New Age Islam Edit Bureau
04 February 2016
Arab Shiites Must Reclaim Religious Authority From Iran
By Mohammad Al-Sulami
Egypt And Russia: Do They Really Understand Each Other?
By Maria Dubovikova
ISIS’ Infiltration within Our Societies
By Turki Al-Dakhil
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Arab Shiites Must Reclaim Religious Authority from Iran
By Mohammad Al-Sulami
3 February 2016
It’s well-known that Iraq is the origin and base of Shiite authority in the Middle East. It was first Baghdad then Najaf, and this lasted for centuries. Iran’s Qom however did not emerge as a religious center until the first quarter of the 20th Century, and it did not emerge as a reference for Shiites until the Iranian revolution erupted and the mullahs seized power in Tehran. In other words, Arabs, and not the Persians, have throughout history been the leaders and references of the Shiite sect. After the Iranian revolution, Iran worked on a strategy to market itself as a leader and embracer of Shiites across the world, particularly within its geographic surroundings. It assigned itself as defender of the Shiites to the extent that it included an item in the constitution that stipulates defending what Tehran calls “the vulnerable,” a term that means Shiite and Shiism but with an embellished touch.
Through its “umm al-qura” (mother of villages) theory, Iran has sought to replace the capital of the Islamic world, Makkah, with Qom. But Iran miserably failed, so it worked on turning Qom into the capital of the Shiite sect and thus replacing Najaf. It worked on attracting some Arab Shiite clerics and provided support through seminaries which are taught in Arabic in that small city. It also offered scholarships to Shiite youths, of whom many were recruited in Iran and returned home to become part of Iran’s cells in the Arab world.
This is how Iran’s Velayat-e Faqih ideology and principles, which are characterized with an extremist Persian touch, were exported to Shiite communities in the Arab world. However, Iran’s major aim will not just be achieved by focusing on Qom and making it stand out. Iran has reached a conviction that it won’t achieve its aims unless by marginalizing and weakening the Arab Shiite authority in the region. It has therefore resorted to using the carrot and stick approach and demonizing its rivals, fabricating accusations against them or assassinating them. It has also warned of certain Shiite figures who are well-aware of the Iranian project which does not care about the Shiite sect itself as much as it cares about possessing all the means to achieve its nationalistic and political aims in the region. Among these Shiite symbols that were targeted or marginalized in Iraq and Lebanon are al-Hasani, al-Waeli, al-Khoei, al-Sarkhi, al-Husseini, al-Amin and others.
Will Arab Shiites Liberate the Shiite Sect From Iran’s Grip?
Transferring the Shiite authority from Iraq to Iran and the “Persianization” of the sect also means Tehran’s seizure of the funds collected from Khums tax and Nadhrs vows. I believe Iran would use these funds to support its political and sectarian agenda in the region as it has military wings and militias in many countries where there are Shiites – militias who operate in Iran’s favor and against their countries’ interests. Therefore, there’s an urgent need to issue decisions and legislations that criminalize exporting these Khums and Nadhrs funds to other countries and to make sure they’re spent on the poor.
Iran Does Not Represent All Shiites
Given all this, we must ask the question of whether Iran is the only party to blame for this. Objectively speaking, I think it’s inaccurate to say Iran is the only one to blame as some Arabs have directly or indirectly contributed to leading Shiites into Iran’s arms. Viewing Iran and Shiites as two sides of the same coin is a huge mistake. Not all the Shiites imitate Khamenei or believe in Velayat-e Faqih or believe in the sectarian extremism which contaminated the sect over five centuries ago, which was revived following the 1979 revolution.
I’ve always said that Iran does not represent all Shiites and vice versa. Iran is not 100% Shiite; Sunnis constitute about 10% of the population. The Iranian population is also made up of several other religions and sects. Logically speaking, we must not consider that all Shiites are linked to Iran. There are Shiite patriots who are loyal to their countries and who are well-aware of the Iranian threat. Yes, many of them do not clearly show this out of fear that Iran’s proxies will harm them, harass them or fabricate false accusations against them. However this does not mean they are not out there.
Bringing Arab Shiites who admire Iran back to the Arab embrace and keeping them away from Iran can be achieved through several steps which Arab Shiites themselves can do before others. Restoring the Shiite authority to Najaf is also a pan-Arab necessity. It’s also important that Shiites in Arab Gulf countries establish references for their sect in their countries – references which are linked to them and which they can give their Khums and Nadhrs funds to. This will prevent Iran from infiltrating their countries and societies. It will also help them see how non-Persian Shiites are being treated in Iran and how Tehran persecutes minorities in Ahaz, Azerbaijan and other areas. Arabs, Azeris and Turks in Iran are unjustly treated by the ruling power in Tehran despite the fact that they belong to the Shiite sect. So in what way do you expect Iran to treat Shiites who are outside its borders?
In brief, the Iranian regime’s major aim of alleging to support and defend Shiites in the region can only be seen within the context of serving the Iranian political project in the region. Iran wants to use Shiite minorities to serve this project. Are those fooled by Iran aware of this truth? And more importantly, will Arab Shiites liberate the Shiite sect from Iran’s grip?
Saudi columnist Mohammad al-Sulami is an expert on Iranian political affairs and has received a PhD in the field of Iranian studies
Egypt And Russia: Do They Really Understand Each Other?
By Maria Dubovikova
03 February 2016
Even as the flight ban imposed since the downing of the Russian airplane over Sinai remains in place, and continues to damage the Egyptian economy, Russia’s politicians have landed in Cairo for the first time since the incident.
During this first high level of talks since the ban the two sides took off from where the two presidents had left at the beginning of the crisis and tried to establish connections between institutions on both the sides, including enhancing security in the airports of Egypt.
The first to visit Cairo was a Russian Parliament delegation led by speaker of the lower chamber, Serguey Naryshkin. Media in both the countries gave a lot of attention to the visit, focusing not only on the significance of the visit itself but also on bilateral relations. Naryshkin was also expected to address the issue of flight ban. Hence reports of ban being lifted soon occupied the headlines.
On Tuesday (Jan 2.) the inter-governmental commission on trade, economic and scientific cooperation, held a session in Cairo. Many issues on the bilateral agenda were discussed. On the eve of this meeting, Egypt’s trade and industry minister, Tarek Kabil, declared the country’s intention to sign free trade agreement with Eurasian Economic Union and talked about cooperation in areas such as electricity and nuclear energy.
Apparently Russia is posturing to get as many privileges as it can squeeze out from Egypt before it lifts the ban
Egypt has also granted Russia land in Suez for its industrial zone construction and has invited Russia to join its oil fields exploration. Among other things, Egypt asked for an increase in the number of flights between Moscow and destinations in Egypt from 6 to 14 per week.
On the other hand, Russia gave permission to five Egyptian companies to deliver cheese to the Russian market, while it expects Egypt’s help in import of fruits, vegetables and other products to replace the banned Turkish and European ones. Russia said it will lease four its SSJ-100 airplanes to Egypt for use within the region.
Moscow insisted on simpler access in the Egyptian market for Russia’s pharma products. They also signed a MoU for developing investment cooperation between Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and Egypt’s National Bank and Banque Misr. Cooperation in agriculture was also discussed.
Devil in the Detail
On the whole things look good between both the countries. However, as usual, the devil hides in the detail. Russia keeps saying that the flight ban will be addressed in the foreseeable future, which is indeed vague. For a country losing $281 million each month owing to the ban – $1 billion since the beginning of the crisis – lifting the ban is most vital. Apparently Russia is posturing to get as many privileges as it can squeeze out from Egypt before it lifts the ban.
Egypt’s problem has been exacerbated by the fact that the economic situation has aggravated inside Russia as well. The drop in oil prices has had its impact on the Russian currency and, as a result, on salaries. Even the cheapest trips to Egypt are expensive for the middle and lower middle classes, who happened to be the key to the Egyptian tourism market. Even though strong flow of tourists cannot be expected just after the flight ban, Russia’s domestic problems aren’t helping.
Egypt’s intention to join the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union would not meet expectations of the Egyptian side. Egypt expects to boost its trade and enhance flow of foreign investments into the Egyptian economy but the investment capacities of EEU counties are very limited.
Russia cannot continue to invest while its economy keeps searching for the bottom. Moreover, investments in Egypt are risky at the moment as concerns have been raised over stability of the ruling regime. EEU countries, led by Russia, have limited understanding of the Egyptian market.
Russian businesses have limited comprehension of how to work in the Arab world in general and Egypt in particular. This lack of understanding influences the way Russians look at the Arab world, sometimes underestimating the possibilities of cooperation between companies on either sides. Industrial zone of Suez could be very attractive to Russia, if only Russia had enough money and capacity. Seen in this perspective, the Russian industrial zone project appears vague at least at this stage.
Egypt’s food exports, even if desired by Russia, is dangerous as import growth automatically leads to a price rise in domestic market, which it can hardly survive. Other problem for Egypt is transportation cost, which makes Egyptian products expensive. Hence, Egypt incurs losses instead of gains. However, the perspective of bilateral cooperation in electricity and nuclear spheres seem positive and so is joint exploration of oil fields and joint projects in agriculture.
The key problem between the two countries, apart from their economic crises, is that they have little understanding of each other. The invitation to Egyptian businessmen, during Tuesday’s meeting, to consider investing in a tramway project in Moscow shows Russia’s lack of understanding of what is going inside Egypt. It shows that Moscow doesn’t take its counterparts in Egypt as seriously as it should.
On the other hand, Egypt’s high expectations from cooperation with Russia also shows that Egypt has little understanding of the current situation in Russia and that it takes Russia too seriously. It is committing a mistake by putting too much stake in it and promising so many things to Russia while dreaming about the return of an average of 3,000,000 Russian tourists to its resorts.
Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme
ISIS’ Infiltration within Our Societies
By Turki Al-Dakhil
04 February 2016
Not a single day passes without a news piece related to violence, while politicians are continuously speaking at press conferences about terrorism and its motives. Blood has become the daily bread in many Muslim societies, as well as the rest of the world.
This is why Saudi Arabia has established major alliances in the region. The first alliance was aimed at restoring legitimacy in Yemen through Operation “Decisive Storm” and Operation “Renewal of Hope,” while another alliance of 40 Muslim-majority countries was formed to battle terrorism.
In a press conference held towards the end of last year, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman said terrorism must be fought on military, ideological and media fronts. This is the basis to discuss any strategy related to fighting terrorism. Gulf countries have been militarily successful in the war against terrorism; however the media and ideological fronts require a lot of work and refinement. They have been the weakest links in the war against terrorist organizations ever since the war on al-Qaeda was launched and up until the present day war against ISIS.
Without balanced work to combat terror on military, ideological and media fronts, we will never be able to create strong tools to root out terrorism
Let’s take the deadly terrorist suicide bombing at a mosque in the southern Saudi city of Abha on August 6 of last year as an example. Shocking information revealed by the interior ministry a few days ago stated that an explosive belt was transferred by a woman called Abeer al-Harbi, while a soldier betrayed the oath he made to protect his country and cooperated with the terrorist cell’s leader to facilitate the suicide bomber’s entry into the mosque. This soldier then concealed his act of betrayal by assisting his colleagues after the attack.
Influence and Infiltration
This influence and infiltration of terrorism is a factor of power for a group that uses soft power to almost always achieve guaranteed goals. Without collaboration on media and ideological fronts to support military work on the ground, terrorist cells will become more expansive and their violence will be worse than that of the al-Muannasiya and al-Dhramah cells, which carried out the Abha mosque attack.
These terrorist cells exposed by the interior ministry were linked through their infiltration of several institutions. Recruiting a woman, Harbi, was an indicator that the operation was cautiously and maliciously planned.
Military work cannot address the ideological aspect of fighting terrorism, which is linked to education or even terrorist recruitment of members from the same family. Al-Qaeda and ISIS are known to have recruited several members of the same family, one example being the al-Tuwaijri family. Abduljabbar bin Homood bin Abdulaziz al-Tuwaijri who was convicted of targeting military and security headquarters in Saudi Arabia, was executed on January 3.
There was also Abdullah Abdulaziz Ibrahim al-Tuwaijri who blew himself up in Abqaiq in eastern Saudi Arabia on February 2006 and Abdulrahman Abdullah Suleiman al-Tuwaijri, the suicide bomber who blew himself up outside a mosque in the Ahsa region last Friday. Abdulrahman had been previously arrested for participating in protests demanding the release of men and women detained on terrorist charges. His brother had joined ISIS in Iraq.
Extremist organizations work within a huge network. Security forces may succeed at repelling these organizations on the ground, but it’s not their task to perform the role of educational institutions and alter educational strategies or break the media’s stubborn routines. These are joint tasks that should be shared by governmental and non-governmental institutions and the wider society. This is what Prince Mohammad bin Salman implied during the press conference he held to announce the formation of the Islamic military alliance.
Without balanced work to combat terror on military, ideological and media fronts, we will never be able to create strong tools to root out terrorism.
Turki Al-Dakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honours, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies.