Monthly political analysis on nations in
economic or political transition



Iran, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Serbia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, North Korea

As The Year Ends.....


The Monthly/Yearly Roundup


“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.


By 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.

The 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 civilised!

A walk through ‘the Arab Autumn’
We have put together at the front of our December reports in the Overview
Iran; Syria; Turkey; Iraq; Saudi Arabia; Libya; Egypt.

These are 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.


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. EGYPT 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!

In LIBYA, 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 WWII.


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 LIBYA 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 SYRIAN 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.


In SYRIA 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 father.

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!


So 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.

Of 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’.


It 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 Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, 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 centuries.

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.

North Korea
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.


As 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.

The South Asians:
India; Bangladesh;
Elections coming up in INDIA. 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!

BANGLADESH 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!


PAKISTAN 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





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Also published on our blog page Bulletin, 1st December 2013|New Nations - a not for profit company
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