Germany Acts to Tame Facebook, Learning From Its Own History of Hate

By Katrin Bennhold

A country taps its past as it leads the way on one of the most pressing issues facing modern democracies: how to regulate the world’s biggest social network.

BERLIN — Security is tight at this brick building on the western edge of Berlin. Inside, a sign warns: “Everybody without a badge is a potential spy!”

Spread over five floors, hundreds of men and women sit in rows of six scanning their computer screens. All have signed nondisclosure agreements. Four trauma specialists are at their disposal seven days a week.

They are the agents of Facebook. And they have the power to decide what is free speech and what is hate speech.

This is a deletion center, one of Facebook’s largest, with more than 1,200 content moderators. They are cleaning up content — from terrorist propaganda to Nazi symbols to child abuse — that violates the law or the company’s community standards.

Germany, home to a tough new online hate speech law, has become a laboratory for one of the most pressing issues for governments today: how and whether to regulate the world’s biggest social network.

Around the world, Facebook and other social networking platforms are facing a backlash over their failures to safeguard privacy, disinformation campaigns and the digital reach of hate groups.

In India, seven people were beaten to death after a false viral message on the Facebook subsidiary WhatsApp. In Myanmar, violence against the Rohingya minority was fueled, in part, by misinformation spread on Facebook. In the United States, Congress called Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to testify about the company’s inability to protect its users’ privacy.

As the world confronts these rising forces, Europe, and Germany in particular, have emerged as the de facto regulators of the industry, exerting influence beyond their own borders. Berlin’s digital crackdown on hate speech, which took effect on Jan. 1, is being closely watched by other countries. And German officials are playing a major role behind one of Europe’s most aggressive moves to rein in technology companies, strict data privacy rules that take effect across the European Union on May 25 and are prompting global changes.

00fbgermany-2-jumboGerd Billen, the secretary of state for Germany’s Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, says that data protection is a fundamental right.

“For them, data is the raw material that makes them money,” said Gerd Billen, secretary of state in Germany’s Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection. “For us, data protection is a fundamental right that underpins our democratic institutions.”

Germany’s troubled history has placed it on the front line of a modern tug-of-war between democracies and digital platforms.

In the country of the Holocaust, the commitment against hate speech is as fierce as the commitment to free speech. Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” is only available in an annotated version. Swastikas are illegal. Inciting hatred is punishable by up to five years in jail.

But banned posts, pictures and videos have routinely lingered on Facebook and other social media platforms. Now companies that systematically fail to remove “obviously illegal” content within 24 hours face fines of up to 50 million euros.

The deletion center predates the legislation, but its efforts have taken on new urgency. Every day content moderators in Berlin, hired by a third-party firm and working exclusively on Facebook, pore over thousands of posts flagged by users as upsetting or potentially illegal and make a judgment: Ignore, delete or, in particularly tricky cases, “escalate” to a global team of Facebook lawyers with expertise in German regulation.

Some decisions to delete are easy. Posts about Holocaust denial and genocidal rants against particular groups like refugees are obvious ones for taking down.

Others are less so. On Dec. 31, the day before the new law took effect, a far-right lawmaker reacted to an Arabic New Year’s tweet from the Cologne police, accusing them of appeasing “barbaric, Muslim, gang-raping groups of men.”

The request to block a screenshot of the lawmaker’s post wound up in the queue of Nils, a 35-year-old agent in the Berlin deletion center. His judgment was to let it stand. A colleague thought it should come down. Ultimately, the post was sent to lawyers in Dublin, London, Silicon Valley and Hamburg. By the afternoon it had been deleted, prompting a storm of criticism about the new legislation, known here as the “Facebook Law.”

“A lot of stuff is clear-cut,” Nils said. Facebook, citing his safety, did not allow him to give his surname. “But then there is the borderline stuff.”

Complicated cases have raised concerns that the threat of the new rules’ steep fines and 24-hour window for making decisions encourage “over-blocking” by companies, a sort of defensive censorship of content that is not actually illegal.

The far-right Alternative of Germany, a noisy and prolific user of social media, has been quick to proclaim “the end of free speech.” Human rights organizations have warned that the legislation was inspiring authoritarian governments to copy it.

Other people argue that the law simply gives a private company too much authority to decide what constitutes illegal hate speech in a democracy, an argument that Facebook, which favored voluntary guidelines, made against the law.

“It is perfectly appropriate for the German government to set standards,” said Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president of communications and public policy. “But we think it’s a bad idea for the German government to outsource the decision of what is lawful and what is not.”00fbgermany-3-superJumbo

Richard Allen, Facebook’s vice president for public policy in Europe, leaving a meeting at Germany’s justice ministry in March.CreditSean Gallup/Getty Images

Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president for public policy in Europe and the leader of the company’s lobbying effort against the German legislation, put it more simply: “We don’t want to be the arbiters of free speech.”

German officials counter that social media platforms are the arbiters anyway.

It all boils down to one question, said Mr. Billen, who helped draw up the new legislation: “Who is sovereign? Parliament or Facebook?”

Learning From (German) History

When Nils applied for a job at the deletion center, the first question the recruiter asked him was: “Do you know what you will see here?”

Nils has seen it all. Child torture. Mutilations. Suicides. Even murder: He once saw a video of a man cutting a heart out of a living human being.

And then there is hate.

“You see all the ugliness of the world here,” Nils said. “Everyone is against everyone else. Everyone is complaining about that other group. And everyone is saying the same horrible things.”

The issue is deeply personal for Nils. He has a 4-year-old daughter. “I’m also doing this for her,” he said.

The center here is run by Arvato, a German service provider owned by the conglomerate Bertelsmann. The agents have a broad purview, reviewing content from a half-dozen countries. Those with a focus on Germany must know Facebook’s community standards and, as of January, the basics of German hate speech and defamation law.

“Two agents looking at the same post should come up with the same decision,” says Karsten König, who manages Arvato’s partnership with Facebook.

The Berlin center opened with 200 employees in 2015, as Germany was opening its doors to hundreds of thousands of migrants.

merlin_117793349_d26d81ce-8420-4fe5-88d6-47ad51fcf23d-superJumboAnas Modamani, a Syrian refugee, with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in Berlin in September 2015.

Anas Modamani, a Syrian refugee, posed with Chancellor Angela Merkel and posted the image on Facebook. It instantly became a symbol of her decision to allowing in hundreds of thousands of migrants.

Soon it also became a symbol of the backlash.

The image showed up in false reports linking Mr. Modamani to terrorist attacks in Brussels and on a Christmas market in Berlin. He sought an injunction against Facebook to stop such posts from being shared but eventually lost.

The arrival of nearly 1.4 million migrants in Germany has tested the country’s resolve to keep a tight lid on hate speech. The law on illegal speech was long-established but enforcement in the digital realm was scattershot before the new legislation.

Posts calling refugees rapists, Neanderthals and scum survived for weeks, according to jugendschutz.net, a publicly funded internet safety organization. Many were never taken down. Researchers at jugendschutz.net reported a tripling in observed hate speech in the second half of 2015.

Mr. Billen, the secretary of state in charge of the new law, was alarmed. In September 2015, he convened executives from Facebook and other social media sites at the justice ministry, a building that was once the epicenter of state propaganda for the Communist East. A task force for fighting hate speech was created. A couple of months later, Facebook and other companies signed a joint declaration, promising to “examine flagged content and block or delete the majority of illegal posts within 24 hours.”

But the problem did not go away. Over the 15 months that followed, independent researchers, hired by the government, twice posed as ordinary users and flagged illegal hate speech. During the tests, they found that Facebook had deleted 46 percent and 39 percent.

“They knew that they were a platform for criminal behavior and for calls to commit criminal acts, but they presented themselves to us as a wolf in sheep skin,” said Mr. Billen, a poker-faced civil servant with stern black frames on his glasses.

By March 2017, the German government had lost patience and started drafting legislation. The Network Enforcement Law was born, setting out 21 types of content that are “manifestly illegal” and requiring social media platforms to act quickly.

Officials say early indications suggest the rules have served their purpose. Facebook’s performance on removing illegal hate speech in Germany rose to 100 percent over the past year, according to the latest spot check of the European Union.

Platforms must publish biannual reports on their efforts. The first is expected in July.

At Facebook’s Berlin offices, Mr. Allan acknowledged that under the earlier voluntary agreement, the company had not acted decisively enough at first.

“It was too little and it was too slow,” he said. But, he added, “that has changed.”

He cited another independent report for the European Commission from last summer that showed Facebook was by then removing 80 percent of hate speech posts in Germany.

The reason for the improvement was not German legislation, he said, but a voluntary code of conduct with the European Union. Facebook’s results have improved in all European countries, not just in Germany, Mr. Allan said.

“There was no need for legislation,” he said.

Mr. Billen disagrees.

“They could have prevented the law,” he said. YouTube scored 90 percent in last year’s monitoring exercise. If other platforms had done the same, there would be no law today, he said.

A Regulatory Dilemma

Germany’s hard-line approach to hate speech and data privacy once made it an outlier in Europe. The country’s stance is now more mainstream, an evolution seen in the justice commissioner in Brussels.

00fbgermany-7-superJumboVera Jourova, the European Union’s justice commissioner, deleted her Facebook account in 2015 because she could no longer stand the hate.

Vera Jourova, the justice commissioner, deleted her Facebook account in 2015 because she could not stand the hate anymore.

“It felt good,” she said about pressing the button. She added: “It felt like taking back control.”

But Ms. Jourova, who grew up behind the Iron Curtain in what is now the Czech Republic, had long been skeptical about governments legislating any aspect of free speech, including hate speech. Her father lost his job after making a disparaging comment about the Soviet invasion in 1968, barring her from going to university until she married and took her husband’s name.

“I lived half my life in the atmosphere driven by Soviet propaganda,” she said. “The golden principle was: If you repeat a lie a hundred times it becomes the truth.”

When Germany started considering a law, she instead preferred a voluntary code of conduct. In 2016, platforms like Facebook promised European users easy reporting tools and committed to removing most illegal posts brought to their attention within 24 hours.

The approach worked well enough, Ms. Jourova said. It was also the quickest way to act because the 28 member states in the European Union differed so much about whether and how to legislate.

But the stance of many governments toward Facebook has hardened since it emerged that the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of up to 87 million users. Representatives of the European Parliament have asked Mr. Zuckerberg to come to Brussels to “clarify issues related to the use of personal data” and he has agreed to come as soon as next week.

Ms. Jourova, whose job is to protect the data of over 500 million Europeans, has hardened her stance as well.

To be Continued….. Source: NYTimes

هل ستُحدث الانتخابات اللبنانية نهاية هذا الأسبوع أي تغيير؟

By MEPolitics Staff

كارلوس إده | رئيس حزب الكتلة الوطنية اللبنانية

نعم ولا. نعم، لأنّ وجوهاً جديدة ستصل إلى البرلمان؛ فللمرّة الأولى، يشارك المجتمع المدني بفعالية في الانتخابات؛ ولأنّ حزب الله سيشدّد قبضته على البلاد.

لكن بشكل أساسي لا، لأنّ القيم الجوهرية للمجتمع اللبناني لم تتغيّر. فلبنان بلد منقسم وطائفي، حيث تعدّ الزبائنية القوة الرئيسة التي تقود الثقافة السياسية. ومع أنه يرتدي عباءة الديمقراطية، إلا أنه خاضع في الواقع إلى سيطرة أقلية بلوتوقراطية. تفتقر اللوائح الانتخابية إلى أي منطق أو تماسك سياسي، كما أنّ القوانين الانتخابية مصمّمة دائماً لحماية الطبقة الحاكمة. وللقانون الحالي خصائص أفظع حوّلت الحملة الانتخابية خارج المناطق الخاضعة لسيطرة حزب الله إلى شجار صالونات بين الخصموم والحلفاء على حد سواء.

تشير التقديرات إلى أنه تم شراء ما لا يقل عن 35 في المئة من الأصوات في الانتخابات اللبنانية السابقة، وهي في ازياد هذا العام. أما بالنسبة للتوّاقين إلي دخول البرلمان، فإنّ ضمّهم إلى لوائح المرشّحين غالباً ما ينطوي على دفع مبالغ كبيرة لقبولهم من قبل قادتها – وهو مزاد يقيمه السياسيون المحنّكون. هكذا، وفي حين أنّ بعض الأسماء قد تتغير، فإنّ ملامح البرلمانيين ستظلّ كما هي، لا بل ستزداد فساداً، وستبقى الأمور “على ما هي عليه”.

وليد شقير | مدير الأخبار اللبنانية في صحيفة “الحياة”

قد يأتي التغيير في الشكل بدلاً من المضمون، لأنّه سيتم تطبيق القانون الانتخابي على أساس النظام النسبي للمرّة الأولى. وقد تكون لدى المجموعات التي لم يسبق لها الدخول إلى البرلمان فرصة القيام بذلك. هناك 128 مقعداً في مجلس النواب، موزّعة بالتساوي بين المسيحيين والمسلمين، ثم تنقسم إلى طوائف مختلفة في كل من الديانتين الرئيستين.

المزج بين التمثيل النسبي، الذي من المفترض أن يعزّز نظاماً متطوّراً وعلمانياً يسمح بتمثيل مروحة واسعة من المجموعات، وبين نظام طائفي قديم، يقتضي تطبيق قانون هجين ومعقّد. وسيزداد الأمر تعقيداً بسبب اعتماد ما يُعرف بالصوت التفضيلي، الذي يختار الناخبون بموجبه أيضاً مرشّحاً واحداً ضمن لائحتهم سيكون على الأرجح من الطائفة نفسها التي ينتمون إليها، ما سيؤدي إلى تشتيت الأصوات في كلّ لائحة من المرشّحين، وعدم ضمان أغلبية واضحة لأي أحد منهم.

لا تغييرات كبيرة متوقعة على المستوى السياسي. فقد يسمح هذا النظام الفريد للسنّة القريبين من حزب الله بالفوز ببعض المقاعد، وربّما يمنح الحزب وحلفاءه القدرة على منع قرارات حاسمة – أي على سبيل المثال المرشّحين الذين لا يريدهم حزب الله في الانتخابات الرئاسية المُقبلة، أو الجهود الرامية إلى دفع الحزب لتقديم تنازلات بشأن سلاحه. في الوقت نفسه، فإنّ فرص حدوث اختراق من قبل مرشّحين معارضين لحزب الله محدودة للغاية.

بشار حيدر | أستاذ الفلسفة في الجامعة الأمريكية في بيروت

خلافاً لما اعتاد كثيرون على اعتقاده، فإنّ ما يعيق إمكانية التغيير من خلال العملية الديمقراطية في لبنان ليس النظام الانتخابي الطائفي أو النظام السياسي القائم، بل الخيارات السياسية الطائفية لمتوسط ​​الناخبين. فمثل هذه الخيارات ستحدّد نتائج الانتخابات حتى في ظلّ نظام انتخابي غير طائفي. ويُعدّ العراق مثالاً على ذلك، حيث يتخذ الناخبون خيارات طائفية في ظل نظام انتخابي غير طائفي. لذلك، من غير المحتمل أن تُحدث القوانين الانتخابية في لبنان فرقاً، على الأقل في المدى القصير والمتوسط.

ثمة عامل أكثر أهمية يحدّ من قدرة الخيار الديمقراطي على إحداث تغيير مهم، وهو القوة العسكرية التي لا مثيل لها لحزب الله. فقد ظهر استعداده وقدرته على استخدام قوّته الغاشمة لفرض إرادته السياسية عبر استيلائه العسكري على بيروت الغربية، ومحاولاته القيام بذلك في الجبل في أيار/مايو 2008. حينها، برهنت الأحداث لخصوم حزب الله الحدود الضيقة لأي انتصارات ديمقراطية قد يحرزونها. ومع ذلك، ربّما لا يزال التصويت، على الرغم من هذه القيود وضدّها، يمثّل تحدياً سياسياً ومقاومة يُعتدّ بها.

مهند الحاج علي | مدير الاتصالات والإعلام في مركز كارنيغي للشرق الأوسط في بيروت

هناك طرق عدّة يمكن أن تؤثّر من خلالها الانتخابات على السياسة اللبنانية، سواء بشكلٍ سلبي أو إيجابي. فمن ناحية، قد تنتج هذه الانتخابات برلماناً ودوداً تجاه حزب الله، إذ تم تصميم القانون الهجين الحالي، وهو العاشر في تاريخ الجمهورية اللبنانية، إلى حدّ كبير من قبل الحزب والتيار الوطني الحر التابع للرئيس ميشال عون. فقد سعى كلّ منهما إلى تقليص كتل منافسيه في انتخابات العام 2009 الأخيرة بشكل كبير، خصوصاً رئيس الوزراء سعد الحريري والزعيم الدرزي وليد جنبلاط. وقد يسمح التلاعب بالدوائر الانتخابية وحقيقة أنّ القانون يعتمد التمثيل النسبي، لحلفاء حزب الله من الطوائف الأخرى، وتحديداً السنّة والعلويين، بالفوز. وإذا سيطرت على البرلمان أغلبية صديقة لحزب الله، سيوفّر له ذلك نفوذاً أقوى في لبنان، وقد يسمح له حتى بتشكيل “حكومة حرب”، من دون الحريري، في حال بدا الصراع مع إسرائيل وشيكاً.

من ناحية أخرى، قد يفشل حزب الله، وهناك طريقتان لتصوّر انتكاسة كبيرة له. الأولى، من خلال هزيمة حلفاء رئيسين له في معاقله. فخسارة جميل السيّد، المدير العام السابق للأمن العام، في دائرة بعلبك-الهرمل؛ أو أسعد حردان، زعيم الحزب السوري القومي الاجتماعي الموالي للنظام السوري، في جنوب لبنان، ستشكّلان صفعة للحزب. أما الطريقة الثانية، فتتمثّل بفشل حزب الله وحلفائه في تأمين أغلبية في البرلمان، مع استعادة الحريري وحلفائه للأغلبية الوازنة التي يتمتعون بها اليوم.

ستؤثّر الانتخابات على لبنان بشكل إيجابي إذا فاز فيها عدد من المرشحين المستقلين، بمن فيهم أولئك الذين شاركوا في حركة الاحتجاج المدني في البلاد في العام 2015، أو إذا حققوا نتائج جيّدة في تحدّي اللوائح الانتخابية المدعومة من الطبقة السياسية. وهذا أمر مهمّ إذ إن القوانين الانتخابية السابقة في البلاد قطعت الطريق أمام هؤلاء المرشحين. ومثل هذه النجاحات قد تشكّل مدخلاً لخوض غمار تحديات أكثر خطورة في الانتخابات المُقبلة.

UK drones firing organ-destroying ‘vacuum bombs’ on the rise in Syria – FOI request reveals

The UK is ‘indiscriminately’ using thermobaric missiles as part of its ongoing air war in Syria, a Freedom of Information (FoI) request has revealed.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) admitted, for the first time, using thermobaric weapons during strikes carried out by Royal Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drones during missions in January and February, in response to the FoI request by anti-war campaign group Drone Wars UK.

Thermobaric weapons, known colloquially as “vacuum bombs,” differ from conventional munitions – which cause damage by spreading shrapnel – as they create a high-temperature explosion with an extremely powerful blast radius. The pressure created causes severe internal damage to the organs of people caught in the blast radius.

According to Drone Wars, the request saw “officials give a breakdown of the type of Hellfire missiles fired, stating that 19 AGM-114N4 and 44 AGM-114R2 had been used. The ‘N’ version of the missile uses a Metal Augmented Charge (MAC) warhead that contains a thermobaric explosive fill using aluminum with the explosive mixture. When the warhead detonates, the aluminum mixture is dispersed and rapidly burns.”

While use of vacuum bombs remain legal under international law, their use has been criticized by human rights organizations as they have the potential to create unnecessary human suffering.

“Anyone in the vicinity is likely to die from internal organ damage,” the group added.

Manufactured by US arms giant Lockheed Martin, the company boasts that over 21,000 units of the missile have been delivered to the US Air Force and over 13 of Washington’s international partners, including the UK.

Coming in three configurations, Hellfires have been integrated on a variety of air platforms including the Apache and Super Cobra attack helicopters. As well as Predator and Reaper drones. They have also been added to turboprop fixed-wing aircraft, offering operators a cheaper platform to carry out counter-insurgency missions.

Increased use by the RAF

The UK’s use of thermobaric missiles was first reported in 2008 when the British military used Apache helicopters equipped with Hellfires to tackle Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. News that troops were using such weapons caused a stir in Westminster with The Times reporting that “MoD weapons and legal experts spent 18 months debating whether British troops could use them without breaking international law.”

They settled on redefining the missiles as “enhanced blast weapons” in order to get around any potential legal wrangling.

Since then, and until the request granted by the FoI, the MoD has tried to avoid answering questions on their use of the thermobaric variant of the Hellfire.

READ MORE: RAF strike killed one civilian in Syria as it targeted ISIS, defence secretary admits

Admission of their use comes the same week as UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson admitted that a recent RAF airstrike resulted in a civilian casualty. In a ministerial statement, Williamson said that the casualty “crossed into the strike area at the last moment,” during a targeted strike in northeastern Syria on March 26, that killed three militants of the Islamic State (IS).

In recent months, the RAF has been upping its use of drone strikes in Syria in favor of its dedicated multi-role strike bomber, the Tornado. According to Drone Wars, between January and March of this year, “UK drones fired as many weapons in Syria (92) as they have over the previous 18 months,” and is seeking further information on whether their use is increasing in favor of manned aircraft.

source: RT

Bracing for an Israel-Iran Confrontation in Syria

 By Ehud Yaari

Despite the recent escalation, the United States has options for preventing, or at least limiting the scope of, a regional showdown in Syria.

Israel and Iran are on course for a collision in the near future. Indeed, a military clash that could expand well beyond Syrian territory appears almost inevitable. In particular, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is determined to transform Syria into a platform for a future war against Israel, whereas leaders of the Jewish state have sworn to prevent what they often describe as the tightening of a noose around Israel’s neck.

The past five years have already seen a series of direct clashes between the two powers. These include more than 120 Israeli Air Force (IAF) strikes against weapons shipments to Hezbollah, Iranian attempts to instigate cross-border incidents along the Golan Heights, and Israeli targeting of arms-production facilities introduced by Iran. In early 2018, these exchanges have escalated to include Israeli airstrikes on Iranian UAV facilities established deep in the Syrian desert, at the T-4 Air Base, and a first Iranian attempt to stage an armed drone attack in Israel.

Iran has committed publicly to conducting a forceful retaliation for the Israeli strike in January that killed eight Iranian officers, including UAV unit commander Colonel Mehdi Dehghani. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has threatened vaguely that a confrontation in Syria could prompt Israel to target Iranian territory. He has also presented an ultimatum of sorts to Bashar al-Assad, suggesting that continued acquiescence by the Syrian President to the establishment of Iranian military bases across his country would compel an end to the Israeli policy of noninterference in the Syrian war. This switch would entail direct military hits on the regime, the preservation of which has been Tehran’s prime objective in the region. Such a shift in Israel’s policy would of course carry the risk of drawing Russian intervention to prevent Assad’s removal. Relatedly, Moscow has already hinted that it may supply Syria with the advanced S-300 air-defense system—probably manned with Russian personnel—which would complicate IAF sorties over the country. In recent weeks, neither Israel nor Iran has signaled an intention to reassess its position, and combative rhetoric from both sides has become an almost daily occurrence.

Outside powers, too, have yet to undertake serious efforts to stop the escalation. The United States is quietly backing Israeli preemptive operations against Iranian forces in Syria, while Russia has restricted itself to advising both parties to refrain from widening the scope of the clashes. President Vladimir Putin, although in close contact with both Netanyahu and President Hassan Rouhani, has never offered to mediate. Moreover, he has not directed his pilots, based mainly near Latakia, to interfere with Israeli strikes or to stop Iran from expanding its military infrastructure in Syria. Putin appears to believe he can still exploit the Israel-Iran rivalry to his own benefit.

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Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in March 2011, Israel and Iran have been on opposing sides of the conflict. Despite harboring deep suspicions about the plethora of Sunni rebel groups conducting the uprising against Assad, Israel nevertheless yearned to see Assad’s downfall. In this view, the removal of the Assad regime would deprive Iran of what Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has called “the golden ring in the chain of resistance” against Israel. The Iranian loss of Syria—following an investment of no less than $20 billion to prop up the regime—could reduce a mighty Hezbollah proxy force to an isolated actor in Lebanon, delinked from its Syria-based sources of support and equipment. Iran would thus be blocked from implementing its regional plan, based on surrounding Israel with Iranian allies and forging land corridors from its borders all the way west to the Mediterranean. Still, the Israeli leadership—with consistent backing from IDF generals—has opted not to act to speed the collapse of the Assad regime, often on the strength of an implied “devil we know” argument.

Netanyahu has nevertheless articulated a set of red lines: the transfer via Syria to Hezbollah of game-changing weapons, specifically precision-guided missiles; and any attempt to open a new front in terrorist operations along the Golan Line of Separation, where Israel intends to maintain calm. Outside these red lines, however, Israel has taken no actions to degrade Assad’s power or threaten regime assets separate from the Iran-Hezbollah deployment in Syria. Both the Israeli security cabinet and the IDF General Staff have repeatedly rejected suggestions to equip certain non-jihadist rebel factions with the weapons they desperately need to fight the remnants of the Syrian army and the Iran-sponsored militias, at some 40,000 strong. This is despite pleas by rebel commanders for anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, heavy mortars, and light artillery. In the minority, a handful of Israeli security officials felt early on that by extending modest military assistance to vetted rebel groups in the Quneitra and Deraa provinces, they could help these fighters overcome the depleted units of the Syrian army’s First Corps, stationed at the nexus of Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan, with Damascus to the north. The five Syrian army divisions traditionally posted in this area had suffered substantial casualties, defections, and a collapse in recruitment. For those Israeli officials who favored arming the rebels, the idea was to encourage their capture of this space and holding of the line along the southern approaches to the Syrian capital, areas that include the Assad strongholds of al-Kiswah, Qatana, and Kanaker. A strong rebel line in this territory would relieve pressure from rebel brigades active in other sectors surrounding Damascus and force Assad to split his much-weakened forces. Capture of southern Syria by the rebels, some suggested, would create a wide buffer zone between Israel and Iran-sponsored forces. Such a plan, however, never materialized owing to Netanyahu’s reluctance to get drawn into the Syrian quagmire and expose Israelis to retaliatory fire from across the border.

In retrospect, this hesitance by the Israeli security establishment can be traced all the way back to the first Lebanon war in 1982, when Israel failed to facilitate regime change in Beirut and later had to relinquish the security belt established along the border and abandon the local militia operating there—the South Lebanon Army (SLA). From that experience, most Israeli officials absorbed the lesson that adventures outside Israel’s borders must be averted, as well as a skepticism of the effectiveness of investing in proxy foreign militias.

Whatever their resistance to actually funding the Syrian rebels, Israeli officers maintained a continuous dialogue with various such groups and mostly assessed that they were too fragmented and, to varying degrees, also inclined toward jihadist ideology. The bottom line for Israel was that, even in cases where rebel groups from different towns joined together in coalitions such as the Southern Front, they did not warrant the investment.

Still, in an effort to keep the Golan front calm and avoid a flood of refugees, Israel has since 2013 gradually developed a humanitarian-aid program for rebel-held villages close to the border. The program has slowly been expanded so that today it reaches approximately 300,000 inhabitants of the Quneitra and, to a lesser extent, Deraa provinces. This program—clearly the most successful of all similar humanitarian efforts in Syria—consists of medical treatment of thousands in hospitals inside Israel and large cross-border deliveries of food, fuel, clothes, and other supplies. In June 2016, this program was consolidated under a special unit named “Good Neighborhood,” which itself is part of Territorial Division 420, in charge of the border. Both the entry of Syrians seeking medical care and the aid deliveries across the border occur at night and are coordinated by Israeli intelligence officials with an array of rebel commanders and community leaders on the other side.

This effort has helped maintain quiet on the Israeli side of the border, even during periods of intense fighting very close to the front lines. But lacking significant military assistance, the rebels have proven unable to win any important battles against the Syrian army over the past four years, and control of southern Syria hasn’t changed hands during that same period. The governorate capitals—Quneitra and Deraa—are in Assad’s hands, whereas the rural areas are split. The western parts adjacent to the Israeli Golan have become a de facto Israeli zone of influence where the Syrian army and its allied militias avoid embarking upon major offensives and the Russian air force does not fly its planes. The small enclave held by the Islamic State in the southernmost sector of the Golan border, along the western section of the Yarmouk River, remains largely isolated and does not yet constitute a real threat for Israel or the neighboring rebel factions.

The cautious policy pursued by Israel also resulted, to a certain degree, from the understanding in Jerusalem that former U.S. President Barack Obama was adamant in his refusal to adopt recommendations by some of his top advisors to intensify support of rebel groups and adopt a firm anti-Assad stance. The Israelis felt at the time that without U.S. leadership, the objective of toppling the Assad regime was untenable. The Israelis were also aware of Jordan’s halfhearted assistance to tribal rebels in the Hawran area, which has traditional ties to the Hashemite throne. On top of that, funding from the Gulf states to a string of rebel coalitions tended to prioritize those active in central and northern Syria, whereas the modest financing extended to rebel factions south of Damascus was badly coordinated and often had Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar backing rival factions.

Whatever the root causes, Israel has now suffered a major strategic failure with far-reaching implications. Instead of watching the demise of the Assad regime, Israel must cope with the presence of a formidable Russian air force contingent next door and a steady encroachment of Iran toward its border.

By mid-2012, the Iranian General Hossein Hamedani had managed to convince Assad, who was then contemplating going into exile, to stay in office and keep fighting. In the first phase, Iran helped Assad defend Damascus and some other parts of “useful Syria” by operating an air bridge that brought military equipment and munitions, by introducing Hezbollah units to the battlefield, and by deploying hastily recruited militias consisting both of local loyalists and foreign fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. At one point, IRGC Qods Force commander General Qasem Soleimani led 4,000 IRGC troops to the battle for eastern Aleppo, but he ultimately had to send them back to Iran at the insistence of Khamenei, who indicated a low tolerance for Iranian fatalities in Syria. Then, in 2015, came the masterstroke: Soleimani struck a deal with Putin, and the arrival of the Russian air force on the scene since September 2015 has slowly enabled Iran to secure Assad’s control over 60 percent of the country.

Not only has Iran managed to stabilize the Assad regime and pacify much of his territory, it has also obtained a great degree of influence over decision-making in Damascus, become a dominant actor in the war, and begun to solidify its military presence in Syria. It has achieved the latter two ends by acquiring bases and deploying advanced facilities, constructing myriad militias outside the framework of the Syrian Arab Army and its irregular auxiliary forces, and establishing plants for production of missiles, precision guidance systems, and ammunition.

Israel is faced not only with a preserved Assad regime—a vital ally to Iran and Hezbollah—but also with the emergence of Iranian military power next door. In short, Israeli caution has opened the door to future adventures, after all. Israeli inaction came face-to-face with Iranian proactivity, and Israel now finds itself counting its losses even as the Syrian war winds down. Particularly, the Golan Heights, kept calm for decades by father and son Assad, is now, in the view of the regime’s Iranian patrons, a new front for resistance forces. Furthermore, at least five Syrian air bases already accommodate Iranian units, along with their UAVs, missiles, and intelligence facilities. The number of militiamen—Shi’a and others—at Iran’s disposal in Syria is steadily growing, and their training and equipment are improving.

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The future scheme envisaged by Soleimani involves at least one land bridge, and likely two, through Iraqi territory, over which reinforcements and supply convoys could be moved. Several leaders of major Iraqi Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) militias have already announced their wish to join a battle against Israel on the Golan. Moreover, once the Iranians modernize their outdated army, they may consider deploying combat aircraft and navy units (for example, submarines) in Syria. This, of course, comes on top of Iran’s impressive arsenal of long-range missiles capable of hitting Israel and its massive—currently dormant—global terrorist network, which can be activated on very short notice.

Iran is in no hurry to have a confrontation. Soleimani, his boss Khamenei, and his lieutenants seem to have abandoned for the moment their earlier plans to deploy Hezbollah and other militias close to the Golan frontier. Prompting this reassessment was a series of pinpoint Israeli strikes against Iran-sponsored groups that had prepared the grounds for terrorist attacks from Syrian-army-controlled areas near Quneitra, including by planting explosive charges and firing Katyusha rockets. In 2015, the commanders entrusted with these missions, including the Lebanese Samir Kuntar and Jihad Mughniyah, as well as Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, the IRGC general in charge, were killed by the IDF. Later that same year, the IDF killed an additional three operatives who were on their way to the border fence, prompting Iran to suspend such attempts. Iran and its proxies still hold a half-dozen or so positions between the slopes of Mount Hermon and the Damascus-Deraa highway, but they have refrained from further provoking Israel.

Since August 2015, Iran has instead focused on its long-term campaign to deepen its offensive capabilities within Syrian territory. From their headquarters at Damascus Airport, known as the “Glasshouse,” Iranian forces, currently led by IRGC General Hussein Kaani, control, among other sites, the al-Kiswah camp, south of the capital, from which operations closer to the Israeli border are supervised. From this headquarters, the Iranians hope to direct, when the opportunity arises, an attack on the rebels in Deraa, with the goal of capturing the entire province and encircling the rebel factions in Quneitra province in a pocket adjacent to the Israeli border.

An Iran-directed offensive toward the south, however, would require Russian consent given Moscow’s 2017 declaration—joined by Washington and Amman—of a de-escalation zone in this region. An offensive would constitute a violation of this agreement, and would likewise probably require Russian air support in order to uproot the rebels from their strongholds. Putin has not in the past hesitated to flout his deconfliction arrangements, but so far he has approved only sporadic strikes by Russian planes around Deraa, where both sides have for months been preparing for an eventual showdown.

Israel will face a difficult dilemma once an Iran-led assault toward Deraa begins. Sending the air force and employing land-based missiles to stop the advance may well compel Assad and his Iranian patrons to retaliate, thus increasing the danger of a general flare-up. On the other hand, clinging to the current Israeli policy of nonintervention in Syria would enable the Iranians to consolidate their dominance over hilltops along the border, from which they could threaten the Israeli Golan with short-range rockets and mortars. Furthermore, the capture of Deraa province would position Iranian proxy forces on the border with Jordan. Israeli officials believe Soleimani may be planning an effort to subvert the Hashemite regime in Amman, in the expectation that one way or another Jordan will finally join the Axis of Resistance. It is important to remember that for many decades, Israeli governments have regarded foreign intervention with their neighbor to the east as a casus belli. Russian air force participation in such an attack on Deraa would, of course, further complicate Israel’s calculations. The hotline between the IAF and the Russian-operated Hmeimim Air Base in Syria has so far successfully prevented any clash between Russian and Israeli pilots, and the top-of-the-line Russian air defense systems in Syria have not locked their radars on Israeli planes, even while the latter attacked Iranian depots located near Russian military units. Israel would certainly be extremely prudent if faced with the risk of dogfights with the Russians. Putin, as implied thus far, has proven disinclined to get involved in skirmishes with Israel over Syria, although at times he has expressed annoyance at Israeli strikes.

In view of the currently rising tension between Israel and Iran, what measures could be taken to prevent a confrontation, or at least limit its scope?

Contacts between Israel and Iran through a variety of Track II channels, quietly organized in past years, have failed to produce any prospect for near-term tacit understandings. Messages exchanged via European diplomats have likewise resulted once again in deadlock. The Iranian representatives simply refuse to consider any restriction on their activities in Syria or toning down of their calls for the destruction of the “Zionist regime.”

The same goes for the few futile attempts by some Arab and European states to set up a communication channel between Israel and the Assad regime. Syria may be inclined at some future point to curtail Iran’s entrenchment on its soil, but at present the government in Damascus does not feel at liberty to stop the construction of Iranian military infrastructure. Netanyahu’s warning that Israel may be compelled to take direct action against Assad has not had the desired effect on Assad’s conduct.

A more promising option would be a dialogue with Putin, who has privately told Western interlocutors that he does not want Syria to become a “Persian colony” and that he has no interest in watching a war erupt between Iran and Israel. However, the Kremlin still requires the Iran-sponsored militias to complete the destruction of the remaining rebel bastions, especially in Idlib province and some other smaller enclaves. Therefore, it may take time before Putin is willing to rein in his Iranian allies.

The most sensible way to address Iran’s expansion into Syria would be to establish a comprehensive set of understandings between Moscow and Washington on how to shape Syria’s future. Unfortunately, under the existing circumstances, such an agreement does not seem possible for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the 2017 de-escalation agreement reached by the two parties in relation to southern Syria can be further elaborated to consolidate a stable ceasefire in the areas lying between Damascus and the borders with Israel and Jordan. In turn, an upgraded de-escalation deal could prevent an offensive against the rebels in Deraa and then Quneitra provinces. And a ceasefire could potentially allow the rebels to bolster their defensive capabilities. Since both the United States and Russia prefer to avert an Israel-Iran clash and its associated risks, expanded understandings over the south could contain a prohibition on entry to the area of non-Syrian forces, such as Hezbollah, thus diminishing the danger of an eruption along the border. Curtailing IRGC acquisition of a network of bases in Syria also requires that Assad and his mentors be thwarted from capturing the areas east of the Euphrates River—roughly a quarter of Syria’s territory—currently held by the U.S.-sponsored Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), aided by the presence of 2,000 U.S. soldiers. Control of this region has prevented Iran from activating their two planned land corridors into Syria. One corridor would run through Anbar province in western Iraq and the other through the Kirkuk-Sinjar roads. The IRGC aspires to gain the ability to direct more militiamen and supplies to Syria through friendly areas along these routes in order to accelerate the military buildup inside the country. Experience has taught them that reliance on airlifts is quite vulnerable to Israeli strikes.

To keep districts east of the Euphrates outside the reach of Iran-sponsored forces, the United States must continue its role there so that the SDF, consisting mainly of fighters from the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG), remains confident of continuous U.S. air cover, assistance, and training. Such an arrangement, however, does not necessarily preclude a reduction in the U.S. force count on the ground.

Other elements of a strategy to disrupt Iran’s attempted transformation of Syria into a military platform for a future campaign against Israel should include strengthening the Druze community—with its traditional ties to Jordan and Israel—to resist any Iranian attempt to penetrate Suwayda province, northeast of Deraa governorate. The complicated situation of the Druze during the civil war is beyond the scope of this article, but ambivalent Druze relations with the Assad regime do not in any way suggest an inclination to welcome an IRGC or other Shia presence in their midst. Depriving Iran of the temptation to deploy medium-range missile bases in Druze Mountain should be viewed as an indispensable component of a policy aimed at foiling the Iranian scheme.

Setting aside the United States and Israel, quite a few regional players have a stake in preventing Iran from effectively taking over Syria. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan share the same distaste for what has been termed the “Shia Crescent,” with Syria as its center of gravity. Each of these countries can be induced to contribute in different ways to a “stop-Iran” effort. Whether by extending funds, military assistance, or aid for reconstruction, these states can help deter Assad from total surrender to Iran’s wishes, and reinforce the rebels’ hold in southern Syria and the regions east of the Euphrates.

But, above all, to prevent an all-out Israel-Iran war, which could easily expand to Lebanon and Gaza, the United States must lend its support to a sustained Israeli campaign to destroy—when necessary and possible—Iranian facilities in Syria and continuously raise the cost of the IRGC effort, to the point that both Tehran and Damascus will have to reconsider the viability of Soleimani’s project.

Ehud Yaari is a Lafer Fellow with The Washington Institute and a commentator for Israel TV 12/13. This article was originally published on the American Interest website.

بيان من رئيس «رابطة العالم الإسلامي» في المملكة العربية السعودية حول ذكرى “الهولوكوست” (“المحرقة”)

واشنطن، العاصمة – تم إرسال هذه الرسالة إلى سارة بلومفيلد، مديرة المتحف التذكاري للهولوكوست في الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية، عبر البريد الإلكتروني في الثاني والعشرين من كانون الثاني/يناير 2018. وقد تم نشرها هنا باللغة الإنجليزية وترجمتها إلى العربية وذلك بتصريح كامل من المتحف التذكاري للهولوكوست في الولايات المتحدة.

حضرة السيدة بلومفيلد،

يسرّني أن أتوجه إليك بهذه الرسالة بمناسبة الذكرى الدولية للمحرقة اليهودية (“الهولوكوست”) التي يُحتفل خلالها بالذكرى السنوية لتحرير معتقل أوشفيتز. وأود في هذه المناسبة أن أؤكد لك ما قلته لصديقي روبرت ساتلوف، المدير التنفيذي لـ”معهد واشنطن لسياسة الشرق الأدنى” بشأن تعاطفنا الشديد مع ضحايا “الهولوكوست”، تلك الحادثة التي هزّت البشرية في العمق وأسفرت عن فظائع يعجز أي إنسان منصف ومحبّ للعدل والسلام أن ينكرها أو يستهين بها.

لا التاريخ سينسى هذه المأساة الإنسانية التي ارتكبتها النازية الشريرة، ولا أحد سيمنحها مباركته ما عدا النازيين المجرمين وأمثالهم. إن الإسلام الحقيقي يحرّم هذه الجرائم ويدينها بأقصى درجات العقوبات الجنائية ويصنّفها ضمن أقبح الفظائع الإنسانية على الإطلاق. فأي امرئٍ عاقل يمكن أن يتقبّل أو يتعاطف أو حتى يقلل من حجم هذه الجريمة الوحشية؟ عزاؤنا الوحيد هو أن ذاكرة التاريخ منصفة وحيّة وأن العدالة، باسم البشرية جمعاء، تحزن وتأسف على هذه الجريمة بعيدًا عن كل التحيزات. لقد دفع هؤلاء الضحايا حياتهم البريئة ثمن تذكيرٍ لا يُنسى بالحرية والعزم، فكانت تضحيتهم نموذجا يعكس مدى الحقد النازي الذي أوقع العالم في الحروب والكوارث.

التاريخ لا يعرف الانحياز مهما حاول المخادعون التلاعب أو العبث به. ومن هنا، نعتبر أن أي إنكار للهولوكوست أو تقليلٍ من تأثيراتها هو جريمة تشويه للتاريخ وإهانة لكرامة الأرواح البريئة التي أزهقت، لا بل هو إساءة لنا جميعًا لأننا جميعنا ننتمي إلى الروح البشرية نفسها ونتقاسم الروابط الروحانية نفسها.

وفي هذا الإطار، أود أن ألفت إلى أن «رابطة العالم الإسلامي» كيان مستقل تماما عن كافة الغايات والميول السياسية وخلاف ذلك. ومع ذلك، فهي لا تتردد في التعبيرعن رأيها بموضوعية تامة وبحيادية لا تحمل أي طابع سياسي بتاتًا. إن الرابطة تعالج المواضيع وتحكم عليها بشفافية وبدون أية أحكام مسبقة. ونحن في الرابطة لا نُعرب عن وجهات نظرنا إستنادا إلى أية أبعاد سوى البعد الإنساني البحت المتعلق بالأرواح البريئة، فالإسلام يحمي الأبرياء ويحاسب كل من يعتدي أو يقتل نفسًا بريئة كأنما قتل الناس جميعاً.

لقد تعايش الإسلام على مرّ القرون مع كافة الأديان الأخرى واحترم كرامة أتباعها كافة. ونحن على يقين أن جميع الأديان على مر التاريخ شهدت شعائر سياسية استغلت الدين لتحقيق مآربها ومطامعها. ولكن الأديان بريئة من هذه المخططات.

نجم عن ذلك اندلاع حروب غير مبررة أو منصفة وأريقت دماء، ولا تزال تراق، وكل ذلك باسم الدين. لكن شريعة الخالق حملت السلام والحب والعدل والحق. في المقابل نجد على مر التاريخ أن المتطرفين من كافة الأديان ينشطون من وقتٍ إلى آخر كالمدّ والجزر. نراهم يعلنون كراهيتهم للآخرين، حتى لأبناء ديانتهم. نحن المسلمون شهدنا العديد من الإرهابيين الذين حاولوا تزييف النصوص الدينية وتشويهها وتحريف وقائعها التاريخية. لقد قلناها في السابق ونكررها اليوم: لا توجد سلطة على الأديان إلا سلطة النصوص الدينية الصحيحة البعيدة عن التفسيرات المضلّلة والخاطئة والمحرّفة. لا يجوز الاتكال سوى على الأنبياء والرسل المنتمين إلى كافة الأديان، فهم حملوا رسالة خالق تلك الأديان. لقد جاء دين الله رحمةً للعالمين، ولم يأتِهم ليكون سببًا في تعاستهم أو مبررًا للحروب والمصائب.

وفي الختام، تفضلوا بقبول فائق احترامي وتقديري.

الدكتور محمد العيسى

أمين عام «رابطة العالم الإسلامي»

رئيس الهيئة العالمية للعلماء المسلمين

Source: The Washington Institute 

EGYPTIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION SHOWS SISI IS EVEN LESS DEMOCRATIC THAN MUBARAK

The puzzling thing is why the regime did not want to put on even a show of a contest, to say nothing of a real competition that could have enhanced Sisi’s legitimacy.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime has been making one thing clear about the presidential election coming up in March: It won’t be a time for democracy.

Authorities arrested the leading challenger to Sisi, former army chief of staff Sami Anan, days after he announced on Facebook his bid for top office. The official reason was that Anan had not acquired a permit from the army to run and had allegedly forged his end-of-military-service documents.

In fact, the respected former general’s real transgression may have been constituting a credible voice of criticism to Sisi’s authoritarian rule. In the video announcing his candidacy, Anan spoke of Egypt being in decline as a result of “faulty strategy,” in which the army was overburdened and the state’s civil sectors were hindered.

Anan was the fourth potential candidate against Sisi to be prosecuted or detained, while other candidates chose to withdraw in the face of what they said were threats. A day after Anan’s arrest, human rights lawyer Khaled Ali dropped his bid followed by Hossam ElShazly, the Secretary-General of the Egyptian Change Council and an advocate of the liberal movement in Egypt.

With the exception of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi’s 2012 victory, Egypt has never had a fair presidential election.

The March election, coming four years after Sisi won 97% of the votes in his first run for office, now looks likely to be a referendum. The puzzling thing is why the regime did not want to put on even a show of a contest, to say nothing of a real competition that could have enhanced Sisi’s legitimacy. It “seems they don’t even care how it looks anymore,” Mohammed Anwar Sadat, nephew of the late president and a candidate who pulled out over concerns for the safety of his staff, told the Daily Telegraph.

A busy street near a poster of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for the upcoming presidential election in Cairo, Egypt, January 22, 2018 (Reuters)A busy street near a poster of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for the upcoming presidential election in Cairo, Egypt, January 22, 2018 (Reuters)

Appearances aside, the inescapable conclusion is that the regime believes that it is sufficient to rely on fear to rule. Seven years after the ouster of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, tolerance for dissent is even less than it was under his regime.

The fear factor stems not only from draconian steps the authorities take against opponents, but also from the regime projecting the image that Egypt is under mortal threat from terrorists, making it is necessary to rally behind Sisi to survive. “The mindset of the deep state, the intelligence, the police, the army reflect their premise that Egypt is under existential threat and this is an emergency time; that it is not right to use regular measures; that emergency acts are needed,” said Yoram Meital, an Egypt specialist at Ben-Gurion University. In the view the regime projects, there is no difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic State insurgents.

“Most of us believed Sisi would win the election and that there is no need for dramatic measures. But the regime wanted to send a message: that this is not the time for democratic struggle, that they expect Egyptians to rally behind Sisi,” Meital said.

Although the State Department criticized Anan’s arrest, it came just two days after US Vice President Mike Pence met with Sisi. Pence made no public comments about the egregious human rights situation in Egypt, and it is doubtful he mentioned it in private.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meets with with US Vice President Mike Pence at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt January 20, 2018 (REUTERS/KHALED DESOUKI/POOL)Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meets with with US Vice President Mike Pence at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt January 20, 2018 (REUTERS/KHALED DESOUKI/POOL)

A Western observer in Cairo said that Sisi believes he has a free hand from the Trump administration for abuses against human rights and democracy, and that he also feels a degree of cover from the EU because the Egyptian Navy is interdicting refugees and migrants en route to Europe.

The observer noted that parliament recently extended Egypt’s state of emergency. “Many people really believe a strong leader and state are the only thing between them and chaos.” For the regime, “it is all right to hold an election during the state of emergency, because you are supposed to have an election, but they feel it should be clear that ‘we have one leader and that’s Sisi and that’s the way it will be.’’ In the view of Ofir Winter, an Egypt specialist at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, the handling of the presidential race shows Egypt is moving backward. “They are going back to the authoritarian pattern. There were hopes of more democracy after the Arab Spring. But the elections prove we are very far from this goal and are becoming more distant. The situation in some way is worse than under Mubarak. The fear of every expression that deviates from the main line is much greater today.”

Source: The Jerusalem Post, ME Politics, 

 

 

Life is hard in Sisi’s Egypt, but voters have little choice

A 50-foot campaign poster of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi stares down over Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands of Egyptians demanded bread, freedom and social justice during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Across from the square, a huge screen shows a video montage of the President and his supporters.

In Cairo, it’s impossible to miss that Egypt is having a presidential election from Monday. Sisi’s face is plastered on nearly every street along with slogans such as, “Yes, to building the future,” and “You are the hope.”
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What is difficult to find are the more subdued posters of Sisi’s little-known and only remaining rival, Mousa Mostafa Mousa.
The lack of serious competition has drawn the fierce condemnation of critics who say Sisi has stifled dissent, but the President says he is not to blame.
“It is not my fault. I swear to God, I wished there would have been more candidates for people to choose who they want. But they were not ready yet, there is no shame in this,” Sisi said in a recent TV interview.
“We have more than 100 parties. Have they fielded many (candidates), or any?”
In fact, multiple candidates tried to enter the race, but all but one has since exited. The opposition blames Sisi’s government for squeezing potential rivals through what they see as a strategy of intimidation.
Egyptian authorities arrested former army Gen. Sami Anan in January, saying his candidacy broke military rules.
Former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik announced his candidacy in self-imposed exile from the United Arab Emirates but withdrew upon his return to Cairo and human rights lawyer Khaled Ali said he withdrew his name after coming under pressure and facing obstacles getting on the ballot.
Mohamed Anwar Sadat, the nephew of late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, pulled out after facing what he called obstruction and fear for the safety of his campaign workers.
“I was scared that all my campaign representatives might be in a situation where they face a difficult time or are stopped, detained, and abused,”. Hossam ElShazly, the Secretary-General of the Egyptian Change Council, an advocate of the liberal democratic vision, and the Political and Economic Advisor withdrew on 28 January 2018 after the arrest of another candidate; Sami Anan, and as a direct result of the suppressive environment generated by the military ruling regime in Egypt. ElShazly supporters faced difficulties in registering pledges for him as Sisi has exerted pressure on former presidential candidates so that they would not run against him.
In February, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the Egyptian government had compromised the election process with its use of special laws under an ongoing nationwide state of emergency.

‘Not a puppet’

But there is one candidate who has managed to remain on the ballot.
Mousa registered an hour before the final deadline in late January. His last-minute candidacy, by his own admission, is aimed at avoiding a one-horse race that treats the vote like a referendum on Sisi’s rule.
I saw the catastrophe coming,”. He said his participation makes the vote a democratic one. “President Sisi was going alone in this game, and if he falls, we all fall.”
Detractors have accused Mousa of being a stooge candidate, sanctioned by the regime to give the election a veneer of legitimacy.
Mousa admits he was a Sisi supporter before running, but he insists his campaign, run on a platform of job creation, is genuine and that he would make a better president.
“I want to tell the people I’m here for real. I’m here as a candidate willing and wishing and wanting to win,” Mousa said.
“People need to understand that I was not brought in as a puppet for anyone.”
Sources : CNN News ,  ME Politics Article. 

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.

arab_league_summit18_4232018_1

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.

iqtisadi_dec_2016_maingraphic

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.

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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