Monthly political analysis on nations in
economic or political transition

22 new reports this month including: ‘The Arab Awakening’ nations: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran. The Balkans: Serbia; Bosnia. FSU: Russia; Ukraine; Belarus; Uzbekistan Kazakhstan. South Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh. East Asia: North Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines.

‘Another Fine Mess…………’

We draw particular attention to the parallels between Syria and next door Iraq, where Al Qaida have spectacularly re-entered events, with a massive programme of murder and destruction aimed at the Shia government and population, just as they have in strength moved into Syria. It is reported that Al Qaida now control one of the border entry points into Syria where they are bringing through the jihadists in sizeable numbers. The world’s press seems now to have latched onto the fact that the jihadists – al Qaeda and others, are playing a significant role in the civil war. One fighter was quoted as saying that they are not seeking a ‘free’ Syria, but an Islamic Syria.

Regular readers will know that we have consistently argued that the US and European NATO powers are making a serious mistake in taking sides in Syria – at last being seen for what it is - a religious war. The circumstances are quite different from the other ‘Arab Awakening’ regimes, like Libya.

As Henry Kissinger said in an IHT article enquiring why the US State Dept. was involved: “…this struggle reflects, in large part, the millennium- old conflict between Shia and Sunni and is an attempt to reclaim Sunni dominance from a Shi’ite minority.”

That has been NewNations understanding from the beginning. We have reported SYRIA monthly for nearly ten years –well over 100 consecutive reports before this one. We knew that the sponsoring Gulf State nations and Saudi have no interest in democracy- they work hard to stop such an infection reaching their own shores. Regime change for them, as Kissinger observes, is about Sunni dominance.

The US and European NATO powers have taken sides because they are playing the geopolitical game of isolating IRAN through weakening its allies.

Of course SYRIA is no democracy any more than it’s neighbours, or any member of the Arab League, but it did enjoy stability and had the great and unusual virtue of religious tolerance, appropriate given the millennia of being at one of the world’s crossroads. Instead of having a Sunni ruling family, it is regionally a rarity in having a non-Sunni family at the top and by including secularism, freedom of worship, in its constitution.

It was before the uprising more at ease with itself, than its Arab neighbours, more western even, not being a society dominated by the mosque. It’s sin in the eyes of the revolutionaries, is that it is an heretical government, rather than a politically absolutist government – the latter being standard throughout the region. Osama bin Laden, a Sunni fanatic, was so intense about this, that in one broadcast during a particularly chaotic period in Iraq, he said that the Shia were worse than the ‘American invaders’ in Moslem countries.

Hillary Clinton and William Hague have earned themselves no brownie points by having overruled the expert advice available to them, from the Arabists in their ministries, that this was not a struggle for democracy. Neither of the two main sponsors of the rebels, Saudi Arabia and Qatar entertain any notions of democracy in their own countries. Like all the Gulf States, they have absolutist Sunni governments. This is unlike IRAQ which emerged from the long US occupation with a Shiite-dominated government, which then and now inspires their substantial Sunni population into various degrees of antagonism.

This is exemplified by the revivified Al Qaida jihadists who on one day in late July carried out a demonstration of their presence in Iraq with 37 vicious attacks - bombing and other assaults, directed against the Shi-ite government and population in a third of the 18 Iraqi provinces.

The Al Qaida islamists’ first concern, said their leader in Iraq, Abu Bakir al Baghdadi, “ is to eliminate the Shia heretics and “to dominate territories we used to dominate – and more.”

For western countries to get involved in Islamic sectarianism on one side or the other, is as though Arab states long ago were becoming involved in the centuries-long European struggle between Catholics and Protestants. Then as now, issues being intractable religious differences, interference by taking sides is a no-win situation for everyone involved.

Whether in Iraq or Syria, to Sunni Arabs the Shi-ites are simply heretics, who, if allowed to live at all in Sunni countries are a sub-species - ‘untermenschen’. Witness Saudi Arabia’s minority Shi-ite population (as we report that country).
Syria is different again to most Arab states in having been for millennia at one of the crossroads of civilisations and as a result has a wide spread of non-Sunni citizens. Minorities include some five different and ancient species of Christian predating the Prophet, as well as a variety of Moslems :- Druse, Sufi, Ismailis, Alawite, Shia, as well as ethnic Kurds, who have all been ‘included in’ the power structure by the Alawites, the largest of the minorities which together account for some 30 -35% of the total population.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States talk in terms of the Jordanian King’s notion of a ‘Shi’ite crescent’ on the map, anchored on Iran including Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. This has let loose the idea in Foggy Bottom, the Foreign Office and Quai d’Orsay, that what’s in it for them, is to pull Shi’ite props away from under the awkward squad in IRAN. Al Qaida are now well established in Syria, happy enough to have stirred up their fellow Sunni and to be on the same military side, supported by what they must now regard as ‘useful idiots,’ viz. Clinton and Hague.

Newnations is committed to encouraging democracy in the countries on which we report. The administration of the al Assads in Syria has historically been cruel to its opponents. It is also obvious from the neutral reporters in country, that the rebels are no less brutal when given the opportunity.

Despite the fact that the stability the government have engendered over many years has enabled a Sunni middle class to do well, we could not possibly support the status quo if there were any prospect of real democracy as the outcome of this violence and horror. Even in Iraq the occupying western powers did leave an elected government in place. In Syria, were the rebels to win which is far from certain, there is no prospect of a democratic outcome, nor any foreign power to impose it. However, the dominant Moslem Brotherhood in Syria has a long revenge list stretching back far into the past. If the rebels succeed there is every prospect of a minorities witch-hunt - a blood-bath. The rebels even now chant: “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to their graves,” a nice distinction for the western media.
A non-interventionist west with its appalled public opinion, could then reflect on whether all this fanning the flames by Clinton and Hague was justified by the desire to marginally damage IRAN.

Turkey and Iran have many crises, events and problems on which we report, quite apart from their involvement with Syria. On Libya: we report the interesting realities on the ground, given their not opting for the Islamist road. Egypt’s election is scrutinised and the Moslem Brothers with their tearaway electoral victories are ‘found democratically wanting,’ suggesting trouble to come.

Reports: Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iran.

Russia is grouped here with other FSU republics which still unsurprisingly, interact. Politically, economically, militarily in one way or another, Russia still dominates and intends to keep it that way. Only the three Baltic republics out of fifteen post-soviet all-union republics have achieved democracy. Belarus has been subject to the same dictator almost since the old Soviet Union broke up. Sadly, Ukraine is fast becoming ‘Putinised’- in Freedom House’s apt expression. Now former PM Julia Tymoshenko, already jailed on spurious charges, is being charged with murder!

The Central Asians, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are large significant nations, the first because it is well populated, with sizeable armed forces; the second because it is seriously mineral rich. Both have absolutist regimes still under the control of the same men, ‘presidents for life,’ who were their rulers under communism. Both are going to be more in the news as they are undoubtedly targeted by the Islamists, who expect to move in on them when Afghanistan’s conflict is settled and the jihadists can move north.

Reports: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan

We look at two troubled Balkan countries: Serbia, ominously showing strong signs of a reversion to the nationalism that caused such chaos in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Bosnia: a major victim of that terrible time is struggling, and although the Bosnian Serbs are now taking part at a federal level, little progress is being made.

Reports: Serbia & Bosnia

For Afghanistan, the Tokyo conference of Donors, keenly watched by Kabul was a key part of the post-war arrangements, which are more and more occupying the foreign powers involved in country. There is understandably a muted mood in Afghanistan, certainly not much optimism about the future after the foreign powers remove their troops.

In Pakistan, notwithstanding foreign investment continuing to free-fall, there is a prevalent belief that a turn- around in their fortunes is due, with a substantial investment in energy for next year. But how much is due just to optimism is hard to gauge. Government bonds are downgraded and the nation’s politics are far from settled.

We note that India which has just elected a new president, is responding in its own way to the Chinese naval behaviour in the troubled waters of the ‘South China’, ‘West Philippines’, ‘East Vietnam’ sea - the same sea of course, named differently by those whose shores it laps.

Vietnam is one of those on which we report here. We also report on the Philippines, whose main event was the extremely encouraging ‘State of the Nation’ address. It shows the great progress made by President Aquino, who has clearly lived up to his election promises and is bringing his country closer to becoming a genuine democracy.

North Korea has seen two newsworthy events, the disclosure that the new Kim is married, after much speculation about his female companion, and the changes at the top of the army, always important in this militaristic nation.

In Bangladesh, the government, in a fury at having a large World Bank loan withdrawn on grounds of corruption (no stranger to this country), has tried to partially blame for that decision, Bangladesh’s most distinguished citizen, the Nobel Laureate, Professor Yunis Khan, founder of the Grameen Bank.

Taiwan has been celebrating its anniversary as a democracy, which sadly fails to impress, with its previous president incarcerated after a farcical trial which would have been impossible in any truly democratic country.

Clive Lindley


Reports on
Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Vietnam, North Korea, Bangladesh, Philippines, Taiwan



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