O Jerusalem, Jerusalem: The world cries for thee

By Ameen Izzaden
Wednesday night’s decision by United States President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, showing only utter contempt for the aspirations of the Palestinian people, has pushed the prospects for peace into a black hole, never to see light again.
Hopes of a peaceful solution to the Palestinian crisis are now virtually dead. Days and hours before Trump made the announcement, Pope Francis and world leaders, including close allies, expressed serious concern, while US State Department officials warned of grave repercussions. But Trump, being Trump, dismissed saner counsel and dropped a nuclear bomb to kill millions of people’s hope for peace. Invoking the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, he did what his predecessors dared not. In what he boasted was a fulfillment of yet another campaign promise, he announced that the US embassy would be shifted to Jerusalem in recognition of the city’s status as the capital of Israel. In his statement, there was nothing for the Palestinians, but it had everything Israel wanted.
What a Christmas gift for the Palestinians, especially the Christians, who on Wednesday night switched off Christmas lights at Jesus’ traditional birthplace in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, in protest against Trump’s speech.
Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a ‘Big Thank You’ address in Jerusalem, minutes after Trump ended his short speech in Washington DC. Hours later, recovering from the jolt, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian leadership would never acknowledge Trump’s declaration. “This is a reward to Israel,” Abbas said adding that Trump’s move encouraged Israel’s “continuing occupation” of the Palestinian territories.
Trump’s toxic announcement will only lead to further radicalization of the Arabs and Muslims, worsening the mayhem in the conflict-ridden Middle East where peace is not even a museum piece.
Most Palestinians have long renounced violence in the hope that dialogue will help them establish their independent state with East Jerusalem as capital. But now, it will be more difficult to persuade them to keep faith in non-violence.
Perhaps, Trump’s action is part of a plan to provoke the Palestinians to resort to violence, so that Israel could take tougher security measures and seize more Palestinian land. Some see Trump’s action as a move to placate Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson who made a 100 million dollar campaign donation on a guarantee that Trump would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Or were Trump’s Jewish son-in-law and Middle East envoy Jared Kushner and pro-Zionist Vice President Mike Pence prodding him?
Trump displayed he had no compunction about further victimising the Palestinian people. Well, this is nothing new to the United States which has over the years protected Israel from international censure for committing ethnic cleansing, killing Palestinian and Lebanese children, using banned weapons such as white phosphorous bombs, demolishing houses, destroying farms, building illegal settlements in occupied land, denying food, medicine, water and electricity to the Palestinians, and imprisoning thousands of activists. If these are not crimes against humanity, what are they?
The Palestinian people have been forced to suffer this injustice since the British colonialists committed the original sin by issuing the infamous 1917 Balfour Declaration that allowed the European Jews to carve out a country for them from the Ottoman Province of Palestine.
For Trump and his supporters, the Palestinian people are non-humans. They probably do not know that the Palestinian people have been living in the area for centuries even before Jerusalem changed hands from Byzantine rule to Muslim rule in 637 AD. With the spread of Islam, most people in the new territories embraced Islam.
The fact that the Palestinians are very much the sons and daughters of the soil just as the Jews are is lost on the besieged American president who is facing a probe on collusion with Russia to win the presidential election.
Little does Trump realize that his action goes contrary to international law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits a foreign occupier from annexing or altering the boundaries of an occupying territory.
Now that Trump has crossed the Rubicon, what’s next? Certainly, it is not peace. Trump has made peace impossible in Palestine. A two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital has been put on stake and set ablaze. Neither Israel nor the US will, even after Trump is gone, agree to return to status quo ante, vis-à-vis Jerusalem, the 5,000-year-old city, holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Jerusalem houses the Jewish Temple built by King Solomon, whom the Muslims regard as a prophet of God and call him “Sulaiman Alaihissalam (peace be upon him)”. On the East Jerusalem side, the Temple mount houses the Aqsa mosque, the third holiest place of worship for Muslims after the two mosques in Makkah and Madina. As an article of faith, Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad visited the Aqsa mosque in a night journey and experienced a heavenly ascension.
Netanyahu on Wednesday night promised that there would be no change in the status of the Aqsa mosque, which is administered by Jordan, under whose purview was East Jerusalem, before Israel occupied it during the 1967 war.
What are the options for the Palestinians, now that Trump has snatched from them their dearest Jerusalem, al-Quds, the thorniest issue in many peace talks? Can they push for one-state solution and become citizens of Israel? Israel fears the one-state solution because the Arabs will be more in numbers. Besides, such a prospect goes against Israel’s vision for an “exclusive” Jewish state.
Should the Palestinians return to the armed struggle? Palestinian group Hamas yesterday called on the Palestinians to launch an Intifada. Palestinians have no true friends in the Arab and Islamic world. To retake East Jerusalem, no Arab leader will declare war against Israel, a nuclear power. Neither will they impose an oil embargo on the US, similar to the one King Faisal of Saudi Arabia spearheaded in 1973. When the then National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger warned King Faisal that if the Arabs went ahead with the oil embargo, the US would use force, the wise and widely respected king replied: “You are the ones who can’t live without oil. We come from the desert and our ancestors live on dates and milk and we can easily go back and live like that again.”
Sadly, there are no leaders like King Faisal today in the divided Arab world. Weeks before the Trump announcement, reports said Saudi Arabia was allegedly working with the US for a Middle East solution that included a proposal to bring Jerusalem under international control.
Saudi Arabia urged Trump not to go ahead with the Jerusalem move, but Trump had only had disdain for Saudi Arabia though the kingdom in May in a bid to curry favour with the new US president signed US$ 380 billion worth deals, including US$ 110 billion arms purchases.
In a statement yesterday, the Saudi royal court described the US action as “unjustified and irresponsible”. That’s it. Period.
Yes, there will be protests and even violent incidents, but there won’t be a reversal of Trump’s move. The Arabs and Muslims have lost Jerusalem.

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Islam’s liberative spirit lost in fanaticism

By Ameen Izzadeen
Last Friday’s mosque massacre in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is yet another tragedy that has brought to the surface the crisis within Islam. The crisis is rooted in not only ideological differences among Muslims, but also on socio-economic backwardness. The solution is found not anywhere but within Islam itself.
Following the attack, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered his military command to use all force necessary to secure the Sinai Peninsula within the next three months. But analysts believe that the failure of successive Egyptian governments to address the socio-economic issues of the people in the Sinai Peninsula has enabled extremists groups to set up a base in the region. Economic deprivation produces communities without much education or enlightenment and this condition, in turn, enables terror masters to recruit depressed youths living in a state of hopelessness.
More than 300 Muslims were killed by Muslims in the packed al-Rawda mosque in Sinai last Friday because the killers abhorred the type of Islam their victims were professing. The victims were followers of Sufism. The so-called puritans allege that Sufism has degenerated into a form of polytheism with the followers becoming saint worshippers and adopting practices which have not been mentioned in the Quran or in the authentic sayings of the prophet. But Sufi followers say Sufis are intermediaries and they do not raise them to the status of God. Puritans such as Salafis and Wahhabis strongly refute the explanation.
The Sinai massacre was not the first of such attacks. Neither will it be the last as long as the Muslims ignore the liberative spirit of Islam and its rationalistic roots. In February this year, an Islamic State (IS) suicide bomber blew himself up, killing more than 90 people at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan’s Sindh Province. In October this year, 18 people were killed in another suicide blast at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. In Iraq, too, attacks on Sufi and Shiite shrines are a regular occurrence.
Extremism presents a distorted picture of Islam without its liberative spirit. Adding to this sad state of affairs is the recent protest in Pakistan over a minor change in the oaths of MPs. The protesters were angry that the words ‘I solemnly swear’ had been changed into ‘I believe’ in the MPs’ oath where they declare that the Prophet Muhammad was the last of the prophets, a declaration that shuts out Ahmadi or Qadiyani minorities from the democratic process. To appease the protesters, the law minister resigned and the government restored the old oath. The overreaction, however, goes counter to the liberative spirit of Islam.
Also adding to this crisis is the opposition in Sri Lanka to Muslim personal law reforms. The spirit of Islam aims to empower women, not to imprison them in harems or in head-to-toe jilbabs. Islam recognises the women’s rightful role in society, as community leaders and judges. Last week, in an interview to New York Times, Muhammad bin Salman, the reform-minded crown prince of Saudi Arabia, said, “At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, there were musical theaters, there was mixing between men and women, there was respect for Christians and Jews in Arabia. The first commercial judge in Medina was a woman! So if the Prophet embraced all of this, do you mean the Prophet was not a Muslim?”
Yet the scholars, conveniently misinterpret a Quranic verse to equate a woman’s locus standi as a witness in a court of law to half that of a man. Verse 2:282 which they cite in support of their stand, refers to witnesses in trade transactions against the backdrop of the possibility of women being subjected to threats and intimidation by a party to the contract. But several other verses refer to witnesses without any gender identity. Of particular significance are the verses six to nine in the chapter titled ‘Light’ or An-Noor. The verses give equal weightage to the evidence of a man and a woman. But, most Islamic scholars, hell bent on upholding male chauvinism, conveniently ignore these verses to perpetuate the oppression of women. No wonder, some of them still advocate the much-derided triple Talaq – the instant divorce which has plunged many women into destitution.
The Quranic Chapter titled ‘al Mujadilah or the Pleading Woman’ outlaws Zihar, a barbaric practice which reduced a wife to a virtual slave of her husband with no right to remarry another person. The lesson to be learnt from this chapter is that God does not approve ‘any’ injustice to women. But many so-called scholars cannot see the wood for the trees, and by their opposition to reform the Muslim personal law, they advocate injustice which many Muslim women are forced to endure.
The Muslim holy book Quran entices humanity to engage in rational inquiry, to ponder and to meditate. But the action of some Muslims has made Islam a canker that needs to be rooted out.
The advent of Islam as preached by the Prophet Muhammad whose birth anniversary – according to some narrations, also his death anniversary – falls today is not to freeze the progress of humanity in the seventh century. Rather his mission with a progressive character was to liberate humanity from ignorance and barbarism, from blind faith in myths and superstition, and from slavery and oppression. But sadly, the liberative spirit within a strictly monotheistic order has long been lost in the tyranny of irrationalism. It is this distorted Islam that drives some misguided groups to kill anyone who does not subscribe to their version of Islam. The violence they perpetrate is nothing but a manifestation of their intellectual bankruptcy. Thick-skulled, they are incapable of understanding that the height of civilisation is reached when ideological conflicts are won or lost through dialogue and debate, not through killing and terrorism.
Yet, violence is a valid currency in the Middle East where most people believe there is a Western plot to keep the Arabs and Muslims under perpetual subjugation, first through the colonialism project and then through other means such as the setting up of Israel and igniting sectarian violence and civil wars.
Muhammad Iqbal, the philosopher behind the Pakistan idea, insisted through his poetry that Islam was just as rational as any Western system. But there are only a few takers. As a result, fanaticism prevails over rationalism which guided the Abbasid Caliphate from the 8th century to 12th century to reach great heights in science and literature.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)
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Mugabe’s ouster opens door for TNC invasion

By Ameen Izzadeen
The bloodless coup is being greeted with celebrations in Zimbabwe and recognition from around the world. But beware of empty revolutions that produce no democracy.
What is happening in Zimbabwe is not a revolution. Revolutions are led by people with vision. Rather, it is an outcome of a power struggle gone awry within Zimbabwe’s ruling party, after a leadership bid by the wife of the ailing President Robert Mugabe prompted a sacked Vice President to launch a countermove with the support of the Army.
Here is another African political upheaval that overthrows one dictator to bring in another. Hopes of a democratic order may soon wither away just as the Arab Spring in Egypt. Don’t get deceived by the military’s smile. In Egypt, too, the soldiers smiled, but soon they became the villains of the revolution and leaders of the counter-revolution.
In Zimbabwe, if Mugabe was the oppressor, the Army, which was founded on the independence struggle that Mugabe led, was his instrument. It was the fear of the Army that prevented the people from taking to the streets after Mugabe robbed the election victory of the then Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in 2013.
Today, the sacked Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, will take over as the interim president. But he is not a Nelson Mandela. Far from it.
A spymaster and loyal henchman of Mugabe, who resigned on Tuesday after ruling the country for 37 years, 70-year-old Mnangagwa has been associated with the Mugabe era human rights excesses. Human rights activists say it is unlikely that Mugabe could be hauled before the law, because Mnangagwa and the Army are equally responsible for the crimes.
Dewa Mavhinga, the director of the African division of Human Rights Watch, says, “Now that the military has been at the forefront of deposing one of its own, we should be mindful that Mnangagwa, the military leadership and Mugabe are cut from the same cloth. These are comrades and allies who have just turned against each other but whose system remains and continues….”
Perhaps, the only difference could be that Mnangagwa, who is named in a UN investigation for the illicit exploitation of mineral resources in Congo, is identified as an advocate of liberal economic reforms. Apart from an expression of anti-incumbency feeling, the wild celebrations highlight Zimbabweans’ hope for prosperity which Mugabe failed to deliver.
Nicknamed the “crocodile” because of his political shrewdness, Mnangagwa, in his speech on Wednesday, upon his return to Zimbabwe from a brief exile in South Africa, said, “We want to grow our economy, we want peace; we want jobs, jobs, jobs.” He declared that a new democracy was unfolding.
The capitalist world, where Mugabe has been demonised by the corporate media, is delighted in the hope that Mnangagwa will open the doors for transnational companies (TNCs) to exploit Zimbabwe’s minerals, its diamonds, gold, platinum, coal, iron, chromium, nickel, copper, lithium and tin.
Remaining as an obstacle to the capitalist’s invasion of Zimbabwe was Mugabe, a school teacher who rose to become a visionary freedom fighter before he developed a narcissistic personality disorder as he continued to cling on to power as president.
Mugabe felt that his socio-economic reforms programme would suffer, if he were to step down. He feared that those who wanted to oust him would hand the country back to neocolonial forces.
In Zimbabwe, the whites owned 70 percent of the arable land. Mugabe’s social reforms included taking over the white-owned lands and redistributing them among the landless natives.
This does not mean Mugabe is an African messiah. He would not mind being called a Hitler by the West. “I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective: justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people and their rights over their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be Hitler tenfold. Ten times, that is what we stand for.”
Sadly, his vision became embroiled in his desire to remain in power and of late by his nepotistic bid – perhaps linked to a senile confusion — to let his manipulative wife to take over the leadership. A meme by a Zimbabwean wag aptly proclaimed, “Leadership is not sexually transmitted.”
However, Mugabe is widely respected in Africa. Now under house arrest along with wife Grace, he had been an icon in the 1960s and the 1970s.
How many of us do remember white supremacist Ian Smith, from whom Mugabe, a committed Marxist, salvaged his country? Zimbabwe was an uncontaminated land with a civilisation dating back to many millennia. Southern Africa’s peace was disturbed in 1889 by the arrival of the white colonialists led by Cecil Rhodes of the British South Africa Company. Parts of Southern Africa were named Rhodesia after this native-killing, land grabbing, resource robber.
In 1923, Rhodesia became a self-governing British colony. In 1963, the northern parts of Rhodesia comprising the present day Zambia and Malawi broke away. This led to the white racists in southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) hardening their rule. On November 11, 1965, Ian Smith proclaimed a unilateral declaration of independence. But Britain, the colonial master, refused to act against him.
It was during this period that the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led by Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo, operating from bases in Mozambique and Zambia, led their war of independence. The guerrilla war forced the Smith government to cave in and grudgingly offer independence in 1979. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF (Patriotic Front) won independent Zimbabwe’s first free election in a landslide.
Mugabe promised a Utopia for Zimbabweans, but it never came because of his outdated idealism, large-scale corruption and economic sanctions imposed by the West. More than 75 percent of the Zimbabweans are living in poverty. Many have left for South Africa and other neighbouring countries to escape the miserable life. The economic hardships have pushed the people to clamour for change. But Mugabe was adamant. In the aftermath of the political crisis following the 2013 elections, he declared, “Only God can remove me.”
Unlike the West, China had been a staunch supporter of Mugabe since his revolutionary days. Apart from growing economic ties, the leaders of the two countries were also ideologically close. So much so, during a visit to Beijing in 1980s, Mugabe publicly chided Deng Xiaoping for undermining Mao Zedong’s policies.
But of late, China has found that Mugabe had become a difficult customer. Beijing was not happy with Mugabe’s indigenisation law, which required all foreign companies to be controlled by Zimbabweans.
China has welcomed the power transition to Mnangagwa, who had his guerrilla training in China. It is also significant that the Zimbabwe’s bloodless ‘coup’ came days after Army Chief Constantino Chiwenga returned from a visit to China. However, Beijing has dismissed reports that it had a hand in the removal of Mugabe.
For Zimbabweans, the party has just begun and it will go on till the presidential election in September 2018. But to prevent abuse of power, they should demand more checks and balances in the constitution.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Asia for Asians: Let there be peace in new Indo-Pacific region!

By Ameen Izzadeen
On January 1 last year, this column drew attention to what was then a subtle move to formalise a new geopolitical region dominated by an alliance between India and the United States. The backdrop was a nascent cold war between the US and China.
Till 2015, the term Indo-Pacific was largely a biogeographic term. The term has now assumed geo-political connotations. During Donald Trump’s recent 12-day Asia tour, the use of the term Indo-Pacific in statements was so profuse that one could not resist the assumption that there are hurried moves to win recognition for the new region. That the term is also being liberally used in political discourses in Japan is no coincidence.
The institutionalisation of the new geopolitical region, on the one hand, underlines a ‘rising India’, and on the other, exposes Washington’s eroding power in world affairs and its willingness to work with New Delhi to top up the power deficiency vis-à-vis China: May be it is a readjustment of the US policy giving India an upgraded role.
In recent decades, successive US administrations have been using India as a lynchpin to check China. India, which views China as a frenemy, apparently feels flattered, though it is not unaware that Washington is manipulating it against China.
India’s relations with China have been sticky since the 1962 Sino-India border war. Unresolved border disputes, China’s military assistance to Pakistan, its opposition to India’s full membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group and China-controlled Maritime Silk Road sea ports in India’s neighbourhood prevent normalisation of ties though trade relations have been growing at a healthy rate.
The formalisation of the Indo-Pacific region also reveals that the United States’ ‘Pivot-to-Asia’ policy, which had originally been devised for the Asia Pacific region, now includes the Indian Ocean region.
Given China’s ambition to extend its Maritime Silk Road all the way to Africa’s western coast and beyond, the term Indo-Pacific may incorporate the Western Pacific Ocean and the entirety of the Indian Ocean, the third largest ocean after the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
More than 80 percent of the world’s seaborne trade in oil transits takes place through Indian Ocean choke points, with 40 percent passing through the Strait of Hormuz, 35 percent through the Strait of Malacca and 8 percent through the Bab el-Mandab Strait. China’s energy security hinges on the stability of Indian Ocean sea lanes, with some 75 percent of its oil imports coming from West Asia and Africa. All China-bound cargo ships from Indian Ocean enter the South China Sea where Beijing is embroiled in territorial disputes with several littoral nations.
Thus, the Maritime Silk Road with a series of Chinese-managed ports in littoral states has a military dimension. It is quite natural for the US and India to entertain serious apprehensions about China’s entry into the waters they have been dominating for decades.
In yet another move to reinforce the Indo-Pacific concept, on the sidelines of last week’s ASEAN plus summit, officials of the United States, India, Japan and Australia held a meeting to revive the ‘quadrilateral military alliance’.
Downplaying the Indo-Pacific concept, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the region remained important and had great potential, regardless of “whatever concept or term is employed”.
However, China’s official English language mouthpiece, the Global Times, saw the development as worthy of an editorial topic.
“Indo-Pacific countries have been strengthening trade and cultural ties with China with the facilitation of the China-led Belt and Road initiative,” the editorial said adding that the US and Japan had little leverage to play geopolitical games in the region, and few countries were willing to fall into the orbit of Washington and Tokyo.
Commenting on India’s new role, the Global Times said, “India has its own trick to play. In the past, the mainstream media in India was obsessed with competing with China on GDP growth and international status. Now they are keen to compare their country to Australia or Japan to see which can curry more favor from the US. After the US began using the term “Indo-Pacific,” some Indian media outlets were ecstatic that their country had become an important pillar of this new US strategy.”
If we leave aside military aspects, the new region, in an economic sense, is a gold mine of trade opportunities. This is why states like Sri Lanka are advised to stay clear of power games the big nations play and try through bilateral and multilateral diplomacy to promote the region not only as a mega economic zone, but also as a peace zone.
In this context, an Asian economic union sans power politics is quite in order. China has openly called for an Asia for Asians and made this week, yet another effort to bring to fruition the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). In what is seen as a victory for China, leaders of 16 countries—ten ASEAN nations plus China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand — discussed the RCEP at a meeting in Manila on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit.
The China-led trade deal was once seen as a rival to US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a project floated by the then US President Barak Obama who declared that the laws of the global economy should be written by the United States and not by the likes of China. Some of those countries which took part in the RCEP talks in Manila this week are TPP members. They were left high and dry when President Trump withdrew the US from the TPP.
With Trump trumpeting about his ‘America First’ policy and subscribing to the view that the TPP would be more beneficial to others than the US, trade ministers of the remaining 11 TPP nations held a meeting, on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Vietnam last week, to give new life to the grouping with or without the US. It is interesting to note that while Trump at the APEC summit was sending mixed signals to Asian nations, China’s President Xi Jinping was wooing them with economic assistance and a willingness to give leadership to the globalization process.
The US is losing its leeway in the region. With a beleaguered president in the White House, the process will be faster.
The way forward for the states in the Indo-Pacific region should not be one of conflicts. What the region needs is economic prosperity which can come only through peaceful co-existence in keeping with the hallowed Pancha Sheela principles which the countries in the region hold in high esteem. The quadrilateral alliance formation is certainly not a confidence-building measure to keep the Indo-Pacific region as a region of peace. India, Japan and China should give leadership to an Asian economic union – a win-win situation for all — through mechanisms such as the RCEP to bring peace and prosperity to the region.
(Also read this)
This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka

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Saudi purge: Pitfalls in prince’s power plays

By Ameen Izzadeen
The events that have been shaking the Middle East in the past several days and taking even the politically weathered Middle East analysts by surprise, on the one hand, underscore tribalism as a key determinant in Arab politics and, on the other, shine a bright light on an emerging alliance between Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel.
The region is not unknown for its snake-and-dagger politics among multiple tribes. Prophet Muhammad brought unity among warring tribes known for their sword-happiness, vengeance and brutality. He condemned blind loyalty to one’s tribe at the cost of justice and unity. But within years of the Prophet’s demise, tribalism that Islam sought to eradicate in its bid to create a commonwealth of man began to raise its ugly head once again. Fourteen centuries later, tribalism still thrives in the Arab world, underneath the veneer of modernity which for some oil rich Arab rulers and billionaires meant hedonistic lifestyles represented by lofty palaces, sky-high towers, super-luxury cars, jets and yachts, holidays in Europe and regular pilgrimage to Las Vegas casinos.
Hierarchical and highly conspiratorial, Arab tribalism based on kinship and ancestry delineation is a male-dominant, one-sheikh social order where tribal interests rise above public interest or national interest.
Inter-tribe rivalry made the task of Britain easy to get the tribal sheikhs to betray their Ottoman caliph during World War I. The Brits achieved their goal by dangling before the sheiks the promise of an Arab kingdom.
Saudi Arabia was born out of this betrayal, which was followed by bitter an inter-tribal war between Hejaz province ruler Hussein bin Ali and Nejd’s ruler Abdul Aziz ibn Saud. The sons of Hussein became the rulers of newly created Jordan and Iraq, while ibn Saud subjugated other tribes and formed Saudi Arabia, a country named after him in keeping with the tribal practice.
The present king Salman is the sixth son of ibn Saud and his wife Hussa bint al-Sudairi. Hussa’s seven boys formed the famous Sudairi Seven — the most powerful alliance in Saudi politics.
Saud, Feisal and Abdullah, who were Ibn Saud’s children from his other wives, had occupied the throne, but the Sudairi Seven wielded the biggest influence among the children of Ibn Saud’s 22 wives. These intrigues are part of Saudi tribalism which was at its peak when last Saturday King Salman’s son, Muhammad bin (son of) Salman or MBS as he is also known, ordered the arrests of more than forty top Saudis, including princes, ministers and billionaire businessmen.
There cannot be two leaders in Arabia. Just as Cesare Borgia, the Duke of Valentinois in the renaissance Italy, eliminated his plotters after a feast, MBS moved with an element of surprise to politically sideline potential rivals. Or perhaps it brings to mind the 1972 movie Godfather where Michael Corleone played by Al Pacino gets rid of rival bosses and their heirs in the battle for the Mafia kingdom.
The 32-year-old MBS is trying to put his country on the fast track to modernity through his vision 2030. He was the man behind the decision to allow women to drive and visit sports stadiums to watch men’s sports. He has also set in motion a Dubai-like development process with beach resorts and industrial zones. These moves have made him popular among the Saudi youth. And this has given him courage to stage Saturday’s purge.
Muhammad bin Salman’s rise to power was meteoric. The deaths of two crown princes is 2011 and 2012 paved the way for his father, the present King Salman, to move from the post of governor of Riyadh to crown prince. Salman groomed his fifth son, Muhammad (MBS), a law graduate, for high posts. MBS became the chief of the crown prince court in what was seen as the first in a series of shake-ups.
When King Abdullah died in January 2015, his ailing and senile half-brother, octogenarian Salman, became king. He appointed MBS as Defence Minister and Secretary General of the royal court. With his father said to be suffering from Parkinson’s disease, MBS became the power behind the throne, overshadowing the then crown prince Murqin bin Abdul Aziz, the last surviving son of the kingdom’s founder.
In the first clear indication of a game of throne drama in the royal court, in 2015, a royal decree reinforcing the power of the Sudairi Seven removed Crown Prince Murqin and appointed Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, a son of King Salman’s full brother Nayef, to the post. MBS was made the deputy crown prince.
But within two years, in a palace coup, another royal decree took the post of crown prince away from Muhammad bin Nayef and gave it to MBS. The ousted crown prince has ever since been under house arrest.
The events last Saturday were as seismic as they were momentous. The removal of Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the son of the previous King Abdullah, as commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard and bringing this elite force under MBS were moves aimed at establishing a unicentric power centre. Mysteriously killed a day later in a helicopter crash was prince Mansour, son of Muqrin, whom King Salman removed from the post of crown prince. There were reports about gun battles when a prince was being taken into custody.
Eleven princes, including the flamboyant al-Waleed bin Talal, were among more than forty people being held under luxury hotel arrest, with their wealth frozen and fate in uncertainty. Their arrests follow the announcement of an anti-corruption drive.
Corruption in the kingdom is rampant. A famous case is the multibillion dollar sewage pipeline project. The Jeddah project was completed at a highly inflated price. But when completed, it had only manholes with no pipes underneath. The beneficiaries are the royal family members. Billion dollar arms deals are yet another way some royal family members amass wealth. The Yamamah arms deal with British Aerospace is a case in point. Citing national interest provisions, the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair stopped an anti-corruption investigation into payments of a billion dollar commission to a Saudi Prince. MBS himself has come under a cloud for buying a US$ 500 million luxury yacht for himself. Also doing the social media rounds is an alleged one billion dollar bribe MBS gave to President Donald Trump when he was in Riyadh on his first overseas visit as President. During this visit, the Saudis signed US$ 450 billion worth deals with the United States.
It’s is more than interesting to note that a day prior to the purge, Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy Jared Kushner was in Saudi Arabia discussing issues with MBS, staying up till 4 am. Were they discussing about how to execute the purge? Did Kushner urged the arrest of prince al-Waleed to avenge the scorn the prince heaped on Trump by calling him unsuitable for the presidency and asking him to withdraw from the race?
The arrests came at a time when events related to one another kept analysts busy. First it was Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s shocking resignation which he announced while in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Hariri holds dual citizenship of Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Reports say Hariri’s resignation came under duress and he was threatened with arrest if he did not resign. The resignation has created a power vacuum in Lebanon, but surprisingly not the destabilization the Saudis want to create to pave the for another Israeli invasion of South Lebanon aimed at draining Iranian and Hezbollah military resources which have enabled the Syrian regime to defeat pro-Saudi rebels. Keeping Iran under check was a key foreign policy goal of MBS. In recent years, Saudi Arabia and Israel are said to have increased behind-the-scenes contacts.
Another significant development was Saudi Arabia’s virtual declaration of war against Iran following a missile attack from Yemen’s Houthi rebels on the Riyadh airport. The war in Yemen was an MBS initiative. The Saudis have been accused of committing war crimes in Yemen. Yesterday, the UN warned that millions of people would die in Yemen, in what would be the world’s worst famine in decades, unless Saudi Arabia ended a devastating blockade and allowed aid into the country.
The Saudis bid to subjugate Qatar in a bid to isolate Iran has also backfired.
The purge seen together with the Lebanese Premier’s resignation, Saudi Arabia’s warning to Iran, Kushner’s secret visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel-Saudi relations indicate the region is moving towards another phase of destabilization. Perhaps they indicate the formalization of an anti-Iran alliance. Certainly such a development is not in the interest of the region’s people. But do princes pursuing power care?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Xi: China’s new Mao emerging as world’s most powerful man

By Ameen Izzadeen
‘While there’s water, mix the plaster,’ says a Chinese proverb equivalent to the English proverb ‘Strike the iron when it is hot’. This was exactly what President Xi Jinping did 12 days ago.
When the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th Congress convened in Beijing, Xi emerged as the undisputed leader of the world’s largest political party with 89 million members. It was not only the 2,300-member Congress that fell in line with whatever Xi proposed. China’s 1.4 billion people also saw him as the man of the hour. In addition to the support within the country, favouring him were tensions in China’s neighbourhood and the global political leadership vacuum created by the chaos associated with US President Donald Trump. Together, these factors formed the platform for Xi to assert his authority, etch his name and policy on the constitution, set sail a powerful futuristic vision and virtually remain the Supreme Leader as long as his health permits.
President Xi became the only the third leader to get his name engraved in the Constitution after Mao Zedong, the founder of the Communist State in 1949, and Deng Xiaoping, who guided the country along a cautious path to move away from a closed repressive state to what is today known as the socialist market economy. Xi, China’s new Mao, is emerging as world’s most powerful man.
Xi’s ‘Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ is now part of the constitution. It spells out specific policies on the modernisation of society and the armed forces, Xi’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative; and target dates for enhancing China’s position in the world. The mood within China after the eventful Congress sessions was one of acceptance for Xi’s policies, for the people appear to place great confidence in the leader and his vision aimed at making China a top innovative nation by 2035 and a nation with global influence by 2050.
Having dealt with the opponents within the party while spearheading an anti-corruption drive, Xi has reinforced his position in the party by electing a loyal politburo and a standing committee. His consolidation of power comes at a time when ideals of socialism within the country are giving way to feelings of nationalism kindled by the tensions in the South China Sea, the dispute with Japan over the ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and the United States military buildup in the region under its Pivot-to-Asia policy. When nationalism or patriotism rides high in a country, it is quite natural for the citizens to rally behind a strong leader. In China’s case, it is Xi, who was barely known among the Chinese people when he became their president in 2012.
Once in power, he displayed courage to deal with the United States’ hostile Pivot policy. The policy calling for a bigger US military presence in China’s neighbourhood was mooted by the then US President, Barack Obama, against the backdrop of rising tensions in the South China Sea over territorial disputes Beijing was having with neighbouring states, almost all of whom were bonded to the US by defence pacts.
The Trump administration’s deployment of Thaad missiles in South Korea and provocative naval manouvres close to islands, over which China claims sovereignty, indicate that the Pivot is very much in force.
Not only did Xi deal with the Pivot, he also came up with a Belt-and-Road initiative (BRI) to boost China’s world trade, though critics saw it as an ambitious plan to bring about a China-centric world order.
In an apparent warning to China’s rival, Xi told the party congress: “No one should expect China to swallow anything that undermines its interests.”
Xi’s moves signalling a greater role for China in world affairs came at a time when the United States is in political chaos with a maverick president at the helm of affairs.
Europe, meanwhile, is still struggling to cope with the fallouts of the 2008 financial crisis and Brexit Europe’s foreign direct investment outflow to developing nations has seen a decline since 2008 while Japan has been battling to revive its faltering economy for the past two decades. The situation has compelled investment-hungry developing nations to look towards China, the country with a multi-trillion-dollar foreign reserve.
Barely a week after Xi’s extraordinary step at the CCP Congress, reports emerged that China, the world’s largest oil importer, would promote its yuan as the currency for oil deals. If yuan becomes the established oil deal currency, it will pose a huge challenge to the US greenback’s status as the world’s most powerful currency.
In recent months, both China and its ally Russia have been talking about relying less on the US dollar as a means to circumventing US sanctions on nations friendly with Russia and China. These new developments come a year after China’s yuan joined the International Monetary Fund’s basket of reserve currencies in yet another milestone for Beijing’s campaign for recognition as a global economic power. This means, nations seeking IMF’s special drawing rights (SDR) loans can receive them in yuan. The other currencies in the IMF basket are the US dollar, the euro, the yen and British pound.
These measures together with Xi’s BRI and the landmark CCP Congress sessions have further stoked the suspicions of China’s rivals. Increased military cooperation between India, the United States and Japan is an outcome of this suspicion.
In recent weeks, the United States has heaped praise on India and last week, it sent its Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to New Delhi for talks that among other matters included China.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis, during last week’s visit to the Philippines, a US ally which is now drawing closer to China, accused Beijing of following predatory economics principles, the topic of many articles in leading US newspapers in the wake of Xi’s display of his will to aggressively pursue the BRI. These articles in the Western press warn countries like Sri Lanka of disastrous consequences that could undermine their national interest when they get trapped under China’s loans.
China says the BRI project is a win-win project for China and investment loan receiving countries.
Zhou Fangyin, a professor at the Guangdong Research Institute for International Strategies, in an op-ed article in China’s mouthpiece Global Times yesterday said, “China has proposed the principles of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness and works hard to build a community of common destiny with its surrounding countries. China’s will is sincere, and the results are positive. It is wrong to describe China’s intentions as malicious or to portray the effect of China’s rise in a negative way.”
Yet, accusations are galore even in Pakistan, to which China is pouring US$ 48 billion under the BRI. Critics there say the traffic – meaning the benefits — along the Belt and Road project is largely one way – towards China.
China has to do more than mere assurances to allay the fears of its friendly nations that have signed up to the BRI project.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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The Belfour blow: Britain’s crime of crimes, 100 years on

By Ameen Izzadeen
If moral decadence is defined as doing a shameful act and being proud about it, then Britain under Prime Minister Theresa May is an embodiment of moral decadence.
One hundred years ago, on November 2, Arthur James Balfour, the then British foreign secretary, sent a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a British Zionist leader, declaring:
“His Majesty’s government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.”
Since this original sin of planting the seed for the creation of Israel in Palestine, the Balfour declaration has brought death, destruction and displacement to millions of Palestinians.
Even today, because of this abominable product of the liaison between Britain and the Zionist movement, Palestinians are being persecuted and their lands forcibly robbed by Israel with impunity.
Yet, Britain has no remorse.
While refusing to offer an apology to the Palestinians, a barefaced Prime Minister Theresa May took a preposterous stance to defend the declaration, which Mahatma Gandhi described as a crime against humanity. On Wednesday, at the House of Commons, May declared, “We are proud of the role that we played in the creation of state of Israel and we will certainly mark the centenary with pride.”
If only she had paused and reflected on the issue before she agreed to break bread with Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it would have, perhaps, occurred to her that Britain had no right to give another nation’s land to a group of wealthy Zionists.
In a famous quote, British author and journalist Arthur Koestler described his country’s move as, “One nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.”
If only May had pondered as to why Labour Party Leader James Corbyn is boycotting ceremonies being held to celebrate the Balfour declaration, she would have seen the historic wrong the British Government had heaped on the Palestinian people, who were not even told that their land was to be handed over to European Jews. So much for Britain’s boast about its proud history of democratic evolution since Magna Carta and its claim to be the birth place of parliamentary democracy and being the first country to adopt a Bill of Right!
In 2002, Labour Government Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in an interview with New Statesman said the Balfour declaration and the contradictory assurances given to Palestinians could be “an interesting history for us, but not an honourable one.”
Straw was referring to the pledge made in correspondence between British diplomat Henry McMahon and Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca and great grandfather of the present king of Jordan. Simply put, Britain promised the Arabs independence if they betrayed their Ottoman Caliph.
One hundred years after this broken promise, the British government has no compunction about exposing its moral depravity, as it goes ahead with celebrations to mark a document that stands out as the nastiest symbol of colonial arrogance.
It is often claimed that the Balfour declaration arose out of a noble intention to help the European Jews subjected to anti-Semitism. Far from it, the declaration that came after the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, smacks of Britain’s intention to further its war efforts and continue its colonial plunder.
When the declaration was issued, Hitler was not even in the European political landscape. The Jews were financially strong in the United States, Britain, and other parts of Europe. Anti-Semitism was waning, especially after the infamous Dreyfus Affair in France.
The Zionists claimed their right to Palestine was based on a biblical promise. If justice is the core of religion, the promise made to a different set of Jews in a different time in history is no licence to perpetuate injustice.
It is also said that the declaration was a payoff for Zionist movement’s support for Britain’s war efforts. Zionist leader and scientist Chaim Weizmann had helped Britain to produce acetone, a key ingredient in naval explosives. Some even detect a racist motive in the declaration — a ruse to ‘ethnically cleanse’ Europe of Jews.
One hundred years ago, before this criminal declaration was made, most of the Jews living in harmony with their Arab brethren in the Middle East had not even heard about the Zionist movement founded by Austrian activist Theodor Herzl in 1897. Not knowing the Zionists’ ulterior motive, the Palestinians welcomed the European Jews’ migration. When in the 1930s, the Arabs realised the danger and revolted, Britain, which was governing Palestine, under a League of Nation Mandate, crushed the uprising and killed several prominent Palestinian leaders.
Within 30 years since the declaration, the Jewish population in Palestine rose from less than 10 percent to more than 30 percent in 1947, the year in which the Palestinians were dealt another devastating blow, this time by the United Nations, an organisation formed to establish justice and world peace.
Fatefully, the 70th anniversary of this grave injustice in the form of the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 falls also in November, a painful month, in the Palestinian calendar, just as May, in which Israel declared its independence after killing hundreds of Palestinians and expelling more than 750,000 from their homes. Is it justice when the UN divided Palestine, giving Arabs who constituted 70 percent of the population 45 percent of the land and the 30 percent Jewish population 55 percent of the land? Seventy years on, the UN is still a puppet of big powers, incapable of righting the wrong imposed on the Palestinians in its name.
After 100 years, three major Arab-Israeli wars, two intifadas, scores of peace efforts, Palestinians are yet to be freed from the yoke of colonialism.
Today, they possess just 18 percent of the territory the UN partition plan had allocated to them. Laws are regularly passed in Israel to annex as much land from the remaining Palestinian territory. As Jewish settlements grow in occupied Palestine, Israel has become an apartheid state.
It was not the Palestinians who persecuted the Jews during World War II. The Palestinians are paying for Europe’s ugliest crime. Sadly, the persecuted have become the persecutors. As the Palestinians mark the Balfour declaration with tears, the international community is impotent to order Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 borders. The promise of a two state solution is a charade perpetrated by Israel and its key ally, the United States.
As for Britain, we await the dawn of a world order based on justice to take the colonialist nation before a truth commission to face restorative justice.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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