Archive for the ‘Topics’ Category

23
Feb

The humanitarian crisis in Syria has gone on so long and is so devastating in its social impact — with a huge migration, some direct and some coming from people in the existing camps in the countries surrounding Syria — that we can lose sight of the military dangers that are now threatening the Middle East.

It has long been feared in NATO that the Syrian crisis would spill over into a wider war, but that moment is closer now than it has ever been before. Any serious analysis of the start of the First and Second World Wars reveals that a lack of clarity of intention is extremely dangerous.

At least there is an ongoing dialogue between Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. And, of course, it is possible that words have been spoken between these two and/or between President Obama and President Putin that has made the position of the respective parties clearer than might appear. The time has come, however, given that cease-fire after cease-fire has been broken, for a very clear statement from NATO’s secretary general regarding its position and not left any longer to just bilateral exchanges between the U.S. and Russia. We can all hope that the latest cease-fire, which goes into effect on Saturday, holds. But more clarity is needed. Read more…

Published on 22/02 by Lord David Owen, Former British foreign secretary in www.huffingtonpost.com

16
Feb

 

SC UFM

Pablo G. Bejerano

The end of 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of the Barcelona Process. That regional cooperative project was the origin of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), which was finally constituted in 2008 during the Paris Summit.

Fathallah Sijilmassi, Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean, visited IE School of International Relations to present this organization, which plays a key role in developing the region. The UfM is not strictly Mediterranean, as he put it in beginning of a talk in Riga (Latvia): “I’m very happy to be in a Mediterranean country.”

The reason for this remark is that all the countries in the European Union are automatically members of the UfM, whether they border on the Mediterranean or not. At present there are 43 countries in this organization, which also takes in North Africa and that part of the Near East closest to the Mediterranean.

As Sijilmassi explained, the role of the organization is to balance different interests with the aim of “promoting concrete projects.”

Among the fundamental aims of the UfM, Sijilmassi stressed creating employment for young people and empowering women. “What’s happening in Tunisia is very interesting. Everyone who is in the street demonstrating is saying ‘we want jobs.’ It’s not a question of politics or religion.”

Unemployment is also linked to other problems. Sijilmassi mentioned terrorism and insisted that everyone must work together to find solutions. It is here that education plays a fundamental role. In his native Morocco, the UfM has helped create the Euro-Mediterranean University of Fez, promoted by the Ministry for Education.

Empowering women is also related to employment. One of the ways to encourage it is for young women to create their own companies. “We’ve worked a lot in the big cities, but not enough in the interior or the rural areas,” Sijilmassi recognized, adding that the empowerment of women is an indicator of a country’s development.

Channels for concrete improvements

The Secretary General defines the UfM as a “yes” organization. “How do you take on challenges beyond just speeches and words, how do you meet the needs of people?” He says concrete projects must be carried out, “tangible things, not just theoretical approximations.”

To achieve this it’s often necessary to say ‘yes’ even though one isn’t entirely in agreement. The Union for the Mediterranean doesn’t implement projects on their own but rather facilitates them through third parties. The process begins by evaluating a project based on different criteria, such as its socio-economic value for the region, and then the financial experts determine how viable it will be, and the political waters are tested to be sure the project will be approved by the authorities. Afterward, the organization uses all the means at its disposal to promote the project and oversee its completion.

10
Feb

With the Middle East ablaze, new opportunities have emerged for regional cooperation. In fact, partnerships have formed in the most unlikely of places, as Israel and some of its Arab neighbors have joined together to combat regional enemies, such as ISIS and Iran.

Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has been viewed as an outcast by other countries in the Middle East. Over the years, this has led to several military confrontations. Despite these tensions, Israel managed to establish formal diplomatic ties with Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, and Turkey as well as a close political alliance with Iran prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Today, of its regional counterparts, only Egypt and Jordan maintain official diplomatic relations with Israel.

Recently, Israel has emerged as a strategic ally for Egypt and Jordan in the fight against ISIS and as an important partner for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the effort to counter Iran’s growing influence.

“We are together with Egypt and many other states in the Middle East and the world in the struggle against extreme Islamic terrorism,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Israel’s Hadassah Medical Center last year.

The emergence of an ISIS affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula has led to enhanced Israeli-Egyptian cooperation. Israel has permitted Egypt to bolster its troop numbers in the Sinai and deploy its air force near their shared border, two activities that were previously outlawed by the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979. Furthermore, several reports indicate that there has been increased intelligence sharing between Israel and Egypt and potential covert operations undertaken by Israel (with Egypt’s approval) to destroy terrorist cells in the Sinai. Read more…

FEBRUARY 8, 2016 | BENNETT SEFTEL

 

Published in https://www.thecipherbrief.com

5
Feb

We Muslims like to believe that ours is “a religion of peace,” but today Islam looks more like a religion of conflict and bloodshed. From the civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen to internal tensions in Lebanon and Bahrain, to the dangerous rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Middle East is plagued by intra-Muslim strife that seems to go back to the ancient Sunni-Shiite rivalry.

Religion is not actually at the heart of these conflicts — invariably, politics is to blame. But the misuse of Islam and its history makes these political conflicts much worse as parties, governments and militias claim that they are fighting not over power or territory but on behalf of God. And when enemies are viewed as heretics rather than just opponents, peace becomes much harder to achieve.

This conflation of religion and politics poisons Islam itself, too, by overshadowing all the religion’s theological and moral teachings. The Quran’s emphasis on humility and compassion is sidelined by the arrogance and aggressiveness of conflicting groups.

This is not a new problem in Islam. During the seventh-century leadership of the Prophet Muhammad, whose authority was accepted by all believers, Muslims were a united community. But soon after the prophet’s death, a tension arose that escalated to bloodshed. The issue was not how to interpret the Quran or how to understand the prophet’s lessons. It was about political power: Who — as the caliph, or successor to the prophet — had the right to rule?

Published in the nytimes.com by

1
Feb

Lights Out for the Putin Regime

Written on February 1, 2016 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Foreign Policy, Security

Russian President Vladimir Putin poses for a selfie with members of the youth military patriotic club "Vympel" (The Pennant), November 4, 2015.

Russian President Vladimir Putin used to seem invincible. Today, he and his regime look enervated, confused, and desperate. Increasingly, both Russian and Western commentators suggest that Russia may be on the verge of deep instability, possibly evencollapse.

This perceptual shift is unsurprising. Last year, Russia was basking in the glow of its annexation of Crimea and aggression in the Donbas. The economy, although stagnant, seemed stable. Putin was running circles around Western policymakers and domestic critics. His popularity was sky-high. Now it is only his popularity that remains; everything else has turned for the worse. Crimea and the Donbas are economic hellholes andhuge drains on Russian resources. The war with Ukraine has stalemated. Energy prices are collapsing, and the Russian economy is in recession. Putin’s punitive economic measures against Ukraine, Turkey, and the West have only harmed the Russian economy further. Meanwhile, the country’s intervention in Syria is poised to become a quagmire.

Things are probably  much worse for Russia than this cursory survey ofnegative trends suggests. The country is weathering three crises brought about by Putin’s rule—and Russia’s foreign-policy misadventures in Ukraine and Syria are only exacerbating them.

First, the Russian economy is in free fall. That oil and gas prices are unlikely to rise much anytime soon is bad enough. Far worse, Russia’s energy-dependent economy is unreformed, uncompetitive, and un-modernized and will remain so as long as it serves as a wealth-producing machine for Russia’s political elite. Second, Putin’s political system is disintegrating. His brand of authoritarian centralization was supposed to create a strong “power vertical” that would bring order to the administrative apparatus, rid it of corruption, and subordinate regional Russian and non-Russian elites to Moscow’s will. Instead, over-centralization has produced the opposite effect, fragmenting the bureaucracy, encouraging bureaucrats to pursue their own interests, and enabling regional elites to become increasingly insubordinate—withRamzan Kadyrov, Putin’s strongman in Chechnya, being the prime example. Third, Putin himself, as the linchpin of the Russian system, has clearly passed his prime. Since his catastrophic decision to prevent Ukraine from signing an Association Agreement with the European Union in 2013, he has committed strategic blunder after strategic blunder. His formerly attractive macho image is wearing thin, and his recent attempts to promote his cult of personality by publishing a book of his quotes and a Putin calendar look laughable and desperate. Read more…

 

Published on Jan. 27 in foreignaffairs.com; Written by By Alexander J. Motyl

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