratives put out by Russia that Syrian and Russian forays into chemical weapons use are false.

Alex Simon | Syria program director at Synaps, which mentors local analysts grappling with the social and economic changes faced by their societies

No, on the contrary, the latest U.S., British, and French military strikes in Syria showed that the taboo against the use of chemical weapons still carried enough symbolic weight to trigger a response by actors who had, otherwise, abandoned most pretense of caring about Syrians. It is remarkable, however, to note the degree to which this prohibition has lost the consensual, commonsensical support it enjoyed as of the 1990s. Today, a power as mainstream as Russia stops short of denouncing repeated chemical weapons use, opting instead for an incoherent mix of denials, false flag theories, and flimsy accusations against rebel groups.

This devaluation belongs to a broader post-2001 drift away from concepts that helped structure the late-20th century, as Western societies turn inward and a paranoid “war on terror” eats away at the notion of a rules-based international order. Norms such as the right to asylum and prohibitions on chemical weapons use and torture were never inviolate, but they at least enjoyed broad Western consensus. Today it is only moderately controversial that European nations turn back refugees facing death or enslavement in Africa. Washington bears considerable blame for this erosion, which George W. Bush helped catalyze, Barack Obama did nothing to arrest, and Donald Trump promises to accelerate.

Perry Cammack | Fellow in the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former member of the Policy Planning Staff at the State Department under secretary of state John Kerry (2013–2105), where he worked on Middle East-related issues

With the pinprick strikes last week against Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, the number of countries using chemical weapons against their own citizens seems likely to decline, at least for the time being, from one to zero.

But this development is small relief for the 600,000 Rohingya in Myanmar who have been driven with impunity from their homes in Rakhine State by the ruling junta, or the 1 million in Yemen suffering from cholera in the wake of civil war and a Saudi-led military intervention. So, too, for the citizens of restive areas of Syria, whose government will continue to kill them in far greater numbers with crude barrel bombs filled with gasoline and scrap metal. The reestablishment of prohibitions against the use of chemical weapons is in and of itself certainly welcome news. But it is hardly a cause for celebration in a world gone mad.

Source: CARNEGIE ME Center, Inquiring Minds