Julien Barnes-Dacey at ECFR gets it absolutely right on Syria and the way forward: And especially the need for Europe to step in stronger and end this war through diplomacy, urgency and pressure.
If you read one quick brief on where things are at now and what should be done – morally and strategically – read this. Key grafs:
“It’s worth remembering that the conflict has faced similar moments before. It was barely eight months ago that some observers, including a large number of Western diplomats, were heralding impending regime collapse as the rebel Army of Conquest advanced through Idlib and Latakia, and the Southern Front strengthened itself in Daraa. Analysis then rested on an unlikely acceptance of defeat by Assad’s external backers and the current talk of impending Assad victory assumes an equally unlikely static position by the opposition’s backers.
“…A longer conflict will mean more destruction and more killing, and the ever-present possibility of escalation to an even wider conflict. And while some may hope that putting pressure on Russian forces opens a political solution, everything suggests that the Russians and their partners will be quite willing to in turn up the ante of their own, just as Moscow used the Turkish downing of one its fighter jets to claim even greater control of the skies over northern Syria. This pattern of escalation and counter-escalation may in the longer term finally yield a political deal but at that point both sides will be negotiating over an utter wasteland.
“All of which leaves you with the reality that although the political process is now on the ropes, these talks still ultimately remain the most likely means of escaping the futile logic that has driven the conflict for five years now. In the end, the moral dilemma is this: there is no politically acceptable military approach that offers a viable path towards securing the protection and humanitarian access the Syrian people desperately need without risking a wider war. By contrast pushing political talks with Russia, despite its key role backing Assad with military strikes, many of which appear to be hitting civilians, represents the best way of delivering some openings, if not on the high-level political front then at least in terms of localised cease fires and humanitarian access. Although any agreements would be likely to initially favour the regime they will still deliver needed respite to the local population – and it should not be forgotten that de-escalation does not necessarily play to the regime’s strength given the substantial internal pressures contained by ongoing mobilisation.
“And this is where Europe, which has remained silent and ineffective despite occupying a quarter of the ISSG seats and bearing the burden of spillover from the conflict, urgently needs to step up its own game. It would of course be easier and more satisfying to condemn the Russian position in moralistic terms, and walk away from talks while the regional powers escalate the fight. Ultimately though this will only condemn the Syrian people to even more misery. Instead the US and Europe need to work both sides of the conflict more intensely than ever before, regional allies and Russian and Iranian adversaries alike, in a bid to urgently resuscitate the political track.”
Applications Now Open: The Seventh Tunis Exchange Politics Conference March 13-20, 2016/Deadline I February 20
The Exchange is an effort by Mideastwire.com and its partners to promote understanding and academic enrichment through a variety of city-focused conferences in and around the Middle East and North Africa.
During their stay, typically lasting from one to two weeks, students and professionals from around the globe engage directly with some of the leading intellectuals, academics and political leaders in the country – representing a variety of different viewpoints.
The First Exchange was launched in June 2008 in Beirut, Lebanon. Now, seven years on, almost 450 people from 48 different countries have participated, with many going on to work as diplomats in their home countries, for NGOs serving the region and as social entrepreneurs.
The next Exchange will be held in Tunis March 13-20, 2016
To view previous Exchange programs in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Tunis and the Gulf, as well as media coverage of our efforts, visit http://www.thebeirutexchange.com
View the CNN report on The Beirut Exchange at: https://www.mideastwire.com/Diplomacy%20in%20action.mp4
Beirut Exchange Group on Facebook
Tunis Exchange Group on Facebook
REQUEST AN APPLICATION for any Exchange via email@example.com
Note that tuition discounts, beyond standard financial aid allocations for those applicants with demonstrated need, are available for alumni of previous Exchange programs as well as students who wish to attend more than one Exchange. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
THE SEVENTH TUNIS EXCHANGE
March 13-March 20, 2016
Application Deadline I February 20, 2016/Deadline II March 1, 2016
Limited spaces available/Rolling acceptance
As with our other Exchanges, the seven-day program will engage participants from around the world in a multifaceted discussion of some of the key issues facing Tunisia and the wider region. The Tunis Exchange program specifically rests on two tracks this Spring.
Track 1: Academic Seminars. Participants will attend a series of lectures with leading academics and public intellectuals in Tunisia. Topics will include, among others:
– The history and internal transformations of Ennahda, including organizational and ideological evolution since the revolution;
– The post-revolutionary evolution of the UGTT, Tunisia’s powerful labor union, and its role in politics (including implications of its role as primary mediator in the National Dialogue of late 2013);
– The composition, platforms of, and alliances between major parties (including Jebha Chaabia, Nidaa Tounes and Afeq Tounes, among others);
– The state of the Tunisian economy, including regional inequalities, budget transparency and decentralization, etc.;
– Human rights in the new Tunisia (addressing issues such as freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, status of women, use of torture and the terrorism debate);
– Salafism, its composition (political, quietist, jihadi) in Tunisia and its relationship to and implications for party politics, stability, and governance moving forward;
– Taking stock of what Tunisia has done regarding transitional justice, what steps are planned to realize the recently passed transitional justice law, and what more needs to be done;
– The role of the media and civil society organizations;
– Youth politics and activism within and outside formal party structure.
Track 2: Dialogue with Leaders. Participants will have the opportunity to meet, listen and engage leading social, political, religious and economic leaders from across the spectrum in Tunisia.
Speakers at the six previous Tunis Exchanges have included:
Abdelfattah Morou (Ennahda Party)
Rached Ghannouchi (Ennahda Party)
Mehrezia Laabidi (Ennahda Party)
Imed Dehmi (President, Congress for the Republic Party)
Taieb Bakkouche (Secretary General, Nidaa Tounes)
Hama Hammami (Popular Front)
Meriem Bourbuiba (Former Hizb Joumhouri)
Maya Jribi (Hizb Joumhouri)
Adnen Haji (UGTT, Leader of the 2008 uprising in Redeyef)
Mounir Ajroud (President, Leagues to Protect the Revolution)
Mohamed Belkhouja (President, Reform Front/Salafist Party)
Habib Kazdaghli (Manouba University)
Taieb Ghozi (Imam, Grand Mosque of Kairouan)
Michael Ayari (International Crisis Group)
Ahlem Belhaj (President, Tunisian Association of Democratic Women)
Kamel Laabidi (National Authority for Information and Communication Reform)
Amna Guellali (Director, Human Rights Watch)
Bochra Belhaj Hamidi (Lawyer)
Hamida Ennaifer (Co-founder, Islamic Tendency Movement)
Salaheddine Jourchi (Co-founder, Islamic Tendency Movement)
Youssef Seddik (Philosopher)
Fabio Merone (Researcher, Gerda Hinkel Foundation)
Radwan Masmoudi (Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy)
Amira Yahyaoui (Al-Bawsala)
Sihem Ben Sedrine (Transitional Justice Commission)
Slim Amamou (Blogger, Former Minister)
Yassine Ayari (Blogger, leading figure in the revolution)
UGTT (Tunisian General Labour Union)
Jibha Chaabia (Popular Front)
Nidaa Tounes (Call for Tunisia)
Congress for the Republic (CPR)
Leagues to Protect the Revolution
Jibhat al-Islah (a leading Salafist party)
Afeq Tounes Party
Hizb Joumhouri Party (formerly PDP)
Union of Tunisian Journalists
Committee to Protect Journalists
High Authority for Audio-Visual Communication (HAICA)
Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (Les Femmes Democrates)
Ministry of Women’s Affairs
Human Rights Watch, Tunisia
Ministry of Transitional Justice and Human Rights
Tunisian Observatory for a Democratic Transition
Al-Bawsala (government monitoring NGO)
Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH)
Amnesty International, Tunisia
Tunisian Network for Social Economy
Tunisian-American Chamber of Commerce
Tunisian Association of Young Entrepreneurs
Governorates (meeting with governors of Sidi Bouzid, Gafsa and Sfax)
Ministry of Religious Affairs
Ministry of Finance
International Center for Transitional Justice
Tunisian Judges Association
Tunisian Lawyers Association
The Tunis Exchange will be held over seven days, mainly at the conference room of The Novotel Hotel in downtown Tunis. It is recommended that students stay at the Ibis (next door) or at the Novotel since most meetings will take place in the hotel conference room. Off-site meetings during the seven days will entail bus travel as a group in and around Tunis, including to the National Assembly.
Tuition – $900; Partial financial aid is available for those students and individuals that can demonstrate need as well as alumni of our previous programs. All bus travel, transportation from the airport on arrival and other program costs associated with the full seven-day Exchange are included.
Accommodation – $350; Room rates vary depending on arrangements, but generally fall within the range of $50 per night, per student for a shared double room (breakfast and taxes are included). Alternative accommodation, including in a single room, is available upon request and students are welcome to arrange for their own housing
Airfare – $400, approximate from the European Union.
REQUEST AN APPLICATION via email@example.com
Nicholas Noe is currently a co-editor of the Heinrich Boell Foundation’s journal on the Middle East, Perspectives, the editor of the 2007 book, “Voice of Hezbollah: The Statements of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah” (Verso), Co-Founder of the Beirut-based news translation service Mideastwire.com covering the Middle East media and the Co-Director of The Exchange program which now counts almost 400 student alumni from 48 different countries. He regularly provides commentary for Al-Jazeera International, BBC, CNN and several US and European publications and is the author of a White Paper for the Century Foundation entitled: “Re-Imagining the Lebanon Track: Towards a New US Policy.” Mr. Noe’s op-eds on the region have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Foreign Policy Magazine, Asia Times, The National and The National Interest.
“The educational curriculum that is being applied in this committee’s schools has nothing to do with the official Lebanese curriculum. The Syrian curriculum is also completely tore down as thousands of Syrian students are being educated according to the Saudi curricula meaning that generations of Syrian kids are being taught something that completely undermines all the education that children have been receiving under the Syrian curricula for more than forty years.
“The source indicated that the committee overseeing the schools in Tripoli and the north is receiving money but barely spending it on the students who are supposed to receive free education. However, these students are actually paying school fees as well as transportation fees…, which raises several questions on the fate of the budget dedicated to the displaced students. The source expressed his dismay since…these Syrian students are now chanting the national hymns of the funding sources such as the Saudi, Kuwaiti, or Emirati hymns whenever delegations from these countries come to visit them.
“The educational material is now producing students who support the Gulf regimes or the Wahhabi curriculum. A few years from now, Lebanon will see a wave of takfiri, pro-Gulf graduates who will constitute a threat not only to Syria but also to Lebanon… According to the source, the above-mentioned committee that oversees the schools is running its affairs from offices that have been opened in Tripoli and turned into fortresses equipped with wireless devices and surveillance cameras as they are considered as Syrian opposition centers.
“This committee is headed by a Syrian opposition leader who left Syria in the 1980s following the Hamah events and stayed in Saudi Arabia. He is currently travelling between Lebanon and Syria and has a political agenda that he is carrying out among the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. He is also working on attracting and recruiting the Syrian youths according to the takfiri curriculum, for which he is recruiting students of all ages.
“The source wondered about the secret behind the dates’ shipments reaching the offices of this committee in Abi Samra. He says: Are these really dates, or is there something more bitter beneath? The source added that the brother of the above-mentioned leader is a leader at a radical group; and the funding keeps flowing in under the headline of these schools, which have turned into centers for the Syrian opposition activists…”
Translated by our Mideastwire.com yesterday:
“Algeria’s image abroad becomes bleaker; frightening scenarios…”
“Bouzou, who is the head of the economic studies centre, Asteres, explained that Algeria was the first port of call for France’s exports to the Arab world and French companies sold a large quantity of grains, cars and medicines to Algeria. He pointed out that the post-independence “Algerian tragedy” lay in adopting “Boumediene’s socialism and then populism” which were policies that did not allow Algeria to diversify its economy and the country found itself “dependent on the hydrocarbon sector for 97 per cent of its revenue and due to the fall in oil prices the budget deficit stood at 30 per cent in the 2015 budget and unemployment stood at 11 per cent of the active population”.
“Politically, Bouzou said that the “fragile” Algerian state was still under Islamic threat and was based on three dominant and sometimes not homogenous pillars which were the Presidency which was occupied by a non-existent president, the army which was led by the elderly and surrounded by the intelligence service and a public opinion a large part of which still dreamt of France, according to him… Regarding US and British newspapers which are not interested in Algeria except when they warn about the gravity of the situation, the Financial Times said a week ago that the economic difficulties in the country threatened its stability, based on the opinion of the deputy director of the International Monetary Fund, Middle East and North Africa, Daniela Gressani, who had said that Algeria was exposed to an external shock that would last many years.
“Washington Post cited a statement by an expert on the constitution project which said that it did not meet the basic principles of democracy because it allowed the strengthening of the state at the expense of the civil society. New York Times discussed President Bouteflika’s state of health and asked if he was ruling the country, particularly after the request by the Group of 19 to see him in order to confirm that he owned up to the decisions made on his behalf.
“This terrifying perception of the situation in Algeria strikes at the heart of what is known as “improving Algeria’s image abroad”, which is one of the pledges made by President Bouteflika when he was elected for the first time in 1999, and the “achievements” his supporters bragged about which were in Belkhadem’s words like “a mangy camel” and in time it became clear that that image was closely linked to the price of oil, improved with its improvement and collapsed with its collapse.”
READ THE ARTICLE IN FULL VIA:
Three decades later, Lebanon’s leading Christian rivals finally reconcile, but will that get the country a president?
BY Nicholas Noe
For most people in the Middle East, the prospect that Lebanon might finally install a president after more than a year and a half of political deadlock probably passed with little notice.
After all, there are much bigger problems to worry about: The region is on fire, with multiple expanding insurgencies, an accelerating socio-economic breakdown and a sectarian conflict at its worst in recent memory.
For perhaps a majority of the Lebanese, however, the January 18 announcement that two longtime Christian rivals – Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea – would finally set aside their differences and try their best to elect Aoun as the next head of state, was indeed a major event.
“Very regrettably, we did not have a truth and reconciliation process after [the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil] War,” Aoun told Newsweek Middle East.
“This is one important step in the process – an effort to begin to heal the Christian community as well as the larger Lebanese community. But it is also particularly important at this moment,” the 81-year-old former army commander said. “When we see Lebanon under threat and the Christian presence retreating all around us, we finally come together and have a strong voice as president,” he added.
For a conflict that set new standards of brutality, the intra-confessional clashes among the Lebanese were often the most vicious and unrelenting.
Indeed, in the last two years of the Civil War, (1988-1990), the remnants of the Lebanese Army under Aoun’s command engaged in a wide-ranging “War of Elimination” with Geagea’s Lebanese Forces (LF) militia.
The fighting killed and wounded tens of thousands and brought destruction to a number of Christian regions that had formerly escaped the previous 13 years of mayhem.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the scars would persist long after both men were effectively removed from the Lebanese stage, with Aoun exiled in France ostensibly for opposing the 1989 “Taif Agreement” that ended the Civil War and Geagea languishing in jail, in part for a church bombing conviction, which some argued was orchestrated by Syrian officials who essentially controlled post-war Lebanon…
Israel’s former Military Intel head: Hezbollah main threat, Golan main area of concern & it’s vital to bring down Assad
Syria is Iran’s corridor to the Arab world and the channel through which it strengthens and maintains contact with Hezbollah and Palestinian extremist groups. The weakening and ousting of the Assad regime is a clear Israeli interest, as only this can level a severe blow to Iran and Hezbollah. Israel must determine how to support efforts that will end with the Assad regime not playing a dominant role in Syria, while at the same time refraining from strengthening extremist Sunni factions and, most prominently, the Islamic State. From Israel’s perspective, these two negative forces can be dealt with sequentially, with a continuous reexamination of their correct prioritization.
To achieve these goals, Israel must develop more creative and active tools through cooperative efforts with strong global allies such as the United States and Europe, as well as with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are also interested in ejecting Iran from Syria and replacing the Assad regime.
Israel must ensure that the forces of the radical axis are weakened as much as possible in the future Syria and are removed from the Golan Heights to the greatest extent possible. If Syria is divided, the Syrian elements with which Israel can cooperate include the more moderate Sunni organizations and the states supporting them, such as Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, Jordan, and Turkey.
The JCPOA has frozen the Iranian nuclear threat for a number of years, and the armies currently on Israel’s borders are either at peace with Israel or enervated by exhausting civil wars. Israel’s primary military threat at the present time is posed by Hezbollah. This organization continues its buildup with offensive and defensive weaponry produced by Iran, Russia, and Syria. The range of the rockets and missiles at its disposal cover the full territory of Israel, and their precision and lethality continue to increase. Hezbollah is even developing an offensive capability to seize control of some Israeli territory.
Interesting piece translated tonight by our Mideastwire.com.
Note how the anti-Hezbollah daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi puts the Russian response: essentially, Moscow seems to say, dont worry about Hezbollah on your border…. it will be fine.
“…And this allusion had been directly heard from him by Al-Quds al-Arabi on many occasions… Still, what is mostly alarming for Amman is the presence of Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah forces near the Jordanian city of Ramtha, which is said to have been subject to several infiltration attempts by the Lebanese Hezbollah, prior to the Arab spring…
“…At this level exclusively, Jordan received a reassuring message from Moscow saying that all the “military parties” in Syria will show discipline and operate based on a set program…, assuring there was no need to fear the presence of Hezbollah’s and the Revolutionary Guard’s armed men in Daraa. The second was the clear message sent by the Jordanian army, saying it was ready to resort to all military options to prevent any attempt to approach the Jordanian border from whichever side, using firepower…”