The Monthly/Yearly Roundup
Iran & nuclear
Nations of the
A walk through
the Arab Autumn
Geneva 2: what
can it achieve?
Russia and the
near but yet so far!
–the other nuclear ‘rogue’
DEC 1st 2013
“Jaw, Jaw, beats War, War”
Churchill’s aphorism points up that the Iran story is the most
significant in this issue. It seemed and was a close run thing. Both
Israel and Saudi Arabia that were for different reasons looking for
Iranian blood, are now suddenly resentful that America, their ally,
won’t go and do their fighting for them and start a war - (The US
would certainly defend both special ‘clients’- if they were to fall
under attack from Iran, or anywhere else).
How fortunate the world is to have an Obama in the White House at
this time, and not a George W Bush with his handholding friendship
with the Saudi Royals and a warmongering Vice, who would have had
him tell the world, “Bring it on.” Obama before he was ever elected,
promised that he would talk to the Iranians. He has done that via
the excellent US/EU negotiating team of Kerry and Ashton who
together with the Iranians, have come up with a common-sense agenda
for 6 months, to then be reviewed to see how actions and rewards
compare with promises.
now the Nations of the world should have found an answer!
As much of the world looks
forward to the seasonal religious feasts associated with the Winter
Solstice, it should be remembered that around the globe, the refugee
problem, usually associated with war but also as in the Philippines
with the fury of nature, is riding at all-time highs. As we report
Libya, Syria and Iraq, we see that the open war in Syria and
terrorist wars in Libya and Iraq are causing previously unheard of
mass departures from the hopelessness of civilian life in war zones.
Economic, not just war refugees, every night are leaving ports and
harbours along the Southern shores of the Mediterranean gambling
with their lives in the hands of criminal opportunists, hoping for
the miracle of being taken in and allowed to work, by peaceful
nations with comparatively successful economies.
same situation in the southern hemisphere finds Australia as the
target country, from small boats crossing the Pacific with hopeful
refugees from several parts of Asia. Many of these, as in the
Mediterranean will never get ‘there’ - that being an island
reception centre, prior to being for the most part flown home to the
tender mercies of governments they were fleeing from.
What a long way the world has to go before it can regard itself as
A walk through ‘the Arab
We have put together at the
front of our December reports in the Overview
Iran; Syria; Turkey; Iraq; Saudi Arabia; Libya; Egypt.
the frontline players this issue, in the series of middle-east
crises that featured heavily in 2013 reports, although the most
significant action was in November at Geneva.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ‘ARAB AWAKENING’
Whatever else, the ARAB SPRING is now in it’s Autumn mode,
seemingly heading for a hard winter. The ‘Awakening’ has turned
into a nightmare.
has gone full circle:– overthrowing Hosni Mubarak the military
dictator, the army returned to barracks; Mubarak arrested and
charged with the deaths of protesters; a Democracy proclaimed; the
spontaneous Tahrir Square protestors mostly secular young, many ‘computerate,’well
educated whose daring and energy had tipped the balance,
inevitably cost lives. They are the nation’s best hope. But they
had no political organisation. So the next step: Election, left
them almost totally unrepresented whilst the Moslem Brothers had
been working for this moment for 30 years. Under the military
government’s rules not allowed to be political, the Brethren had
done what they were able to do, organise! They were in every
village and township as well as the big cities, spread throughout
the nation as a social welfare organisation; with due attention to
Islamic Holy Writ, relieving poverty, food for the hungry, medical
and dental help for the masses, all of this, which made them very
popular amongst the very large numbers of ‘downtrodden’ were there
and already organised when it came to the election.
So the Moslem Brethren swamped all political opponents other than
about 10% of Salafists, the most extreme Moslems that embrace the
Saudi’s chosen sect, yet which regard the Brethren as too vulgar
altogether. Just a few of the intellectuals, business leaders,
university professors available, got elected on an individual
basis. As to the young people who risked it all in Tahrir square-
and made it happen, they got nothing. They found themselves the
unwitting instruments of a ‘progressive victory’ that had instead
reverted to the medievalism that based on the Prophet’s literal
teachings of fifteen centuries before, made inevitable. The
Brethren’s one year in office addressed outstanding religious
questions, whilst leaving the economy bereft, financially
strapped, unemployment soaring, hope becoming hopelessness.
Then the military intervened. The Brethren’s elected President
and other leaders arrested; an interim army-led government
appointed. Full circle!
the one uprising in which the Western powers have intervened –
primarily the British and French airforces, with the US discreetly
(yet without its own USAF flying the missions). This western
intervention was agreed over the misgivings of some in the UNSC,
but purported to merely create a ‘no-fly’ zone to even up the odds
a little, since they had decided Qadaffi must go. But the ‘no
fly,’ really referred to anyone else but them! Once the Colonel’s
airforce and Anti-aircraft batteries were destroyed, the allied
fliers then morphed seamlessly into becoming the Rebel Airforce,
destroying tanks, artillery, fortified places including Qadaffi
palaces, right up until the time the Colonel finally in a convoy
of cars, made a break for it. His convoy was strafed and destroyed
from the air, leaving the Colonel and his family to literally get
free from the wreckage and run for it, to escape the mob! Two sons
died that day and in attempting escape, Qadaffi was hauled out of
a hiding place, then physically abused and lynched, this ugly
scene even being filmed, rather like the death of Mussolini in
Now Libya is under ‘gun law’ –and that’s not the military variety,
but a chaotic series of battles, skirmishes largely between the
many well-armed rival groups – some effectively bandits, others
hardline Islamists, who have targeted
to become their first achievement in nation- building a new
salafist government. A model state created by these youthful
admirers of Al Qaeda and the like, set to become a practitioner of
Sharia law. Objectively, such is the mayhem that the historic
French experience of the late 1790’s is likely to be repeated with
the revolutionaries destroying each other –‘the revolution
devouring its own children’, but what comes after that?
Out of that experience the
revolution arrived. Here was an Arab government of apostates, no
less; heretics ruling a large Arab nation with majority Sunni but
having a constitution allowing freedom of worship. So not only
heretical Alawites, but several other Islamic minority faiths –
Sufi, Ismaeli, Druses, Shi’ite and more, together with at least
six denominations of Christians, and other more obscure faiths. In
Syria like all the sheikhs,emirs, princes, kings, presidents in
the region:- the Gulf States, Saudi itself, Qatar and others, ALL
hold power via a single ruling family. Democracy doesn’t exist in
this part of the world except Israel - if not Palestine - and the
Lebanon. It certainly is not to be found in the states of the Arab
League. So democracy is not really on anybody’s agenda except in
the west, where we consider it to be ‘a good thing’ and so
forcibly removed the Saddam Hussein family from IRAQ and replaced
him with an opportunist, corrupt political regime in coalition and
in permanent crisis.
the ruling Assad family were much like those in many other Arab
states – seized power some time ago, built up their military with
modern armaments from patron states. - the US would not sell arms
to Syria because it was next door to Israel and had once fought a
war against it - so that left that market open to Russia. Syria
was a police state, as were they all, but their secret policemen
were directed at the remnants of the Syrian Moslem Brotherhood,
similar to those in Egypt, who had rebelled many years before in
Syria, and had been severely crushed by the generation of Assad's
Certainly, some of the
younger Syrian rebels had, on the back of the regional ‘Spring,’
thought it their chance to become more western. It was possibly
the only state in the Islamic middle east, where young people
could date, and go to the movies, say, without murderous brothers
or homicidal uncles seeking to kill them.
The events following the self- immolation of a street vendor in
Tunisia protesting his miserable persecuted life, spread rapidly
throughout the region. It certainly shook up the largely
conservative Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, although they -
Saudi and Qatar, initiated the Syrian uprising, winding up their
Sunni co-religionists following Assad’s massive misstep in
over-reacting to early protest marches in the southeast of Syria.
These were largely by farmers protesting about being unable to
make a living. That protest roughly handled, very quickly
coalesced with help from Sunni neighbours, into jihad against the
Assad government, because they are Alawites, regarded as a
sub-species of the Shi’ites. They allow and give citizen’s rights
to all the many kinds of Christians, Sufi, Ismaelis, Shi’ites,
Druses, even Jews, and more exotic even than these. Freedom of
Worship is guaranteed in the Syrian Constitution! Temples,
Churches, Synagogues even, are or were there in Damascus, Aleppo,
etc. No greater challenge or cause for jihad was needed, given
this state of affairs.
Whilst many poorer Syrians were unhappy with the everlasting Assad
governments, the mostly Sunni middle and merchant class were
reasonably content with the stability and the prosperity it
brought; the young motivated by the ‘Awakening’ excitement
throughout the Arab world, wanted change after 40 years. But to
this generalised discontent was added the ingredient of religion.
So a new breed of fighter, jihadists mostly foreigners, emerged on
the scene; Salafist Sunni to the core, completely convinced of the
rightness of their cause to dispense life and death, once and for
all to stamp out this nest of heretics. Thus, the uprising became
exactly what the Assads were saying about it, that these jihadists
were mostly foreigners, volunteering from Saudi itself and the
Gulf States, from Iraq, from across North Africa and also from
Turkey, the UK, Spain, France, Germany and other parts of Europe;
Russian Caucasians from Chechnya and Dagestan, organised in their
own battalions; even Moslem Americans and Canadians, all of whom
while thinking they were defending Islam (the Sunni majority
sect), were fighting to prevent and kill or expel all non- Sunni
Moslems, as well of course as other religions. Many of the
Christian sects have been there since long before the Prophet was
born.’ Yet ‘tolerance’ was to be stamped out together with all
Kafirs. The pure Sunni, indeed the more rigorous Salafi version,
must have no rivals.
Although the uprising in Syria originally talked of democracy,
there isn’t a single democratic state in all of the Arab League.
The Saudis and Gulf States are monarchies – hereditary
dictatorships. The Assads of Syria are just late arrivals, when
changes of ruler, as with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, were in favour
of presidents, but no less about hereditary rule!
what can a Peace Conference – Geneva 2, bring about?
There are the mostly secular opposition groups, recognised by the
west as the Syrian Free Army. They have been fighting since the
beginning. Some are professional soldiers, army officers and men
unwilling to fight their Sunni co-religionists. People like that can
be negotiated with. Their demand is that Assad and the rest of the
ruling family surrender power. The problem there is that the Syrian
government with it’s professional soldiers, after nearly three years
looks more like winning than do the rebels, which puts government in
a position of negotiating strength. The second problem is that about
half of the insurgents are Islamics, many of these- most perhaps,
are foreigners, not Syrians at all. They want an Islamic state.
Qatar and Saudi, both of whom are solidly Sunni, are sponsoring many
insurgents because for them, this war is against heresy, it is
religious. A showdown between Iranian sponsored Shi’ism and
Saudi-sponsored Salifism. No easy compromise there, since Syria is
already religiously free.
That of course is the point. Salafism does not admit of Moslem
nations allowing any form or buildings of any other religion at all,
which is what has made Syria an irritant to them, since its
inception at the break-up of the Ottoman empire. So, as it now
stacks up, the West initially so keen to dispose of the Assads, have
found themselves supporting the side, who in power, would
immediately abolish religious tolerance, affecting about a third of
Syrian citizens, including many Christians.
The peace conference should
be about an acceptable constitution which surely must include
religious tolerance. At that point you lose the Salafis as this is
the whole point to them. As to the ‘Assad must go’ proponents, which
sadly included Mrs Clinton and William Hague ‘shooting from the hip’
(as a result, President Obama was poorly advised on this civil war);
any acceptable constitution must surely include the election of a
president. Assad’s people are insisting that it must be Syrians who
decide these things.
If Assad would run for
office in an election monitored by acceptable referees, he could
win! The fact that he and his people have held tight to the mantra
that the outcome is for the Syrian people alone, rather indicates
that the stability the Assad’s represent, might constitute a
‘winning card’. The Sunni majority would continue to enjoy freedom
of worship but would NOT be able to prohibit this freedom for
others, as the Salafists seek to do.
course the Islamist rebels will never accept this. Their position at
least has the virtue of clarity, which means either their victory
and a theocracy; or, an ‘Iraqi situation’ of constant
inter-religious communal murder by random bombings; or a flat-out
new civil war. The secularists, plus those not religiously motivated
rebels, fighting with the Government forces against the Saudi /Qatar
sponsored Islamists, in order to safeguard a constitution once
this satisfies their concepts of democracy.
It is that constitution
that should be the subject matter of Geneva 2. It is achievable. It
must include religious tolerance! There is no easy way forward.
Russia and the FSU
Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine
The ‘big bad Russia’ model was doing well given their characteristic
bullying of FSU republics, to enlist them into the Russian's
Eurasian Economic Union. Then suddenly, Moscow emerged as a
peacemaker over the use of chemical weapons in Syria, notching them
up several points in international estimation, and in our view,
leaving the USA ‘owing them one’.
will not be forgotten so easily that it has been the Russians
constantly pointing out that the Islamists role as urban guerrillas,
is a growing international menace. Certainly this is the case for
them with their restless federated republics like Chechnya and
Dagestan and their particular interest in the Central Asian FSU
states. Moscow has every reason for concern about the migration of
Islamist terrorists in the wake of the coming closure of Afghanistan
as an international theatre of war. Currently Syria is high on the
Islamic terrorist targeted lists. Also Libya, where the outcome of
civil war is not yet settled, and could swing their way. But
Russia’s concerns are mainly due to their clearly seeing the dangers
of this religious fervour to themselves, in the North Caucasus, and
in such formerly Islamic states in the former Soviet Union, within
which they still seek to deploy substantial influence for commercial
and military reasons. (See also
in this issue).
Which featured this month because it has been top of the Russian’s
economic ‘hit list’ and this came to a climax this month when the
Ukrainian government announced that it was not after all, following
lengthy negotiations with the EU Commission, going to continue with
its application for economic ties with the EU. It really comes down
to the fact that Putin sees it as his mission to recreate as far as
possible, the Russian empire, historically Tsarist, then Soviet and
which was dissolved with the Union of fifteen SSR’s, on the collapse
of the USSR. This not a recreation of Russia as the alternative
world power, not a revival of the political concept of communism,
but good old imperialism involving those FSU states that due to
resources, or geographical location, or likeminded top-down rulers,
are targeted for special treatment by Moscow. UKRAINE may be the
most important politically, with its population of 50million
ethnically similar, plus the historical fact that the ‘Rus’ started
there and moving east still share with Russia a history of many
Being the westernmost part
of the FSU, neighbouring EU states such as Poland, Slovakia,
Lithuania, Hungary, the western Ukrainians also have ties of blood
with them and can certainly compare standards of living and
political life,with their own. It looked until late November that
Ukraine would opt for the western route via the EU, but Russia
somewhat heavy-handedly leaned on the Kiev government to look east
not west, and so it seems currently at least, to have played out.
But moving on from the FSU we bring forward North Korea still
communist, the ‘other’ international nuclear maverick, but this one
an actual, not a potential nuclear weapons state!
“rebarbative, recalcitrant, recidivist”
The N. Korean story rather resembles a looped videotape that
endlessly replays itself until it reaches the point the viewer could
almost recite the story themselves - although perhaps not reach such
lyrical conclusions of the hermit nation, as in our caption.
ever, our North Korean report is illuminating, and of course a key
element in it is how well/badly is the grandson of the Kim il Sung
dynasty doing, after a year in office. One item does emerge from the
barely scrutable pronouncements from Pyongyang. We do see the hint
of a mystery chasing down the interesting fact that there have been
some strange promotions/demotions in the prolixity relating to the
very pinnacle of the People’s Army.
Elections coming up in
A lot rides on whether the Congress can do sufficiently well to form
a coalition. With all their faults and we take a look at those, the
Congress is experienced and inclusive, whilst their principal rival
the BJP is unpredictable and with its allies, a heavily right wing
Hindu nationalist party. Past experience indicates they are given to
unpeaceable responses and worse, initiatives, liable to ratchet up a
problem big scale, to the Moslems and others including the
government, when in a strident mood. The situation vis a vis Sri
Lanka, is discussed. The mission to Mars is celebrated!
is depressing reading. Corruption is not so much under the surface
as right up front in the pre-election arrangements, the disgraceful
cornering of the Grameen Bank and slagging off of Mohamed Yunus;
plus the scandals surrounding the collapsed garment factory and
multiple deaths involved. What a way they have still to go!
once the western half of the state that they and present day
Bangladesh comprised, is no great shakes either. Given that it has a
nuclear arsenal it is a bigger worry than its former eastern half.
Many more incidents on the border with India and now there are
frontier problems on the Iranian border as well; the economy being a
nightmare, this country we describe as a crippled, dysfunctional
disaster, seldom offers grounds for hope, not just internally but
for the wider world.
The only representative of the Balkan states in this issue, Serbia
has been many things, but good or bad they are always significant.
They are Orthodox Christians and thus feel close to Russia. In the
post-Yugoslav years their expansionism caused a lot of misery, not
just to their Balkan neighbours but to themselves. Some very bad
things took place.
They are visibly emerging
from that unhappy post-Yugoslav interlude and some sensible
politicians seem to have managed to face up to the realities
projecting forward rather than seeking to reproduce past glories, if
that is what they were. Living with an independent Kosovo has been
hard for them but this government is facing up to realities. Moving
forward, not dwelling in the past, has to be the key.
Clive Lindley - Publisher