Jordanian King Warns Of Impending World War III

By Claude Salhani |

When OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, imposed an oil embargo on the West for its support of Israel in the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the French came out with a series of public service announcements on how to save oil. The 30-second ads gave consumers advice on various ways to economize gas and oil consumption. And the announcements would end with a voice saying: “In France we don’t have oil, but we have ideas.”

Today, much the same can be said about Jordan. The country is the only one in the region not producing oil. Its neighbors – Iraq, Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia, all produce oil to varying degrees, except for Jordan and Palestine.

And in the turbulent world that is the Middle East today, Jordan’s lack of oil may well be a blessing in disguise, rendering it financially uninteresting to groups such as the so-called Islamic State that has occupied large swaths of land from Syria and Iraq, where incidentally, oil is found. But that does not mean that Jordan is altogether off the Islamist’s radar. The country counts large numbers of sympathizers of the Islamic State and its “lighter” version, the Muslim Brotherhood. Many among them would very much like to see the Hashemite kingdom replaced by an Islamic state.

Related: Report Finds Gulf States Unstable Despite Resource Wealth

During his visit to Washington last week the King of Jordan said that the events unfolding in the region today were nothing less than the start of World War III.

“We have to stand up and say, ‘This is the line that is drawn in the sand,’” the king said in an interview that was broadcast on CBS’s This Morning.

“It’s clearly a fight between good and evil.”

Coming from one of the rare voices of reason in the Arab world this is certainly cause for concern.

“This is a Muslim problem,” said the king. The importance of this statement cannot be stressed enough. Until now, many in the Middle East saw the conflict as one opposing the United States and its Western allies to Islamist groups. The king’s statement in Washington sheds a whole new light on the problem and how to approach it.

“We need to take ownership of this. We need to stand up and say what is right and what is wrong,” Abdullah told CBS News’ Charlie Rose.

This is probably the most important declaration by an Arab leader; admitting that there is indeed a problem within the House of Islam.

Although the Western countries today are far less dependent on Arab oil than they were in the 1970s, nevertheless a serious disruption to oil markets from the Middle East – Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait – would be greatly felt in the West, despite the fact that other sources today are available, such as Russia, the Central Asia republics and Azerbaijan amongst others.

Abdullah II of Jordan, much like his late father King Hussein, is well placed to know what’s going on in his corner of the world, situated in what is today the most volatile piece of real estate on the planet. Jordan is wedged between Syria, Iraq and a hard place; the hard place being his own home-grown jihadi movements in Jordan who would like to see the establishment of an Islamist state in place of the Hashemite Kingdom. Jordan has a considerable number of Muslim Brotherhood adherents, and the intelligence service is doing a pretty decent job of keeping a very close eye on them.

Related: A Truce In The Holy Oil War?

Jordan may not have oil but as its king pointed out, it does have a number of very good ideas, such as the ones mentioned by Abdullah in Washington. Those and others were discussed with President Barack Obama, who could certainly use the Jordanian monarch’s wise council.

Jordan’ s lack of oil does not make it any less important strategically. It is one of the staunchest pro-American countries in the Middle East. And recent history shows that being an ally of the United States in this part of the world comes with certain risks.

In the past some Arab leaders tended to be more discreet in their relationship with Washington, often holding a two-tone dialogue. One for internal consumption, and the other for the benefit of the West. That, as we have just seen by Abdullah’s declarations is changing. Leaders in the Arab world have now come to realize that they can no longer continue to sit on the fence, or continue to appear undecided. This is a time of grave concern, and part of the danger lies in failing to recognize it as such. Now that would be a bad idea.

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You can follow Claude on Twitter @claudesalhani

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Politics & Policies: Don’t fear Christmas

By Claude Salhani

(This story was originally posted on the UPI wire on Dec. 23, 2005.)

We are entering that time of year when the American chapter of the Taliban awakens and becomes most active. Yes, little boys and girls, they do exist, even in the land of the free and the home of the brave! (And of the Braves, too.)

I am talking about the ultra-orthodox, the extremists, the politically correct polizei — or in plain English — the PC police.

They are the ones that go around the country banning — or at least trying to impose a ban on any and all public displays of Christmas.

Except here, in the good ol’ U.S. of A., where “freedom rings,” more and more people are becoming afraid to utter the words “Merry Christmas.” They are Ebenezer Scrooges before his encounter with his multiple ghosts on Christmas Eve.

Some of these people can be just as extremist in their thinking as the Taliban. And just as the Islamist fundamentalists hijacked Islam to fit their cause, the anti-Christmas people too are hijacking political correctness to a new extreme, as they try to impose their unilateral ways and views on others.

That is exactly what the extremists in Afghanistan tried to do. (OK, they took it few steps further, but it’s never too early to nip these fanatics in the bud.)

Here is the tally of the Christmas cards I received this year at the office:

– Season’s Greetings: 8

– Best wishes for the holiday season: 5

– Not one had the word “Christmas” on it.

Do you know in what country Santa Claus, Christmas trees and any outward sign of Christmas are banned? Saudi Arabia.

It has become almost as though Christmas (or Hanukkah or Ramadan) has turned into a dirty word. People seem afraid to wish you Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanza. Instead, they settle on the safer and more generic, but totally meaningless shallow, empty phrase, of “Happy holidays.” Just what is that supposed to mean? Happy holidays? Its ring is superficial and does not convey the same warm, fuzzy feeling as the word Christmas does. Christmas carols, Christmas pudding, Christmas shopping. Will that all be done away with to be replaced with Holiday tunes, Holiday cake and Holiday purchases?

Nah! This doesn’t look like Kansas, Toto. It does not have the same ring to it.

Maybe while we’re at it, we should also change the wording on the U.S. currency from “In God We Trust,” to “We think we believe in a supernatural being, sort of.” (Actually, come to think of it, the atheists have asked to do this for a long time now.)

While Christmas does celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it is also a time of tradition. Holidays is simply not the same.

Those who don’t appreciate Christmas, or feel offended by the religious aspects of Christmas, don’t have to participate, but there is no need for them to push their bah-humbug views on the rest of the world. That is what the Taliban tried to do — and failed.

I have many Jewish and Muslim friends who like to celebrate Christmas because of the tradition and because of their having been raised among Christians. They enjoy getting gifts for their Christian friends and enjoy receiving presents from their Christian friends.

And if you are not Christian and resent the whole concept of the over-commercialized Christian holiday, then ignore it. Turn off the radio when they play Christmas carols and turn your head every time you see a Santa Claus or hear the sound of jiggle bells.

Or, if you belong to no religion but feel you need to do something, emulate Kramer. Do what he did in an episode of the TV series “Seinfeld”: celebrate “Festivus.” Then, in lieu of a Christmas tree, you can have an aluminum pole as the sole decoration.

Otherwise, be bold and say it … “Happy Christmas to one and all.” You will feel better for it.

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How effective is pope good will visit to Turkey

By Claude Salhani ]

On the final day of his three-day visit to Turkey, Pope Francis told Islamist militants in neighboring Syria and Iraq they were committing a “profoundly grave sin against God”.

No doubt this is sound counsel from the Bishop of Rome. But realistically, what are the chances of anyone among the ranks of the so-called Islamic State to heed the words of advice from someone like the pope, given their disdain of anything foreign to their narrow thoughts.

In the closing days of World War II, Winston Churchill, then prime minister of Great Britain, was discussing the future of Eastern Europe with the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin. At one point during the conversation Churchill cautioned the Soviet dictator that he should consider the views of the Vatican. To which Stalin is said to have replied “…And how many divisions does the pope of Rome have?”

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self- proclaimed caliph of the new so-called Islamic State, may very well say the same thing about the pope’s comments in Istanbul. And this is assuming the self-appointed “caliph” even bothers to listen to what the pope has to say.

The pope’s words spoken in Turkey are well intended, of that there is no room for doubt. He talks about peace and interfaith understanding. In short, the pope comes dressed all in white, carrying a message of peace. On the opposite side is the so-called caliph ironically, all dressed in black, giving us the analogy that throughout history the good guys were always dressed in white while the bad guys always wore black.

The choice of Turkey was carefully selected and the political astuteness of the pope can be seen herein. It seems picture perfect for the occasion. The head of the Catholic Church is received by with all honors due to a head of state that he is, by an Islamist government, who demonstrates that there can very well be cordial relations between Islam and Christianity.

Speaking from a country that is host to some two million refugees – many of them Christians – from the wars in next door in Iraq and Syria, Pope Francis called for inter-faith dialogue.

Celebrating Sunday mass jointly with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians, Francis said as head of the Catholic Church 1.3 billion Catholics, that people of all faiths could not remain indifferent to the cries of the victims of the “inhumane and brutal” war next door.

“Taking away the peace of a people, committing every act of violence – or consenting to such acts – especially when directed against the weakest and defenseless, is a profoundly grave sin against God,” Pope Francis said.

At the same time the pope also spoke out against the violence in Nigeria, where at least 82 people were killed recently during an attack on a mosque in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, Nigeria’s largest city.

This was the third time that the pope mentioned violence connected with the Islamic State insurgents. Fighters with the IS consider anyone who is not 100 percent with them, and not Sunni Muslim, to be the enemy. They have killed hundreds of Shiites, Christians and even hundreds of others Sunnis, like the Kurds, with whom they disagree.

The pope said priority should be given to solving the problem of poverty, which he said would help solve the recruitment of terrorists.
Basically, in his argument of the thesis of “just war”, Pope Francis said that it is lawful for the international community to use force to stop an “unjust aggressor”, nevertheless, a lasting solution to end war must be found.

Father Claudio Monge, an Italian Catholic priest in Turkey for 12 years who is involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue was quoted by Reuters as saying: “The message is that those who use God as a pretext for violence cannot be a true believers. Those who have ears to hear will understand. He is appealing to true believers.”

Claude Salhani is senior editor at Trend Agency, in Azerbaijan.
You can follow Claude on Twitter @claudesalhani

Posted in Bahrain, Egypt, Islam, Israel | Leave a comment

An end to the holy oil war?

By Claude Salhani |

The ‘holy oil war’ may be coming to an end. Don’t bother looking for this as it’s a term I made up to refer to the political clash between the oil and gas producing countries of the Gulf brought about by divergent views regarding just how politicized and extremist Islam should be.

Gulf Cooperation Council members – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman had accused the other member- Qatar of supporting the fanatical so-called Islamic State, an organization deemed by everyone else to be a terrorist group.

Relations between Qatar and the rest of the GCC faltered and sourced and the rest of the GCC pulled out their ambassadors from Doha last March.

But now in an unexpected move Sunday, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain agreed to return their ambassadors to Qatar, signaling an end to an eight-month rift over Doha’s support for Islamist groups, according to a statement released by the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Could this be the first step in defeating the Islamic State?

If all sides respect the agreement this could well put to rest the “holy oil war” that has been going on behind the scenes between the oil-rich countries in the Gulf. It could repair the rift between Qatar and their neighbors who have opposed them on political and religious grounds. When Qatar was not buying up the latest European soccer team, or a Swiss bank, it was meddling in the affairs of other Arab states.

The news came after an emergency meeting held in the Saudi capital Riyadh to discuss the dispute that erupted following Qatar’s support of Islamist groups seen as supporting or engaging in terrorist activity.

Qatar’s foreign policy has been viewed as meddlesome – interfering in the religious and political affairs of other countries, pitting the other rich Gulf states to rally their resources, including their oil and gas generated richness to combat the rising threat of extremist Islamists.

In an unprecedented move, the three Gulf countries withdrew their ambassadors from fellow GCC member Qatar in March, accusing it of undermining their domestic security through its support of the Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.

The GCC statement said that Sunday’s meeting had reached what it described as an understanding meant to turn over a new leaf in relations between the six members of the Gulf organization, which also includes Kuwait and Oman.

“Based on that, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the kingdom of Bahrain decided to return their ambassadors to the state of Qatar,” the statement said.

This marks an important step in the region’s fight against the so-called Islamic State, which is perceived as a real threat by the other GCC countries. This agreement also marks an important political victory for Saudi Arabian influence in the region.

Qatar, much like fellow GCC countries Saudi Arabia and the UAE have used their oil and gas revenues to influence events in other Middle Eastern countries by supporting one or more sides in thee many conflicts that are currently unfolding in the region.

Indeed Qatar has been active in Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Qatar is often seen as somewhat of a maverick and an enigma in the region. It is one of the smallest of Arab states, but has one of the largest egos in the region and beyond.

With a population of only about 500,000 people (and 1.5 million expatriate workers) it tried to drive policy in several countries in the region. It supports (or at least did so until Sunday night) the radical Islamists, yet has sort of diplomatic relations with Israel. It provided funds to the IS, yet continues to host the largest US military base in the Gulf region.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have both listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and look upon political Islam as a challenge to their own systems of dynastic rule.

Qatar is seen to have been supportive of the Brotherhood in Egypt and the UAE, and more recently in Libya. Doha has allowed several Muslim Brotherhood members to set up residence in Qatar, including the highly controversial preacher, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, to whom they have granted citizenship.

It was Qatar that established the most controversial of television channels –al-Jazeera – whom many Arab countries accuse of being far too supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. Many analysts say that the three al-Jazeera journalists who are currently detained in Egypt are being held as political hostages in a move made by Egypt to get back at Qatar.

Riyadh and the United Arab Emirates also see the Doha-based Al Jazeera news channel as being a Muslim Brotherhood mouthpiece — Qatar denies these accusations, saying it hosts all political and religious tendencies.

Reuters reports that diplomats in Doha said that Qatar promised the UAE that the Brotherhood would not be allowed to operate from the country. There was no immediate confirmation of this.

You can follow Claude on Twitter @claudesalhani

 

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The Caucus Soldier’s Group takes shape in Syria

By Claude Salhani |

An Islamist group claiming it intends to fight for an Islamic state in the Caucasus has just surfaced in the Syrian port city of Latakia, according to a report from the respected and informative SyriaComent.com.

The group calling itself The Caucus Soldier’s Group, (Jamaat Jund al-Qawqaz,) confirmed their existence in an interview to Aymen Jawad Al-Tamimi, who wrote up a report for SyriaComment.com, which included an interview with the group’s media representative.

Jamaat Jund al-Qawqaz, confirmed in an interview, that it is affiliated with the Caucasus Emirate, which also counts Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar of the Jabhat Ansar al-Din coalition as among its affiliates.

The Caucasus Emirate is considered a terrorist organization and has links with al-Qaida, though reports from the North Caucasus say that the Caucasus Emirate has run out of people with a large number of its followers having migrated to Syria and Iraq to join the so-called Islamic State.

In their Facebook page Jamaat Jund al-Qawqaz claims to be a Caucasus mujahid group aiming to gather the Caucasians in the totality under the banner of jihad against the enemies of Islam in the totality.”

The group is reported to operate out of Latakia. Jamaat Jund al-Qawqaz officially claims to have no problems with other jihadi groups.

The group’s media representative speaking to the author of this report stated that the group is unaffiliated with other Islamist groups in Syria or the region.

Jamaat Jund al-Qawqaz claims to operate independently and not to be part of Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar and Jabhat Ansar al-Din.

Ahmet Yarlykapov, a senior scientist of the RAS Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology reports that Dagestani authorities, where the Caucasus Emirates is based, has sent people to persuade the jihadis who went south to Syria and Iraq to stay there.

“It is indeed a very promising method of work, because the return of these people is the biggest threat for Russia,” says Yarlykapov. “Islamic State has gained no mass support among the population in the North Caucasus, “ he ads.

The Russian expert adds: “Look at the fate of the Caucasus Emirate that has degraded to the level of a terrorist network. They have never even controlled a territory. In other words, the ideas are absolutely unpopular in the North Caucasus. But the threat of terrorist acts is the main threat we can expect from people returning from Islamic State.”

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You can follow Claude on Twitter @claudesalhani

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Gulf States Unstable Despite Resource Wealth

by Claude Salhani |

Sectarian and ethnic tension, religious violence, and terrorism threats appear to be rising trends in the Gulf region according to a new study on the state of security in the Gulf by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The 200-plus page report released last week was prepared by veteran analyst Anthony H. Cordesman from CSIS, a highly respected Washington, DC, think tank.

The report notes the alarming rise of politicized Islam in the Arab world. Even in Saudi Arabia, the so-called Islamic State has found many followers in spite of the fact that the self-proclaimed caliphate does not recognize Saudi Arabia.

Also highlighted in the report is a profound consolidation of governmental power with little to no participation by the ordinary citizen.

The report allows one to measure the great paradox that is the modern Arab world, with excessive and often times ostentatious wealth on the one hand, and almost medieval situations, where women are openly sold as slaves in the marketplace and public executions are common, on the other.

Indeed, even if the lifestyles are rather extreme in some instances, what would be considered extremely unusual in the West can be the norm in the Arab world. The common denominator here seems to be abundant oil and gas in these countries, the sale of which allows the realization of sometimes outlandish projects.

These projects can range from the construction of five star hotels, world-class shopping malls with indoor ski slopes and some of the world’s tallest buildings, to large-scale arms trading and the financing of the Islamic State.

The report examines each of the Gulf Cooperation Countries as well as Yemen (and a few others that have an impact on the region, such as Iran and Egypt, and rates them on a number of criteria that include:

1. Voice and Accountability: the extent to which a country’s citizens are able to participate in selecting their government as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association and a free media.

2. Political Stability and Absence of Violence/Terrorism: the likelihood that the government will be destabilized by unconstitutional or violent means, including terrorism.

3. Government Effectiveness: the quality of public services, the capacity of the civil service and its independence from political pressures; and the quality of policy formulation.

4. Regulatory Quality: the ability of the government to provide sound policies and regulations that enable and promote private sector development.

5. Rule of Law: …(T)he rules of society, including the quality of contract enforcement and property rights, the police, and the courts, as well as the likelihood of crime and violence.

6. Control of Corruption: the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain, including both petty and grand forms of corruption, as well as “capture” of the state by elites and private interests.

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates rate low in transparency and are declining in voice and accountability. Kuwait receives a “poor” mark, Oman and Qatar rate “very low,” while Saudi Arabia rates “extremely low,” with no levels of transparency and no positive trends in sight.

Iraq and Yemen come in so low in the ratings that they are considered failed states.

In terms of governance Bahrain faces “serious problems,” Kuwait gets “good to moderate” marks in governance but scores low on corruption.

Bahrain faces serious demographic pressures increased by reliance on foreign laborers.

Oman faces growing problems with political stability and violence that the government is trying to downplay and conceal.

The only positive ray of hope in this otherwise somber and dark outlay of problems holding back the development of the region comes from the United Arab Emirates.

Indeed, despite low levels of transparency in government, and no accountability, the World Bank still places the UAE as probably the only Arab country without a rising trend towards violence.

The bottom line is that, in spite of the mega-billions the gulf countries are raking in, the image of the Arab world remains marred by extreme violence and conflicts.

you can follow Claude on Twitter @claudesalhani

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US aims to pressure Russia could trigger major conflict

The price of oil surprisingly went down last week from a high of about $120 per barrel to a low of about $80. It was delightful news for consumers who felt the difference instantly at the pump.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries from their headquarters in Vienna announced the cut last week – a significant saving of $40 per barrel.
Thank you, OPEC. However, the question begs to be asked: why would the oil producers who have over the years raised the price of oil at just about every opportunity they got suddenly felt the urge to reduce the price?

According to Saudi Arabia, the largest producer of oil and gas in the Middle East and a key OPEC member, the revision of the price of oil downwards was done in order to adjust the markets. Hmmm, have they indeed?

Perhaps a better explanation can be found in analyzing who stands to gain the most and who loses the most from such fluctuation in the price of oil.

A quick analysis reveals that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, all countries with solid economies, would not be affected by the sudden shift downwards.

The same cannot be said for three gas and oil producers, who are cash-strapped and will be further hurt by falling prices. Indeed, the countries likely to suffer the most due to lower prices of oil are Russia, Iran and the so-called Islamic State.
Coincidentally, these countries are also currently engaged in highly controversial conflicts with the United States and the West.

Russia is involved in Ukraine’s civil war, supporting the separatists, a highly criticized move condemned by the United States and its Western allies. The allies are studying how best to impose sanctions on Russia and to hit it where it hurts the most – its economy.

Iran is already suffering from sanctions imposed by the West for its pursuit of a nuclear program. Many countries remain skeptical over Iran’s claim that it will not use nuclear technology for military purposes.

The Islamic Republic is involved in the civil war in Syria, supporting President Bashar Assad, whom the US and its allies want to see vacate the Syrian presidency. Iran also funds and supports the Lebanese Shi’ite militia, Hezbollah that is backing Assad.
The other entity that will be hurt by falling oil prices is the so-called Islamic State, who controls some of the oil wells in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State was under-selling the established markets by accepting payment of $18 per barrel.

While Russia, Iran and the Islamic State are cash-strapped, their involvement in current conflicts further drains their economies.

Historically, it is worth recalling that near the end of the Cold War, when Washington and Moscow were at each other’s jugular, the US pushed for lower oil prices to apply further pressure on the Soviets. What followed was the beginning of the end of communism and the disappearance of the Soviet Union.

What is happening today is a repetition of what happened the last time around, the former Cold War warriors fought it out. The danger in pushing Russia too tightly into a corner is that like a cornered bear, it will retreat until it realizes that it can no longer retreat and the it pounces.

The Obama administration should bear this in mind and avoid pushing Russian President Vladimir Putin into a corner lest he pounces. The results of such action would be disastrous for all.

Claude Salhani is senior editor at Trend Agency, in Azerbaijan. You can follow him on Twitter @claudesalhani

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