The Mideastwire Blog

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

Somalians say Saudi obsession with smoking Hookah destroying forests

Saudi newspaper Arab News website on November 24:

JEDDAH: Somalia has blamed Saudi Arabia for contributing to the decline of 90 percent of the forests that once covered that country.

In an official report, submitted to the United Nations, the African country has alleged that one of the main reasons for deforestation is cutting of trees, particularly the mahogany species, to meet the charcoal demand of hookah or shisha smokers in the kingdom.

The report, which comes ahead of the conference on climate change to be held in Paris, says that only 10.5 per cent of Somalia’s dense forests remain – a very different situation from what existed prior to the outbreak of the civil war in that country in the 1980s.

The report indicates that charcoal is exported in enormous quantities to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to be used for shisha. The report adds that other quantities are exported to Yemen and India, leading to the disappearance of the forest cover, and to increased drought and desertification.

The report warned that the deforestation has led to dwindling acreages allocated to growing frankincense or olibanum (aromatic resin used in incense and perfumes, obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia) and to lower volumes of crops of bananas, cotton, rice, mangoes, and citrus.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

November 26, 2015 at 1:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Gulf Paper in attack on Muslim Brotherhood parties in Yemen, aligned with some GCC countries

An interesting piece by Al-Khaleej that mirrors the growing intra-GCC rifts in Yemen war. Translated in our Daily Briefing today:

On November 24, the pro-government Al-Khaleej newspaper carried the following lead editorial: “When Operation Storm of Resolve was launched to liberate Yemen from those who had stolen its legitimate authority, to turn the country into a card in the regional game and the spearhead for the expansion of Iranian influence in the Arab Gulf region on March 26 of last year, all the Yemeni powers and parties were expected to put their political and personal calculations aside, and engage with the Arab Coalition Forces in the liberation of Yemen from the Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces, considering that the battle was mainly their own. Most powers in the North and South detected the looming threat, participated with the Arab forces in the liberation of Yemen from the insurgent militias, achieved palpable success, and liberated the city of Aden, Bab el-Mandeb and other strategic regions…

“And they offered massive sacrifices for that end, given the fact that the Arab and pro-legitimacy forces lost dozens of martyrs and hundreds of wounded in the process. But the goal was to liberate Yemen, all of it, free it from the claws of the Houthis and Saleh’s forces, and bring it back to the lap of its Arab nation and its brothers in the Arab Gulf region, which requires the continuation of the liberation process and the regaining of wide areas still controlled by the insurgents in the North. And this in turn requires the mobilization of more Yemeni forces and powers because the battle needs everyone’s participation, including the Reform Party, the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood group. But as confirmed by its history, this group always practices opportunism in its behavior and relations with others, while waiting for an opportunity to achieve its political ambitions and goals at any price.

“This is true, even if this price is the deceit of those who trusted and believed it. And whenever it encounters failure, it resorts to conspiracies, violence and terrorism, which is confirmed by its near and distant history in all the Arab countries where it is present. Likewise, during the current battles in Yemen, its leaders promised to participate in the liberation war then broke their promise. They thus entered and existed the arena, and shared dubious ties with the terrorist groups that seized some parts of the Hadramaut province. Moreover, they tried to impose their conditions and course on the battles, even to earn the price for them in advance and before the full achievement of victory. These MB positions revealed the reality, intentions and plans of the group, whose main goal is to reach power at any price.

“But this obstructed the liberation process and the continuation of the military operations as planned, based on a specific timetable. Once again, the MB-Reform role, which has exposed intentions and goals, is teaching us not to trust or believe the promises made by the group, even to beware of it because it is acting as a sixth [probably meant fifth] column on the battlefield. Still, the battle to liberate Yemen will not stop until the achievement of victory and the eradication of the insurgency, at a time when the Yemeni MB’s fate resides in the hands of the Yemeni people, whom they have once again let down.”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

November 26, 2015 at 12:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tunis attacks likely signal “Southern Strategy” push designed to fracture country

ON TUNIS: It seems increasingly likely that ISIS and Al-Qaeda, possibly in consort or separately are pursuing a “Southern Strategy” – with today’s attack but one tactic in this push. The idea is to fracture off the interior/border and southern areas – which already have multiple conflicts/grievances/fault lines – from the coastal/capital parts of Tunisia. The security sector response will be awful and inefficient – and could lead to what some of us hoped was unthinkable but which has always been there. That is, widescale repression, possibly even with Nahda targeted a la Egyptian dynamics.
A very bad day in Tunis with more bad days likely to come.
My piece on this a few weeks ago for Newsweek.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

November 24, 2015 at 7:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Reports of Russian mediated ceasefire outside of Damscus

According to the BBC:

“Syrian pro-government social media, as well as a number of activists have reported a “15-day ceasefire” to begin on 19 November in Al-Ghutah al-Sharqiyyah, on the eastern edge of Damascus, which has been under siege by government forces since late 2013.

The agreement, which has not been officially announced by any of the warring parties, includes the “suspension of all military operations for 15 days, in tandem with the opening of closed entrances between the city of Damascus and Al-Ghutah al-Sharqiyyah, under the auspices of Russia”, according to Enab Baladi, a Syrian opposition newspaper based in Turkey.

Al-Ghutah al-Sharqiyyah is the stronghold of a key Islamist armed opposition, Jaysh al-Islam (The Army of Islam), led by Zahran Allush.

The newspaper added that the proposed ceasefire followed the Vienna agreement on 14 November for implementing a ceasefire and initiating talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups.

The Facebook page of Dimashq al-Aan (Damascus Now), loyal to the Syrian government, quoted unidentified opposition sources from the province of Damascus Countryside as saying that opposition factions “demanded the [Syrian] army enforce a ceasefire in all parts of Al-Ghutah al-Sharqiyyah tomorrow [19 November] for 15 days starting from 0600 [local time, 0400 gmt]”.

It said that the army “conditionally accepted the request”.

The page added in another post that a Russian delegation “had entered Al-Ghutah al-Sharqiyyah last week, and met a number of the militias’ leaders”.

The page then quoted the minister of national reconciliation as saying that “we are against the term ceasefire, because it means equal and recognized bodies – which is incorrect. The correct thing is that there is an army that is fighting groups and armed factions”.

Meanwhile, media activists Yasir al-Dumani (3,835 followers) wrote on his Facebook page: “Alert: Al-Ghutah al-Sharqiyyah’s factions have agreed on a ceasefire with the [Syrian President Bashar] al-Asad regime starting as of tomorrow morning [19 November] for 15 days as a test period.”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

November 21, 2015 at 11:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Frm Amb. Ford finally gets it: The Russian+Iranian position was existential in 2011+now; how did these guys mis-read dynamics so badly?

From a recent piece – we need a book length study on how so many mis read the Syrian situation so badly in 2011 and later. Also Andrew Tabler finally starts to see that he was wrong and “scratches his head:”

“…With regard to Vienna, let’s be honest,” former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told a Middle East Institute conference Nov. 13. “The fundamental differences between outside players have not been resolved.

“I have seen no indication the Russians have moved an inch,” Ford said. “Everything they have said in 2015, I heard them say in 2011 and 2012. Same with the Iranians. If anything, the Iranians have ratcheted up a notch.”

For the political process to succeed, the parties have to “come to the table to make serious compromises,” Ford said. “I see no sign of compromise. Within Syria itself, I see nothing from the Syrian regime that it is prepared to compromise.”

“I don’t know how you would achieve what is outlined there, achieve a transition, changes of a constitution,” and plans for new elections, “unless the Iranians and the Russians turn the wrenches on the regime,” Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Al-Monitor in an interview Nov. 16.

“I am scratching my head about this as well,” Tabler said. “I think this is another example of when Kerry says, ‘The price of failure necessitates progress.’”

Read more:

Written by nickbiddlenoe

November 21, 2015 at 11:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

South Korean Intel arrests 10 Koreans for contact with ISIS

Report by South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo website on November 19:

Ten Koreans have tried to contact the Islamic State militant group [IS, formerly known as ISIS, ISIL] because they support the Middle Eastern terror group, the National Intelligence Service [NIS] said Wednesday [18 November].

The revelation came at a National Assembly hearing on the terror threat to Korea following last week’s terror attacks in Paris.

According to the NIS, the 10 went beyond simply expressing their enthusiasm online but attempted to get in touch with the Islamist group. Authorities plan to slap travel bans on them should they attempt to join ISIS in the Middle East.

The intelligence agency recently nabbed two Koreans for attempting to travel to the Middle East to join ISIS and identified four foreign followers.

“A growing number of people in Korea are showing an interest in ISIS and there has been an increase in Muslim workers coming to the country,” an NIS official said. “This raises the risks of terror activities by ISIS in Korea.”

ISIS recently included Korea on a list of 62 target nations it accuses of being part of a modern “crusader alliance.”

There are no laws in Korea that give authorities the right to prosecute individuals for simply supporting ISIS beliefs. “Our hands are tied when it comes to dealing with potential threats,” a government official said.

An NIS official lamented limitations in monitoring the electronic and financial activities of individuals due to privacy issues.

A court warrant is necessary to monitor emails or other online exchanges with ISIS, but such warrants are not issued without concrete evidence, such as purchase records showing intent to produce explosive devices.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

November 20, 2015 at 11:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: Report says conflict escalating between UAE and Turkey

Translated today in our Daily Briefing (for a free trial email

On November 20, the Qatari-owned Al-Quds al-Arabi daily carried the following report by its correspondent in Istanbul Ismail Jamal: “The Emirati media outlets, particularly those funded by the Abu Dhabi government, intensified their attack on Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at a time when Turkish news outlets accused the Emirates of planning an attack on the Turkish embassy in Libya. This marked a new episode in the escalating series of disputes between the two countries, which is generating fear of seeing the media war turning into a greater diplomatic crisis. The disputes between the two countries had clearly surfaced following the coup staged by current Egyptian President Abdul Fattah es-Sisi against deposed President Mohammad Morsi, and the accusations made to President Erdogan by the UAE, which strongly supported Es-Sisi, of interfering in Egyptian internal affairs…

“After a period of calm, the Emirati media outlets reopened fire at Erdogan in their coverage of the November parliamentary elections that were won by the ruling Justice and Development Party, and accused him of being a “dictator.” Hence the Emirati-funded and Dubai-based Sky News satellite channel covered the elections under the headline “The democracy of the dictator,” in reference to Erdogan who had won the 2014 presidential elections. Moreover, Emirati media outlets are constantly accusing Turkey of providing the Islamic State organization (ISIL) with weapons and allowing the entry of foreign fighters through its territories, despite the Turkish government’s repeated denial of these accusations, and are talking about “the violations of human rights and the freedom of the press in Turkey.” But a few days ago, Turkish media outlets also attacked the UAE, after its official news agency WAM carried “distorted” statements of the Turkish president.

“Major Turkish papers thus wrote under the headline “Hideous defamation of Erdogan by the Emirati news agency,” that the agency distorted statements by Erdogan and claimed he said after the Russian plane crash in Sinai: “It is natural for ISIL to down the Russian plane because Moscow is attacking it in Syria.” However, the more dangerous accusation was seen in an article by a Turkish writer close to the government, as Turkish journalist Ismail Yasa launched a fierce attack on Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed, saying that what he referred to as being an “Emirati spy” was caught in Libya, and revealed that Abu Dhabi had planned the detonation of the Turkish embassy in Tripoli and was supporting the Islamic State organization (ISIL). The author of the article, which was carried by the Turkish Dirilis Postasi, then went on to describe the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince as a being a “spoiled child.”

“He also assured that the available information following the arrest of the Emirati national in Libya revealed that “Abu Dhabi was planning to detonate the Turkish embassy in Libya, or carry out a major terrorist attack against it, and was involved in the attack on the Turkish consulate in Misuratah…” For his part, Turkish political analyst Oktay Yilmaz assured that the UAE’s negative position towards Turkey was not new and started upon the eruption of the Arab spring revolutions, particularly in Egypt… He indicated in exclusive statements to Al-Quds al-Arabi that there was “no direct problem between Turkey and the UAE. We can even say that the problem is unilateral. The UAE saw that Turkey was supporting the popular demands, which bothered it since it is leading the states oppressing those calling for freedom…”

“He continued that in case “the UAE upholds this approach, this could have negative repercussions on the diplomatic ties between the two countries,” calling on the Saudi command to “offer advice to the UAR to stop provoking Turkey, so that the relations do not reach the point of total severance…””

Written by nickbiddlenoe

November 20, 2015 at 10:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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