January 10/19

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made
Mark 02/18-22: "John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. ‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on January 09-10/19
Storm 'Norma' Batters Lebanon, Leaves Syrian Girl Dead
Syrian Girl Confirmed Dead as Storm Causes Widespread Damage
Family: Nizar Zakka Subjected to Torture in Iran
Aoun Raises Concerns over Refugees’ Crisis
Aoun Praises Role Lebanese Businessmen Play in Guinea-Bissau
Lebanon: Patriarch to Call for Maronite Leadership Summit amid Cabinet Impasse
Berri Prefers 'Postponement' of Arab Economic Summit unti-l Govt. is Formed
Hariri receives Hamas delegation
Rahi to Meet Maronite Leaders to Pressure Govt. Formation Efforts
U.N. Chief Names Veteran Diplomat to be Lebanon Envoy
'200 Cars' Damaged as Antelias Streets Flooded by River
General Security Arrests IS Cell in Arsal
Khoury Protects LAK School Building by Giving It Heritage Status

Litles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 09-10/19
Trump pleads on TV for wall funding to fix border 'crisis'
Iran's Khamenei: Some US Officials are 'First-Class Idiots'
Iran has been holding a US Navy veteran since July
Khamenei: US sanctions putting pressure on Iran and Iranians
Pompeo in Reassurance Mission to Iraq over US Syria Pullout Plans
Pompeo Meets Iraq Parliament Speaker in Surprise Visit to Baghdad
Qatari ambassador to Russia: Iran has legitimate interests in Syria
Saudis Blast 'Guardianship' Laws after Woman's Escape
Syria: YPG Captures 8 Militants Including US Teen
Six 'Suspects' Killed in Saudi Raid on Shiite Stronghold
Netanyahu Insists on Asking US Recognition of Golan Annexation
Israel’s Segev to Get 11 Years for Spying for Iran
Rafah Crossing Open Solely to Departures to Gaza
Disputes Persist over Candidates for Remaining Iraq Govt. Posts
Morocco Busts ISIS Cell Planning Terror Attacks
Sudan’s President Threatens Military Intervention to End Protests
Crowds Back Bashir at Sudan Rally as Police Tear Gas Rival Protest
Over 30,000 Flee Boko Haram Violence in NE Nigeria

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 09-10/19
Saudis Blast 'Guardianship' Laws after Woman's Escape/Agence France/Presse/Naharnet/January 09/19
History proves Syria's strategic importance should not be underestimated/Michael Young/The National/January 09/19
Turkey Scolds Europe/Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/January 09/19
Palestinians: While Abbas and Hamas were Hurling Insults at Each Other/Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/January 09/19
Is Trump About to Become the Third U.S. Leader to Betray the Kurds/A/P/Haaretz/January 09/19
Give the Robots Good Eye Contact and a Firm Handshake/Matt Levine/Bloomberg/January, 09/19
Saudi Journalist, Osama Yamani Presents A Suggestion To Relinquish The Belligerent Discourse Against Israel, Form A Confederation Of West Bank, Gaza And Golan/MEMRI/ January 09/19
Sending the Right Message in Cairo: Advice for Secretary Pompeo/Washington Institute Staff/January 09/2019
Whitewashing the greatest mass murderer of our time/Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/January 09/19
The ‘neo-Ottoman’ invader/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/January 09/19
Were France’s demonstrations barbaric/Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/January 09/19
Has the stock market established a bottom/Mohamed El-Erian/Al Arabiya/January 09/19

Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on January 09-10/19
Storm 'Norma' Batters Lebanon, Leaves Syrian Girl Dead
Beirut- Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 9 January, 2019/A storm packing snow and rain that has battered Lebanon for five days left an 8-year-old Syrian girl dead, flooded neighborhoods and paralyzed major mountain roads. Residents in some Beirut neighborhoods awoke Wednesday to find their cars immersed in water as rivers overflowed, inundating streets with muddy water. Some of the most affected areas were the northern Beirut suburb of Antelias and Hay al-Sollom just south of the capital, where two rivers overflowed, flooding some parking lots and the ground floors of some buildings, forcing people to move to higher stories. "All those who were affected by the storm will be compensated," Higher Relief Committee chief Maj. Gen. Mohammad Kheir told reporters during a tour in Antelias, where trucks were unloading sand on the sides of the Fowar Antelias river to prevent further floods. The storm, dubbed "Norma," began Saturday and was expected to end late Wednesday, forecasters said. In the northern town of Minyeh, the body of an 8-year Syrian girl who had been missing since Tuesday afternoon after she fell into a river was found the next morning in a nearby orchard. In the village of Dahr el-Baydar, several bulldozers were working on opening the highway that links Beirut with the Syrian capital Damascus after it was covered with about a meter (yard) of snow. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said in a statement that some 11,000 Syrian refugees in 151 settlements were affected by the storm. It added that some 70,000 Syrian refugees are at risk. In the eastern Bekaa Valley, home to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, many had their tents flooded with water and mud adding to their misery. Others had their tents covered with snow as temperatures dropped. Police blocked the highway and prevented cars and trucks other than four-wheel drive vehicles from passing for safety reasons before it was opened for all vehicles Wednesday afternoon. In the impoverished Palestinian enclave of Gaza, downpours followed two days of windy, dusty weather, bringing relief to some people but adding constraints to many others, who can't afford expensive, scarce heating. Households in Gaza get about eight hours of electricity a day, followed by a similar period of blackout. This is an improvement from nearly two years ago when the 2 million residents suffered lengthy blackouts of up to 16 hours. But on Wednesday, the power distribution company said increased demand has disrupted the rotating schedule and caused more power cuts in some areas. In a poor neighborhood in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, residents clustered around fires they built from cardboard and leftover timber. "We suffer when the winter comes, we make fires to warm the children," said Imad Zu'rob, a local resident. Inside, he said rainwater leaks through the roof of his makeshift dwelling, forcing the family to distribute pots to contain the drops.

Syrian Girl Confirmed Dead as Storm Causes Widespread Damage
Associated PressNaharnet/January 09/19/A storm packing snow and rain that has battered Lebanon for five days has left an 8-year-old Syrian girl dead, flooded neighborhoods and paralyzed major mountain roads. Residents in the Antelias area north of Beirut awoke Wednesday to find their cars immersed with water as rivers overflowed, inundating streets with muddy water. In the northern town of Minyeh, the body of an 8-year Syrian girl who had been missing since Tuesday afternoon after she fell into a river was found the next morning in a nearby orchard. In the village of Dahr al-Baydar, several bulldozers were working on opening the highway that links Beirut with the Bekaa and the Syrian capital Damascus which was covered with about one-meter of snow.

Family: Nizar Zakka Subjected to Torture in Iran

Beirut - Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 9 January, 2019/The family of Lebanese citizen Nizar Zakka, who was arrested in Iran in 2015, has said that a video report was recently broadcast on Iranian state television framing him. It said in a statement on Tuesday that Zakka has been moved to a Revolutionary Guard prison from Evin prison in Tehran. According to the statement, the video was a clear attempt by Zakka’s “kidnappers” to convince the Iranian public that the detention was justified, despite “the Iranian presidency’s request for his release.” The video begins with images of the Sept. 11 attacks, and of Zakka with Premier-designate Saad Hariri, before claiming Zakka was working as an agent for the US. It also shows him attending international conferences as the head of international non-government organization IJMAA3. But the family statement said the video was based on “lies and fabrications.”His relatives said they were convinced that Zakka’s “systematic torture” and recent transfer was an attempt to extract a false confession. Zakka was arrested after traveling to Iran to attend a state-sponsored conference. At the time of his arrest, he was the secretary-general of IJMAA3 and had received an official invitation to visit Iran.

Aoun Raises Concerns over Refugees’ Crisis
Naharnet/January 09/19/President Michel Aoun emphasized on Wednesday that Lebanon has borne the burden of the consequences of neighboring wars and the influx of Syria refugees, lamenting the “unclear” position of the international community vis-à-vis the refugees' return to their homeland. In an address he gave to a visiting delegation of the accredited diplomatic corps in Lebanon, Aoun said: “We are concerned that this determination to keep the refugees in Lebanon could be a scheme to displace as many Lebanese as possible to facilitate the mysterious and suspicious solutions looming on the horizon. "It doesn't appear to be reassuring, especially with attempts to link the refugee return to a political solution, which might take a long time," he added. On the other hand, Aoun stressed “the essence of Lebanese democracy is based on consensus before anything else. Based on the aforementioned fact, we are exerting relentless efforts to attain wide and complete consensus in a bid to reach agreement on the new cabinet formula, in cooperation with the Prime Minister-designate,” he added.

Aoun Praises Role Lebanese Businessmen Play in Guinea-Bissau

Beirut- Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 9 January, 2019/President Michel Aoun Tuesday lauded the contributions of Lebanese expatriates to Guinea-Bissau's economy, during a meeting at Baabda Palace with the West African nation's speaker of parliament, a statement from the presidency reported. "The Lebanese expatriates around the world and in African countries, in particular, are playing a leading role in promoting Lebanese-African relations, and reaffirming the distinguished Lebanese presence abroad; a presence that has become a role model," Aoun said during his meeting this Tuesday with Guinea-Bissau's Speaker. Aoun noted that many members of the Lebanese community in Guinea-Bissau hold high-level positions in local business and politics. He underlined "the excellent relations between Lebanese expats and the Guinea-Bissau authorities and citizens, especially owing to their contribution to economic life and investment projects," lauding the support of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau in international forums. The president thanked Speaker Cipriano Cassama for his country's ongoing support for Lebanon and expressed hope for further cooperation between the two nations in the future, particularly through the International Organization of the Francophonie. For his part, Cassama conveyed to Aoun the greetings of the President of Guinea-Bissau, praising the importance of cooperation between the two countries, and shedding light on the role played by the Lebanese businessmen in Guinea-Bissau.
He told reporters after the meeting: "I have had the opportunity to share with the President some of the concerns of the House of Representatives and the political situation in Guinea-Bissau," adding that his country is deemed friendly to Lebanon and the Lebanese" in all international fields, and the various authorities in our country have stood by Lebanon's side at the United Nations." Later that day, Cassama was welcomed by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri at the Center House in the presence of Minister Jamal Jarrah and MPs Bahia Hariri, Michel Moussa, Dima Jamali and Nazih Najem. The meeting focused on the good relations between the two countries, the positive and constructive role played by the Lebanese community in Guinea-Bissau and its effective contribution to the country's development. At the end of the meeting, Hariri and his guest exchanged souvenir gifts.

Lebanon: Patriarch to Call for Maronite Leadership Summit amid Cabinet Impasse
Beirut - Caroline Akoum/Wednesday, 9 January, 2019/Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi is reportedly planning to invite Christian Maronite political leaders to a summit in an attempt to resolve the government crisis. Rahi has repeatedly urged officials to form a small cabinet of technocrats to end the deadlock. Lebanese politicians have been unable to agree a new government since a general election in May as rival parties have competed over the allocation of portfolios. Head of the "Independence Movement" MP Michel Moawad revealed after meeting with the Patriarch Tuesday that Rahi might convene a meeting for the Maronite leaders in Bkirki to press for the formation of the new government. Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and the head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, have not yet been informed about Rahi’s initiative. However, sources close to Bkirki confirmed that Rahi has taken a decision to hold the summit, the date of which would be decided soon. “Rahi discussed the issue with a number of officials in the past days, and received positive reactions to his initiative,” the sources said, adding that all leaders are aware of the urgency to end the stalemate. Bkirki “aims to have a unified Christian vision on key issues in the country, mainly the cabinet crisis,” the sources said. The announcement of Rahi’s initiative comes a day before the monthly meeting of Maronite Bishops, which according to the Central News Agency would issue a very important statement that would warn about the dire political, economic and security situation. On Tuesday, Rahi met with several officials, including Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari and General Security Chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim.

Berri Prefers 'Postponement' of Arab Economic Summit unti-l Govt. is Formed
Naharnet/January 09/19/MP Ali Bazzi told reporters on Wednesday that Speaker Nabih Berri prefers the postponement of the imminent Arab economic summit in Beirut until the new government is formed, the National News Agency reported. Bazzi’s remarks came after Wednesday’s weekly meeting between Berri and lawmakers, said NNA. Quoting Berri, the MP said that the government formation was still “in-limbo.”The Arab Economic summit is scheduled to take place in Beirut on January 19-20. Lebanon is still incapable of forming a cabinet since the designation of its PM Saad Hariri in May 24, 2018. Political differences between Lebanon’s political parties over quotas and ministerial shares have delayed the formation.

Hariri receives Hamas delegation
Wed 09 Jan 2019/NNA - Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri received today at the Center House a delegation from the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon, headed by its president Reverend Salim Sahyouni. It included priest Habib Badr, Judge Fawzi Dagher and Deputy Priest Edgar Trabulsi. The delegation invited Premier Hariri to attend the opening ceremony of the Evangelical community house on Saturday. Hariri also met with a delegation from Hamas Movement that included Izzat Al-Rishq, member of Hamas Political Bureau and Head of Arab and Islamic Relations, Ali Baraka, Hamas representative in Lebanon, and Ahmad Abdel Hadi, Hamas political officer in Lebanon, in the presence of the president of the Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue committee Hassan Mneimne. After the meeting, Al-Rishq said: "We were honored to meet with Premier Hariri and wished Lebanon success and stability and the formation of the government as soon as possible because Lebanon's security and stability are important to the Palestinian people and all Arabs. We discussed the Palestinian situation and the latest unfortunate developments and the tensions between Hamas and Fateh.We said that these steps are regrettable, go against the reconciliation and contradict the important Egyptian effort that promoted the reconciliation." He added: "Hamas is keen on the reconciliation and the unity of the Palestinians. We discussed the situation of the Palestinians in the camps and told him that we continue to support Lebanon's security and stability. We are keen on having the best relations with Lebanon and avoiding that the inter-Palestinian tension in Gaza and Ramallah impacts Lebanon. We also discussed the issue of recognizing the Palestinian rights, particularly the right to property and work, and Premier Hariri told us that he would work on it. We hope that the Palestinians in Lebanon will see some achievements in this file."Hariri also received Lebanon's Ambassador to London, Rami Mortada, and Lebanon's Ambassador to Tehran, Hassan Abbas.

Rahi to Meet Maronite Leaders to Pressure Govt. Formation Efforts
Naharnet/January 09/19/Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rahi reportedly plans to schedule a meeting with “Maronite” leaders in a bid to reflect his “anger” at the delayed efforts to form a new government, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Wednesday. Head of the Independence Movement, MP Michel Mouawad visited Bkirki on Tuesday and told the daily that the Patriarch was “angry at the path of the government formation and the recklessness shown by some officials regarding the economic threat facing the country. He plans to activate efforts to pressure towards the formation process.”Rahi plans to call the Maronite leaders for a meeting in Bkirki before he travels to the United States later this month, according to Mouawad. He will invite “head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, Marada Movement chief, Suleiman Franjieh, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Jebran Bassil and Kataeb chief Sami Gemayel,” for the meeting. The MP said that Rahi aims to “form a Maronite pressure group in a bid to form the government,” and end the delay prolonging since May 24, 2018. No serious breakthrough has been made in the cabinet formation process despite the ongoing contacts and some initiatives put forward to end the impasse, including a suggestion to expand the cabinet seats from 30 to 32.

U.N. Chief Names Veteran Diplomat to be Lebanon Envoy

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 09/19/U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appointed Jan Kubis, who has led U.N. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, to be the new U.N. special coordinator in Lebanon, the U.N. announced Wednesday. Kubis, a former foreign minister of Slovakia, will take over from Pernille Dahler Kardel of Denmark, who was acting coordinator since November 2017. The appointment comes amid tensions between Israel and Lebanon, where the United Nations has deployed a peacekeeping force to monitor the border. Israel's army last month launched an operation to destroy tunnels allegedly dug by Lebanon's Hizbullah to cross into Israel. Kubis served as U.N. envoy to Iraq from 2015 to December 2018 and led the U.N. mission to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2015.

'200 Cars' Damaged as Antelias Streets Flooded by River
Naharnet/January 09/19/The Northern Metn area of Antelias turned into a large pond overnight after flash floods from the al-Fawar River invaded the streets as a result of Storm Norma that has been lashing Lebanon since Sunday morning. The waters trapped citizens in their homes and obstructed traffic and the streets were still largely submerged by Wednesday afternoon. LBCI television reported that efforts to remove damaged cars had started in the afternoon as MTV said around 200 vehicles were affected. Video footage showed dozens of partially submerged cars. The powerful storm which has wreaked havoc across Lebanon is expected to subside in the coming hours.

General Security Arrests IS Cell in Arsal
Naharnet/January 09/19/The General Directorate of General Security announced Wednesday the arrest of an Islamic State group cell in the northeastern border town of Arsal. In a statement, the directorate said the cell consisted of the three Syrians M.D., 18, A.D., 50 and S.D., 21. During interrogation, the detainee M.D. confessed to using social networking websites to recruit members for a sabotage cell that would operate in Lebanon. “He also conducted several bomb making trials with the aim of assassinating one of Arsal’s residents and carrying out attacks against Lebanese Army posts and patrols in the aforementioned town,” General Security added. Noting that bomb-making materials and lethal poisons were seized in the man’s house, the security agency said the detainees and the substances were referred to the relevant judicial authorities and that efforts were underway to arrest the rest of the culprits.

Khoury Protects LAK School Building by Giving It Heritage Status
Naharnet/January 09/19/Caretaker Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury on Wednesday issued a decree adding the building of the Lycée Abdel Kader school in Beirut’s Msaitbeh area to Lebanon’s list of traditional buildings. The decree protects the building against any demolition or restructuring plans, following a flurry of reports in recent months suggesting that the school will be turned into a shopping mall. The decree forbids any change to the building’s status without prior permission from the directorate general of antiquities. Lebanon’s educational sector had witnessed an uproar over reports that the Lycée Abdel Kader school would be moved to Baabda where it would allegedly replace the Collège des Pères Antonins (CPA) school. The reports prompted the students of both schools to stage protests, backed by their families. The Antonine Maronite Order, which runs CPA, had confirmed that there were “negotiations” with LAK’s administration. Commenting on the reports, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat had recently tweeted: “Stop this criminal commercial project that is aimed at demolishing the Lycée Abdel Kader building and turning it into a mall similar to the ugly malls in Verdun and other areas.”

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on January 09-10/19
Trump pleads on TV for wall funding to fix border 'crisis'

Catherine Lucey, Jill Colvin and Lisa Mascaro, Associated Press/January 09/19
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump made a somber televised plea for border wall funding Tuesday night, seeking an edge in his shutdown battle with congressional Democrats as he declared there is "a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul."
Addressing the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued for funding on security and humanitarian grounds as he sought to put pressure on newly empowered Democrats amid an extended partial government shutdown. Trump called on Democrats to return to the White House to meet with him, saying it was "immoral" for "politicians to do nothing." Previous meetings have led to no agreement. Responding in their own televised remarks, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of misrepresenting the situation on the border as they urged him to reopen closed government departments and turn loose paychecks for hundreds of thousands of workers. Schumer said Trump "just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration."
Trump, who has long railed against illegal immigration at the border, has recently seized on humanitarian concerns to argue there is a broader crisis that can only be solved with a wall. But critics say the security risks are overblown and the administration is at least partly to blame for the humanitarian situation.
Trump used emotional language, referring to Americans who were killed by people in the country illegally, saying: "I've met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I've held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible."
The president often highlights such incidents, though studies over several years have found immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. Trump has been discussing the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow him to move forward with the wall without getting congressional approval for the $5.7 billion he's requested. But he did not mention that Tuesday night. With his use of a formal White House speech instead of his favored Twitter blasts, Trump embraced the ceremonial trappings of his office as he tries to exit a political quagmire of his own making. For weeks he has dug in on a signature campaign promise to his base voters, the pledge to build an impregnable "beautiful" wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The partial government shutdown reached its 18th day, making the closure the second-longest in history. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are going without pay, and government disruptions are hitting home with everyday Americans.

Iran's Khamenei: Some US Officials are 'First-Class Idiots'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 09/19/Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Wednesday dubbed some US officials "first-class idiots" as he ridiculed them for predicting the collapse of the Islamic Republic. "Some US officials pretend that they are mad. Of course I don't agree with that, but they are first-class idiots," he said in speech in Tehran, quoted on his official Twitter feed. Khamenei was having a dig at US officials who had predicted there would be regime change in Iran by the end of 2018. "A while ago, a US politician had said, among a gathering of terrorists and thugs, that he hopes to celebrate this Christmas in Tehran," Khamenei said, according to his Twitter feed. "Christmas was a few days ago. This is how US calculations work."It was not clear to which US official he was referring, but members of President Donald Trump's administration have called for regime change and predicted it would happen soon. This has included National Security Advisor John Bolton -- a long-time regime change advocate -- who often speaks at gatherings of the exiled People's Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) opposition group, considered a terrorist cult by Tehran's leaders. "Before 2019 we here will celebrate in Tehran," Bolton told an MEK meeting in Paris in July 2017.

Iran has been holding a US Navy veteran since July
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 9 January 2019/Iran has been holding an American Navy veteran Michael R. White since July after he traveled to the country to visit his girlfriend, his family confirmed. His mother, Joanne White, spoke to Euronews on Wednesday and said she had learned the news of her son's arrest three weeks ago through the US State Department. White said she did not intend to release further details because she was worried about the complexity of her son's case in Iran. She said that her son had previously traveled to Iran to meet his girlfriend but that there was no problems, unlike the last time. She told the New York Times that her son had been set to return from Iran via Dubai on July 27 but had never boarded his flight. Reports have said that the Swiss embassy in Tehran is currently following White’s case as a US interest portfolio in Iran. Iran has not yet made public the arrest of White and no specific charges have been made clear. At least three other American citizens, two of whom are of Iranian descent, have been under arrest in Iran for years while another American has been missing for more than a dec

Khamenei: US sanctions putting pressure on Iran and Iranians
Reuters, Geneva/Wednesday, 9 January 2019/US sanctions are putting pressure on Iran and its people, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday, according to his official website. US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. “The sanctions do put pressure on the country and the people. The Americans happily say that these sanctions are unprecedented in history,” Khamenei said. “Yes, they're unprecedented. And the defeat that the Americans will face will be unprecedented, God willing.”
‘Some US officials are first-class idiots’
On Wednesday, Khamenei dubbed some US officials “first-class idiots” as he ridiculed them for predicting the collapse of the Islamic Republic. “Some US officials pretend that they are mad. Of course, I don't agree with that, but they are first-class idiots,” he said in speech in Tehran, quoted on his official Twitter feed. Khamenei was having a dig at US officials who had predicted there would be regime change in Iran by the end of 2018. “A while ago, a US politician had said, among a gathering of terrorists and thugs, that he hopes to celebrate this Christmas in Tehran,” Khamenei said, according to his Twitter feed. “Christmas was a few days ago. This is how US calculations work.” It was not clear to which US official he was referring, but members of President Donald Trump’s administration have called for regime change and predicted it would happen soon. This has included National Security Advisor John Bolton -- a long-time regime change advocate -- who often speaks at gatherings of the exiled People's Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) opposition group, considered a terrorist cult by Tehran's leaders.“Before 2019 we here will celebrate in Tehran,” Bolton told an MEK meeting in Paris in July 2017.

Pompeo in Reassurance Mission to Iraq over US Syria Pullout Plans
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 09/19/US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to reassure Iraqi officials on Wednesday that Washington remained committed to the fight against the Islamic State group as he pressed a tour of regional allies troubled by US plans to withdraw from Syria. Pompeo's talks on an unannounced visit come less than two weeks after President Donald Trump drew criticism for failing to meet a single Iraqi official during a surprise Christmas trip to US troops at Al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq. The US top diplomat was in the Middle East to urge allies to continue to confront the "significant threats" posed by Iran and jihadists despite Trump's shock decision last month to withdraw all US troops from Syria. In Baghdad, Pompeo met a raft of senior officials including Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and President Barham Saleh. Pompeo ducked reporters' shouted questions about US pullout plans, but Saleh replied that Baghdad wanted Washington to remain engaged. "We will need the support of the US," he said, expressing "gratitude to the US for support over the years". "ISIS is defeated militarily, but (the) mission is not accomplished," Saleh added, using an alternative acronym for IS. Pompeo flew in from Amman and was also due to visit Cairo, Manama, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Riyadh, Muscat and Kuwait City on his longest trip since taking office last year. Ahead of his tour, the US top diplomat said the campaign to destroy the jihadists' self-styled "caliphate" in war-battered Syria had been "enormously successful". "And I am confident that we will continue to ensure that the kind of rise that ISIS had under the (Barack) Obama administration doesn't occur again," he told the travelling press.
Rowing back
Trump used his lightning December 26 visit -- his first to US troops in a conflict zone since being elected -- to defend his Syria withdrawal plans and declare an end to America's role as the global "policeman." He caused a political storm when he announced the pullout claiming IS had been defeated despite continued deadly fighting between US-backed forces and the jihadists in eastern Syria. Trump has since rowed back, vowing the withdrawal will be done in a "prudent" way.
Members of his administration have gone further, saying that the timeline of any pullout remains dependent on events on the ground. There are many in Iraq, particularly in pro-Iran factions, who would like an accelerated timetable for a US withdrawal from Iraq too. But Trump has stressed that he expects US troops to remain in Iraq, from where they can carry out operations in neighbouring Syria if necessary. Any failure to root out IS from border districts of Syria where they retain a presence poses a security concern for Iraq. The 600-kilometre (375-mile) long frontier is porous and districts on the Iraqi side were the last from which Baghdad's forces ousted the jihadists. Iraq declared victory over IS in December 2017, but the jihadists retain a network of sleeper cells in major cities and continue to conduct hit-and-run attacks from mountain or desert hideouts. On Tuesday, a car bomb killed two people in the city of Tikrit, north of the capital, police said.
Difficult focus on Iran
The Trump administration's insistence on treating Tehran as a threat as big or even bigger than IS also poses major difficulties for Iraq. Since the US-led invasion of 2003, Tehran has become a political force in Iraq with influence rivalling that of Washington. Iran too provided support for Iraq's fightback against the jihadists after they advanced to within striking distance of the capital in 2014. And Iraq has developed a dependency on imports from its eastern neighbour that is difficult to break. Iraq suffers from a chronic shortage of power that leads to routine outages lasting much of the day in many areas that have prompted angry protests. It depends on imports from Iran of both electricity and gas to generate it, to keep up even existing supply. Washington has granted Baghdad waivers from the crippling unilateral sanctions it reimposed on Tehran last year after Trump pulled out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal agreed by his predecessor Barack Obama. But members of his administration have put increasing pressure on the Iraqi government to stop seeking waivers and call in US firms to provide an alternative. For Baghdad, that is politically unthinkable and Iraqi officials have called for a longer-term special status instead.

Pompeo Meets Iraq Parliament Speaker in Surprise Visit to Baghdad
Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 9 January, 2019/US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Baghdad on Wednesday where he held talks with parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi. The US official is on an eight-nation tour of the Middle East that he kicked off in Jordan on Tuesday. His tour comes weeks after President Donald Trump’s abrupt announcement that he will pull all 2,000 US troops from Syria, which caused alarm among US allies in the region. Pompeo also met with American troops and Iraqi leaders to reassure them about the US pullout from Syria and warn that Iran remains a regional security threat. His tour will also see him visit Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman. Trump had paid a visit to Iraq in late 2018 where he met with US troops stationed there.He did not meet any Iraqi officials, drawing criticism from Baghdad.

Qatari ambassador to Russia: Iran has legitimate interests in Syria
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 9 January 2019/Iran has the right to defend its interests in Syria, Qatar’s Ambassador to Russia, Fahd bin Mohammad Al-Attiyah told the Interfax News Agency on Sunday. “Iran just like any other country has legitimate interests,” Al-Attiyah said. “We don’t mind these legitimate interests to be protected.”In the interview, Attiyah blamed the Syrian regime for crushing its opposition, adding that they should be held accountable for foreign interferences in the country, not anyone else.“What we mind is when they cross the line of legitimacy and when Iran starts, just like any other country, to entrench itself in a way that does not serve the Syrian interests, the Syrian people, when sectarianism becomes a policy in order to divide and control, and that is what we do not accept,” Al-Attiyah added.
Attiyah urged Iran to “reconsider their positions”, and said that Qatar would be happy to support Russia, Iran and Turkey “if they are genuine”.

Saudis Blast 'Guardianship' Laws after Woman's Escape
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 09/19/
A Saudi teen's live-tweeted asylum plea has cast a renewed spotlight on women's rights just months after women won the right to drive, and sparked rare criticism of restrictive "guardianship" laws -- from men. Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, arrived in Thailand at the weekend after fleeing what she called an abusive family in the deeply conservative kingdom and staved off deportation after her tweets drew global attention. Qunun's impassioned cry for help set off a media frenzy, prompting angry denunciations and death threats from many in a kingdom where guardianship laws are still widely supported. But the incident sparked a rare online debate as several young Saudis -- including men -- implored authorities to dismantle the guardianship system. Seen as a form of gender apartheid, the system means Saudi women are often only as free as their male "guardians" –- husband, father and other male relatives –- allow them to be. The men in their lives have to give formal permission for the women to study, get married or even renew their passports. "Guardianship gives men the ultimate authority over women," a young Saudi medical student named Bandar said in a video monologue posted on Twitter.
"He can control her, slap her, beat her, do whatever he wants and no (government) agency can stop him. "This is causing women to dream about living elsewhere, away from where they were born and raised. Why? Because living here suffocates them." As tweets by Qunun, now in the care of a U.N. refugee agency in Thailand, went viral, a new hashtag gained traction in Saudi Arabia: "Drop guardianship or all of us will migrate.""Saudi society, in general, has utterly failed to come to terms with the reality that women have an equal desire for self-actualization," tweeted another Saudi man, Ahmad Nasser al-Shathri. "The notion that a women's innate desire is to be a homemaker is crippling our societal growth."
'Repressive' system
The backlash follows a wide-ranging liberalization drive spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that is aimed at transforming the conservative petro-state, long criticized for its treatment of women. His reforms include the much-celebrated decision overturning the world's only ban on female motorists last June, allowing women to attend soccer games alongside men and take on jobs that once fell outside the narrow confines of traditional gender roles. Catalyzed in large measure by what experts call economic pain owing to a drop in oil prices, the reforms have introduced a series of firsts in the Saudi labor market, where women have a miniscule presence. In recent months, Saudi media has championed the first woman restaurant chef, first woman news anchor and even the first woman racing driver. For the first time, women are seen alongside men in music concerts and social gatherings, amid the waning influence of the once-feared religious police, which strictly segregated the genders. But while transforming the lives of many women, this reform drive will be cosmetic for many others until the kingdom abolishes a system that gives men arbitrary authority over their female relatives, critics say. "The social reforms in Saudi Arabia are very much real and they will improve the everyday lives of women," Bessma Momani, a professor at Canada's University of Waterloo, told AFP. "But the guardianship system remains repressive and hinders women's rights and mobility."
Lightning rod
Women's empowerment is a potential social lightning rod in the deeply traditional society of Saudi Arabia. Officials close to the government say they are seeking to dismantle the system piecemeal to prevent any backlash from arch-conservatives. Meanwhile, horror stories regularly surface.
Women inmates are often reported to be stuck in prisons after completing their terms because they were not claimed by their guardians. One Saudi woman told AFP how she was stuck in limbo, unable to even renew her passport, when her father, her only male guardian, slipped into a coma after an accident. Many Saudis condemned Qunun for what they described as dishonouring her family. But as she galvanized international support in a Twitter-led campaign, many others voiced solidarity -- especially after the Saudi charge d'affaires in Bangkok was caught on tape telling Thai authorities they should have confiscated Qunun's cellphone. "It is challenging for the crown prince to completely dismantle guardianship laws because of religious conservatives who have a vested political interest to remain relevant in a changing Saudi Arabia," said Momani. "That said, social pressure from young people like Rahaf, who find the reforms glacially slow ... may prove more of a political challenge than the religious conservatives."

Syria: YPG Captures 8 Militants Including US Teen
Beirut- Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 9 January, 2019/Syria's Kurds on Wednesday said they had captured eight alleged foreign militants including an American teenager in fighting against the ISIS terrorist group. The eight, detained on Sunday and Monday, include a 16-year-old American, as well as a German and a Russian, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), said in a statement. Two are from Uzbekistan. The others are from Tajikistan, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The YPG has spearheaded the battle against ISIS in eastern Syria, where they are close to flushing out the extremists from their last pocket near the Iraqi border. They are the largest component in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are backed by the US-led coalition against ISIS. The YPG published mugshots of the eight alleged foreign jihadist fighters, and gave their names. The announcement comes after the SDF on Monday said they had captured two Americans among five alleged foreign militants on December 30. The Kurds in northeastern Syria say they hold around 1,000 foreign radical fighters, as well as 550 foreign women and 1,200 children who lived with them. They are from dozens of different nationalities and include a significant contingent from France, the main US partner in the coalition assisting Kurdish forces. The numbers of US militants held by the Kurds are believed to be small. The SDF, backed by coalition air strikes, in September launched an offensive to oust ISIS from the last rump of the once-sprawling "caliphate" it proclaimed in 2014. The Kurdish-led forces have since advanced slowly, but ISIS extremists are still holding on to a handful of villages on the eastern banks of the Euphrates River.

Six 'Suspects' Killed in Saudi Raid on Shiite Stronghold
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 09/19/Six suspects wanted over unrest in Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority stronghold of Qatif were killed in a police raid this week, the kingdom's secret service said Wednesday. One person was arrested in the "preemptive" raid on a house in the eastern town of Jish on Monday, according to a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Netanyahu Insists on Asking US Recognition of Golan Annexation
Tel Aviv - Nazir Magally/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 9 January, 2019/Officials close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have expressed frustration after US National Security Adviser John Bolton ignored a request to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights. The unidentified officials also complained that Bolton has not made any comment on Netanyahu’s request and rejected to carry out a visit to the occupied Syrian territories. Netanyahu has addressed the US administration three times since the beginning of January, requesting a recognition of Golan’s annexation. The PM intended to make the demand in public when receiving Bolton on Sunday, saying: “The Golan Heights is tremendously important for our security. When you’re there, you’ll understand why we’ll never leave the Golan Heights, and why it’s important for all countries to recognize Israeli sovereignty.” The PM’s request was ignored by Bolton who in his turn lauded the Israeli government and the security cooperation with it, reassuring Israeli officials regarding a decision by US President Donald Trump to withdraw from Syria. He described the withdrawal conditions as “policy decisions that we need to implement,” saying a timeline for pullout would be necessary only once those stipulations were met. The Trump administration would only pull troops out of Syrian territory once the Pentagon had formalized a contingency plan to shield US allies fighting there – including Kurdish fighters - Bolton stated. "We now have the best US-Israeli relationship in our history," he said. "I would just say to any nation whether in this region or not in this region that has any doubt about America's support for Israel's self-defense: You'd better think about it again," he added.
Israel captured much of the Golan in a 1967 war with Syria and annexed the strategic plateau, a move not recognized abroad.

Israel’s Segev to Get 11 Years for Spying for Iran

Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 9 January, 2019/Israeli former minister Gonen Segev, who has been charged with spying for Iran, has reached a plea bargain with prosecutors that will see him serve 11 years in prison. The Israeli justice ministry said Wednesday that as part of the agreement, Segev, 62, will plead guilty to serious espionage and transfer of information to the enemy. A sentencing hearing was set for February 11, the ministry said in a statement. The trial of Segev, who served as energy and infrastructure minister from 1995 to 1996, opened in July but was held behind closed doors, with few details of the accusations publicly released. Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service said last June that Segev had been living in Nigeria and “was recruited by Iranian intelligence and served as an agent”. Investigators found that Segev made contact with officials at the Iranian embassy in Nigeria in 2012 and that he visited Iran twice for meetings with his handlers, the Shin Bet said. Segev, it said, received an encrypted communications system from Iranian agents and supplied Iran with “information related to the energy sector, security sites in Israel and officials in political and security institutions”. The ex-minister was arrested during a visit to Equatorial Guinea in May and extradited to Israel. Segev served in the Labour government of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin after defecting from the far right to cast the decisive vote in favor of the Oslo II peace agreement with the Palestinians. He has previously served prison time on criminal charges. Segev, a physician, was charged in 2004 with trying to smuggle 30,000 ecstasy pills into Israel from the Netherlands using a diplomatic passport with a falsified expiry date. The following year, he admitted the charges as part of a plea bargain. He has also been convicted of attempted credit card fraud.

Rafah Crossing Open Solely to Departures to Gaza
Gaza - Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 9 January, 2019/The Rafah crossing was on Tuesday only opened for those returning to the Gaza Strip, after Hamas movement took over its administration following the withdrawal of Palestinian Authority (PA) employees.Meanwhile, Palestinian Non Governmental Organizations (PNGO) Network warned from the dangerous situation in the enclave amid growing differences between Fatah and Hamas. The Network expressed its deep concern over the ongoing developments in Gaza, particularly after Hamas security services launched arrest campaigns targeting Fatah leaders and members. In a statement published by the German news agency (DPA), PNGO pointed to the seriousness of these developments and their repercussions, especially on freedoms, human rights and deteriorating living conditions. The statement called for the immediate cessation of arrests and political summonses and the return of PA employees to the Rafah crossing. Egypt barred Palestinians from entering from Gaza on Tuesday after PA employees pulled out of the crossing and Hamas officers took their place, Reuters reported. The dispute over the border stems from a rift between the Western-backed PA and Hamas who took control of Gaza more than a decade ago after a brief civil war. PA employees were deployed to Gaza’s border crossings with Israel and Egypt in 2017, a move that largely opened up Rafah for two-way traffic. This was achieved after Egyptian mediation led to a Palestinian reconciliation deal, which has since faltered. On Sunday, the PA announced it will pull out from Rafah, accusing Hamas of undermining its operations and detaining some of its workers. Since May, the crossing has been operating daily after periodic openings for many years. A Palestinian official who maintains close contacts with Egypt told Reuters that Cairo had decided to open the Rafah crossing only to Palestinians returning to Gaza, after the PA personnel withdrew. The official added that Egypt showed its “disappointment at the faltering of the 2017 reconciliation agreement”. But an Egyptian official in Cairo said he did not expect Rafah to be shut completely, adding that his country recognizes the importance of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and “Rafah crossing is an important access point for Palestinians.”The official asserted that his country would not abandon its mediation efforts. Speaking to Reuters, Brigadier-General Yehya Hammad, the Hamas-appointed director of the crossing, indicated his men completed their deployment and were ready to operate the passage. After Hamas personnel took up their posts, the body of a Palestinian who had died in Cairo and two women accompanying the coffin were allowed to enter Gaza. The women’s passports were stamped by Hamas officers. A first bus with passengers from Egypt then arrived, with more arriving later Tuesday.

Disputes Persist over Candidates for Remaining Iraq Govt. Posts
Baghdad – Hamza Mustafa/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 9 January, 2019/Iraq’s parliament postponed a session scheduled for Monday to Thursday due to a lack of quorum, although the session’s agenda lacked any item related to filling the vacant positions for key ministries in the cabinet of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. Three months after being tasked to form the government, Abdul Mahdi has still not been able to convince the political blocs with his remaining candidates for three key ministries: justice, interior and defense. In its last session held in December, parliament failed to vote on completing the 22-minister government lineup as disputes between the Reform and Binaa blocs continued. While political blocs bickered over the candidates, two documents related to those nominations have been released. The first speaks of a new candidate for the defense portfolio. The document is backed by several blocs from the National Coalition, led by Vice President Ayad Allawi. The other document is related to the three vacant ministries. The Reform and Construction Coalition, led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, asked the prime minister to dismiss ministers who have a legal history. In a statement issued on Monday, the Coalition stressed the need to respect the internal regulations of parliament and the need to reconsider the voting mechanism adopted for electing the defense and education ministers. The Coalition also rejected the distribution of posts for the chairmanship of parliamentary committees based on sectarian foundations. In this regard, Reform and Construction MP Nada Shaker Jawdat told Asharq Al-Awsat that the bloc had discovered that several ministers, who were appointed during the first round of voting, have a criminal record. “But, Abdul Mahdi failed to take any measures against them, so we wanted to shed light on the issue because it violates the Constitution,” she said. When asked about the case of Shaima Khalil, who was appointed as education minister but still has not taken the ministerial oath, Shaker Jawdat said, “After the spread of a video related to her brother, Khalil cannot be sworn in under any pretext or excuse.” Khalil resigned over allegations that her brother has links to ISIS, but Abdul Mahdi has yet to approve it. Meanwhile, lawmaker Ahmed al-Assadi told Asharq Al-Awsat that until now, Falih Al-Fayadh is still the Binaa bloc’s nominee for defense minister. “However, there are contacts with other blocs to reach a solution to this crisis,” he said.

Morocco Busts ISIS Cell Planning Terror Attacks
Rabat - Latifa Al-Arosni/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 9 January, 2019/Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ) dismantled a three-member ISIS cell on Tuesday in Nador and Driouch, two cities in the country's east. The ages of the suspects range between 18 to 31, according to a statement from the Ministry of Interior. During the operation, BCIJ seized knives, hunting rifles, military suits, firearms, texts glorifying extremism, batteries, and electric wires. The ISIS cell was plotting terror attacks to undermine the security and stability of Morocco, after gaining skills in making explosives and toxins, said the statement. According to the ministry, the operation confirms “ongoing terror threats” and the existence of people “fed by the extremist ideology to serve” the ISIS agenda. The suspects will be referred to the judiciary once investigations are complete, under the supervision of the relevant public prosecution. The cell’s arrest comes after the murder of two Scandinavian tourists on Dec. 17 south of Marrakesh. A number of 22 suspects were referred to an investigating judge who handles terror-related cases. Since the 2003 Casablanca bombings, Morocco has adopted a terrorism-combating policy that has proven efficacy in which it led to breaking up several cells in the kingdom and preventing attacks in France, Belgium, Denmark, and other countries, said BCIJ Director Abdelhak Khiame.

Sudan’s President Threatens Military Intervention to End Protests
Khartoum- Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday 09 January, 2019/Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir dismissed calls for him to step down and hand over the power to the military, reiterating that the army’s mission is to protect the homeland, not the traitors.
Addressing soldiers at the final drill of the 55th military festival at a military base near Atbara, the President asserted his pledge to make the Armed Forces a deterrent force for anyone who thinks of attacking Sudan. "We have no problem because the army does not move to support traitors, but moves to support the homeland and its achievements," Bashir said. He renewed his call for his opponents to cooperate and rebuild the country. He lauded the bravery of the army, saying that it has succeeded in deterring all enemies’ schemes, reported Sudan’s official news agency SUNA. Meanwhile, angry protests intensified with thousands of people marching in the eastern city of al-Qadarif. Protesters handed a memorandum to the state parliament calling the President to step down, which makes Qadarif the first city to issue such a memorandum to official authorities since protests broke out in Sudanese cities. Security forces blocked and broke up demonstrations using live ammunition as well as teargas and stun grenades, witnesses say. According to witnesses, the security authorities in the state launched a campaign of preemptive arrests of activists, followed by another arrest campaign during the demonstrations backed by the Sudanese Professionals Association, social forces, civil and political opposition in the state. Omdurman city is also expected to witness a huge march organized by the Association to the Sudanese parliament to hand over a memorandum asking President Bashir to step down.
Meanwhile, loyalists and allies of the ruling National Congress Party called for a gathering in one of Khartoum’s square in support of President Bashir. In this regard, Troika countries urged Sudan to release political detainees and rights activists arrested during the recent protests and warned that Khartoum actions would impact their engagements with the Sudanese government. In a statement issued Tuesday, Troika countries, including UK, Norway, and the US, expressed their deep concerns about the use of violence and detention without charges of political opponents and protesters. "We are appalled by reports of deaths and serious injury to those exercising their legitimate right to protest, as well as reports of the use of live ammunition against protestors," read the statement. The statement emphasized the right of the Sudanese people to “protest peacefully and in accordance with the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression.” They called on the government to immediately release journalists, opposition leaders, human rights activists, and other protesters now held in detention. Troika warned that the actions of the government of Sudan over the coming weeks “will have an impact on the engagement of our governments and others in the coming months and years.”The statement concluded by urging Sudan to implement the necessary political reforms, to allow the Sudanese people to exercise their constitutional rights to peacefully express their political, economic and social views freely and without any fear of retaliation or persecution.

Crowds Back Bashir at Sudan Rally as Police Tear Gas Rival Protest
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 09/19/Hundreds of people gathered in Sudan's capital Wednesday in a show of support for President Omar al-Bashir's embattled regime, as riot police fired tear gas at protesters at a rival anti-government demonstration. Hundreds of riot policemen, soldiers and security agents, some carrying machine guns, were deployed around the site of the pro-Bashir rally in the capital's Green Yard, a large open ground in the city, an AFP correspondent reported. Men, women and children carrying banners supporting Bashir arrived in buses from early in the morning. The rally was the first held in Khartoum in support of Bashir since protests erupted. "This gathering sends a message to those who think that Sudan will become like other countries that have been destroyed," Bashir told a cheering crowd. "We will stop anyone who destroys our properties." In the initial protests that erupted on December 19 in towns and villages before spreading to Khartoum, several buildings of Bashir's ruling National Congress Party were torched. Angry demonstrators have taken to the streets after a government decision to triple the price of bread at a time when the country has been hit by an acute shortage of foreign currency and inflation of 70 percent. Analysts have described the protests as the biggest threat yet to Bashir's regime. Authorities say at least 19 people including two security personnel have been killed during the demonstrations, but human rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40 that included children. Crowds chanting "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) and "Yes, Yes Bashir we will follow you" welcomed the president at the rally accompanied by his wife and a group of ministers. As soon as Bashir arrived, mobile phone networks and the internet were shut down in and around the rally site.
"Those who tried to destroy Sudan ...put conditions on us to solve our problems, but our dignity is more than the price of dollars," Bashir said in an apparent dig at Washington that had imposed a trade embargo on Khartoum in 1997. The embargo was lifted in October 2017.
Sudanese officials including Bashir have regularly blamed Washington's embargo for the country's economic woes. Dressed in a khaki shirt and trousers and waving his trademark cane, a smiling Bashir greeted the cheering crowd as men and women whistled and waved flags.
Bashir, who has ordered the police to use "less force" on demonstrators, has blamed the violence during protests on conspirators without naming them. "Those who conspired against us and planted traitors amongst us are those who carried out arson attacks and caused damage," he told a group of soldiers on Tuesday at an army base in the town of Atbara where the first protest erupted last month. "Some people are saying that the army is taking power," Bashir said, slamming some political groups who previously were with the government but have now called for his resignation.
"I have no problem with that, because the army always guards the security of our homeland," he said without offering further details. Soon after the pro-Bashir rally ended, groups of protesters took to the street in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum, for a yet another anti-government demonstration. About 300 protesters chanting "Freedom, Peace and Justice" blocked a key road in Omdurman, but were quickly confronted with tear gas as riot police moved in to disperse them. More than 800 protesters have been arrested since the unrest began, officials say, insisting that the situation has now stabilized even as protests rumble on. Opposition leaders, activists and journalists have been detained as part of a crackdown to prevent protests spreading. Britain, Canada, Norway and the United States reiterated their concern over the situation in Sudan in a joint statement issued Tuesday. "We urge the government of Sudan to ensure that a fully transparent and independent investigation into the deaths of protesters takes place as soon as possible, and that those responsible are held to account," the statement said. It also called on Khartoum to release all those detained without charge, warning that the government's action in the issue "will have an impact" on engagements with the governments of the four countries.

Over 30,000 Flee Boko Haram Violence in NE Nigeria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 09/19/Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in northeast Nigeria after an increase in violence in the Boko Haram conflict, the United Nations said on Wednesday."More than 30,000 internally displaced people have arrived in Maiduguri, mainly from Baga, in recent weeks," said the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 09-10/19
History proves Syria's strategic importance should not be underestimated

Michael Young/The National/January 09/19
Donald Trump has dismissed the country as nothing more than "sand and death". In doing so, he misunderstands how important it is to his ambitions of containing Iran
When Donald Trump described Syria last week as a place of “sand and death”, without “vast wealth”, it would have helped him to first check his remarks with a contemporary historian.
That person might have been able to tell the US president that during a significant period of the last century, as it still is today, Syria was the centrepiece of competition between leaders in the Levant and Egypt, so that whoever controlled the country could pretend to a degree of regional dominance.
As Patrick Seale wrote in his classic book The Struggle for Syria, the nation’s “centrality derives from the fact that it lies at the heart of the Arab-Asian power system where, for good or ill, it affects every political relationship in the region”. With Mr Trump saying that his aim in the Middle East is to contain Iran, it made no sense for him to describe Syria dismissively. Without a strategy towards Syria, it is unlikely the US will succeed in curbing Iran.
The Iranians well understood the strategic importance of saving the regime of Bashar Al Assad in 2011. Had Mr Al Assad been removed, Tehran would have lost its main ally in the Levant, bordering its primary regional foe, Israel. Hezbollah, effectively Iran’s foreign legion, would have been denied strategic depth in a future conflict with the Israelis, even as the party risked isolation in Lebanon amidst a large number of Lebanese who oppose what would be a devastating war.
In many regards Iran’s leaders were not so different from leaders past, who grasped that power in the Middle East often derived from Syria. Faisal I of Iraq had served for a brief moment as king of Syria after the First World War, until the French removed him. To his Hashemite family, ruling over Damascus incarnated their ambition of establishing a wider Arab nation under their control. Faisal’s ousting from the Syrian capital is still regarded by many Arabs as the essential moment when western imperial powers undermined Arab nationalist aspirations.
In 1946, Faisal’s brother Abdullah, by then king of Transjordan, began moves of his own to expand his rule to Syria. In this he had British support, because Britain believed that a Greater Syria under the rule of its Hashemite allies would allow it to maintain its influence in the Levant. Yet the plan never came to fruition and Abdullah had to contend with an Arab world united against him, a principal opponent being Egypt.
In February 1958, Gamal Abdel Nasser had scored a major victory in bringing Egypt and Syria together in a United Arab Republic. In the wake of the Suez War of 1956, when Britain, France, and Israel had colluded in attacking Egypt, this represented the pinnacle of the Egyptian president’s regional ambitions. The union collapsed after a coup in Syria in 1961, a severe blow to Mr Nasser’s prestige but also a major retreat for him in the Levant, particularly at a time of hostility with Iraq’s leader, Abdel Karim Qassem.
If the United States is serious about containing Iran, it will take more than imposing sanctions on the country, as Mr Trump appears to believe. The Iranian leadership responds to its own assessments of the balance of power, and what it has seen of US actions in Syria will not have impressed it.
During Barack Obama’s time in the White House, Iran realised that the US president had no desire to dispose of Mr Al Assad, let alone to take action against the regime’s transgression of Washington’s red lines on the use of chemical weapons. Worse, Mr Obama soon appeared to embrace Iran’s interests in Syria. In an interview with the American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, the president affirmed that Saudi Arabia and Iran had to find a way “to share the [Middle Eastern] neighbourhood and institute some sort of cold peace”. It was implicit in his remarks that ceding Syria to Iran was part of the equation in creating this new power balance.
Mr Trump has not adopted such an attitude, but what he has embraced is an incoherent alternative. The president wants to oppose Iran, but doesn’t want the United States to play a central role in this. His diffidence may be understandable in light of the mood at home against engaging in new regional wars, but it begs the question: if Iran represents a strategic threat, as the US has asserted, then does it make sense for Washington to take a hands-off attitude in thwarting it?
Mr Trump’s superficial knowledge of the Middle East, and much else beyond America’s borders, doesn’t help him understand why so many members of his administration and Congress recently counselled against withdrawing from Syria. But even a quick look at the past 70 years would show him that Syria is about much more than sand and death. And today it is the primary place where Iran’s regional ambitions must be checked, if such an intention is serious.
*Michael Young is editor of Diwan, the blog of the Carnegie Middle East programme, in Beirut

Turkey Scolds Europe
Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/January 09/19
"It is... futile... to discuss Islam using geographical or cultural adjectives, such as European Islam, French Islam, moderate Islam, etc." — Ali Erbaş, the head of Turkey's state religious authority, the Diyanet.
The Diyanet does not even recognize Judaism and Christianity as authentic faiths -- as is immediately apparent on its official website. In the Diyanet's interpretation of the verse [Quran, Al-Baqarah 140], the religious figures whom Jews believe to be their prophets, and the religion of Jesus, all originated with Islam: "Ibrahim was neither Jewish nor Christian. He was a Hanafi Muslim... It is the religion of Tawhid [oneness of Allah] that Allah sent to humanity from the very beginning [of time] and that is the most suitable for human nature. So it is completely contrary to facts to claim that [the prophets] were Jewish or Christian..."
How ironic that this is the same Erbaş who claimed at the conference in Cologne that the "increase in anti-Islamic discourse and actions... threaten European multiculturalism," while the Diyanet is responsible for decrees that do not allow for the slightest bit of multiculturalism in Turkey. In fact, all religious and ethnic minorities in Turkey are persecuted with the blessing of the Diyanet.
The Diyanet's president's recent rant against Europe -- from a podium in Cologne, no less -- was disingenuous, false and a perfect example of projection. It is European liberalism that is under assault, not the other way around.
During a recent conference at the Cologne Central Mosque in Germany, Ali Erbaş, the head of the Diyanet, Turkey's state religious authority, accused Europe of "Islamophobia," which he called a "crime against humanity." As evidenced by its website, the Diyanet does not recognize Judaism and Christianity as authentic faiths. Pictured: The Cologne Central Mosque.
At a recent conference in Cologne on the future of Europe's Muslims, Ali Erbaş, the head of Turkey's state religious authority, the Diyanet, railed against what he called the "increase in anti-Islamic discourse and actions... [that] threaten European multiculturalism."
In his keynote address to the conference, hosted by Turkey's main Islamic body in Germany, DITIB -- based in the Cologne Central Mosque, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan inaugurated during a visit to Germany in September -- Erbaş declared:
"... racism, social exclusion... xenophobia, attacks against mosques... [and] discriminatory discourse and actions disregard human life and honor... restrict [Muslims'] rights, make social and cultural institutions dysfunctional and harm the common morality and conscience of humanity."
Referring to Islamophobia as a "crime against humanity," Erbaş said:
"It is... futile... to discuss Islam using geographical or cultural adjectives, such as European Islam, French Islam, moderate Islam, etc. Instead, the most correct stance is to understand Islam correctly, to work so that [Islam] will bring more value and beauty to life and support endeavors in this direction."
This was not the first time that Erbaş accused Europe of "Islamophobia." In April 2018, responding to the "Manifesto against the new anti-Semitism," signed by more than 250 prominent French intellectuals, artists and politicians and calling on Islamic theologians to remove the verses of the Quran that call for the killing and punishment of Jews, Christians and Muslim non-believers, Erbaş said that the situation in Europe was "crossing the line of Islamophobia and becoming anti-Islam."
At the time, Erbaş asserted: "There is such massive ignorance on the part of the signatories that the declaration [makes it sound] as though the Quran encourages murdering people of different faiths. But there is one more lie or falsehood in it." Denying an assertion in the French text that the Vatican Council removed a part of the Bible denigrating Jews, he continued:
"There is no information [affirming this]. But they pretend as if some insults targeting Jews were removed from the Bible.
"I don't know if among the signatories are Christians, but if there are, they should first look at their own book. What is there in the Bible concerning Jews? First have a look at that."
Yet, it is actually Erbaş who was giving misleading information, both about the violent anti-Jewish and other non-Muslim teachings in Islamic scriptures, and about the message of the manifesto. Furthermore, the Diyanet does not even recognize Judaism and Christianity as authentic faiths -- as is immediately apparent on its official website.
Take, for instance, the website's interpretation of the 140th ayat (verse) of the surah (chapter) Al-Baqarah. The verse reads:
"Or do you say that Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Descendants were Jews or Christians? Say, 'Are you more knowing or is Allah?' And who is more unjust than one who conceals a testimony he has from Allah? And Allah is not unaware of what you do."
In the Diyanet's interpretation of the verse, the religious figures whom Jews believe to be their prophets, and the religion of Jesus, all originated with Islam:
"Christians and Jews said that Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants were Jewish or Christian like themselves to prove or strengthen the illusion that they are superior to or more elite then Muslims."
But as the 65th verse of the surah Ali Imran states, the Torah and the Bible came after prophet Ibrahim [Abraham] and the names of Judaism and Christianity emerged centuries after those prophets. As a matter of fact, the word Jew was derived to refer to Yahuda [Judah], the fourth of the eleven sons of prophet Yakub, and it was not initially the name of a religion. It was the name of the tribe of the members of the Yahuda ancestry. It was at least seven centuries after prophet Musa [Moses] that the lineage of Israel was called Jewish and their religious belief Judaism. Hence, it is not possible to refer either religiously or ethnically to the prophets in that [Quranic] verse as Jewish. These prophets were not considered Christian either because they all lived centuries before prophet Isa [Jesus]. The word Christian was not even used to refer to the religion of Isa; the community bound up to prophet Isa was called 'Nazarenes' at the time and the word 'Christian' was used for the first time and exclusively for the people of Antakya [Antioch] who believed in prophet Isa after [he died]. Thus, the words Judaism and Christianity do not even completely refer to the religions of Musa and Isa, not to mention the religions of prophet Ibrahim and other prophets mentioned in the [Quranic] verse. For these words emerged at a time when the religions of the said prophets were distorted and structurally altered through the incorporation of beliefs and forms of worship that were not originally in the essence [of the prophets' real religion].
"In conclusion, as the 67th surah of the Al-i Imran surah says, Ibrahim was neither Jewish nor Christian. He was a Hanafi Muslim. He was purified of all types of shirk [the sin of practicing idolatry or polytheism] or similar flaws. And the prophets that were of his lineage also followed his path. Just like Ibrahim, their religion was also Hanafi [one of the four Sunni Islamic schools]. And Hanafism was not idolatrous. It was not Judaism or Christianity either. It is the religion of Tawhid [oneness of Allah] that Allah sent to humanity from the very beginning and that is the most suitable for human nature. So it is completely contrary to facts to claim that they [the prophets] were Jewish or Christian..."
These are the words of the very institution whose president, Erbaş, accused Europe of "Islamophobia." How ironic that this is the same Erbaş who claimed at the conference in Cologne that the "increase in anti-Islamic discourse and actions... threaten European multiculturalism," while the Diyanet is responsible for decrees that do not allow for the slightest bit of multiculturalism in Turkey. In fact, all religious and ethnic minorities in Turkey are persecuted with the blessing of the Diyanet. The Alevis are a prime example of such a persecuted minority.
Erbaş's attack on Europe for "restrict[ing Muslims'] rights, mak[ing] social and cultural institutions dysfunctional and harm[ing] the common morality and conscience of humanity" seemed particularly out of place, given the Diyanet's rulings on societal behavior in Turkey.
One ruling that the Diyanet made in 2016, for instance, was that it is permissible for a father to lust after his daughter "by touching her thick clothes or by looking at and thinking about her body," on condition that "the daughter is older than nine."
More recently, in January 2018, the Diyanet also stated that girls as young as nine may marry and become mothers under Islamic law. The legal age of marriage in Turkey is 18, or 17 with parental consent. People can also marry at 16 with court approval. However, child marriage in Islamic ceremonies is widespread in the country.
In a different ruling, the Diyanet took Islamic law to new heights by claiming that the practice of "triple talaq" -- whereby a Muslim man can divorce his wife simply by repeating, "I divorce you" three times -- can be carried out via fax, phone, SMS or mail.
Yet another Diyanet ruling states:
"According to Islam, a Muslim woman can only marry a Muslim man... The criterion sought for in marriage is whether the person [potential spouse] is Muslim or not..."
The English-language Turkish publication Ahval News reported that "the Cologne gathering appeared to be DITIB's response to the German government's Islam Conference held in Berlin in November." The purpose of that conference -- titled "Muslims in Germany – German Muslims" -- was "to explore how Muslims and non-Muslims get along with each other in daily life in very practical terms and what can be done to share best practices for an Islam 'in, from and for Germany.'"
In spite of its stated aim "to define conditions and opportunities for successful co-existence in daily life, in mosque congregations and the surrounding neighbourhoods, and everywhere Muslims and non-Muslims interact," the German government's conference evidently angered the Diyanet. Not only were secular Muslims among the participants at the event, but German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said there that mosques in the country should train their imams in Germany, not rely on foreign entities, such as the Diyanet.
It is important to stress that the Diyanet is not a minor institution in Turkey or elsewhere: it not only dictates religious policy at home, but is responsible for the building of mosques across the world, including in Germany. Its president's recent rant against Europe -- from a podium in Cologne, no less -- was disingenuous, false and a perfect example of projection. It is European liberalism that is under assault, not the other way around.
*Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute. She is currently based in Washington D.C.
© 2019 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Palestinians: While Abbas and Hamas were Hurling Insults at Each Other...
Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/January 09/19
The Action Group for Palestinians of Syria says that according to its research, there are at least 1,711 Palestinians being held in Syrian prisons.
The plight of the Palestinians in Syria is not difficult to fathom. What is difficult to fathom is: Where are the international media when those Palestinians are being brutalized?
One can make up excuses for the apathy of the international community toward the atrocities the Palestinians are facing in Syria. However, the indifference of Palestinian leaders to the suffering of their own people is harder to justify.
As the reports about the Palestinian victims were emerging, Abbas was in Cairo socializing with famous Egyptian actors and actresses.
As the latest reports from Syria revealed that 82 Palestinians died in 2018 as a result of torture in Syrian government prisons, the indifference of Palestinian leaders to the suffering of their own people is hard to justify. Where are the international media when those Palestinians are being brutalized? Pictured: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
It has been another tragic year for Palestinians living in Syria, but the international community, including pro-Palestinian advocacy groups and mainstream media in the West, seem to have missed the misery.
The latest reports from Syria reveal that 82 Palestinians have died as a result of brutal torture in prisons run by the Syrian government in 2018. The report states that a total of 556 Palestinians have been tortured to death while being held in various Syrian prisons the past few years.
According to the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria (AGPS), a human rights watchdog organization that was established to monitor the situation of Palestinian refugees in war-torn Syria, the real number of the Palestinians tortured to death could be higher: those are just the ones they know about; the Syrian authorities do not provide any details about detainees. In addition, AGPS pointed out, the families of the victims are afraid to announce the deaths of their sons and daughters for fear of being targeted by the Syrian authorities.
AGPS says that according to its research, there are at least 1,711 Palestinians being held in Syrian prisons.
In September 2018, AGPS reported that Marwan Mustafa Judeh and his brother, Muhieddin, had died under torture while being held in Syrian detention. The two, who are from the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, were arrested by the Syrian authorities in 2013.
Another recent victim of torture was Oday Sabri al-Hilu, 22, arrested by the Syrian authorities in 2104 while trying to leave Yarmouk. Hilu's mother is Syrian, while his father is originally from the Gaza Strip. The family has been living in the Yarmouk camp for several years. Al-Hilu's death was reported in September 2018.
Also in September 2018, AGPS reported that Mohammed Dib Abu al-Ruz, a Palestinian singer and political activist who had been arrested by the Syrian authorities in 2013, had also died as a result of torture.
A month earlier, four members of the Palestinian Elayan clan were also said to have been tortured to death while being held in detention in Syrian prison. The four men, who were separately arrested in 2013 and 2014, were identified as Seif al-Din, 49, Mohammed, 47 and his son, Ezaddin, 25, and Ali, 32. The men's families learned about the deaths when they went to check with the Syrian Ministry of Interior about the fate of their sons.
During the same month, the family of Issam Mustafa Shehadeh learned from other Palestinians that their son, who was being held in Syrian prison, had died after being tortured by his Syrian interrogators. Shehadeh was from the Dara'a refugee camp in southern Syria.
The list of names of Palestinian victims of torture goes on and on. The plight of the Palestinians in Syria is not difficult to fathom. What is difficult to fathom is: Where are the international media when those Palestinians are being brutalized?
Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria eight years ago, 3,911 Palestinians have been killed there, according to the latest figures provided by AGPS and other Palestinian human rights groups.
All these numbers may not be of any interest to the international community because the plight of the Palestinians in Syria is not related to Israel. The Palestinians who are being killed and tortured and displaced in Syria receive zero coverage in the mainstream media in the West. The United Nations and other international agencies seem to be totally unbothered by what is happening with the Palestinians living not only in Syria, but also in other Arab countries.
A Palestinian who is shot by Israeli soldiers during a demonstration in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, by contrast, will attract the instant ferocious attention of the international media. Many reporters prefer a story where they can point an accusatory finger at Israel than one that blames an Arab government or president. Stories that rip into Israel go viral on social media and earn their authors appreciation and praise. A story that is critical of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas or most Arab governments, however, will be dismissed as "Jewish propaganda" and its author labeled a traitor, a collaborator or on the payroll of the Jewish or Zionist lobby.
One can make up excuses for the apathy of the international community toward the atrocities the Palestinians are facing in Syria. However, the indifference of Palestinian leaders to the suffering of their own people is harder to justify. It is as if Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live on a different planet -- as though the people who are being tortured to death and displaced and wounded in Syria were not Palestinian at all.
Why, though, should Palestinian leaders care when they are busy fighting each other? When was the last time a Palestinian leader in the West Bank or Gaza Strip seriously addressed the tragedy of his people in Syria? The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank does not care about the Palestinians living in Syria. Palestinian leaders do not even seem to care about their people in the Gaza Strip. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has imposed a series of punitive measures against the coastal territory that have further aggravated the economic crisis there. These measures include halting payment of salaries to thousands of Palestinian employees and needy families.
The Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip care only about keeping themselves in power. Their main objective is to maintain a tight grip on the Gaza Strip and prevent Abbas and his PA from ever returning there. The 3,911 Palestinians who died in Syria in the past eight years were no more to Hamas than a blip on the radar -- if that.
For Hamas, life is about fighting Abbas and his ruling Fatah faction -- and bringing Israel to its knees. Similarly, Abbas lives to bring about the collapse of Hamas, while also isolating and delegitimizing Israel in the international arena.
While Palestinians were being killed and tortured in Syria, Abbas and Hamas were busy hurling insults at each other.
Perhaps Abbas's social calendar does not permit him to hear about the suffering of his people in Syria. As the reports about the Palestinian victims were emerging, Abbas was in Cairo socializing with famous Egyptian actors and actresses. He even found time to visit one of them, Nadia Lutfi, in hospital. Scores of Palestinians who are being treated in the same and nearby hospitals in Cairo would have been happy to have received his visit. Where was he?
Abbas is punishing Hamas and Hamas is threatening Abbas. All the while, Palestinians in Syria are dying daily. Will Abbas and Hamas ever utter critical words about the Syrian leadership or any other Arabs who mistreat and murder Palestinians? Not likely. Abbas and Hamas remain silent about the suffering of their people, while the world also yawns.
*Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.
© 2019 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Is Trump About to Become the Third U.S. Leader to Betray the Kurds?
هل سيكون ترامب الرئيس الأميركي الثالث الذي يخون الأكراد

A/P/Haaretz/January 09/19
Over the past century, Kurds have gotten close to setting up their own state or autonomous regions on several occasions, only to have their dreams shattered after being abandoned by world powers
They always anticipated U.S. support would run out, but U.S. President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to rapidly pull U.S. forces out of northeast Syria has nevertheless stunned the Kurds there, who for the past three years have been America’s partner in fighting the Islamic State group.
A withdrawal will leave Syrian Kurds exposed to Turkish threats of an invasion from one side and Syrian government troops on the other.
It stung even more because the Kurds in the Middle East have been abandoned before by the United States and other international allies on whose support they’d pinned their aspirations.
What happens next is uncertain because of confusion in the U.S. plans. Initially, Trump declared the pullout of the 2,000 American troops would happen “now,” but White House officials have since suggested it would not be immediate. Further muddling the policy, Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, on a visit Monday, tried to win assurances from Turkey that Ankara would not harm the Kurds but was apparently snubbed.
Over the past century, Kurds have gotten close to setting up their own state or autonomous regions on several occasions, only to have their dreams shattered after being abandoned by world powers. An old Kurdish proverb reflects a history of disappointments: “We have no friends but the mountains.”
Here’s a look at that past:
The Kurds are an ethnic group numbering some 20 million people spread across four nations — 10 million in Turkey, 6 million in Iran, 3.5 million in Iraq, and a little over 2 million in Syria. They speak an Indo-European language, related to Iran’s Farsi, and are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.
The 191,000-square-kilometer (74,000-square-mile) Kurdish area arcs through a mountainous zone from southeast Turkey to the Zagros mountains in northwest Iran. They’re divided not only by borders but by tribal, political and factional splits that the regional powers have often used to manipulate them.
With the Ottoman Empire’s collapse after World War I, the Kurds were promised an independent homeland in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. But the treaty was never ratified, and “Kurdistan” was carved up. A Kurdish state was briefly established with support from the Soviet Union in Mahabad, northern Iran, in January 1947, but it collapsed 11 months later.
Since then, there have been almost continuous Kurdish rebellions in Iran, Iraq and Turkey.
Over the following decades, two events have been burned in the Kurds’ memories as betrayals by Washington.
In 1972, the U.S. helped arm the Iraqi Kurdish insurrection against Baghdad. It did so on behalf of Iran, then led by America’s ally, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was hoping to pressure the Iraqi government in an ongoing border dispute. Three years later, the shah signed a border agreement with Baghdad and shut off the weapons pipeline. Then-Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani wrote an impassioned letter to U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger pleading for support, but the American help ended. The Iraqi government crushed the Kurdish rebellion.
Iraq’s Kurds rose up again, in the 1980s, with Iranian backing, during the Iran-Iraq war. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s army waged a brutal scorched-earth campaign, using poison gas and forcibly resettling up to 100,000 Kurds in the southern desert.
The second event came in 1991, after the U.S.-led Gulf War that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi forces. Then-President George H. W. Bush called on Iraqis to rise up against Saddam. The Kurds in the north and Shiite in the south revolted, at one point controlling 14 out of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Saddam responded with a brutal crackdown and while Bush had not explicitly promised support, Kurds and Shiites felt left in the lurch.
Still, a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone over northern Iraq helped ensure a degree of Kurdish autonomy there. After Saddam’s fall in 2003, the U.S. helped ensure that Iraq’s new constitution enshrined that autonomous zone. But Washington has drawn the line against Kurdish independence. In September 2017, a referendum in the self-rule region overwhelmingly backed independence. The U.S. opposed it and the Baghdad government took over the zone’s border crossings and closed its airports for months, forcing the Kurds to back down.
Syria’s Kurds have hoped for autonomy in the northeast corner of the country where their population is concentrated. The Damascus government has not allowed it, and Turkey is vehemently opposed to it. Ankara views the main Syrian Kurdish militia, which is linked to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey, as a terrorist group. During Syria’s civil war, as Damascus was busy in the fight against rebels, the Kurds succeeded in setting up a degree of self-rule that had been unthinkable before.
The U.S. needed a partner on the ground to fight the Islamic State group after its takeover of the eastern and northern third of Syria, and found in the Kurds an effective, organized force. The U.S. armed the Kurdish militia, along with some Syrian Arabs and Christian Assyrians, and backed them with U.S. troops and airpower.
The Kurds had their own interest in allying with the Americans, hoping to give weight to their autonomy ambitions. It took more than a year of fighting, with thousands of Kurds killed, but IS was driven out of almost all the territory it once held.
Turkey sent troops into Syria in August 2016 to clear a border area from IS militants and limit Kurdish expansion. In early 2018 it overran the northwestern enclave of Afrin to oust the Kurdish militia, leading to the displacement of tens of thousands of Kurds while the U.S. stood by and watched.
Now if the Americans leave, they stand to lose everything.
“So far it’s unclear what will happen, but the Syrian Kurds feel betrayed,” said Wladimir van Wilgenburg, an Iraq-based Kurdish affairs analyst. “They say they were the ones who sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fight against IS.”
The situation raises shades of Kissinger in the eyes of some Kurds, he said. “President Trump in the past praised Kurds as great fighters and great people,” said van Wilgenburg.
“Now he risks putting them in grave danger by pulling out ... Turkey could attack them at any time.”

Give the Robots Good Eye Contact and a Firm Handshake
Matt Levine/Bloomberg/January, 09/19
A stylized story that you could tell about banking since, like, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is: In the olden days, each town had a local bank, and the local banker had a thick set of relationships with the people in the town that allowed him to make nuanced judgments of creditworthiness. If he saw you at church and knew your parents and was impressed by your firm handshake, he’d take a chance on giving you a loan; if he saw you at the pool hall and your parents were deadbeats and you had shifty eyes, he wouldn’t give you a loan no matter how good your collateral.
The key determinant of creditworthiness was character, and the banker’s job was to evaluate character. Then banks became vast multinational entities and could no longer rely on those deep relationships to make credit judgments, and they were selling the loans anyway, so lending became a matter of crude judgments like FICO scores and debt-to-income ratios. This story is often told with an implication that the old methods were more accurate—that deep local knowledge and conservative banking led to better credit decisions than the crude numeric indicators—though I am not sure how true that is; I have never seen an empirical study on the relationship between firm handshakes and creditworthiness.
And the old methods were susceptible to obvious biases; here is a recent study finding that (human-administered) auto loans tend to discriminate against minority borrowers more than (purely statistical) credit card originations. But in any case, the main point is that the new methods are faster, cheaper and much more scalable: If you are everywhere, it is hard to rely on local knowledge, and so you will rely on algorithms instead.
But while not too long ago “algorithms” meant, like, “divide the loan amount by the customer’s income,” now the word “algorithms” carries the promise of infinite subtlety. Here’s a story about auto lenders who are using machine learning to evaluate borrowers, and the language can sound a little “It’s a Wonderful Life”-y: “What artificial intelligence and machine learning allow us to do is to get much broader perspective on consumers, and we’re going to be able to lend more to people who were invisible” thanks to additional data shedding light on their creditworthiness, she said. The computer doesn’t just look at crude signals, but probes deeply into the real story behind them, sort of: Instead of looking simply at whether a potential borrower has ever filed for bankruptcy, for example, the machine-learning system helped Prestige consider such factors as when the bankruptcy happened, and analyze that data with other variables, including previous car-payment records and time spent living in his or her current residence. (Amusingly, recent bankruptcies are better, for legal-risk rather than character-evaluation reasons.) If you are nostalgic for the old methods of individualized human evaluation, this is … good-ish?
Lenders are making nuanced wholistic evaluations of a person’s life and character rather than just relying on crude scores.
I tend to be an optimist about this sort of stuff, and I can easily believe that a machine-learning algorithm can end up making better lending decisions than both (1) local humans relying on their gut instinct for handshake quality and (2) simplistic numerical scoring mechanisms. And yet: creepy? The old-timey banker’s evaluation of your character was opaque and unpredictable and prone to bias, but at least there he was, sitting across the desk from you, shaking your hand. The algorithm’s evaluation of your character is opaque and unpredictable (at least to you), and perhaps prone to bias, and you have no human context to fit it into, no way to say “well I always thought that algorithm was a jerk.” It’s a story about lending but really it’s a story about postmodern life generally. In the olden days, people lived on a small human scale where they had deep connections to each other and all knew each other’s business.
Then modernity occurred and people became more autonomous and anonymous, with weakening ties to their communities but, at the same time, with more freedom. Then, like, Facebook occurred, and now we somehow have the worst of everything; everyone knows everyone else’s business but in an inhuman, alienating, super-scale way.

Saudi Journalist, Osama Yamani Presents A Suggestion To Relinquish The Belligerent Discourse Against Israel, Form A Confederation Of West Bank, Gaza And Golan

MEMRI/ January 09/19
In an article in the Saudi government daily 'Okaz, journalist and legal expert Osama Yamani recounted a conversation he had with a friend, who criticized the Arabs and Palestinians for repeating the same "loathsome and impractical" discourse about Israel for decades while trying to destroy it and refusing to recognize the fact that it exists and is a powerful state. This approach, the friend said, has led to nothing but destruction for the Arabs, the loss of land and the failure of the Palestinian cause. He proposed to establish a confederation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan as a solution for the Palestinian problem and as a model of a strong and viable entity that can flourish.
It should be noted that the column was published several days after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Oman, and after an Israeli sports delegation participated in a championship in Abu Dhabi, accompanied by Israeli Sports Minister Miri Regev, while another sports delegation took part in a tournament in Qatar – visits that sparked a lively debate in the Arab world for and against the normalization of relations with Israel.[1]
The following are excerpts from Yamani's column:[2]
"A friend said to me: 'Why don’t the Arabs [adopt] a new way of thinking instead of the one they constantly repeat in such a loathsome and impractical manner?... We fight Israel and try to eliminate it, when it is an existing fact, a tangible entity with international relations and friendly ties with most of the world's countries. We strive to eliminate a country that has power and the ability to defeat anyone who attacks it or threatens its existence...
"'Why do the Arabs turn Israel into a [trump] card for Iran and its tools and militias, and for Hamas and all those who trade in the [Palestinian] issue which is no longer Palestinian at all, [but] has become a desirable and profitable commodity for all those who trade in it[?] The [Arab] homeland pays the price of this issue on the international and local levels: In the Gaza Strip Hamas grants no human rights [to the citizens], and in the West Bank there is no progress and conditions are constantly deteriorating. All this is in the name of steadfastness and confronting [Israel], which have yielded only disappointment and division...
"'What have the Palestinians and Arabs gained from all the theories and views they presented in [the past] 50 years? We only reached the point where we lost the land, and lost what we used to call the state of Palestine and started talking [instead] about the diaspora, the [Gaza] Strip and the [West] Bank, whose people disagree and fight each other ruthlessly. Some have traded in the blood of others or in the soil we once called the soil of Palestine...
"'Why do we not learn from these mistakes? Why do we repeat them? Why do we duplicate the positions that have caused us nothing but destruction and the loss of land? None of the wars we participated in managed to gain us any territory. Even the glorious war of October [1973] did not manage to restore the stolen territories. The late [Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat rejected the baseless slogans and restored Sinai to his country through negotiations, instead of with slogans, bluster, heroics and songs of glory… We not only fail to learn from our achievements, we do not let the successful lead us to success. Sadly, we are intimidated by those who brandish bombastic slogans and by the ideologists and allow them to force their perception and vision upon the future.'
"At this point... I asked my friend: 'How do you think the [Palestinian] issue can be solved?' He smiled and said: 'You still think there is an issue? The [Palestinian] issue vanished with the emergence of two states [apparently the Palestinian entities in the West Bank and Gaza] and a diaspora that mostly does not wish to return. Besides, why don't the Arabs suggest to form a confederation that includes the Golan, the [West] Bank and the [Gaza] Strip, which will constitute a unique human model that strives for integration instead of all-out war and strives to build instead of destroy, a [confederation] that will replace the greater Israel which Israel's neighbors will [eventually] be forced to except... This would be a viable entity capable of flourishing...'"
[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7753, Contrasting Reactions In Arab World To Gulf States' Harbingers Of Normalization With Israel, November 7, 2018.
[2] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), November 2, 2018.

Sending the Right Message in Cairo: Advice for Secretary Pompeo
Washington Institute Staff/January 09/2019
All eyes will be on the secretary’s speech this week, so striking the right balance between President Trump’s domestic imperatives and the realities of regional policy is crucial.
On January 10, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will deliver a speech on America’s “commitment to peace, prosperity, stability, and security in the Middle East” as part of his eight-city tour of the region. The speech’s timing and locale (Cairo) are conspicuous, coming ten years after President Obama’s “New Beginning” address in that same city and three weeks after President Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, touching off intense debate regarding his administration’s wider regional intentions. To inform the potential wording and discussion of a speech that may serve as the blueprint for near-term U.S. policy in the Middle East, several Washington Institute fellows offer suggestions below on how Secretary Pompeo can best reassure allies and appropriately signal adversaries at a time of great uncertainty on key issues.
We are worried about Russia. You should be too.
The Trump administration’s December 2018 National Security Strategy named Russia and China as top challengers to American interests, noting that each seeks to erode or realign the international system. In working toward that goal, President Vladimir Putin has gained much influence in the Middle East over the past few years, and he would like nothing more than to see U.S. forces leave the region. But make no mistake, the United States remains committed to the Middle East and is well aware that Putin cannot bring genuine stability. Indeed, his intervention in Syria exacerbated one of the worst humanitarian tragedies since World War II. Thus, America’s commitment to the region is rooted in both strategic and moral considerations. —Anna Borshchevskaya, Senior Fellow
We may not like Erdogan, but Turkey is not Russia, it’s a key partner.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to govern Turkey with a strong hand the way Putin controls Russia, but the fact is that the two countries are quite different. While Russia lacks a legacy of electoral democracy, Turkey has held democratic elections since 1950—longer than Spain. In Russia, Putin tends to win elections easily, with 60-70 percent support. In Turkey, Erdogan barely crosses the 50 percent threshold, despite his strongman tactics and near complete control of the media. The bottom line is that Turkey, a country of 82 million people, remains pluralistic, diverse, and inherently democratic even under Erdogan. Moreover, Turkish citizens who oppose Erdogan represent a bloc that is nearly the size of Spain, both demographically and economically. In other words, even if Erdogan’s Turkey looks likes Russia at times, it shares much in common with European societies as well. U.S. policy toward Ankara should be shaped accordingly. —Soner Cagaptay, Beyer Family Fellow
On energy, kudos to Sisi, he’s on the right track.
The energy world is changing, as is the Middle East’s role in global affairs. In this regard, Egypt is an example to the region. Its major failures in electricity supply are a thing of the past. Its natural gas production has been boosted by the new offshore Zohr field, and gas exports will soon restart after a five-year break. Egypt is serving its people, cooperating with neighbors, and integrating itself into the world economy. —Simon Henderson, Baker Fellow
Standing with our allies is a key part of America First.
We believe it is up to the peoples of the Middle East to chart their own course, and we strongly support the efforts of our allies to defend themselves against threats posed by terrorism and Iranian aggression. We prefer to help from a distance: the best guarantee of any nation’s independence and freedom is its own patriotic resolve. Some of our closest friends in the Middle East are renowned for their proven ability to defend themselves. But sometimes even patriots need more than just a helping hand, as America did in its own Revolutionary War. So let there be no doubt: if our friends or our vital interests are endangered in the Middle East, we will not stand idly by. “America First” also means that we are first among the world’s powers, and we will not allow any erosion of our position, or that of our friends. —Martin Kramer, Koret Distinguished Fellow
Terrorists are in trouble—we will not leave until the job is done.
Recognizing that the battlefield defeat of the Islamic State’s so-called “caliphate” is not the same as defeating the organization itself, the United States remains as committed as ever to partnering with coalition allies on countering the terrorist and insurgent threats the group still poses. We remain equally committed to countering the broader terrorist threat from al-Qaeda and affiliated groups, as underscored by the recent U.S. airstrike in Yemen that killed senior operative Jamal Badawi, who played a key role in the bombing of the USS Cole. Previous administrations made the mistake of cutting and running from Iraq and Syria prematurely, breathing new life into these groups just as they were on the verge of strategic defeat. We will make no such mistakes. As the administration’s National Security Strategy observes, “Many of these jihadist terrorists [in Iraq and Syria] are likely to return to their home countries, from which they can continue to plot and launch attacks on the United States and our allies.” We will not allow that to happen.
America also remains committed to countering Iran’s malign influence in the region, its sponsorship of terrorism around the world, and its threats to disrupt freedom of maritime navigation. As stated in the past, the administration demands that Iran withdraw all forces under its command throughout the entirety of Syria. In addition, we are very focused on the regime’s provision of weapons to proxies in places such as Afghanistan, Bahrain, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and Yemen. And we continue to press our partners on responding to Iranian assassination plots in Europe. —Matthew Levitt, Fromer-Wexler Fellow
Thank you, Egypt, for leading the way on peace, the most basic human right.
Yes, the United States will keep working with you to support our shared interests and aspirations. And we will work with you more strongly than before to oppose our shared enemies of extremism, terrorism, aggression, subversion, and interference in your internal affairs by hostile outside powers. But at the same time, we will not try to fool you with empty slogans. For these are not primarily American responsibilities—they are your responsibilities most of all. It is high time for Arabs and others in the region to shoulder these responsibilities more effectively, by working better together on common security and development challenges, by sharing the burdens more fairly between rich and poor countries, and by putting old grudges to rest so we can all focus on a better future.
The first human right we all deserve to enjoy is the right to live in peace. So here in Cairo, the United States applauds Egypt’s pioneering role in forging a just peace with Israel, whose fortieth anniversary dawns just a few weeks from today. Jordan has followed your good example, with similar success in saving lives, reclaiming lost lands, preserving stability, and maintaining the possibility for progress on the Palestinian issue and the broader Arab Peace Initiative. We applaud the enhanced cooperation between these three neighbors in keeping the peace, combating terrorism, confronting Iran’s threats, and pursuing major energy, water, and employment projects together, to the great benefit of all.
We don’t just applaud your efforts, we tangibly support them with many billions of dollars in security assistance. This is a record we can all be proud of, and it is one we can build upon in expanding the circle of real peace to include the Palestinians and other Arabs, as President Trump has pledged to do. —David Pollock, Bernstein Fellow
Don’t mess with the USA!
The United States is not withdrawing from the region. President Trump understands who our friends are and who threatens them. We will provide support to our friends and help them counter the threats they face. We will work with them to prevent vacuums that the worst forces in the region might try to fill. No one should doubt our resolve or test it. We retain more powerful military forces in the area than anyone else and are prepared to use them should the need arise. They are but one of the instruments we have to promote stability, deter malign activities, enhance regional partnerships, reinforce local capabilities, and help resolve conflicts. —Dennis Ross, William Davidson Distinguished Fellow
In an age of strong leaders, people matter too.
There is a mismatch between U.S. objectives for the Middle East and the current level of resources and organizational capacity Washington has put on the table to realize those objectives. At the same time, the United States is mired in an internal debate regarding its appropriate role in working with the governments and peoples of the region, focusing on what we should be willing to invest with our military and assistance dollars and what we can realistically achieve.
Secretary Pompeo should not paper over the diversity of views in the United States, nor should he associate Washington exclusively with the desires of regional governments. Rather, he should balance two audiences and two goals: first, communicating to longtime U.S. partners that we are not strategically exiting the Middle East and that we will remain engaged with creative, sustainable nonmilitary tools; and second, speaking to the people of the region, particularly the two-thirds of the population under the age of thirty. Many of these citizens are trapped geographically and economically—either caught in the crosshairs of devastating civil wars with great power competition layered on top, or facing a dire lack of meaningful job opportunities and freedom of expression. In Cairo, Secretary Pompeo has an opportunity to affirm that America stands for human dignity and will not hesitate to speak out when governments and nonstate actors trample on the region’s citizens. —Dana Stroul, Senior Fellow
It’s still the economy, stupid.
America leads the free world not only because of its military might, but also because of its economic resilience and entrepreneurial ingenuity. Therefore, as the Middle East weathers instability stemming from interstate conflicts and terrorist groups, it should focus even more on economic issues. The region has tremendous natural and human resources, yet it suffers from the world’s highest youth unemployment rates and inadequate investment.
America can lead on these issues by showcasing its own economic system and business envoys in Middle Eastern countries. Unlike competitors from China, American businesses bring cutting edge technology and transfer their leadership and management skills to local staff. The governments of the region also need long-overdue economic reforms to boost job growth, support entrepreneurs, and tackle deep-seated corruption. Through organizations like USAID, the World Bank, and the IMF, we can work with regional leaders to tailor these reforms to their individual country’s needs, enabling them to spur stability-inducing growth and meet the aspirations of citizens. Moreover, it is time for peace in the Middle East to pay economic dividends via trade, investment, and educational exchanges. —Bilal Wahab, Nathan and Esther K. Wagner Fellow

Whitewashing the greatest mass murderer of our time
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/January 09/19
And so it begins. The whitewashing and normalization of one of the greatest mass murders of our time has began in earnest. After 600,000 dead and 6 million displaced, nations who previously held the explicit policy of removing Bashar al-Assad and his homicidal regime are now deliberating how to reopen their embassies. A British diplomat could not have been clearer when he clarified how UK policy of denying Assad legitimacy had been replaced with “pragmatic realism.” There is even discussion of how the $400 billion required for reconstruction should be raised and how the EU could use Russia as a conduit to help refugees return. But make no mistake. Syrians will not be returning to Syria anytime soon as long as the regime that slaughtered their families remains in place. A key test of normalization will be whether Syrian diplomats attend the Arab Economic Summit next month in Beirut.
This will be seen as laying the groundwork for reintegration into The Arab League - from which Syria was expelled – and their annual summit in Tunis in March.
What may soon be forgotten among the endless reports and discussions on post-war reconstruction is why this conflict started seven years ago. President Assad, like his father before him, presided over a Ba’athist regime that was as repressive as anything in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, or Iraq under Saddam Hussain.
Whoever was thought to be an “enemy of the state” would be routinely rounded up, imprisoned and tortured. And if any of them resisted being “re-educated”, they would eventually be simply killed. It was against this kind of government that people rose up in Syria during the heady days of the Arab Spring. And what was interesting in those early days is that even though the government was dominated by the Alawite Shi’ite sect, the uprising was not originally sectarian. Russia in particular has benefited immensely from the instability caused by the refugee flow out of Syria and into Turkey and Europe
ISIS on the scene
The uprising was a coming together of virtually all elements of Syrian society, including many dissidents from the Syrian Army and other political insiders. It was only later that the conflict took a decidedly sectarian character when ISIS appeared on the scene, and Iranian militias and Hezbollah also joined the fray.
And if that was the Assad government then, we can only imagine what it will be like after it has been hardened by seven years of bitter, sectarian Civil War. Or perhaps not much imagination is required at all.
After all, we have seen the government’s attitude towards civilians throughout this conflict, in their use of chemical weapons against their own people, cluster munitions, systematic bombing of hospitals and other humanitarian relief agencies, and widespread use of starvation siege tactics.
In other words, even as the rebels might finally succumb and “peace” will be declared, we have every reason to expect that Assad’s government will continue to wage war against the civilian populations who supported the rebellion to punish them. That war may not be as visible as the constant shelling of hospitals in urban centres, but it will be every bit as real as the networks of secret police prisons from before the war.
What is more, we must not neglect the role of Assad’s allies in this conflict, like Iran and Russia. Russia in particular has benefited immensely from the instability caused by the refugee flow out of Syria and into Turkey and Europe.
Even as Putin may want the conflict to settle down so he can wind down his military involvement to keep down costs, he has every reason to want the refugee flow into Europe to continue.
So both Assad and his key ally, Putin, have every interest to keep Syria a humanitarian hell and hopefully displace as many opponents of the regime from the country, while none of their allies are adversely affected by this – with the possible exception of Lebanon which is, in any case, a client state of Syria and does not get to have much of say in the matter. And, let us not forget, they are the two players that have the greatest amount of control over the outcome of the conflict. So long as that remains the case, and both their respective interests would be best served by continuing the abuse of the Syrian people, there is no reason to believe that the humanitarian crisis is going to get any better.

The ‘neo-Ottoman’ invader

Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/January 09/19
Three weeks ago, a ship loaded with weapons was seized at the Libyan port of Khoms. It was coming from Istanbul. The story became evidence of the malicious Turkish role in this devastated country, in connection with Libyan terrorists and their presence in the entire Maghreb.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu tried to cover up the incident, but Turkey has been caught red-handed in this crime. The preliminary results of a probe into what happened revealed that the huge arms and ammunition shipment seized at Khoms was imported by private companies that specialized in “importing food.” The Libyan Customs Service announced that the officer investigating the Turkish weapons shipment, had survived an assassination attempt. Brigadier General Ahmad al-Mismari, the spokesman of the Libyan Armed Forces, accused agents of Turkey inside Libya, of executing the assassination.
Turkish audacity, Western silence
A strange Turkish audacity and even stranger Western silence followed, which made Brigadier General al-Mismari demand that the UN Security Council should promptly investigate the matter.  We are facing a blatant financing and arming of terrorist militias that kill and slaughter hundreds, or even thousands of people, not just one person, who Erdogan gave us unconvincing humane lectures about. During a press conference with the Moroccan foreign minister, his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry clearly said that Turkey, along with Qatar, is contributing to creating a Libyan civil war and reinforcing terrorists there, meaning through money, weapons and the media. Does Erdogan’s Turkey, which is on the cusp of an economic slump, has internal security issues and faces strategic challenges in Syria, really have the luxury to dream of a huge, new Ottoman-style state? This reckless Turkish behavior can be understood through looking at the illusion that inhabits the minds of New Turkey’s leaders; who are brandishing a form of “neo-Ottomanism.” There are dangerous indicators that point to the existence of this illusion. Among them is the major Turkish desire to return Ottomanism to the Balkans once again, as proposed by The Guardian, in a report on Turkish attempts to court Kosovo with investments and advocacy – building an Ottoman-style mosque in the capital of Pristina.
While it had been six years without construction work beginning on Pristina’s central mosque, Turkey’s new “assertive foreign policy” aims to now build the mosque “that will closely resemble the hundreds built across the Balkans under Turkish rule – only much larger,” according to the newspaper. Of course, this has struck a sour note with many Muslims in Kosovo who were against Turkish invasion in the Ottoman era. A widely-known Turkish political trend seeks to revive the Ottoman State in a new version, as former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu predicted would be achieved by 2023.
Also resonating is a sentence said by Erdogan when he visited Kosovo in 2013: “Turkey is Kosovo, and Kosovo is Turkey.” Does Erdogan’s Turkey, which is on the cusp of an economic slump, has internal security issues and faces strategic challenges in Syria, really have the luxury to dream of a huge, new Ottoman-style state?

Were France’s demonstrations barbaric?

Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/January 09/19
Even those who are not fond of Paris cannot comprehend what happened to this charming and captivating city! The demonstrations started as arbitrary and experimental, but soon became a chaotic European disease, reaching as far as destruction and corruption!
Cars were burnt in Balzac street, Balzac the master of theater, who, had he been alive, would have ached at the sight of his novel ‘Lost Illusions’ shredded on the streets or dumped in the river; similar to what the Mongols did to the heritage of Baghdad and its books.
The crowd’s behavior does not measure up to logic, nor is it driven by reason, and therefore is not controlled by the wise. This is what caused this collective crowd behavior to be based on feelings or psychology, as Gustave Le Bon says in his book, “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind”.
During the French Revolution, Rosseau’s theory achieved the dream of the "republic system", which makes the president today bow to negotiating and making compromises to the Yellow Vests at a highly difficult and chaotic stage!
Rousseau’s theories
Even Le Bon, that esteemed Frenchman, the scholar of civilization and its history from where he was stationed in the west to the far east, can’t help but be remembered along with his texts in the presence of mischievous movements. He is the top analyzer of crowd behaviors and its patterns of their marches on earth because of his accuracy in studying rebels’ patterns.
The observer sees the demonstrations and what resulted from them a distortion worthy of being studied, for the situation is difficult to define, especially when contemplating the history of the republic’s perspective, and the vision of France through the ages.
In 1753, Swiss philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who became French after moving there and embracing the culture, answered a question proposed by the Academy of Dijon: What is the origin of inequality among people? Is it part of the natural law?!
Although Rousseau was Swiss, what he wrote influenced political events in Europe in general, and in France in particular, where he was linked to, and even influenced by complex political relations.
Described by Henry Kissinger as “the godfather of the French Revolution”, the question seemed intriguing to a bright mind with sharp tools, like Rousseau’s. His answer was a window to some exceptional theories in the history of modern politics, which are marked in his famous book, “Discourse on Inequality”.
In the main preamble of the book, is a dedication to the Republic of Geneva, something historians of Rousseau’s work considered to be the nucleus of the rest of his theories, specifically his influential books “The Social Contract” and “Discourse on Inequality”.
Rousseau’s students know that he is the entry point to the social contract, because of what he engraved as contents and principles, especially because during the French Revolution, his theory achieved the dream of the "republic system", which makes the president today bow to negotiating and making compromises to the Yellow Vests at a highly difficult and chaotic stage!
Before Rousseau, the political theory and social contract of challenges that grew up with European societies went on, especially in the devastating years of war in Europe.
Adel Zaiter, the translator of Rousseau’s book, “Discourse on Inequality,” states that Rousseau opposed two personalities, Voltaire and Montesquieu, as they were from the upper classes that haven’t experienced the miseries that Rousseau had to live with.
The social contract
Rousseau’s sharp and comprehensive vision has become the nucleus of most of the constitutional implications related to the social contract and the relations between the individual and the state, making the philosopher one of the founders of the concept of the contemporary state, along with the likes of English philosopher Thomas Hobbes.
France, with its long-standing history, does not stand far from revolutions and their aftermath of tragedies, blood, and destruction. The seed of a revolution does not always produce good fruit, and that is not my opinion, rather the analysis of a famous academic and politician, Henry Kissinger, who says in his book World Order: “The revolutions intellectual godfather, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, formulated this universal claim in a series of writings whose erudition and charm obscured their sweeping implications. Walking readers step by step through a rational dissection of human society, Rousseau condemned all existing institutions – property, religion, social classes.”
Kissinger, is not confined to the above, but also considers that most of the Thirty years’ War was based on the concepts first put forward during the French Revolution. Not forgetting to point out the dreams of Napoleon and his followers from the depths of political narrative of the French enlightenment through the regular paths that the region witnessed in different forms through aimless presidential preaches.
Political theory has exceeded the effects of the French Revolution and its advice, and hopefully this beautiful and elegant state will transcend all crises. In theory, however, the French must recognize the progress of other nations, away from historical rivalries, and in view of the extractions of production and development, while taking into account cultural differences. Aside from Britain, there lies in India, China, and Japan successful experiments that may outperform the French experience, with all due respect. With no offence whatsoever, success of a state is not linked to the application of Rousseau’s theories, and methods of Napoleon!

Has the stock market established a bottom?
Mohamed El-Erian/Al Arabiya/January 09/19
The Jan. 4 monster rally in risk assets, which saw major US stock indexes surge by 3 percent to 4 percent and the “risk-free” yield on 10-year US Treasuries rise by 11 basis points, was a stark illustration of the power of a favorable alignment of the trifecta of economic fundamentals, central bank liquidity and technical factors.
Whether markets have reached the bottom of what has been a brutal few months for investors is, however, a much more complicated and uncertain question.
The strong employment data released early Jan. 4 ensured a solidly higher open for markets. Not only did the economy create 312,000 new jobs in December, or almost twice the rate of consensus expectations, but wage growth also picked up (to 3.2 percent annually), and revisions bolstered the October and November jobs tallies.
Concerns that the latest report would push the Federal Reserve into a more hawkish policy stance were offset by another encouraging component in the monthly data: a rise in the participation rate (from 62.9 percent to 63.1 percent), which indicated there is a further element of slack in the labor market.
Shortly after the open, markets got a big push from Fed Chair Jerome Powell. Countering earlier concerns about the central bank being too rigid in its policy and insufficiently sensitive to economic risks, Powell signaled at a meeting of the American Economics Association exactly what the markets wanted to hear: The Fed would be “patient,” he and his colleagues were monitoring a broad sets of risks, all policy instruments were available for use, and therefore the central bank wasn’t on “autopilot” when it comes to reducing its balance sheet.
The favorable effects on asset prices of this alignment of fundamentals and liquidity was amplified by the reversal of disruptive technical dynamics. Instead of amplifying the markets’ fall, algorithmic trading and pockets of patchy liquidity turbocharged the risk rally at the end of last week; and the wide use of exchange-traded funds and passive products ensured that the upswing was broadly based among different sectors of the marketplace.
Yet this break in what has been a volatile selloff does not guarantee that a bottom has been established, at least yet. The three factors governing markets remain fluid.
The Fed’s more market-supportive comments do not change what has become a more difficult reality for central banks as they confront policy challenges that are largely outside their control
Three factors
Fundamentals: The strong jobs report, as important as it is in terms of confirming the health of household consumption, is dominated by current and backward-looking metrics. It does not counter the more worrisome forward-looking indicators that appeared in the weak ISM manufacturing data released Jan. 3.
Nor do the fundamentals contain much information about the risk of spillovers from economic weakness in Europe and China (the latter highlighted by Apple’s earnings warning earlier last week), spillbacks from the recent market volatility, the scope for pro-growth measures, and the potential resolution of trade tensions.
Liquidity: The Fed's more market-supportive comments do not change what has become a more difficult reality for central banks as they confront policy challenges that are largely outside their control and that have turned the institutions from effective suppressors of volatility to inadvertent enablers.
Moreover, the challenges facing another systemically important monetary institution -- the European Central Bank -- are even more daunting given the region’s more difficult economic, financial and political environment. Technicals: Although more favorable market technicals could buy time, especially as they are the most likely to pivot first in a more durable fashion, this is far from assured.
Absent a more permanent alignment between fundamentals and liquidity, technical factors are likely to remain unstable and largely unpredictable, creating the possibility over the next few weeks that investors will still use rallies to sell rather than buy, which would solidify a bottom-formation process.
It was natural for investors to applaud the Jan. 4 economic and policy developments and the encouraging market rally that was breathtaking in its magnitude and broad reach. However, it is far from certain that the good news signals a decisive end to the unsettling downward-trending price volatility. Caution is still warranted.