Opinion: Aleppo and the Syrian People at the Mercy of Washington’s Barber

Although Syria’s tragedy is too painful to be associated with humor, the suffering that both Moscow and Washington are inflicting on the Syrian people reminds us of a kind of a ‘black comedy’ joke.

It goes like this: A barber was very keen on his son inheriting his ‘salon’, but the young man wasn’t remotely interested in such a career. One day the barber decided to force his son to join him, and asked him to tend to a customer by copying what he was doing to another. However, whilst the barber was engaged with his own customer he heard a loud scream from the poor gentleman that his son was tending to. Asking about what had happened, the poor guy said that he had been cut. The barber responded by slapping his son. However, the son lent back and the customer received the full force of the ‘punishing’ slap before the father apologized and then ordered his son to carry on. This time he also told him to be careful.

But a few seconds later there was another scream and another misplaced painful slap landed on the cheek of the son’s victim. This went on several times until the son severed the self-restrained customer’s ear, to which the latter responded pleadingly: “Please, please, my son, throw it away before your father sees it!”

This is exactly what is befalling Aleppo under barbaric Russian air raids while Washington criticizes and threatens to “walk away from further cooperation with Moscow” on the Syrian issue. As Syrians are being murdered and the Russians bomb their homes and cover Bashar Al-Assad genocide, John Kerry simply “sulks” and walks away!

It is such an ugly and surreal picture that not only proves the moral bankruptcy of international politics, but also points to the fact that the Arab world is facing a catastrophe, and the so called “war against terrorism” is being conducted in a preposterous manner that intentionally ignores the root causes of the problem.

The “agreed” silence surrounding the systematic destruction of what remains of Aleppo, and evicting more than half of its population, as a first step to handing it back to Al-Assad under Russo-American sponsorship, has also forced Turkey to keep quiet, and is complementing the preparation to “liberate” Mosul against the background of a very dangerous Iraqi scene.

Thus, concentrating efforts exclusively on ISIS and Al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front while disregarding the overall regional military, political, ethnic as well as religious and sectarian complexities, will only lead to temporary ‘solutions’. These serve an American administration that has gained a great expertise in leaving to its successors all the consequences of its failures and short term interests, as well as a dictatorial Russian leadership that cares little about human rights, civil society, democracy and global interaction.

The other day President Barack Obama apologized to Bashar Al-Assad for the unintended bombing of his troops in Deir Ez-Zor (Eastern Syria), and welcomed the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, fully expressing his support for the latter’s plans for the “liberation” of Mosul.

In fact, before and after this meeting Washington has consistently backed the current Iraqi government whose policies – as it is common knowledge – are drawn in Tehran; not forgetting, that Al-Abadi himself candidly admitted that Qasem Soleimani, the head of ‘Al-Quds Brigade’ of Iran’s IRGC and the commander of its operations in Syria, is actually an ‘adviser’ to his government.

Furthermore, all those aware of the Iraqi internal situation, led by human rights organizations, have linked the sectarian crimes of the ‘Popular Mobilization Forces’ (Al-Hashd Al-Sha’bi) with the IRGC, but still the Al-Abadi government behaves as if it doesn’t know.

Last but not least, President Obama and his team have always cited “the failed US intervention in Iraq’ as an excuse for their negative approach to Syria; acknowledging that this intervention caused the collapse and disintegration of the Iraqi state and made it an easy prey to Iran. However, after signing the JCPOA (the Nuclear Deal) with Iran, the relationship with Tehran became the ‘constant’ – indeed, the cornerstone of Obama’s Middle East policy. This led to Washington turning a blind eye to the intervention of Iran’s militias in the Syrian war, and its hegemony in both Iraq and Lebanon. In a sense, George W Bush’s derided “failed intervention” in Iraq has become the basis of Obama’s regional policy!

Given the above, it is now important to ask about the most likely outcome of the US presidential elections in the first week of November. Will Obama’s successor follow in his footsteps, regardless of party affiliation, as the change caused by JCPOA is huge, and the ‘rehabilitation’ of Iran as an ally has gone a long way; noting the breakthroughs achieved by Tehran’s ‘friends’ in Congress, the media, think tanks, and financial circles and networks?

Those monitoring Hillary Clinton’s campaign noticed some time ago that the Democratic candidate has already picked her Foreign policy advisers. Among the names expected to be listened to on the Middle East, the Muslim world, and ‘Terrorism’ are Jake Sullivan, Philip Gordon, Laura Rosenberger, in addition to ‘veteran’ old hands like Leon Panetta and Madeleine Albright. On the other hand, many do not expect Clinton to just ‘copy’ Obama’s policy, but rather balance the interest-based pragmatist perspective of Bill Clinton’s days and the ideological, retreat – if not outright apology- imbued, perspective of Barack Obama. The presence of people like Sullivan and Gordon, however, is not a good sign.

Sullivan was with William Burns (ex-Deputy Sec of State) and Puneet Talwar (Iranian Affairs in the State Dept.), a member of the ‘triumvirate’ that conducted the Muscat secret negotiations with Iran and was one of the Washington’s in Syria, Libya and Myanmar. As for Gordon, he has been one of the ‘mainstays’ of Obama’s disastrous Middle East policy, especially Syria; and both Sullivan and Gordon, along with their colleague Ben Rhodes, are very close to Iran’s active lobby group ‘NIAC’ (National American Iranian Council).

In the opposite camp, the team assembled by the Republican candidate Donald Trump, includes a bunch of ultra conservatives, who although are opposed to Tehran, are also anti-Muslim in general. Among the leading names here are George Papadopoulos and Walid Phares, a US-Lebanese academic. Both men are interested in the Middle East and are highly critical of Obama’s policy of ‘retreat’ from the region. Last year, Papadopoulos advised Israel to “co-operate with Russia for its security” as well as Syria and Lebanon. As for Phares, Muslim American groups have often accused him of stirring up ‘Islamophobia’.

So, in light of this, the Arabs find themselves before a sad and ‘well-known’ Democratic option and a worrying and ‘unknown’ Republican option. In a way, our position is similar to that of the Syrians – namely the people of Aleppo – with the ‘Barber of Washington’ who hurts even when he wants to help!

Opinion: Iranian Trusteeship with Israel’s Blessings

In July last year, I wrote an article entitled “How Will Our Region Look Come November 2016?” on this page. Of course what I meant then was the end of Barack Obama’s second term in the White House. In that article I pointed to how Washington made ISIS a pivotal justification to speed up the signing of JCPOA, which would become Obama’s ‘grand’ achievement and the hallmark of his regional project.

A year ago there were several worrying signs, and unfortunately the worst of which were proven to be true in every ‘hot spot’ in the Middle East. Indeed, despite Washington’s self-congratulations on being able to “downgrade” ISIS  in Syria and Iraq, the demographic genocide being perpetrated against Sunni Arabs in the two countries remains the most salient and solid fact.

In Iraq, following the substantial change in the demography of the capital Baghdad, and troubles and uprooting suffered by the (Sunni) Anbar Province during the last few years partly at the hands of Iranian-led sectarian militias, the same fate awaits Nineveh Province, and more specifically its (Sunni Arab) capital Mosul.

In the meantime, it is no more appropriate to question what is going on in Syria. It is either too stupid or too cynical to deny the ‘common plan’ Russia and Iran are striving to achieve on the ground, and turning a blind eye to Washington tacit approval. Actually, as we witness benign accusations being exchanged by Moscow and Washington about a non-existent ‘cease fire’, most well informed sources claim that the only disagreement between them regards how to rehabilitate the Al-Assad regime in the ‘new’ Syria within the new map of the region.

At the moment we have these facts:
1- Russia and Iran, with America’s approval, have all but completed the demographic change in the city of Homs and Greater Damascus as Al-Assad has admitted.

2- Arrangements are approaching completion in northern and southern Syria after ‘containing’ the Turkish – Kurdish tensions as a result of taming Ankara’s ambitions in the north, while in the south the whole picture would not overlook Israel’s say, especially in the Quneitra Province. As Turkey’s interests and worries regarding ethnic minorities seems to have been taken care of in the north, Israel would surely like to exploit the sectarian issue in the south, which is most likely acceptable to Washington, Moscow, Tehran and … Damascus!

3- ‘The War on ISIS’ which has become synonymous with the uprooting and forced exodus of millions of Sunni Arabs in both Syria and Iraq may then become limited in eastern Syria where the – initially artificial – borders with Iraq barely exist anymore.

4- Iran would then become a ‘trustee’ to the already ‘occupied’ Lebanon. This would take place either directly through appointing a ‘puppet-president’ functioning under the ‘guidance’ of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, or indirectly through the rehabilitated former Damascus ‘tools’, which, along with Iran, still enjoy enough tentacles and influence to prevent the election of a Lebanese president for more than two years. Here too, just like the southern Syria ‘scenario’, this ‘trusteeship’ can only be established with Israel’s blessings; and many believe this is assured given the fact that the ‘loud’ Al-Assad regime remains a safe and trusted neighbour since the autumn of 1973, and that Israel has only punished it with ‘reminders’ and ‘alerts’.

Away from the Levant, in Yemen, the Yemenis have now discovered that what is being said against the background of international discussions and negotiations is one thing, and what really takes place is something else. With the cases of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon in mind, it looks as if what we are going through these days may well have been the ‘classified’ sections of the JCPOA. In fact, what gives credence to this thinking is Washington’s reiterations while applying the final touches on the JCPOA that the negotiations with Iran were limited to the nuclear issue; which means Washington did not require that Iran ended its political and military adventures within several Arab countries, and curtails its regional and global ambitions, as a pre-condition for the nuclear agreement and its admission into the ‘nuclear club’.

What is taking place in the Middle East is more than a heavy price being paid for an American retreat or a Russian revenge by a leader who has inherited grandiose dreams and the mentality of a ‘police state’ from the former Soviet era.

It has also gone beyond a confrontation between an Iranian regime ‘exporting’ its internal problems under the banner of religion and settling 1400 years old scores, a Turkish leadership intent on turning the clock back (to Ottoman times), and an Israeli political elite that rejects peace and hides behind Biblical ‘fundamentalists’ as it crushes Palestinian aspirations.

What could be deduced from the insistence of some quarters on inventing justifications for hatred and animosities is that there is an inclination to create new realignments in the Middle East in the form of ‘mandates’ over a partitioned Arab world. In this sense, with due respect to press freedom, one cannot but feel surprise by the article written by Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javaf Zarif in the New York Times, a newspaper whose rich archive surely contains reports of all kinds of terrorist acts incited, planned and carried out by the same regime that Mr Zarif is serving.

The NYT knows about the nature of the Mullahs’ regime in Tehran since 1979 more than the average American citizen Mr Zarif was attempting to bluff. It definitely knows who was behind the ‘Hostage Taking’ in the US Tehran embassy, the mass executions ordered by Sadegh Khalkhali’s ‘revolutionary court’, the Beirut US Marines Base suicide attack as well as foreign hostage taking in Lebanon, the continuing support of the Sunni ‘Islamic Jihad’ movement in Gaza (which also has an office in Damascus), the smuggling of Al-Qaeda militants into Iraq from Syria, the bombings inside Saudi Arabia itself, and finally, the nation that continues to provide refuge to extremist leaders and encourages, through its own extremism, a no less dangerous counter extremism.

All these facts are no doubt well known to the NYT; however, it seems that truth doesn’t really matter if a dual Iranian – Israeli ‘trusteeship’ is underway, and needs to be justified by making religious extremism exclusively Sunni, exactly as Barack Obama has done in order to rehabilitate Bashar Al-Assad!

Opinion: Do Lebanon’s Christians Know What They Are Doing?

Being a Lebanese myself I can claim that I know how the Lebanese think; this is why I expect the initial response to the above question from the Christians among them to be: “Who are you to tell us what to do? Are we so unqualified or brainless that a non-Christian like you should lecture us about politics?”

Has the creative source of genius that breathes liberty (as chaotic as it is) and eats and drinks democracy (albeit selective, unfair and irresponsible) in Christian society dried up? That society which transformed Lebanon’s craggy mountains into gardens, its limited natural resources into impressive wealth, and forced emigration into success stories?

The fact is I have written this article for two reasons. The first reason is because Lebanon’s survival as a country is under great threat; and the second, is because I am all for the survival of the Christian presence that has given Lebanon the virtues of tolerance, coexistence and cultural interaction, and has enriched its political life and economic well-being for centuries.

However, what is worrying these days is that those who claim to be the sole spokesmen for Lebanon’s Christians, and loudly call for ‘justice in political representation’ and ‘respect of the spirit of fair coexistence’ are the leading cause of their misfortune and the biggest threat to the Christian community’s interests. As they falsify truths and ignore realities in order to achieve personal aims, they are intentionally turning a blind eye to the real history of the Middle East, which poses the most serious genuine threat to their community’s existence, as well as most other small regional minorities.

The Free Patriotic Movement, led by Michel Aoun, MP, and chaired by his son-in-law Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil, is an extreme version of a sick ‘political mentality’ that refuses to realise how costly its adventures are.

Such mentalities never learn; and unfortunately Lebanon’s history has had tragic ‘landmarks’ whenever such mentalities gained ascendancy within the Christian community. The outcome was always spiteful thinking, unbridled sectarianism, unleashed instinctive factionalism, contrived animosities, and mobilisation of bigoted mobs, all of which pushed Christians to pointless and thankless wars.

No logical dialogue bears fruits here and if a proof is ever needed, let’s look at the PFM’s following contradictions:
– Being part of the government and yet opposing it and conspiring to bring it down.
– Claiming its belief in and full commitment to Lebanon’s ‘sovereignty’ and ‘independence’ while providing political cover to armed occupation and security hegemony over Lebanon by a religious militia that receives its orders from abroad through a useless ‘agreement’.
– Bemoaning others’ ‘disrespect of the spirit of fair coexistence’ while misrepresenting – on every occasion – the powers of the presidency, parliamentary speakership and premiership in order to justify its attempts to undermine the constitution.
– Lecturing about democracy and democratic institutions, while taking to the streets to agitate, sabotage, incite against public order, and paralyze political life.
– Calling for ‘the recovery of (lost) rights’ and ‘ending injustice’ while almost practicing racist and factional discrimination against what it regards as enemies, whether Lebanese or non-Lebanese. Their latest victims are Syrian refugees driven out by Bashar Al-Assad.

Aoun’s FPM, whose chairman Mr Bassil found enough time as a Foreign Minister to condemn North Korea’s latest nuclear test in the Far East seems unaware of the Syrian tragedy which has thus far resulted in the death of more than half a million and displacement of around 12 million people, the destruction of dozens of cities and areas, and attracting all kinds of extremists and terrorists from all over the world to Syria. But sweeping ‘causality’ under the carpet, the FPM continues to ignore the role played by Hezbollah militia – with its Lebanese façade but certainly Iranian core – in killing, maiming, brutalising and displacing tens of thousands of Syrians; indeed, driving around a million into Lebanon. In fact, as the FPM ignores Hezbollah’s role, it directs its wrath and hatred towards its victims, as if they chose to become homeless refugees, not the militia it has aligned itself to begging for a powerless presidency under the sway of that militia’s Supreme Guide!

The FPM is now working overtime, under its chairman – the foreign minister – to ensure that generations of émigrés (mostly Christian) in faraway countries recover their Lebanese citizenship (or nationality). But he forgets how tens of thousands of Lebanese Christians are leaving Lebanon in pursuit of an honest living after Iran managed – through its tool and the FPM’s ally Hezbollah – to ruin the country’s service sectors, where Christians have always been dominant players, including tourism, education and health.

Furthermore, the FPM is overlooking the fact that by replacing them with others; and thus threatening the ‘Christian presence’ it is bemoaning and decrying. In this instant one could point out a similar mistake that happened in the past, when some Christians opened up to and cooperated with Israel against Palestinian refugees who were expelled to Lebanon by no one else but Israel. This was the case before the armed Palestinian ‘resistance’ movement, which was later penetrated and torn apart by several Arab governments through their intelligence agencies.

Refusing to learn from wrong adventures and the delusion of ability to manipulate international politics caused Lebanon’s Christians to commit existential mistakes in the past, and repeat them at present. This is explained by siding with Iran in its sectarian war across the Arab world, and the way some Christian leaders are justifying the ‘alliance of minorities’ against Arab Sunni Muslims by citing the threat ISIS, which is both an alien and dubious aberration.

As a researcher who is quite aware of ‘The Eastern Question’ during the Ottoman period, I acknowledge the fact that the current situation in the Middle East is threatening to ‘minorities, Muslims and non-Muslims. I am also aware that ‘little’ players cannot influence the game of ‘big’ players, nor change the maps they are drawing based on international interests. However, it would be wise for minorities, particularly Christians, not to take great risks with their well-being, based on wrong or misguided political calculations.

They need to keep in mind that Islamic extremism has always been a spasmodic phenomena occurring mainly during a period of weakness and the decay of the Muslim empires, while tolerance and moderation was the rule throughout times of prosperity and ascendancy.

Opinion: A Syrian Wedding With the Bride and Groom in Geneva

Two significant developments, both connected to conflict raging between Iran’s creeping influence and the remaining defenders of Arab identity, took place in the Arab ‘Mashreq’ last week.

The first is the undisguised attempts of demographic changes in the environs of the Syrian capital Damascus; and completing what was concealed in and around the city of Homs. The second was the aborted Yemeni Houthi tour of “comrade” countries run by Iran’s followers in the Middle East.

These two developments confirm beyond any doubt what Jordan’s King Abdullah II called ‘the Shi’ite Crescent’, soon to be affirmed by Egypt’s ex-president Hosni Mubarak when he openly accused “Arab Shi’ites of sectarian loyalty to Iran”. However, it must be said, that ‘Shi’ite loyalty’ and claimed ‘love for the descendants of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)’ in this particular case, are merely a ‘veil of convenience’ concealing a vengeful Persian nationalistic project that has nothing to do with Islam, and surely runs contrary to Muslim unity and interests.

Under the watchful eyes of the international community – as represented by the UN – uprooting and driving out the populations of towns and suburbs that ‘circle’ Damascus in the Ghouta, Barada River Valley and Qalamoun Mountains is gathering pace, while on the northern frontiers with Turkey de facto borders are being drawn to separate Turkish and Kurdish dominated areas. In both cases, this is being played against a background of clear ‘agreement’ between Washington and Moscow on “temporary ceasefires” under the excuses of handing emergency supplies to the besieged, and defining “terrorist groups” in order to distinguish them from “the moderate opposition”, while totally ignoring the regime’s air raids and the blatant military intervention of Iran, directly and indirectly through its sectarian militias from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

What I mean is that what was a few months ago a secretive course, has now become a declared local, regional and international policy. The freezing of Syria’s southern front (namely in the provinces of Deraa and Quneitra), allowing the opposition to advance in the province of Hama, and the ongoing geographic and demographic demarcation along the Syria – Turkey borders are undeniable facts on the ground that can only be explained by the existence of at least ‘preliminary’ maps for the boundaries and frontiers of ‘future Syria’, which at best would be a federal state whereby Iran, Turkey and the Kurds would enjoy their own fiefdoms at the expense of Sunni Arabs.

As regards the Houthi tour that began by visiting Iraq, it has merely confirmed the obvious. It has highlighted the ‘Policy of Axes’ which Iran has succeeded to impose on the region against sinister international silence. There is little doubt that the Houthis today are nothing more than Tehran’s cat’s paw in southern Arabia.

The deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is currently the Houthis’ main local ally and backer, had left them based on his ‘divide and rule’ calculations to grow and expand their influence; and thanks to his smart manipulations managed to rule and dominate Yemen for decades. Saleh always believed in pitting one Yemeni faction against another in a dangerous balancing game.

Indeed, his plan was to intentionally exploit the Houthi ‘phenomenon’ against the Sunni “Islamist” Yemeni Reform Rally and the Leftist Socialists of the former South Yemen, and later against Al-Qaeda. But, within a few years he realized, as he was passing through their mountain strongholds in northern Yemen, that those whom he thought were his ‘puppets’ and a card he could play in the Yemeni political game were now Tehran’s ‘fifth column, whose affinities, loyalty and control were Iranian. This led to the 2004 war in which their leader Hussein Badr-Eddin Al-Houthi was killed.

Thus, Saleh was fully aware before 2011 (the date of the Yemen Uprising against him) of the connections between the Houthis and Iran. He is surely aware of it even more now that he has decided to join them in a dangerous sectarian conflict with regional dimensions.

To wrap up, the initially planned tour of Iraq, Lebanon and Iran – before being aborted after the Baghdad stop –, and the Iraqi financial aid given to the Houthis, surely and irreversibly point to the fact that ‘the Persian Crescent’ under a Shi’ite guise is now complete as it has reached southern Arabia.

Opinion: What Happens in Damascus Decides Syria’s Fate

When everybody was talking about Turkish troops entering the northern Syrian border town of Jarablus, the dirty deal in greater Damascus was approaching its completion. The long suffering suburb of Darayya was being handed to the cut-throats of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and its supportive militias with full international collusion under the UN flag against brazen Arab and world disinterest.

This was taking place in what was once a “Syrian Arab Republic”, while somewhere else, in Geneva to be precise, the US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were following up their smoke-screen bluffing. However, in the spirit of things, and in order to make the bluff plausible, both were keen to claim that there was still a big gulf between Washington’s and Moscow’s positions on Syria.

Actually, what has and will happen in Geneva should not surprise or convince any serious follower of the Syrian crisis for more than five years; and those who have observed its evolution – thanks to international collusion and bloody suppression that seeks a “military solution” – from a spontaneous moderate popular uprising to a civil, regional and open-ended sectarian one aiming at the uprooting and expulsion of the Sunni Arabs of Iraq and Syria.

Given the above, it could be said that some groups within the Syrian opposition may be blamed for “militarizing” the uprising, thus falling in the trap that Assad and his backers prepared for them. They may deserve the blame because they were supposedly aware of the nature of a police state built by ruthless and suppressive sectarians.
The huge popular demonstrations that filled the streets and squares of the city of Hama in the summer of 2011 were the turning point. Seeing hundreds of thousands demonstrating that day, in a city brutally attacked and devastated by the regime, and that lost between 20,000 and 40,000 of its inhabitants within less than a month in 1982, must have shocked Assad. The ensuing panic was bound to lead to the declaration of all-out war against any town, neighbourhood or village that challenges its authority.

Indeed, this is exactly what the regime – or those who decide on matters of war and peace – did, adopting a three-part strategy:
• Calling on non-Syrian sectarian Shi’ite militias to fight for the regime under the religious order and military command of the Vali-e-Faqih in Iran.
• Exploiting its “fifth column” of extremist Sunnis or those who claim to be fighting for the Sunnis, after releasing them from its prisons, on overseeing their emergence from ‘hideaways’ well known to the regime’s intelligence agencies in order to undermine the uprising from within. They would achieve its goal by outbidding rhetoric and diverting the opposition away from moderation and peaceful means to belligerency and flagrant sectarian confrontation.
• Exploiting the notion of ‘Alliance of Minorities’ long kept in reserve for the opportune moment. In fact, some senior Christian clergymen, Syrian and non-Syrian, actively incited Western governments against the uprising; and one of them summed up his views during a European visit in the early months of the uprising that by saying “Assad’s regime may be bad and corrupt, but what the uprising would bring is worse”.

This strategy has created the political, humanitarian and political humanitarian catastrophe we witness today. Sectarian Shi’ite militias have temporarily managed to save the regime from collapse, and given rise to a sectarian (Sunni) counter-reaction that, as time passed, marginalized nationalist, liberal, moderate currents within the uprising. Planting the regime’s extremist “fifth column” to undermine the uprising has proved a success. Finally, religious and sectarian incitement in the West completed the mission as it provided an excuse, not only to ignore the uprising, but also to deprive it of the means to even defend itself, either by refusing to provide it with suitable defensive weapons or adamantly rejecting its pleas for ‘safe havens’ and ‘no-fly zones’.

The other day many celebrated ‘a great victory’ when Ankara sent its troops to a small Syrian border town, with the western ‘green light’. The fact of the matter, however, is that today’s Turkey is not the Turkey of 2011. Its freedom of movement has been drastically curtailed after being cowed by Russia, let down by NATO and shaken internally; which means she is not allowed to have any regional say except in what may harm it on the Kurdish front.

In the meantime, Russia and Iran continue the implementation of their respective geo-political plans in other parts of Syria, especially Damascus and its environs, through religious, sectarian and ethnic cleansing, mainly targeting Sunni Arabs with US and international blessings.

What Secretary Kerry said about him and Sergei Lavrov making clearer steps to move forward in terms of more temporary ceasefires and human aid, and agreeing on most ‘technical’ issues that may lead to negotiations on steps on how to end the fighting, is it just ‘tragicomic’ lying. Kerry thinks he can still sell the Syrian people the illusion that Washington is sincere about ending their suffering and finding the elusive ‘political solution’, when they know full well the following:

Firstly, that in the last months of Barack Obama’s presidency, Washington which failed to respect its ‘red lines’ on Assad’s usage of chemical weapons, would never confront Russia and Iran.

Secondly, that Washington refused from the outset to depose Assad by force; and later when the ISIS excuse became available, its approach to the Syrian crisis became hardly distinguishable from that of Moscow and Tehran. Its focus has been on ‘confronting terrorism’ (exclusively Sunni terrorism!).

Thirdly, American political and military support of the Syrian uprising has never been serious. A good proof is how the southern fronts (south of Damascus) have been strangely silent, while Washington was working overtime to concoct artificial ‘pan-Syrian’ militias which are in fact Kurdish militias with dubious previous links to the regimes with Arab and Turkmen ‘facades’ in northern Syria.

Fourthly, the only declared ‘change’ in Washington’s position vis-à-vis Syria during the last five years has been its continuous convergence with Moscow’s; even when the Russians decided on direct military intervention to help keep Assad in power.

Lastly, any talk about a ‘political solution’ is meaningless as long as military operations – especially from the air – continue, and while the Assad regime, the Russians, the Iranians and their henchmen carry on with their crimes of ‘demographic change’, the latest example is Darayya!

What has befallen Darayya is extremely dangerous because the fate of Syria is decided in Greater Damascus, and the fate of Greater Damascus is decided by the silenced southern fronts and the cheap theatricals of the Geneva ‘talks’!

Opinion: United Kurdistan and a Partitioned Middle East

The sudden move by Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in the city of Al-Hassakah, north eastern Syria, was really interesting both in terms of the target chosen and the timing. The regime has launched air raids against Kurdish militias inside the city and its environs while there are increasing signs of a scaling down of tension between Turkey and Iran, specifically after the visit of Mohammad Jawad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister to Turkey.

Contrary to Washington’s silent approval of a ‘Greater Kurdistan’, it is obvious that neither Ankara nor Tehran accept such a project; indeed, it is where their interests converge. In the meantime, since the failed coup attempts Turkish leaders have been sending ambiguous signs regarding Ankara’s current views on the Assad regime which may be construed as indirect messages to influential regional players.

This has been taking place while preparations gather pace in Iraq for the “liberation of Mosul”, against continued confusion surrounding the roles of the Kurdish Peshmerga and Shi’ite ‘People’s Mobilisation’ militias in the expected battle for Mosul, the Arab Sunnis’ largest city in Iraq. As Prime Minister Haider Abadi insists on what he regards as the “right’ of the Shi’ite militia to take part in the fighting despite its blatantly sectarian crimes in several locations, Kurdish leaders still insist that it is within the “right” of their militia to keep every territory it liberates regardless of its ethnic composition!

In spite of the much touted ‘Neo-cons’’ plan of “Organized Chaos”, there is no firm proof that George W. Bush was aware of the ‘domino effect’ in the Middle East when he ordered the war to topple Saddam Hussein and occupy Iraq. The same applies to the “de-Ba’thification” policies of Paul Bremer, head of Iraq’s ‘Occupation Authority’ and the ‘recipe’ prepared by several ‘lobbies’ whose diverse aims intersected temporarily to bring down Saddam and destroy the ‘1920-2003 Iraq’.

However, what we are witnessing now in Syria and Iraq rules out any excuse based on ignorance or miscalculations. Strategic politics of superpowers towards one of the world’s most dangerous and sensitive regions, may sometimes suffer from passing misunderstanding here or bad execution there, but it is impossible that such an ‘erroneous’ course continues without change or reappraisal for 13 years.

Today, with what is left of Barack Obama’s presidency we see an Iraq that is totally different from the pre – 2003 Iraq. We see two almost fully-fledged Shi’ite and Kurdish entities, the first part and parcel of Iran’s strategy of hegemony in the Middle East, and the second has become the nucleus of a de facto independent ‘national state’. On the other side, the rest of Iraq’s ethno-religious components, led by Sunni Arabs, are losing out. The Sunni Arabs who were the country’s ruling elite between 1920 and 2003 have been marginalized, demonized and persecuted beginning with Bremer’s laws of “de-Ba’thification” and ending with Iranian-inspired accusations of harbouring and collaborating with Al-Qaeda, and later ISIS.

Religious, sectarian and ethnic minorities, sure enough – like all minorities – suffer most from lengthy instability and civil wars. Thus, the ongoing struggle between the tools of Iran’s sectarian hegemony and nationalist secessionist Kurds is more than just a ferocious fight over the remains of the Sunni Arab prey, but rather the coup de grace for Iraq as a country. Furthermore, even if some ultra-zealot Arab nationalist had for a while – intentionally or unintentionally – the civilised and tolerant idea of Arabism, what Iraq is sliding to in the age of the two sectarian and ethnic ‘alternatives’, during the countdown to the “liberation of Mosul”, is much more dangerous, extremist and aggressive.

In Syria too we find ourselves staring at a “scenario” that has surely not materialized by accident. It is impossible that it has been unintentionally emerged with all the carnage and destruction we see. For those blessed with good memory, it is worth recalling how the Syrian regime since the reign of Hafez Al-Assad at the helm of his non-Sunni Ba’th was one of the main beneficiaries of the attacks targeting Saddam Hussein and his Sunni Ba’th. Hafez Al-Assad was also an ally of Iran during the Iran – Iraq War (1980-1988), and his participation in the war to expel Saddam from Kuwait rewarded him generously by giving him a free hand in Lebanon, where his regime was the ‘nursery’ of Hezbollah, Iran’s sectarian plant in the region.

Following the occupation of Iraq in 2003, the Syrian regime played a pivotal role in the Iranian plot to unsettle the Americans, and push them to leave Iraq to Iran after Washington’s valuable gift of bringing down its bitterest enemy in the region, i.e. Saddam’s regime.

Damascus’ role, under Al-Assad Jr, was to facilitate the influx of Al Qaeda’s and other extremist fighters across the Syria – Iraq borders to engage American troops with the intention of pressurising Washington to withdraw them and hand the then occupied country to Iran. The plot succeeded, and Tehran through Nuri Maliki, its ‘Man in Baghdad’ took over the affairs of Iraq. As a result, the weakened Sunnis were left to choose between two evils: either Iran’s sectarianism and hegemony, or Al Qaeda’s, and later ISIS’, extremism with all the resulting suffering and uprooting.

Eventually, in March 2011, when the Syrian people rose against the regime and its police state, it was expected than Iran would rush to rescue Al-Assad. What was ironic, however, was that Barack Obama’s Washington refused to support the people’s uprising against a regime it has always accused of being a ‘backer and sponsor of terrorism’ citing its unwillingness to repeat the mistake of intervention in Iraq. The fact of the matter, however, is this refusal to interfere on the side of the Syrian people only consolidated the results of the “mistake” of Bush Jr’s policy in Iraq not the contrary!

Subsequently, as if this was not enough, Washington went further in destroying and burying the Syrian uprising, by encouraging secessionist Kurds, and letting down Turkey to the extent of forcing it to give in to the vision of Tehran – Moscow axis, ostensibly because President Obama wants to save and cement the JCPOA with Iran.

Today, everybody in the Middle East is monitoring what the Kurds are up to. They are now seeking a unity culminating in a ‘Greater Kurdistan’ that will only be created if the region’s current entities are undermined and partitioned.

Given such a ‘scenario’ Washington can either act to stop this … or wait for the big explosion!

Opinion: Turkey Re-evaluates its Vital Interests

The other day it was announced that the US vice president Joe Biden would soon be visiting Turkey. The visit will follow frantic Turkish activities in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt.

Several issues, I presume, deserve to be scheduled for discussion between Mr Biden and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, more so because Washington’s Middle East policies during the last few years have managed to change many of Ankara’s declared positions.

Regardless of definition, explanations, appraisals – especially as far as the alleged ‘role’ of Islamist figure Fethullah Gulen is concerned – the coup attempt will no doubt affect the march of Mr Erdogan’s Islamist government. Equally, it would be wrong to underestimate the impact of terrorist attacks that shook a number of Turkish cities during the last few months against the background of the worsening Syrian crisis, revitalized Kurdish secessionists and cooling of tensions with Israel. However, the most significant realities imposed on Ankara by Barack Obama’s Middle East policies remain those related to Russia and Iran.

Going back to JCPOA is not actually a replay. In fact, it is the first true step to understanding Washington’s current strategy until its term ends next November. Yes, JCPOA is the defining landmark in Obama’s political thought and strategic regional priorities; and the last three years that – candidly expressed – thought and those priorities were there for all to see.

Washington has allowed Tehran and Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad to blackmail both the international community and the Syrian people with a morally and politically unacceptable choice between keeping the Al-Assad regime which is nothing but a cat’s paw of Iran’s ‘mullahs’ and their expansionist regional project, or leaving Syria and its people easy prey to ISIS bestial criminality and Al-Qaeda’s extremism.

The above choice is exactly what Al-Assad and Tehran wanted and strived for all along, and the outcome has been clear from the pictures from the town of Manbij, recently liberated from its ISIS nightmare. It is also the ideal script that would ‘wipe clean the slate’ of a criminal regime which since the late 1970s made a business of blackmail, murder, political outbidding, and trading in fake slogans. Finally, it is what Obama’s Washington has adopted through demeaning and undermining the nationalist Syrian ‘moderate’ opposition by depriving it of suitable quality weapons, and continuously rejecting its pleas for protective ‘no-fly zones’ and ‘safe havens’ under feeble excuses, as is proven every day by direct American military involvement in Iraq and Libya, and Washington’s active support of Kurdish militias.

Turning a blind eye to ISIS’ entrenchment and expansion has not been only intentional, but also required. This is why Al-Raqqah was never bombarded, not even threatened, a full year after it fell to the brutal terrorist group and was proclaimed its ‘capital’. The same applies to other ISIS ‘enclaves’ elsewhere in Greater Damascus and the open expanses of the Syrian Desert – which are supposedly vulnerable to air strikes – let alone, those close to the Israeli ceasefire line in the Golan Heights!

In the meantime the Turkish leadership was committing two grave mistakes: The first, continuously over-threatening Al-Assad and over-promising the Syrian oppositions without guarantees that it can effect a change; and the second, its ambiguous position vis-à-vis Tehran although it should have known the nature and extent of Iranian support for Al-Assad, specifically, since IRGC-led and controlled Lebanese, Iraqi and Afghan Shi’ite militias were ‘ordered’ to fight inside Syria.

One might say these mistakes stemmed from wrong calculations based on naïve trust in Washington’s and NATO’s backing; and consequently, disregard of what Washington’s willingness to let down its ‘old ally’ means, while keeping in mind Turkey’s geo-political problematic history with Russia.

Most likely, Ankara began to really worry when it noticed that Washington’s and Moscow’s views on Syria were rapidly converging to the point of total agreement. This went parallel with the unfolding Russian support for Al-Assad reaching the point of direct military involvement in September 2015. The turning point, however, must have been Turkey’s downing the Russian fighter bomber near the Turkish – Syrian borders in late November 2015; as Washington’s and NATO’s lukewarm ‘solidarity’ with Ankara against Moscow’s bullying threats decisively proved that the page of the Cold War alliance between Turkey and the West was turned forever.

To add insult to injury, American whole-hearted backing for ‘nationalist’ Kurdish militias along the Turkish – Syrian borders despite Ankara’s expressed misgivings, and later Washington’s rush to directly confront ISIS in northern Iraq the moment it began threatening the autonomous ‘Iraqi Kurdistan’ region, only compounded Ankara’s suspicions and worries. Then, no sooner that the attempted coup had taken place than Erdogan accused US – based Mr Gulen of being implicated, while also insinuating at an ‘American role’ in it.

Obviously, this meant that all taboos have now been broken, as the Turkish leadership saw itself dealing with new regional and international realities. Erdogan decided to react in the light of what he viewed as Washington’s ‘betrayal’ in the time of need, the Obama administration belittling what a threat ‘Greater Kurdistan’ poses to Turkey and the polities of the Middle East. As a result Ankara took the decision to ‘open up’ to the three influential ‘players’ in the region: Russia, Israel and Iran.

Due to Russia being under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, it has become a dynamic and ambitious player keen to regain the long gone regional influence of the former USSR; in addition to the fact that it is the historical ‘Christian’ competitor to ‘Muslim’ Turkey in south eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

As for Israel, it is a small-size ‘major power’ which enjoys great influence in the West, especially, with the American ‘political establishment’.

Finally, Iran is the historical Eastern ‘pole’, whose entities and ruling dynasties coexisted and collaborated with, fought against, and allied to Turkey’s entities and ruling dynasties. In fact, the percentage of Turkic peoples with present day Iran exceeds non-Turks within Turkey. However, although the two countries are currently competing against each other, and are in opposite sides in the Syrian crisis, they are united by a common concern. They both stand against a ‘Greater Kurdistan’; which may mean the Kurdish issue provides the window of opportunity for interest-based temporary coexistence and agreement of opportune regional influence sharing at the expense of the major absentee, i.e. the Arabs!

Opinion: Aleppo and Mosul – A Tale of Two Cities

In 1859, the celebrated British author Charles Dickens wrote ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, a famous novel whose events took place in Paris and London during and in the aftermath of the French revolution, and dealt with the plight of the French peasantry under the old nobility.

Before that date, however, two Middle Eastern cities with glorious history were part of the realm of the Hamdanids (890 AD – 1004 AD). The Banu Hamdans were descendants of the prominent tribe of Taghlib, who hail from the mother tribe Rabi’a bin Nizar bin Adnan (Adnan being the progenitor of the ‘Northern Arabs’). Their achievements in defence of Arab lands especially those of Sayf Al-Dawla, the governor of Aleppo, was glorified by the great Arab poet Al-Mutanabbi. A contemporary of Sayf Al-Dawla was his cousin Nasser Al-Dawla, the governor of Mosul.

However, Aleppo and Mosul, the largest second metropolises of Syria and Iraq respectively, the most beautiful, most culturally diverse, and socially sophisticated, are now in deep trouble. Aleppo is suffering a war of starvation and mass murder carried out by Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, Russia’s air force and Iran’s sectarian militias; and is threatened with one of the worst forced population exchange in the modern history of the Middle East since the Palestinian ‘nakbah’ in 1948. Mosul’s fate does look less tragic if ‘liberating’ it of ISIS is left to the sectarian ‘People’s Mobilization’ militia whose true identity became apparent after the massacres it committed in Al-Muqdadiyah and Al-Fallujah as well as other Sunni towns in Iraq.

It is not a coincidence that these two bastions of ‘Arabism’ are facing such a peril; nor is it surprising that the devastating storm blowing in the Middle East since 2003 is changing the demographic fabric of the region along with redrawing its maps and reapportioning foreign influence there. The two aforementioned cities share a demographic identity that best embody an unwanted status quo. A status quo that must be replaced as part of the new ‘plan’ designed for the region by the rising international and regional powers. Both Aleppo and Mosul have a Sunni Arab majority along with sizeable Christian and non-Christian, Arab and non-Arab minorities, within the two cities and in their surrounding areas, all living in peace and harmony for centuries.

What John Brennan, the Director of CIA, said the other day expressing his pessimism about the future of Syria, and his interesting insinuation to the possibility of partition is nothing but an admission of efforts being made by more than one side toward partitioning Iraq, and possibly, Turkey too; as well as preparing the ground for an independent Kurdish state that many within Syria and Iraq think its declaration is merely a matter of time. Indeed, the recent disturbances in Turkey, the repercussions of which may not end soon, confirm the dynamics of instability and change; more so as the international community stayed silent for too long as Syrian and Iraqi territories were being transformed into a mega-camp that attracts, gathers and trains radical Sunni groups as a prerequisite for the implementation and then justification of the new ‘plan’.

Today, Russia and the Al-Assad regime – which Russia insists it is not keen to keep in power – are working in tandem, with Iran’s military efforts, to create a new and dangerous demographic status quo in Syria, the high cost of which would be paid by the Sunni Arab majority. The first step on this route started in the city of Homs and its environs with well prepared and executed ethnic/sectarian cleansing aiming at strongly connecting the capital Damascus with the Syrian coastal region (with an Alawite majority) and Shi’ite-dominated Lebanon through Hezbollah, and then was completed by bolstering the defences in greater Damascus and its countryside.

Now, after uprooting and evicting around 13 million Syrians most of whom are Sunni Arabs, Al-Assad is cooperating with Moscow and Tehran, against a background of total international silence, in securing the expulsion of around 300 to 400 thousands from the besieged Opposition-controlled neighbourhoods of Aleppo, as they did to populations of the Aleppo countryside.

In Iraq too, following the ‘liberation’ of Al-Fallujah from ISIS, efforts are now gathering pace to liberate Mosul, which the extremist terrorist organization has turned into a major stronghold, rivalling its ‘capital’ the city of Al-Raqqah in Syria. Also in Mosul the international community does not seem to discount the possibility of a disastrous exodus from a city inhabited by around 1.5 million inhabitants. And as is the case with Al-Assad who would not have been able to achieve anything in Aleppo without strategic Russia air and Iranian land support, the Iraqi premier Dr Haider Abadi is so politically weak that on his own he can do nothing.

Thus, neither Abadi nor his senior cabinet members can decide anything in Iraq where Iran enjoys both immense military strength and a virtual American ‘carte blanche’ after the JCPOA, not forgetting the Kurdish Peshmerga militia which is now a fully-fledged army in a de facto independent ‘Iraqi Kurdistan’. Dr Abadi is too week to prevent the ‘People’s Mobilization’ militia from fighting in Mosul, and to decide the future of Mosul after ridding it of ISIS as well as a high percentage of its own people, when the time comes to draw the map of northern Iraq and define the relationship of the Kurds of Iraq with their brethren in northern Syria.

Given this worrying picture, one cannot but point out to a very important and negative factor, without which the conspiracy of uprooting and displacement would have been difficult to carry out. This factor is the presence of extremist foreign fighting groups that are alien to the fabric of the Arab east, but have come from all over the world declaring “support” (i.e. Nusra) of the people of Syria, or “fighting the infidels”, and claiming the founding of “The Islamic State” in Iraq. Incidentally, the main loser from what these groups have thus caused or achieved are the Arab Sunni Muslims of the region.

The announcement made by ‘Abu Mohammad Al-Jawlani’, a senior figure in Al-Nusra Front that his group has severed its links with Al-Qaeda and formed an unattached new organization called “Fateh Ash-Sham” only confirmed what it sought to dispel. ‘Al-Jawlani’ confirmed in his announcement all that was being said about Al-Qaeda being there in Syria, with all its discourse, slogans, objectives and infringements which do not conform with an all-encompassing, pluralistic, national Syrian state.

This meant he unwittingly was giving credence to claims long made by Moscow and others in western capitals that defeating the Syrian revolt was not only justified but also necessary, more so, after recent terrorist attacks in Europe and America in the age of ‘Islamophobia’!

Opinion: The Problems Facing America’s Republicans and Britain’s Labour

America had an exceptional few days last week as the Republican Party officially adopted the billionaire right-wing firebrand Donald Trump as its presidential candidate for next November’s race to the White House. In the meantime, across the Atlantic, where the vote to leave the European Union shook Britain and ended the premiership of the ‘dovish’ Conservative David Cameron without causing much damage to the Conservative Party, it was the Labour Party that entered an internal crisis. As the majority of Labour’s members of Parliament rose against their radical left-winger Jeremy Corbyn, the latter challenged them by barricading behind party activists and trades unions.

Despite the wide ideological gulf between ‘rightist’ Trump and ‘leftist’ Corbyn, there is one thing in common between them; both are extremists who are willing to do anything in the pursuit of power.

Trump, who is regarded by many Republicans as an ‘outsider’ and has never been elected to public office, has acutely polarised the party and confronted its ‘establishment’ by riding an extremist wave of populism and xenophobia bordering on outright racism. Then, even after securing the nomination, he is continuing his escape forward with a blatant populism totally unbecoming of a leader of a pluralistic, advanced and institutional superpower like America.

Corbyn, on his part is not really behaving like leader of a ‘party of government’ which cannot implement its programme without winning elections. Indeed, he is acting and talking more like an activist in a protest movement or a strike or picket organizer despite realising that he has lost the trust and loyalty of his parliamentary colleagues who believe his radicalism will destroy the party’s chance in any future elections. He not only refuses to resign but is also inciting against his fellow parliamentarians! He is even calling them “Blairites”, accusing them of being “rightists’, and insisting that he will lead Labour during the next elections.

How did two such men, too far from the concept of rational and responsible democracy, manage to come so close to reach the top?! The most likely answer is that the crisis the two major American and British parties are going through is much more serious than a being afflicted with an adventurist, dogmatist or demagogue as a leader. It is rather a complicated problem that has something to do with the parties’ fabric, popular bases, and mechanism of decision taking; currently manifested by a hysterical and mass suicidal attitude due to gradual erosion of moderation and rationalism.

There is no doubt that lobbies and interest groups, such as the extreme rightist ‘The Tea Party’ and radical ultra conservative evangelists have provided for a while a ready and fertile ground for racist posturing by the likes of Donald Trump, Ben Carson and others during the Republican primaries. It is obvious from what happened at the Cleveland Republican Convention that eager pro-Trump supporters do not care less about broadening the appeal of the party ticket by trying to gain uncommitted ‘centrists’ or neutralising foes, as these supporters are hostage to their parochial and factional bigotry that drives them even to resort to personal attacks and character assassination.

On the ‘Left’, ironically the suicidal image does not seem too different. The British Labour Party is no less hostage to its militants groups than the GOP is to the extreme Right and ultra conservative evangelists. Corbyn and his fans seem to have deliberately forgotten the years of ‘exile’ from power between 1979 and 1997, brought about by voters’ rejection of the extreme ‘Left’ led by ‘Militant Tendency’ which has dominated the party and trade unions. Although Labour later managed to end this destructive dominance, anomalies in the leadership selection process ensured Corbyn’s victory thanks to votes of party activists and bloc votes of the unions. Relying on those, Corbyn is escaping forward, threatening Labour’s unity and ignoring electoral realities.

Extremism as a phenomenon usually appears in unusual stressful circumstances, such as when national dialogue breaks down, coexistence is becoming more difficult, or when the country faces external threat. Under such circumstances worried citizens obsessed by complicated questions rush to those who give them easy answers and simple recipes. As we know from experience, there is nothing in politics easier than finding quick and radical ‘solutions’ in ‘black and white’ to profoundly complicated problems.

During the last few centuries the West, namely since the French Revolution, witnessed the rise of radical ideologies that brought about various ethnic, class-based, religious and regional cultures. The French Revolution marked the rise of Liberalism, soon followed by Conservatism, and the Socialist – Communist alternative. The collapse of empires – which are by definition multi-ethnic – led to the emergence of ethnic and nationalist concepts and loyalties, with the help of geography and regional facts.

Since the mid-20th century, specifically after the end of WW2, extreme racist nationalisms like German Nazism and Italian Fascism lost, leaving only one competitor to Western democratic concepts; it was Communism as championed by the two ‘red’ giants the USSR and China. With the exception of the countries of Eastern Europe which after WW2 technically fell under Soviet influence, the rest of Europe went through liberal democracy in different speeds and styles; from the smoothest and most sophisticated like the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland, to the rough and slow such as Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Despite these democratic strides, extremism, on the right or left, never disappeared. Rather, it managed to gain momentum thanks to several factors including foreign immigration, asylum seekers, terrorism, and adverse economic conditions. Today, extremist right-wing xenophobic parties are enjoying unprecedented popularity in countries like the Netherlands and Austria, while radical left-wing parties have broken the support base of moderate socialists in countries like Greece and Spain. Finally, a third trend, represented by nationalist – secessionist parties, has now become a reality that is proving itself through the ballot box without having to resort to violence.

Opinion: About Erdogan and Turkey’s Coup Attempt

Let me start by saying that even those who dislike Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and are not fans of his style of government, like me, did not support the coup attempt against a democratically elected government.

Erdogan, in fact, has never enjoyed a ‘carte blanche’ support; something proven by disagreements with his closest allies like former president Abdulla Gul and former premier Ahmet Davutoglu. Moreover, given the fact that his avowed enemy is the Islamist authority and entrepreneur Fethullah Gulen – now living in the USA – one may say that he is not entitled to claim a monopoly of ‘Political Islam’. Last but not least, if one looks at the latest Turkish general elections’ results, one notices that his victorious AKP achieved an absolute parliamentary majority (317 out of 317 seats) by winning 49.5% of the votes; which means that 50.5% voted against him and his party.

These facts are worth keeping in mind as Turkey slowly forgets its shock, and its political establishment begins containing the volatile situation, prosecuting the adventurers and those implicated in the coup attempt against democracy. However, if Erdogan has every right to cleanse the security agencies of elements found guilty of conspiracy against a freely elected government, he has no right of exploiting this conspiracy to amass more personal and partisan powers on Turkey’s security agencies, and pursue political revenge against his opponents.

Actually, Premier Binali Yidirim did well, the other day, when he praised and thanked the leaders of the opposition parties for standing against the coup plot. If president Erdogan follows suit, a proper relationship may develop between the government and the opposition in a healthy democratic environment; which is crucial as one of the most dangerous threats threatening Turkey is that of sliding into civil war that would tear the nation’s fabric apart. Thus there is no alternative other than consensus on democratic processes, including the political accountability, devolution of power, and respect of freedoms and rights.

Some may claim that the Turkish electorate were wrong to trust the AKP’s elections agenda and promises, but this may be argued against British voters who may have been wrong to opt for leaving the European Union, or American voters who twice elected Ronald Reagan the president of the world’s greatest power.

For the electorate, anywhere, to be wrong is not entirely strange, because democracy does not automatically mean one makes the ‘right’ choice; but what it does is that its mechanisms allow for ‘correcting the mistakes’ as it were, if properly exercised. What I mean is that any election result may be turned upside down in the following elections within four or more years, based on the principle of ‘trial and error’ which is the core of science as well as natural human interaction.

Furthermore, there is no guarantee that an individual or the population as a whole will not suffer from a misplaced democratic vote, however, this will be far less damaging, less costly and of a shorter duration than suffering under insatiable dictatorial ‘police states’ that respects no rights, no thought and no privacy. The Middle East has experienced several versions of such ‘police states’, and it is not difficult to see the outcome in the shape of disasters, backwardness, extremism, frustration and terrorism.

In some Middle Eastern countries – Arab, in particular, state apparatus and institutions have totally collapsed; ‘imported’ glittering progressive, liberal and nationalist slogans have become illusions, indeed, masks that cover the most parochial tribal, sectarian and local loyalties. The role of the armies has changed from being ‘defenders of the homeland’ to becoming murderous militias using the most lethal prohibited weapons against innocent unarmed civilians, and displacing millions.

On the other hand, in other countries in the Middle East that have chosen the path of ‘revolution’, in the name of the ‘downtrodden’ against the forces of internal corruption and foreign ‘arrogance’, religious mottos have become a cover for financial and militaristic ‘mafias’ expanding everywhere, creating regional militias, and inciting civil wars that are sowing the seeds of hatred and reaping conflicts.

Turkey is today watching frightening examples throughout the Middle East. It fully understands how tenuous its position is, beginning with Washington’s regional bet on Kurdish ‘nationalism’, including the position of an aggressive and expansionist Iran that claims control of four Arab capitals, three of which – Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut – are close to Turkey, and culminating in Moscow’s political and military pressures, along with uneasy relations with Israel and Egypt.

In fact, despite the fact that Ankara has received many messages expressing support for ‘Turkish democracy and legitimacy’, it would be naïve to believe that these messages reflect the real strategic positions of the senders. I personally reckon that Erdogan does not believe those who were claiming solidarity with him would not have sided with coup plotters had the Turkish streets been lukewarm, and had opposition party sensitivities not declared their strong rejection of the return of military dictatorship.
One thing that must be beyond doubt is that the regional and international justification for the failed coup was ready for marketing in several capitals, which would love to see a different leadership in Turkey, and do not believe that ‘some’ people deserve liberty and democracy.

This is why I say the Turkish regime won its fights a couple of days ago thanks to the backing of the Turkish people who refused to go backwards. However, this difficult experiment is bound to teach valuable lessons; and this is an opportunity for the Turkish leadership to draw the right conclusions, shield itself with its people’s trust, and develop a wise strategy for a cohesive state and effective regional and international power.