Lebanon’s Association of Banks President: Political Settlement in Syria Promotes Economic Prosperity

Beirut- Association of Banks in Lebanon President Joseph Torbey said the group’s delegation, which visited Washington recently, heard positive remarks acknowledging ABL’s full commitment to the banking sector’s strict regulations.

Torbey confirmed that the delegation met a score of praise for the body’s spent efforts to safeguard the finance and banking sector of the Middle Eastern country, and to counter money laundering, terror funding and tax evasion.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Torbey reveals that Lebanon is “wisely handling imposed US sanctions” against the country’s ‘Hezbollah’ group.

“I repeatedly said that they (US sanctions) do not target Lebanon’s banking sector.”

He stressed that confidence in the Lebanese banking sector stems mainly from its full compliance with all international standards on combating money laundering and terrorism financing, and enjoys a strict legal, legislative and regulatory framework.

“Lebanese banks are known to play a leading role in employing good governance and risk management standards, and their adherence to various international standards such as Basel I, II, and III– supporting their flexibility and endorsing investor confidence and that of local and foreign depositors. The commitment of Lebanese banks to implement the FATCA (The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act ) also contributes to this confidence,” said Torbey.

Addressing all discouraging rumors on the national currency facing fears of dropping, Torbey said that the central bank’s foreign currency reserves stood at around $43 billion and that Lebanon ranked third in the region in terms of the size of the gold reserves.

“Media outlets have recently echoed opinions saying that the monetary situation in Lebanon is on the brink of abyss—these views were based on studies and figures that the central bank did not take long to refute,” said Torbey.

“Documents and reports belonging to international financial institutions that indicate the opposite of the skeptics were presented, going against negative views,” he added.

“Banque du Liban recently undertook financial engineering (late August) to provide services to banks dealing in Lebanese currency at an interest rate of 2 percent,” said Torbey.

Recently enforced facilities were employed under the conditions designed to strengthen Lebanon’s foreign currency assets and national treasury bonds, further stabilizing national economy.

“These funds are used to purchase Lebanese treasury bonds in primary or secondary markets, and provided that these banks employ equivalent amounts in US dollars with the central bank in the form of deposits with maturities of over five years,” said Torbey.

“The public opinion in Lebanon, as well as that of investors, is formed with awareness and a long-established experience that goes against seasonal negativity,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Leading economic analysts agree that the factors, which contribute to maintaining the stability and stability of the Lebanese lira’s exchange rate, are stronger than ever.”

“These factors include political stability and security of the country, the existence of a national unity government that seeks to adopt reforms, activate roles played by institutions and, most importantly, the large size of the central bank’s foreign currency reserves.”

He also pointed out that a political settlement in Syria will “play a fundamental role in restoring confidence not only to Syria, but also to countries suffering from the consequences of the Syrian war, such as Lebanon.”

“There is no doubt that the return of stability to neighboring Syria would have a positive effect on Lebanon, whether it be by the reopening of land border crossings for Lebanese exports to regional Arab countries, or through the availability of new investment opportunities,” commented Torbey.

Added to that, the banking official said a political solution in Syria will likely yield in an improved business environment and opportunities for launching new projects.

The solution “may help improve the situation of Lebanese institutions operating in Syria, including banks,” he said.

Commenting on the situation of Syrian refugees, Tarabay said a settlement will speed up the process of returning Syrians to their homes, easing the pressure on Lebanese infrastructure and public finances.

Last March, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Lebanon was close to “breaking point” due to the strains of hosting 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and he feared unrest could spiral from tensions between them and Lebanese communities.

A political Syrian settlement would result in an increase in the flow of capital and remittances of expats to hosting countries, improve tourism, and encourage domestic and foreign investors, thereby accelerating economic growth.

British Government Spokesman: Houthis are not Cooperating, We don’t Support Kurdistan’s Referendum

Dubai – British Government’s spokesman in the Middle East and North Africa, Edwin Samuel, said his country was targeted by organizations such as ISIS, but that would not deter the British people from promoting a pluralistic and diverse lifestyle to overcome terrorism.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Samuel said: “The British government is strongly facing the extremist ideology, by supporting voices of moderation, especially in our religious communities and civil society, as well as obstructing extremists and chasing advocates of radicalism, and by seeking to build more cohesive societies.”

“We need to propose a way of life that respects tradition and religion, but also offers an opportunity so that young people are not exploited by a false doctrine. We can learn a lot about this from our allies, especially Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Asked about provocative speeches that are made under the concept of freedom of opinion, especially in Europe, Samuel said that his country was closely monitoring those who “spread the ideas of violent extremism.”

“If they break the law, they are prosecuted. If they don’t, we campaign against them openly and challenge their ideas,” he noted.

Samuel went on to say: “As Prime Minister Theresa May said, the defeat of extremist ideology is one of the greatest challenges of our time, but it cannot be defeated by military intervention alone, or by defensive operations to combat terrorism.”

In this regard, he stressed the importance of turning people’s minds away from violence and “make them understand that our values, the values of British pluralism, are superior to anything advocated by the promoters of hate and their supporters.”

The British government’s spokesman also touched on the situation in the region and the crisis between the Gulf States and Qatar, voicing UK’s concern over the ongoing rift between Doha and its neighbors.

“The United Kingdom is very concerned about the ongoing tensions in the Gulf because the GCC is our strategic partner, and we are in constant contact with our Gulf friends to encourage de-escalation, and we strongly support the Kuwaiti mediation efforts,” Samuel stated.

As for the UK position on Yemen, the British official reiterated the Kingdom’s support to the Saudi-led military intervention in the country, noting that Houthi rebels have failed so far to show goodwill and to cooperate effectively to reach a solution to the crisis.

“Houthis are not cooperating in the way they negotiate and they need to understand that the restoration of the legitimate government in Yemen is inevitable… They need to show goodwill by negotiating in good faith,” the British official said.

He stressed that the United Kingdom’s main concern was to stop the cholera epidemic and to get aid to the Yemenis.

“There is no military solution. Yemen has always suffered from a developmental and humanitarian problem; if we fix the fundamental problem, those, who might want to create problems from outside like Iran, will not find fertile ground,” Samuel said.

Underlining the British support to the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, the official said that his country was assuming a leading role in diplomatic efforts, including bringing together key international actors in an attempt to find a peaceful solution.

“The United Kingdom also plays a key role in humanitarian response as the third largest humanitarian donor to Yemen (after the United States and the European Union),” he added.

On Syria, Samuel said the situation there would remain complicated in the absence of a political solution.

“From the beginning, we were saying: The Syrian crisis needs a political solution that leads to a comprehensive transitional government that encompasses all the Syrians, excluding all those involved in shedding Syrian blood,” he stated.

“I lived in Syria when I studied Arabic in 2007 and 2008, and I knew it was a happy and varied life where all Syrians coexisted, regardless of their background. It is worse and more complicated now because of multilateral actors and the interference of foreigners, including Iran, Russia, and foreign extremists,” Samuel recounted.

“[President Bashar] Assad must leave,” he stressed, “and the Russians must help manage the transition away from Assad. We need to defeat ISIS to move to a national unity government.”

Asked about UK’s stance towards the independence referendum in Kurdistan, which is to be held on Monday, the British government’s spokesman said: “Britain’s position is clear. We do not support the aspirations of the Kurdistan Regional Government to hold a referendum on September 25; the referendum threatens to increase instability in the region at a time when the focus should be on defeating ISIS.”

He noted in this regard that the United Kingdom has proposed the resumption of a new round of talks between the governments in Baghdad and Erbil, which would address all points of disagreements between the two sides.

He also said that such talks should be held without preconditions with the support of the international community.

McMaster: Iran Biggest Threat to Arab Security

Trump announces Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his National Security Adviser at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida

The West Wing looked a bit in disarray with boxes all over …After the big renovation in August – there were unpacked packages, but – new paint …

In a way – it reflects what the White House has been going through …After the noisy exit of Steve Bannon and his protege Sebastian Gorka – the “Globalists” – as Bannon likes to call them – WON! That means – H.R McMaster, Gary Cohn and Jared Kushner.

But McMaster who had been a target for false rumors and well-planted leaks during these West Wing’s internal fights did not look victorious. After all – the veteran general came to the White House to lead our policy regarding Nuclear attempts by N. Korea, Iran ..To increase the fight against terror …These are more familiar territories to him, than dealing with Dc’s gossip.

So now – it is time to view with him, in depth, for the first time, the Trump administration in each key part of the world.

Naturally – we opened with the 2 Nuclear pending threats: Iran and N. Korea>


Q. We are 2 years (out of 10) into this controversial agreement ..WHERE do we stand?

A. “As President Trump has repeatedly said, the Iran nuclear deal was the worst deal of all time. There are many reasons for that. One is that nearly all the benefits for Iran were provided upfront.

“Also, the deal sunsets after ten years—now eight years, since two have already gone by. Iran can wait out the deal, and when it expires, have a threshold capability that will allow the regime to move toward nuclear weapons very quickly. All the while, Iran could develop missiles and delivery systems.

“President Trump will make the decision about our ongoing participation in the JCPOA according to his top priority, which is the safety of the American people. His administration’s job is to provide him with a full range of options with that directive in mind. As long as the United States and our partners remain parties to the deal, we have to hold Iran accountable to its terms. We know that Iran already violated the agreement—for instance- under the terms of the deal, when Iran violates it, they are given notice. And if they get back into compliance under a certain time, they are no longer considered in violation. That’s just another way that this deal is great for Iran and dangerous for everyone else.

“So, the first step is to rigorously enforce the deal. There are all sorts of inspections which could be made and are not made. There are many monitoring capabilities that have not been put in place. All parties should insist on rigorous enforcement.

“The President has already declared that the Iranian regime is not living up to its obligation. They are certainly not living up to the spirit of this agreement. Instead of contributing to regional peace and security, as the deal calls for, Iran is using proxy forces and a terrorist network to foment violence and victimize innocents across the greater Middle East. The Iranian regime is seeding these networks with increasingly destructive weapons as they try to establish a bridge from Iran to Lebanon and Syria.”


Q. Regarding North Korea ..I am sure, we are trying to learn everything about Kim John Un, and predict his next move …

A. “As to what will happen, it is impossible to predict. This is a regime that has committed egregious crimes against its own people—that has carried out an assassination in a public airport using a banned nerve agent, and repeatedly shows its disregard for its international obligations. How predictable is a regime like that, in terms of using the most destructive weapon on earth?

“A great achievement of President Trump—in addition to uniting many nations and building consensus—has been to work with China, and increase Beijing’s cooperation in pressuring North Korea, through imposing new sanctions, and by enforcing existing sanctions. There may be limits on what China is willing to do. We’ll see. But there’s no question that China has more leverage than any other country to convince North Korea that pursuing nuclear weapons is against Pyongyang’s own national security interests. We are not asking China to do us or anyone a favor. It is clear that a nuclear-armed North Korea is a grave threat to China.”

“The President’s has made clear to the world that North Korea is now a grave threat to all of us. Because it is a global problem, we see the international community joining us in sanctioning North Korea.

“What is different today than in the past is urgency. North Korea is rapidly advancing its missile and nuclear capabilities. We do not have time.

Q. And since we don’t have time, shall we try every possible avenue, like direct talks?
A. “The President has directed us not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Past efforts have resulted in long, drawn-out talks that delivered unsatisfactory, weak agreements that North Korea immediately broke. All the while, they locked in the achievements that they made—advances in their weapons program—as the new normal.”

Q. So even if the opportunity comes, you will reject a direct meeting?

A. “The President does not believe that now is the right time to enter into negotiations with North Korea, particularly given North Korea’s continued belligerent actions. We have stated repeatedly that the door to dialogue is open, but North Korea must, as a first step, stop its increasingly provocative and threatening actions and take initial steps towards denuclearization.”


Q. Afghanistan:‎ What is the current policy? WHAT EXACTLY are we changing?

“For too long we focused on tactics—debating the precise numbers of troops to commit –when our focus should have been on strategy – how to achieve a sustainable outcome in Afghanistan and South Asia consistent with US and our allies’ vital interests. The President demanded a complete appraisal of the situation, challenged assumptions, and asked all of the tough questions. He directed the development of a strategy that prioritizes the security of American citizens and the US homeland; provides US, Afghan and coalition forces all of the tools and authorities necessary to defeat the enemy; is sustainable over time; and shares responsibilities and burdens with others.

The South Asia strategy the President unveiled on August 21st differs from the policies of the previous administration in many ways:

• No timelines for withdrawal. Conditions on the ground will drive the strategy. The Taliban, al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups cannot wait us out. And the US will no longer announce plans to our enemies.

• The strategy integrates political, diplomatic, and military efforts. We will be realistic about what we are trying to achieve. The previous administration sought to strike a bargain with the Taliban, while US Forces withdrew. It was a rush to failure, similar to how the disengagement from Iraq led to the rapid growth of ISIS in 2014. Instead, the United States and our partners will better support the Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and pursue a political settlement under the right conditions.

• NATO allies and partners for the Afghan mission are pledging increased military efforts and financial support. And all of us will work more closely with other nations to ensure they are playing a constructive role in supporting a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

• President Trump has lifted restrictions the previous administration placed on our warfighters in Afghanistan just as he did in the highly successful campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Our military now has what it needs to support courageous Afghan soldiers and relentlessly pursue the enemies of all civilized people.

Q. What about next door Pakistan? After all – this is where we found Osama Bin Ladin, living so close to the President (then Asif Ali Zardari)’s place …

A. “We are fundamentally changing how we approach the problem of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan. The President expects Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorist groups based on its territory and will condition US security aid to Pakistan, accordingly. Pakistan has paid a high price in its struggle against terrorist groups, but it has fought these groups selectively, while providing support to others, such as the Taliban and the Haqqanisas the President stated in his speech announcing the strategy. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our efforts in the region. But it also has much to lose unless it stops its support of groups that are attacking US interests in Afghanistan.”


Q. You fought in Iraq .. Looking at the current chaos there …Was it worthwhile?

A. “Most problems in Iraq today stem from our disengagement before military gains were consolidated politically. The complete withdrawal of US forces in 2011 led to the collapse of large portions of the Iraqi state and the rise of ISIS, which led for example to the fall of Mosul. Courageous Iraqi forces recently liberated that city, in part, because of President Trump’s decision to prioritize the fight against ISIS and to give his commanders the necessary authority to fight and support partner forces more effectively.

Q. Are we going to divide Iraq? There is a referendum later this month, refounding a new Kurdish state?

A. “Regarding the referendum the Kurdistan Regional Government announced for later this month, it remains to see what will happen. But our strong view is that it is in the interest of Kurds and of all Iraqis to have a unified Iraq. Now is not the time to divide the country. If Iraq fragments, the main beneficiaries will be the Iranian regime or groups like ISIS, both of whom seek to perpetuate ethnic and sectarian conflict among Iraqis. For years, the Iranian regime has been able to exploit the Iraqis’ factional infighting to infiltrate and subvert Iraq’s state institutions. At the same time, Salafi jihadi terrorists such as al Qaeda in Iraq and ISIS have used ethnic and sectarian competition for power, survival, and resources to portray themselves as protectors of the Sunni population. The best weapon against these dangerous forces is Iraqi political unity based on a common vision for a secure and prosperous Iraq.”

* U.S.-UK:

Q. Just before the vote about Brexit happened, I was in London. Former President Obama was there as well, almost threatening the British voters, that Brexit would hurt their special place and relationship with the US …

A. “Obviously, that was up to the British people to decide … The US view is that we want to do everything we can to preserve and strengthen the special relationship. We are bound together by common interests and values. The problems we face today are problems that demand international responses. That heightens the importance of our relationship with the UK and our relationship with Europe as well”

Q. In that case, what if other countries follow the UK, and leave the EU?

A. “That will be up to the European individual countries. Our priority is our relationships with the United Kingdom and the European Union. These relationships and our relationship with each European nation are essential to achieving our common goals and ensuring the security and prosperity of our citizens”


Q. US and Turkey have not enjoyed the best relationship in recent years…

A. “Turkey is a NATO ally. It is an ally who has fought with us, assisted us in many conflicts. As a young boy, I listened to my father’s experiences in Korea, and he had the great affinity for Turkish troops, alongside the US forces, who have been with us, especially in the Middle East, after 2003.

Turkey is on the front line of human catastrophe! As you know, they absorbed so many refugees ..Turkey, is increasingly, recognizing that the best way for Turkey to emerge stronger from this conflict, for security and stability in the Middle East. It is for us, to work together better than we have ever done in the past. ”

Q. We recently raised the issue of violation of human rights, regarding the aide to Egypt ..What about journalists and others, jailed in Turkey?

A. “It is really a question for the Turkish people to determine …It is important to raise ALL issues, that are involved, to strengthen our relationship ..Such conversations are happening, among friends, all the time ..President Trump prioritizes, how we can strengthen the relationship with Turkey.


Q. Why do you think, now – after so many failing attempts- is a better chance to achieve peace?

A. “What changed regionally can help change the problem …It can lead to new partnerships and relationships …
There is a greater alignment, among the Arabs against Iran!
If any Arab state would ask themselves: What is the biggest threat to our security today?” No one would say, it is Israel ..IT IS IRAN!
All the Arab states recognize the threat that Iran poses …
This recognition leads to tremendous possibilities which could lead not only to the (better) security of Israel but create some of the conditions necessary for lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians, but also improve the security of the Arab states in the region as well.

Q. So? Is anything moving??
A. “The President expects results …So the recent trip of Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt is a very important one. Time will tell ..”

Barzani: Maliki’s Crime against Kurdish Region Worse than Saddam’s Anfal Operation


Irbil – President of the Kurdish Iraqi Region Masoud Barzani expressed his disappointment and “bitterness” towards former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Baghdad’s treatment of Kurds during his time in office.

Barzani told Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday that Maliki’s term deepened the Kurdish desire for independence from Iraq, accusing the former PM of “committing a crime against the Region that was worse than Saddam Hussein’s Anfal operation” that left more than 180,000 Kurds dead.

He therefore reiterated his commitment to holding the Kurdish independence referendum as scheduled on September 25, saying: “The vote is decisive and it is the choice of the people and the majority of political forces in Kurdistan.”

The referendum must be held on time “unless there is a better alternative”.

Asked if this alternative exists, he replied that “this is just an opinion as there is a higher referendum council in Kurdistan that takes decisions unanimously.”

“We have heard from several sides that the timing of the vote was not appropriate and that it should be postponed for six months or a year…. Such an alternative would require guarantees from the Iraqi government and parliament, the United States, International Coalition, European Union and United Nations,” Barzani explained.

He noted however that such guarantees seem unlikely at the moment, which means that the referendum will be held on time.

Moreover, the Kurdish leader stressed that he will respect the will of the people if they rejected the independence, revealing that he would resign if such a result emerged and possibly quit political life.

He remarked however that it seems that the people are prepared and excited to hold the referendum, predicting that the majority will vote in favor of independence, “but all options are still on the table”.

Commenting on a meeting he held around a month ago with an Iranian delegation, Barzani revealed that it had relayed to him Tehran’s call for cooperation and coordination, but its reservations on the vote.

Iran said that the timing of the referendum was “not appropriate” and that it was better for Irbil and Baghdad to resolve their disputes and return to the constitution. He added that he did not receive any threat from the delegation over the vote, revealing that some Iranian threats were later made through the media, but he did not go into details.

The Kurdish leader also received at a later date Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who reiterated Iran’s stance on the referendum. The Turkish official noted that the war against ISIS was not over yet and that “the referendum may affect the security and stability in the region.”

“Cavusoglu acknowledged that the Kurds have been wronged, that the constitution was not properly implemented and that the region has the right to demand these rights, but hoped that this may take place within Iraq,” continued Barzani.

“We explained to him our perspective and our frustration after all efforts to establish real partnership with Baghdad failed. We did agree on maintaining contacts,” he said.

This is the same stance that he relayed to US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who echoed Ankara and Tehran’s concerns over the referendum.

Barzani did not rule out the possibility that the Kurdish region may end up being “besieged by Iran, Turkey and Syria,” adding: “We may be harmed by this, by they will be harmed even more if they resort to such a step.”

On the post-Saddam period after 2003, he expressed his “huge” frustration over the failure to establish a diversified and democratic Iraq.

“Everyone knows that we exerted great efforts to prepare for the overthrow of the regime in 2002 and we took part in the military operations. We have no regrets, but we were hoping for a greater opportunity and a chance for a new Iraq, based on fraternity and a federal democracy. We tried hard to achieve this goal, including the drafting of and voting on the constitution. Had it not been for the Kurdish people, the constitution would not have been a success,” he stressed.

“We initially agreed to establish a democratic civil state, but day after day it became very clear that the state shifted to become a religious sectarian one in Baghdad,” he lamented.

“They mobilized armies against us and cut the Kurdish region’s budget. Even if there are disputes between the region and Baghdad, how is this acceptable? Let us assume that we are in the wrong, how could a prime minister dare, with a stroke of a pen, cut the livelihood of an entire people? This is another form of the Anfal operation,” he declared.

“Yes, Maliki committed another version of the Anfal operation, but in another uglier way. We did not hear single voice of protest by any religious leadership or Shi’ite political parties in Iraq. We sought to establish a democratic federal Iraq, but Baghdad refused and we reached a conviction that we are not wanted there.”

He also accused the former Iraqi premier of withholding arms dedicated to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces that were allotted to it by the constitution. These same weapons eventually landed in the hands of ISIS, he revealed.

“Even in the war against ISIS, they did not offer to help us. We are the ones who helped the Iraqi army and allowed it to come to Mosul. We destroyed ISIS’ first line of defense and opened the way for the army… Even up to this moment, violations were committed, not by the army, but the Popular Mobilization Forces,” Barzani said.

In fact, he stated that he was surprised by the close cooperation between the Peshmerga and Iraqi army, despite the 50 to 60 years of war between them.

Asked if current Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s arrival to office improved ties between Irbil and Baghdad, Barzani replied: “He wanted to resolve these problems and he is different from others, but there are several obstacles ahead of him. I enjoy good ties with him and we are in constant contact, but I have reached a conclusion that Abadi cannot fulfill his pledges to us due to reasons out of his control.”

This reality and “the failure of Arab-Kurdish coexistence” in Iraq prompted Kurdistan to push for independence, he stressed.

Dutch Scholar Nikolaos van Dam: Syria in Dilemma


London- Syria is in a dilemma since the regime is unwilling to allow any true participation in the authority and the only way to change the regime was through military intervention – which has brought disasters in other countries, said Dutch scholar Nikolaos van Dam to Asharq Al-Awsat.

However, he added that the fact that western states have changed their attitude towards Bashar al-Assad and accepted that he remains during the transitional phase opens the door to test the settlement.

“Everyone who knows Syria and its regime’s structure is aware that Assad will stay unless obliged by military force to leave,” said van Dam as he differentiated between the Syrian regime and other regimes with two things: the formation of armed forces and intelligence bodies and the minority intellect.

“When the minority senses that it is threatened – whether true or not – it becomes more coherent,” he added.

Yet, van Dam who published his book “The Struggle for Power in Syria” decades before, pointed out that the regime is no more fortified against the interior.

“Many in the regime and army are discontent of how things went. There is always a possibility of something happening, but the problem is that the Alawite captains are the most capable to carry out a coup… If they do so, will they get full support from the army?” he questioned.

One of the suggested resolutions for Syria is to adopt administration decentralization with keeping centralization in Damascus, van Dam added as he stressed that the regime won’t approve anything that threatens its power.

He was previously a Dutch Ambassador to Egypt and Turkey and a former envoy to Syria – he also published lately his book “Destroying a Nation”.

“How do you see the fact that British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson accepted the departure of Assad within a transitional phase while his French counterpart said that the priority is to fight ISIS?” asked Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

“They should have thought of this six years ago because one of the difficulties in the Syrian negotiations is the pre-condition of Assad absence. With such a condition, Assad won’t accept to negotiate,” he replied.

“But the case was different in 2011, there was an Arab Spring,” commented the newspaper. He replied, “True, it was different and there was no bloodshed. They said that Assad is illegal and should depart but this is wrong – in my opinion. Everyone who knows Syria and its regime structure would be aware that this wont happen if not forced militarily.”

“Western states thought that Assad will depart as Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali did,” he continued.

“How does the Syrian regime structure differ from that of other regimes, Tunisia for example?” the newspaper asked.

The reply was, “The main difference lies in the formation of armed forces, intelligence bodies and key positions. They are all connected directly or indirectly to Assad. Further, they are connected to the minority intellect… The structure differs from the Tunisian and Egyptian ones – the Syrian regime has half a century of experience in eradicating opposition.”

The newspaper asked, “The biggest question is: Is forming a joint military council the solution?” The answer came as follows, “between the regime and the opposition, yes, such as the Free Syrian Army.”

Commenting on the concerns over dividing Syria, he assured that both the regime and opposition want a unified Syria, but they wanted it under their control. He also reiterated what has been mentioned in his book that the western states have given a wrong impression, making the opposition sense that they abandoned them.

“How do you view Syria in 2021?”

“Assad wants to stay until then. I see 2021 as an opportunity to hold elections and change the regime… Assad is not irreplaceable. If he departs, there must come a president capable of changing and developing the country,” said van Dam.

Poet Ali Al-Damini: Voice of Modernity in Saudi Arabia is still High


Dammam – “On the way towards the poem’s doors”, the paths meet at the threshold of the experience of Saudi poet Ali al-Damini, who actively contributed in the establishment of the modern poetic movement in Saudi Arabia and became a prominent name in the stumbling modernity project.

Two years ago, the elite of poetry, criticism and literature met to present their appreciation for the poetic and literary experience of Damini, and his dedication to the modernity project. They poured all their gratitude in a book called “On the way towards the poem’s doors… Ali Al-Damini, studies, readings, and testimonies on his poetry and cultural experience”.

Dr. Mojab Al-Zahrani described him as a “transparent lyricist whose original poeticism is expressed when he talks about love.” Poet Fouzia Abu Khaled meanwhile described him as the rebel poet in both form and content just as the sea winds that cannot bear the burden of stability.”

Asharq Al-Awsat met Damini at his Saudi residence in Dammam to talk more about the modernity project, his poetic and literary experience.

– You were the voice of the stumbling modernity project in Saudi Arabia. How do you look at this project today?

Modernity in accordance to its values that govern the sovereignty of rationality, freedom, democracy, liberation of the self, and creative existence from the burdens of heritage, customs, style, and social and political oppression, can only be achieved in general within a system of dialectical and integrative interactions between the cultural, social, economic and political component of any society. It is not limited to thought, literature and arts alone, although the latter maintains a different privacy and independence.

We have therefore seen that the effects of modern thought, philosophy and creativity have accompanied the Renaissance and contributed to the emergence of modernity in the West in general. To a much less extent, the intellectual and literary interaction in the Arabic capitals, from Cairo to Beirut to Baghdad, has been affected within the particularity of the superstructure. This superstructure has since the beginning of the 20th century been open to all that is new in the world, with output that is outside the Arab world intellectually and literary, despite the lack of Arab cultural, social, and political structures.

– How is the project of modernity born from the womb of a tribal society and how can it grow in a fundamentalist environment?

We can look at our society in Saudi Arabia where we witnessed Mohamed Hassan Awwad’s loud voice in the stronghold of fundamentalism and tribalism to usher in a new era that looks forward to freedom, free thought and new creativity. He was a pioneer in writing free verse poetry in the Arab world. This happened despite the ferocity of confrontation with socially and politically conservative structures. Many names can be stated here, especially in the fields of literature, social thought, and creativity, such as Abdullah Abdul-Jabbar, Hamza Shehata, Abdulah Al-Qassimi, Ahmad Sbaie, Abd Al-Kareem Al-Juhaiman and many others.

– What about you?

If we talk about the field of poetry specifically, I count myself as a branch in the tree of renewal, freedom and renaissance in the whole world. I consider myself as one of those who walked on this long path in our country, such as Hasan Qureishi, Ghazi Al-Gusabi and Mohammed Al-Ali.

– Can a modernistic experiment in literature be accomplished in isolation from society?

The journey of modernity in literature and poetry in our country precisely cannot be accomplished unless all components of society are integrated to reach the values and mechanisms of modernity in its different aspects. Here comes the part of poetry and other arts to play an enlightening role in this stage and context.

– What did this project achieve at the public level?

I affirm that the project of literary and artistic modernity in our country has overcome all the violence from all social and official sides. Despite all the obstacles, it was able to draw a bright picture that we cherish in literary criticism, poetry, narration, experimental theater and new cinema.

Concerning poetry in particular, we can name some prominent poetic names in the Arab world, such as as Mohammed Ali, Mohammed Al-Thubaiti, Fawzia Abu Khaled, Ahmed Mulla, Jassim Al-Saheeh and Ali Al-Hazmi and others.

– You supervised the cultural appendix “Almarbad” in the climax of the battle between the modernists and their opponents. To what extent did you succeed in embracing the marginalized voices at that time?

There were many newspapers at that time along with Al-Marbad, such as Al-Yamama, Riyadh, Al-Jazeera, Okaz newspapers, and then Iqraa magazine. Al-Marbad, despite the limited resources, was able to embrace many creative pens in poetry, story and criticism. It was an early platform for the publication of poets in our country who suffered from marginalization.

– Where are the voices of modernists today?

Those following our cultural platforms in newspapers, literary clubs, art associations, social networking platforms, libraries and book fairs, will hear the high voice of modernity in various fields. We have recently prepared a special file on the poetic movement in the Kingdom. It will be published soon in the Moroccan magazine, “House of Poetry”, and you will be delighted by its rich creative innovation and the multiplicity of sources. Poetry is written as a vertical poem, free poetry, and prose, in addition to the modern popular poem. As for literary criticism, we are living in its brightest stages, especially among our youth as seen in their masters and doctorate theses.

– Opponents of modernity raised the issue of religious sensitivity to block its movement. What did the modernists do to avoid falling into this trap?

The opponents of modernity used every possible way to stand against us, from fabricating charges of westernization, to vandalism, and distortion of the language of Quran. But modernity has won despite all odds.

– Do you still chant: “My blood is thirsty, and the stones of the valley are my tongue”? Are you still haunted with worries?

Yes, I’m still haunted with worries, looking for new aesthetic poetic paths that quench my thirst on the long path towards a better tomorrow, which I do not see today, but I never doubt it is born in every moment to shine on our bloody existence.

Al-Shammari: Saudi Arabia will Implement Large Projects in Iraq


Arar- Saudi Arabia’s Chargé D’affaires in Iraq Abdulaziz al-Shammari listened to Asharq Al-Awsat’s questions regarding the acceleration of the pace of rapprochement between Riyadh and Baghdad and its future prospects and impact on the peoples of both countries.

Following his visit to Jadida Arar border with Iraq, where he held talks with Baghdad’s ambassador to Riyadh, Shammari stressed that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Crown Prince have given directives to consider Iraq in all its classes and categories without discriminating between sects.

“The Saudi government is planning to implement large projects in Iraq to support the economy in the country, motivating the private sector and Saudi companies to enter the Iraqi market, start businesses there and seize opportunities,” Shammari said.

Any entry to a Saudi investor will be made through the Iraqi government, and there will be a lot of guarantees for investors and sites where they will invest in Iraq, Shammari confirmed.

The first phase will embrace projects implemented by the government of the Saudi leadership, so that it plays a significant role in supporting the Iraqi economy.

Despite acknowledging that the Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement will face some challenges, yet Shammari confirmed that the Iraqi citizen and the political leadership in Iraq have become aware of the sincerity of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and how some countries took advantage of the disrupted relation between the two countries, where their two peoples had the biggest losses.

“I expect that the Saudi-Iraqi relations in the next phase will be perfect and unprecedented, relations have been cut off for more than 27 years, and what I noticed from the leadership of the two countries is a race to develop and to discuss all the ways to strengthen these relations,” he said, noting that it will be a strategic partnership and in the interest of the two countries.

Saudi Arabia’s Chargé D’affaires in Iraq also talked about his personal security in Baghdad, and the role played by the rapprochement in reducing sectarianism in the region.

Regarding the Saudi delegation’s activity in Baghdad and what it is doing currently there, Shammari said that the delegation is residing in al-Rasheed Hotel and is carrying out all its diplomatic activities as it is receiving businessmen, Iraqi citizens, Iraqi MPs and politicians from different sects.

“As you know, Iraq is a country of different components, and this is an advantage. It has more than one religion and more than one component that are united by one state. This has been the case for thousands of years,” he said.

Moqtada al-Sadr: We don’t Want Two Armies in Iraq


Jeddah – Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of Iraq’s Sadrist movement, underlined the importance to integrate government forces with the fighters of the Popular Mobilization Forces under the leadership of the prime minister and the commander of the armed forces, pointing out that he refuses to have two armies in the country.

“The presence of the Popular Mobilization Forces outside the state is causing many problems,” he said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat.

Sadr did not rule out allying with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the head of the National Coalition Ammar al-Hakim in the upcoming elections, saying: “I have no objection to the alliance (with them), not as a person, but as the Sadrist movement, especially as we are about to form a bloc of independent technocrats to take Iraq to safety while providing services to citizens.”

The Iraqi official warned against the separation of Kurdistan, noting that he urged the region’s leaders to postpone the independence referendum, which will be held on September 25.

“We consider the Kurds as a component of the Iraqi people; however, problems accumulated by the previous governments have led them to call for independence,” he said, adding that Kurdistan’s separation from Iraq would “bring problems from inside and outside” the borders.

On the relations with Saudi Arabia, Sadr highlighted convergent views during his meeting with the Vice Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Prince Mohammed Salman bin Abdulaziz in Jeddah last month.

“We discussed with the Vice Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques several issues, mainly Iraq, as well as developments in the region, including Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Jerusalem, the Iranian-Saudi relations, and Baghdad’s relations with Riyadh. We have reached similar visions,” he stated.

“Prince Mohammed bin Salman was very frank with us during the meeting, as we were with him,” the Iraqi leader added.

Asked about the future of the Saudi-Iraqi coordination in wake of Abadi’s visit to the Kingdom, Sadr replied: “The visit of Abadi to Saudi Arabia comes within the framework of boosting the relationship between the two governments. My visit to the Kingdom aims to consolidate ties between the two peoples.”

He stressed Iraq’s keenness to improve relations with Riyadh during the current period, noting that in the past 10 years, there was a certain sensitivity that should be removed and that “tension is gradually being alleviated”.

Regarding Iran’s policies and interference in the region, the Shi’ite leader said: “We want the situation in the region to calm down and for all the parties to tolerate each other in order to consolidate values that would eradicate sectarian and political tensions.”

Commenting on the latest string of terrorist attacks against Saudi Arabia, Sadr stated that the Kingdom has terribly suffered from terrorism and extremism, “like all the countries of the world.” He called for unifying international efforts to end extremist and terrorist ideology.

On Syria, the Iraqi leader called for the withdrawal of all armed forces from Syria.

“The armed groups are supposed to withdraw (from Syria); and if the decision were mine, there would be no interference in Syrian affairs. My decision has angered many people, but I want to preserve the blood of the Syrian people.”

He noted that the departure of Bashar al-Assad would pave the way for peace in the country.

“The truth is that more than a month ago, I demanded that Assad step down for the sake of Syria, which is suffering from atrocities, destruction, war and terrorism,” Sadr said.

“If [Assad] steps down, there will be a breakthrough, and certainly greater peace,” he added.

Mercedes-Benz Middle East to Launch Eight Models in 2017 Fourth Quarter


London – Mercedes-Benz Middle East CEO Mark De Haes announced that the company is now technically capable of producing autonomous cars and has conducted the first autonomous drive in the region between Dubai and Abu Dhabi last November.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that Mercedes-Benz is waiting for the appropriate legal framework and infrastructure that allow the use of the new technology.

Mercedes-Benz “is the No.1 premium automotive brand in the world,” De Haes said.

He disclosed that the company is all set to launch “more than eight models” in the region this year. One of those is the E-Class Cabriolet, which will be launched in the region in the last quarter of 2017.

When asked whether Mercedes-Benz was the top premium car seller in the region, De Haes said that automotive brands in the region do not disclose their sales data, which makes it difficult for all manufacturers to determine where they and their competitors stand in the market.

“However, given our robust reputation and visibility on the road, we can confidently say that Mercedes-Benz is in a strong position regionally,” he added.

“Customers not only respect our brand, but also love it, and this connection is transferred from generation to generation.”

“We are confident that we will maintain our leadership position in the future, thanks to our wide portfolio that suits each individual’s needs and desires, our focus on the customer experience and the great support from our partners in the region,” he added.

As to the company’s performance in Gulf Cooperation Council countries, De Haes cited economic correlation in terms of consumer-product industry.

“In any country or region around the globe, there is a direct correlation between economic growth and the consumer-product industry, including the automotive industry,” he explained.

“The evolving economic landscape has had an effect on the consumer-product industries,” he added.

“However, we were extremely lucky that our portfolio has expanded at the right time and this has supported our performance in the region. This will help Mercedes-Benz maintain its position as the top premium car brand in the region.”

Elaborating on the future of the new models, De Haes said that the company adheres to a vigorous approach with high prospects lying ahead.

Commenting on the company’s vision, he said: “It is a dynamic one. We are launching more than eight models in the region, with the E-Class Coupé the most recent model to debut.”

Other models to be launched this year include the Mercedes-AMG E 63 4MATIC, the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4MATIC+, the new GLA, the Mercedes-AMG GT R, the Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster, the new E-Class Cabriolet, the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class, the big-shot CEO added.

De Haes revealed that the E-Class Cabriolet will be available in the Middle East in the fourth quarter of this year.

“Our E-Class models are highly sought after in the region, so we expect it will be in high demand.”

“As with our E-Class Coupé, the E-Class Cabriolet is developed with our philosophy of ‘The Best or Nothing’ in mind — delivering the highest quality of performance, alongside state-of-the-art technology and design,” De Haes concluded.

As for introducing new power-trains and autonomous driving features to new models in the region, De Haes said that the company continues to “push boundaries.”

“We are constantly pushing boundaries when it comes to autonomous driving and we are already working toward this goal both at the global and regional levels,” he said.

“Last November, we conducted the first-ever automated drive on the E11 highway from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in an E-Class, which was the first of its kind in the Middle East.”

“As a first step toward autonomous driving, our new E-Class sets the stage with its ‘intelligent Drive Next Level’ system. The vehicle is able to warn the driver of an imminent collision, provide optimum support with emergency braking and, if necessary, also autonomously apply the brakes.”

On a global level, Mercedes-Benz is leading the way when it comes to autonomous driving, and in reality, it already has the technical capability to implement this technology today.

Nevertheless, De Haes said that Mercedes can only introduce fully autonomous vehicles to the general public once legal frameworks and appropriate infrastructure allow the use of the technology.

Recently, Mercedes-Benz had a recent international recall. De Haes said that it also affected the Middle East.

“All affected customers in our region are being informed by the General Distributors of Mercedes-Benz. The necessary rework to install an additional fuse is being carried out by Daimler AG during a one-hour workshop visit at no cost to the customer,” he said.

Bahrain’s Interior Minister: ‘Qatar Government’s Policy Threatens GCC Security’

Bahrain's Minister of Interior Lieutenant-General Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa.

Manama- Bahrain’s Interior Minister Lieutenant General Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa said that Qatar poses a threat to the security of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries as it adopts a discrete policy and harbors extremist and terrorist elements.

“There are many facts that condemn the Qatari behavior, such as the attempted assassination of the King of Saudi Arabia, the coup in the UAE and support of conspirators to overthrow the regime in Bahrain. Thankfully, these attempts have failed, and if they had not, their consequences would have been grave,” Al Khalifa said.

He pointed out that Qatar continues to interfere in Bahrain’s internal affairs and spy on its security and military apparatuses, which threatens the country’s national security.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Khalifa added that Qatar also has naturalized a number of Bahraini families, affecting Bahrain’s social security; it has prevented the export of gas to Manama, forcing Bahrain to import it from Russia although Qatar exports it to different countries around the world; and it also disrupted the construction of a bridge between Bahrain and Qatar by not providing its share of the Gulf support program like its GCC counterparts.

On the Iranian interventions in Bahrain’s internal affairs, Khalifa said that the most important forms of the Iranian intervention in his country’s affairs are exporting extremist ideology, smuggling of weapons and explosives, spreading explosives-manufacturing technology and training Bahraini nationals to use weapons, explosives and field skills in order to support terrorism in Bahrain.

He noted that terrorist operations are managed by people who have fled and are present in Iran, confirming that his country has strengthened security capabilities in various aspects to face such challenges.

These interventions include the hostile statements made by Iranian officials at all levels.

“Iranian satellite channels and media have been working around the clock to spread hatred, malicious rumors and distort facts to serve their agenda in the region,” he said.

Khalifa replied to the question on how Bahrain is facing these interventions by confirming that it is redoubling the efforts of the security services in uncovering terrorist cells, identifying their sources and methods of work and arresting elements involved in terrorist operations that led to the death and injury of many Bahraini security personnel.

When asked about the security situation in Bahrain these days, Khalifa said that “despite security challenges facing the region, the security situation in Bahrain is stable in general due to the wisdom and leadership of the king, the efforts exerted by the government, the great sacrifices made by security men and the cooperation and awareness shown by citizens and residents to maintain security.”

“Every society faces its own security challenges, and here comes the role of the security institution to point out these challenges and take the necessary measures under the rule of law to eliminate it,” the interior minister explained.