The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

Tunisian Islamist Leader: Women should have equality in inheritance and marriage to non-Muslims

This is a picture of Ennahdha Vice-President and Co-Founder Sheikh Abdelfattah Mourou waiting patiently to board and then sit in economy class to Istanbul last month. During our flight, the crew repeatedly asked if he wanted to move to first class. He stayed, apparently happy to sit between between two beer drinking Tunisian ladies who seemed to have come directly from a beach club to the airport.
He supports Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men and equal inheritance.
I rarely ever express direct, public praise for a political and religious figure in a country where I am not a citizen (what right do I have to express such opinions publicly when I am not subject to the full weight of that country’s history, laws and social structures?)… But Mourou is one of the most impressive people I have met in almost 14 years in the Middle East:
“…However, the response to Dar al-Iftaa came from the Egyptian Al-Azhar institution, which also relied on the rulings of Shari’a and said: “They do not tolerate interpretation and do not change based on the circumstances and times… The calls for gender equality in inheritance under claims of doing justice to women are the biggest injustice to them.” In other words, Al-Azhar relied on Shari’a and logic, just like the Tunisian Dar al-Iftaa, to draw the opposite conclusion. At the level of the political institutions and figures, Essebsi was surprisingly supported by Ennahda Vice-President Sheikh Abdelfattah Mourou, who went beyond the issue of inheritance to a more thorny matter, i.e. Tunisian women’s marriage to non-Muslims, thus saying this was a “personal choice..” guaranteed by the Tunisian constitution. By doing so, he stressed that Ennahda was a political party, which like all the remaining Tunisian parties, adopted the constitution as the framework of the social contract…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

August 17, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: Yemen’s Hadi “losing patience” with UAE in Yemen

Translated today by our From Ash-Sharq daily:

“Hadi added: “The UAE wants to control Ma’reb and Sanaa, which will further exacerbate the problem…” He then said: “They prevented the access of fortifications for the Aden Airport; they prevented the cash carrying jet from landing; and now, they are working on controlling the oil and gas wells…” He then added: “Don’t you expect that patience is unlimited. Everything has its limits. When I lose my patience with them, they have to bear the consequences…””


Written by nickbiddlenoe

August 17, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Robert Amsterdam: Why We Can’t Afford to Mismanage the Qatar Crisis

When Donald J. Trump campaigned for president, he promised a different kind of politics. In foreign policy, he has already delivered that, and then some.

With just one sword dance at Murabba Palace and some brotherly bonding over an orb with King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, President Trump’s visit gave Saudi Arabia tacit approval to risk disturbing the tenuous balance of power in the Middle East by imposing a blockade on Qatar by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

This attack on Qatar, which could only take place once Saudi Arabia felt they had assurances, has serious implications for U.S. strategic interests in the region, and not just because the country hosts Al Udeid Air Base. And as shown by the most recent list of demands made by the GCC to Qatar – which includes among other measures shutting down Al-Jazeera – the goal is to strip Doha of its sovereignty to the detriment of the larger fragile alliance of Sunni states in the region.

In many ways, the dispute is a reflection of long-brewing changes in the Gulf. Although the Saudi-led coalition rationalized the boycott as punishment for Qatar’s alleged funding of terrorist organizations, the blockade is widely known to be motivated by a separate agenda. Instead of aligning GCC members in a pan-Sunni coalition to oppose the expansion of Iranian influence and the spread of extremist terror groups like Daesh, the Saudi coalition drove a wedge into the unity of the GCC, upsetting the balance of region’s most stable international force.

Questions are mounting over whether the Saudi-led coalition violated international law by blocking nearly all flows of trade, travel, and transactions to the peninsula that threaten the small state’s sovereignty.

The grounds for these accusations are the collection of treaties, customs, and historical norms that define international law. Under these, blockades are characterized as acts of war. One country may legally blockade another only if it is acting in individual or collective self-defense—the standard requirements for going to war—or the U.N. Security Council has proclaimed the action necessary to maintain international peace.

The Saudi coalition’s blockade of Qatar approaches infringement of this international norm, and exemplifies a recent trend toward subtle aggression that sidesteps international law. While easily identified use of aggressive force is outlawed, low-intensity conflict like sanctions and diplomatic isolation have become the weapon of choice for regimes interested in exerting their will over others.

On these grounds, Qatar has forcefully denounced the GCC blockade as illegal, and is taking action against the aggressors. Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) recently hired a Swiss law firm to investigate and seek compensation for thousands of cases of human rights violations that resulted from the Saudi-led blockade. The Swiss counsel indicates that these claims distinguish between actions taken against a government and those that target private citizens.

“The sanctions imposed on Qatar go too far and are not in accordance with international law…[because] ordinary Qatari nationals and companies are not part of the state and cannot be targeted,” says lawyer Veijo Heiskanen. “A political dispute between States does not justify sanctions against private citizens, companies and other private entities.”

Thousands of civilians have been forced to abandon jobs, homes, and universities, while families have been faced with tough decisions over whether to split up or to face prison or other forms of punishment for staying together. According to the NHRC, of the approximately 50 million residents of GCC countries, 19,000 Qatari citizens living in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE have endured forced separation from properties, jobs, and families, and 11,300 people from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and UAE who were living in Qatar are facing forced repatriation.

There are other serious international law issues prompted by the crisis. Qatar and its allies have accused Saudi Arabia of violating international law’s protection of state sovereignty with the list of 13 demands for de-escalation, which include shutting down the Al Jazeera media network and cancelling plans for a Turkish military base.

International law defines state sovereignty as the principle that each state has the right to control its territory and domestic affairs. Countries are prohibited from interfering with internal affairs or infringing upon the territorial integrity or political independence of any other state in the absence of a legal right to do so. Saudi Arabia’s demands violate the basic rights of freedom of expression and freedom of domestic policy of a sovereign, independent state.

For outside actors like the United States, these accusations could have significant consequences. The international community’s reaction to the Saudi coalition’s actions could impose new interpretations of the law’s protection of state sovereignty and low-intensity aggression, altering the ability of autocrats and authoritarians to impose their will on smaller or financially weaker states in the future. For the US, a crisis that has the potential to rewrite historical norms and change the definitions of national sovereignty and independence under international law should be a priority.

Recent postures suggest that Qatar and Saudi Arabia may be poised for stalemate: the 10-day deadline to comply with demands, plus 48-hour extension, appears almost designed to fail.

For the prospects of peace and unity in the Middle East, this turmoil is especially troubling, as the region is already experiencing increasing instability. Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria are in the midst of civil wars that have caused millions of civilian casualties and forced displacement, while conflict between Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza continues to simmer. Adding the fracturing of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the region’s most stable and peaceful political and economic alliance could be devastating.

To fully understand how a disintegration of the GCC may shape the future for the Middle East, it’s crucial to consider what the organization represents. Member states Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman are all led by monarchies whose economies are heavily rooted in the oil and natural gas industries, behind the symbolic and financial support of Western superpowers. They are home to some of the largest foreign military bases in the region, and enjoy multi-billion arms deals with US firms. The organization has incentivized countries with complex histories of tension and rivalry to align their policies toward the common end of creating regional stability. Now all of that is at risk.

The loss of the singular dominance of a united GCC creates new uncertainty in the Middle East, could open the door for extremist groups and Tehran to spread their influence, and may even signal an impending shift in the regional balance of power.

This is not the kind of crisis where Washington can afford to sit on the sidelines. A multilateral political solution must be forged that takes into account the mandatory preservation of Qatar’s sovereignty – anything less will signal a fundamental weakness on behalf of the United States and will deeply erode trust of leadership in the region. That is not an outcome that benefits our national security.

*Robert Amsterdam is an international lawyer currently representing the Republic of Turkey in its case against Fethullah Gulen.


Written by nickbiddlenoe

August 17, 2017 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Another POMED conference on MidEast that misses the point of understanding and engagement

Sadly POMED (The Project on Middle East Democracy) organizes yet another conference on the MidEast dominated by Americans, almost all speakers are Beltway usual suspects… and then some unnamed Arabs for the last day. I just don’t get it…and I still wonder why Wolfowitz is feted at their galas when he was one of the Americans who perhaps did the most damage to Middle East Democracy (not to mention tens of millions of lives)?

Written by nickbiddlenoe

August 16, 2017 at 4:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: “Return of the Syrian ambassador to Amman…now a matter of weeks if not days.”

Translated by our (for a free trial email

On August 13, the electronic Rai al-Youm daily carried the following editorial: “Many surprises are emerging at the level of the Syrian file in light of some major and unique changes. As the Syrian Arab army seized the city of Al-Sokhna in the governorate of Homs, there it goes controlling the area of Nassib that borders Jordan for the first time in five years knowing that the borders between the two countries were completely shut.

“The Jordanian authorities established, armed and trained the tribal army in order to fill the void resulting from the Syrian army’s pull-out from the region and said that this army was established to fight the Islamic State and that it pulled out based on an official decision thus allowing the Syrian army to seize its posts. Regardless of the true causes and whoever is standing behind the decision to pull out, the Syrian army’s re-seizing of the Nassib border passageway with Jordan constitutes a strategic achievement that confirms the fact that the Syrian state has started to control most of its main passageways.

“We believe it is likely that this step was achieved for a number of reasons mainly to reduce the tension in the Syrian south thus implementing the Astana Conference agreements, and Jordan reaching the conviction that, in light of its decision to halt the program for supporting and arming the Syrian opposition, the USA has washed its hands from the Syrian crisis and handed the Syrian file entirely to Russia in order to cut the losses and as an indirect acknowledgment of its defeat…

“The one certain part is that the MOC operations’ room established by the USA in participation with its allies in Jordan to oversee the armament and training plans of the opposition forces and to run the battle in Syria has shut its doors and washed its hands of this opposition thus leaving it alone to face its fate, a painful one in all cases.

“The return of the Syrian Arab army to the South will not constitute a good omen for the Israeli occupation state, but it will constitute good news for the Syrian refugees in Jordan. It is a bad omen for Israel because this means that the latter will stand face to face with the Syrian army forces in Kuneitra and Golan; and it is a good news for the Syrian refugees because their road for returning to Syria will be wide open for them now in order for them to escape their miserable situation at the camps… We expect the next surprise to consist of a wider normalization of the Jordanian-Syrian relations at the security related, political and economic areas, in addition to the return of the Syrian ambassador to Amman, and us seeing Jordanian officials in Damascus. This is now a matter of weeks if not days.”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

August 16, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Register Now: Five Politics Conferences This Fall/Winter On Yemen, Iraqi Kurdistan, Libya, Tunisia, Beirut

Ahead of our ten year anniversary next Summer (alumni get ready for the Summer 2018 event in Beirut TBA soon), we have five Exchange politics conferences scheduled for this Fall/Winter, including one new Exchange focused on Libya hosted with Omeyya Seddik (Al-Muqaddima/HD Centre) and Monica Marks (Oxford University) in Tunis:
1) October 11-October 15: The Second Yemen Exchange (Hosted in Beirut)
2) October 29-November 4: The Erbil-Sulaymaniyah Exchange
3) November 29-December 3: The Libya Exchange (Hosted in Tunis)
4) January 3-January 10: The 10th Tunis Exchange
5) January 14-January 21: The 19th Beirut Exchange
Request a registration form for any Exchange via
To view completed schedules of our Exchange programs in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Tunisia, Iraq and the Gulf, as well as media coverage of our efforts and alumni comments, visit:
The Exchange
The Beirut Exchange Group on Facebook
The Tunis Exchange Group on Facebook
Note that participation fee discounts are available for participants who wish to attend multiple Exchanges. For more information, please email Furthermore, all our programs are funded on the basis of fees paid by the participants themselves: There is no government, private or non-profit support, an aspect that we believe provides a relatively neutral platform for dialogue and understanding.
The Exchange is an effort by and its partners to promote professional and academic enrichment through a variety of small group, direct engagement conferences in the Middle East and North Africa.
During their stay, typically lasting five days to one week, participants from around the world listen to and question leading intellectuals, activists and politicians representing an array of different points of view in a specific country.
The first Exchange was launched in June 2008 in Beirut, Lebanon. Now, nine years on, more than 600 people from 51 different countries have attended 35 different Exchanges in the region.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

August 14, 2017 at 10:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Register Now: The First Libya Exchange Politics Conference November 29-December 3, 2017

November 29-December 3, 2017
@ The Africa Hotel, Tunis
* Conference Application Deadline I October 15/Deadline II November 15, 2017
* 30 slots only/Rolling Acceptance
* Request a registration form via
* To view our upcoming programs on Yemen, Iraqi Kurdistan, Libya and Tunisia, visit

The Libya Exchange is co-hosted by Omeyya Seddik (Al-Muqaddima), Nicholas Noe ( and Monica Marks (Oxford University). As with our other Exchanges over the past decade, the aim of the conference is to provide direct and intensive insight into Libya from several perspectives, especially those of Libyans themselves.

Program Format:
The Libya Exchange will be held over the five days at the conference room of The Africa Hotel in downtown Tunis, from 9am until 6pm, except for the final day (Sunday, December 3) when the Exchange will end at 3pm. In order to promote small group dynamics, the number of participants will be capped at 30. Sessions themselves will be conducted on an individual rather than a panel basis for all speakers and will allow ample opportunity for question time (translation into English will be provided when necessary). All sessions will also be held under strict Chatham House rules, although we customarily work with our speakers to approve any quotes/references that participants may need for their own work.

Engaging Libyan Actors & Regional Specialists:
Participants will have the opportunity to meet, listen and engage social, political and economic actors from across the spectrum in Libya as well as specialists whose work focuses on Libya and its relations with neighboring countries.

INVITED INDIVIDUALS & INSTITUTIONS (Preliminary & Partial List Only):
NOTE: Accepted participants will receive the full list of confirmed speakers one month prior to the opening of the Exchange, as well as readings pertinent to the sessions.

Hanan Salah, Human Rights Watch
Mohamed Eljarh, Atlantic Center
Wolfram Lacher, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik
Mary Fitzgerald, Journalist
Mattia Toaldo, European Council on Foreign Relations
Jean-Louis Romanet Perroux, Independent Researcher and Consultant
The Government of National Accord
The House of Representatives
The Former General National Congress
The Presidential Council
The National Oil Company of Libya
Representative of the City of Benghazi
Representative of the City of Sabratha
Representative of the City of Zintan
Representative of the City of Zuwara
Representative of the City of Misrata
Representative of the City of Sabha
Libyan Tribal Leaders
The University of Benghazi
The Former National Transitional Council of Libya
The High Council of State
The Libyan Investment Authority
The Central Bank of Libya
Otman Gajiji, Frm. Chairman, Central Committee of Municipal Elections
Seifeddine Trabelsi, Journalist
Frederic Wehrey, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Hassan Morajea, Journalist
George Joffe, Cambridge University
Rebecca Murray, Journalist
Lydia Sizer, Menas Associates
Valerie Stocker, Journalist
Peter Cole, The United Nations Development Programme
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya
The European Union Delegation to Libya
The British Embassy, Tripoli
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization
The African Union Liaison Office in Libya
The Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Participation Fee – $900; Note that participation fee discounts are available for participants who wish to attend multiple Exchanges. For more information, please email Furthermore, all our programs are funded on the basis of fees paid by the participants themselves: There is no government, private or non-profit support, an aspect that we believe provides a relatively neutral platform for dialogue and understanding. 

Accommodation – $70 for a single room per night at the five star Africa Hotel under our group booking only (breakfast and all taxes are included). Shared rooms are also available upon request and are priced at $45 per participant (we will arrange for sharing with other participants).

Airfare – $300, approximate from the European Union.

About the Co-Directors:
Omeyya Seddik is the founder of the Tunisian NGO Al-Muqadimma, established in 2011. He specializes in analysis and mediation between potential parties to conflict in Tunisia and Libya, and serves as an advisor to the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD Centre). 

Nicholas Noe is co-founder of the Beirut-based news translation service covering the Middle East media and the co-director of The Exchange program. The first Exchange was launched by Senior Producer Yamen Soukkarieh and Mr. Noe in Beirut, Lebanon in June 2008. Since that time, more than 600 people from 51 different countries have participated in more than 35 Exchanges.

Monica Marks is a Rhodes Scholar and PhD Candidate at Oxford University. Her work, which focuses on politics, institutional reform, and Islamist movements in Tunisia and Turkey, has appeared in peer-reviewed books and journals, news outlets including The GuardianThe New York TimesForeign Policy, and The Washington Post, and for think tanks including the Carnegie Endowment, the Brookings Institute, and The Century Foundation.


Written by nickbiddlenoe

August 12, 2017 at 7:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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