April 17/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing
Matthew 15:29-39 /Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.

My joy would be the joy of all of you
Second Letter to the Corinthians 01/23-24/02/01-05/""But I call on God as witness against me: it was to spare you that I did not come again to Corinth. I do not mean to imply that we lord it over your faith; rather, we are workers with you for your joy, because you stand firm in the faith. So I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came, I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice; for I am confident about all of you, that my joy would be the joy of all of you. For I wrote to you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you. But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent not to exaggerate it to all of you

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 16-17/18
Why Is Trump Going Soft on Hezbollah/Emanuele Ottolenghi/Foreign Policy/April 16/18
In Beirut the Rules Are Made to Be Broken/Erika Solomon/Financial Times/April 16/18
Christian, Yazidi Women Still in ISIS Captivity/Sirwan Kajjo/Gatestone Institute/April 16/18
Tariq Ramadan's Rape Trial: Blame the Victim/Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/April 16, 2018
Dhahran Summit and the Dialogue of Priorities/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 16/18
Syria’s Axis of Evil Cannot Be Trusted/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 16/18
Restoring the Initiative and the Hijacked Files/Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 16/18
Why Zuckerberg Won the Facebook Hearings/Shira Ovide/Bloomberg View/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 16/18
Destroying the structures of extremism/Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/Al Arabiya/April 16/18
Sururism: The most dangerous Islamized movement, who are they/Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/April 16/18
Western strike on Syrian chemical sites isolates Israel against Iranian-Russian axis'/DebkaFiles/April 16/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on April 16-17/18
United front a solution to regional issues: Aoun
Hariri: Saudi Wants Lebanon Stability, Hizbullah Committed to Settlement
Jumblat Expected to Visit Tripoli after Hariri-Arslan Hasbaya Meeting
Supporters of Mustaqbal, Rival Candidate in Beirut Brawl
Aoun Says Won't Sign Amnesty for Those Involved in Killing Soldiers
Franjieh: Anyone but Bassil for Presidency
Gemayel Pledges to Revive Forgotten Development Projects in Metn
Saba: Lebanon's Public Debt Equal to $138 Billion
Hankache Pinpoints Flaws in Budget Clause
FPM Figureheads Criticize Controversial Budget Clause
Why Is Trump Going Soft on Hezbollah?
In Beirut the Rules Are Made to Be Broken

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 16-17/18
Israel Admits to Striking Syria: 'It Was the First Time We Attacked Live Iranian Targets'
Tel Aviv Vows to Continue Working Against Iran
NATO Chief: Strikes on Syria Regime Clear Message to Assad, Iran
Chemical Arms Watchdog Convenes on Syria’s Douma Attack
Chemical Arms Probe in Syria Stalled due to 'Security Concerns'
Kremlin Says Still Hopes for Dialogue with U.S. despite Syria Strikes
Russia Says Claims It's Preventing Syria Gas Attack Probe 'Groundless'
UK Says Russia, Syria Not Yet Allowed OPCW Team into Douma
Macron Clarifies Syria Comments, Says U.S. and France United
Rouhani Discusses Boosting Cooperation with Russia After US-Led Strike in Syria
Tehran’s Former Persecutor 'Disappears' Before Serving Sentence for Murder
Hamas Tells Israel: Wait Until May 15
Awaiting Hafter’s Return, LNA Launches Offensive to Liberate Derna
Russia Voices Support for Hadi as Yemen Army Frees Govt. Compound in Saada
Iraq’s PM Admits Difficulty in Fighting Corruption
7 Inmates Killed, 17 Injured in South Carolina Prison Violence
Trump 'Morally Unfit' for Office, Fired FBI Chief Comey Says

Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 16-17/18
United front a solution to regional issues: Aoun
The Daily Star/: April 16/2018/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Sunday called a united Arab front was the only solution to the regions conflicts, during an address at the 29th Arab League summit in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Dhahran. "After the storm struck our region, we must establish a future vision [based on] openness and true solidarity. Without these we can't be saved," the president said in his speech, according to a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency. "No stance can be effective in shifting the course of events unless ... we are all supportive of it in words and actions," Aoun said, calling for an end to the fragmentation of the region. “The war is still raging and the danger of an international war in Syria is escalating,” Aoun said, referring to a joint strike carried out by the United States, France and Britain Saturday after Damascus reportedly carried out chemical gas attacks last week. “Terrorism is moving from one country to another ... Lebanon has had its share of terrorism and although it has overcome it, it still bears the consequences of successive crises around it, from the global economic crisis, to the wars that surround it, to the crisis of displacement."Aoun addressed representatives of Arab countries attending the summit, calling for co-operation. "If there are eminent threats, then our unity, or at least co-operation, can save us. ...Let us become one big Arab nation, enriched by pluralism and strengthened by components of diversity instead of remaining scattered, overtaken by caution and unease that makes us easy to isolate when targeted with attacks."

Hariri: Saudi Wants Lebanon Stability, Hizbullah Committed to Settlement

Naharnet/April 16/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri has stressed that Saudi Arabia is keen on Lebanon's stability and that Hizbullah is “still committed” to the political settlement that led to the election of President Michel Aoun and the formation of his government. “The kingdom wants Lebanon's stability and it was present at the Rome and Paris conferences. It is backing Lebanon politically and economically and Hizbullah is still committed to the settlement,” Hariri told reporters aboard a plane that carried him to Beirut from Saudi Arabia where he attended the 29th Arab Summit along with President Michel Aoun. Separately, Hariri noted that “electoral alliances are different than political alliances.”“In the next parliament, the sizes of blocs will be close and will not differ much,” the premier added. Hariri also reassured that the ban on the travel of Gulf tourists to Lebanon will be lifted after the May elections.

Jumblat Expected to Visit Tripoli after Hariri-Arslan Hasbaya Meeting
Naharnet/April 16/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri's visit to Hasbaya several days ago has irritated the Progressive Socialist Party, especially that it was made in coordination with Lebanese Democratic Party leader MP Talal Arslan, sources close to PSP chief MP Walid Jumblat have said. Commenting on Arslan's welcoming of Hariri at Hasbaya's Chehabiyeh Fort and his insistence that Hariri visit the Khalwat al-Bayada Druze prayer-houses, the sources said “someone is deliberately crossing the red lines by infiltrating the Druze community.” Political sources meanwhile suggested that Jumblat might respond to the move by meeting the invitation to visit Tripoli from his friends ex-PM Najib Miqati and parliamentary candidates Toufic Sultan and Jean Obeid. Hariri's visit to the South was aimed at rallying supporters to vote for al-Mustaqbal's candidate for Shebaa Imad al-Khatib. The PSP-Mustaqbal relation was strained recently after Hariri refused to add MP Antoine Saad to his West Bekaa-Rashaya list. Jumblat has personally criticized Hariri's moves, noting that the premier is aiding Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil's attempt to “besiege” him.

Supporters of Mustaqbal, Rival Candidate in Beirut Brawl
Naharnet/April 16/18/A clash erupted Monday morning in Beirut's Caracas area between supporters of al-Mustaqbal Movement and others loyal to rival Beirut parliamentary candidate Nabil Bader, who is running on a Beirut list led by al-Liwaa newspaper editor-in-chief Salah Salam. LBCI TV said tensions between the two groups had started after Bader rented an apartment in Caracas and turned it into an electoral campaign office, which “provoked” Mustaqbal's supporters. “The two parties charged against each other and exchanged verbal insults, which prompted security forces to intervene to contain the situation,” LBCI said. Al-Jadeed television meanwhile said “a group from al-Mustaqbal Movement attacked the office of parliamentary candidate Nabil Bader in Beirut's Caracas area in an attempt to remove the candidate's posters and shut down the office.”“The group hurled stones at the office and shouted insults against the candidates of the Beirut al-Watan List, as security forces arrived on the scene and restored order,” al-Jadeed added. “The candidates Bashar Qowatli and Salwa Khalil were coincidentally at the site at the time of the clash,” the TV network added. Jamaa Islamiya MP Imad al-Hout, who is part of the Beirut al-Watan List, meanwhile told al-Jadeed that “some parties are inciting people.”“It's about time the interior minister separated between his role as interior minister and his role as parliamentary candidate. The time has come to rein in these groups and protect citizens,” al-Hout added, stressing that his electoral alliance's “only protector is the Lebanese Army.”His fellow candidate Qowatli meanwhile said: “What happened today is unprecedented in Beirut's history. A billion 'blue amulets' cannot protect people, who can only be protected by awareness and impartial security forces.”Qowatli's statement is a jab at al-Mustaqbal Movement, which has chosen a blue eye-like symbol as its electoral logo. In popular culture, the blue eye-like amulet is used to repel 'envy' and 'evil'. “We call on the interior ministry to put an end to the disorder on the streets,” Qowatli added. The incident follows a similar electoral clash that broke out Friday in Beirut's Barbir area between Mustaqbal supporters and others loyal to the businessman Raja al-Zuheiri, who is running for the Druze seat in Beirut on a list led by former judge Khaled Hammoud.

Aoun Says Won't Sign Amnesty for Those Involved in Killing Soldiers
Naharnet/April 16/18/President Michel Aoun has announced that he will not sign any general amnesty that would pardon inmates involved in the killing of Lebanese Army soldiers. Talking to reporters aboard the plane that carried him overnight to Beirut, Aoun described his meeting in Saudi Arabia with King Salman as “positive, excellent and fruitful.”The president also reassured that the monarch told him that Gulf tourists “will definitely return to Lebanon this summer.” “The Saudi king announced the kingdom's support for Lebanon in everything related to the revival mission that the current government has launched,” Aoun told reporters. Lebanese authorities have rounded up hundreds of Sunni Islamists over the last years, including some involved in bombings against civilians and deadly clashes with the Lebanese Army. They also include extremists believed to belong to al-Qaida-linked groups and the Islamic State group. A lot of Islamist prisoners and their families have decried delay in judicial procedures and trials. Some prisoners are held for several years without trial or conviction.

Franjieh: Anyone but Bassil for Presidency
Naharnet/April 16/18/Marada Movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh has announced that he backs the election of any figure as Lebanon's next president except for Free Patriotic Movement chief and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil. “I support the election of any person from our camp except Bassil,” Franjieh said in an interview on al-Jadeed television. “The FPM's new alliances are out of fear of losing (the parliamentary elections) and they have admitted so,” the northern leader added. Noting that there is no “chemistry” between Bassil and 90% of Lebanon's politicians, “except for Hizbullah,” Franjieh emphasized that “Bassil does not have the right to classify others.” As for the elections in the mainly Christian north Lebanon district, Franjieh noted that “only after allying with Independence Movement leader Michel Mouawad and al-Mustaqbal Movement Bassil has managed to secure the needed electoral threshold” for his list. “In the strategic policies, there is no dispute with the FPM and President (Michel) Aoun has maintained his stances,” the Marada chief added. “If they ask me to choose between Bassil and (Lebanese Forces leader Samir) Geagea for the presidency, I would choose Bassil because he is from our camp,” Franjieh said but added that “should Geagea become president, he will definitely treat us better than Bassil.”

Gemayel Pledges to Revive Forgotten Development Projects in Metn 16th April 2018/
Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Sunday lashed out at the ruling authority for lying to the Lebanese over the Article 50 of the budget, warning that said clause risks relegating the issue of the refugees' return to the past by granting them a permanent Lebanese residency. "Some are claiming that this article was amended by replacing the "permanent" residency with a "temporary" one, while the result would still be the same in both cases," Gemayel said in a meeting held at residence of Violette Ghazal, the Kataeb's candidate for the Orthodox seat in Metn. "I wish someone could tell us who were the ghosts who amended this article outside the Parliament," he stated. "We fear that the ruling political class is selling the country.""Beware of lies! I am only asking the voters of Metn to make their judgement based on facts, not lies."Gemayel pledged to accord a paramount importance to issues that concern the Lebanese, notably the housing loans which have been made stricter, thus depriving the Lebanese from their right to acquire an apartment in their own country. "While foreigners are being encouraged to buy an apartment and get a Lebanese residency, the housing loans have been halted, which is something that must be subject to accountability." "We will keep speaking up loudly until a solution is found to this problem," he vowed. Gemayel said that the $12 billion collected at the recent CEDRE conference are debts to be paid by the future generations, questioning the management skills of the Development and Reconstruction Council which will be in charge of supervising these funds.“Our goal is not to win the elections in any possible way, but rather to improve the country and our children’s lives, knowing that some seats in other lists where sold in an auction to bring in candidates who have little to no knowledge of the country’s problems,” Gemayel said."I am very proud of the 'Pulse of Metn' list as we are offering the voters a new option that is facing the ruling authority's performance which is leading the country to an unprecedented situation."“We will focus all our efforts to win the elections in Metn and get a large opposition force that can pressure the state to execute developmental projects and speaks on behalf of the people in Metn," Gemayel said, adding that he will seek to revive forgotten projects, notably the Ecochar plan which was set out 54 years ago. For her part, Violette Ghazal Balaa vowed to enforce reforms if elected on May 6, hailing Gemayel as the only leader of the opposition in Lebanon.

Saba: Lebanon's Public Debt Equal to $138 Billion 16th April 2018/Charles Saba, adviser to Kataeb party leader, on Monday pointed out that Lebanon's public debt is actually equal to $138 billion, taking into consideration all the financial obligations of the government and the central bank.
Saba posted a graph taken from the Facebook page "Ra's Al-Mal" (capital), managed by Al-Akhbar newspaper, showing that Lebanon's total public debt has reached $138 billion by the end of 2017, thus rising beyond the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by more than double.
Lebanon is incurring a yearly interest rate equivalent to $9.5 billion, the graph also shows. It is noteworthy to mention that the number $80 billion, which is usually referred to when talking about the public debt, is correct, but only represents the central government’s debts recorded in the Finance Ministry's accounts. In other words, it represents the financial obligations with interests paid through annual allocations included in the state budget.

Hankache Pinpoints Flaws in Budget Clause 16th April 2018/Kataeb candidate for the Maronite seat in Metn district, Elias Hankache, on Monday stressed the need to abrogate the Article 50 of the budget, slamming it as another "achievement" accomplished by the ruling authority.“These are the things it is offering through this clause:
- A residency "gift" for Syrian refugees;
- The increase of competition in the Lebanese labor market;
- Refugees would become residents;
- Lebanese residents would become refugees in their own country.

FPM Figureheads Criticize Controversial Budget Clause 16th April 2018/While Free Patriotic Movement MP Ibrahim Kanaan is still fiercly defending the budget clause which grants foreigners a residency just by buying an apartment in Lebanon, his FPM colleagues don't seem to be sharing his viewpoint and enthusiasm towards said article.
MP Nabil Nkoula said that any budget clause that does not comply with the general accounting law is considered as null and void, noting that the contested article has a permanent effect while the state budget applies for just one year.
Nkoula said that the article was stealthily slipped into the budget, describing it "one of the most dangerous laws". "One of the preconditions for the CEDRE conference was to help Syrian refugees," he stressed. FPM's candidate for the Maronite seat in Keserwan, Chamel Roukoz, also criticized the budget clause, saying that it would have been better to solve the housing loans crisis so as to enable the Lebanese, not foreigners, to buy apartments in their country.

Why Is Trump Going Soft on Hezbollah?
Emanuele Ottolenghi/Foreign Policy/April 16/18
On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence is set to meet with regional leaders at the Summit of the Americas, where he should tell those assembled that it is time to launch a coordinated campaign against Hezbollah’s illicit empire in Latin America. (The Vice-President is stepping in for President Donald Trump, who abruptly cancelled his Latin America trip to oversee the U.S. response to Syria’s latest chemical attack outrage). But first, the White House has to show that it is prepared to take the lead by designating Hezbollah, a political and militant organization based in Lebanon, as a Transnational Criminal Organization under U.S. law.
For a brief moment at the beginning of this year, reviving the pursuit of Hezbollah in Latin America seemed to be a priority of the U.S. Department of Justice. Last December, a Politico investigation charged that the Barack Obama administration had gone soft on Hezbollah in order to facilitate nuclear negotiations with Iran, group’s main patron. Specifically, the investigation found that the Obama Justice Department deliberately undermined Project Cassandra, an ambitious effort by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to stop Hezbollah from trafficking drugs into the United States and Europe.
While veterans of the Obama administration insist that Politico’s reporting was downright false and politically motivated, the story spurred the Trump administration to broadcast signals that it was serious about pursuing Hezbollah. Indeed, days after Politico published its exposé, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of decisions made by the Obama Justice Department, and, on January 11, he announced the establishment of an interagency task force entrusted with combating Hezbollah’s terrorism finance.
Yet, as of yet, there are no concrete signs that the Department of Justice is ready to revive Project Cassandra. Nor has the Trump administration designated Hezbollah as a Transnational Criminal Organization, which would serve as a meaningful step toward drawing a sharp contrast between the current president and his predecessor.
Although the Hezbollah International Finance Prevention Act of 2015 required that the White House determine whether Hezbollah meets the criteria for designation, the Obama administration declined to do so. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed legislation seeking to spur the executive branch into action, while giving its agencies sharper tools to go after the terror group. Yet the administration has not acted.
While there are plenty of other challenges that may have distracted the White House and Justice Department from Hezbollah, the Summit of the Americas represents a critical opportunity to put the issue back on the table both at home and abroad.
To date, no Latin American country has designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Pence should definitely raise this issue on his second visit to the region, although progress may be difficult.To date, no Latin American country has designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Pence should definitely raise this issue on his second visit to the region, although progress may be difficult. However, the United States can achieve much of the same effect by persuading other countries to recognize Hezbollah as a narco-trafficking threat under their own laws. Yet for that request to be credible, the U.S. must do so first.
To be sure, Hezbollah rejects the notion that it would ever engage in criminal activity, because the admission would seriously compromise its claim to abide by Islamic ethics. Claiming that accusations of criminal activities are just smear attempts, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has repeatedly cited Iranian patronage as the source of Hezbollah’s finances. While Iran’s largesse still goes a long way, Hezbollah’s financial needs have dramatically grown over the years, driven by war and regional adventurism on Tehran’s behalf. The ayatollahs remain committed to their Hezbollah franchise, but have not always been dependable due to more than a decade of sanctions-induced economic crisis. Since at least 2006, when Hezbollah had to face the challenge of rebuilding Lebanon following its war that year against Israel, the group has sought alternative sources of revenue, making illicit finance a major item of its annual operating budget.
Numerous cases cited in the Politico exposé confirm that cooperation with crime syndicates for fundraising is integral to Hezbollah’s organizational structure and modus operandi, enjoying support from the organization’s highest echelons.
In 2009, the Department of Justice indicted Hassan Hodroj and nine other individuals. Their crimes included trading in counterfeit currency, fake passports, counterfeited and stolen brand goods, and, ominously, the attempted acquisition of 1,400 American-made Colt M4 carbines. Hodroj was at the time, and remains to this day, a member of Hezbollah’s Political Council in charge of Palestinian affairs. The criminal complaint against Hodroj makes it abundantly clear that Hezbollah approved, coordinated, and benefited from these activities. It also reveals that as undercover U.S. agents negotiated arrangements for the weapons transfer, the operative involved called a very senior figure in Hezbollah’s hierarchy — likely Abdallah Safieddine — to facilitate the deal.
Safieddine is the man in charge of overseeing Hezbollah’s criminal activities and is part of the group’s inner circle. He is Nasrallah’s maternal first cousin and Hezbollah’s personal envoy to Tehran. His brother Hisham, a cleric, is a member of Hezbollah’s Shura Council, the party’s ruling body, and many consider him the likely successor to Nasrallah. In February 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency named Hisham as the head of Hezbollah’s Business Affairs Component. Safieddine’s deputy, Akram Barakat, has brothers who are senior members of the Barakat clan’s Latin American branch. The U.S. Department of Treasury listed them as Specially Designated Global Terrorists in 2006, accusing them of involvement in criminal activities whose proceeds funded Hezbollah. Local authorities prosecuted some, but not all of the brothers and their associates over the years for crimes ranging from fraud to drug trafficking.
Other Project Cassandra cases are highly suggestive of a Hezbollah terror-crime nexus. One in particular involves Lebanese businesswoman Iman Kobeissi, whom U.S. undercover agents entrapped and arrested in 2015. Kobeissi was indicted for laundering what she believed to be money from drug proceeds, and for trying to procure weapons and airplane parts for both Hezbollah and Iran. According to court documents, she boasted of Hezbollah ties with criminal groups in numerous African and European countries during her encounters with undercover U.S. agents. She also mentioned Puerto Rico as a point of departure for cocaine shipments — an indication that Hezbollah’s criminal networks operate inside the U.S.
The more recent case of Ali Issa Chamas, a suspected Hezbollah drug trafficker extradited from Paraguay to the United states in June 2017, appears to confirm Kobeissi’s comments about Hezbollah using Puerto Rico for clandestine shipments of cocaine. Investigators discovered that Chamas was conspiring with a U.S.-based associate to ship hundreds of kilograms of cocaine to the United States by air cargo. According to court documents, Chamas boasted of a secure and fast way to deliver his merchandise to the United States. He was no more concerned about cargo screening in the United States than in Paraguay, where corrupt officials look the other way in exchange for bribes.
Another country where Hezbollah’s criminal enterprise has deep roots is Colombia, to which Pence will travel after the Summit of the Americas. Hezbollah works with local drug cartels to dispatch multi-ton shipments of cocaine to both Europe and the U.S.
While at this weekend’s summit, the vice president should remind his hosts about the Ayman Joumaa network in Colombia, which laundered drug proceeds through a complex scheme involving used car businesses in the United States and customers in West Africa. The Eastern District of Virginia indicted Joumaa in 2011 based on Drug Enforcement Agency evidence, although he remains at large. Even after the Joumaa case uncovered the prominent role of used car sales, they remain an important part of Hezbollah’s money laundering schemes through West Africa. Iman Kobeissi told U.S. undercover agents that parking lots in West Africa were still overflowing with used American cars as of 2015.
No matter how much Nasrallah pontificates about the pious and pure nature of his terror group’s sources of funding, the evidence accumulated over a decade of investigations in the United States and abroad makes a damning case for passing tougher legislation against Hezbollah’s terror-crime nexus, and an even more compelling one for a Transnational Criminal Organization designation.
What is Trump waiting for?

In Beirut the Rules Are Made to Be Broken
Erika Solomon/Financial Times/April 16/18
Every day when I leave home, I pass a message scrawled in English on the peeling wall of an old building. It says: “Politicians . . . raccoon???”
Beirut is a city awash with street art, but it is usually more straightforward: a jibe at the entrenched elite, a web of Arabic calligraphy. What could this enigmatic message mean? That just one of these fuzzy, nocturnal creatures is worth a pack of politicians? That, like raccoons, Lebanese politicians squabble over trash? (More on that later.)
Whatever it means, the message seems both outraged and amused — which is just my impression of the spirit in which the Lebanese navigate life through their city. I’ve lived here for eight years and, like most Beirutis, native or adopted, I can’t stand the place — and I can’t stand to leave it, either.
Beirut can charm you with its snowcapped mountains diving toward the Mediterranean, its crumbling mansions and the nightlife that local mythology tells us never stops, even for wars.
But this is also a city where, for years, rival politicians have not resolved a waste management crisis that one summer left trash spewing down the streets. I’ve covered a demonstration where people blocked a street with tyres — to protest against protests that blocked streets with tyres. And I don’t care how many tech-savvy friends tell me it’s not possible: the internet gets slower in Beirut when it rains.
Before living here, I loved listening to the comedic musicals about civil war-era Beirut by Lebanese composer Ziad Rahbani. The electricity and water cuts seemed strangely charming when actors sang about them. Much less charming, I learnt, when I was the one waking up to find I had no water.
I first visited the city in 2008, while studying Arabic in neighbouring Syria. I always felt I had to watch what I said in Damascus, to avoid drawing the attention of the secret police. By contrast, Beirut felt liberating. Gulf Arab tourists filled the streets of trendy downtown Beirut, a sea of women in black abayas and men puffing water pipes.
But when I moved here in 2011, downtown was empty. The tourists were gone, wary that neighbouring Syria’s conflict would re-inflame the wounds of Lebanon’s own 1975-90 civil war, which divided the country along sectarian lines.
Back then, I lived in Beirut’s buzzing northwestern Hamra district, and spent most evenings at Mezyan, a favourite among friends fleeing Syria’s war. By midnight, everyone was dancing traditional dabke through clouds of cigarette smoke. As Beirut stabilised in recent years, I watched the tourists come back, while my Syrian friends fled yet again — some to Turkey, more tolerant of Syrian refugees, others to Europe, in search of new beginnings.
I moved to Beirut’s eastern half with my partner, Alex, to a beautiful old building with a balcony that looks to the sea. We have back-up water and a generator, and no longer feel the daily indignities many others face.
The scars of Lebanon’s war may still be visible on Beirut’s buildings, but a starker legacy is the division of its people. Broadly speaking, Muslims ended up on the west side and Christians on the east. You can still meet people reluctant to cross the “green line” — the infamous demarcation line that ran north to south through the city and became a no-go zone of cratered streets and buildings, where only militants would roam.
Today, Beirut’s downtown is filled with gleaming reconstructed buildings, cafés and luxury shops. That glamour is simply out of reach for many Lebanese, and Beirut’s glitzy heart can feel empty for a city so vibrant.
An important point for Middle East novices: Beirut may suffer from wartime legacies, but it is not a country at war. I feel safer walking its streets than I do back home in Los Angeles, or around the FT offices in London. Friends are often shocked to hear we journalists can meet representatives of the Shia Muslim force, Hizbollah, a group as press-savvy as any political party back home. They even send me Christmas cards.
Now that I’ve come to the end of my time as the FT’s Middle East correspondent and am heading to Berlin to work on a book about Syrian refugees, I’ll miss this city, where socialising isn’t for weekends, but for any day and every day — and where the grocer always notices when I’ve been away.
I’ll even miss the way rules seem made to be broken. Once, when the electricity at home inexplicably shut off, Alex marched over to the state offices to complain. A group of workers on strike furtively explained how he could (illegally) restart the electricity. Seeking proper recourse, he called the government hotline. “Don’t tell anyone I told you this,” said the voice. “But here’s how to restart it yourself . . .”
My most love/hate relationship is with Beirut’s “service” system (pronounced “servees”), an informal shared taxi system to make up for the lack of public transport. It works like this: you flag a taxi, say where you want to go, and they’ll decide whether they feel like taking you. The standard price is 2,000 Lebanese pounds (about $1.33/94p).
You never know what will happen in a service. Every driver is a political analyst, ready to expound upon the day’s news. Some regale me with old ballads. Another shocked me by breaking into Hebrew and telling of his former life as an Israeli collaborator.
Some Beirutis seem like the keepers of secret keys. It can be the friend who takes me to a party in an Ottoman-era mansion, where the hostess in a sparkling kaftan offers champagne bottles on ice. It might be the employee at the hippodrome, who ushers me into the “VIP section” at the Sunday horse races. It is as old and decayed as the normal section, but the old men in three-piece suits poring over racing cards offer a trace of 1960s prewar Beiruti glamour.
Even the beloved and despised service drivers offer valuable clues. When I once struggled to describe a destination, one driver advised me to say “Piccadilly theatre”. I hadn’t heard of it, because it had been shut down for decades. But that’s the thing about Beirut: many of its landmarks are memories. It’s as much about what isn’t there as what is.
Perhaps that is why expats and locals alike love the WalkBeirut tour, led by the charismatic Ronnie Chatah. Whenever friends visit, I take them on his exploration of forgotten places right in the middle of town. He weaves a history both shared and intimate.
On top of the battle-scarred 70s tower block of the former Holiday Inn are the crumbling remains of a revolving restaurant, where his parents went on one of their first dates. Legal disputes over tearing the building down have left it as an accidental monument to the war — and to life before it. “You could say, in a way, I started out at that restaurant,” jokes Chatah.
Living in Beirut for seven years, I have my own map of memories and absences. Places I once lived alone. The corniche where I would gossip with a beloved friend who passed away.
I also walk past the glowing windows of apartments where I made meals with friends, or the old Le Chef restaurant, where waiters who have known me for years shout “Erikaaaa!” with happy madness as I pass, to the bewilderment of their customers. There is the little side street I loved to walk down with Alex.
He proposed by sending me on a scavenger hunt. A set of riddles led me across town, from the little side street, all the way to the Corniche. I arrived in time for sunset. I’ll keep the riddles. Someday, I’ll come back searching for places that once were and, in Beirut, always will be.
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 16-17/18
Israel Admits to Striking Syria: 'It Was the First Time We Attacked Live Iranian Targets'
Haaretz/ April 16/18 /A senior Israeli military official tells The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman: 'It was the first time we attacked live Iranian targets — both facilities and people' ,The official notes that the armed Iranian drone that entered Israeli airspace 'opened a new period'. A senior Israeli military official admitted to The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that Israel targeted the Iranian drone command center at the T4 air base in Syria last week. “It was the first time we attacked live Iranian targets — both facilities and people,” said the Israeli military official. The official noted that the armed Iranian drone that entered Israeli airspace "opened a new period," saying that “this is the first time we saw Iran do something against Israel — not by proxy." During the attack, Israel killed seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds force members, including Colonel Mehdi Dehghan, who led the drone unit operating out of T4, east of Homs. Two months ago, an Israeli F-15 war plane that carried out airstrikes on a Syrian air base was shot down after it struck targets in Syria in response to an Iranian drone that infiltrated Israeli airforce. The downed Iranian drone was armed with explosives and on its way to carry out an attack, the Israeli military said. According to IDF spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the drone’s flight path and Israel’s “intelligence and operational analysis of the parts of the Iranian unmanned vehicle” indicated that “the aircraft was carrying explosives” and that its mission was “an act of sabotage in Israeli territory.”

Tel Aviv Vows to Continue Working Against Iran
Ramallah- Kifah Zboun/Asharq Al Awsat/Monday, 16 April, 2018/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday praised his counterparts in the United Kingdom and France for joining US President Donald Trump in airstrikes on Syrian military facilities.“The important international message of the attack is zero tolerance for the use of non-conventional weapons,” Netanyahu told ministers at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting, adding that this “policy needs to also be expressed in preventing terrorist states and groups from having nuclear abilities.” Netanyahu accused Iran of being the main factor causing instability in the Middle East, noting that he had spoken on the phone with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Saturday evening and called for a similar policy to be adopted against Iran’s nuclear program. “President Assad must understand that when he allows Iran and its proxies to establish a military presence in Syria, he is endangering both Syria and the stability of the entire region,” he added. Echoing a previous comment he made on Saturday, Netanyahu said that “Israel fully supports President Trump’s decision to act against the use of chemical weapons in Syria.”Israel was informed ahead of the strikes, sources said. On Saturday, Netanyahu said Israel “fully supports” the pre-dawn airstrikes. In a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, he said, “A year ago, I made clear that Israel fully supports the decision by President Trump to stand against the use and spread of chemical weapons,” referring to American strikes against the Syrian regime in April 2017 after a sarin gas attack on a rebel-held town. “Trump’s resolve and Israel’s support remain unchanged,” Netanyahu said. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, for his part, said that Israeli will maintain absolute freedom of action on its "northern" borders and is ready for all possible scenarios. “We will strictly implement all that is required to address the Iranian position in Syria and to address the response that may result from that,” Bennett, who also heads the right-wing Jewish Home party, added. "Israel does not only deal with the head of the octopus but also with its arms”.
NATO Chief: Strikes on Syria Regime Clear Message to Assad, Iran
Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 16 April, 2018/NATO's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said Monday the weekend's US-led punitive strikes will reduce the Syrian regime's capabilities of carrying out new chemical attacks. Stoltenberg said the strikes by the United States, France and Britain were a "clear message" to the head of the regime, Bashar Assad, to Russia and Iran that the use of chemical weapons is not acceptable and that the allies would not stand by and watch. Stoltenberg spoke in an interview with Turkey's NTV television. The TV broadcast his comments with Turkish translations. The NATO chief is in Turkey for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials. The US, UK and France told NATO envoys on Saturday their coordinated air strikes on the Syrian regime targets were a last resort and aimed to stop more chemical attacks, Stoltenberg said. The three allies briefed NATO ambassadors at a special session at the alliance headquarters and won support from the other 26 NATO members, who sought more diplomatic pressure to uphold an international ban on poison gas attacks like the one the West believes the regime conducted on April 7 in Douma. The strikes "degraded the capabilities of Syria to conduct new attacks and at the same time sent a clear message which deters further attacks", Stoltenberg told a news conference after the meeting. "We will never have a total guarantee against new attacks as long as we have regimes which are willing to use chemical weapons," he said. "Chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity and cannot be normalized."
NATO was not involved in the strikes.

Chemical Arms Watchdog Convenes on Syria’s Douma Attack
Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 16 April, 2018/The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held emergency talks in The Hague on Monday to address the chemical weapons attack against the Syrian town of Douma.
The OPCW has 192 members, and Monday's governing executive council meeting of 41 states was called by its chairman, Bangladeshi ambassador Sheikh Mohammed Belal, to discuss the attack that left at least 40 people dead on April 7. Meanwhile, OPCW inspectors were visiting sites in Douma where they were aiming to collect samples, interview witnesses and document evidence to determine whether banned toxic munitions were used. US OPCW Ambassador Kenneth Ward stated at The Hague meeting that Russia may have tampered with the site of the Douma chemical attack. "It is long overdue that this council condemns the Syrian regime for its reign of chemical terror and demands international accountability for those responsible for these heinous acts," he said in comments obtained by Reuters. "It is our understanding the Russians may have visited the attack site. It is our concern that they may have tampered with it with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission to conduct an effective investigation." The US, Britain and France fired more than 100 missiles at three chemical weapons facilities on Friday, angering Syria's backer Moscow, which threatened to retaliate. President Donald Trump said the strikes had accomplished their aim of undermining efforts by the Syrian regime to produce and use chemical weapons again in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It has been more than a week since the attack in which witnesses and Western governments described helicopters dropping sarin and chlorine bombs that killed many children and women hiding from clashes between rebels and government troops.
A diplomatic source told Reuters evidence may have been removed while inspectors negotiated access with Syrian authorities. Syria and Russia deny chemical weapons were used in the final offensive that captured Douma, a rebel-held territory east of Damascus. The British envoy to the OPCW said it had recorded 390 incidents of the use of banned chemicals in Syria since 2014. "The time has come for all members of this Executive Council to take a stand. Too many duck the responsibility that comes with being a member of this council. Failure to act to hold perpetrators to account will only risk further barbaric use of chemical weapons, in Syria and beyond," said envoy Peter Wilson. Priority must be given to boosting the work of the world's chemical arms watchdog so it can dismantle Syria's "secret" toxic weapons program, the French ambassador said. "The priority today is to give the technical secretariat the means to complete the dismantling of the Syrian program," Phillipe Lalliot told the OPCW. The European Union said Russia and Iran should use their influence on the Syrian regime to prevent it from further use of chemical weapons. "The EU calls upon all countries, notably Russia and Iran, to use their influence to prevent any further use of chemical weapons, notably by the Syrian regime", the EU said in comments at the OPCW meeting, seen by Reuters. Moscow meanwhile vowed not to interfere in the OPCW’s work in Syria. "Russia confirms its commitment to ensure safe (sic) and security of the mission and will not interfere in its work," the Russian embassy in The Hague said in a tweet. Syria joined the OPCW, the organization tasked with monitoring adherence to the 1997 convention, in 2013 after a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of people in Ghouta. The move was part of a joint Russian-US deal that averted military action threatened by then-president Barack Obama. A joint United Nations-OPCW mission concluded that troops under Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons several times in recent years, including in a sarin attack a year ago in the town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed nearly 100 people.

Chemical Arms Probe in Syria Stalled due to 'Security Concerns'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 16/18/Russia and Syria have stalled access to Douma by international experts seeking to probe an alleged poison gas attack there, citing security concerns, a British diplomat said Monday. The claim came as the global chemical arms watchdog held emergency talks on the alleged atrocity, which prompted Western air strikes on Syria on Saturday. The head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ahmet Uzumcu, told the closed-door meeting his inspectors had failed to gain access to the site so far, the British ambassador to the Netherlands told reporters. Uzumcu said "the Syrian regime and the Russians were citing security concerns," ambassador Peter Wilson told a press conference. The Russians and Syrians "have not been able to guarantee the security of the delegation to go to Douma at this point," Wilson added, saying no timeline had been given for when they could visit. The talks at the OPCW's headquarters come two days after a wave of punitive missile strikes in Syria launched by Western powers after the alleged April 7 toxic arms attack on Douma. The team had been expected to begin their field work on Sunday, but they met with officials at their Damascus hotel instead and a strict media blackout was imposed on their schedule. The Kremlin dismissed claims that Russia was impeding access. "We consider such accusations against Russia to be groundless," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that Moscow was in favor of "an impartial investigation." The missiles that U.S., French and British warships fired on suspected chemical facilities Saturday constituted the biggest Western attack against the regime in the seven-year war.
The targeted sites were largely empty, and were all said to be facilities for chemical weapons storage or production.
'Obscene lies'
In the Syrian capital, thousands of people gathered on the main Umayyad square to express their support for President Bashar al-Assad in the aftermath of the missile strikes. But at the OPCW, France urged nations to boost the organization's work so it can dismantle Syria's "secret" toxic weapons program. Following recent alleged attacks, "we all know, Syria has maintained a secret chemical program since 2013," French ambassador Philippe Lalliot said. "The facts are there, and they defy the most obscene lies and the most absurd denials," he said. He added that priority must be given to helping the OPCW "complete the dismantling of the Syrian program."The limited scope of the weekend strikes and the fact that Damascus had time to remove key assets thanks to prior warning given by the West to the Syrian regime's ally Russia, have drawn skepticism however. The trio of Western powers that carried out the strikes warned they would repeat the operation if Damascus used chemical weapons again, while Putin warned any fresh strikes would "provoke chaos."With no further strikes planned for the time being, the West already appears to be shifting its focus to renewed diplomatic action, with a new resolution to be debated at the U.N. Security Council on Monday. "The bottom line for me is that this latest strike changed nothing," said Nabeel Khoury, a former U.S. diplomat and currently a fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank. "In my opinion, it was a staged drama, orchestrated by Trump and Putin, for each to save face," he said. The attack on Douma, in which most experts say chlorine as well as an agent such as sarin were used, killed at least 40 people, according to local medics. Holdout fighters from the Islamist group Jaish al-Islam subsequently surrendered their heavy weapons and left, saying that the chemical attack forced them to accept a Russian-brokered transfer deal.
No interference
Regime forces have since entered Douma and declared the entire Eastern Ghouta region around it fully retaken, ending a five-year siege and reclaiming an opposition bastion on the edge of the capital. Damascus and Moscow have vehemently denied that any chemical weapons were used in Douma and alleged instead that grim videos showing civilians foaming at the mouth after the attack were staged. Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said several coordination meetings were held with the OPCW team, but he did not provide any further details about their schedule. "Syria reiterated its full readiness to coordinate and to facilitate the delegation's work," he said, quoted by the official state agency SANA. Russia also promised Monday it would not obstruct the fact-finding mission. Russia "will not interfere in its work," the Russian embassy in The Hague said in a tweet. With all key players having anticipated its findings, the chemical arms watchdog faces a difficult task and the tea. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said however: "I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site."'

Kremlin Says Still Hopes for Dialogue with U.S. despite Syria Strikes
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 16/18/The Kremlin on Monday said it still hopes for dialogue with Washington despite US-led strikes on Moscow's ally Syria last week. "We hope that, when our American colleagues solve their internal issues, some kind of communication will begin despite all the damage to (our) bilateral relations currently imposed by Washington," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. He added that there are no current discussions between the two countries on a possible summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The United States, Britain and France carried out attacks at the weekend on alleged chemical weapons facilities, in response to what they say was a toxic gas attack by the Russia-backed Assad regime a week before. Moscow has said the U.S.-led action was aimed at overthrowing Assad and keeping Russia's influence in check. The Western strikes have led to tensions between Washington and Moscow unseen since the Cold War. Vladimir Putin denounced them as "an act of aggression against a sovereign state which is at the forefront of the fight against terrorism."Russia on Saturday failed to win U.N. backing for a condemnation of the Western strikes.

Russia Says Claims It's Preventing Syria Gas Attack Probe 'Groundless'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 16/18/The Kremlin on Monday dismissed as "groundless" claims that Russia and Syria have not allowed a fact-finding mission by the world's chemical weapons watchdog to enter Douma to probe an alleged gas attack. "We consider such accusations against Russia to be groundless," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that Moscow was in favor of "an impartial investigation."Earlier, Britain's embassy to the Netherlands said Russia and Syria had not yet allowed a team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to enter Douma, where an attack on April 7 -- allegedly using chlorine and sarin -- killed at least 40 people. OPCW chief Ahmet Uzumcu had briefed emergency talks about the deployment of the team, which arrived Saturday in Damascus. Moscow has vowed not to interfere in the team's work and hit out at the United States, saying the weekend strikes by the U.S., France and Britain on three facilities in Syria were a bid "to undermine the credibility" of the mission. Peskov also dismissed French President Emmanuel Macron's claims that the weekend air strikes had driven a wedge between Ankara and Moscow. While acknowledging some differences "on a number of issues" between Turkey and Russia, Peskov said they did not prevent the two countries from cooperating in the implementation of large-scale economic and other projects. Predictably, the Western strikes against Syria at the weekend caused outrage in Moscow but Putin did not announce any retaliatory measures, with Russia simply calling an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council.

UK Says Russia, Syria Not Yet Allowed OPCW Team into Douma
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 16/18/Russia and Syria have not yet allowed a fact-finding mission from the world's chemical weapons watchdog to enter Douma to probe allegations of a gas poison attack, the British embassy here said Monday. The head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ahmet Uzumcu, had briefed emergency talks about the deployment of the team, which arrived Saturday in Damascus. But "Russia & Syria have not yet allowed access to Douma. Unfettered access essential," the British delegation to the OPCW based in The Hague said in a tweet. British ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Wilson, urged Monday's meeting "to act to hold perpetrators to account," saying failure to do so "will only risk further barbaric use of chemical weapons, in Syria and beyond.""The time has come for all members of this executive council to take a stand," Wilson said, adding "too many duck the responsibility that comes with being a member of this council."He repeated that Britain, together with the United States and France, on Saturday had struck at a "limited set of targets."They included "a chemical weapons storage and production facility, a key chemical weapons research center and a military bunker involved in chemical weapons attacks." "Hitting these targets will significantly degrade the Syrian regime's ability to research, develop and deploy chemical weapons," Wilson said. Since Syria joined the OPCW in 2013, "we have sought to use diplomatic channels ... to stop chemical weapons use in Syria but our efforts have been repeatedly thwarted," Wilson said. It was "shameful" that a lack of accountability for the April 2017 attack on Khan Sheikhun "can only have reassured the Syrian regime that the international community was not serious in its stated commitment to uphold the norm against chemical weapons use," he added.

Macron Clarifies Syria Comments, Says U.S. and France United
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 16/18/President Emmanuel Macron sought to clarify his comments on French and U.S. military operations in Syria on Monday, saying both countries were committed to finishing the battle against the Islamic State group and helping the peace process there. Macron said on Sunday evening that Paris had convinced US President Donald Trump to stay engaged in Syria "for the long-term" -- but just hours later the White House responded by saying it wanted U.S. forces there "to come home as quickly as possible."
Asked about a difference in position, Macron said both countries had the same military goal but also had the same long-term target of building a stable and peaceful Syria. "We have one military objective and only one: the war against ISIS," he told a press conference, using an alternative name for the Islamic State extremist group that is also sometimes to referred to as Daesh. "The White House is right to recall that the military engagement is against Daesh and will finish the day that the war against Daesh has been completed. France has the same position," he said. "I suggested no change last night."
The U.S., France and Britain carried out joint strikes against Syrian chemical weapons installations on Saturday morning in response to an alleged chemical attack on civilians by regime forces. "I am right to say that the United States, because they decided to carry out this intervention, have realized that our responsibility goes beyond the fight against Daesh and that it was also a humanitarian responsibility on the ground and a long-term responsibility to build peace," Macron added. Referring to a recent promise from Trump to bring home American troops operating in Syria, Macron told his interviewers on Sunday that he had helped change the U.S. president's mind. "I assure you, we have convinced him that it is necessary to stay for the long-term," he said. France and other European nations had been alarmed by Trump's comments about ending America's presence in Syria, which contradicted messages from U.S. military leaders and raised fears that IS could stage a resurgence. Despite a string of military victories that have driven the group back, IS militants are still in control of pockets of land in Syria. Macron also said on Sunday that the Western intervention in Syria on Saturday had driven a wedge between Turkey and Russia, which have been building increasingly close ties -- to the consternation of Europe and the U.S. Turkish politicians rejected the suggestion on Monday. "We can think differently but they (our relations with Russia) are not so weak that the French president can break them," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. "We have strong relations with Russia," Cavusoglu added.

Rouhani Discusses Boosting Cooperation with Russia After US-Led Strike in Syria
London, Tehran- Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 16 April, 2018/Iranian President Hassan Rouhani held telephone consultations with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday, urging the two countries to step up their moves in Syria in response to US-led moves by Western countries.
On the other hand, Putin expressed Moscow's commitment to the tripartite cooperation with Tehran and Ankara to reach a solution in Syria. The attack by America and its allies shows new problems and issues in the course of decisive confrontation with terrorism in Syria are rising, and they require increased consultations and cooperation, Rouhani told Putin. Rouhani stressed his country's preparedness to boost bilateral cooperation with Russia and tripartite frameworks with Ankara to resolve the crisis in Syria, accusing Western countries having no desire to allow for stabilizing Syria “easily.”More so, Rouhani labeled the three-way attack by the US, France and Britain on sites in Syria as an “aggression” and that it “comes within the framework of raising the terrorists’ morale.” Rouhani said the US-led strike was proof of Washington's close relationship with what he described as “terrorist groups” and in retaliation to frustration caused by “terrorists losing control over an important area like the eastern Ghouta." Speaking to Rouhani by telephone the day after US-led strikes on suspected chemical weapons facilities, Putin said “if such actions, carried out in violation of the United Nations Charter, are repeated, that would inevitably provoke chaos in international relations,” according to a statement from the Kremlin. "The leaders exchanged views on the situation following the missile strike on Syria delivered by the United States and its allies. They agreed that this illegal activity is adversely impacting prospects for a political settlement in Syria. On another hand, parliament’s Foreign Policy and National Security Committee member Mohammad Jawad Jamali in a Sunday closed-door meeting, and in the presence of Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force leaders, assessed the situation in Syria after the US-led strike. “The National Security Committee is considering developments in Syria and the recent attack, in the presence of Quds Force leaders and officials affiliated with the Syrian file in the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Jamali said in a statement to the government. Iranian news agency ISNA reported that Jamali remained reserved around the sessions’ outcome and gave no further details. The meeting came days after at least four Iranians were killed at the T-4 military airport in the Syrian province of Homs, a city about 162 kilometers north of Damascus.

Tehran’s Former Persecutor 'Disappears' Before Serving Sentence for Murder
London- Adil al Salmi/Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 16 April, 2018/Hours after Iranian media confirmed the disappearance of former Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi who was involved in the killing of protesters during the Green Movement's protests in 2009, activists mounted posters in different parts of Tehran demanding information about his whereabouts as well promoting “Where is Mortazavi?” on Iranian social networks. This came about five months after an arrest warrant was issued against Mortazavi following his two-year sentence after being convicted of participating in the killing of Mohsen Amini, one of the detainees in Kahrizak prison, southeast of Tehran. During his trial, Mortazavi faced three counts, and in October 2014, he was cleared of the accomplice murder charge and was sentenced to permanent dismissal from all judicial positions and five years dismissal of government positions for "unlawful detention".In April 2015, the Iranian court reopened Mortazavi's case on charges of preparing false reports and colluding in the killing of Mohsen Rouholamini, son of Abdolhossein Rouholamini adviser of former Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) chief Mohsen Rezaee. On Thursday, Khorasan newspaper quoted Iranian Judiciary’s Spokesperson Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei as saying that a court verdict calls for imprisoning Mortazavi for two years, but unfortunately Judiciary authorities were not able to arrest him as his whereabouts were unknown. The court initially convicted Mortazavi of five years in prison after he claimed responsibility for signing the decision to transfer the prisoners to "Kahrizak". Eight years ago, the then-prosecutor in Tehran Mortazavi, issued orders to arrest people protesting the results of the presidential elections and torture detainees in Kahrizak, resulting in the death of four young protesters, out of the 145 detainees transferred to prison at the early hours of the protests. The transfer of prisoners to Kahrizak provoked wide controversy, forcing the Iranian authorities to close the prison before the demonstrators were declared dead. In September 2016, Iranian media published a letter from Mortazavi apologizing to the families of the victims, expressing remorse. He said the prison events were "unintentional."Tasnim quoted Mostafa Turk Hamadani, Mortazavi's lawyer, as saying that over the past five to six months, he has not been aware of anything about his client. In similar statements, Hamdani told Elena that nine of Mortazavi's security guards knew nothing about him or his whereabouts.
President Hasan Rouhani’s adviser on cultural affairs, Hesamodin Ashna said that Mortazavi had fled the country in order to evade justice repeating the scenario of chairman of Bank Melli Iran, Mahmoud Khavari who escaped the country after he was accused of embezzlement.
Ashna said in a tweet: “Mortazavi carries many secrets with him,” adding that with his disappearance, “the history of a decade of judiciary’s secrets might vanish.”For its part, Javan daily, a newspaper affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), responded to Rouhani's tweet, saying that there is no doubt Mortazavi must be held responsible, and “we must be careful that he doesn’t evade his responsibilities, but what does the adviser aim behind raising doubts and speculations?”The newspaper added that if anyone wanted to help Mortazavi escape, it will be the government of Ashena, which controls the airports. Mortazavi’s disappearance was discussed in parliament, with reformist MP of Tehran Mostafa Kavakebian, protested against the judiciary because of the delay in Mortazavi's arrest. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Sunday Mortazavi’s conviction dates to Iran’s 2009 contested presidential elections, which led to waves of protests and the arrest of some 4,000 demonstrators. He was sentenced to two years in prison for complicity in the death of one person arrested during Iran’s 2009 anti-government protests, however, he has vanished before he could even be arrested. “Considering Iran’s abysmal record prosecuting human rights abusers, it would not be surprising that certain authorities want to shield Mortazavi from facing justice,” indicated HRW.

Hamas Tells Israel: Wait Until May 15
Ramallah- Asharq Al Awsat/Monday, 16 April, 2018/Hamas Movement has threatened Israel of organizing an unprecedented march towards the Gaza borders on the anniversary of the Palestinian exodus (Nakba Day), which falls on May 15 each year. “Tell Israel to wait until May 15, when our Palestinian people will break out and nothing will stop them. Wave after wave, until we meet in Jerusalem,” Hamas’ Politbureau member, Khalil al-Hayya, said on Sunday. He went on to say: “Our confrontation against the occupation is ongoing with all the means available to our people, and [the march of return] was launched and will end only with victory and liberation.”Palestinians in the Gaza Strip launched the “march of return” three weeks ago, and vowed to continue until the Nakba commemoration when Israel celebrates its establishment. Israel has killed 35 Palestinians since the marches began on the border of the Gaza Strip at the end of March, and wounded around 3,000 people, including more than 1,500 with live bullets. Palestinians accused Israel of deliberately targeting unarmed civilians to thwart the marches. But Israel said it was targeting those trying to carry out attacks through barbed wire. The factions were accused of using people as cover for attempts to carry out operations. Last week, Israeli attacks were reported against journalists and medical staff. The Palestinian Authority requested an international investigation into Israel’s use of bullets against civilians, but the Security Council could not even issue a statement of condemnation because of the United States’ position. “The martyrdom of fathers and children will not prevent the Palestinian people from continuing the march of jihad and resistance,” Hayya stressed.

Awaiting Hafter’s Return, LNA Launches Offensive to Liberate Derna
Cairo- Khalid Mahmoud/Asharq Al-Awsat//Monday, 16 April, 2018 /Sources close to Libyan National Army Commander Marshal Khalifa Hafter, who is currently being treated at a hospital in the French capital, confirmed that his health is “excellent and at best.”More so, the LNA announced kicking off a military operation to liberate the coastal city of Derna, the last LNA-labeled terror pocket in the country’s east. Libyan sources accompanying Hafter in Paris said that the top army chief was “healthy” but declined to set a date for his return to Libya.
“The doctors advised him to rest for at least two weeks,” a source with knowledge of the matter told Asharq Al-Awsat. According to the source, who required anonymity, Hafter was undergoing “routine” medical checkup and there is no concern for the LNA leader’s life.
Despite unofficial reports saying that Hafter will return to Libya within the next two days, accompanying delegates declined to name a date. “This is a decision to be made by doctors ... Marshal Hafter wants to return as soon as possible, but this is a health decision, not a political one.”
On the other hand, locals reported a cautious calm looming over Derna’s outskirts. The calm comes after an army statement announcing orders to storm the city. Orders were given at the end of a meeting joining together Chief of Staff of the Air Force, an Operation Dignity Battle commander and high-end military officials, in preparation for the liberation of the strategic coastal city. Chief of the Army Staff Lieutenant General Abdul Raziq Al Nadouri on Saturday met with top military commanders and reviewed the latest preparations for the “liberation” of Derna, a media center linked to the Libyan National Army said. Local sources in the city said that the army was preparing to enter the city, which was witnessing calm and cautious military alert. They added that terrorist groups that are still holed up in the city are preparing to repel the army's offensive. LNA Spokesman Brigadier General Ahmad al-Mismari confirmed that all units in charge of the military mission in Derna had received direct orders on posts and duties from their superiors. He confirmed that army forces are in full readiness, and they are determined to drive militia forces out of the city. After all arrangements to enter the city were completed, Brig. Gen. Mismari said it was time for the people of Derna to get rid of terrorist organizations, stressing that the army relies heavily on the efforts of local public figures in the efforts to expel terrorist groups.

Russia Voices Support for Hadi as Yemen Army Frees Govt. Compound in Saada
Sanaa, Dhahran - Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 16 April, 2018/Russia reaffirmed on Sunday its support for Yemen’s internationally-recognized government fighting against the Iran-backed Houthi-led insurgency and expressed its readiness to adopt any role that serves peace.
On the ground, government forces advanced in the Kataf area north of the Saada province, the Rahda front north of Lahij and the northern front in Al Bayda. Army forces also secured the government compound in al-Zaher. The stronghold seized is only kilometers away from the main Houthi militia center in the Maran district of the neighboring Hidan directorate, Yemeni army field sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. Meanwhile, Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi affirmed that Yemen is undergoing a process of transformation and faces both local and regional difficulties. Hadi met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on the sidelines of the 29th Arab summit hosted by the Kingdom. He relayed his country’s appreciation of Russia's support for Yemen and the process of political transformation based on the Gulf Initiative and its executive mechanisms, the outcomes of the comprehensive national dialogue conference and relevant United Nations resolutions, namely resolution 2216. The meeting was held within the framework of consultation and exchange of ideas that are intended to stabilize and restore peace and security for Yemen and its people, Yemen’s news agency Saba quoted Bogdanov as saying. It reported that Bogdanov expressed Russian readiness to play a peace-serving role. He reiterated Moscow’s support for Yemen and its constitutionally-elected government and noted current preparations for commemorating in November the 90th anniversary of the establishment of Yemeni-Russian relations. The Yemeni-Russian meeting coincided with continued Yemeni military operations, backed by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, on various fronts. Pro-government forces made vital advances on the fronts of Saada, Al Bayda, Lahij, Taiz, Nihm and Al Jawf. Intense airstrikes carried out by coalition forces on Houthi militia pockets in more than one area aided the army’s push.

Iraq’s PM Admits Difficulty in Fighting Corruption

Baghdad - Hamza Mustafa/Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 16 April, 2018/Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi admitted on Sunday that his government is facing difficulties in opening corruption cases, saying local authorities have been "seriously" clamping down on corrupt individuals no matter who they are. Abadi, in his statement at the Sixth Ministerial Conference of the Arab Network for the Promotion of Integrity and Combating Corruption, said that had it not fought corruption, Iraq would not have defeated ISIS. The authorities will not hesitate to open any corruption case and those involved in fraud "are aware of the government’s seriousness in this respect," he said. The prime minister described unequal distribution of national wealth as a form of corruption, and urged citizens to report to the competent authorities about any corruption cases. The PM admitted that fraud or waste of public funds can not be fought through conventional means, calling for "a radical look at corruption."Nasr Coalition spokesman Hussein Darwish al-Adli said the PM is fighting corruption “out of his constitutional and legal responsibility” and in his capacity as the head of the executive branch without any electoral considerations. Earlier in January, Abadi announced the formation of Nasr Coalition to be cross-sectarian and bring together representatives from all provinces to fight corruption and preserve the victory of Iraq. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Adli indicated that Abadi, as a leader, is serious in fighting corruption, in addition to his electoral campaign, which focuses on him rooting out corruption as the head of a large bloc running in the May 12 elections. The spokesman explained that “Abadi has a clear vision formulated through a detailed program aimed at tackling corruption responsibly.”Adli pointed out that the government has adopted the draft-law on illicit gains which has been referred to the parliament for approval. “The legislation will in itself be an important shift in the fight against corruption,” he said. When asked whether Abadi formed a large bloc for the purpose of forming the next government, he said: "This is something legal in countries that adopt the principle of peaceful rotation of power through elections. This is part of his electoral ambition.” Member of the parliamentary finance committee Rahim al-Darraji also spoke to Asharq al-Awsat, saying that since 2003, successive Iraqi governments have failed to fight corruption because they part of it. The issue is often tackled in the media without any serious official measures, indicated Darraj, saying more than $328 billion have been wasted over the past fifteen years, in addition to the presence of thousands of fake contracts. Former Minister of Water Resources Muhsin al-Shammari believes that administrative corruption is the source of all forms of corruption and terrorism. “Corruption and terrorism are two sides of one coin and result from lack of legislation,” said the former minister. He added that corruption is dealt through the activation of the prosecution’s role.

7 Inmates Killed, 17 Injured in South Carolina Prison Violence
Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 16 April, 2018/Seven inmates have been killed and at least 17 others seriously injured amid hours of fighting between prisoners inside a maximum security prison in the US State of South Carolina. Prisons spokesman Jeff Taillon announced the grim outcome after State Law Enforcement Division agents helped secure Lee Correctional Institution around 3 a.m. Monday. Taillon said no officers were wounded after multiple inmate fights broke out at 7:15 p.m. Sunday. He said 17 of the injured required medical attention outside the prison. The South Carolina Department of Corrections tweeted that it involved multiple inmate-on-inmate altercations in three housing units. Lee County Fire/Rescue said ambulances from multiple jurisdictions lined up outside to tend to the wounded. The local coroner's office also responded. The maximum-security facility in Bishopville houses about 1,500 inmates, some of South Carolina's most violent and longest-serving offenders. In March, inmates at the prison held an officer hostage after taking control of a dorm room, US media reported. The inmates held the officer for about 25 minutes before the room was secured by law enforcement. In February, an inmate was killed by another prisoner in a fight. Two officers were stabbed in a 2015 fight.

Trump 'Morally Unfit' for Office, Fired FBI Chief Comey Says
Russia and Syria have stalled
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 16/18/Fired former FBI chief James Comey lashed out at Donald Trump in an interview with ABC broadcast, calling him "morally unfit" to be president and describing him as a serial liar who will "stain everyone around him."Comey's remarks are the latest salvo in a war of words with Trump, who excoriated the former FBI director on Twitter earlier in the day, again calling him a "slimeball" and suggesting he should be jailed. The wide-ranging interview with ABC News also came ahead of Tuesday's release of Comey's memoir, "A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership," in which he details his interactions with the Republican president. "I think he's morally unfit to be president," Comey said, in his first televised interview since being fired in May last year. The former federal prosecutor pointed to how Trump "talks about and treats women like they're pieces of meat" and "lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it.""Values matter," Comey said. "This president does not reflect the values of this country." Comey also said that serving in Trump's administration poses a serious ethical dilemma. "The challenge of this president is that he will stain everyone around him," he told ABC, which aired an edited version of the interview but published a full transcript.
"And the question is, how much stain is too much stain and how much stain eventually makes you unable to accomplish your goal of protecting the country and serving the country?" Compromising material? But while Comey sharply criticized Trump, he said he hopes the president is not impeached. "I hope not because I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe they're duty bound to do directly."In his book, Comey likens Trump to a dishonest, ego-driven mob boss and says he demanded the then FBI chief's personal pledge of loyalty -- a damning account that has infuriated the president at a moment of intensifying legal pressure on other fronts. "I never asked Comey for Personal Loyalty. I hardly even knew this guy. Just another of his many lies. His 'memos' are self serving and FAKE!" Trump said in one of a series of tweets fired off Sunday before the interview. The president said Comey "stupidly" handled a probe into Trump's 2016 election rival Hillary Clinton and how she used a private email server during her time as secretary of state. In another tweet, Trump offered a mini-review of Comey's memoir. "The big questions in Comey's badly reviewed book aren't answered like, how come he gave up Classified Information (jail), why did he lie to Congress (jail), why did the DNC refuse to give Server to the FBI (why didn't they TAKE it), why the phony memos, McCabe's $700,000 & more?"The jumble of references appeared to allude to unsubstantiated accusations Trump has previously made claiming Comey lied in Senate testimony last May in denying he had served as an anonymous news source. "Look, it's been very clear that James Comey is a self-admitted leaker. He lied to Congress," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."In the interview, Comey said he was unsure whether or not the Russians have compromising material that could be used to blackmail Trump -- either relating to his pre-election personal conduct, or his campaign's actions. "I think it's possible. I don't know. These are more words I never thought I'd utter about a president of the United States, but it's possible," he said.
Possible obstruction of justice
And Comey said the president may have obstructed justice when he asked him to drop an investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn. "Possibly. I mean, it's certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice," he said. "It would depend upon other things that reflected on his intent." Trump and his aides have countered Comey's media blitz by attacking his handling of the probe into Clinton's emails. Comey acknowledged in the ABC interview that his belief that Clinton would be elected president "was a factor" in his decision to reopen the email probe 11 days before the U.S. election, a development that Clinton blames for her surprise defeat."I don't remember spelling it out, but it had to have been, that she's going to be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she'll be illegitimate the moment she's elected, the moment this comes out," Comey said.
Trump attacked him on Twitter. "Unbelievably, James Comey states that Polls, where Crooked Hillary was leading, were a factor in the handling (stupidly) of the Clinton Email probe," Trump said. "In other words, he was making decisions based on the fact that he thought she was going to win, and he wanted a job. Slimeball!" he wrote.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 16-17/18
Christian, Yazidi Women Still in ISIS Captivity
Sirwan Kajjo/Gatestone Institute/April 16/18
Despite losing control of Raqqa and other major strongholds in Syria and Iraq, ISIS continues to keep many of the women it kidnapped during its rise in 2014. The world seems to have forgotten about them.
Habib, traded four times during her captivity, witnessed many cases of Christian and Yazidi girls -- some as young as 9 years old -- sold, raped and tortured by ISIS members.
Currently, there are an estimated 1,500 Christian and Yazidi girls and women still in captivity, while 1,000 others are missing in Iraq and Syria. Others are believed to have been sold to sex traffickers in Turkey. It is an issue that the international community cannot ignore.
After more than three years, Rita Habib, a 30-year-old Christian woman from the Iraqi city of Mosul, was recently reunited with her blind father in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan Region. She and her father are the sole survivors of a family whose members, like thousands of Christians and other non-Muslims, was murdered by ISIS in mid-2014. Habib was among hundreds of Christian and Yazidi women and girls abducted at the time and sold into the sex trade. She was one of the lucky ones to be rescued by the Christian advocacy group, the Shlomo Organization for Documentation, which paid ISIS $30,000 for her release.
Abu Shujaa, a Yazidi activist who has been involved in rescuing hundreds of Yazidi women from ISIS, helps secure their release in various ways, but said that all require money, which is hard to come by.
When Raqqa, the former de facto capital of ISIS, was liberated by U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, many captured women were freed. Despite losing control of Raqqa and other major strongholds in Syria and Iraq, however, ISIS continues to enslave many of the women and girls it kidnapped during its rise in 2014. The world seems to have forgotten about them.
When ISIS carried out its onslaught on Yazidi towns across northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, its mission was to eliminate the kufar ("infidel unbelievers"). To this end, it forced Yazidi men and women to convert to Islam. Males who refused were murdered, and females taken as sex slaves. Christians, viewed by ISIS as "People of the Book," purportedly fared better. They were ostensibly given the option of paying jizya, a form of Islamic protection tax, as an alternative to death, for the "privilege" of living under the rule of ISIS's so-called caliphate. Such claims, however, were apparently just propaganda: all Christians were forced to convert to Islam; Christian girls and women, as with Yazidis, were forced into sex slavery.
Habib, traded four times during her captivity, witnessed many cases of Christian and Yazidi girls -- some as young as 9 years old -- sold, raped and tortured by ISIS members.
Islamic State jihadists laugh and joke about buying and selling Yazidi sex slaves, in a propaganda video.
At one point during the peak of the conflict, there were nearly 7,000 non-Muslim females captured by ISIS. Currently, there are an estimated 1,500 Christian and Yazidi girls and women still in captivity in Iraq and Syria, while 1,000 others are missing. After their defeat in Raqqa, ISIS jihadists reportedly moved most of the captive females to other areas under their control in eastern Homs and southern Damascus. Others are believed to have been sold to sex traffickers in Turkey.
With the anti-ISIS campaign gradually dwindling, many Christian and Yazidi groups fear that discovering the fate of those girls and women still in ISIS captivity is becoming even more difficult. It is an issue that the international community cannot ignore.
**Sirwan Kajjo is a Syrian-Kurdish Washington-based journalist and author.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Tariq Ramadan's Rape Trial: Blame the Victim
Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/April 16, 2018
If defending Tariq Ramadan is regrettable, Western silence is worse.
There are also those who blame Ramadan's alleged victims. According to The New Yorker, "[Ayeri] is something of a heroine in the extreme-right circles of the fachosphère, where Islamophobia is a ticket of admission". So, the "real" problem is "Islamophobia," not the Muslim subjugation of women.
The three women who accused Ramadan of rape have been the subjects of intimidation, violence and threats.
"The blindness of the Anglo-Saxons on political Islam is frightening". — Pascal Bruckner, French philosopher.
"If you thought it was challenging for women to come forward and accuse Harvey Weinstein of rape, consider accusing the Islamic theologian Tariq Ramadan", wrote Sylvie Kauffman, the former editor of Le Monde.
Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Bana, is a Swiss lecturer on Islam with millions of followers and one of Time Magazine's "men of the year". Accused of rape by three women, however, Ramadan is now in custody of the French police. In denying the allegations of sexual violence, his #MeToo case has turned into a political and religious affair.
The Algerian writer Kamel Daoud summarized the response of the Arab-Islamic world to the Ramadan affair: "Silence, discomfort, embarrassment and theories of mass conspiracy".
The Muslim communities likely know what is at stake in the case of Ramadan, which the Muslim sociologist Omero Marongiu-Perria has called a "crumbling myth". But if the Muslims' silence and defense of Tariq Ramadan is something regrettable, Western silence is worse.
Ramadan's ethnic and religious identity -- as is becoming increasingly common (for instance, here, here and here) -- has been evoked as part of his defense. After the first sexual accusations came out against Ramadan, Professor Eugene Rogan, Director of Oxford's Middle East Centre, where Ramadan also teaches, defended his colleague. Ramadan, Rogan said, is a "prominent Muslim".
According to the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner, "the blindness of the Anglo-Saxons on political Islam is frightening. In the United States, as in the UK, attacking Tariq Ramadan earn you a charge of racism".
130 personalities, including the economist Thomas Piketty and the French feminist Caroline De Haas, have defined the case against Ramadan as "a political campaign that, far from defending the cause of women, imposes on our country a destructive agenda of hatred and fear".
Thousands of people in Europe and millions in the Arab world are simply not willing to accept that Tariq Ramadan can be judged and found guilty by a system of democratic, Western and secular justice. That is the question at stake: will we witness the triumph of extremists over powerless Muslim women who will most likely never again have the courage to denounce their Muslim aggressors? This desire to perpetuate inequality seems why enormous amounts of money are being collected to defend Mr. Ramadan.
107,000 euros were immediately raised to defend Ramadan. Then, in just two days, an additional 26,000 euros were collected.
The imprisonment of such a legend -- the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood -- has caused a stir in the French and Swiss Muslim communities and mobilized a powerful propaganda machine. First the "Free Tariq Ramadan" website was created. Then 137,000 people signed an appeal to free him. Nadia Karmous, head of the Association of Muslim Women in Switzerland, supported the theologian as "a reliable and caring person". At a recent "Annual Meeting of Muslims of France" in Bourget, a "support committee" for Ramadan was launched. His books were sold, and people collected funds and signed letters to French President Emmanuel Macron and the Minister of Justice, Nicole Belloubet, asking for the release of their idol.
The goal seems to be to turn Ramadan into a martyr. According to Asmar Lafar, the president of the "Muslims of France" organization, Ramadan's pensée ("thinking/worldview") is still "intact" despite the accusations. People holding placards saying "Free Tariq Ramadan" rallied in Paris.
Meanwhile, the three women who accused Ramadan of rape have been the subjects of intimidation, violence and threats.
Their daily hell has been exposed by the French weekly Marianne. "You only get what you deserve" is one of the many messages "Marie" (one of the two women who uses a pseudonym) receives every day. Except that message came from one of Ramadan's brothers.
"I go out less and less", she said. A few days ago, she was attacked on the street. "Dirty bitch", four young men shouted at her.
One day, while "Marie" was bringing her son to school, a car stopped and the driver shouted, "Shut up; watch out for your children". On March 24, she was violently assaulted in the hall of her home by two men who beat her up, sprayed water on her and said: "Next time it will be gasoline".
"Christelle", the second woman using a pseudonym, receives emails from strangers containing "very specific information about her private life and schedule".
Henda Ayari, who filed the first complaint against Ramadan on October 20, 2017, no longer receives any support: "My family does not speak to me any more". Her name, phone numbers and addresses were disclosed on social media.Her care was vandalized. "I cannot go shopping anymore," Ayari said, "I cannot walk down the street, I go out with a cap, sunglasses and my head down... "I have not received any message [of support] from feminist organizations" she told Marianne.
All the testimonies are similar: "Phone calls in the middle of the night, people who are breathing or laughing at the other end of the phone".
Very few talk about this #MeToo of multiculturalism, or about those who blame Ramadan's alleged victims. According to The New Yorker:
"Ayari, who has received death threats, is a former Salafist who broke with Islam and has became a devout feminist and secularist à la française. She is something of a heroine in the extreme-right circles of the fachosphère, where Islamophobia is a ticket of admission".
So according to this, the "real" problem is "Islamophobia", not the Muslim subjugation of women.
Tariq Ramadan is extremely lucky. If he is judged according to Islamic law, he will almost certainly be found innocent. In Islam, the testimony of a female in court is worth half that of a man (Quran 2:282). If Ramadan is found guilty, he should thank France for having a secular democratic justice system. Otherwise, under Sharia, he would be stoned to death for adultery, as done in Somalia. Not so bad for an "Islamophobic" country such as France. Ramadan's alleged victims are less lucky. Either way, they will have to continue to live in a society that treats them not as victims but as enemies.
*Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Dhahran Summit and the Dialogue of Priorities
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 16/18
Perhaps it’s not for a political reason that the city of Dhahran was intentionally chosen out of 20 Saudi cities to host the Arab League summit but it’s still geographically the closest city facing Iran. Iran was mentioned in the major speeches delivered during the summit, indirectly and indirectly. The meeting’s sponsor, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz called for a “strong international stance to confront Iran’s behavior in the region,” and renewed warnings of the “Iranian behavior’s danger.”
Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit reiterated that there’s a need for an Arab stance against Iranian meddling. Arab governments have different stances on almost all causes, except the Palestinian cause to some extent. This has been the case of the 37 ordinary and emergency summits held in the past 70 years as Arab states rarely agreed on decisive issues. This is why politicians often formulate general, loose and long statements to bring positions closer.
In his speech to the League’s members, Aboul Gheit proposed a plan to confront the multiple challenges via “a dialogue on the priorities of Arab national security” and noted that “major threats confronting us are equally important and dangerous.” The Arab League secretary general is right to place all important cases in one basket as, for example, Libya’s crisis cannot be viewed of lesser importance than Syria or Yemen.
Threats are common. Bahrain and Lebanon suffered from Iran’s interferences six years ago, and today we can see that Iran’s rifles expanded the scope of their activity towards Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria. If some Arab governments do not think Iran’s behavior is a threat, either because they’re geographically far from it or because they politically agree with it, the Arab League’s principle of joint defense, and on which the league was established, will have failed.
This is the significance of the dialogue which Aboul Gheit called for among the 22 member states on the priorities of the Arab national security and defining major threats.
Member states can adopt different stances that suit them but they are committing a crime against the charter when they’re biased in dangerous causes. Not all countries are expected or required to militarily commit to defend the security of other members states that are at risk but they’re at least expected to harmonize with the conditions of the membership of this club, which is called the Arab League, by committing to a political stance in solidarity. This is the weakest degree of faith.
Major and multiple crises in the region are a real test to relations between member states and a test to the values and efficiency of the Arab League system. It’s nothing new to see it fail at meeting the minimum obligations in terms of the League’s charter which they signed. It’s based on dialogue and a review of these successes and failures that we can see whether there’s hope of treating this sick old League or not.
Unfortunately, our region, the Arab world and the Middle East in general, is still the most troubled region in the world and the one with the most failure in terms of political governance. This naturally reflects on and interprets the failure of its organization, i.e. the Arab League. This institution can play an important collective role in confronting crises. If it had done so once and succeeded, it would have managed to establish values for itself and for the member states.
The Arab Dhahran Summit concluded yesterday evening and a new year-long cycle and new attempts will begin and may achieve breakthroughs that instill hope during the upcoming months.

Syria’s Axis of Evil Cannot Be Trusted
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 16/18
There was a rumor ahead of the ‘tripartite’ (American, British and French) bombing of Syria that the Assad regime and the Russian government had offered the withdrawal of Iran and its militias from Syria as part of a suggested resolution, in exchange for the trio refraining from the attack and engaging in a new political exercise.
If we assume that such an offer was really on the table, would it have been acceptable? It is definitely better than a limited strike, but the problem is that the three parties involved in Syria are accustomed to promoting lies. Even the Russians lost their credibility as a result of their support for the allegations of Damascus and Tehran. After the chemical attack in Douma, they repeated the same old story that the opposition attacked itself and that the United Nations should inspect on the ground, with the aim of wasting time and diluting the problem.
The ‘axis of evil’, which lacks credibility, cannot be trusted with solutions or political resolutions. The Syrian regime escaped military sanctions in September 2013, when the Russians suggested that it delivered its stock of chemical weapons to UN inspectors. The stock was then removed from Syria, and the regime claimed that it was everything in its possession. Now we know, however, that it was hiding more.
The most dangerous part of this forgery is that this regime acts without any consideration of the consequences. This shows Assad has not changed, even though the world had wrongly assumed he might do so after the civil war. It is clear that the mentality of revenge and extermination still reigns in Damascus and Tehran; otherwise, there is no other justification for using chlorine and sarin gases against civilians in Douma.
The role of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ ‘Generals’ has been important in this war, as they have assumed the command in many of the battles throughout Syria over the past three years, and their reputation has preceded them in terms of carrying out horrible revenge massacres along with other pro-Iran militias.
Well, let us talk now about the coming days, since the military action by three Western powers is over, and they believe the job has been done, even though it does not seem to have adversely affected the strength of the regime or its forces. American President Donald Trump wanted to convey a message to prove that he means what he says, and the message was well received.
But what happens next? We are facing two interlocking issues: The expected US sanctions against Iran, which is a battle that is yet to begin; and the desire to put an end to the civil war in Syria with a peaceful resolution. The latter can be done either by reaching an agreement with the regime or by creating a new status quo through protected military zones, like the American plan for establishing a region in eastern Syria for monitoring and launching attacks against Daesh and others when needed.
American sanctions against Iran will definitely weaken the regime in Tehran and create an environment more favourable for finding a solution in Syria, while loosening Iran’s grip on Iraq and Lebanon. Without further sanctions, Iran will continue creating trouble in the region. Indeed, there is hope that Syria may prove to be the Iranian religious regime’s Achilles’ heel, as it boasts of being invincible there. The signs of this excessive confidence are reflected in how Iran has turned Syria into a battlefront against the Kurds and Israel, and a base for its threats against the stability of Lebanon and Iraq. According to the Iranian plan, Syria is the key base for its militias, which will be used by the IRGC as a launch pad against its neighbors.
Can we ever believe that the Syrian regime in Damascus would be able to eject the IRGC and Iran’s militias from Syria? It is too difficult to believe. The current chaos ensures that Syria remains a source of trouble, which is perfectly suitable for Iran and Russia to exploit as they look to add more cards, and become key players in the region through starting fires and extinguishing them.

Restoring the Initiative and the Hijacked Files
Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 16/18
Whenever I pack my suitcase to cover an Arab summit, I remind myself of the essence of my profession. I tell myself that my job is to look for the news and try to read between the lines, and not to lament and shed tears. The truth is that we have consumed all the dictionaries of regret, resentment, frustration and disappointment. But in the end, I am an Arab journalist and the figures scare me. Between each summit and another, I discover that the number of Israeli settlements has increased, and that the looting of Palestinian land is ongoing.
I also discover that the number of Arabs living in refugee camps is estimated at millions and that a new generation is born under the camps’ cruelty and brutality. I find out that the number of Arab children deprived of schooling is estimated at millions; and that fissures are slicing through new capitals that are managed by non-Arab components in the region.
I also see that a large number of unemployed people had joined the endless list; that poverty is taking root; and that it is very difficult for bright ideas to find their way in the dark; and that Arab bodies are swallowed by the fish after falling from death boats fleeing more than a hell. I find out that the other components are racing to share influence on the Arab land, as if the owner of the land has passed away or nearly died; and that these components establish on the Arab territory factories for the militias, working with great skill and abundance.
When following up Arab summits, I always thought to write an article entitled: Oh hell! Then I have changed my mind out of my conviction that the Arab situation is more severe than that headline.
I am writing as an Arab journalist, as my profession took me to attend many summits. By the way, is a person considered rude if he still says I am an Arab? Should we give up the spirit and the mantle and act as peoples lost in conspiracies and interventions?
Why is the Arab component in the Middle East weakened to such extent? Why don’t we have the right to get the minimum of what international conventions, norms and historic facts gave us? At least, Iraq should be for Iraqis, Syria for the Syrians, Lebanon for the Lebanese, Yemen for the Yemenis and Libya for the Libyans. At the least, territories of these Arab countries should not be seized by forces of darkness, coup militias, invasions or foreign tutelage.
Is an Arab considered rude when saying that Baghdad should be ruled from Baghdad, Damascus should be managed from Damascus, and the same for Beirut, Sana’a and Tripoli? If we do not recognize an Arab tutelage over another state, how can we accept non-Arab tutelage? Is it rude to demand that Arabs have natural rights, no more or less?
The situation in Syria almost summarizes the current Arab calamity. Before the Summit, tension escalated, the Western tripartite alliance targeted Syrian chemical sites. The strike was limited, not aimed at the core of the regime, nor at changing it. It was a reaction to the regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons and a message that staying under Russia’s umbrella does not prevent the West from launching punitive operations in response to the violation of the red lines. But the Syrian situation is more complex than the current US-Russian tension.
A quick look at the Syrian map is enough to know the scale of the disaster. Russian, American, Iranian and Turkish armies are currently stationed on Syrian territories. Syrian and non-Syrian militias cannot be counted here.
The success of the regime in dealing a serious blow to the opposition does not refute the fact that the Syrian map is placed under bickering external hegemony that has transformed the Syrian flag into a mere flag between many flags. A quick look at the real origin of missiles fired by the Houthis on Saudi Arabia shows that the threats to Arab national security have reached an unprecedented level.
Concern over serious violations of Arab national security was strongly present in the opening session of the Summit. This was expected as Arab countries no longer have the luxury of delaying or avoiding naming things by their names.
However, the highlight of the meeting was the declaration made by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, to label the Dhahran summit as the “Summit of Jerusalem” - a message of great significance in light of recent talks and rumors. This was accompanied by the announcement of financial support for the Islamic Endowments in Jerusalem and UNRWA. The move was greeted with applause.
There is no exaggeration in saying that the Arab role in the region began to dwindle when Khamenei’s Iran rushed to take out the Palestinian issue from Arabs’ hands, presenting itself as the custodian and defender of the Palestinian rights, and taking advantage, at that time, of the declining Egyptian role due to the Camp David agreements and the consecutive Arab reactions.
Observers do not forget that Iran began to creep into the Arab arena when its supporters clashed with Israel. Under the pretext of fighting Israel, Iran succeeded in planting the seeds of its influence in Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian arena, before the American invasion gave it the opportunity to penetrate the Iraqi fabric and later move to Yemen. Turkey also realized the importance of the Palestinian issue to find a corridor to a number of Arab arenas or powers.
Putting back the Palestinian issue into its Arab cradle and committing to the Arab Peace Initiative provide a common Arab ground for developing a serious strategy to confront the Iranian and Turkish interventions. Isn’t it strange, for example, to see the future of Syria discussed by the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey, in the absence of any Arab representation?
Arabs have no choice but to regain the initiative, restore the kidnapped files, and formulate realistic and effective policies to restore peace in Syria, Libya and Yemen.
Assuming the responsibility of those files will push the major countries to take into account the rights of the Arab component, instead of considering its land as an arena for experimenting wars and weapons.

Why Zuckerberg Won the Facebook Hearings
Shira Ovide/Bloomberg View/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 16/18
Mark Zuckerberg did just fine in his first turn in the Congressional hot seat. He was confident. He capably tackled many of the queries proposed last week by Bloomberg columnists. The 33-year-old billionaire appeared humble throughout much of the hearing, with only a few smug smiles.
The best news for Facebook Inc. the company was that Zuckerberg ably deflected any challenges to the beating heart of its economic model: its hungry data collection and the fine-tuned targeted advertising based on that data. Zuckerberg's success is a win for anyone primarily concerned with the company's market value. But it's a loss for the rest of us.
Facebook will keep failing users' trust as long as its business is based on unrestrained hoovering of as much user data as possible, and crafting ever-more innovative ways for advertisers to harness that information for commercial goals. It's an arrangement to which Facebook's users agree and can sidestep, technically, but it is hardly informed consent or a real option to avoid.
This inherent conflict was on display during two of Zuckerberg's exchanges on Tuesday. The first was with Senator Roy Blunt, the Republican from Missouri. He asked Zuckerberg a series of questions about what information the company can collect on its 2 billion users and use for advertising, including whether the social network can pinpoint that a person who posts on Facebook from his work computer in the morning is the same person who uploads a photo to his Facebook smartphone app at night.
The answer, as Zuckerberg surely knows, is yes. Facebook brags to advertisers that it can provide "cross device" targeting, as it is called. The company can also track people nearly everywhere they go online, and it can see what apps people have installed on their phones.
Facebook also collects information on "offline" activity, as Blunt also asked, which includes information on users' location as they roam around the real world. Companies can also match their information on what your purchase in stores -- that box of cereal at the supermarket, for example -- and marry it with Facebook account information. Inexplicably, Zuckerberg tried to say he wasn't completely sure about Facebook's data collection policies, and one of his underlings could follow up later. The Facebook CEO knows what his company does, but perhaps he couldn't acknowledge that his companies relies on assembling detailed dossiers on billions of people.
This exchange mattered because Blunt and others revealed the flaw in Facebook's bargain with users. The company gives us a service we find valuable, and in exchange we agree that Facebook will harness that information to make money. Zuckerberg said everyone who uses Facebook consents to what they agree to share, and has complete control of it. The trick is few people really understand what they're giving, or are capable of truly controlling it. Zuckerberg seemed to concede as much after a lawmaker brandished a stack of papers said to be Facebook's data collection and ad policy disclosures to its users.
Technically, Facebook's users can turn off targeted advertisements or disable sensitive features such as image recognition in photos. (I couldn't figure out how to do the latter, and I write about technology for a living.) Zuckerberg believes he's giving users control, but he's giving them the illusion of control. And that means the consent of Facebook users is not informed.
Senator Richard Blumenthal and other lawmakers tried to get Zuckerberg to change the rules of engagement between Facebook and its users. Facebook right now operates as take or leave it. Users of Facebook give the company broad permission to collect whatever information the operators of Facebook want for whatever reasons they have. If the user decides to protect that information, it is more of a case-by-case process. Blumenthal, the Democrat from Connecticut, asked to flip that around, and force Facebook to explicitly ask permission for whatever pieces of personal information it wanted to harvest and use, and explain why.
Maybe people would find this system too cumbersome to be practical. And regardless, there is no way Zuckerberg can agree to this. If everything on Facebook only functioned with an informed "opt in" from users, the company's business doesn't work. (Yes, a new European law forces companies to only collect the information they need to provide a service, and obtain clear consent to collect and use the personal information. Facebook has been wishy-washy about whether its implementation of the European law will also be applied to Facebook users outside of Europe.)
Facebook could voluntarily change the rules of the game. It could elect to turn off location tracking of users by default, to stop collecting information on people's activity away from Facebook without express permission, and to give people even more information that shows how advertisers target them for each Facebook ad they see.
Those changes could dramatically curtail Facebook's power and its revenue -- and that's the point. None of the good changes the company announced in recent weeks will truly hurt Facebook because it hasn't revised its economic engine: all that data, and unfettered use of it without informed approval of Facebook's citizens. Only a dramatic data diet can curb the worst downsides of Facebook. It's time for Facebook to really change.

Destroying the structures of extremism
Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/Al Arabiya/April 16/18
Prince Mohammed bin Salman correctly diagnosed the intellectual issues and triggers that lead men to commit acts of terrorism. In an interview with TIME magazine, he spoke about the Muslim Brotherhood’s crimes and their role in promoting this evil.
He also discussed another dangerous movement that has its supporters and followers in Saudi Arabia, the Sururist Movement, which lies at the center of the Islamic Sahwa (Awakening) Movement. It’s an era that the state is working on sweeping away and making it history.
The prince described the Sururists as even more extreme than the Muslim Brotherhood, and added: “According to our law, they are criminals” promising to take them to court whenever there is enough evidence against any one of them, which is a very important step.
Neither Sahwa nor Sururism has been defeated yet. It will take a long time before they can be defeated. There are extended conflicts and fierce battles ahead. However, we will cross the bridge
Research on Sururism
Abdullah bin Bijad al-Otaibi wrote about the history of Sururism at an early stage and has carried out an important study in this regard. Perhaps many of those who have written about the history of Sururism and Sahwa have benefitted from his study. Otaibi continued to write valuable and significant articles about the Muslim Brotherhood and its role in Saudi Arabia.
In an article published earlier this week, Otaibi wrote: “The relation between Sururism and the Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia was characterized by its fluctuation between joint work and inter-party rivalry. They released ‘joint statements’ to voice opposing political stances but they disagreed over political interests, as in the case of the 2005 municipal elections.”
He added: “Considering the great resemblance between the two, there were great conflicts in the educational operation, charitable work as well as in the media. This is in addition to conflicts over acquisition of mosques and Qur’anic recitation sessions. Sururism and the Muslim Brotherhood are both dangerous, extremist takfirist groups that have the same aims as other terrorist and takfirist groups, such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Salafist jihadist movements.”
The history of Sururism and Sahwa was a topic of great interest to writers and researchers and plenty of periodicals and publications tackled it after the political cover was lifted off Sahwa.
Many were encouraged to write about Sahwa after this cover was lifted but those who were really brave are those who tolerated Sahwa’s lashes for decades, when they fought it while it was holding full sway. These figures were threatened, their reputations were tarnished and they were accused of infidelity because they stood up against Sahwa. They are braver and stronger than others because they confronted this movement when it wielded influence even over state institutions. Although current publications came in late, they add to the power of movements that oppose Sahwa and reactionary groups.
The history of Sahwa
An example of these publications is the book “Diagnosing Sahwa, analysis and memories,” by Saudi Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr. Tawfiq al-Sudairy. The book is important given the high status of the author, as he is a deputy minister in a large ministry that supervises 90,000 mosques and can influence each individual.
The author did not claim that the book is a detailed history of Sahwa but said it’s a personal analysis that’s based on an experience he’s gained since the 1960’s. Hence he used “analysis and memories” in the title.
The first chapter is entitled “political interpretation of Islam” and it’s originally based on a lecture he delivered in Jenadriyah in 2016. It was neither an interesting introduction nor expressive of the book’s content. However, in the second chapter, he begins to narrate the analysis and memories. It’s clear that the book was in his mind for some time but he chose the time of its printing during a certain phase.
The book then tackles Hizbut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jamaat, Al-Jamia Movement, Al-Qubaysiat Movement as well as Al-Qaeda and its proxies. However, when it comes to Sururism, Sahwa, the history of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Jamaa Al-Salafiya Al-Muhtasiba (Juhayman al-Otaybi’s group), his view seems clearer and sharper and his words are even more strident as he recalls his memories that are full of stances and debates.
The second chapter was entitled “Groups of political interpretation of Islam in the Saudi kingdom.” I disagree with him here as there’s no point in evading calling these groups as fundamentalist or radical or at least describing them as “groups of political Islam.” The word “interpretation” is actually vague in this context.
Threat of Muslim Brotherhood
Sudairy discussed the Muslim Brotherhood’s first stances towards Saudi Arabia, and it’s extremely hostile positions. When King Abdulaziz made the famous statement “We are all brothers and we are all Muslims” to Hassan al-Banna, the latter reacted by making several statements.
For example, Fahmy- Abou Ghadir said Banna felt disgruntled because of Saudi Arabia’s condition that if he wants to perform pilgrimage, he must not deliver speeches or talk about politics. It’s well-known that the Muslim Brotherhood had extended its wings in Saudi Arabia despite King Abdulaziz’s deep awareness of the ambitions of Hassan al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Banna wanted to teach in Saudi Arabia but he did not succeed because Saudi Arabia was aware of the threat he posed. Back then, Mahmoud Abdel Halim quoted Banna as saying: “Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, are a burden on the Muslim Brotherhood. This requires doubling efforts to instill life in them.” (From the book Diagnosing Sahwa, page 43)
After the book was issued, Al-Arabiya’s website conducted an interview with Sudairy. Journalist Huda al-Saleh brought up what many people noticed, including what I objected on which is the selectivity when referring to some figures with their initials.
Sudairy did not clarify his style regarding this selectivity as he named dozens of Brotherhood, Jamia and Al-Jamaa Al-Salafiya Al-Muhtasiba figures but he used initials for others. Some said Sudairy did so because of these symbols’ popularity, so he did not name them but he named others because their roles ended such as Manaa al-Qattan and Mohammed Surur Zine El Abidine.
Sudairy said, and I think it’s rare to listen to such a frank description from an official with the rank of a minister: “The Muslim Brotherhood has worked in a strident manner on Saudi territories, ever since its establishment and until this day. It managed to infiltrate important sectors in the state, of which the most significant are the public and university education sectors, religious and administrative sectors and even the military sector though partially as well as the private and commercial sectors considering the Gulf area is the most important source of funding for the group.”
Neither Sahwa nor Sururism has been defeated yet. It will take a long time before they can be defeated. There are extended conflicts and fierce battles ahead. However, we will cross the bridge. The path is rough but we have the strength and the capability. What we rely on to destroy the structures of the guardians of illusion is the political decision which wants this phenomenon to disappear.

هدم هياكل سدنة الوهم
فهد سليمان الشقيران
الشرق الأوسط/16 نيسان/18
شخص الأمير محمد بن سلمان مكامن الخلل الفكري والمحفزات التي تذهب بالإنسان إلى طرق الإرهاب ومسالكه، ففي حوارٍ مع مجلة «التايم» تحدث عن جرائم الإخوان المسلمين وأدوارهم في صناعة الشر، وأضاف إليهم تياراً خطيراً في السعودية له أتباعه وأنصاره وهو التيار «السروري» الذي هو محتوى الصحوة وعصبها، تلك الحقبة التي تعمل الدولة على كنس ذكراها وجعلها من الماضي الأسود السيئ. وصف الأمير محمد السروريين بأنهم في منزلة أعلى من خطر الإخوان المسلمين، وأنهم «مجرمون وفق قوانيننا»، واعداً بمحاكماتٍ ضدهم متى ما توفرت الأدلة، وهذه خطوة مهمة كبرى.
تاريخ السرورية كتب عنه الأستاذ عبد الله بن بجاد العتيبي مبكراً في دراسة مهمة، ولعل الكثيرين ممن كتبوا عن تاريخ السرورية والصحوة قد أفادوا منها، واستمر في التأريخ للعلاقة بين الإخوان المسلمين وأدوارهم في السعودية بمواد مهمة وثمينة، نشر منها ست حلقات في هذه الجريدة، فالسرورية كما يشرح ابن بجاد في مقالة له قبل أيام: «ظلّت العلاقات بين السرورية و(الإخوان) بالسعودية في تذبذبٍ بين العمل المشترك وبين التنافس الحزبي، يجتمعون مثلاً في (البيانات الجماعية) لتمرير مواقف سياسية معارضة ويختلفون في (المكتسبات الحزبية)، كما جرى في الانتخابات البلدية عام 2005، وبحكم التشابه الكبير بينهما حدثت بينهما صراعاتٌ في العملية التربوية والعمل الخيري، كما في الوسائل الإعلامية لكلٍ منهما، وفي الاستحواذ على المساجد وحلقات تحفيظ القرآن وغيرها. السرورية و(الإخوان) جماعتان متطرفتان تكفيريتان خطرتان، تتماهيان مع جماعات التكفير والإرهاب كـ(القاعدة) و(داعش) وتيارات السلفية الجهادية في الغاية والهدف».
بالطبع لقد أخذ تاريخ السرورية والصحوة حيّزاً من اهتمامات الكتّاب والباحثين، ومساحاتٍ من الدوريات والمطبوعات، وذلك بعد أن رفع الغطاء السياسي عن الصحوة كلها وعن تاريخها ورموزها، حينها تشجّع الكثيرون لكتابة ما في خواطرهم، مع أن الشجاعة والسبق لأولئك الذين تحملوا طوال العقود الماضية سياط الصحوة وكانوا يحاربونها وهي في عزها، ونالهم التهديد والتشويه والتكفير، إنهم أكثر قوة وشجاعة حين واجهوا ذلك التيار وهو يمسك بكثير من المؤسسات والمفاصل في الدولة، غير أن المؤلفات والكتابات الحاليّة وإنْ جاءت متأخرة فإنها تضيف وتزيد من قوة التيار المناوئ للصحوة والجماعات الرجعية، ومن ضمن ذلك ما طرحه نائب وزير الشؤون الإسلامية الدكتور توفيق السديري في كتابه «تشخيص الصحوة.. تحليل وذكريات».
والكتاب مهم بالنسبة لمنصب كاتبه، من نائب وزير لوزارة ضخمة متشعبة تشرف على تسعين ألف مسجد وجامع، وتستطيع التأثير على كل فردٍ.
لم يدّعِ المؤلف أن الكتاب عبارة عن تاريخٍ مفصّلٍ للصحوة، وإنما قراءة شخصية بنيت على تجربة امتدّت منذ الستينات الميلادية، ولهذا فعنوان الكتاب الفرعي «تحليل وذكريات»، وقد بدأ الكتاب بفصلٍ أولٍ عنونه بـ«التفسير السياسي للإسلام» أصله محاضرة ألقاها بالجنادرية عام 2016 لم يكن مدخلاً مشوّقاً ولا معبراً عن مكنون الكتاب، غير أنه وفي الفصل الثاني يبدأ بكتابة المشاهدات والتحليلات والذكريات، ومن الواضح أن الكتاب أصله محفوظ منذ زمن غير أنه اختار توقيت طباعته في هذه الفترة. ثم عرج على حزب التحرير، وجماعة التبليغ وتحولاتها، وتيار الجامية، وتنظيم القبيسيات، وتنظيم القاعدة ومآلاته، ولكنه مع كل حديثٍ حول السرورية والصحوة وتاريخ تنظيم الإخوان المسلمين والجماعة السلفية المحتسبة (جماعة جهيمان) تبدو مشاهداته أوضح، ونظرته أحد، وقلمه أقدر على التعبير، وتحضر الذاكرة مشحونة بالمواقف والسجالات والذكريات.
المؤلف عنون الفصل الثاني بـ«جماعات التفسير السياسي للإسلام في المملكة العربية السعودية»، وهنا أختلف معه، فلا معنى من الهروب من تسمية هذه الجماعات بالأصولية أو الراديكالية أو على الأقل «جماعات الإسلام السياسي»، فكلمة «التفسير» ملغزة وغير دالّة.
أشار المؤلف للمواقف الأولى لجماعة الإخوان المسلمين تجاه السعودية، وهي مواقف ساخنة بعداوتها، وآية ذلك أن موقف الملك عبد العزيز الشهير مع حسن البنا حين قال جملته الشهيرة: «كلنا إخوان وكلنا مسلمون» ضارعه مجموعة من المواقف لحسن البنا وبخاصة رواية فهمي أبو غدير عن امتعاض البنا من شرط السعودية عليه إن أراد الحج، ويتمثل بعدم الخطابة والكلام في السياسة، ومعلوم أن تنظيم الإخوان كان قد مد أذرعته في المناطق السعودية رغم وعي الملك عبد العزيز العميق لطموح حسن البنا وجماعة الإخوان المسلمين، لقد أراد التدريس في السعودية ولكنه لم يفلح بسبب وعي السعودية بخطره، حينها يروي محمود عبد الحليم عن البنا قوله: «إن البلاد الإسلامية بما فيها السعودية، عبء على الإخوان المسلمين، مما يتطلب مضاعفة الجهود لبعث الحياة فيها»! (من كتاب «تشخيص الصحوة» ص:43).
بعد صدور الكتاب أجرى موقع قناة «العربية» حواراً مع د. توفيق السديري، وقد أحضرت المذيعة والصحافية هدى الصالح ما يطرحه الناس على المؤلف، منها ما أعترض أنا عليه، وهو الانتقائية في ترميز أسماء مختصرة بحرفين، انتقائية لم يوضح المؤلف منهجه فيها، فقد تطرق لأسماء العشرات من رموز الإخوان المسلمين، وكذلك الجامية، والجماعة المحتسبة، ولكنه على الضفة الأخرى يرمز لأسماء، البعض يعزوه إلى جماهيرية بعض أولئك الرموز فلم يسمهم، بينما يفصح عن أدوار آخرين انقرضوا مثل مناع القطان ومحمد سرور زين العابدين.
المؤلف يقول، وأظن من النادر أن نستمع إلى مثل هذا التوصيف الصريح من مسؤول بمرتبة وزير: «إن تنظيم الإخوان المسلمين عمل بشكلٍ قوي على الأراضي السعودية منذ نشأته حتى يومنا هذا، واستطاع اختراق مجالاتٍ مهمة في الدولة، ومن أهمها قطاع التعليم العام والجامعي، والقطاع الديني، والقطاع الإداري، بل والقطاع العسكري، وإن بشكلٍ جزئي، وكذلك القطاع الخاص والتجاري باعتبار منطقة الخليج أهم مصدر تمويلي للجماعة».
لم تُهزم الصحوة ولا السرورية بعد، أمامنا وقت طويل، وصراعات ممتدة، ومعارك ضارية، لكننا سنعبر الجسر، والطريق وعرة، والأرض سبخة، ولكن لدينا القوة والقدرة، معولنا في هدم هياكل سدنة الوهم القرار السياسي الذي أراد للظاهرة أن تزول.

Sururism: The most dangerous Islamized movement, who are they?

Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/April 16/18
In his interview with TIME magazine, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that the Muslim Brotherhood is the legitimate ancestor of all Islamist movements that have spread across the world. However, he said the followers of the Sururist Movement were the most extremist in the Middle East. This is actually accurate. But what is Sururism? To whom does it belong? And how did it come into existence?
Sururism is a movement that took from Salafist doctrines selectively but adopted the organizational forms of the Muslim Brotherhood, as the latter does not pay much attention to the doctrine, as the majority is Ash’arites.
The Muslim Brotherhood is lenient with groups that claim they are Islamic, but Sururism puts the doctrine first while adding a political dimension as a requirement so much so, that they say one’s Islam isn’t complete without it, calling it the concept of al Hakimiya (the governance), even though the elders of this movement never imposed this condition.
Over time, this movement was able to draw the attention of many enthusiastic youth, who were eager for a new revolutionary Sunni approach resembling Khomeini’s movement in Iran. In the early 1980s, the Sururists were able to infiltrate all the social classes and was embraced by many preachers, teachers and young judges
Life and ideology of Mohammed Surur
This group was founded in the Saudi Kingdom by Mohammed Surur Naif Zine El Abidine, who worked as a mathematics teacher in the institutes of the Imam University and who has not studied the Sharia methodology.
He began advocating his movement in Ha’il, while others say it was in Buraidah. He then relocated to the eastern province. When authorities were alerted about his activities, he travelled to Kuwait and from there to Britain, where he founded As-Sunnah Magazine, which was smuggled by his followers to the kingdom and the rest of the Arab world.
Surur was born in Hauran in the Levant in 1938. He first embraced the Muslim Brotherhood ideology. When he came to the kingdom, he found that political Islamization which does not care about the purity of the faith, as is the Brotherhood's ideology, was liable to fail in the Kingdom.
So from the 1960s onwards, he began establishing a new approach of mixing faith with politics, embracing the approach as he learned from the Muslim Brotherhood of which he was a follower.
Over time, this movement was able to draw the attention of many enthusiastic youth, who were eager for a new revolutionary Sunni approach resembling Khomeini’s movement in Iran. In the early 1980s, the Sururists were able to infiltrate all the social classes and was embraced by many preachers, teachers and young judges.
They even infiltrated officials in the Interior Ministry as Surur himself was assigned with the task of writing a book to defend Sunni people in the face of the Khomeinist revolution. The book was published under the title The Era of the Magi Has Come. Mohammed Surur wrote it under the pseudonym of Abdullah al-Gharib. Back then, fears of the expansion of the Khomeini revolution were at their peak.
At first, the state considered Sururism as a pure Salafist movement that abided by the orientations of the Salafist Saudi state. This gave members of this organization in the 1980s the freedom to move and attract young people to their ideology. At the time, much of the sheen of the Muslim Brotherhood was starting to fade, which created a hostile ideological struggle between the two movements. Triumph here was for the Sururists.
The decline of Sururism
Saddam's occupation of Kuwait and the Sururists’ feeling that they’ve spread and acquired a large number of followers were the defining moment in the divorce between the government and the Sururists, especially after the imprisonment of their senior figures who thought that the state was not capable of confronting them.
However it was a retroactive divorce as the kingdom’s victory in the liberation of Kuwait and the Sururists’ feeling that they had committed the mistake of rushing into a confrontation with the government, made them compromise to survive the storm, carefully awaiting the opportunities to prove their loyalty and pledging allegiance in a tactical maneuver that helped them reconcile with the government.
The government cautiously went along with it, trying to contain them. However, an ideologically driven person is like a drug addict, he may convince you that he has gone sober as long as he feels you are stronger than him, but as soon as an opportunity presents itself, he will return to his old habits with the spirit of the stubborn fighter who does not mind sacrificing himself to support his cause.
The regime of Hamad bin Jassim and Hamad bin Khalifa in Qatar managed to infiltrate them and recruit most of the group, especially their key figures. Qatar generously funded them and turned them into a fifth column. When Qatar flared up the Arab Spring, the Sururist Movement was at the forefront of those cheering for it and supporting it.
However, the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the decline of their role in Tunisia, the civil war in Libya and the failure of Islamists in Syria have exposed them to all those who were led astray by their ideas. Then came the knockout punch that paralyzed them, which was the severing of relations with Qatar, which was their first funder, as well as the determination and perseverance adopted by the state to confront them and their advocates.
This made many of them raise white flags, surrendering to defeat and trying to save themselves from the fate that the Salman state seems determined to execute, i.e. to eradicate all the politicized Islamized figures from our societies at any cost.
Prince Mohammed's recent statements seem to mean a lot and signify that eradicating them is a matter of time and prioritization, no more.

Western strike on Syrian chemical sites isolates Israel against Iranian-Russian axis'
الضربة الغربية للمواقع الكيماوية في سوريا عزل إسرائيل بمواجهة محور إيران-روسيا

DebkaFiles/April 16/18
The US-allied strikes in Syria have heightened Israel’s apprehension about being left alone to face a possible Iranian reprisal for the T-4 strike. That Israel’s forces are on higher alert than ever on its northern borders with Syria and Lebanon – days before its independence anniversary celebrations – is a measure of this apprehension. The US, British and French surgical missile strikes on three Syrian chemical sites on Saturday, April 14, it was realized in Jerusalem, not only missed addressing Israel’s security concerns, but exacerbated them.
Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, Iran’s Middle East commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah had every reason to breathe a sigh of relief when they heard the Trump administration’s assurance that further military action would be forthcoming only if Assad repeated his use of chemical weapons after the Douma atrocity. After an anxious couple of weeks, all three saw they were off the hook for further US military action, whether against regime targets in Damascus, Iranian, Shiite and Hizballah forces in Syria – or even acts of aggression against Israel.
Nasrallah was the first to openly rejoice. On Sunday, he put the new situation in a nutshell: “Western strikes on Syria had failed to terrorize the army, help insurgents or even serve Israel’s interests.”
His assessment was confirmed by the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, in a Fox TV Sunday interview: Asked when US troops would be pulled out of Syria as President Donald Trump had promised, she outlined the administration’s three goals before this drawdown: a total end of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian war; complete defeat and destruction of the Islamic State; but on the third goal, the ambassador’s otherwise crisp delivery turned vague: She said: “And he wanted to make sure that we had good grounds to watch what Iran was doing and they were weren’t making a lot of aggressive headway in terms of that, because Iran is a national threat to American interests.” Not a word did Haley have to say on the threat posed by Iran’s military presence in Syria, although that is of the greatest concern to Israel’s security.
Therefore, when President Trump said he would leave Syria “to others,” he apparently included Israel (and Jordan), who would be left to face up to the threats posed to their borders on their own. Jordan’s King Abdullah will soon make tracks to Damascus and seek security guarantees from Assad, rather than facing a fight to defend his border, Israel however is left with diminished US support in Syria, whereas Iran and its minions, can count on ramped up Russian backing.
The Trump administration’s decision to impose fresh sanctions on Russian entities mixed up in supplying Syria with materials for manufacturing chemical weapons, moved the conflict into economic channels. This will have the effect of tightening the collaboration between Moscow and Tehran and give them greater incentive for sanctions-busting.
Already, deepening Russian-Iranian collaboration in Syria is giving Israeli leaders sleepless nights. Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah officers work together in the field, share bases and coordinate their operations. And now, Tehran has just given Moscow permission to position Russian heavy strategic Tu-95 and Tu-22M bombers for operations in Syria at the Artesh’s Shahid Nojeh Air Base in the western Iranian province of Hamedan. Israel has yet to discover how Moscow is compensating Tehran for this advantage. Clearly, Iran will have exacted payment in military coin to serve its well-known goals.