December 25/17
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Merry Christmas
From the LCCC, I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May the New Year with the blessings of Jesus bring justice and tranquility to our beloved Lebanon and peace of mind to our people all over the world.
Yours Truly
Eias Bejjani

Bible Quotations
The Birth of Jesus
Luke 02/01-20: "1 At that time Emperor Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire. When this first census took place, Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Everyone, then, went to register himself, each to his own hometown. Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David. Joseph went there because he was a descendant of David. He went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant,and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger—there was no room for them to stay in the inn. There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, but the angel said to them, Don't be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David's town your Savior was born—Christ the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great army of heaven's angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased! When the angels went away from them back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us. So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child. All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said. Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them. The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them.

Question: "Should Christians celebrate Christmas?"
Answer: The debate about whether or not Christians should celebrate Christmas has been raging for centuries. There are equally sincere and committed Christians on both sides of the issue, each with multiple reasons why or why not Christmas should be celebrated in Christian homes. But what does the Bible say? Does the Bible give clear direction as to whether Christmas is a holiday to be celebrated by Christians?
First, let’s look at the reasons why some Christians do not celebrate Christmas. One argument against Christmas is that the traditions surrounding the holiday have origins in paganism. Searching for reliable information on this topic is difficult because the origins of many of our traditions are so obscure that sources often contradict one another. Bells, candles, holly, and yuletide/yule decorations are mentioned in the history of pagan worship, but the use of such in one’s home certainly does not indicate a return to paganism. While there are definitely pagan roots to some traditions, there are many more traditions associated with the true meaning of Christmas—the birth of the Savior of the world in Bethlehem. Bells are played to ring out the joyous news, candles are lit to remind us that Christ is the Light of the world (John 1:4-9), a star is placed on the top of a Christmas tree to remember the Star of Bethlehem, and gifts are exchanged to remind us of the gifts of the Magi to Jesus, the greatest gift of God to mankind.
Another argument against Christmas, especially having a Christmas tree, is that the Bible forbids bringing trees into our homes and decorating them. The passage often cited is Jeremiah 10:1-16, but this passage refers to cutting down trees, chiseling the wood to make an idol, and then decorating the idol with silver and gold for the purpose of bowing down before it to worship it (see also Isaiah 44:9-18). The passage in Jeremiah cannot be taken out of its context and used to make a legitimate argument against Christmas trees.
Christians who choose to ignore Christmas point to the fact that the Bible doesn’t give us the date of Christ’s birth, which is certainly true. December 25 may not be even close to the time Jesus was born, and arguments on both sides are legion, some relating to climate in Israel, the practices of shepherds in winter, and the dates of Roman census-taking. None of these points are without a certain amount of conjecture, which brings us back to the fact that the Bible doesn’t tell us when Jesus was born. Some see this as proof positive that God didn’t want us to celebrate the birth, while others see the Bible’s silence on the issue as tacit approval.
Some Christians say that since the world celebrates Christmas—although it is becoming more and more politically correct to refer to it as “the holidays”—Christians should avoid it. But that is the same argument made by false religions that deny Christ altogether, as well as cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny His deity. Those Christians who do celebrate Christmas often see the occasion as an opportunity to proclaim Christ as “the reason for the season” among the nations and to those trapped in false religions.
As we have seen, there is no legitimate scriptural reason not to celebrate Christmas. At the same time, there is no biblical mandate to celebrate it, either. In the end, of course, whether or not to celebrate Christmas is a personal decision. Whatever Christians decide to do regarding Christmas, their views should not be used as a club with which to beat down or denigrate those with opposing views, nor should either view be used as a badge of honor inducing pride over celebrating or not celebrating. As in all things, we seek wisdom from Him who gives it liberally to all who ask (James 1:5) and accept one another in Christian love and grace, regardless of our views on Christmas.
Recommended Resource: The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 24-25/17
Prayers & Wishes On The Christmas Holy Day/Elias Bejjani/From the 2015 Archive
Our Prime Struggle Is within our self/Elias Bajan/December 24/17
Are Children Found On Trees?/Elias Bejjani/December 24/17
Colourful like a Rainbow/Elias Bejjani/December 20/17
Modesty is a Priceless and Everlasting Fortune/Elias Bejjani/December 24/17
Born on the Eve/Walid Phares/Face Book/December 24/17
Europe: The Islamization of Christmas/"An unbearable, involuntary submission to Islam"/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/December 24/ 2017
Rockets over Riyadh: A reminder of why Tehran must be confronted in Yemen
Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/December 25/2017
Why this Yemen ‘solution’ is impossible/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/December 25/2017
2017: A look back at Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East/Fahad Nazer/Arab News/December 25/2017
Corruption is the Middle East’s political gangrene/Amir Taheri/Al Arabiya/December 24/17
Thanks Britain/Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/December 25/2017
The West's Steadfast Misunderstanding of Turkey and Islam/Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/December 24/ 2017

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on December 24-25/17
Prayers & Wishes On The Christmas Holy Day
Our Prime Struggle Is within our self
Are Children Found On Trees
Colourful like a Rainbow
Modesty is a Priceless and Everlasting Fortune
Born on the Eve...
Violence against women in Lebanon ‘structural and systematic’
Aoun sends Christmas wishes
Riachi Hits Back at Moussawi over 'Civil War' Remarks
Alloush: Mustaqbal-LF Talks Ongoing, Albeit without 'Drastic Progress'
Aridi Says March 8 to Win Elections, Warns of Israeli Attack on Lebanon
Lebanese Hold Candle-Lit Vigil for Murdered Women
Mashnouq to Run for Parliamentary Elections
Rahi: We are responsible for telling the truth, practicing justice
Kabalan: We look forward to a national action that restores citizens' confidence in State
Geagea: Christmas has the taste of hope
Tourism Ministry Office at Beirut Airport welcomes arriving guests with roses, warm hospitality on Christmas occasion
Labor Minister: Let Christmas be an opportunity to meet
Arslan: Birth of Christ means to all humanity
Guidanian: Lebanon today is safer than any capital abroad

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 24-25/17
Egypt detains 15 after attack on Coptic church in Cairo
Gunmen kill 3 at cafe south of Cairo
Egypt, Ethiopia to hold key talks over controversial dam project
12th Palestinian Dies since Trump Declaration on Jerusalem
Dense Fog Disrupts UAE Flights ahead of Christmas
Dozens Feared Dead in Philippine Mall Inferno
N. Korea Slams New U.N. Sanctions as an 'Act of War'
Trump Slams FBI Deputy, who Reportedly Plans to Retire
Mosul celebrates first post-ISIS Christmas
Moscow tells Syrian opposition it does not support Assad’s departure
Israel court releases Turks after Jerusalem ‘incident’

Latest Lebanese Related News published on December 24-25/17
Prayers & Wishes On The Christmas Holy Day
Elias Bejjani/From the 2015 Archive
Thinking of the great fatherhood love that Almighty God carries for us helps in appreciating and understanding the actual meanings of Christmas.
God for the sake of our salvation and freedom from the original sin, He sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to be incarnated, live on earth like each one of us, endure all kinds of torture, pain, humiliation and to be crucified.
Jesus made us His own and called us to carry His holy message and preach it.
Hand in hand with all those who believe in righteousness and in the ultimate prevalence of good over evil, let us ask Jesus Christ, the incarnated God, to grant peace and stability to the whole world, and to shower all the oppressed with the graces of faith, perseverance, patience, and to bestow them the power of endurance to face the hardships inflicted on them by Evil of Axis, the Syrian-Iranian occupation..
As far as oppressed Lebanon, and despite all the sufferings, the majority of our faithful and patriotic people will always hold on to the hope of Lebanon’s resurrection and to its eventual mere liberation from occupation, traitors and all evil.
History always repeats itself, and victory shall inevitably be for those Lebanese who courageously and faithfully carry Lebanon’s torch of freedom, dignity, and human rights, as has always been for the past 7,000 years.
All wishes to everyone of you, in occupied Lebanon, and in the Diaspora, to enjoy with your beloved ones a holy and glorious Christmas, and a very Happy New year.
Our great happiness as patriotic Lebanese will reach its prime when, and only when, our beloved Lebanon, home and land of our great fathers and ancestors reclaims its confiscated independence, redeems its marginalized sovereignty, restores its oppressed freedoms, and regains its hijacked free decision-making process.
Our joy and happiness in celebrating Christmas will be at peak the day:
When hundreds of our country’s arbitrarily held detainees are released from the fascist Syrian jails and horrible detention centers, where they have been deprived for many years of all their basic human rights.
When our free and patriotic comrades, individuals, leaders and dignitaries are no longer prisoners of conscience inside Lebanon, and not exposed to intimidation, fear, terrorism and assassinations
When our exiled people from South Lebanon who are taking refugee in Israel are welcomed back in Lebanon, officially and publicly with open arms.
When Lebanon’s fertile fields are again green, ploughed, sowed, guarded and harvested by our men and women.
When our factories are re-opened, productive, and run only by Lebanese hands.
When our borders are patrolled solely by the Lebanese army and security forces,
When all militias, Lebanese and non-Lebanese, are disarmed and dismantled,
When the law of the land and the legitimate authority of a sovereign Lebanese people are fully and independently applied and enforced on all Lebanon’s soil.
When conscientious and patriotic Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected freely by the people who deserve MPs who, in turn, understand that they have the obligation and the privilege to represent the people’s hopes, aspirations and wishes.
When Lebanon’s markets are open for the country’s products with no foreign hegemony or unfair and arbitrary competition.
When Lebanon’s judiciary is fair, unbiased and non-politicized, and when the judiciary and judges fully respect the constitution and abide by the law of the land and the Charter of Human Rights.
When Lebanese identity is honored and hailed by all the Lebanese communities, and is placed above all other political, regional, ethnic and religious affiliations.
Then, and only then, we can rest our case for the struggle.
Let us all pray that the birth of Our Lord Jesus will coincide this year with the re-birth of a new Lebanon that is free, independent and sovereign.
On the Holy Christmas Day, Let us pray for Peace, tranquility, Love, Forgiveness and prosperity all over the world .
Best wishes for A Merry Christmas .

Our Prime Struggle Is within our self/صراع الإنسان هو مع نفسه
Elias Bajan/December 24/17
The most dangerous challenge and the prime struggle that we encounter in life and around the clock lies within our self …It is actually between our conscience, which is the voice of the Lord in our minds and thinking, and the instincts of our earthly bodies. the instincts if not tamed and controlled turns into a demon that leads us into temptation. Let us on the Christmas Eve pray that Almighty God helps us to not fall into temptations.

Are Children Found On Trees?هل الأطفال يسقطون عن الأشجار
Elias Bejjani/December 24/17
Definitely grown Children are not found on trees as adults .. ready to start their own independent life..Grown children are born as babies.. helpless babies that are nurtured and raised with tears by their parents, hard work, sweat, pain, hardships and sacrifices, a lot of sacrifices.. Grown children are ought to keep this reality in front of their eyes as long as they live…If and only if they have faith, know what is gratitude, fear Almighty God and His Day Of Judgment.

Colourful like a Rainbow/الحياة متعددة الألوان كقوس القزح
Elias Bejjani/December 20/17
Life with all its complexities is so colourful like a rainbow, and its for your own taste, tolerance, wishes, capabilities and choice to envisage it the way that pleases you

Modesty is a Priceless and Everlasting Fortune/الياس بجاني: التواضع كنز لا يفنى
Elias Bejjani
First published on 18/01/13
“He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down princes from their thrones. And has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things. He has sent the rich away empty”. (Luke 01/51-54)
Those who falsely delude themselves into thinking they are superior to others, super wise and can do everything and any thing, fall into the evil trap of arrogance. By doing so they badly detach themselves from the reality of God’s love. They build delusional castles in their minds, imprison themselves inside its imaginary gates and ultimately become completely blind in both heart and soul .
Arrogant individuals inevitably become hostile, angry, childish, selfish, antisocial and narcissists who are not welcomed anywhere. People avoid those who brag and exalt themselves. Arrogance is a very serious social problem caused by lack of faith that needs to be fixed before it gets worse. God does not bless those who are arrogant.
Almighty God has made it very clear in His Holy Book that He does not like those who are pompous, proud, and conceited because He Himself is a caring, humble, and meek Father. “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Meanwhile, we cannot solve any problem unless we admit that it actually exists, and at the same time become fully aware of its causing factors. We cannot defeat the evil of arrogance and the destructive self-exaltation that results unless we know our own capabilities, means and resources. And most importantly, recognize that all people are brothers and sisters to one Father, the Almighty God.
One might wonder why some people tend to behave in such a way that they end being socially hated and isolated. Mainly because of their ignorance, distorted self-image, and most importantly because they have very little or no faith at all. They fail to gain genuine friends and have no room for intimate and long lasting relationships. Even their close family members avoid them and do not feel comfortable in their presence. They cannot love others because of their narcissism.
These disturbed individuals need to be humble, loving, and honest to overcome their arrogant behaviour. They need to call on Almighty God for the grace of humility. God always responds to our calls and prayers when we put our full trust in Him, recognize His love, and lay our lives in His generous hands. “Most certainly I tell you, if you have faith, and don’t doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you told this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it would be done. All things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21/21-22)
Humility is the magic curing medicine for arrogance. This heavenly grace is always there for us if and when we pursue it with faith and unquestionable trust in God. Knowing what humility means to our lives and for our salvation is critically important.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise. (Psalm 111:10)
There is humility that comes from the fear of God, and there is humility that comes from God Himself. Some are modest because they fear God, and some are modest because they know how to live with all the heavenly endowments that banishes all doubts, fears, selfishness, hatred, covetousness and grudges from our earthly nature.
Those who fear God are humble because they enjoy peace within themselves. Those who fear God watch what they say and do, find sweetness in their bodies which are God’s temples, and experience the priceless grace of balance in their senses, granting them full control over their instincts and a forgiving heart at all times.
Those who are humble because they know and experience genuine happiness with purity, enjoy great simplicity all the time with a cheerful and transparent heart. God loves the humble and always comes to their rescue so that no hardships or evil things can weaken their faith, entrap them into the temptations of the wicked and unrighteous, or makes them slaves to sin. Jesus Christ Himself has set the rules in regards to humility: “But he who is greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23/11-12)
The Bible (Malachi 4/1-6), Tells us exactly what the proud and wicked will be facing on the Day of Judgment. Let us never forget this or keep a blind eye on it:
“For, behold, the day comes, it burns as a furnace; and all the proud, and all who work wickedness, will be stubble; and the day that comes will burn them up,” says Yahweh of Armies, “that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. You will go out, and leap like calves of the stall. You shall tread down the wicked; for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make,” says Yahweh of Armies. “Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel, even statutes and ordinances. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
In conclusion, humbleness is a blessed grace that we need to pursue via faith, love and fear of God. To be really God’s children we must dearly hold on to this grace and integrate it into our every day life, heart, mind and practise. We are all equal and have one Father who created us on his image. We are all one family, brothers and sisters no matter who we are. That we are all children of God the Father is true no matter where we live, what our racial identity is, the language we speak, the social status that we enjoy, the wealth that we have, the strength that we possess, and even whether we are good or sinful. Almighty God is our loving Father and accordingly we must learn to be humble before Him and love each other more intimately as members of His one family.

Born on the Eve...
Walid Phares/Face Book/December 24/17
Being born on Christmas Eve, December 24, is not an easy thing - it is a life marker, especially if your parents would give you the name that goes with it. Father wanted the name Walid, which translates to "Newborn" to match with "Phares" which translates to "Knight" in Arabic. Father was a literary writer when he wasn't a lawyer. However, what marks your childhood years is the feeling that your most important day merges with the most important day for all people around you. Hence your happiness derives from a happiness greater than your own. It gives you a higher perspective on life. But your childhood would never leave you. Christmas eve, chants, and celebrations are all one with your own birthday, forever. Forget the presents, for the feeling of Christmas becomes the gift.

Violence against women in Lebanon ‘structural and systematic’
Reuters/December 25/2017/BEIRUT: Dozens of people gathered outside Beirut’s national museum to light candles for a British woman and three Arab women murdered in the past week in Lebanon. The killing of the British Embassy worker Rebecca Dykes last week has sparked extensive media coverage in Lebanon, prompting activists to press for more attention to be given to widespread violence against women. Lebanese women’s rights activists held the vigil to mourn the victims, demand better laws, and to protest against the violence — including the three reported murders in northern Lebanon alone over the past week. “Society refuses to listen to us or see us until our blood is spilled,” Leen Hashem, an organizer, told the crowd from the steps of the museum. “This violence is structural and systematic.” “Justice is not only arresting the criminal. Justice is for all; this not to happen to us in the first place,” she said. Participants laid white roses over pictures of the four women, and lined the steps with candles. Wafaa Al-Kabbout stood on the sidelines, holding a framed photo of her 21-year-old daughter Zahraa, whose ex-husband shot her dead last year. “Now my daughter is gone, she’s not coming back,” she said. “But all these young women are our daughters. And there is still fear for the young women after them.” The UN says a third of women worldwide have suffered sexual or physical violence. A 2017 national study by the Beirut-based women’s rights group ABAAD said that one in four women have been raped in Lebanon. Less than a quarter of women who faced sexual assault reported it, the survey said. “Little by little, we are breaking the silence ... for women to come forward and talk about the violence they are facing,” said Saja Michael, program manager at ABAAD. In the past five years, women have become more likely to report violence and seek help, she said, though sexual assault remains a bit more taboo. Part of the reason is that NGOs have set up new shelters and community centers, with psychological, legal, medical, and other services, Michael added. “It’s becoming more of a public discourse,” she said. “It’s no longer what’s happening behind closed doors.”

Aoun sends Christmas wishes
The Daily/December 24/ 2017/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun said Sunday he hoped Christmas would bring joy, love and peace to the Lebanese people. “Our hope in this blessed night is that Christmas will bring joy, love and peace to Lebanon and the Levant,” a tweet from the presidency said. Aoun is scheduled to attend a festive mass at Bkirki on Monday alongside Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, on the occasion of Christmas, a statement from Aoun’s office said Saturday. The president also reportedly sent season’s greetings to a number of heads of state, “wishing the peoples and leaders of these countries well-being, peace and peace of mind.”

Riachi Hits Back at Moussawi over 'Civil War' Remarks
Naharnet/December 24/17/Information Minister Melhem Riachi of the Lebanese Forces responded Sunday to remarks by MP Nawwaf al-Moussawi, an outspoken member of Hizbullah’s Loyalty to Resistance bloc. “Someone from the March 8 camp has said that the conflict today is between the advocates of stability and isolated parties that want civil war… Those whom he described as isolated are open to the Arab world and the international community and they are only clinging to stability and legitimate state institutions,” Riachi said in a tweet. “Meanwhile, those whom he described as advocates of stability are the ones who are exposing Lebanon to the threat of sanctions and blockade while carrying out acts that defy legitimate state institutions,” the minister added.
Moussawi had said Saturday that the March 8-March 14 rift no longer exists and that Lebanon is now divided between a camp “that puts national accord and civil peace above all else” and another “that has expressed its willingness to execute the orders of some regional and international regimes, even if that leads to restarting the civil war.”“These are an isolated minority and their isolation should be maintained,” the MP added.

Alloush: Mustaqbal-LF Talks Ongoing, Albeit without 'Drastic Progress'
Naharnet/December 24/17/Dialogue between representatives of al-Mustaqbal Movement and the Lebanese Forces “is still ongoing, albeit without drastic progress,” senior Mustaqbal official Mustafa Alloush has said.
In remarks to Asharq al-Awsat newspaper published Sunday, Alloush noted that the talks are focusing on “an essential point, which is facilitating and supporting the work of the government in the wake of the criticism it has faced in recent period from LF officials who are also represented in the Cabinet.”
The Mustaqbal official said “the initiative that Prime Minister Saad Hariri has made towards LF leader Samir Geagea through offering him seasons greetings” as well as “the softened LF criticism of the government’s work” could lead to a “positive outcome.”Relations between the two long-time allies were strained after some Mustaqbal officials accused the LF of inciting Saudi leaders to press Hariri to resign. The row is also linked to Geagea's statement in the wake of Hariri's resignation that the premier should have resigned earlier and that "no self-respecting person would stay in the government after all the events of the past few months."

Aridi Says March 8 to Win Elections, Warns of Israeli Attack on Lebanon
Naharnet/December 24/17/MP Ghazi Aridi of the Progressive Socialist Party on Sunday said that the May 2018 parliamentary elections will be held on time and that the Hizbullah-led March 8 camp will emerge victorious. “The so-called March 8 camp will win due to the nature of the electoral law, which is marred by the distribution of districts according to the interests of the political parties,” Aridi said in a radio interview. Separately, the lawmaker and former minister warned that “Israel is still targeting Lebanon, and certainly there is a threat of an Israeli attack on Lebanon.”“Anyone who deals with the issue in a different manner would be mistaken,” Aridi added. “Lebanon can only be protected through collective Lebanese action and the so-called dissociation agreement should be managed in a good way. In the face of the current challenges, we must remain vigilant towards the daily Israeli targeting of Lebanon,” the MP went on to say.

Lebanese Hold Candle-Lit Vigil for Murdered Women

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 24/17/Dozens of people have gathered with candles in Beirut to denounce violence against women after at least three were murdered in Lebanon in less than a week. The victims included British embassy worker Rebecca Dykes, whom an Uber driver admitted to killing after he tried to sexually assault her last week. Days before, a 22-year-old was found shot in the chest and her husband was detained, vigil organizers said. Also during the same week, a woman's son-in-law was held in custody after she was found killed. A 15-year-old girl was also said to have committed suicide during the week. In a Facebook post before the event, organizers deplored a lack of "legal, social and political systems" to address what they called "systemic" violence against women, from harassment to murder. "We reject the normalization of violence against women and justifying it as separate incidents at a time where it's clearly a structural and systemic violence that haunts us in private and public spaces," they said. They called for "tangible and effective actions" to respect women's boundaries and bodies. In 2014, Lebanon passed a law making domestic violence a criminal offense, after a years-long campaign by civil society groups.

Mashnouq to Run for Parliamentary Elections
Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq announced on Saturday that he will be running for the upcoming parliamentary elections, and pointed out to full security preparedness to secure safety during the holidays. Mashnouq announced that the elections “will not be postponed. No political party wishes them postponed and I will run for the polls.” Lebanon's elections are scheduled in May 2018.
Regarding safety measures during the holiday season, the Minister said: “25,000 soldiers will deploy in different areas around the country mainly near churches and places of worship.”He added saying that strict measures during New Year's eve will be taken regarding drivers' safety, excessive speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol.

Rahi: We are responsible for telling the truth, practicing justice
Sun 24 Dec 2017/NNA - Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Beshara Boutros Rahi, said Sunday that Lebanese officials are required to tell the truth at all times and to practice justice. "Our Christian identity is not inseparable from our message. Therefore, we, in Lebanon and the Levant, have to remain faithful to the message entrusted to us by the Lord Christ, which is, telling the truth, practicing justice, building bridges of brotherhood and cooperation, consolidating peace, and standing against oppression, tyranny and assault on human life," Rahi said during a Mass service in Bkirki today.
The Patriarch did not miss the chance to remind about Palestine by calling on the international community, Palestinians, Arab and Christians to urge U.S. President Donald Trump "to withdraw his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his decision to move the US embassy to it."
"Declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel means the Judaization of al-Quds and the demise of Christian and Islamic characteristics, igniting the war once again," Rahi went on.
On the other hand, the Cardinal praised the decision of the UN General Assembly in rejecting America's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and criticized the U.S. reaction to said decision by saying, "Once again, America is hostile to democracy, peoples' rights and peace."
Rahi concluded his sermon by hoping that this coming Christmas and festive season would dispel all conflicts and wars, as well as political, economic, living and social crises, putting an end to poverty and deprivation around the world.

Kabalan: We look forward to a national action that restores citizens' confidence in State
Sun 24 Dec 2017/NNA - Islamic Shiite Supreme Council Head, Sheikh Abdul Amir Kabalan, called Sunday on all politicians to adopt "a national action that fuses citizens into a true partnership that will restore their confidence in their country, especially that Lebanon is in need more than ever for a national renaissance to combat corruption." Kabalan, whose words came during his Christmas greeting message to the Lebanese, urged politicians to "restore confidence in each other through openness, far-reaching a comprehensive reconciliation and fusion in the crucible of national action, based on the real participation [between all political counterparts] in ruling the country away from the logic of isolation and alienation, giving top priority to public interests rather than narrow, personal benefits." He also called on the government to work hard to address citizens' economic and daily living conditions and social crisis, as the number of poor people in Lebanon is increasing dramatically.
Kabalan concluded his message by saying, "We must unite as Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Lebanese, to renounce violence and intolerance and condemn Zionist terrorism, working to preserve the human being regardless of religious, sectarian and regional affiliation and to exert efforts to resolve the ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Bahrain through dialogue."

Geagea: Christmas has the taste of hope
Sun 24 Dec 2017/NNA - Lebanese Forces Party Chief Samir Geagea quoted Pope Francis in a Tweet on Sunday, saying: "Christmas has a special taste of hope because the light of God shines despite our darkness...Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!"

Tourism Ministry Office at Beirut Airport welcomes arriving guests with roses, warm hospitality on Christmas occasion
Sun 24 Dec 2017/NNA - The Ministry of Tourism's Bureau at Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut celebrated the glorious Christmas spirit on Sunday by welcoming visitors to Lebanon for the festive holidays with flowers and warm hospitality at the arrival hall, while Christmas carols played in the background. Bureau Director Rasha Allawi said on the occasion, "The Tourism Ministry, with the encouragement of the Minister of Tourism, wished to make a modest initiative to welcome arriving guests into Lebanon from its very gateway."Arriving visitors interacted joyfully with the initiative, showing enthusiasm for spending the holiday season with their families and friends in Lebanon.

Labor Minister: Let Christmas be an opportunity to meet

Sun 24 Dec 2017/NNA - In his Christmas greeting to the Lebanese on Sunday, Labor Minister Mohammed Kabbara hoped that this blessed occasion would be "an opportunity to come together in an atmosphere of love and fraternity, and work for our country's rise and advancement so it can maintain its pioneering role in the East.""The joy of the festive season remains incomplete under the siege of Jerusalem and the attempts of Judaization," added Kabbara regretfully.
He praised all "Palestinian heroes stationed in defense of the holy city," while calling for "an Arab, Islamic and Christian stand to restore Jerusalem as the capital of Arabs and Palestinians."

Arslan: Birth of Christ means to all humanity
Sun 24 Dec 2017/NNA - "The birth of Christ has meaning to the whole of humanity, and we at Dar Khaldeh have held on to this tradition for decades, out of absolute faith in our national divinity based on the Christian and Islamic heavenly messages," said Displaced Minister Talal Arslan in a Tweet on Sunday.
Arslan wished all the Lebanese a "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"

Guidanian: Lebanon today is safer than any capital abroad
Sun 24 Dec 2017/NNA - Tourism Minister Avedis Guidanian said on Sunday that Lebanon is now more secure than any foreign capital. "We have entered a period of political and security stability, at a time when Lebanon occupies the first place in the region in terms of tourism," asserted Guidanian in an interview to Radio Lebanon. He deemed that stability in the country greatly increases economic and tourism growth, noting that "prices are affordable and there are beautiful places outside the capital. Lebanon gives tourists more than any country in the region in terms of religious and cultural tourism." Referring to the last Cabinet session, Guidanian described it as "excellent" since all items on the agenda were approved, giving room for resolving the public waste issue. "A committee was formed to tackle the waste dossier and there are concerns by some ministers in this respect," he indicated, while calling for a "complete and comprehensive waste management plan."Guidanian concluded by saying, "The year 2018 will be a promising one for tourism based on several factors, including the opening of new markets, a European spur for tourism in Lebanon...and medical tourism which is equally important." He disclosed herein his intention to arrange for a meeting to develop a new vision and plan to promote medical tourism in the country.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 24-25/17
Egypt detains 15 after attack on Coptic church in Cairo
Reuters, Cairo/Sunday 24 December 2017/Egyptian authorities have detained 15 people pending an investigation into an attack on an unlicensed Coptic Christian church in a village south of Cairo, a security source said on Sunday. Dozens of people from the village of Kafr al-Waslin attacked the church after Friday prayers, smashing the windows and breaking everything inside, the archdiocese of Atfih said in a statement. The diocese had applied to legalize the status of the church, which has housed worshippers for 15 years after a church building law was passed in 2016, the statement said. Those detained are accused of stirring sectarian strife, harming national unity and destroying private property, one judicial source told Reuters. The owner of the building was also in custody pending inquiries into the operations of the facility by state security and the interior ministry, the source added. Egyptian Christians make up about a tenth of the country's almost 95 million population and are the Middle East's largest Christian community.

Gunmen kill 3 at cafe south of Cairo
AFP, AP/Sunday 24 December 2017/CAIRO: Masked gunmen opened fire on a cafe south of the Egyptian capital, killing three people, security officials said Sunday. The attack, which took place overnight in the village of Al-Ayat about 50 km from Cairo, left at least five others wounded, they said. While the motivation was unclear officials suspect it was a criminal incident rather than terrorism. State-run newspaper Akhbar Al-Youm, citing witnesses, said two attackers arrived on a motorcycle and opened fire on people in the cafe before fleeing. Security officials arrived at the scene and also interviewed injured people in hospital to try to identify and arrest the attackers, the newspaper reported. Separately, hundreds of demonstrators attacked an unlicensed church south of Cairo wounding three people, an Egyptian Coptic Christian diocese said on Saturday. The incident took place after Friday prayers when demonstrators gathered outside the building and stormed it. The demonstrators chanted hostile slogans and called for the church’s demolition, a source said. The demonstrators destroyed the church’s contents and assaulted Christians inside before security personnel arrived and dispersed them. The wounded were transferred to a nearby hospital, the diocese said after the attack, without elaborating. A media coordinator at the diocese, the Rev. Yehnes Youssef, said later on Saturday that three Copts were wounded but have been treated.

Egypt, Ethiopia to hold key talks over controversial dam project
Reuters/December 25/2017/Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia tensions over dam flare up again. Egypt farmers fear water supply threat from Ethiopia dam
CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry will visit Addis Ababa next week for talks with his Ethiopian counterpart, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, in a bid to end a standoff over a multi-billion dollar dam project on the Nile river. The dispute, which also involves Sudan, centers on control of a share of the waters of the Nile that stretches 6,695 km from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean and is the economic lifeblood of all three countries. Cairo says the dam would threaten water supplies that have fed Egypt’s agriculture and economy for thousands of years. Ethiopia says the Grand Renaissance Dam, which it hopes will help make it Africa’s largest power exporter, will have no major effect on Egypt. It accuses Cairo of flexing its political muscle to deter financiers from backing other Ethiopian power projects. Delegations from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia met in Cairo in November to approve a study by a French firm commissioned to assess the dam’s environmental and economic impact. But negotiations stalled when they failed to agree on the initial report with each blaming others for blocking progress. Sudan’s Irrigation Minister Moataz Moussa said Egypt was unwilling to accept amendments to the report put forward by Khartoum and Addis Ababa. Sudan and Ethiopia had expressed concern over several points, especially the proposed baseline from which the study would measure the dam’s impacts, Moussa said in November. Another source of disagreement is whether Ethiopia plans to complete construction before negotiations over water flows have finished. “It’s clear they don’t want to reach conclusions quickly. We believe they probably want to start filling the dam and complete construction while there are still some ongoing discussions,” said Mahmoud Abou Zeid, Arab Water Council Chair and former Egyptian irrigation minister. He said this would violate an agreement signed by all three countries in Khartoum in 2015 meant to ensure diplomatic cooperation and stem fears of a resource conflict. Cairo fears the 6,000-megawatt dam, being built by Italy’s largest construction firm, Salini Impregilo SpA, and due for completion next year, will reduce the flow it depends on for drinking water and irrigation. Egyptian officials say safeguarding the country’s quota of Nile water is a matter of national security. “No one can touch Egypt’s water ... (which) means life or death for a population,” President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said last month

12th Palestinian Dies since Trump Declaration on Jerusalem
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 24/17/A Palestinian teenager died on Sunday, nine days after being wounded by Israeli fire during a Gaza protest against U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the health ministry said. Mohammad Sami al-Dahduh, 19, from Gaza City was shot on December 15 during a demonstration on the Israeli border, ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said. His death brings to 12 the number of Palestinians killed since U.S. President Donald Trump announced on December 6 that he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. Ten protesters have died after clashes with Israeli troops, two of them on Friday. Two others were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza earlier in the month. Among the Gazans killed in the December 15 clashes was Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, who had lost his legs in an Israeli attack a decade ago.
The health ministry in Gaza said the 29-year-old was shot in the head by a sniper, with the U.N.'s human rights chief saying he was "truly shocked" by Abu Thurayeh's death, demanding an "independent and impartial investigation." On December 18, the Israeli army said it conducted an investigation, according to which it was "impossible to determine whether Abu Thurayeh was injured as a result of riot dispersal means or what caused his death.""No live fire was aimed at Abu Thurayeh," the army said in a statement. On Saturday, the head of COGAT, Israel's defense ministry unit responsible for activities in the Palestinian territories, reiterated there was "no basis for the false reports that a sniper deliberately targeted Abu Thurayeh." Major General Yoav Mordechai also wrote in a Facebook post in Arabic that he had asked the Red Cross to provide all information on Abu Thurayeh's evacuation and treatment. "There are too many question marks around Abu Thurayeh's death," Mordechai wrote. "Let's put an end to the rumors, exaggerations and lies."

Dense Fog Disrupts UAE Flights ahead of Christmas
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 24/17/Thick fog on Sunday disrupted flights at major airports in the United Arab Emirates as thousands of foreign residents rushed to travel home for Christmas and the New Year. Dozens of flights were canceled, diverted or delayed at the three main airports in the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. At the Dubai airport, one of the busiest in the world, at least 17 flights were canceled, as visibility dropped to just 100 meters (yards) in some areas of the emirate. At least another 100 incoming flights were either diverted to nearby airports or delayed, according to the flight schedule at the airport. Dubai airport is a major transit hub, and thousands of tourists are expected to visit the United Arab Emirates for the end-of-year festivities. Dubai carrier Emirates Airlines, which has a fleet of over 250 large planes, said it has canceled 10 flight departures.The fog has engulfed most of the country since Friday, but it intensified overnight as relative humidity soared to 95 percent amid cold winter weather. Police warned motorists to be extremely cautious when driving in the fog, which the UAE weather centre has said is likely to continue until the end of the day. The United Arab Emirates has a native population of just one million against nine million foreigners, most of them from the Indian subcontinent.

Dozens Feared Dead in Philippine Mall Inferno

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 24/17/At least 37 people, including call centre staff from an American firm, are believed to have perished in a fire that tore through a shopping mall in the southern Philippine city of Davao, local authorities said on Sunday. President Rodrigo Duterte, himself a Davao native, visited distraught relatives outside the burning building overnight but told them there was "zero" chance their loved ones had survived, witnesses told AFP. Firemen found one body as the blaze was brought under control Sunday, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, the president's daughter, told reporters. Firemen have concluded that all those trapped in the building are dead, she said, adding: "They assessed that no one would survive in that heat and with that thick, black smoke." The deadly fire adds fresh misery for the mainly Catholic Philippines at Christmas as the death toll from a tropical storm that hit the south on Friday topped 200 and displaced tens of thousands of others. The blaze started at the four-storey NCCC Mall on Saturday morning sending thick plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky over Davao. With low wages but strong English language skills, the Philippines is a popular destination for international companies to set up customer call centers. The mall's top floor housed a 24-hour call centre for U.S. multinational SSI, a market research company. Jimmy Quimsing, a retired seaman, was one of the relatives desperately waiting for news. His 25-year-old son Jim Benedict worked at the call centre and had not been in contact since the fire broke out. Quimsing said he spoke to President Duterte and had been told to prepare for the worst. "He told us zero, no one would survive under these circumstances," he told AFP. Duterte' special assistant Christopher Go confirmed the bulk of the conversation to AFP. Paolo Duterte, the president's son and the vice mayor of Davao, also wrote on Facebook that fire officials had told him there was "zero" chance of anyone trapped surviving the blaze.
'No ventilation' -I
n a statement on its local Facebook page SSI Philippines Davao said it would set up a "command centre" for relatives of those missing. "Please continue to pray for everyone's safety," the firm added. Davao fire marshal Honeyfritz Alagano said the blaze may have started with a spark on the third floor of the mall, which had a furniture section. "One of our firemen here has a kid who is an (call centre) agent in there. He told us some of them went to collect their stuff at their lockers and were trapped," Alagano told AFP. "The mall is an enclosed space with no ventilation. When our firemen tried to enter they were pushed back by smoke and fire," she said. Deadly blazes occur regularly in the Philippines, particularly in slum areas where there are virtually no fire safety standards. "It's possible that while they were working, they did not immediately notice the fire spreading," Davao police officer Ralph Canoy told AFP, referring to the call centre workers. Davao, with a population of about 1.5 million people, is the biggest city in the southern Philippines. It is about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of Manila, the nation's capital . The president served as mayor for more than two decades and continues to go home there on weekends from his work at the presidential palace in Manila. His daughter succeeded him as he ran for president, with one of his sons also winning the vice mayoralty post. Most of those killed by the recent tropical storm were also in the southern region of Mindanao. There have also been horrific fires in bigger buildings and factories, where corruption and exploitation mean supposedly strict standards are often not enforced. Seventy-two people were killed in 2015 when a fire tore through a footwear factory in Manila. Survivors of that blaze blamed barred windows and other sweatshop conditions for trapping people inside the factory. In the deadliest fire in the Philippines in recent times, 162 people were killed in a huge blaze that gutted a Manila disco in 1996.

N. Korea Slams New U.N. Sanctions as an 'Act of War'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 24/17/North Korea slammed fresh U.N. sanctions imposed over its missile tests as an "act of war" on Sunday, its first response to the latest diplomatic move to punish Pyongyang's ever-accelerating weapons drive. Tension has been high on the flashpoint peninsula as the isolated but nuclear-armed regime has staged a series of atomic and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests -- most recently on November 29. The latest launch of the Hwasong-15 ICBM, seen capable of hitting all major U.S. cities, further heightened global alarm over the rapid advance in the country's weapons technology. "We fully reject the latest U.N. sanctions... as a violent breach of our republic's sovereignty and an act of war that destroys the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and a wider region," Pyongyang's foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run KCNA news agency.
Pyongyang's bellicose reply came a day after the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed new, U.S.-drafted sanctions that will restrict oil supplies vital for the impoverished state. The third raft of sanctions imposed on the North this year, sparked by last month's ICBM test, also received the backing of China -- the North's sole major ally and economic lifeline. The sanctions also order the repatriation of North Korean workers sent abroad to earn much needed revenue for Kim Jong-Un's regime. The country's weapons programs have made significant progress since Kim took power in 2011.
Sanctions 'toothless'
The North has defended its missile and nuclear weapons programs as measures for self-defense against "hostile" US policies towards Pyongyang. And a defiant Pyongyang vowed on Sunday that the country would continue its weapons push "more vigorously" to "form a balance of power with the U.S."
"If you think that those toothless 'sanctions' could stop the victorious march of our people who have... achieved the historic goal of building the national nuclear weapons, there would not be a bigger mistake than that," the foreign ministry said. "The U.S. and its puppet followers should never forget the newly-upgraded status of our nation as a nation that could pose a real nuclear threat to the U.S. mainland," it added. The North claimed last month that its ICBM could deliver a "super-large heavy (nuclear) warhead" to anywhere in the U.S. mainland.  But experts believe that Pyongyang has yet to develop the advanced technology to allow its rockets to survive re-entry into the earth's atmosphere. The latest U.N. sanctions were hailed by U.S. President Donald Trump, who tweeted, "The World wants peace, not Death!"  Trump and Kim have traded threats of war and personal insults against each other in recent months, prompting fears of another conflict on the peninsula once devastated by the 1950-53 Korean War. The resolution bans the supply of nearly 75 percent of refined oil products to the North, puts a cap on crude deliveries and orders all North Koreans working abroad to be sent back by the end of 2019. It also bans sales of all industrial machinery, trucks, iron, steel and other metals to the North and added 15 Pyongyang officials to the U.N. sanctions blacklist for global visa ban and assets freeze.

Trump Slams FBI Deputy, who Reportedly Plans to Retire
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 24/17/
U.S. President Donald Trump has again taken aim at deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, saying he was "racing the clock to retire," as U.S. media reported McCabe plans to step down. "FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits," Trump tweeted. "90 days to go?!!!"CNN, CBS and The Washington Post all reported that the 49-year-old McCabe plans to retire, possibly in March, when he will be eligible for full pension benefits. An FBI spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. McCabe has faced intense pressure from Trump, who for more than a year has challenged the FBI official's connections to the Democratic Party even while suggesting more recently that the long-respected agency was "in tatters."But with administration officials themselves under mounting pressure from the investigation by former FBI chief Robert Mueller into links between Trump's election campaign and Russia, the president's pointed criticism of McCabe has raised concerns among Democrats who fear he might be laying the groundwork to oust, or at least undermine, Mueller. In a second tweet, Trump suggested that McCabe's wife, a Virginia politician, had been given $700,000 by allies of Hillary Clinton at a time he was involved in the investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server. The FBI has said McCabe did not start overseeing the Clinton investigation until his wife's campaign for the Virginia Senate was over. A Justice Department inspector general has been examining McCabe's role in the Clinton investigation. Democrats have urged McCabe to resist pressure to step down, which they say is politically motivated.

Mosul celebrates first post-ISIS Christmas
AFP, Mosul/December 24/2017/Hymns filled a church in Iraq’s second city Mosul on Sunday as worshippers celebrated Christmas for the first time in four years after the end of militant rule. Tens of thousands of Christians fled northern Iraqi towns in 2014 as the ISIS group seized Mosul and swathes of the surrounding Nineveh province. But Iraqi forces expelled the militants from the city this year after months of battle, allowing Christians to return to pray at Saint Paul’s church.
‘Peace and stability’
On Sunday morning, the patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, called on dozens to pray for “peace and stability in Mosul, Iraq and the world.”Muslims, as well as local and military officials, stood with Christian worshippers amid the candles and Christmas trees. On the church’s walls, white sheets covered up window frames blasted empty in the war. Armored vehicles sat outside the church, where the portrait of a Christian killed under ISIS rule was displayed as a reminder of the city’s grim recent history.
Farqad Malko, a Christian woman in the congregation, said celebrating the mass on Christmas Eve was “important to relaunch Christian life” in the city. She is one of the few to have returned to the area after Iraqi forces defeated ISIS in the city in July. She said she was determined “to work and go to church in Mosul.” The militants’ defeat is a massive turnaround for an organization that once ruled over millions of people in a territory as big as Italy encompassing large parts of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq. This month Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in the three-year campaign backed by a US-led coalition to expel ISIS from Iraq.

Moscow tells Syrian opposition it does not support Assad’s departure
Al Arabiya/December 24/2017/The Russian Foreign Ministry is preparing the list of participants at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress set to take place in Sochi at the end of January, Russian media reported on Saturday. As per new boundaries set by the ministry, the Syrian opposition must set aside the notion of removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from office in order to participate at the congress. The ministry also said that they will not allow Sochi to become an arena pro-Assad leaving. Continuation of the former only supports the opposition’s desire to continue an armed conflict, the ministry added. The ministry also reaffirmed UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura’s invitation to the congress while noting the possibility of the US’s participation, but only as an observer. President of the Syrian Opposition’s Media Hub Ahmed Ramadan said on Saturday that what Russia is attempting to impose is a challenge to Syrians and the world. Deals that oppose the decisions of the international community and the demands of the Syrian people must not be passed, he added.

Israel court releases Turks after Jerusalem ‘incident’
Jerusalem. AFP /December24/17/ 2017/An Israeli court ordered the release from custody Saturday of three Turkish tourists a day after they were arrested over a confrontation with police at a Jerusalem holy site. Police said the three were detained on Friday for being “involved in an incident in Jerusalem’s Old City after Friday prayers on the Temple Mount”, the Jewish term for the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. They were arrested for attacking a police officer and resisting arrest. But Jerusalem magistrates’ court ordered their release in a hearing late Saturday, denying a police request to extend their detention by four days, AFP reporters said. “The court rejected the police’s argument which is basically that they were liable to interfere with the police investigation, and also that they pose a threat to the general community,” their lawyer Nick Kaufman told AFP after the hearing. “It was obvious that this case was a politically charged case, and the judge released them.”A video circulating on social media shows a number of men wearing red shirts with the Turkish flag scuffling with police in the Old City. Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu said two of the three hold dual Turkish and Belgian citizenship.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 24-25/17
Europe: The Islamization of Christmas/"An unbearable, involuntary submission to Islam"أسلمة المسيحيين وخضوع لا يحتمل ولا ارادي للإسلام
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/December 24/ 2017
The re-theologizing of Christmas is based on the false premise that the Jesus of the Bible is the Jesus (Isa) of the Koran. This religious fusion, sometimes referred to as "Chrislam," is gaining ground in a West that has become biblically illiterate.
A school in Lüneburg postponed a Christmas party after a Muslim student complained that the singing of Christmas carols during school was incompatible with Islam. Alexander Gauland, the leader of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), said the school's action was "an unbearable, involuntary submission to Islam" and amounted to a "cowardly injustice" toward non-Muslim children.
"The word 'Christmas,' a symbol of our faith and our culture, does not discriminate against anyone. Striking the emblems of Christmas does not guarantee anyone's respect, does not produce a welcoming and inclusive school and society, but fosters intolerance towards our culture, our customs, our laws and our traditions. We firmly believe that our traditions must be respected." — Milan politician Samuele Piscina.
This year's Christmas season has been marked by Islam-related controversies in nearly every European country. Most of the conflicts have been generated by Europe's multicultural political and religious elites, who are bending over backwards to secularize Christmas, ostensibly to ensure that Muslims will not be offended by the Christian festival.
Many traditional Christmas markets have been renamed — Amsterdam Winter Parade, Brussels Winter Pleasures, Kreuzberger Wintermarkt, London Winterville, Munich Winter Festival — to project a multicultural veneer of secular tolerance.
More troubling are the growing efforts to Islamize Christmas. The re-theologizing of Christmas is based on the false premise that the Jesus of the Bible is the Jesus (Isa) of the Koran. This religious fusion, sometimes referred to as "Chrislam," is gaining ground in a West that has become biblically illiterate.
In Britain, for instance, the All Saints Church in Kingston upon Thames recently held a joint birthday celebration for Jesus and Mohammed. The "Milad, Advent and Christmas Celebration" on December 3 was aimed at "marking the birthday of Prophet Mohammed and looking forward to the birthday of Jesus." The hour-long service included time for Islamic prayer and was followed by the cutting of a birthday cake.
The prominent Christian blog "Archbishop Cranmer" rebuked the church for its lack of discernment:
"Note how this event is 'Marking the birthday of Prophet Mohammed,' but not looking forward to the birthday of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mohammed gets his prophethood, while Jesus gets neither his prophethood nor his priesthood; neither his kingship nor his messiahship. It's the exalted Prophet Mohammed along with plain old Jesus, because to have added any of his claims to divinity would, of course, have alienated many Muslims (if they hadn't already been alienated by the haram [forbidden by Islam] celebration), which wouldn't have been very interfaith or sensitively missional, would it?"
The blog added that exalting Mohammed in churches effectively proclaims that Mohammed is greater than Jesus:
"Every time a church accords Mohammed the epithet 'Prophet,' they are rejecting the crucifixion, denying the resurrection of Christ, and refuting that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, for Mohammed denied all of these foundational tenets of the Christian faith."
Previously, a passage from the Koran denying that Jesus is the Son of God was read during a service at a Scottish Episcopal Church in Glasgow on Epiphany, a festival commemorating the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ. One of the Queen's chaplains, Gavin Ashenden, referred to the Koran reading as "blasphemy." He added that "there are other and considerably better ways to build 'bridges of understanding'" with Muslims.
In London, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, a parliamentary group composed of members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, issued a report, "A Very Merry Muslim Christmas," aimed at drawing attention to the "humanity" of Muslims during Christmas. The report states:
"Too often, Muslim charities come to our attention because of negative media coverage... What we hear even less about is the 'Muslim Merry Christmas.' The soup kitchens, the food banks, the Christmas dinners, the New Year clean-up — work Muslim charities will be busy doing during the Christmas period."
In Scotland, the regional government was accused of "undermining" Britain's Christian heritage by promoting "winter festivals" for ethnic minorities while ignoring Christmas. Scotland's International Development Minister, Alasdair Allan, pledged nearly £400,000 ($535,000) to fund 23 events during the winter months. He described them as "key dates in our national calendar" and said the "exciting and diverse" program would help Scots "celebrate everything great about our wonderful country during the winter months." None of the events, however, has any connection to Christmas. A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said:
"It is deeply disappointing that the Scottish Government has chosen not to recognize the religious reality of Christmas in its Winter Festival events. Over half of the population stated their religion as Christian in the last census. Catholics, and other Christians, may quite rightly wonder why this publicly-funded Festival does not include any events designed to help Scots celebrate the birth of Christ which is undoubtedly the most significant celebration in the winter months."
Gordon Macdonald, of Christian charity CARE, added:
"It is part of the general secularization that has been taking place within the Scottish Government for a number of years where our Christian heritage and value system has been undermined as a direct result of government policy."
In Denmark, a primary school in Graested cancelled a traditional church service marking the beginning of Christmas in order not to offend Muslim pupils. Some parents accused the school of having double-standards: it recently held an event called "Syria Week" in which children immersed themselves in Middle Eastern culture. Ignoring parents, the school board sided with the school:
"The board backs the school's decision to create new traditions [emphasis added] that involve children and young people."
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who attended the school as a child, said the decision should be reversed. Health Minister Ellen Trane Norby added:
"Danish primary schools have a duty to spread education — and teaching the cultural values and knowledge connected to Christmas is an essential part of that."
In France, the annual Christmas market in the Croix-Rousse district of Lyon was cancelled because of exorbitant security costs associated with protecting the event from Islamic terror. The city's annual festival of lights did go ahead this year. The military governor of Lyon, General Pierre Chavancy, said that, because of the "sensitivity" of the event, 1,500 soldiers and police, backed up by dogs, river brigades and mine-clearers, would be deployed to provide security.
In neighboring Belgium, the head of the Red Cross in Liège, André Rouffart, ordered all 28 offices in the city to remove crucifixes to affirm the organization's secular identity. Critics said the decision was part of a broader effort to "modify certain terminologies" and to "break with our traditions and our roots" in order to appease Muslims. "We once said Christmas holidays, now we say winter holidays," said a local Red Cross volunteer. "The Christmas market in Brussels has been renamed 'Winter Pleasures.' Let things remain as they are."
In Germany, a school in Lüneburg postponed a Christmas party after a Muslim student complained that the singing of Christmas carols during school was incompatible with Islam. The school's decision to reschedule the event as a non-compulsory after-school activity generated "a flood of hate mail and even threats against school management and school board," according to Focus. In an effort to appease angry parents, Headmaster Friedrich Suhr said that "non-Christian" Christmas songs such as "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" would not be banned. Alexander Gauland, the leader of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), said the school's action was "an unbearable, involuntary submission to Islam" and amounted to a "cowardly injustice" toward non-Muslim children.
In Munich, ads for a multicultural "winter market" depicted a snowman covered in a burqa. The chairman of the AfD in Bavaria, Petr Bystron, noted the irony: "A burqa snowman as a tolerance symbol?" In Halle, the Christmas market was renamed "Wintermarket."
In Berlin, the traditional Christmas market was protected by walls of concrete barriers to prevent a repeat of last year's jihadist attack in which 12 people were killed and more than 50 injured. In Stuttgart, a 53-year-old man was arrested at the Christmas market after he claimed to carrying a bomb in his backpack. In Potsdam, the Christmas market was closed after a nearby pharmacy received a letter bomb. In Bonn, the Christmas market was evacuated due to a bomb threat.
In Italy, a school in Milan removed references to Christmas at a party and renamed the holiday as "The Great Festival of Happy Holidays." Writing on Facebook, local politician Samuele Piscina accused the school of implementing "a politically correct leftist policy" that deprives Italian children the joy of Christmas:
"After the nativity scenes and the crucifixes, now even Christmas parties are hindered in schools. The word 'Christmas,' a symbol of our faith and our culture, does not discriminate against anyone. Striking the emblems of Christmas does not guarantee anyone's respect, does not produce a welcoming and inclusive school and society, but fosters intolerance towards our culture, our customs, our laws and our traditions. We firmly believe that our traditions must be respected."
In Bolzano, a cardboard Christmas tree was ordered to be removed from the town hall because "it could have offended the sensibilities" of Muslims. A local politician, Alessandro Urzì, expressed outrage at the decision: "The bureaucratic rigor with which the tree was removed to avoid the risk of annoying someone reflects the barbarization of the cultural climate."
In Norway, a primary school in Skien announced that its Christmas festivities this year would include not only the usual reading by pupils of verses from the Bible but also two verses from the Koran which refer to Jesus. The inimitable Bruce Bawer explained the implications: "Stigeråsen School's Christmas plans provide yet another example of dhimmitude: craven European submission to Islam. This year, there might be a couple of Koran verses in a Christmas show; next year, a yuletide event at which both religions are celebrated on an even footing; and not too many years after that, perhaps, a children's celebration at which there is no cross and no Christmas tree, only prayer rugs, benedictions in Arabic, and hijabs for the girls."
In Spain, the Madrid City Council replaced Christmas festivities in the capital with a neo-Pagan "International Fair of the Cultures." According to Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena, a former member of Spain's Communist Party, the express purpose of the month-long event is to de-Christianize Christmas to make it more inclusive: "We all know that Christmas is a festival of religious origin, but it is also a celebration of humanity, solidarity. Therefore, the Madrid City Council wants to do everything possible so that everyone who is in this city, from wherever they may be, can enjoy Christmas."
Breaking with tradition, the Madrid city hall also refused to place a nativity scene at the Puerta de Alcalá, one of the city's most iconic monuments. Local politician José Luis Martínez-Almeida accused Carmena of "enthusiastically collaborating in the celebration of Ramadan" but "trying to hide all the Christian symbols of Christmas." He added: "We want to reclaim our cultural and religious roots."
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
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Rockets over Riyadh: A reminder of why Tehran must be confronted in Yemen

Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/December 25/2017
There has been a deluge of media pressure urging Western leaders to distance themselves from the Saudi-led Arab Coalition’s operations in Yemen. I’m fully in favor of drawing attention to Yemen’s catastrophic humanitarian situation, but we are seeing wilful misrepresentation of this gravely misunderstood conflict.The launch of Iranian rockets targeting Saudi Arabia’s capital makes it obvious in the bluntest manner possible what is at stake: Iranian encirclement tightens the noose around Arabian Peninsula states — a region that is of fundamental importance to energy security, and whose destabilization would have dire global consequences. Firing an Iranian-manufactured missile toward a Saudi royal palace (as admitted by the Houthis themselves) is a brazen challenge to Saudi sovereignty and security. Sophisticated heavy weaponry and the training required to use it did not magically drop into the hands of rag-tag Houthi fighters. These attacks against Riyadh demonstrate that Tehran views the Yemeni arena as a sideshow for its onslaught against Arabian states.
Along with dozens of civilian deaths from hundreds of rockets and shells fired into Saudi Arabia, missiles fired toward Jeddah and the holy city of Makkah in 2016 make a laughing stock of the Islamic Republic’s pretentions to be a defender of the Muslim faith. A Western foreign minister recently stressed to me the necessity of Saudi Arabia separating the Houthis from their Iranian paymasters, through addressing local grievances, arriving at a power-sharing formula, and ensuring sufficient compensation and localized investment to make future ties with Tehran undesirable. This approach appears remarkably sensible, and is in line with proposals and principles circulated in previous negotiations. The Houthis are pawns in this conflict and given that their home territories are directly adjacent to the Saudi border, they must coexist with Riyadh long after the Islamic Republic of Iran has been consigned to the dustbin of history.
Historically, the minority Houthis were a thorn in the flesh of the Sanaa leadership, but never an existential threat to Yemen itself. Only massive Iranian funding and weaponry allowed bands of Houthi tribesmen to capture Sanaa and advance into Sunni heartlands. Emirati, Bahraini and Saudi military leaders stress that the Houthis are not the underlying problem: Iran occupied Emirati islands, sought to claim Bahrain as its “14th province” and is now seeking to dominate Yemen. Bankrolling of militancy in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon cost the Islamic Republic billions of dollars. However, as Yemen descended into chaos during 2012, Tehran saw a relatively cheap opportunity to destabilize the rear gateway into Saudi Arabia. Iranian politicians and generals noisily boast of their expanding influence, paying scant attention to the humanitarian apocalypse they have left in their wake.
Sophisticated heavy weaponry and the training required to use it did not magically drop into the hands of rag-tag Houthi fighters. These attacks demonstrate that Tehran views the Yemeni arena as a sideshow for its onslaught against Arabian states. My recent visit to Saudi islands next to the Yemen border made it vividly clear how fundamental this conflict is to regional security. From these islands it is a short distance to the Mandib Strait, one of the world’s most crucial shipping lanes, which Iranian proxies have repeatedly menaced with missiles, explosive-laden boats and even anti-shipping mines. Given Iran’s threats to block the Straits of Hormuz, and its encroachment into the eastern Mediterranean through Syria and Lebanon, there is remarkable international complacency about Tehran’s stranglehold over these crucial choke points for global trade and oil. However, senior Gulf-based Western military personnel I’ve spoken to are gravely concerned about the failure to counter these strategic threats.
The humanitarian situation is most acute in areas controlled by the Houthis, who have habitually obstructed aid distribution. Saudi Arabia and the UAE meanwhile are two of the largest humanitarian donors, having already pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to alleviate the bleak humanitarian situation. In recent days, Saudi Arabia has taken action to facilitate humanitarian access to the Houthi-held port city of Hodeida; a move that has been widely commended by the international community .One of Saudi Arabia’s shortcomings has been not communicating its military objectives and humanitarian efforts to the outside world, particularly when compared with ceaseless propaganda from pro-Iranian media sources and suspiciously well-funded information campaigns by Houthi spokespeople.
The Houthis were jubilant about purging their former allies under Ali Abdullah Saleh, who they murdered for the crime of expressing readiness to negotiate peace terms with the Saudis. Saleh’s assassination dangerously narrows the Houthi support base, severing any connections with the majority-Sunni citizens in areas under their increasingly fragile control. The Houthis are just one modest component of Yemen’s society, and a tiny element within the complex fabric of the Arabian Peninsula. The only conceivable future for citizens in Houthi areas is through peaceful coexistence with their neighbors, distancing themselves from foreign powers hostile to Yemeni nationhood.
For Gulf Cooperation Council states this is an existential war of necessity, fought to protect their sovereignty and prevent Iranian encirclement. With vast resources at their disposal, anything short of a decisive halt to Tehran’s ambitions in Yemen cannot be countenanced.
Houthi insurgents may feel jubilant at benefiting from Iranian patronage to expand beyond their wildest dreams, at appalling cost to Yemeni citizens. But if the Houthis believe that the support of an isolated and fickle Persian paymaster will allow them to endlessly maintain control of a hostile population and hold back Yemen’s armed forces and the GCC coalition — then ultimately they stand to lose everything.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

Why this Yemen ‘solution’ is impossible
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/December 25/2017
The most important recent development on the battlefield in Yemen is a war among the rebels themselves. The Houthis are racing to control the camp of their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, after they killed him. Human suffering has been exacerbated, after being relatively stable in the areas under Houthi control. Recently, the circle of confrontation grew wider and the situation became worse. It is also bad in other conflict areas and the areas under the control of the Houthis, who are an extremist religious and political group. I read an article in the Washington Post by David Miliband, the former UK foreign secretary, about the human suffering in Yemen arising from the conflict. I agree with him that civilians pay the heaviest price in wars, such as the one in Yemen. However, I disagree with him in presenting the Houthis as a group with whom we can be reconciled without paying a dangerous price that we would all come to regret.
The rebels tried to control the main facilities, including airports, seaports and roads, and they turned these facilities into a financial resource. Estimates are that more than $5 billion goes to the Houthis from taxing transit and the passage of individuals and goods, and reselling those goods.
Miliband suggested three steps he considered necessary: Ending the coalition’s siege of the ports; a cease-fire, even if one-sided, i.e. by the coalition, since the Houthis would reject it; and starting a peaceful solution. These three suggestions actually mean the surrender of the ports to the Houthis, consolidating their power over the areas under their control and, consequently, handing them victory. The coalition may have to accept Miliband’s suggestions simply to avoid accusations, but the main goal of ending the human suffering by delivering human and medical aid would not be achieved. Most of the tragedies are in the conflict areas, and in the rebels’ areas, and most of the aid supplies would be subject to the whims of the Houthis who use the control of supplies as one of their main weapons.
The second challenge, which is important for the coalition and Saudi Arabia in particular, is that if Miliband’s steps were to be accepted, who would guarantee that missiles would stop reaching the Houthis? Who would hold Iran and Qatar, which finances the regional smuggling market, accountable for delivering missiles to the Houthis? Would Saudi Arabia accept the firing of ballistic missiles at its cities? Of course not, and, consequently the cease-fire would fail and the war would restart, bringing greater tragedies if the Houthis had exploited the cease-fire to expand. New proposals by the former UK foreign secretary would keep no one safe from Iranian-supplied missiles, and would hand victory in the conflict to the Houthis.
Miliband also talked about activating cargo inspection. There used to be international inspection, based in Djibouti, to inspect the cargoes of ferries and ships before allowing them to sail to ports such as Hodeidah. It appeared later on that Iran was still able to smuggle its prohibited materials by sea because of the weakness of the inspection system and the knowledge that the international community would hesitate to hold it accountable. This brings the effectiveness of the inspection system into question. So how would Miliband respond to this dangerous deficiency?
He had asked the coalition countries to allow Hodeidah port to be placed under international supervision, and they agreed. However, the Houthis rejected the suggestion — and yet the coalition was still blamed for it. Now, Miliband is calling for capitulation and handing the management of the port to the Houthis because he had failed in convincing them.
Saudi Arabia agreed because of its awareness of the human tragedy. It even offered to donate four cranes to speed up the unloading and delivery process. Miliband says the procedures in the port take about 90 days! The most important point which I would like to talk about is that the world is facing a tragedy in Yemen because it has failed to understand the nature of the conflict. The Houthis are not a rebel group that wants to defeat its adversaries and gain control of the government, as is the case in other conflicts. Rather, the Houthi militia is an armed religious extremist group, just like Al-Qaeda. And just as the international community realized that confronting Daesh was the only solution to defeat it and expel it by force from Mosul in Iraq, it has to understand that the same applies to the Houthis in Yemen. And just as the international coalition refused to negotiate with Daesh in the Syrian city of Raqqa and expelled it from there and from other towns in Syria, instead of looking for a peaceful solution, the situation in Yemen is similar. The truth is that there is no peaceful solution with the Houthi group. The evidence is that it made a deal with the group of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh because it was a political opposition group, but the negotiations with the Houthis failed because it is an expansionist group that wants to impose its religious views, considers jihad as an end in itself, and believes in fighting outside Yemen as well.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor in chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published. Twitter: @aalrashed

2017: A look back at Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East
Fahad Nazer/Arab News/December 25/2017
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WASHINGTON: Some American pundits argue that US President Donald Trump’s most notable achievement in his first year in office came in the waning days of December, when Trump and the Republican majority in the US Congress succeeded in overhauling the US tax code. The centerpiece of the most significant tax reform in decades is a reduction in the rate of corporate taxes. It represents a significant philosophical shift and a return to the supply-side economics that have become synonymous with the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The tax bill will likely loom large in Trump’s legacy. However, that does not mean that 2017 was not a seminal year in American foreign policy as well.
While overshadowed by the passing of the aforementioned tax legislation, the Trump administration released a 70-page National Security Strategy (NSS) earlier this week which outlines what it considers to be the main threats to US national security and the strategies it has adopted to confront them. Whereas few observers spoke with any degree of certainty at the beginning of the year about what the contours of a “Trump doctrine” would look like, the administration’s actions and statements during its first year, in addition to the release of the NSS, have answered many important questions. As 2017 comes to a close, we have a reasonably good idea about how Trump views the world and the role the US should play in it.
Perhaps more than any other single phrase uttered by Trump during his inaugural address in January, “America first” received an inordinate amount of attention from analysts both inside and outside the US. And while some interpreted it as a shift to unilateralism, or even isolationism, a review of the Trump administration’s record during the course of its first year, as well as a careful reading of the NSS, suggests that is not the case.
Trump sent a clear and powerful message to the Middle East and the world when he decided to make Saudi Arabia the destination of his first official overseas trip. The NSS explicitly states that combating terrorists, countering the “domination” of hostile powers, and ensuring “a stable energy market” are America’s main objectives in the Middle East. Nevertheless, it was implicit in his visit to Riyadh that the US had no intention of disengaging from the world in general or from the Middle East in particular.
Trump has consistently said that combating and defeating violent extremists and terrorist groups including Daesh and Al-Qaeda was among his top foreign policy priorities. His choice of Saudi Arabia as the location from which he issued a call to the Islamic world to unite in its rejection of Daesh’s culture of death was an auspicious start to his foray into foreign affairs. In Riyadh, he stressed that Islamic countries must strengthen their efforts to eject extremists who distort the tenets of Islam to achieve political ends. His choice of Riyadh also indicated a solid grasp of the important leadership role that Saudi Arabia plays in the Islamic world. It suggested that the Trump administration understood that no unilateral measure — military or otherwise — would be enough to defeat the threat of terrorist groups. Daesh and Al-Qaeda have waged a war against all humanity and the international community must continue to work in tandem to counter and ultimately defeat this threat.
In Riyadh, Trump’s message to the Islamic world resonated well. However, critics argued that striking the right tone in a speech abroad is one thing, but what an administration does when it is confronted with a crisis is the ultimate test. Not surprisingly, that test came in Syria.
Trump’s predecessor, President Barak Obama, was widely criticized in 2013 for not adhering to his self-imposed “red line” against the use of chemical weapons in that war. His sudden reversal on not allowing the regime of Bashar Assad to use weapons of mass destruction against its civilian population with impunity confounded his critics and his supporters. Both expressed serious concerns about the ramifications of the reversal and what it meant for America’s credibility.
Faced with yet another well-documented incident of chemical-weapon use by Assad against civilians, including women and children, Trump proved resolute, as he ordered the US military to strike the air base from which the chemical attack on Idlib originated in April.
While the missile strikes were limited, they were praised by many in the Middle East for sending a strong message to Assad and for making it clear that the Trump administration believes the continuing political turmoil in the region calls for clarity, not ambiguity. Much like the leadership of Saudi Arabia, the US under Trump appears to believe that clear, resolute and assertive foreign policies are the correct approach to addressing the two main sources of insecurity in the region: Violent, non-state actors and their state sponsors.
True to its word, the US has continued to take the fight to Daesh in both Syria and Iraq. Playing an important supporting role to the government of Iraq, the US administration received high marks for staying the course and increasing its targeting of the remaining Daesh strongholds in Iraq. It has done the same in Syria, where it is supporting Arab and Kurdish forces. The two efforts have been successful enough for the terror group to lose virtually all of the territory it controlled in in both countries in 2014. The NSS makes clear that the administration will continue to work closely with its allies to defeat Daesh and other terrorist groups “by exposing its falsehoods, promoting counter-narratives, and amplifying credible voices.”
Trump also received high praise from officials and analysts in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and other Arab nations for his approach to what his administration has called Iran’s “nefarious activities” in the region. Trump and his top advisers and spokespeople have repeatedly made clear that they have adopted a very different philosophy to confronting Iran than that of Obama. On multiple occasions, Trump officials have said that they will no longer draw a distinction between Iran’s destabilizing policies in the region, including its support of militant groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere, and its adherence — or lack thereof — to the nuclear agreement Iran signed with six nations, including the United States, in 2015.
Trump has also refused to certify Iran’s compliance with that agreement. And while whether Iran is adhering to the terms of the agreement is a matter of dispute, there is little question that it has continued to flout international laws, conventions and norms by supporting militant groups and terrorist operations across the region and beyond. The Trump administration and the US Congress have taken several measures to curtail the destabilizing activities of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Quds Force, especially the financing of their activities. America has also imposed additional economic sanctions on Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is safe to assume that members of Congress will pay even closer attention to Hezbollah next year, particularly in the aftermath of a lengthy — and controversial — article in the US media claiming that the Obama administration hampered the efforts of US law enforcement agencies trying to establish a link between Hezbollah and international drug cartels.
The Trump’s administration declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and its decision to move the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv have proven controversial. It is difficult, at this point, to see how these measures could advance peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis. However, there is hope among some observers that the Trump team might bring a new approach to the now-stalled peace process. 2018 will likely prove pivotal in determining if the administration is successful.
Overall, the Trump administration receives high marks from many officials and analysts in the Arab world, and especially the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, who have argued — correctly — that an engaged United States is a force for good.
America’s political weight, military power and economic strength makes it uniquely positioned to help bring political stability to the Middle East and beyond. The Trump administration understands this reality. Its track record in the Middle East so far bodes well for the future of the region.

Corruption is the Middle East’s political gangrene
Amir Taheri/Al Arabiya/December 24/17
Following the strict measures taken recently by the Saudi government against dozens of prominent figures, the issue of corruption has moved to the center of public attention in several other regional countries notably Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
To be sure, corruption has always been a major cause of concern in those nations, in fact, throughout the Middle East. Usually, however, it is sotto voce style people talk of corruption in high places, treating it as “one of those things”, something like drought or a locust attack about which nothing could be done. What the Saudi move has shown in a dramatic way is that given the will there is always a way to confront corruption.
In Afghanistan where billions of dollars in foreign aid seem to have evaporated leaving behind a shadow fainter than the smile of the Cheshire Cat, the government has at long last accepted that corruption does exist. A committee led by Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (Zamariani) is supposed to delve into the matter and tell the world how bad the situation is. This may lead nowhere. However, the fact that the government admits there is corruption, in itself, is welcome.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has also declared “war on corruption” as the second phase in his “war on terror”. Again, alone can do is to wait and see what all that means.
The situation in Iran is quite different. There, people even in official organs of government publicly admit that corruption is all pervasive but so far at least, offer no way of dealing with it.
Embezzlement, bribery, and racketeering
Hardly a day passes without some revelation about embezzlement, bribery, and racketeering by prominent figures of the regime making the rounds in political circles.
Parliament member Mahmoud Sadeqi, for example, told an open session last week that corruption in Iran had now gone beyond discernible limits and become “systemic”.
“Corruption is no longer in just a few places or in this or that power,” he said. “It is everywhere in the executive, the judiciary and even in the legislative organ.”
Even parliamentarians are not allowed to check he accounts of the Majlis itself to find out what has been done with the budget allocated.
Another parliament member Hamid Reza Haj-Baba’i, has exposed what amounts to new budgeting technique, or shall we say trick, to mask cases of “systemic corruption”. The technique consists of replacing line-item allocations with bulk allocations that give individual officials or group of officials carte blanche to spend the money the way they see fit.
The technique is applied to the military budget which has increased by 42 per cent of which nearly half is allocated to the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC). Once the treasury has disbursed the sums involved it would be up to the IRGC itself to decide how to spend the booty.
The same technique is used for spending government subsidies which in the new budget are allocated to each province but put under the discretion of the local governor and the Friday Prayer Leader, the mull appointed by the “Supreme Guide”. The two gentlemen could subsidize whatever and whomever they like, something that no Satrap in ancient Persia could dream of.
Also using the same technique the new budget puts control of sums that Iran spends on “exporting” its revolution beyond the reach of the treasury, the Majlis or even the pantomime house that pretends to be Foreign Ministry.
The money goes to the Quds Force with its commander General Qassem Soleimani deciding how to exercise his largesse.
The Treasury would no longer know the size of the salary allocated to Hassan Nasrallah who runs the Lebanese branch of “Hezbollah” under Gen. Soleimani’s leadership.
The scheme has angered some even within the Iranian branch of “Hezbollah.” Mansur Nazari, a prominent “Hezbollah” figure, has denounced what he regards as “murky dealings”, presumably because the Iranian branch of the pan-Khomeinist movement, is not allowed the same privileges.
Corruption, however, goes deeper and farther in Iran. President Hassan Rouhani’s new budget allocated almost $300 million to 30 private businesses supposed to propagate the Khomeinist brand of Islam. This almost 30 per cent more than what the same budget allocates as subsidies to the universities which are expected to raise their money by charging fees or attracting private donations.
Sadeq Ziba-Kalam, a Tehran university professor close to Rouhani, sees this as an “anomaly.”
“People should be asked whether they want to spend so much on such things, more than they spend on protecting the environment, for example,” he says.
With almost half a million mullahs, Iran has more priests per head of population than Buddhist Tibet had Lamas before China annexed it.
In the past three years some 40 senior officials, including five bankers of the highest ranks, have fled Iran after siphoning off vast sums of money. For some reason, most have ended up in Canada. Tehran has started proceedings of extradition against only one of them, encouraging rumors that the fugitives are on money laundering missions for top figures in the regime.
“The new budget institutionalizes corruption,” says Mehrdad Vadi’i, an economics analyst. “It is a recipe for legal plundering of the country.”
The Islamic Chief Justice Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli is still to explain how he ended up having 46 personal bank accounts which amassed almost $500 million in just four years. His statement that the accounts in question are somehow linked to the judiciary and have no personal aspect has been met with derision even by many inside the regime itself.
At other levels, Rouhani’s bother Hussein Fereidun was arrested and charged with influence peddling and illegal use of public resources, including lobbying to obtain banking licenses for associates. He is also accused of registering in his name some 10 million square meters of prime land in Kish and other islands close to the Strait of Hormuz, a charge that he denies.
Add to all that the fact, publicly stated by the Interior Ministry, that the IRGC maintains 25 jetties in a number of ports through which it can import and export whatever it likes without the government knowing about it.
According to the new head of the Expediency Council, Iranian fat cats - mostly mullahs and their security associates - have more than $700 billion invested abroad. In other words, the mullahs have enough to retire. And, this is the recommendation of Ayatollah Ali Mussavi Ardebili. “The clergy should leave the executive branch and attend to their proper role,” he said in a speech last week.
The key problem in Iran and, perhaps, elsewhere in the Muslim world is, perhaps, not a separation of mosque and state but a separation of business and politics.

Thanks Britain!
Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/December 25/2017
We greatly appreciate the British government’s recent efforts of blacklisting Iranian-supported organizations as this helps us combat Iranian terrorism and its wings in the region. Efforts by Bahraini security apparatuses and the Bahraini embassy in Britain over the past few years have helped pursue and arrest terrorists there and expose their false claims to the British. This required determination and faith in the cause as well as an active diplomatic mission. This success calls for establishing an apparatus that handles pursuing wanted men who fled to Arab, European and American countries. This apparatus can provide these countries with evidence that implicates the organizations these wanted men belong to and can examine the legal measures that can help them be extradited. It took us a long time to pursue terrorists and restrain their activity outside Bahrain. It’s quite noticeable that terrorists who are currently active in Britain belong to the second generation. The first generation escaped to Britain in the 1990’s. Some of them were granted the British nationality, and gained the same privileges as British citizens. The attack was carried out using explosives which Iran helped smuggle. Iran has also been teaching them how to manufacture homemade explosives since the 1990’s.
Safe haven?
These people ended up establishing centers, buying real estate and opening bank accounts. Some even provided havens to others who escaped justice in their countries. Meanwhile, Iran funded their commercial projects. These terrorists thus found a safe haven in Britain and launched their terror operations from there. In 2011, they killed around 30 security forces in Bahrain and injured thousands others. The attack was carried out using explosives which Iran helped smuggle. Iran has also been teaching them how to manufacture homemade explosives since the 1990’s. We pursued these terrorists in Bahrain but we did not realize the threats posed via benefitting from these facilitations which Britain provided to those who reside there – facilitations that went as far as granting them the nationality.
Pursuing terrorists
Many of these terrorists are present in European countries, such as in Germany, and move freely there. This is in addition to those who fled to Arab countries and Iran. We must establish an apparatus that works within the interior and foreign affairs’ ministries to pursue fugitives, whether they are in Iraq, Lebanon, Europe or the US. We must even demand Iran to hand over those wanted, and we must record these demands at the UN so all countries learn that Iran is harboring terrorists and understand that Tehran supports terrorism. In this case, Iran will also bear the consequences of its behavior.
It’s not impossible to work towards that end although we never thought there will come a day when the British judiciary pursues thugs who view Britain as a safe haven and exploit its laws to carry out terror activities. The terror lists which Bahrain provided to Iraq and Lebanon require public follow-up so the latter two fully understand that we will not be silenced and that we will take all legal and diplomatic measures to get them to hand over those wanted – or else we will put this case forward at every occasion. Delay in addressing a matter does not mean inaction. Britain’s recent success is encouraging as it paves way towards handing over those wanted no matter where they are. These fugitives must know that escaping justice is impossible even if they had fled Bahrain.

The West's Steadfast Misunderstanding of Turkey and Islam
Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/December 24/ 2017
Fundamentalist Muslims in Turkey -- and elsewhere -- do not see jihad, forced conversions or other forms of persecution against non-Muslims as criminal. On the contrary, their religious scriptures openly command them "to chop off heads and fingers, and kill infidels wherever they may be hiding," among many other openly violent teachings.
Hence, what the rest of the world would describe as "genocide," "massacre," "terrorism," or "ethnic cleansing" is viewed by radical Muslims as a "righteous" way of spreading Islam and of liberating kafir (infidel) lands. Erdogan is clearly such a radical, which is why he takes pride in his country's criminal history, while chastising and rewriting that of other states, such as Israel.
The West's misunderstanding of this knows no bounds.
Since the Trump administration's official recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been ramping up his anti-Israel rhetoric, calling the country "a state of occupation and terrorism."
This is worse than ironic. The Jews are not "occupiers" in their ancient native homeland, where they have lived for more than 3,000 years. Turks, on the other hand, 3,000 years ago were most likely in Central Asia, nowhere near the area that is now Turkey. To add hypocrisy to injury, Erdogan also said about his own country, "Let it be known that there has never been any holocaust or genocide in this nation's past. There's no campaign of ethnic cleansing, massacres, persecution, or torture in this nation's history."
Oh really?
The cities in today's Turkey -- most of which are in Anatolia (Asia Minor) and the Armenian highlands -- were actually built by Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians; and Jews have lived there since antiquity. Turkic jihadists from Central Asia invaded and conquered the Christian Byzantine Empire in the eleventh century, thereby paving the way for the gradual Turkification and Islamization of Anatolia and Armenia. The Ottoman invasion of Constantinople (Istanbul) in the fifteenth century brought about the complete destruction of the Byzantine Empire.
Throughout those years, many Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians in the region converted to Islam to escape death, exile, or the exorbitant "protection" tax, the jizya, imposed on non-Muslims. As a result, only around 0.3% of Turkey's population remains Christian or Jewish at this time.
According to Dr. Bill Warner, director of the Center for the Study of Political Islam: "The process of annihilation [of Greek Christian civilization in Anatolia] took centuries. Some people think that when Islam invaded, the Kafirs [non-Muslims] had the choice of conversion or death. No, absolutely not. Sharia law was put into place and the Christian dhimmis continued to have their 'protected' status as People of the Book who lived under the Sharia law. The dhimmi paid heavy taxes, could not testify in court, hold a position of authority over Muslims and was humiliated by social rules. A dhimmi had to step aside for the Muslim, offer him his seat, could not carry a weapon and defer to a Muslim in every way. In all matters of society the dhimmi had to yield to the Muslim. Over the centuries, the degradation, lack of rights and the dhimmi tax caused the Christian to convert. It is the Sharia that destroys the dhimmis.
"Today, Turkey is 99.7% Muslim. The Christian and Greek civilization of Anatolia is gone. It is annihilated.
"What is tragic is that it seems that no one knows or cares..."
Even today, expansionist Islamic raids against non-Muslim peoples have been and are accompanied by mass murder, rape, sex slavery, forced conversions, looting, plundering and deportations, by Islamic State, Boko Haram and others.
The goal of this jihad is to expand Islam and submit people worldwide to sharia [Islamic law] and Islamic supremacy. Once under Islamic rule -- such as during the Ottoman Empire -- Christians and Jews become dhimmis: third-class, "tolerated" citizens forced to pay a tax in exchange for "protection." No matter how much money they pay, however, dhimmis are never allowed the same religious rights or freedoms as Muslims.
This is something that Turkish school children are not taught. Instead, they learn in school about the "glorious" Ottomans, and how bestowing dhimmi status on non-Muslims was an example of Ottoman mercy, justice, and compassion -- not a tool for humiliating and enslaving them.
Far more recently, as Erdogan knows but aggressively denies, Turkish regimes committed their greatest attacks on Anatolian Christians: the 1914-1923 genocide against Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians (Syriacs/Chaldeans). Sadly, there has been no public protest in Turkey against the government's refusal to acknowledge the genocide, in which at least three million Christians were killed.
There are several reasons for this:
State propaganda
Turks are continually exposed to the denial of the genocide in school, the media, and in parliament. Millions of Turks have been brainwashed to believe that what took place was not genocide, but rather a legitimate act of self-defense against "treacherous" Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian elements.
Myths about Turkish nationhood
According to official myths, the Turks have never wronged or victimized any other people; it is they who have been wronged and victimized throughout history. As a result, according to these myths, any and all violent actions they may have committed were carried out in self-defense.
Economic concerns
Turkey fears what it calls derogatorily as the Armenians' "Four T" Plan: Tanıtım, Tanınma, Tazminat ve Toprak (Propaganda, Recognition, Compensation, and Territory). The government worries that if the Armenians are successful in their efforts to obtain international recognition of the genocide, they will demand money and land. This concern is shared by those who inherited property seized from the victims of the genocide. Such Turks fear losing the wealth they amassed through the spoils of mass murder.
Islamic culture
The political doctrine of Islam, which was largely responsible for the Christian genocide, still plays a role in Turkey's denial of it.
In his contribution to a recently released collection of essays on the topic -- "Genocide in the Ottoman Empire: Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks, 1913-1923," edited by Professor George N. Shirinian -- historian Suren Manukyan writes that the planners of the Armenian genocide:
"... activated social forces by the policies they pursued, including the proclamation of jihad at the beginning of World War I, to mobilize religious fanaticism among the population of the empire.
"After the proclamation of jihad on November 14, 1914, the killing of Armenians was seen to bear legitimacy in religious terms. In many areas, clerics led the columns of Muslims and blessed them for punishing the unbelievers... One slogan was repeated everywhere: 'God, make their children orphans, make widows of their wives... and give their property to Muslims.' In addition to this prayer, legitimization of plunder, murder, and abduction took the following form: 'it is licit for Muslims to take the infidels' property, life and women.'"
Turkish regimes committed their greatest attacks on Anatolian Christians during the 1914-1923 genocide against Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians (Syriacs/Chaldeans). Sadly, there has been no public protest in Turkey against the government's refusal to acknowledge the genocide, in which at least three million Christians were killed. Pictured above: Armenian civilians, escorted by Ottoman soldiers, marched through Harput, April 1915. (Image source: American Red Cross/Wikimedia Commons)
The Ottoman Tanzimat reforms in the nineteenth century had "abolished" the dhimmi status accorded to non-Muslim subjects. Regardless of this official change, non-Muslims continued to face various forms of institutional discrimination. Similarly, when the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923, non-Muslims no longer possessed the legal status as dhimmis, but their unofficial dhimmitude continued, if not intensified.
In 1934, there was an anti-Jewish pogrom in eastern Thrace; in 1941-1942, there was an attempt to enlist and enslave all non-Muslim males in the Turkish military -- including the elderly and mentally ill -- to force them to work under horrendous conditions in labor battalions; in 1942, a Wealth Tax was imposed to eliminate Christians and Jews from the economy; in 1955, there was an anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul; and in 1964, Greeks were forcefully expelled from Turkey. All of the above contributed to the previous ethnic cleansing of Turkish Christians and Jews.
Not only has the Turkish government not recognized, apologized for or given reparations for any such incidents in its history, but there is little media coverage of the current intimidation of and violence against Christians, Jews, and Yazidis in Turkey.
In addition, fundamentalist Muslims in Turkey -- and elsewhere -- do not see jihad, forced conversions or other forms of persecution against non-Muslims as criminal. On the contrary, their religious scriptures openly command them "to chop off heads and fingers and kill infidels wherever they may be hiding," among many other openly violent teachings.
Hence, what the rest of the world would describe as "genocide," "massacre," "persecution," or "ethnic cleansing" is viewed by radical Muslims as a "righteous" way of spreading Islam and of liberating kafir (infidel) lands. Erdogan is clearly such a radical, which is why he takes pride in his country's criminal history, while chastising and rewriting that of other states, such as Israel.
The West's misunderstanding of all this knows no bounds.
**Uzay Bulut, born and raised a Muslim in Turkey, is a journalist currently based in Washington D.C.
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