Hamas Runs a Regional PR Campaign

Fatah’s Azam al-Ahmad (right) and Saleh al-Aruri of Hamas kiss after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo on Thursday.

Ramallah- Gaza ruling party Hamas is steadily on the track of restoring its ties with former allies while maintaining current friends. The move by no means is risk-free, as conflict pits parties Hamas views as valuable against each other.

It is no secret that the Islamist movement, which lost allies and won others, is planning broader and better relations with Egypt. It looks forward to opening up as much as possible to Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But it also strives to do the same with Qatar and Turkey, and to restore ties with Iran and Hezbollah, and perhaps the Syrian regime at a later date.

Officially, Hamas says it wants to maintain advanced relations with all Arabs in the region, as well as other countries, so long that it serves the best interest of the Palestinian cause.

Many Hamas officials, including Hamas Leader Khaled Meshaal, confirmed that this goes beyond playing along politics axes.

Hamas-affiliated writer and political analyst Ibrahim Madhoun said the movement will partially succeed in its endeavors.

“There are countries and people who understand the positions of the movement and there are other countries that are conservative, but this will not push Hamas to take a hostile stance or to back down,” said Madhoun.

“The movement will try to knock on these doors, and open areas with everyone in one way or another, especially central countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Egypt, as they stand to be the real supporter of the Palestinian cause,” he added.

According to Madhoun, “Hamas’ response to Egyptian efforts was not at the expense of Turkey or Qatar or of any other party, and neither will contact with Tehran be at the expense of Riyadh or the Gulf.”

“I believe that talking to Russia does not mean antagonizing the United States, although the latter takes a negative attitude. There are efforts by Hamas to infiltrate the American wall itself.”

Contacts made by the head of Hamas’ political bureau in the last two days, made it clear that Hamas actually tried to communicate with all sides openly as if it were sending out a message in every direction in this regard.

Gulf States Offer Deep Condolences to Saudi Arabia over Qatif Terror Attack

A number of Arab and Gulf states have expressed their deep sympathies and condolences to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which was ravaged by a terrorist attack against its eastern province on Friday.

The United Arab Emirates strongly condemned shooting incident, in al-Masoura neighborhood in Qatif governorate, the Saudi Eastern Region.

Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation stressed, in a statement announced here, full solidarity with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in all measures taken to maintain security and stability, reiterating the Emirates firm stance in rejecting violence and terrorism, in all forms and manifestations.

Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain each denounced the shooting which resulted in the death of one child, a resident and the injuring of others.

All states reaffirmed its full solidarity with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in combating violence, extremism and terrorism, expressing condolences to the families and victims of the attack, wishing them speedy recovery.

A Saudi child and a Pakistani man were killed and 10 injured when armed assailants fired at company workers carrying out a development project, then at bystanders and passers-by in Qatif.

The suspects, who fled the scene, also targeted company vehicles with explosives.

Policemen arrived at the scene and exchanged fire with the assailants, who then started shooting heavily and randomly, killing and injuring members of the public.

The Interior Ministry said security forces will continue their duty to enforce the law so as to guarantee the continuation of the project.

The ministry praised people who cooperated with the security forces. It urged everyone to stay away from the project area and the roads leading to it for their own safety. The ministry also called on the suspects to surrender themselves to the authorities.

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.

Opinion: The Struggle For Trump’s Mind

Due to the fact that the US President-elect Donald Trump does not have a previous political record, his positions on what is happening in the world are clear to see and various parties are trying to reconcile their stances with his general ideas that he previously talked about.

This is an academic exam that is not easy. For example, Trump previously said that he considered Iran’s regime to be responsible for the problems in the region, and he blamed the current administration for leaving the regime to defy the United States. At the same time, he said that he would cooperate with Russia to fight terrorism in Syria. The contradiction in the two statements can be seen by anyone who knows that Russia is an ally of Iran and is responsible, alongside the Assad regime that it supports, for the chaos in Syria and the killing of more than half a million people there, mostly civilians, and the displacement of another 12 million Syrians.

Trump’s position could be sound if he considered the fight against terrorist organisations such as ISIS and Al-Nusra Front as part of a major operation that equalises murderers i.e. the regime and terrorist groups.

The problem of President Barack Obama’s administration was that it separated causes from effects. It considered its only mission in the region to be the fight against terrorist organisations and it left chaos, killing, displacement and destruction to spread in conflict zones such as Syria, Libya and Iraq.

The Syrian regime and its allies have facilitated the expansion of ISIS in areas of conflict in order to fight the Syrian opposition. The outgoing president, Obama, has admitted that he made a mistake with regards to estimating the extent of danger and he blamed this, as is the habit of presidents, on information provided by the security services. Meanwhile, all those who watched the news on the television and witnessed ISIS’ actions did not need the opinion of the CIA to realise that terrorist organisations are growing steadily and that this is worrying.

The reason for Obama’s negligence and his reluctance to deal with the nutrients of terrorism such as chaos is that he was keen for his only political project in the region, reconciliation with Iran, to succeed. He was also keen on not offending Iran at a time when it was seeking help from militias in Syria and Iraq.

Although Trump’s orientation in the region is not clear and has not been announced, it is not difficult to find countries in the region that have common ground with him with concerning the fight against terrorism. This serious disease requires large countries to take firm positions against chaos. Terrorism exists in Iraq and will grow as long as Iran sponsors and insists on the presence of extremist Shiite militias at the expense of the independence of the Iraqi state’s stability and the sovereignty of its military bodies on its territory. Intervention and the method adopted by Iran will lead to more sectarian fighting and angry people joining Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and this is an expected result in light of the weakness of the central government and Iranian groups seizing the keys of governance.

The situation in Syria is more complex and difficult than in Iraq where there is no central authority that is recognised by the people. There are more than seven million Syrians who are displaced within Syria, five million others have sought refuge abroad and the sponsor of the majority of Syrian people wishing to confront the regime has become extremist organisations. The solution to this dilemma which requires the removal of extremists on both sides of the war is political. Without a just solution, ISIS will invest in a great pool of humans from which it will draw people to carry out its terrorist activities. Trump will realise that without acceptable peace in Syria, the world will not be safe from the evils of terrorism that are a result of the chaos and loss.

In Libya, the search for common ground with Trump will not be difficult compared to Syria. The chaos there is also the source of terrorism, but the forces of conflict can be influenced and extremist groups can be restrained and blockaded. These forces and extremists groups should not be part of governance because that would give them legitimacy and prolong the cycle of violence. In the case of Libya, there are no major opposition forces there and so the Trump administration will be able to cooperate with its European and regional allies and lend weight to legitimacy. It will also be able to impose a new phase that will end the chaos and eliminate terrorism.

These issues are related to the subject of terrorism which Trump has pledged to wipe off the “face of the earth” although implementing this promise is almost impossible. Once he sees the link between chaos and terrorism, it will not be difficult for his administration to adopt more decisive and courageous policy and you’ll find that the majority of countries in the region and the world are ready to support it.

Opinion: Returning to the Struggle Over Iraq

The main objective of battles in the region during the years following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime is Iraq, the strategic country which lies in the middle of the paths where Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey intersect regionally. It is also a global oil reservoir similar to Saudi Arabia.

Washington used to consider Iraq as the country that it was most concerned with extending its influence to after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union. The late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein hastened this process. A few months before the invasion of Kuwait, he announced that there was a vacuum in the region as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and that one of the powers in the region must fill it. Saddam’s analysis was correct but he made a mistake in calculating who was qualified for this role and what the limits of this activity were.

Accordingly, he invaded Kuwait and this reflected his simple understanding of international relations and major interests in the region. Kuwait is an important country and has ten per cent of the world’s oil reserves. The world would not leave it under Saddam’s rule and allow him to threaten Saudi Arabia’s security from it.

Saddam was defeated and then besieged for twelve years. Due to his refusal to deal with the reality around him and the failure of the blockade, changing the regime in Baghdad became a goal regardless of the excuses made. The Americans succeeded in changing the regime in Iraq and failed to manage it and the crises there. Then, Barack Obama’s administration came to power and it adopted a different and revolutionary vision; cooperating with Iran, the enemy, in Iraq and the region in order to solidify US interests and to achieve stability. Now, the Obama administration recognises that Iran used the nuclear deal and US flexibility to threaten not only the security of the region, but also the interests of the US itself.

This short review is necessary to understand the complex Iraqi subject as the conflict in Syria is in fact based on the conflict in Iraq and attempts to dominate it. Countries in the region including the Gulf countries and Turkey have tried to prevent Iranian expansionism but they have failed so far. The war continues in Syria and the conflict in Iraq has still not stopped.

The Russians have tried to infiltrate Iraq through oil and military deals, something that will not last long on the grounds that the United States believes that Iraq, more than Syria, is an important country for its interests in the region. It is likely that Iraq will be the focus of the next US political, economic and perhaps military battle.

The Republican Party’s presidential victory in America and its control over the majority of both houses of Congress is likely to bring attention back to Iraq on many issues. The first of such issues is counteracting Iran’s growing influence on governance in Baghdad caused by the US withdrawal that took place under Obama. The second is the troubled state of governance which was caused by ethnic and sectarian conflict, and the third issue is addressing regional relations linked to Iraq as a result of its strategic location which I mentioned at the beginning. All of this harms US and western interests in general with regards to enhancing regional security, fighting terrorism and confronting the Kremlin’s ambitions in key areas of the world.

Will the expected US interest in Iraq increase tensions and possibly worsen military conflicts? Perhaps, unless Iran accepts the fact that it will not be allowed to expand and dominate Iraq and the Gulf, and unless the president-elect’s administration shows its determination to confront Iran. Amongst Trump’s new leaders, there are those who believe unequivocally that the regime in Tehran is the source of the crises and wars in the region including those in Afghanistan, Pakistan and of course the Gulf, since the early eighties until today, and that it is more dangerous than the North Korean regime. It is likely that Iraq will be the test for the Trump administration’s seriousness when it comes to dealing with Iran.

This does not mean that the American administration will have to intervene militarily in a direct manner. There are many powers that oppose Iran in Iraq and they include Shiite powers or those allied to Washington such as the Kurds. It is possible to resist Iranian interference by working through the political system which the Americans built in the wake of the invasion, and without having to establish opposing armed groups.

What about the project to divide that has been increasingly discussed recently? I cannot imagine that this is a proposed option because Iraq is still intact despite its crises and it has not descended into the abyss of civil war. All the surrounding countries in the region including Iran, Turkey and the Gulf countries may differ politically on Iraq but they all agree on its geographic unity because they know that dividing a huge country is a dangerous thing to do. Regional and international powers will have to compete by working through the political system in Baghdad and decreasing Iran’s control over it.

25 Million Gulf Citizens Benefit from Eased Regional Travel in 2015

Riyadh- Initial statistics published by the information sector for The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf show that at least 25 million Gulf citizens have travelled within Gulf States in 2015. Gaining a dashing 89 percent increase compared to the 2006 statistics, which registered 13 million inter-Gulf travelers. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and UAE have ranked top as traveler destinations.

Regional visitors rocketed after border rules and residency regulations have been eased for citizens from the Gulf Cooperation Council states. Around 12 million Saudis benefited from eased border procedures, 4.4 million Omanis have seized the opportunities. Three million Kuwaitis and three million Bahrainis have used regional travel as well.

Statistics provided by the GCC General Secretariat showcased steady increase in the number of inter-regional private sector working citizens. At least 16,000 employees have been recorded working at a regional Gulf State in 2015.

Kuwait ranked first in being home to non-local Gulf nationals working in the private sector during 2015, at a rate of 66 percent, where the number of workers amounted to ten thousand employees.

Both UAE and Saudi Arabia ranked second and third respectively, in which the number of non-local Gulf workers reached 1,893 and 1,887 employees correspondingly. The number of workers in the Gulf state of Qatar recorded 959 employees. The number of GCC employees in Bahrain and Oman’s civil sector amounted to 512 and 163 respectively.

Russia, Europe, Iran and the Region

Since electing the U.S. Donald Trump, Europe has been in worry due to his electoral statements on the relation with Russia and him praising the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The simplest evidence over these concerns is the urgent conference called for by the European foreign ministries to discuss Trump victory consequences.

The European concern became clearer when the British foreign minister apologized for not attending the conference. A British official told The Financial Times that such a meeting is usually held to comment over a coup, a terrorist attack, an earthquake or any other disaster. “However what happened in the U.S. is a democratic elections,” continued the official.

The European concerns are due to the vague stances of Trump towards Europe on the military and economic levels, whether in the NATO or other signed agreements. Another reason is Trump stance towards Russia and Putin.

The statements of the U.S. President Barack Obama also made these concerns appear to the surface. He warned Trump of signing agreements with Russia “if these agreements were going to harm the people, violate international rules or leave the small countries in risk of attacks.” Obama called on Trump to directly discuss with Russia topics such as: Ukraine and Syria.

European concerns of Trump relation with the Russians is now a matter of fact—Europeans fear that they will be victims of this relation despite Europe’s military and economic strength.

The question here is, why do Europeans have the right to express worry of the Russia potential role in Europe while the Arab warnings of the Iranian dangerous expansion in our region were being neglected by the U.S., Obama and Europe?

It’s surprising how Europeans are worried of a possible Russian role, while the West and Obama disregard the Iranian destruction in our region.

Throughout the past eight years, the U.S. President has overlooked the Iranian damage; not only in the region but also against the Iranians themselves.

Why are Europeans allowed to fear the Russian role but our region has no right to fear the Iranians’ role?

Turkish Ambassador in Riyadh: Saudi Has a Strong Effect on the Region’s Politics

The Turkish ambassador to Saudi Arabia Yunus Demirer described Riyadh’s influence on shaping policies that affect societies in the region as “strong”. He also alluded to Saudi Arabia’s great efforts in fighting terrorism, extremism and extremist organisations like ISIS.

Demirer told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asserted the need to proceed with strengthening strategic cooperation between the two countries in all political and economic spheres during Erdogan’s latest phone call with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

He added that the two leaders discussed the latest developments in bilateral relations and issues of common concern. They also stressed the importance of overcoming stagnation with regards to the region’s issues, particularly the Syrian issue, and ways to advance the sovereignty of the international community in the framework of a political solution to the Syrian crisis according to UN resolutions and the Security Council .

The Turkish ambassador believes that the bilateral meetings between the leaders of the two countries display the depth and specialness of the relationship between Riyadh and Ankara. He also highlighted the existence of common ground and agreement on visions and ideas regarding all pressing issues that are crucial to the security and stability of the region.

Opinion: Development Through Continuity

The roots of trees remain as they are but get stronger with age. This is the natural course of life. Branches are always pruned and flowers pollinated so they can produce and continue to live. The tree of God’s creation is one and its conclusion is also one. Life is strengthened by continuity; the deepening of roots and the development of branches.

What is going on in Saudi Arabia is normal and binary despite its fast pace and uninterrupted rhythms. As soon as the details of the “Vision” for the state were announced, decisions for implementation began to be taken. This is probably the first time that development has taken place so quickly .States used to divide their future plans into five or ten year stages. However, here we have a vision that is based on the complete development of the state’s notions and styles of government that will lead to the establishment of an economy with diversified sources of income that accommodate the variables of life and the requirements of growth.

Saudi Arabia’s population has doubled in the past three decades but the source of wealth has remained one. The cycle of production has not been developed significantly and administrative performance has changed very little despite the make-up of society and the high proportion of young people, graduates and highly skilled citizens.

In their coverage of the small decisions, the world’s largest newspapers focus on the fact that the spear header and implementer of the vision is a young man of thirty.

The vision of Prince Mohammed bin Salman has filled the columns of the front pages of the world’s major newspapers in recent weeks. In any case, this is the only good news coming out of the region that has almost become accustomed to news of destruction, gloom and injustice.

In order to create the vision and implement it, it was necessary to stop being slow and break out of the routine. It was also necessary to regenerate by introducing the younger generation after most former ministers and administrators performed their duties with talent and displayed ability.

However, this stage requires utilising additional competencies that are compatible with the new perspective of the administration’s rules and concepts for its operation.

Opinion: Special Envoys and Crises

The sight of special envoys flocking to the region to resolve its crises is not a reason for optimism. Their presence in itself is an indication that local parties are unable to solve their own problems and have resorted to the international community for help and therefore the crisis becomes internationalised.

Currently there are four UN envoys in the region and three are dealing with post-Arab Spring crises and wars. They are the UN envoys to Syria, Libya and Yemen. We do not hear a lot about the fourth envoy, his crisis is an old one that dates back to the colonial period – the Sahara issue. The number of envoys to the region shows the scale of the crisis, turmoil and recent chaos.

Syria is the largest crisis in the region, and it seems that even the great powers which have become party to it are unable to arrive at a solution. The US Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement that the civil war there has become out of control in a number of ways indicates surrender to what is happening on the ground and the state of despair that has led to the brutal and horrific situation.

The least internationalised crisis is in Yemen due to the fact that regional parties led by Saudi Arabia are preventing the situation from spiralling out of control. The UN envoy to Yemen Ould Cheikh succeeded in gathering the warring parties in Kuwait, and despite Houthi violations and manoeuvres, there is reason to believe that a solution can be found in the future.

Libya is a different issue; there is no fighting or an internal war in the literal sense, but there is an attempt to restore militias and insurgents to government and remove ISIS supporters from oil fields. The goal of the international community is to stop boats of migrants crossing the sea and fight ISIS terrorism.

Crises feed each other and terrorism has become transnational. ISIS came out of the womb of the remnants of the Iraqi Ba’ath regime and then moved to Syria. It is now trying to expand in Libya in an effort to procure financial resources from oil smuggling. Internal crises create chaos, as happened in the Iraqi parliament recently and that pushed an MP to ask “Do you want us to be like Libya’s parliament which meets in Tobruk, hundreds of miles from the capital which the international community – backed government is trying to impose its control over?”

All parties are worried. If the Libyan government came from Tunisia, then most politicians in Iraq came via planes from the neighbourhoods of west London. We do not know where the rest of the governments came from, and this is why we appeal to the international parties to resolve their conflicts in the region.

It has been proven that the most complex and serious crises can be resolved through direct negotiations and sitting face to face, as Sadat did with Israel after four wars. The two countries made a peace agreement that still stands today and is considered one of the elements of the current regional system. Had Sadat relied on international envoys, Sinai would have remained in the hands of Israel to this day, just like the Golan Heights.

Syria is the centre of the crisis now, and reaching a solution there will result in the same happening in other inflammatory pits like Libya. Some fear that something worse than ISIS that will benefit from the remains and remnants of the Baathist regime will be born in Libya.

The two main parties, Washington and Moscow, need political will in order to resolve the crisis. However, to say that the situation is uncontrollable is unconvincing. The two main parties must detangle a complex web of strings, like Iranian interference and Hezbollah, that make the crisis difficult. Then they must address the Kurdish topic wisely to break up the scuffle with Turkey in the crisis. Washington and Moscow possess the tools and the ability to solve the situation.