The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was created in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1981 under the rationale of Arabian Peninsula collective defense following the catalytic tremors of the 1978 Iranian Revolution, the 1980 to 1988 Iran-Iraq War and also because of Soviet meddling in southern Yemen. The GCC has made solid progress economically in terms of free trade, customs union and the aspiration of a common currency. GCC unity is maintained because member countries have similar political, religious and cultural identity. Member countries are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. Is it time for Yemen to join the GCC?
Tag Archives | Middle East & North Africa
The last few weeks have been brutal on President Obama’s reputation for foreign policy leadership. Consider the following. In a just-released Quinnipiac University poll, a plurality of voters rated Mr. Obama as the worst president since World War II. A majority of respondents also judged that the Obama administration is “not competent to run the government” and believe that “strong leadership qualities” are not among the president’s attributes.
If fireworks are the quintessential trademark of the way Americans celebrate 4th of July, the Israel Defense Force “celebrated” in their own special way: stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas. Despite being the biggest U.S. ally in the region, Israel was not expected to exercise restraints when aggrieved Palestinian protesters pelted them with rocks giving rise to the chance of third intifada.
The Arab world is in turmoil. Syria and Iraq are breaking apart, the thousand-year old conflict between Muslim Sunnis and Muslim Shiites is reaching a new climax. A historic drama is unfolding around us. And what is the reaction of our government? Benjamin Netanyahu put it succinctly: “We must defend Israel on the Jordan River, before they reach Tel Aviv.” Simple, concise, idiotic.
Osama bin Laden’s death in May 2011 did little to diminish the threat posed by jihadist groups like al-Qaeda. “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it” was the ‘fatwa’ issued by bin Laden in 1998. Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, the aging Egyptian Islamic theologian who leads al-Qaeda today, is having difficulty controlling the newly formed Islamist affiliates.
Michael Cohen published an article in Foreign Policy a couple of days ago in which he argues that the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship will be marked by “less cooperation, more disagreements, and greater tension.” The piece is headlined “The Democrats Are Finally Turning Away From Israel” with the inflammatory subhead “And it’s high time they did,” but this does not reflect Cohen’s core arguments, and I am 100% confident that he had nothing to do with the title in any way (having been published in FP on numerous occasions, I can say from personal experience that the editors choose the title on their own and the first time the writer even knows about it is when it goes live on the website).
As Sunni militants in Iraq advance capturing one town after another, the Shias now appear to have decided to face them with their full collective might if the long lines of Shia fighters marching through Baghdad are of any indication. They constitute the Mahdi Army, the paramilitary force that once led a Shia rebellion against US troops. This time they are raising arms against ISIS, the Al-Qaeda splinter group that has driven Iraq’s security forces from parts of the country’s north and west.
“So far as Syria is concerned, it is France and not Turkey that is the enemy.” – T. E. Lawrence, February 1915
It was a curious comment by the oddball, but unarguably brilliant, British agent and scholar, Thomas Edward Lawrence. The time was World War I, and England and France were locked in a death match with the Triple Alliance, of which Turkey was a prominent member. But it was none-the-less true, and no less now than then. In the Middle East, to paraphrase William Faulkner, history is not the past, it’s the present.
Late last week, the Turkish government submitted a bill to the Grand National Assembly advancing the stalled-but-ongoing process toward resolution of the country’s longstanding Kurdish Issue. The bill arrived after a long period of dormancy in the process. Since the negotiations with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan began, Prime Minister Erdoğan has faced mass social protests, corruption allegations, and contentious local elections.
Two recent events focus increased international attention on Morocco. First, nine activists from Morocco’s February 20 pro-reform movement were granted bail at their appeal hearings this week. They had been jailed last month under charges of chanting anti-regime slogans and clashing with police during a protest. The activists had been arrested on April 6, while attending a mass rally in Casablanca called by the trade unions. The rally was called in protest to the austerity measures enacted by the government of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane. The demonstrations were attended by some 10,000 people.
Last week’s attacks on innocent civilians in Kenya are a reminder of the growing threat posed by Islamic extremists in many parts of Africa. In spite of all the resources devoted to fighting Somalia-based Al Shabaab in recent years, the group has grown stronger, and continues to cross the region’s borders with impunity. The same is true with Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The West and regional governments appear to be fighting a losing battle.
Apparently ISIS is a business, a bloody and illegal business, sort of like the Mafia. That’s what I gleaned from a McClatchy report by Hannah Allam on the group’s finances, revealed at least by a trove of documents captured by the US, turned over to RAND a few months ago, whose conclusions leaked into the public sphere today. “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria sprang from a largely self-funded, corporation-style prototype whose resilience to counterterrorism operations was proven by the time Abu Bakr al Baghdadi assumed command in 2010,” Allam reports.
Iraq is in turmoil, and a full-fledged sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites appears imminent. The United States will need to interject forces yet again due to the incompetence of the Iraqi armed forces. The misrule of Nouri al-Maliki has also been exposed. However, beyond all that, something else is worth discussing here. The message and motives of ISIS have clearly shown that they intend to impose a Muslim caliphate.
This has set off alarm bells. A caliphate largely run by Muslim extremists poses a threat to Western hegemony in the region, moderate Muslim rule as well as the misrule of regional despots. Obviously, everyone should be alarmed by the success of ISIS.
The fact that ISIS dislikes Shiite rule in Iraq further adds a new dimension to the age-old question: Sunni caliphate or Shiite imamate? Which one is the better self-rule option for Muslims, and more importantly, for preserving the peace of the entire region? Many experts on the region would argue neither, but that debate is for another day.
For centuries, Christendom tried to eliminate the caliphate, and failed. However, towards the start of the Modern World, the secular West did manage to remove the caliphate. Centuries have passed since then, and most present-day Muslims feel detached from the days of the caliphate. Even though calls for restoration of a caliphate, be it by violent or peaceful means, are made every now and then (ISIS is a case in point), many Muslims don’t consider it a viable option.
The recent conflict can be compared to the Iran-Iraq War. Back then, Iran viewed the conflict as the struggle of a religious Shiite state against a godless Arab Socialist regime of Saddam Hussein, whereas the latter projected the war as a by-product of the ever-expanding encroachment of Persians on Arab culture.
Times have changed. Previously, Sunnis were viewed by the West as a moderate community of Muslims, whereas Shiites were the fanatics who chanted: “Death to America! Death to Israel!” Today, the Western climate seems pro-Shiite, and Sunnis are viewed as the problem.
This sectarian conflict has historical roots. A tiny group of people believed that the caliphate rightfully belonged to Ali, and it should not have gone to Abu Bakr, Umar and Usman. Having emerged as a matter of political disagreement, Shiism soon took the shape of a religious group within Islam, organizing itself under the doctrine of imamah.
For Shiites, the divine imams are infallible and incorruptible. They are immune to human flaws. In this regard, Shiite imamate is comparable to the Catholic model of the Pope — a supreme leader, who is above the flaws and faults of the world, and passes on the leadership sans the hysteria of mass elections.
As such, there is good room for democratic aspirations in the Sunni model of caliphate: the caliph is supposed to be guided by the interests of the common masses. Accountability to the people is a concept that is central to the idea of the Sunni caliphate. But this democratic spirit is absent in Shiite imamate, which is based on absolute theocracy.
It must be noted, though, that the Ayatollahs are not divine imams themselves. According to Shiism, the last divine imam of Shiism, Mehndi, left this world back in the eighth century, and will be back at an appropriate time.
Sunni caliphate differs from Shiite imamate in both ideological and practical terms. The former has potential for democratic reforms (of course, this does not mean ISIS will be keen on becoming a democratic body anytime soon), whereas the latter has a theocratic structure that offers unlimited socio-political powers to its divine imam.
All said and done, the concept of political leadership is just the tip of the iceberg, and the sects have many differences. Bloodshed and anarchy will help neither side, and this is where the role of both Shiite and Sunni scholars becomes important. Caliphate and/or imamate cannot be imposed by means of guns and bombs; consensus and civilized debates seem to be a much better option.
Islam is unique in the sense that it offers a good deal of personal and political freedom to its adherents, and both Sunnis and Shiites need to realize that political leadership can be discussed only when political unity has been achieved.
Presidential hopefuls are nearly universally mocked for their non-committal prior to their official announcements. Stephen Colbert, famed for his tongue-in-cheek runs for the White House in 2008 and 2012, began his first campaign with the firm declaration that “I, Stephen Colbert, am officially announcing, that I am officially considering whether or not I will announce that I am running for President of the United States.”
As enemy columns began a long, arduous advance to the capital, city after city and town after town fell. With a phased American pull out that left not a single combat troop in the country, US-equipped and trained local forces began to melt away, a combination of tactical defeats, surrenders, desertions and mutinies. The outlook of reengagement looked even bleaker: more involvement in the longest war to have ever been fought in American history was a politically unpopular and untenable position.