The 21st century presents Arabs with many challenges that affect their existence and identity for many years to come. Many scholars are now concerned about how to maintain their  cultural identity without being dependent on the West who have the upper hand in terms of influence regarding educational and media systems due to the pervading globalisation which cannot be stopped or controlled.

Though many Arab intelligentsias have written many articles and books about the need for independence in the face of the West’s superiority; however, the risks of westernisation of Arab and Islamic culture are uncontrollable and the influence will be directed against Arab-Islamic heritage and national cultural identity. Though globalisation can be viewed as positive, many scholars consider it negative as a sign of colonialism and cultural invasion, which threatens people’s identity and cultural individuality. Thus, the creation of Daesh in Iraq and Syria as well as al-Qaeda aimed not only to destroy the two countries’ armies but rather to destroy their cultural and historical heritage which leads to deconstructing national identity as well. Why Daesh has destroyed historical sites in Iraq and Syria?

The Arabs and Muslims are living in the middle of the world. Thus, they are under the influence of power polarisation or polarity. One would notice that Arabs at present are living in a state of displaced, intellectual dispersion, cultural disparity or a state of cultural reliance.

Nowadays, the youth are thinking of recreating the old glory and dignity of the caliphate era as they consider they have lost their identity in the so-called “conflict of civilisations”. They wanted to reconstruct a new state which unify them all under the slogan of Islam. This has been the trap for many of them by Daesh and al-Qaeda which have netted a web that misled the youth who fold-blindly followed the path of radicalism to revive the era of the caliphate.

Arabs and Muslims, mainly the youth, due to the high levels of unemployment, are thinking crystallising an ideological and intellectual project that accommodates them to revive their ancient glories. This message would overlap between Arabs and Muslims in terms of originality and modernity because many of the youth, if asked, would say that the past of the Arabs and Muslims was much better than the present era as they were influential and had a say and now they are influenced and have to obey what other nations dictate on them. Thus, they believe the way out is by getting back to the foundations of Islamic religion, though it is restricted by many conditions and determinants in our today’s world to better shape their political and economic future.

In other words, Muslims and Arabs are torn apart between Islamic identity and modern identity. They seek to follow the Islamic teachings and no to relinquish modern civilisation’s blessings. The principle of Islamic identity is one of the Islamic principles. It has enabled the nation's prosperity. Thus, to understand how the young seek extremism, one should know why they follow the teachings of Jihadist leaders in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria and elsewhere.

In Samuel. P. Huntington's thesis “The Clash of Civilizations”, the West will try to rule the world by permeating their notions and morals in other countries.  Thus, the rejection to these plans comes from the young generation in the Arab and Muslim worlds as they are not bound to adhere to Western soul and ethics. Such rejection leads to a state of radicalism and a state of counter-acting against the interests of the west in the Arab and Islamic worlds or anywhere else. What turns the young Arabs and Muslims to be extremists then terrorist is the conflict between the West and their civilization in various terms including culture, economy, military, political and educational systems, values, beliefs, norms and traditions in addition to religion. Such difference are conducive to counteractions which would drive them to act against interests of the West, to insulate their communities from being penetrated by other civilizations not only the West, and to work on producing arms and weaponry that would create a deterrent power against any external threat such as the case with Daesh and al-Qaeda which both have their tactics and techniques to produce local-made arms.

Thus, linking historical identity with national interests is very significant to determine the moral perspective of extremists’ strategies and their way of thinking. Though political relations of conflicts, alliances and understandings between nations in the 21st century are important, Daesh and its affiliates as well as al-Qaeda and its affiliates do not consider this very important as long as they believe in unity of destiny and beliefs.

What Arabs and Muslims are facing now is their cultural identity issue at the global level. Jihadists realised that the main source of conflict in the next new world will not be political ideology or economics alone but also cultural. That is why they destroy all the ancient sites in the countries they take over. Therefore, the major conflicts will take place, according to the beliefs of these fanatic groups, between nations and groups belonging to different civilizations. It is a battle of civilizations to draw the new borders.

The outbreak of the so-called "revolutions" of the Arab Spring, which erupted in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, and the resulting identity struggle in an unprecedented manner, have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and the migration of millions of citizens from their countries of origin to Europe, fleeing the inferno of “searching for an identity”, which none of those fighting for has a clear understanding what he is fighting for or who is he fighting.  Syria may be a model for the bloody identity struggle, exacerbated by the battles of the superpowers and their deep rivalry over political influence.

In the end, there are social, cognitive and religious situations that may remain in the structure of a society and culture, and may provoke some clashes from time to time. However, at a historical moment and for multiple reasons, it could lead to a sudden abrupt transition from a state of equilibrium to a situation of bloody conflict between multiple parties in a bid to search for an identity.

Extended version of the article published in Arab News:

Опубликовано в Tribune
Воскресенье, 24 Декабрь 2017 04:42

Hamza bin Laden likely groomed for a senior al-Qaeda role

Hamza bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, appeared in a video broadcast by al-Qaeda’s ‘al-Sahab’ media channel in which he criticized Saudi Arabia and its alliance with the United States. This video raises many questions about the timing, the motives and future developments, as Hamza may be in the process of being groomed for a senior role.

Hamza bin Laden seems to be emerging in circumstances similar to those in which his father came to prominence, following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 after he escaped from house arrest in Saudi Arabia and reached Sudan to raise ‘Arab Mujahideen’ for his new terrorist group later known as al-Qaeda.

Hamza bin Laden, who the American security authorities have designated a ‘global terrorist’ in January 2017, would succeed his father and has already become the poster boy for the terror network’s media campaigns and propaganda.

Chip off the old block

He was the closest to his father and to al-Qaeda’s ideology among his other siblings. Hamza followed Osama in many of his tours and movements. Born in 1989, he represents the new generation of al-Qaeda.

The broadcast of Hamza’s video is not for the sake of local consumption among the group’s members, but conveys a message to the world and mainly to the West that al-Qaeda is making a comeback. The young bin Laden is regarded by many experts as the figure who could potentially reunite the global jihadist movement. 

Hamza bin Laden, who the American security authorities have designated a ‘global terrorist’ in January 2017, would succeed his father and has already become the poster boy for the terror network’s media campaigns and propaganda.

– Shehab Al-Makahleh

 The nature of the ideological concepts adopted by Hamza bin Laden is still not clear, whether it is identical to his father’s convictions and beliefs or not. It is important to note that al-Qaeda does not believe in fomenting sectarian wars but is mainly in war against Muslim regimes ostensibly for the sake of Islam.

As Hamza grew up in Sudan and Afghanistan, where Osama was given refuge by the Taliban, he often appeared in propaganda videos with his father when he was still a child. The recent video sends out the message that al-Qaeda will act harshly against Western targets around the world, mainly in the Middle East, especially after the US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as capital of Israel.

Few years ago, Hamza tried to enter Pakistan to reunite with his father in the battlefield: “What truly makes me sad is that Mujahideen legions have marched and I have not joined them”. This is an indication that the young man was very keen on joining the group and on leading them to achieve what his father sought.

The ‘lone wolf’ threat

In 2015, al-Qaeda aired an audiotape of Hamza in which he lauded the Boston Marathon bombing, and called on supporters to take to the “battlefield from Kabul, Baghdad, and Gaza to Washington, London, Paris, and Tel Aviv”. This time he also called his on followers to take to the battlefield that would serve al-Qaeda’s interests.

Since Osama bin Laden’s death in May 2011, al-Qaida has remained in the wilderness. The war against terrorism over the past few years in Iraq and Syria has given al-Qaeda in Afghanistan the chance to rebuild its capacities.

As ISIS’ political project of building an ‘Islamic Caliphate’ and of overthrowing regimes in the Middle East failed, al-Qaeda took the initiative to regroup and may accept erstwhile ISIS members into its ranks. As ISIS adopted some techniques of warfare from al-Qaeda; the latter has also benefited from the mistakes of ISIS’ tactics, which al-Qaeda will avoid in the coming period.

The appearance of Hamza bin Laden is not a mere coincidence, but a confirmation of his rise as leader of the group. A new chapter may commence with a new phase in lone wolf attacks in the West especially on occasions like the New Year and Christmas. The new targets of al-Qaeda may also be Arab countries, which it may seek to destabilize and overthrow its governments. How the world would stand up to this new challenge remains to be seen.

Article published in Al Arabiya:

Опубликовано в Tribune

BEIRUT -- As soon as Russia launched the first stages of its military campaign in Syria, world media erupted with epic slights on President Vladimir Putin and the deprecation of Russia's strategic motives in Syria. Is this information operationsimply a recrudescence of Cold War neuralgia, or is there something more profound at work here?

One can see, too, that the U.S. administration's response to Russia's initiative has oscillated uncertainly. Initially, Washington took a "business as usual approach," suggesting that it and its allies' air campaign would proceed unchanged. But the administration then seemed blindsided by the speed and extent of the Russian action. Last week, a Russian official arrived at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad to announce the immediate start to the Russian air operation in Syria, and to insist that the U.S. keep its aircraft (and personnel) out of Syrian airspace altogether that day. Since then, the Russian tempo of air attacks has been impressive, leaving little or no space to others.

Clearly, "business as usual" in these circumstance was impractical (if some calamitous air incident in the Syrian skies was to be avoided). And President Obama's opponents immediately pounced: Putin was wrong-footing America (again). Secretary of State John Kerry hotly demanded military coordination that would at least keep the U.S. coalition flying -- and in the game.

The second approach has been to try wrest at least the political initiative back into American hands -- by conceding to Russia its military role -- whilst trying to set parameters (essentially President Bashar al-Assad's removal), that would require a major reworking of the Syrian leadership, in which America would have a major say. (Britain and France similarly lifted a leg, to mark their territory of having a claim in any final outcome, too.)

During all these maneuvers and rhetorical skirmishing, however, the U.S. has also been quietly re-positioning itself towards the political settlement which it now sees as coming somewhat into focus. In London and Berlin, Secretary Kerry modified the U.S.'s initial absolute objection to President Assad remaining in office: Now, he said, Assad might remain for a transitional phase, however long that might be, "or whatever," adding that ultimately this was for the Syrian people to determine (see our last Weekly Comment). On Wednesday, Kerry went further, and said something equally significant: Exiting his discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Kerry said that Syria must remain "united ... [and] be secular." This represents a huge (if barely remarked) shift: It cuts the ground from under the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the jihadists -- in fact, from all Islamists who cannot accept a secular state, which, to be clear, effectively removes pretty well all the Gulf protégés from having any significant slice of the cake. 

No doubt, Lavrov had made it plain to Kerry that Assad has told the Russians that he is open to political change and to reform (and that Russia believes him). But perhaps Lavrov also explained why the particular historical circumstances of Syria voided any prospect of a Brotherhood insertion into government being a workable prospect. In any event, Kerry changed tune.

The third U.S. tactic seems to be "containment" -- that old standby: a massive information war is underway to suggest that the Russians committed themselves only to attack ISIS, and nobody else (when Russia never made any such undertaking). Lavrov is explicit: Russia is targeting ISIS and "other terrorist groups," as they had always "said they would do." Nonetheless, the info war campaign continues in order to put pressure on Russia, and to contain its military campaign. American officials have been on record saying that "moderates" turned out to be as rare as mythical unicorns amongst the Syrian armed opposition, and that only "four or five" were in the field now -- and yet suddenly it seems that there are all these "moderate CIA trainees" under attack now. In fact, there are no "moderate jihadists." The term is an oxymoron: there are only jihadists who are more -- or less -- close to ISIS or al Qaeda. It is a parsing of definitions that simply does not interest Russia.

Tom Friedman puts a somewhat different gloss on events from his well-briefed perspective: Let Putin and his allies have a go at defeating ISIS (and good luck to them). But when they fail, and find the Sunni world has turned against them, then they (the Russians) will need a ladder out of the tree, which only Washington will be able to lend, to help Putin recover from his strategic mistake. This is too reductive. Putin well understands the difference between traditional Sunni Islam in the Levant and the very recent blow-in of militant Gulf Wahhabism, which is at odds with this traditional Sunni Islam of Syria and Iraq. He knows, too, that many Sunnis still hold to the notion of citizenship within a secular, or non-sectarian state; and that Syria and Iraq are both inheritors to venerable, old civilizations (Greater Syria and Mesopotamia); each with their own political cultures and visions. The fight against contemporary orientations of Wahhabism has never been the reductive struggle between a Shia minority (the Alawites) and a Sunni majority; it is as much a struggle to preserve the Levantine tradition against a foreign (Gulf) culture, Wahhabism, floated into the region on a tide of petrodollars

Why should President Putin understand this cultural war better than Western leaders? It is because Orthodox Christianity (of Russia) never entertained the Western binary opposition between the Roman Christianity and Islam. Orthodox Christianity and traditional Sunni Islam share many attributes together, and have a history of close relations.

So what are the Russians doing? Firstly, they are running through a "bank" of "terrorist" targets assembled by Syrian, Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah intelligence services. It is unlikely that this phase will last long -- and then, the mode will smartly change. With the primary targets destroyed, the ground offensive will begin, led by the Syrian army (with direct support from Hezbollah, and with advice from Russian and Iranian officers). What will be different now, however, is that the ground forces will have the benefit of all-weather and nighttime air support, plus real-time imagery. Whilst Russian soldiers will not be directly involved in boots-on-the-ground operations in support of the Syrian army, Russian forces will be directly involved in securing a safe area around their air base near Latakia. To the extent that this keeps Latakia secure, it will as a byproduct, free up the Syrian army from the need to station troops there, thus making them available for other tasks. 

For now, the Russians seem (as evidenced by their airstrikes) to be intent firstly on eliminating any hostile threats adjacent to their forces in the area of Latakia (the Russian air base is located some 20 miles south of Latakia). This is standard military modus operandi. Their secondary and tertiary objectives seem to be to secure the M4 highway between Latakia and Aleppo (targeting pockets of insurgent forces adjacent to the highway), and in striking insurgent-held areas along the M5 highway.

There is nothing political behind such strikes -- in the sense of strengthening one insurgent group in opposition to any other. It seems, rather, very clear that the Russians are preparing for the subsequent ground sweep by the Syrian army: the Russian air force is securing lines of logistic support to the Syrian army, and concomitantly denying those same lines to the jihadists. It is, in short, all rather military -- and in line with what Russia says are its objectives.

So, why this flood tide of snide commentary, disinformation and claims of a covert, "underhand" Russian strategy? What is it that so irks the West? Well, of course, one part of it is that Putin has put Washington on the spot, and made the West's claims to have been fighting ISIS for the last year to appear hollow. But there may be more to it than this.

For the past few decades, NATO effectively made all the decisions about war and peace. It faced no opposition and no rival. Matters of war were effectively a solely internal debate within NATO -- about whether to proceed or not, and in what way. That was it. It didn't matter much about what others thought or did. Those on the receiving end simply had to endure it. But whilst its destructive powers were evident, its strategic benefits have been far from evident -- especially across the Middle East. 

What probably irks the West most is that Russia has unfolded -- and begun -- a sophisticated military campaign in the flash of an eye. NATO bumbles along much more slowly with its complicated structures. Iraqis have long complained that in military terms, assistance promised by the NATO powers takes (literally) years to materialize, whereas requests to Russia and Iran are expeditiously met. So Tom Friedman's condescension towards the Russian military intervention does have more than a whiff of orientalism to it.

But all the hoo-ha probably stems also from the sense that this Russian initiative could mark the coming into birth of something more serious -- of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a putative military alliance. Admittedly, the "4+1 alliance" -- Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq, plus Hezbollah -- is not branded as SCO (and the coalition partners do not overlap with SCO membership), but the 4+1 allianceventure might well yet prove to be a "pilot" in non-Western, successful coalition-operating. Furthermore, its objective is precisely to preempt NATO-style regime change projects -- a prime SCO concern. This prospect certainly would irk the Western security establishment -- and would potentially change many an existing NATO calculus.

Not surprisingly, then, it might be seen in some Western quarters as hugely important to set a narrative of failure for the 4+1 alliance, and to denigrate any sense that its military example might have strategic importance for the non-Western world.



Опубликовано в Tribune
Воскресенье, 12 Апрель 2015 19:47

Iran in Yemen?

US Secretary of State John Kerry said recently Iran is “obviously” aiding the Houthi uprising in Yemen. According to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, "Iran provides financial support for the Houthis and helps them in building weapon factories and providing them with weapons.”[1] "There are 5,000 Iranians, Hezbollah and Iraqi militia on the ground in Yemen," an unnamed diplomatic official in the Gulf is reported as saying.[2] The Editor-in-Chief of the Arab Times of Kuwait calls the Houthis Iran’s “dummy”[3] and “tools” of Iran and Hezbollah.[4] In Britain, “The Telegraph” writes of “the Iranian-backed takeover of Northern Yemen”[5]

Sergei Serebrov, of the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, noted that the Telegraph’s claim would be unarguably true had it been followed by the qualification “11 centuries ago.”[6] And he is far from the only observer skeptical that Iran stands behind the Houthi eruption in Yemen. Wikileaks documents analyzed on the Al-Bab website indicate the US was not convinced by the Yemeni government’s repeated claims of Iranian involvement in a series of conflicts with the Houthis over the last decade[7] — claims made by the regime of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is now allied with the Houthis (and who in 2011 found refuge in Saudi Arabia, the country now assaulting his forces from the skies). The US Embassy in Yemen, according to a leaked 2009 memo, was more concerned with the interference of Saudi Arabia and other gulf states, which it feared might make Iranian alleged involvement a self-fulfilling prophecy:


… we can think of few ways to more effectively encourage Iranian meddling in the Houthi rebellion than to have all of Yemen's Sunni neighbors line up to finance and outfit Ali Abdullah Saleh's self-described ‘Operation Scorched Earth’ against his country's Shia minority.[8]


Now, with a fragile Iran-US détente underway and sanctions a step closer to ending, Iran would be risking much more by stepping into the Yemen imbroglio than it would have in 2009. Why unnecessarily antagonize the US and jeopardize the longed-for sanctions breakout for a prize of such questionable practical value? Or for that matter, why antagonize Saudi Arabia? While it’s a widely accepted truth that Iran will get up to any mischief it possibly can against the Saudis, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made a point of calling for a mending of relations with the Kingdom soon after his election. The US National Intelligence’s annual security assessment in February also noted that Iran was still seeking to “deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia.”[9]

Iranian involvement in Syria and Lebanon is already a serious drain on the limited resources of an economy shackled by sanctions. From the Iranian security perspective, those countries are strategically crucial, a buffer between itself and Israel. Not only is Yemen not a buffer against a perceived threat, but its devastating poverty makes it an expensive proposition. A Houthi government under Iranian auspices would require massive financial support. What would be the motive? To reestablish the Persian Empire, the rationale repeatedly put forth the Saleh administration for alleged Iranian meddling in Yemen, according to Wikileaks? Rhetoric aside, behind the scenes the Americans were not convinced.

The smart play for Iran at this critical juncture is not to rock the boat unnecessarily, which corresponds to its official line: a denial that it provides military support to the Houthis coupled with vociferous condemnations of the bombing campaign and calls for all the warring parties to come to the negotiating table.

Whatever external factors are exacerbating the conflict in Yemen, the main spark is internal, and as related to the country’s economic problems as it is to the much-trumpeted Shia-Sunni conflict. Yemen is one of the poorest Arab countries, with 50% of the population below the poverty level, despite potentially lucrative fishing and some oil. The recent Saudi withholding of funds from a promised bailout package and the sabotage of oil pipelines and electricity infrastructure in the Mareb Province of Yemen have only compounded economic woes. When President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government abolished energy subsidies last summer, causing a spike in the price of gasoline, the result was protests in the streets with the army called in to put them down. Social unrest is common, and the populace has arms and knows how to use them – some say guns far outnumber people in Yemen. Even in peaceful times, Sana’a has the feel of a Wild West town: men strolling the streets or sitting in cafes with their “ali” (AK-47) and pickups zooming by with mounted chain machine guns.

Yet Sana’a was taken by the Houthis without much of a fight. That and their dramatic advance to Aden owes much to a formidable domestic ally, former Yemeni president Saleh, ousted in Yemen’s “Arab Spring” but still commanding a great deal of loyalty in the government and military. He is a wily political survivor who has switched sides more than once in the past, this time making an advantageous alliance with his former foes. It was Saleh’s regime killed Al-Houthi, founder of the movement.

Trade and economic ties between Iran and Yemen were weak under former president Saleh; and under President Hadi they had been all but shut down. But with Hadi fleeing to Aden and the Houthis essentially taking control of the government in February, preliminary agreements were signed between Yemen and Iran on reconstructing the port of Al Hudaydah on the Red Sea and establishing regular direct Iran-Yemen passenger flights. And no wonder, with all other outside funding cut off or on hold. Apparently, the prospect of this deal too much for the Saudis and their allies. Accusations followed immediately that the flights were for military supplies from Iran, and soon after that, the bombs began coming down.

The Zaydiyyah Shia branch in Yemen, to whom the Houthis belong, differs in many ways from the Ja’fari Islam of Iran, and is similar in many ways to Sunni Islam. The two Shia schools do, however, share the concept of the Imamate, as distinct from the Sunni; and ideological resonance seems to have been increasing in recent decades. The Zaydi imamate ruled from 897 to 1962, its territory expanding and contracting, but the heartland always remaining in the mountainous northwest of Yemen, where the Houthis are now based. Like the Zaydis, Ja’faris and all Shia sects, the Houthis come into being as a force of opposition to the powers that be, in the 1990s. The founder of the Houthi movement, also known as “Ansar Allah,” was Said Hossein Al-Houthi, a Yemeni parliamentarian of aristocratic heritage and a religious education from Sa’ada, that same mountainous Zaydi heartland in the north of Yemen, bordering on Saudi Arabia. His family enjoys great respect among the tribes there, and in Yemen, tribal alliances are everything. Al-Houthi came into conflict with former president Saleh in the early 2000s. In addition to defending the interests and culture of the Zaydi minority against what he saw as an encroaching Salafi presence backed by Saleh, Al-Houthi decried Yemen’s alliance with and reliance on the US and Saudi Arabia. After increasingly tense clashes with the government, he was killed in 2004. His brothers, primarily Abdul Malik, now lead the movement, which has also made battling corruption a centerpiece of its rhetoric. Despite the Houthis’ “Death to America” chants and placards, some Yemenis’ believe that the Americans may not have been opposed, at least early on, to the Houthis’ growing power as a counterbalance to the greater evil of Al-Qaeda and other extremist Sunni groups in Yemen. Just to further muddy the waters….









[8] ibid.


Опубликовано в Tribune