Opinion: Telephone Diplomacy Between King Salman and Trump

Some inciting voices have condemned the fact that Saudi Arabia was not included in the countries on Trump’s travel ban list. The American President Donald Trump did not categorise Saudis as terrorists and did not ban them from entering the country. In addition to this, the President phoned the Saudi monarch King Salman bin Abdulaziz and consulted with him on matters in the region.

What was made public about the conversation can be described as an important shift in relations between the two countries. According to statements that both sides made, the King and the President talked about establishing safe zones for the Syrians, cooperating with regards to combating terrorism in the region and counteracting Iran’s foreign activities. They also spoke about the Muslim Brotherhood being a party that is responsible for terrorism for the first time and bilateral issues such as economic cooperation.

What confirms Washington’s new policy in the region in general is that President Trump made a similar phone call to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. These are not courtesy calls and neither are they calls to congratulate the President. Rather, they are political discussions about what should be done in the region. US-Gulf relations need to be repaired after the coldness that dominated the former President Barack Obama’s administration. The features of these relations are the unification of visions with regards to the region’s issues in the hope of stopping the chaos that has spread since 2011 and solidarity in fighting terrorist organisations that are spreading like cancer in the region.

Trump’s administration considered Iran as part of the problem whilst the previous US administration insisted that Iran was part of the solution. All of these are important developments that aim to end the chaos in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and unite forces in order to pursue and combat terrorist groups.

Discussing the Muslim Brotherhood in a telephone conversation with President Trump is no less important than considering Iran as the source of chaos. The organisation played a negative role during the unrest of the Arab Spring and is responsible for corrupting the Syrian revolution because it insisted on transforming it from a civil one to a religious one. It also tried to exploit its electoral victory in Egypt in order to dominate power and violate institutions. Likewise, Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party tried to do the same but foreign threats made it retreat and commit to the rules of democracy. The chaos in Libya is mostly caused by religious groups that are armed, extremist and affiliated to Al-Qaeda like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and Ansar Al-Sharia that do not recognise the state. Chaos caused by organisations that have a lot in common including extremist ideology and foreign points of reference has ripped the region apart.

Meanwhile, the previous American administration adopted a policy in Washington that does not hear, see or do anything. It considered the chaos as a local struggle, viewed it as a phase of historic transition and was willing to accept the results of this transition. The reality on the ground warns of danger that threatens the world, and planting terrorist groups in countries that have collapsed has become easy with the expansion of unrest. Today, there is international consensus that this approach was incorrect and there is a collective desire to cooperate to put an end to the chaos, eliminate terrorism and review concepts, methods and alliances.

Trump’s government said that it is ready and in a hurry to engage in a project to stop the chaos and defeat terrorism. Trump, who has only been president for ten days, is announcing his intention to establish a safe zone for Syrian refugees after former President Obama refused to set up these zones for Syrians who are displaced. There are more than 12 million displaced Syrians in Syria and outside the country.

Finally, the stances of others towards Trump, his administration and his foreign and domestic policies should not affect us, and we should not make prejudgements. What is more important is that we form our vision based on the issues and solutions that Trump’s administration proposes for our region and its readiness to cooperate positively.

Identity, Future between ISIS and Qaeda

ISIS

Riyadh – Observers have agreed that ISIS stole the lights from al-Qaeda and succeeded in concentrating its presence on the international arena as a draconian and violent organization, which expanded its geographic control and gained followers across the world. However, many indications say that ISIS’ power has diminished after the hits it received – especially in Iraq and Syria along with the strategic re-ascension of al-Qaeda.

This retreat was a natural result of the organization’s persistence in brutality and its neglect for the strategies that attract supporters on the long term. In fact, differences between ISIS and al-Qaeda are significant on the levels of planning, targets, and structure.

Al-Qaeda has launched its terrorist activities in the nineties, before any other extremist organization. It has kicked off its connections by releasing letters written by its main leaders before moving to voice and video recordings that focus on the central goal of the organization.

These tools have emphasized the remarkable importance of its leaders and its hierarchical structure, particularly during the era of Osama bin Laden, whose regular appearance in videos reflected his charisma and ability to convince others with his beliefs, turning him into a phenomenon.

Interest in Bin Laden started in the western media, later his letters were regularly covered by a Gulf-based channel, which persisted on translating his speeches into English.

Media Strategies

Since that stage, al-Qaeda’s media strategy didn’t witness any remarkable changes. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organization’s leader who succeeded Bin Laden, used to appear every once in a while in videos to mark his presence or to tackle important issues, including ISIS’ deeds, its illegitimacy and draconian practices.

The same strategy was used by Hamza bin Ladin, Osama’s son who appeared in a video on the 9th of July 2016 trying to follow his father’s rhythm in communicating with others. He overlooked technological advancement and used his father’s traditional style in reaching his goals.

Along with his will in avenging his father’s killing, Hamza’s speeches sought to incite against Saudi Arabia and to encourage people on joining al-Qaeda in Yemen. This call was part of the organization’s keenness to use Islam as an ideology and to target the West and precisely the United States which is considered the major enemy.

The young Bin Laden also sought to polarize extremists with the same political and religious goals. It is worth noting that communication between the organization and its supporters takes place through closed private electronic forums.

ISIS’s populist policies

Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS’ media policies have been more populist and focused on communicating with the audience regardless of its leaders’ appearance like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who has rarely shown his face.

ISIS ignored the traditional media and kept pace with the advancement of social media outlets. It overtook other extremist organizations by using websites like Twitter and Facebook and benefited from encrypted messages on apps like Telegram. This advancement allowed the organization to easily communicate with different regions in the globe, not only in the Arab world, but also in the West through different media messages based on the targeted party and in different languages.

As per recruitment, ISIS has targeted people suffering from psychological problems and discrimination because of their religion or ethnicity and recruited them with promises on providing them with a better environment, however, after joining the organization supporters were shocked with different circumstances and exaggerated brutality, which pushed many possible members to hesitate joining the group.

Organizational structure of al-Qaeda

In its beginnings, al-Qaeda was more powerful and organized – particularly in the phase of Osama bin Laden, the organization adopted a “structural hierarchy” that focuses on the control of the elite on the top of the pyramid; assigned to plan for operations usually implemented by regular members.

Structural hierarchy of ISIS

In spite that ISIS has maintained flexibility in recruiting members and communicating with them to carry out operations, Baghdadi has shown his keenness on the “structural hierarchy” of his organization to keep all the important decisions for the supreme leader.

Spirits and Minds

While ISIS appeared to be more brutal against people who oppose it, al-Qaeda has stuck to the same policy it has adopted since its establishment by soliciting its supporters’ hearts and minds.

Qaeda has also sought to gain the emotional and rational support of people in Yemen by suspending taxes which were imposed on incomes, considering it as non-religious practice. The organization has also spread videos showing its members providing medical services, paving local roads, and other practices that serve the Yemenis’ interests.

Opinion: Will Obama’s Policy Continue After His Presidency Ends?

For decades, the United States’ policy in the Middle East was based on fixed principles; its rejection of the Iranian nuclear project, a commitment to Israel’s security and ensuring the safety of energy sources, i.e. Gulf oil. For this reason, Washington confronted Iran and demanded two things from it; to halt its nuclear program and hostile foreign activities.

The political principles are built on one another; the Iranian nuclear project threatens the security of Gulf petroleum as well as Israel which continuously threatens the interests of the United States.

Since the arrival of Barack Obama at the White House, his policies are not based on the usual American principles – that’s the opinion of a number of politicians in the Middle East. His adoption of a different policy came as a shock to the region, including the Gulf and Israel, which viewed the nuclear deal with Iran as a dangerous change in the rules of the game. Obama has therefore been blamed for increasing the level of violence and armament.

The question remains, does Obama’s current policy express his vision of the world, or does it reflect the strategic shift in Washington? Obama has already talked about this transformation more than once; he said that his country no longer sees the Middle East as important to the United States, and that it seeks to pursue its interests in the Pacific, towards China and its neighbours.

Will the next president of the United States follow in Obama’s footsteps or will they return to the policy of former president George W Bush and previous American presidents when Washington grants itself a greater role in the affairs of the region?

It is not long before we see the truth; Obama’s presidency will end in approximately six months, and the keys to the White House and its files, including the Middle East will be handed to his successor. There are four wars raging in the region simultaneously which is something that has not happened since World War II. The Obama administration succeeded in killing leaders of terrorism at the beginning by killing the leader of Al-Qaeda Osama bin Laden, but terrorism has returned and is spreading through the region at a faster rate than before. Although President Obama has said more than once that his policy is to disentangle the United States from the wars and conflicts in the Middle East, the reality is that he has not done that.

His country is leading a major military alliance in the war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria, is still fighting Al-Qaeda in Yemen via drones. Indeed, reality demonstrates that the reasons for America’s old presence; oil, Israel and terrorism, have not changed. President Obama previously spoke about the motive for his desire to reduce Washington’s role in the Middle East; he said he was elected on the basis of his promise to the American people that the country would exit the wars in the region and that it has done so.

Another motive is the desire to end the United States’ conflict with Iran. Iran is taking advantage of Obama’s keenness to end the long dispute with it, and has therefore widened its aggressive political and military activities against America’s allies. Iranians now have considerable influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and they tried to establish the same in Yemen had it not been for Saudi military intervention that toppled the coup that would have installed a government loyal to Iran there.

The two presidential possibilities are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It is difficult to know how Trump thinks. The statements that he has made during his election campaign so far suggest that he is not committed to Obama’s policy and is willing to reactivate the United States’ role through a pragmatic partnership that serves the interests of his country. As for Clinton, her political positions suggest that she is ready to cooperate with Iran, but with more stringent conditions.

By the time a new president is elected in the United States, the Middle East will have reached a more difficult stage. The Syrian peace negotiations between the warring parties appear to be aimed at reducing the confrontations and preoccupation with worthless negotiations until Obama’s term ends. Washington is also involved in the war against ISIS in Fallujah and may get involved in Mosul later, but will not eliminate terrorist groups.

Obama is therefore leaving his successor a table full of dangerous and outstanding issues that will force them to adopt a greater role and reactivate the role of the United States in the Middle East.