December 29/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?
First Letter to the Corinthians 06/12-20: ‘All things are lawful for me’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me’, but I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’, and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.’ But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 28-29/18
Aoun hails role of security apparatuses nationwide in protecting stability, fighting crime and corruption
Govt. Talks to Resume after Holidays as FPM Expresses Optimism
Fenianos Says 2 Flights 'Escape Disaster' over Lebanon during Syria Raid
Sources: Lebanon's Hariri to Stay in his Mission Despite ‘Rumors’
On TV show, Lebanese singer Elissa criticizes President Aoun, Hezbollah
France Warns Lebanon over CEDRE Funds
Syrian Migrant from Lebanon Rescued Off Cyprus, Says 7 Drowned
Majida Roumi graces 'Winter at Tantora' in Saudi Arabia
Extended Lebanese delegation heads to Saudi Arabia to attend Majida Roumi concert at Tantora festival

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 28-29/18

Bomb kills three Vietnamese tourists, Egyptian guide near pyramids: officials
Scrap over Manbij opens door for Russia and Assad’s troops to take control of NE. Syria
Syria army enters Manbij in new alliance with Kurds
Turkey Arrests Dozens over Alleged ISIS Links
Asia's Iran Crude Imports Hit Lowest Level as Nov. Sanctions Took Effect
Turkey-backed Syrian Rebels Move Towards Manbij Front
Arab League Says Doesn't Interfere in Bilateral Ties
Russia Planning for Int’l Conference on Syria Refugees
Displaced Persons in North Syria Try to Withstand Extreme Cold
Get to know Turki al-Shabbanah, Saudi Arabia's new Minister of Media
AKP: Criticizing Erdogan crime against humanity
Fifty Istanbul radio stations to close next year
Trump’s Iraq Visit Opens Door Wide to US Presence Debate
UN Security Council Condemns Attack on Libyan Foreign Ministry
Palestinian Authority Bans Entry of Israeli Agricultural Products
Israeli gunfire kills a Gazan during border protests
Sudan: Government Investigates Death of 19 Protesters, Journalists on Strike

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 28-29/18

Bomb kills three Vietnamese tourists, Egyptian guide near pyramids: officials/
Reuters/Amina Ismail/December 28/18.
Scrap over Manbij opens door for Russia and Assad’s troops to take control of NE. Syria/
DEBKAfile/December 28/18
Syria army enters Manbij in new alliance with Kurds/AFP/December 28/18
The Growing Poverty of Political Debate/Amir Taheri//Asharq Al Awsat/December 28/18
Mattis Resignation Not about policy, It’s About Values/Eli Lake/Asharq Al Awsat/December 28/18
Tunisia’s Best Hope for Economic Reform/Bobby Gosh/Bloomberg/December 28/18
The Other Intersectionality: Victims of Islamism/Kenneth Levin/Gatestone Institute/December 28/18
Alarm bells over Iran’s terrorist operations at the heart of EU/Hamid Bahrami/Al Arabiya/December 28/18
How will US decision to pull out of Syria affect Jordan/Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/December 28/18
Hosni Mubarak, the history-maker and its witness/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/December 28/18
Sudan has two economic options: Quick fixes or lasting reform/Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/December 28/18
Will Lebanon’s support of UN compacts benefit Syrian refugees/Scott Preston/Al Monitor December 28/18
The Danger of the Muslim Brotherhood/Rami Dabbas/Jihad Watch/December 28/18

Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 28-29/18
Aoun hails role of security apparatuses nationwide in protecting stability, fighting crime and corruption
Fri 28 Dec 2018/NNA - President Michel Aoun on Friday heaped praise on the role assumed by all of the state security apparatuses across the country, especially in terms of protecting stability and security, in addition to fighting crime and corruption. Aoun met at Baabda palace today with the security and military chiefs and senior officers, who came to extend greetings and wishes upon the holy season. The President received State Security Director General, Major General Tony Saliba, at the head of a delegation, a delegation of the Directorate General of Customs headed by Director General Badri Daher, Commander of the Army, General Joseph Aoun, at the head of a delegation of senior officers, and a delegation from the Directorate General of General Security headed by Major General Abbas Ibrahim. During the meeting, Aoun called the security forces to exert additional efforts despite the existing difficulties. "The Lebanese army remains the essential hope in times of complication and crises, in order to preserve the country's unity," he said. "The army is the key supporter for the other security forces in imposing security at home," he added. "What has been accomplished in the field of fighting crime, narcotics, corruption and trafficking is not meaningless, yet it is not enough," he indicated, stressing on the importance of the measures and efforts undertaken by the General Security agency regarding the organization of foreigners' presence in Lebanon. On fighting corruption, Aoun called for further efforts especially inside the state administrations and institutions dealing with citizens' affairs, highlighting the role of the State Security agency in following up on the anti-corruption process and in collaborating with the competent judicial authorities. Moreover, Aoun praised the role played by the Customs' department.

Govt. Talks to Resume after Holidays as FPM Expresses Optimism

Naharnet/December 28/18/Negotiations to form the new government will resume after the holidays and Free Patriotic Movement-affiliated media outlets have expressed optimism that the start of the new year will witness a breakthrough, a media report said. “Contacts between the parties concerned with forming the government are expected to resume as of Wednesday as part of the presidential initiative that is aimed at resolving the obstacle of representing the Sunni Consultative Gathering,” al-Joumhouria newspaper quoted informed sources as saying. The FPM’s OTV meanwhile reported that the consultations “have not reached a dead end.”“The consultations were resumed over the past hours at the highest levels and there is a renewed will to finalize the formation,” OTV added. The TV network also reported ex-minister Wiam Wahhab’s optimistic tweet. “Despite all the pessimism on the government issue, the formation will take place after the holidays and an exit is in the making,” Wahhab tweeted. Sources close to President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri meanwhile confirmed that consultations are underway away from the spotlight.

Fenianos Says 2 Flights 'Escape Disaster' over Lebanon during Syria Raid
Naharnet/December 28/18/Two civilian flights “narrowly escaped a humanitarian disaster” Tuesday over Lebanon during an Israeli raid on targets in Syria, a Lebanese minister said on Wednesday. Caretaker Public Works and Transport Minister Youssef Fenianos called Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to “put him in the picture of what happened yesterday” during Israel's airstrike, the National News Agency said. “Lebanon miraculously escaped a humanitarian disaster that was about to hit the passengers of two civilian planes in Lebanon's airspace during the Israeli aggression against south Damascus that took place from Lebanese airspace,” Fenianos told Hariri according to the agency. “They agreed that Lebanon will file an urgent complaint with the U.N. Security Council against Israel in order to reach a resolution that would protect Lebanon and its civilians,” NNA said. Earlier in the day, the Russian military also said that that the Israeli airstrike had endangered two civilian flights. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that six Israeli F-16 jets launched the "provocative" raid at the moment when two civilian airliners were preparing to land in Damascus and Beirut, creating a "direct threat" to the aircraft. Konashenkov said the Syrian military didn't fully engage its air defense assets to avoid accidentally hitting the passenger jets. He added that Syrian air traffic controllers redirected the Damascus-bound plane to the Russian air base in Hemeimeem. Konashenkov said the Syrian air defense forces shot down 14 of the 16 precision-guided bombs dropped by the Israeli jets, while the remaining two hit a Syrian military depot, injuring three Syrian soldiers. The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Sources: Lebanon's Hariri to Stay in his Mission Despite ‘Rumors’
Beirut - Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 28 December, 2018/Sources close to the Lebanese Prime Minister-designate told Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday that Saad Hariri would remain in his mission to form the new government despite a decision to remain mum. “Talks about a possible Hariri resignation are completely false,” the sources said, adding that the PM-designate is attached to his stances and would not give up his task to form the cabinet. Hariri’s recent silence is a sign that he is not responsible for delaying the government line-up amid calls for the formation of a cabinet with limited seats over fears that the vacuum might lead to street clashes. “When Hariri tweeted recently that silence is necessary for others to listen, he was indirectly saying that he is not the cause of the problem,” the sources explained. Other sources informed about the cabinet formation process told Asharq Al-Awsat that several parties were responsible for the delay, saying “caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil had spoiled the last deal when he was quick to announce that Jawad Adra would join President Michel Aoun’s ministerial share and not the share of Hezbollah’s allies.”The pro-Hezbollah March 8 alliance held Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), responsible for the government delay. Parties had agreed to nominate Adra as a representative for the Consultative Gathering from Aoun’s shares, but the Gathering withdrew from the deal after asking Adra to only represent the six Sunni deputies and not the President.
Commenting on the distribution of ministerial shares, the sources denied rumors that Hariri wants to appoint a Maronite minister from his share. “Hariri accepts to have a minister from any Christian sect, and not particularly a Maronite,” the source said.
On Thursday, the six Sunni deputies from the pro-Hezbollah Consultative Gathering alliance renewed their call to participate in a national unity government by naming a minister who represents them. Caretaker Minister of Education Marwan Hamadeh said that external and internal factors were hindering the formation of the government, calling for a compromise immediately after the New Year. Warning that the vacuum could lead to street clashes, the Minister urged Aoun and Hariri to find a quick solution to the stalemate. For his part, FPM's MP, Chamel Roukoz, called for the formation of a mini-government of 14 ministers to salvage Lebanon "which can no longer afford polarization.” "Such a cabinet could be held accountable via Parliament and the major blocs it represents," he added.

On TV show, Lebanese singer Elissa criticizes President Aoun, Hezbollah
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Friday, 28 December 2018/Lebanese pop star Elissa criticized the country's President Michel Aoun and his ally, Hezbollah, in a local TV talk show. In her TV appearance, Elissa criticized the current political deadlock with no government since the parliamentary elections seven months ago. The Lebanese singer - who is in Lebanon and across the Middle East and is a supporter of Lebanese Forces (Christian Maronite party) - has repeatedly praised its Christian leader Samir Geagea. “Since the martyrdom of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, I felt that I was committed as a citizen, because we lost a man of importance. He tried to put Lebanon on the map of the world, but they killed him, and we noticed how Lebanon deteriorated. Since then, I have to express my opinion,” she said. On Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who is the President's son-in-law, Elissa said: “I don’t want to see him one day president of the republic” adding that she wish to see a balanced relation between Lebanon and Syria based on peer to peer. Elissa also expressed her opinion on the Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, saying: “I do not envy him for what he is going through, he is under pressure, and I can’t see anyone instead of him.”She further said she is at odds with Hezbollah regarding martyrdom on a land which is not Lebanese. “As I respect the party’s martyrs (Hezbollah) they should respect our martyrs (LF martyrs)”, she said adding that she believes the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad’s grip is still over Lebanon represented by its ally of both Hezbollah and President Aoun.

France Warns Lebanon over CEDRE Funds
Naharnet/December 28/18/France has warned Lebanese officials over the fate of the international funds earmarked for Lebanon at the CEDRE conference in Paris should the government formation deadlock continue, media reports said. “France has once again told Lebanese officials that it can no longer prevent the donor countries from reversing their CEDRE conference commitments,” informed sources told al-Joumhouria newspaper in remarks published Friday.“There is an inclination by some countries to divert aid earmarked for Lebanon to other countries, such as Yemen, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco,” Paris has cautioned, according to the sources. “Through their diplomatic channels, Paris and the European Union have called on the Lebanese state to get out of this quagmire, knowing that these European nations fully understand that the problem is not domestic and that its solution requires direct pressure on Iran,” the newspaper quoted the sources as saying.

Syrian Migrant from Lebanon Rescued Off Cyprus, Says 7 Drowned
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 28/18/A Syrian man has been rescued off Cyprus after the boat he was travelling in capsized, officials said, with media reporting Friday he told police another seven migrants had drowned.
Cypriot rescue workers said the 32-year-old was picked up at sea Thursday by a U.S.-flagged cargo vessel and airlifted to a hospital on the Mediterranean island suffering from hypothermia. The man told police Friday that he was the lone survivor from a group of eight Syrian migrants who left Lebanon on December 21 in a boat they had purchased, Cypriot state radio said. The migrants tried to use GPS to navigate their way to Cyprus but lost direction and ran out of fuel before their boat capsized in stormy seas Tuesday, the radio cited a police source as saying. Over the past 12 months there has been a steady flow of Syrian migrants arriving in Cyprus from Turkey and Lebanon. European Union member Cyprus has warned Brussels it faces growing pressure from increasing irregular migration. EU data earlier this year showed it had received more asylum applications per capita than any of the bloc's other 28 nations. Cyprus said it has received over 4,000 asylum requests in the first eight months of 2018 -- 55 percent more than in the same period last year. But despite lying just 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the coast of war-torn Syria, Cyprus has not seen the massive inflow of migrants experienced by Turkey and Greece.

Majida Roumi graces 'Winter at Tantora' in Saudi Arabia
Fri 28 Dec 2018/NNA - Lebanese singer Majida Roumi on Friday graced the "Winter at Tantora" festival held in the province of al-Ula in Saudi Arabia, and performed in a concert attended by Saudi Minister of Culture Badr bin Abdallah bin Farhan Al-Saud, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari, and a panel of Saudi officials. "I am proud to sing in this beloved country which we appreciate and whose people we highly respect," Roumi said before performing. In remarks before the concert, the Saudi Culture Minister indicated that cooperation with the Lebanese was strong and solid in various fields.
For his part, Ambassador Bukhari said the festival only complied with the Kingdom's Vision 2030. "Reactions to the festival are very positive," he added, welcoming the participating Lebanese delegations. In turn, Emirati Ambassador to Lebanon Hamad al-Shamsi, highlighted Saudi Arabi's keenness on bringing the Lebanese together. Moreover, Caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachy indicated that today's tour was special and that the Lebanese delegation learnt about a distinguished history. For his part, Caretaker Tourism Minister Avedis Guidanian underlined that such attention to tourism and archeological sites would turn Saudi Arabia into a special cultural and tourism place. In turn, MP Wael Abu Faour said "the years of severance that have been once imposed upon Saudi Arabi and Lebanon are behind us now. There's a new stage ahead, where Saudi Arabia will be present in Lebanon just like it has been previously."

Extended Lebanese delegation heads to Saudi Arabia to attend Majida Roumi concert at Tantora festival

Fri 28 Dec 2018/NNA - Upon the invitation of the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari, an official Lebanese delegation comprised more than 100 political, media, artistic and social personalities, on Friday left Beirut heading to Saudi Arabia aboard two private jets, to partake in a concert by Lebanese singer Majid Roumi within the frame of "Winter at Tantora" festival. The delegation included former presidents Amine Gemayel and Michel Sleiman, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Caretaker Ministers Melhem Riachy (Information), Avedis Guidanian (Tourism), Marwan Hamade (Education and Higher Learning), and Mouein Merehbi (State Minister for the Affairs of the Displaced); it also comprised lawmakers Sami Fatfat, Wael Abu Faour and Dima Jamali, Editors' Syndicate Head Joseph Qosseifi, Beirut Governor Ziad Shbib, National News Agency Director Laure Sleiman, among others; artists Ragheb Alama, Walid Toufic, Najwa Karam, and Ousama Rahbani joined the delegation. Speaking at Rafic Hariri International Airport upon departure, Minister Riachy indicated that Majida Roumi's concert was a "tremendous revolutionary step that merits heartfelt felicitations."He explained that this event confirmed the communication and interaction between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, and the expectation of a "new kingdom in 2025 that will be an additional force of moderation and Islamic-Christian collaboration."
For his part, Ambassador Bukhari indicated that Tantora festival was a paramount cultural gate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. "Today is a turning point based on the importance of cultural communication between people," he said. He also hailed the Lebanese-Saudi bilateral historic ties. He added that "there is no travel ban prohibiting Saudis from travelling to Lebanon, but rather a warning related to several social and security factors.""This will be reconsidered after the government formation," he said. For his part, Kuwaiti Ambassador to Lebanon Abdul-Al Al-Qinae said that Saudi Arabia was keen, through this event, to bring the Lebanese closer to each other away from politics and sectarianism. In turn, Emirati Ambassador Hamad al-Shamsi hoped that through this journey, the Lebanese would learn about historic regional and the civilization of Saudi Arabia.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on December 28-29/18
Bomb kills three Vietnamese tourists, Egyptian guide near pyramids: officials
Reuters/Amina Ismail/December 28/18.
CAIRO (Reuters) - Three Vietnamese tourists and an Egyptian guide were killed and at least 10 others injured when a roadside bomb blast hit their tour bus on Friday less than 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from Egypt's world-famous Giza pyramids, authorities said.
The bombing is the first deadly attack against foreign tourists in Egypt for over a year and comes as the tourism sector, a vital source of foreign currency revenue, recovers from a sharp drop in visitor numbers since the country's 2011 uprising. No immediate claim of responsibility was reported. Islamist extremists, including militants linked to Islamic State, are active in Egypt and have targeted foreign visitors in the past. At least nine Vietnamese tourists were injured, as well as the Egyptian driver, according to official statements. The tourists were heading to a sound and light show at the pyramids, which they had visited earlier in the day, said Lan Le, 41, who was also aboard the bus but unhurt. "We were going to the sound and light show and then suddenly we heard a bomb. It was terrible, people screaming," she told Reuters, speaking at Al Haram hospital, where the injured were taken. "I don't remember anything after."
Egypt's interior ministry said the bus was hit by an explosion from an improvised device hidden near a wall at around 1815 local time (1615 GMT). About two hours later the vehicle could be seen behind a police cordon with one of its sides badly damaged and the windows blown out, a Reuters reporter said. Dozens of police, military and firefighters were at the site, on a narrow sidestreet close to the ring road, where traffic was moving normally. Shortly afterward, workers brought a pick-up truck to tow the bus away. An investigator at the scene said the device had likely been planted near the wall. The interior ministry confirmed the death of two of the tourists, and the state prosecutor's office later said a third had died. In total, 14 Vietnamese tourists had been traveling on the bus, it said. Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly told local TV from Al Haram hospital that the guide had died from his injuries. "The bus deviated from the route secured by the security forces," Madbouly told Extra News channel, an assertion also made by the owner of the company that organized the bus tour. "We have been in contact with the embassy of Vietnam to contain the impact of the incident, and what is important now is to take care of the injured," the prime minister said. The bus driver later told local media he had not deviated from the route. Egypt's army and police launched a major campaign against militant groups in February, targeting the Sinai Peninsula as well as southern areas and the border with Libya. The government says fighting Islamist militants is a priority as it works to restore stability after the years of turmoil that followed the "Arab Spring" protests of 2011. Those events and the bombing of a Russian airliner shortly after it took off from Sharm el Sheikh in 2015 caused tourist numbers to plunge. The last deadly attack on foreign tourists in Egypt was in July 2017, when two Germans were stabbed to death in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada.
*(Additional reporting by Hesham Hajali; Writing by Aidan Lewis and Yousef Saba; editing by William Maclean, Hugh Lawson and G Crosse)

Scrap over Manbij opens door for Russia and Assad’s troops to take control of NE. Syria
DEBKAfile/December 28/18
One of Bashar Assad’s best weeks in years – and one of Tayyip Erdogan’s worst – peaked on Friday, Dec. 28. The US exit from NE Syria announced by President Donald Trump on Dec. 19 left an irresistible void for multiple forces to close in, even before a single American soldier was actually lifted off Syrian soil. In the wake of that announcement, the UAE cancelled its plans to send troops into northern Syria and instead reopened its embassy in Damascus for the resumption of normal relations, after years of backing the Syrian rebellion against the Assad regime. DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources have learned that Saudi Arabia will shortly follow suit. The two Gulf nations are therefore lining up behind Trump’s new Syrian policy.
Encouraged by the hoisting of the UAE flag over its Damascus embassy, Bashar Assad ordered his army on Friday to advance on the northern flashpoint town of Manbij which had been lost to him for most years of the civil war. A Syrian army vanguard has already reached the town’s outskirts, drawing to a halt at its southern entrance. Kurdish YPG militiamen raised the Syrian flag over the town center, after the Kurdish-led, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Syrian Arab Army (SAA) reached deal with the Syrian government to ward off the threatened Turkish invasion of this border town.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources can reveal that Russian officers are attached to the command of the Syrian units at the gates of Manbij, This is highly significant because, before accepting the Kurdish request, Assad also sought and received the consent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In no time, Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, went on record to call Assad’s move a “positive step” that could help stabilize the situation. No surprise there, since the Russians now see their way for the first time to crossing the Euphrates River into northeastern Syria. This move would finally bury the Putin-Obama deal which split Syria between the two powers – Russia in the west and the US east of the Euphrates.
The Assad Kurdish deal for the transfer of Manbij to the Syrian government is a stinging setback from Turkish President Erdogan, the second in a month. He was first convinced that he had President Trump’s approval, after the US exit, for his army to move in on Kurdish turf in northeastern Syria, cross the Euphrates and take their capital of Qamishli. Trump did not explicitly dispel this impression. But when a high-ranking US delegation promised to arrive in Ankara and coordinate US-Turkish military moves never turned up, the Turkish leader began to see his plans going up in smoke.
He reacted by announcing on Tuesday, Dec. 25 that he was heading to Moscow to discuss with Putin the crisis over the forthcoming US troop pullout and his plan to move the Turkish army across the Euphrates. But then came a slap from the Kremlin. Peskov said that the Russian president’s schedule for the coming days was full.
Bereft of support from either Trump or Putin, Erdogan announced that a Turkish delegation of his top officials would travel to Moscow on Saturday, Dec. 29. Led by Defense Minister Gen. Hulusi Akar, Director of MIT intelligence Hakan Fidan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The day before the delegation left, the Syrian army reached the outskirts of the key border town of Manbij. In a belated show of muscle, Erdogan ordered Turkey’s Syrian rebel allies – mostly Turkoman militias – to “launch their Manbij offensive.” Moscow is not likely to be impressed.

Syria army enters Manbij in new alliance with Kurds
AFP/December 28/18
BEIRUT: Syrian troops deployed in support of Kurdish forces in a strategic northern city on Friday, in a shift of alliances hastened by last week’s announcement of a US military withdrawal. Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the move marked another key step in President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control over the country. Buoyed by its military victories, the regime is also making progress in efforts to break its diplomatic isolation, with Thursday’s reopening of the Emirati embassy in Damascus. The Syrian army announced that it had raised the flag in Manbij, a strategic city close to the Turkish border where US-led coalition forces are stationed. A military spokesman said in a televised announcement that the army would be bent on "crushing terrorism and defeating all invaders and occupiers". More than 300 government forces deployed in the Manbij area, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Britain-based war monitor stressed however that regime troops had mostly moved into areas around the city, inside which US and French forces are still believed to be stationed. Their deployment creates a regime buffer arching across northern Syria that fully separates the Turkish army and its proxies from the Kurds. US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last week that he was ordering all US forces back home left the Kurds in the cold. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) have been the backbone of an alliance that has spearheaded the US-backed fight against Daesh in Syria. They are currently battling the last remnants of the extremists’ once sprawling "caliphate" in the country’s far east, near the border with Iraq.
A US withdrawal will leave them exposed to an assault by Turkey, which has thousands of proxy fighters in northern Syria and wants to crush Kurdish forces it considers terrorists. The Kurds issued a statement welcoming the regime advance, a pragmatic shift in alliances that will dash their aspirations for autonomy but could help cut their losses after a US pullout they resent as a betrayal. "We invite the Syrian government forces... to assert control over the areas our forces have withdrawn from, particularly in Manbij, and to protect these areas against a Turkish invasion," the YPG said in a statement.
After Manbij, the focus is likely to move to Raqqa, a mostly Arab city that the Kurds liberated from IS last year and that the regime has vowed to retake. Turkey said Syrian Kurds "don’t have the right" to seek regime help but Russia, the main foreign player in Syria since it intervened to rescue Assad in 2015, hailed the latest development.
"Of course, this will help in stabilizing the situation. The enlargement of the zone under the control of government forces... is without doubt a positive trend," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Peskov said the situation would be discussed on Saturday during a visit to Moscow by the Turkish foreign and defense ministers, to "clarify" the situation and "synchronize actions" between the two countries. The year 2018 saw the regime, which three years earlier was clinging for dear life and controlled less than a third of the country, reclaim large swathes of territory. The government ousted rebels from their bastions in and around the capital Damascus and flushed out other pockets to reopen key transport and trade routes. With internal opposition in tatters and UN-backed political negotiations stillborn, Assad is now trying to shed his pariah status and looking for funds to rebuild the country.
The US pullout from Syria risks opening a highway for other regional players such as Turkey and Iran, a prospect that some of Assad’s erstwhile foes are keen to counter. On Thursday, the United Arab Emirates -- a Turkish rival in the region -- reopened its embassy in Damascus, six years after severing ties and recognizing a now defunct opposition umbrella. The move was the latest in a series of developments building up to the return of Assad’s Syria into the Arab fold. Bahrain also announced it would reopen its mission in the Syrian capital while observers expect regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia to confirm that trend in the coming weeks. The Arab League has admitted that the reintegration of Syria, which was suspended from the regional body when it intensified its repression of anti-government protests seven years ago, is on the table.

Turkey Arrests Dozens over Alleged ISIS Links
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 28 December, 2018/Turkish authorities Friday detained dozens of suspects over alleged links to ISIS during morning raids in two provinces, state news agency Anadolu reported. In Ankara, 52 people were taken into custody after the capital's chief prosecutor issued 64 arrest warrants as part of a probe into the militant group. Raids continued to find the 12 other suspects. Police discovered weapons including guns and ammunition at the homes of the suspects in Ankara, Anadolu reported. And in the northern province of Samsun, 10 Iraqis were detained over suspected ISIS ties, the agency said. Turkish authorities have conducted similar raids in the capital this year. Just a few days before national elections in June, 14 suspected ISIS members were detained accused of planning an attack on the polls.

Asia's Iran Crude Imports Hit Lowest Level as Nov. Sanctions Took Effect
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 28 December, 2018/Iranian crude oil imports by major buyers in Asia dropped to their lowest level in more than five years as November US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports took effect in November, according to government and ship-tracking data. China, India, Japan and South Korea last month imported about 664,800 barrels per day (bpd) from Iran, according to the data, down 12.7 percent from the same month a year earlier, Reuters reported. South Korea cut imports to zero for a third month in November while Japan followed suit. India’s November imports are down about 40 percent from October, the data showed. Asia’s Iranian oil imports are set to rise from December after the United States granted eight countries waivers from sanctions against Iran’s oil exports for 180 days. China’s Iranian oil imports rebounded to close to 390,000 bpd in November, up from about 247,000 bpd in October, the lowest in more than five years. According to Reuters, Sinopec, Tehran’s biggest crude buyer, resumed Iran oil imports shortly after China received its waiver in November while China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) will restart lifting its own Iranian oil production in December. India is expected to restrict its monthly purchases of Iranian oil to 1.25 million tonnes, or 9 million barrels, during the waiver period from November.

Turkey-backed Syrian Rebels Move Towards Manbij Front
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 28 December, 2018/The main Turkey-backed Syrian rebel force said on Friday that its convoys, along with Turkish forces, were moving towards the frontlines with the Syrian town of Manbij. The forces were in "full readiness... to start military operations to liberate" the town, according to Reuters. Earlier, the Syrian army said it had deployed forces to Manbij after the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) urged Damascus to protect the town from a possible Turkish assault. Turkey regards YPG as a terrorist group and a threat to its own territory. On Friday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan argued that Turkey has been working for Syria's territorial integrity and said Turkey's goal remains the defeat of the YPG.

Arab League Says Doesn't Interfere in Bilateral Ties

Cairo - Sawsan Abu Husain/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 28 December, 2018/Arab League sources said on Thursday that the return of Syria’s activities in the organization hinges on the consensus of all member states. The issue has been previously discussed but no consensus has been reached, the sources said. On the reopening of the United Arab Emirates embassy in Damascus, the sources said that the Arab League does not interfere in such issues, insisting that the matter was part of the sovereignty of Arab states. The past few days have seen a flurry of diplomatic activity that looks set to continue until the next summit of the Arab League, due in Tunis in March. Recent discussions on the return of Syria to the Arab League “have not yielded a consensus," Hossam Zaki, the League's deputy secretary general, told reporters in Cairo this week. "This does not rule out a possible change of the Arab position in the future," he added. Meanwhile, Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit lamented that the Arab Spring has only left destruction and led to the proliferation of terrorism in the region. During a seminar organized by Cairo University, he said that the Arab Spring caused the spread of waves of extremism and terrorism, which the region’s countries needed to confront. “The destruction of Arab countries and the killing of hundreds of thousands of Arabs cannot be called Arab Spring,” he said. “The revolutions that have taken place in Arab countries were destructive because they led to the proliferation of terrorism,” Aboul Gheit added.

Russia Planning for Int’l Conference on Syria Refugees
Moscow - Raed Jabr/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 28 December, 2018/The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday that it was working in coordination with the United Nations to hold an international conference on Syrian refugees. The representative of the Ministry at the Joint Coordination Center for Refugees Returning to Syria, which was established by Moscow months ago, said that Russia was coordinating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to prepare for the conference, without revealing any date. The diplomat, Igor Tsarikov, said at a meeting that according to the UN, more than 80 percent of Syrian refugees are willing to return home. “The UNHCR says that 82 percent of displaced Syrians want to return if the circumstances allow for it,” said Tsarikov. He added that more than 70,000 people have returned since the launch of a Russian initiative last July. Meanwhile, Tsarikov said that the United States should provide security guarantees for the UN humanitarian convoy that is set to travel to Syria's Rukban refugee camp to deliver essential aid by the end of the month. "Currently, the UN is considering delivering another humanitarian convoy to Rukban in December. We believe that the United States, which, in fact, occupies the territory of Syria where Rukban is located, and is therefore responsible for everything what happens in this area, should provide the UN, International Committee of the Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent with all the necessary security guarantees and the possibility of targeted delivery of the goods, including access to the places of its distribution", Tsarikov he added.

Displaced Persons in North Syria Try to Withstand Extreme Cold
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 28 December, 2018/In northern Syria’s Deir Ballut displacement camp, hundreds of families from several Syrian regions are suffering from the extreme winter cold. The heavy rainfall and cold winds have penetrated their tents in the camp near the northern city of Afrin, close to the Turkish border. Abu Ala, a father of six children, told Reuters: “They brought us to an unknown place…The situation is very bad.”Deir Ballut hosts more than 350 families who have fled the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, in addition to some other Syrians who escaped from southern Damascus. The Yarmouk camp was once Syria’s biggest Palestinian refugee camp, home to around 160,000 people, before the Syrian regime placed its hands on it following a deal with armed opposition groups. The groups controlled the camp in 2012 as a potential forward base in their campaign to unseat Bashar Assad. But ISIS militants took over much of the camp in 2015, forcing many residents to flee. “Many people here live with limited resources, including food, medicine, winter clothes and fuel,” said Abboud, a Palestinian refugee who has fled with his family from Yarmouk. “Our situation is tragic… we are 350 families from the Yarmouk camp,” he said. “We were surprised to see tents while we were told we’ll be living in houses.”The stormy weather affected around 11 camps in the northwest of Syria, close to the border with Turkey. Those include the camps of Atma, Karama, Hoda, Omar in the countryside of Idlib, in addition to the area of Khirbet al-Joz in the countryside of Latakia.

Get to know Turki al-Shabbanah, Saudi Arabia's new Minister of Media
Mohammed Jarrah, Riyadh/Thursday, 27 December 2018/The royal decrees issued on Thursday in Saudi Arabia included the appointment of Turki Abdullah al-Shabbanah as Minister of Media. Al-Shabbanah, who has extensive experience in establishing and managing media channels and programs, is considered one of leading Saudi media personalities with an impressive record in the field. He started with MBC group in the mid-90s, where he held various administrative positions in the audiovisual field, and then moved to work with the Rotana Network. Born in Riyadh on November 4, 1964, Shabbanah studied business administration in the US and has ample experience in management. Before being appointed as minister, he was the chief executive of the TV department in Rotana group. Shabbanah was selected this month as one of the Most Influential Personalities on a list of 500 individuals in the media within their countries and around the world. He also has an important outlook in the visual production sector and a career distinguished by a number of awards granted at various Arab media festivals and events. The Saudi media, which celebrated the appointment of Turki al-Shabbanah on social media networks, is looking forward to a remarkable shift in the official Saudi media, especially at this time when the world is witnessing great strides made by various media tools and technology.

AKP: Criticizing Erdogan crime against humanity
Al Arabiya English, Dubai/Thursday, 27 December 2018/The spokesperson for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Wednesday blasted two Turkish actors who were detained and released earlier this week for their statements allegedly calling for a coup, saying their statements constituted both a hate crime and a crime against humanity, independent news site T24 reported. According to Ahvalnews, Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Dec. 22 launched an investigation against veteran actors Metin Akpınar and Mujdat Gezen, pertaining to their statements at a TV show called "Public Arena" broadcasted by Turkish secularist news channel Halk TV. The pair, who were detained and released on probation Monday, are accused of calling for a civil war and coup. Akpınar while on Halk TV said Turkey’s leading Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its supporters are inciting polarization in the country. ''Whoever turned to Russia, except Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, had to leave their seat. Adnan Menderes had an appointment and a coup took place. Similarly, the same thing happened when Suleyman Demirel faced north and a coup took place. Let’s see who’s next,’’ Akpınar said on TV, in an apparent reference to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey’s improving relations with Russia. ‘’The statements by Akpınar and Gezen, which are not politically acceptable, constitute hate speech and a crime against humanity,’’ Omer Celik said.
Ahvalnews said, days after veteran comedians Akpinar and Gezen were detained over comments they made on secularist Halk TV, Turkey’s television watchdog RTUK banned the program both were on for five days, fining the channel 80,000 Turkish liras ($15,000).

Fifty Istanbul radio stations to close next year
Al Arabiya English/Tuesday, 25 December 2018/Over one third of Istanbul’s radio stations are soon to fall silent, with the transition to a new radio tower set to seriously limit the airwaves next year, Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet reported on Monday. Fifty of the city’s 130 radio stations will be taken off the air once the move is made to the new Çamlıca TV Radio Tower due to the tower’s limited capacity. The tower is expected to become operational next year, according to Ahval news. Turkey’s state radio and television authority released a statement saying the reduction to 80 active radio channels would do away with the problem of conflicting signals, which had emerged due to the high number of stations in the city. The statement said complaints about conflicting signals had come from as far off as Bulgaria.
The price for a frequency will be 20 million lira, the authority said.

Trump’s Iraq Visit Opens Door Wide to US Presence Debate
Baghdad - Hamza Mustafa/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 28 December, 2018/US President Donald Trump's surprise trip to Iraq has infuriated Shiite Iraqi politicians and armed factions who on Thursday demanded the withdrawal of US forces from the country.
Trump met Wednesday with US servicemen and women at the al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq’s al-Anbar province. While Trump didn't meet with any officials, he spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi by phone. A planned meeting between the two leaders was canceled over a "difference in points of view" over arrangements, according to the prime minister's office. Some political parties hailed the statement issued by Abdul Mahdi’s office, while Shiite forces considered it “mysterious.”Sairoon bloc spokesman Qahtan al-Jabouri said that the Iraqi government should explain its nature of ties with the US, because many aspects of its policies are “mysterious and unclear.”Jabouri told Asharq Al-awsat that Trump’s surprise visit to Iraq has nothing to do with visits made by other officials, who come to the country after abiding by several protocol procedures. Any visit made by a US official should receive the prior approval of the Iraqi authorities, he said. MP Naim al-Aboudi from the Fatah alliance also “strongly condemned” Trump’s visit, saying it violated Iraq’s sovereignty after breaking with diplomatic custom for any visiting head of state. He also hailed Abdul Mahdi for refusing to meet with Trump at al-Asad Airbase, insisting for the meeting to take place in Baghdad. “America acted as a cowboy,” Aboudi said, adding that his bloc would call for a vote in Parliament to expel US forces from the country. But top Sunni politician Atheel al-Nujaifi from the Decision Alliance described Trump’s visit as the biggest challenge yet to Iranian influence in Iraq. The visit stresses that Iraqi authorities should recognize the presence of the US and that Washington is “ready to confront Iranians in Iraq,” Nujaifi told Asharq Al-Awsat.
He also warned that any anti-US action by Iraqi politicians would weaken the government.

UN Security Council Condemns Attack on Libyan Foreign Ministry
Tripoli - Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 28 December, 2018/The United Nations Security Council issued a statement on the attack on the Foreign Ministry in Libya's Tripoli. The statement condemned in the strongest terms the attack, describing it as a heinous and cowardly terrorist act. The members of the UN Security Council expressed their deep sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to all the Libyan people, wishing the speedy and full recovery of those injured, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. The Security Council reaffirmed that terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, stressing the need to hold the perpetrators, organizers, and financiers accountable and bring them to justice. The Council reiterated that any acts of terrorism were criminal acts that could not be justified regardless of their motives and wherever they were committed.

Palestinian Authority Bans Entry of Israeli Agricultural Products

Ramallah - Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 28 December, 2018/The Palestinian government decided on Thursday to ban entry of Israeli agricultural products into the Palestinian market following an Israeli ban on import of similar Palestinian products. The cabinet said in a statement following its weekly meeting held in Ramallah that in accordance with the principle of protecting the local produce and the Palestinian farmer in order to achieve the government's policy of supporting the steadfastness of the Palestinian farmers, it had decided to ban entry of all Israeli vegetables, fruits and poultry. The PA added that in light of the “unilateral Israeli decision to prevent the entry of Palestinian vegetables and fruits into Israeli markets, the government decided to prevent the entry of all kinds of vegetables, fruits and poultry into the Palestinian markets.”On the other hand, the Palestinian government confirmed its commitment to provide the necessary requirements in order to hold legislative elections in cooperation with the Central Election Commission, as soon as PA President Mahmoud Abbas announces a date. The Government hoped that the elections would be an input to strengthen efforts to end the division and restore national unity. On Saturday, President Abbas said that the Palestinian Constitutional Court issued a decree to dissolve Hamas-controlled Palestine Legislative Council (PLC), asserting that the leadership is committed to the Court’s decree, which also calls for holding legislative elections in six months. Dissolving the Council is a blow to Hamas, which has been in control of it since mid-2007, after it imposed its control on Gaza Strip.

Israeli gunfire kills a Gazan during border protests
Fri 28 Dec 2018/Reuters/NNA - Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian man during the latest of weekly protests along the border with Israel Friday, Palestinian health officials said. Karam Fayyad, 26, was killed east of the Gaza city of Khan Yunis, Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qodra told AFP. Six other people were wounded with live Israeli fire during protests that went ahead despite stormy weather. "Troops resorted to live fire after confronting 5,000 rioters, some of who threw rocks and grenades," said an Israeli military spokesperson.She added that two Palestinian protesters briefly crossed the fence before returning into Gaza. ---

Sudan: Government Investigates Death of 19 Protesters, Journalists on Strike
Khartoum - Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 28 December, 2018/The Sudanese government announced that an investigation into the deaths of 19 people and the injury of 406 others had been launched, while Sudanese journalists, doctors and pharmacists went on strikes and announced their participation in the popular protests that have swept the country for nine days. Nineteen people have been killed in the demonstrations, including two members of Sudan's security forces, while 406 others have been wounded, government spokesman, Minister of Information, Boshara Juma said on state television. Juma accused foreign and local parties of employing the peaceful protests for political goals. He indicated that charges were filed against the head of the Sudan-Darfur Liberation Movement, Abdel Wahid Mohamed Nur, and the authorities would request his extradition through Interpol.
Amnesty International announced it documented 37 deaths in the first five days of Sudan's protests, shot by government forces. The spokesman described the marches as "peaceful", saying that the police protected the demonstrators, noting that most were killed during “incidents of lootings” and nobody has been killed in the capital Khartoum. Minister Juma pledged to reopen universities and schools once the situation in the country has stabilized, announcing that the bread, money and fuel crisis would be resolved by mid-next month. Meanwhile, the security authorities arrested a number of journalists on strike in solidarity with the protests and held them for about an hour before releasing them. One of the detained journalists said that men in civilian clothes assaulted some of them before taking them to a security headquarters. The officers later on apologized and justified the arrest as a result of "field assessments."
Dozens of journalists took part in a three-day strike in solidarity with popular protests and in coordination with the Sudanese Professional Association. Sudanese Journalists' Network, an independent and parallel trade union organization of the state’s Journalists Union, announced a three-day strike. “We declare a three day strike from December 27 to protest against the violence unleashed by the government against demonstrators,” said the Network. Sudanese Professional Association issued a statement calling citizens to keep on protesting and urged fellow professionals to engage in strikes.
In another development, northern province’s health minister Abderraouf Grnas resigned, announcing his solidarity with the popular protests in the country. Grnas resigned in solidarity with what he called the "tide of popular demands for political and economic reform." The minister’s resignation is considered the party’s leadership declaration of breaking it partnership with the ruling National Congress Party, and a terminal exit from the current government. Asharq Al-Awsat obtained a copy of Grnas’ resignation letter in which he said the Congress Party did not fulfill its pledges which initially prompted his party to participate in the government formed based on the outcomes of the national dialogue.The minister denounced what he called unpromising solutions to economic problems, and the monopoly of opinion without regarding different views from other parties in the government, especially in the management of the economy, and resolve the crisis. The minister explained that his position is consistent with the position of his party, which calls for the establishment of a new system, which was stated by party leader Mubarak al-Fadil al-Mahdi, in a message published in the social media. Mahdi said that his party withdrew its only representative in the executive authority, indicating that the Minister resigned following a party decision.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 28-29/18
The Growing Poverty of Political Debate
Amir Taheri//Asharq Al Awsat/December 28/18
As the year 2018 draws to a close, what are the trends that it highlighted in political life?
The first trend represents a growing global disaffection with international organizations to the benefit of the traditional nation-state. Supporters of the status quo regard that trend as an upsurge of populism and judge it as a setback for human progress whatever that means.
Today it is not the United Nations alone that is reduced to a backseat driver on key issues of international life. Its many tentacles, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, too, have been reduced to a shadow of their past glory. In the 1990s the two outfits held sway on the economies of more than 80 countries across the globe with a mixture of ideology and credit injection.
Today, however, they are reduced to cheer-leading or name-calling from the ringside.
The European Union, too, is clearly on the decline. Despite Pollyannish talk of creating a European army and closer ties among member states, the EU has lost much of its original appeal and faces fissiparous challenges of which the so-called Brexit is one early example. I believe that the only way for the EU to survive, let alone prosper, is to recast itself as a club of nation-states rather than a substitute for them.
Less than a decade ago, the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas and the German Pope Benedict XVI claimed that the nation-state was dead and that in Europe at least, the way to salvation was a revival of Christianity as a cultural bond if not as a traditional faith.
However, the trend towards decline has also affected almost all Christian churches, especially where and when they tried to cast themselves as political actors.
A similar decline could be seen in all other international groupings ranging from the African Union to the Organization of the American States, and passing by the Arab League, the Russian-led Eurasian bloc, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the South American Mercosur.
Another significant trend concerns the virtual collapse of almost all political parties across the globe.
Even in the United States and Great Britain, which have the oldest and most solidly established tradition of party politics, the system has been severely shaken.
In the US the Democrat Party has morphed into a hodgepodge of groups from crypto Marxists to bleeding-heart liberals held together by little more than their common hatred for President Donald J Trump. For its part, the Republican Party, first shaken by the so-called Tea Party, has been reduced to second fiddle for the Trumpist “revolution”.
In Great Britain, Brexit has divided the two main parties, Conservative and Labour, into three factions that could, in time, morph into separate parties. For at least two centuries Britain’s power was mainly based on the stability of its institutions and the ability of its political elite to meet every challenge with a firm attachment to the rule of law plus moderation. All that edifice has been shaken by Brexit.
In France and Italy, insurrectionary parties have wrested power away from the traditional one. In France, the Gaullist and Socialist parties that governed the country for seven decades have been pushed to the sidelines by the Republic-in-March movement of Emmanuel Macron which, in turn, is now shaken by the “Yellow vest” insurrectionary outfit.
In Italy, too, all traditional parties, have been driven off stage by populist groupings of both left and right.
In Germany, the Alternative for Deutschland (AFD) has cut across the left-right divide to win a leading role in national politics. Even a well-established regional party such as Christian Socialist Union (CSU) is now in decline in its home-base of Bavaria.
Within the year now ending, a number of mostly new parties forced their ways into the center of power in several European countries notably Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Holland and Sweden.
Interestingly, the more ideological that a party is the more vulnerable it is to the current trend of decline in party politics. This is why virtually all Communist and nationalist parties have either disappeared or been reduced to a shadow of their past glory.
Separatist parties, including in the Basque country and Catalonia in Spain, have achieved nothing but an upsurge of chauvinism within the ethnic Castilian majority.
Another trend that took shape in 2018 concerns the emergence of single-issue politics, replacing debate on large overarching policies, as the norm in many countries.
Once again, Brexit in Britain was the most glaring example. Those seeking withdrawal from the European Union appeared prepared to ignore all other issues provided they could promote that single quest, not to say obsession.
The massive development of cyberspace has given single-issue politics an unexpected boost. Today, almost anyone anywhere in the word could create his or her own echo-chamber around a pet subject from Frisian secessionism to saving the polar bears from extinction, shutting out the outside world and its many other concerns. Here, the aim is to fight for one’s difference with as much passion as possible.
That trend is in contrast with another trend, promoted by the traditional, or mainstream media, offering a uniform narrative of events.
Turn on any TV or radio channel and go through almost any newspaper and you will be surprised by how they all say the same thing about what is going on. Thanks to a sharp decline in field reporting, mostly caused by economic constraints, mainstream media today have to depend on a narrow compass provided by a few agencies and/or “citizen” journalists.
That, in turn, encourages the growing belief that facts are nothing but opinions expressed in the manner of shibboleths.
All that leads to an impoverishment of political debate. The weakening of political parties, trade unions, international organs, and institutions like parliaments that provided platforms for debate and decision-making, has deprived may societies of both a space and a mechanism for the battle of ideas and the competition among different policy options.
The bad news is that 2018 was not a good year for pluralist politics. The good news is that 2019 may expose the fundamental flaws of fissiparous populism.

Mattis Resignation Not about policy, It’s About Values

Eli Lake/Asharq Al Awsat/December 28/18
US President Donald Trump's tweets Thursday announcing the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis by the end of February were polite and respectful. And it would be easy to attribute this resignation to a difference in policy: Trump ignored Mattis and went forward with a hasty withdrawal of US forces from Syria. It looks like Trump is about to do the same thing in Afghanistan.
But that does not capture what has just happened. Just read the retired general’s resignation letter. In it, Mattis shows that he is thinking about something much bigger than Syria policy.
Here are some noteworthy quotes: “Our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships.” And: “We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.” And this: “We must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries.”
Then Mattis goes in for the kill shot. “Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”
The strong implication here is that Mattis no longer believes the president thinks allies should be respected. He is resigning because he does not believe Trump agrees with him that America should work to preserve a liberal international order. He is resigning because Trump is not as resolute and unambiguous with America’s adversaries as Mattis believes he should be.
In other words: This is not about policy. It’s about values — and, according to his letter, Mattis no longer believes the president shares his values.
That said, there are practical implications. On Wednesday, most Republican senators were furious in a policy lunch with Vice President Mike Pence over the substance and process of the Syria decision. Expect that rebellion among Republican senators to get hotter in the coming days as America’s Kurdish allies in Syria brace for a pending onslaught from the Turks.
Trump could have used Mattis to bring the Senate around to his thinking on Syria. He doesn’t have that option anymore.
The president’s supporters may still feel unfazed, even confident. Trump has burned through two chiefs of staff, two national security advisers, a secretary of state and an attorney general in less than two years. He has survived.
This resignation, though, is different. As I wrote two months ago, Mattis provided Trump with a powerful shield. Whatever you thought of his views, Mattis embodied military virtue and the spirit of public service. As long as he served the president, reluctant Republicans could point to the Pentagon and say: If Mattis supports Trump, then so do I. They can no longer do that.

Tunisia’s Best Hope for Economic Reform
Bobby Gosh/Bloomberg/December 28/18
Eight years after supplying the spark that lit the Arab Spring, Tunisia is again bracing for political upheaval in 2019. Prime Minister Youssef Chahed is openly scrapping with President Beji Caid Essebsi, who has in turn broken his four-year partnership with the powerful Islamist Ennahda party, the single largest party in parliament. As the head of a coalition government, Chahed is under increasing pressure from public-sector unions over salaries, and the sale of state-owned companies. Meanwhile, a new generation of jobless young people is stirring; some, inspired by France’s “gillets jaunes” protests, seek to create a “red jackets” movement.
None of this bodes well for the Tunisian economy. Chahed needs to build a new national constituency ahead of a likely run for the presidency next year. So he is unlikely to have the stomach for the strong medicine prescribed by the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a staggered $2.9 billion loan. Civil servants, whose salaries make up half of the national budget, and who are a powerful voting block, oppose many reforms.
The best hope for any economic discipline may lie with someone far removed from the country’s messy politics: Marouane El Abassi, the governor of Tunisia’s central bank. Appointed in February, the former World Bank official and economics professor has managed to impose a tight monetary policy. He is also coordinating with other ministries to meet the IMF’s conditions, and is negotiating deals with Algeria and Libya that would allow Tunisia to buy oil in its own currency, easing pressure on its foreign-currency reserves. “In a government marked by a lack of economists, and where the economic culture is missing, [Abassi] is sensitizing his colleagues to the gravity of the situation... and convincing them to act energetically,” says Hachemi Alaya, chief economist at the Arab Tunisian Bank.
Abassi has restrained spending by tightening access to credit, and raising the bank’s key interest rate, from 5 percent to 5.75 percent in March, and then to 6.75 percent in June. Since then, he has resisted IMF calls for further rate hikes, and defied dire predictions by holding the inflation rate to 7.5 percent. He has also allowed the dinar to weaken steadily, in line with the IMF’s recommendation. By Tunisian standards, these are significant achievements. “He’s done a very good job of containing things,” says Francis Ghiles, who studies North Africa and the Western Mediterranean at the Barcelona Center for International Affairs. His performance is already attracting comparisons with Abdellatif Jouahri of Morocco, North Africa’s most respected central banker.
Abassi has had several things in his favor. In a year when central bankers from the US to India have come under pressure from populist political masters, Abassi has enjoyed a high degree of independence, thanks to a 2016 law that shields the central bank from the government, and gives it total control over monetary policy. He also benefits from a reputation for personal probity and competence, and a lack of ties to any political party.
The economy boasts some other bright spots. The IMF prescription has helped reduce the budget deficit, thanks in part to higher (and unpopular) taxes, and GDP growth is expected to be 2.8 percent, up from 2 percent in 2017. Tourism, vital to the economy, seems to have recovered from the shock of the 2015 terrorist attacks.
But 2019 will bring greater challenges. “Between now and the elections, you're going to see more pressure [on Abassi] from the prime minister,” Yerkes says. The civil servants, who called a nationwide strike in November, are threatening another, and their demands for pay hikes will get progressively more strident. Strikes and an ugly election campaign would dampen the tourism recovery.
Maintaining tight monetary policies in the midst of a rancorous election campaign would be hard enough; Abassi has other pressing problems on hand. The current account deficit is expected to end the year at around 9 percent of GDP; foreign-currency reserves, at $4.6 billion, cover less than three months’ worth of imports. Servicing Tunisia’s foreign-currency debt, at $30 billion, will cost $3 billion in 2019.
Not all of these problems are the central banker’s to solve, but they will hamper his ability to deal with those that are. So in the middle of what promises to be a tumultuous year for Tunis, keep a close eye on Marouane El Abassi.

The Other Intersectionality: Victims of Islamism
Kenneth Levin/Gatestone Institute/December 28/18
Censored from today's campuses is discussion of another, in various respects competing, intersectionality: That of the shared, intersecting, predicaments of today's victims of Islamist aggression, including terrorism.
Hamas's operatives have trained in Sudan and worked with Sudanese forces, including those that have been engaged in the Darfur genocide. This is the organization whose supporters are leading movers behind the campus intersectionality/boycott campaign and have become the moral arbiters of campus political correctness.
Of those killed at the Twin Towers on 9/11, 215 were black (136 men, 79 women). Other African Americans were murdered in subsequent Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks in California and Florida and elsewhere, and are as likely to be victims of future such terror attacks as anyone else. But work to prevent, and minimize the impact, of such assaults apparently counts for no more to Black Lives Matter, when weighed against promoting an anti-Israel agenda, than it does to SJP and other Hamas-linked groups.
The "intersectionality" promoted on campuses and beyond by Hamas/SJP and their fellow travelers seeks, in pursuit of its anti-Israel agenda, to distract attention from the Islamist onslaught, its ongoing savaging of populations in Africa, Asia and America.
The term "intersectionality" was coined by an African-American academic, Kimberlé Crenshaw, in 1989 to denote the circumstance of being the target of more than one bias. Crenshaw saw herself as the potential victim of both anti-black racism and misogyny, thereby living at the intersection of the two bigotries. In recent years, the term has gained prominence on many of the nation's campuses to signify something else: the supposed shared, "intersecting," predicaments of racial and ethnic groups -- as well as women and sexual minorities -- victimized by white male racism and its history of imperialism, colonialism, exploitation and slavery.
While one can fully acknowledge the depredations of European imperialism and its exploitation of non-European populations, one can also debate the extent of its current impact on non-European populations, women and sexual minorities. Except that one cannot debate it: In much of Western, including American, academia today, such debate is not permitted.
Similarly censored from today's campuses is discussion of another, in various respects competing, intersectionality: That of the shared, intersecting, predicaments of today's victims of Islamist aggression, including terrorism. Those victims are mainly people of color -- black Africans, Arabs, Kurds, Pakistanis, Afghans and east Asians -- but also many whites. They are mainly Muslims, but also include Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Druze and people professing no religion.
Why should these two intersectionalities, despite their different focuses on perpetrators and victims, be competing? Because allies of the Islamist assault have played a prominent part in promoting the campus version of intersectionality. Consequently, in the campus version, Israel is assigned a role that is the opposite of the one it actually plays in the world, including with regard to the other intersectionality.
The movement to try to destroy Israel by strangling it economically, through boycotts and the like, is largely the creation of supporters of the Islamist group Hamas, listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of State. The goal of the economic assault, often openly acknowledged, is Israel's annihilation. On campuses, the chief promoters of this agenda, members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), follow the lead of off-campus proponents and cast Israel as a European colonial state supposedly planted in the Middle East by the West to subjugate local populations and advance imperial interests in the region.
SJP and the other drivers of the economic attack on Israel have sought to broaden their ranks by invoking their brand of intersectionality: Members of all victimized populations, particularly people touched by European colonialism, ought to join together and rally to the Palestinian cause as the world's paradigmatic example of victimization. They ought to work for the ostensibly world-repairing fix of Israel's destruction.
Many others have pointed out obvious absurdities in the composition of this anti-Israel alliance: feminist groups supporting a cause whose chief adherents routinely abuse women and subject them to enforced subservience and widespread physical, all too often murderous, assault; LGBT advocates embracing those who uniformly mete out the most horrific treatment to LGBT individuals in their midst. But the disconnects from reality go further. It was the Palestinians who were, in fact, the beneficiaries of Western colonialism.
In the post-World War I break-up of defeated empires and creation of new states on former imperial lands, the League of Nations gave Britain a mandate to oversee re-establishment of a Jewish National Home in the ancestral Jewish homeland, formerly a part of the Ottoman Empire. Yet Britain, pursuing what it saw as its own colonial interests, worked to subvert its Mandate responsibilities to the Jews and instead advance Arab interests. It did so not least because it believed the Arabs would be more accommodating of British colonial policy. Thus, it fostered wide-scale Arab immigration into Mandate territory while repeatedly blocking Jewish access. In the course of doing so, and seeking to prevent Israel's creation, Britain betrayed its commitments to both the League of Nations and, subsequently, the United Nations charter.
Few, however, are aware of this historical reality, or the later history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Campuses have become purveyors of indoctrination rather than education. The promoters of the Hamas-linked effort to try to crush Israel economically, using the campus version of intersectionality as an anti-Israel tool, need not fear being confronted by an informed audience. In contrast, the other intersectionality, that of the shared, intersecting predicaments of the victims of Islamist aggression, is not a matter of history but of current affairs, of events that seep into public awareness despite efforts to downplay them. It therefore presents a potentially greater challenge to those on campus seeking to advance an anti-Israel agenda.
The head of the Islamist regime in Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, was first indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 on charges of genocide for his nation's mass murder of the Muslim -- but black, not Arab -- population of Sudan's Darfur region. Sudanese crimes against the people of Darfur continue, and al-Bashir remains Sudan's president and has been supported by the Arab League over the years since his initial indictment. Hamas, however, has done more than simply give political support to al-Bashir. Its operatives have trained in Sudan and worked with Sudanese forces, including those that have been engaged in the Darfur genocide. This is the organization whose supporters are leading movers behind the campus intersectionality/boycott campaign and have become the moral arbiters of campus political correctness.
Sudan, for more than half a century after gaining its independence, also waged an on-again, off-again genocidal war against the black, predominantly Christian and animist, peoples of southern Sudan. The Khartoum regime killed some two million of them before southern Sudan became a separate country in 2011. Through the last decades of this genocidal war, Hamas was again there supporting the Sudanese government.
Perhaps "Black Lives Matter," which has joined the Hamas-inspired anti-Israel/intersectionality bandwagon, ought to enlarge its name to "Black Lives Matter, Except When Snuffed Out by Islamists."
Israel, in contrast, supported the southern Sudanese during the years of their struggle to stave off the Islamist onslaught from Khartoum and has continued to help them as they address the difficult challenges facing their new nation.
As Islamist threats in sub-Saharan Africa have increased, other black African states, some with long connections to Israel, some with newer relations, have turned to Israel for help in their fight against Islamist terror. In recent years, these include, among east African nations, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania.
In 2015, a government spokesman in Nigeria, by far the most populous country in Africa, stated, "Israel has been a crucial and loyal ally in our fight against Boko Haram [the Islamist group that has murdered thousands of Nigerian Christians]. It is a sad reality that Israel has a great deal of experience confronting terrorism."
Of course, much of that terror confronted by Israel has been perpetrated by Hamas.
The United States experienced its own encounter with massive Islamist terrorism on September 11, 2001. The majority of victims were white Christians, but also among the murdered were blacks, Hispanics and Asians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and followers of other faiths.
Shortly after 9/11, American officials, including representatives of local, state and federal law enforcement bodies, began reaching out to Israel in order -- like leaders in Nigeria and the nations of east Africa mentioned above -- to learn from Israel's painfully acquired experience in dealing with terror. This is another facet of the intersectionality that connects victims of Islamism.
To this day, groups of law enforcement officers, other American officials and emergency medical personnel travel to Israel or attend conferences in the United States addressed by Israeli anti-terror and emergency medicine experts. They do so to sharpen their own skills as they seek to anticipate and prevent terror attacks, to respond effectively when attacks occur, and to deal not only with policing challenges but also the emergency medical and other challenges presented by terrorist assaults.
As those in America who have participated in such programs attest, they have proven extremely valuable in actual responses to terror threats and terror events.
However, Students for Justice in Palestine, and other Hamas-linked groups and defenders of Islamism, particularly on campuses but beyond campuses as well -- in their efforts to defame and isolate Israel as a step in pursuit of the Jewish state's annihilation -- have sought to end such contacts and exchanges. As always, they turn truth on its head by asserting that Israeli police and military forces wantonly target innocent Palestinians and, invoking intersectionality, they declare that the aim and effect of cooperation between Israeli and American law enforcement bodies is not to help in the struggle against terrorism but to train American police to better target American minorities, particularly young black men.
SJP's camp followers in the intersectionality scam have embraced this line and also campaigned for an end to cooperation between Israeli and American anti-terror groups. Among those doing so is, again, Black Lives Matter. Of those killed at the Twin Towers on 9/11, 215 were black (136 men, 79 women). Additional African Americans were killed on the planes commandeered by the terrorists and at the Pentagon and were among the heroic first-responders who subsequently lost their lives due to medical problems contracted at the World Trade Center site on that day and in the days that followed.
Other African Americans were murdered in subsequent Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks in California and Florida and elsewhere, and are as likely to be victims of future such terror attacks as anyone else. But work to prevent, and minimize the impact, of such assaults apparently counts for no more to Black Lives Matter, when weighed against promoting an anti-Israel agenda, than it does to SJP and other Hamas-linked groups.
Similarly campaigning for an end to Israeli and American cooperation in fighting terrorism has been, shamefully, the organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which advocates the dissolution of Israel. Illustrative is the role played by members of JVP in leading a campaign in Durham, North Carolina, that resulted in the city council passing a resolution prohibiting any participation of the city's police force in joint programs with Israeli law enforcement bodies.
The Islamist assault is not going away. It will continue to claim its victims in large numbers across the globe. At the same time, the intersectionality of its victims, the shared, intersecting predicaments of its targeted groups, will continue to be reflected in nations working with Israel to learn from the Jewish state's painfully acquired expertise in dealing with terrorism.
The "intersectionality" promoted on campuses and beyond by Hamas/SJP and their fellow travelers seeks, in pursuit of its anti-Israel agenda, to distract attention from the Islamist onslaught, its ongoing savaging of populations in Africa, Asia and America, and the alliances with Israel formed by its victims. In doing so, the intersectionality of the campuses has become, in effect, an enabler and abettor of Islamism's depredations, including mass murder.
*Kenneth Levin is a psychiatrist and historian and author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege.
© 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.

Alarm bells over Iran’s terrorist operations at the heart of EU
Hamid Bahrami/Al Arabiya/December 28/18
This year has been one of the most challenging ones for the security services in European countries as they have yet to form a firm counter-terrorism strategy to halt state-sanctioned terrorist operations across the EU.
If the ISIS targeted people arbitrarily without any operation center in the EU, Iran’s regime uses its embassies to organize terrorist operations across Europe as part of its desperate response to domestic crises and growing dissent inside the country.
The US administration commended this week the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s decision to expel the Iranian ambassador and another diplomat for plotting “terrorist attacks” in Albania, as said by Secretary Pompe.
President Trump thanked Mr Rama for “steadfast efforts to stand up to Iran and to counter its destabilizing activities and efforts to silence dissidents around the globe.” It is crucial to know why Albania has become so important for the ruling regime in Iran that it is prepared to take such risks at this decisive moment.Since members of the Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), moved from Iraq to the Albanian capital Tirana under UN supervision in 2016, the regime has widely expanded its embassy, almost doubling the size and the number of staff.
If the ISIS targeted people arbitrarily without any operation center in the EU, Iran’s regime uses its embassies to organize terrorist operations across Europe
Special section
The regime has also appointed a new ambassador, who is a member of the Intelligence Ministry (MOIS), and created a special section within the embassy to organize operations against the MEK.
As the MEK has successfully led daily anti-regime protests in the country, as admitted by senior regime officials, for a political system like current regime in Tehran, it is vital to respond to persistent dissidents across the world.
On March 22, two Iranians were arrested in Tirana, on the charge of plotting a terrorist attack against thousands of MEK members at their Iranian New Year celebration.
Belgium charged an Iranian diplomat and three other individuals on October10 with planning to bomb the grand gathering of the broader Iranian opposition coalition, the NCRI, where MEK is the principal constituent, in France in June.
France’s Foreign Ministry said later that there was no doubt the MOIS was behind the June plot and froze assets belonging to Tehran’s intelligence services and two Iranian nationals, including the Iranian diplomat waiting prosecution in Belgium.
The theocracy has already responded to domestic crisis through a vast and costly demonization campaign against the MEK to legitimize such operations and persecution of its supporters inside the country.
A recent wave of fake news against the MEK in the Guardian, Al Jazeera, MSNBC and Channel 4 spread by Tehran’s apologists appears now to be an organized attempt to exploit respected news outlet as the prologue of such terrorist operations.
Many members of the Iranian communities in Europe attribute this increase of terrorist attacks by Iran’s regime against dissidents and opposition group on European soil to the union’s failed appeasement policy towards Iran, which they highlighted at an international conference in over 40 cities last week. In their view, the current EU Foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and her colleagues are responsible for this emerging threat to EU’s security.
In his remark at the international conference last week, the former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives Patrick Kennedy pointed to this sentiment among Iranians and said “today response to Iran’s terrorist operations has been weak and inappropriate to emerging threats.”
He also stress that regime’s targeting of the organized resistance movement demonstrates its fear of the NCRI coalition. It is evident that as long as Mogherini holds office, there will not be any serious European counter-terrorism strategy against Iran, ergo, providing the regime further opportunities to organize such activities.
Secretary Pompeo brought attention to this fact by tweeting “European nations have thwarted three Iranian plots this year” and called on the international community to sanction the regime for these terrorist activities.
The Trump administration can further advance its case for a more robust European and global counter-terrorism strategy against the regime in Iran by designating the entire Revolutionary Guards and the MOIS as Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). This is what the Iranian people, dissidents and dozens of prominent western politicians ask and call for.

How will US decision to pull out of Syria affect Jordan?

Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/December 28/18
US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria has surprised Jordan as this leaves the kingdom in a weak position — politically, economically and militarily.
Such a decision reveals the absence of a clear US strategy in Syria, with many US experts describing the move as a serious strategic miscalculation, which prompted Secretary of Defense James Mattis to resign due to his disagreement with the policies of Trump in this regard.
A hasty move
The decision to withdraw has opened the door to much speculation and diverse analyses. This pull-out will have several adverse consequences for many countries in the Middle East, mainly Jordan. Once the US troops pull out of Syria without fully ending the presence of ISIS and other terrorist groups in the war-ravaged country, it would keep the door open for them to regroup and revive their former strength.
The spill-over this time will be on Jordan, which has been the military base for most of the aerial operations against terrorism in Iraq and Syria. In other words, these terrorist groups will mobilize their forces and restart operations across borders with a vengeance.
Trump linked his decision to pull out of Syria with the fulfilment of American mission to fight ISIS. Although he claims that ISIS has been defeated, many politicians, lawmakers, experts and officials in the US and in the Middle East remain unconvinced. The British, Germans, French and even Jordanians do not believe it is the right decision at this time, as ISIS and other affiliate groups have not been eliminated in Syria and Iraq.
This means that the American mission has not been completed. Such a decision could help revive terrorist organizations and the will be more effective and influential than before as they now have gained more experience on how to fight, produce arms and carry out suicide attacks.
Many US experts describe Trump’s move to withdraw from Syria a serious strategic miscalculation
ISIS regrouping
For many countries, including Jordan, this decision, will help ISIS organise its ranks to start new operations in southern areas of Syria against Jordan. What has caused the uproar is that when Trump justifies the pull-out, saying that he does not want Washington to play the role of a policeman in the Middle East for free, without giving due importance to strategic interests for his country, he diminishes gains for his country in dealing with other international powers for global leadership.
Trump's comments place Jordan in a difficult situation as the country has 375km-long border with Syria, and has managed to keep them away from bloodshed in the aftermath of war in Jordan’s northern neighborhood.
Yet, Amman is concerned about the creation of a vacuum in southern regions of Syria, extending from south-east Badia region of the Syrian desert to south-west including Quneitra, Suwaida and Dera’a (or the so-called de-escalation zones in South Syria).
The residents of these areas who are Syrians have armed factions, which are trained and supported by American intelligence. Amongst them is a group called Jaysh Ahrar Al Asha’er (Army of Free Tribes). Such groups were raised on a Jordanian proposal to protect its borders from ISIS and other terrorist factions.
The collapse of the Army of Free Tribes in the Syrian Badia, in the event of American withdrawal from Al-Tanf Base, which is close to the border triangle between Jordan, Syria and Iraq, would lead to a tide of extremist militant fighters, both Sunni or Shi’ite, entering the country from across the borders with Jordan in addition to the influx of thousands of refugees to the Jordanian border through Al Rukhban Camp.
The situation will not be better in Dera’a province, which could mean the incursion of sectarian militias into de-escalation zones which have been negatively affected by this decision. On the other hand, Jordan has repeatedly warned against being in a position where it would be left alone facing dangers, mainly with sectarian flags near its northern borders.
Despite the defeat of ISIS in many strongholds in Syria, one enclave is still under its control in the Yarmouk basin in rural areas of Dera’a, represented by Khalid Bin Al Waleed Army, a few kilometers from Jordanian borders. Amman fears that if the US pulls out, Khalid bin Walid Army would be active again in order to fill in the void.
Reaching out to Syria
Jordanian foreign policy is keeping the door open to enhance cooperation with Damascus politically, economically and militarily. Moreover, Jordanian-Syrian relations, especially in the field of military-intelligence, have become an example for others to follow. However, If Syrian armed forces along with Iranian troops decide to open the battle of Dera’a, West Dera’a and other provinces in southern Syria, Jordan has to take precautionary measures.
In the past, the US was providing financial, economic, and military assistance to Jordan in its war against terror in Syria and Iraq. However, the proposed US withdrawal would bring about grave consequences to Jordan militarily as the country opened its borders with Syria last October for trade activities.
This pull-out would mean leaving a vacuum similar to that when the US troops withdrew from Iraq, creating the best ever environment for terrorist groups to thrive and flourish. This tacitly means higher costs on Jordan militarily to secure its borders with both Syria and Iraq, adding gigantic financial burdens on the country which already suffers from huge debts and other financial burdens.
The second concern for Jordan is the economic factor. The US has delivered Jordan another jolt with this decision as for the last eight years Jordan was benefitting from being a transit country for the international coalition operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. This provided the Jordanian economy some funds as a result. The pull-out would lead to depriving the kingdom of this source of revenue.
Military intelligence observations indicate that ISIS is getting a new lease of life and that its role is not yet over. Though Jordanian officials decline to comment on the US decision, they have justifiable concerns as this would expose Jordan to fight terrorism without the assistance of any country, which poses huge burdens on the Jordanian economy. Amman has to address these problems before it is too late.

Hosni Mubarak, the history-maker and its witness
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/December 28/18
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s testimony before the court in the matter of prison breaks which the Muslim Brotherhood is accused of is truly a historical testimony.
Although the word “historical” is a cliché, Mubarak’s testimony was really historical as he spoke before the court in the presence of Brotherhood leaders including former president Mohammed Mursi and the group’s supreme guide Mohammed Badie.
Mubarak did not say everything he’s got as he refused to talk about some points under the pretext that discussing them requires a permission from the command of the armed Egyptian forces and from the president. By doing so, Mubarak has evoked the spirit of the statesman and the logic of the Egyptian army.
The man has his merits and his faults. In his famous resignation speech, he actually said that history, and not the emotional screams of protestors back then in January 2011, will inform people what his merits and faults were, and so it was!
One of the most important points which Mubarak shed light on was the role of the dangerous Iranian regime in creating chaos in the Arab world during the strange and suspicious “Arab Spring.”
Mubarak addressed how Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself got involved in the scene when due to his joy over what happened in Egypt decided to deliver an address in the Arabic language, and we all remember that moment.
What’s more important than these signs that reflect the Khomeini-Brotherhood intermingling are the Brotherhood’s political work with Iran and Iran’s work with the Brotherhood
Conspiracy against Egypt
During his testimony, Mubarak said there was a conspiracy against Egypt noting that in a rare occasion that’s the first of its kind, the Iranian supreme leader delivered a Friday sermon on February 4, 2011 in Arabic to encourage chaos in Egypt and fuel violence following the January revolution.
It’s true, and the secret of relations between the Khomeini regime and the Brotherhood have not been entirely revealed. This is not surprising as the Brotherhood’s symbols, whether Egyptians or others, used to praise the Iranian regime. We all know that Iran’s current supreme leader has himself translated some of Sayyid Qutb’s books from Arabic into Persian and that Qutb’s photo has been used on postage stamps.
What’s more important than these signs that reflect the Khomeini-Brotherhood intermingling are the Brotherhood’s political work with Iran and Iran’s work with the Brotherhood.
Despite all the seemingly passing disputes between them, the two parties are on one boat, the boat of political Islam. Perhaps mutual ideological and political orientations are one of the causes - of course not the only cause – behind the biasness of Erdogan’s Turkey to Iran.
The testimony of Mubarak who is an expert on conspiracies in the Middle East, the Brotherhood’s secrets, the conspiracies of the Khomeini regime and the plots of Erdogan’s authority may have not exposed everything but it’s truly a live testimony on history by one of its makers.

Sudan has two economic options: Quick fixes or lasting reform

Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/December 28/18
I am afraid that what is currently happening in Sudan might be the second wave of what is called the ‘Arab Spring’. This supposed spring often ushers in bloodshed and instability leading to huge losses for any country.
I am afraid that popular turmoil in Sudan might lead to the horrific and tragic situation suffered by the countries that were invaded by the bloody phenomenon of the ominous Arab Spring. Here, I am not condoning the undeniable mistakes, but I ask these people to learn from events that took place in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.
All the people who rebelled, initially wanted to enhance their standard of living, but the situation unraveled in the way we see it today. I have no doubt that if the people who ignited these uprisings are asked to choose between their living conditions before the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ and the present horrible state of affairs; they will choose the situation that existed before. This is what they, except the Islamized ones who have no value for humans and their homeland, will choose.
Any reform, particularly in the economic sphere is generally painful, particularly in countries afflicted with chronic errors – as is the case in Sudan. One of the approaches adopted by decision makers to address the situation is to continue finding temporary, quick-fix solutions, which might inhibit the pain for a while, but without eliminating the disease, or at least besiege it and prevent it from spreading and worsening.
History shows that temporary solutions and avoiding the root cause of problems end up making temporary solutions redundant. If people become addicted to such temporary solutions for a long period, it is difficult for them to accept and welcome long term reforms.
History shows that temporary solutions and avoiding the root cause of problems end up making temporary solutions redundant
Food basket
As many economic experts assert, Sudan is probably highly dominated by Arab countries, being the food basket of the Arab world. It possesses the right conditions for agricultural revival, which gives it real capabilities, not only for addressing its real food problems, but also for meeting the needs of the Arab region.
Its fertile soil has rich nutrients and it also has a strong labor force. However, poor planning and mismanagement by authorities have led to its present precarious situation. The other thing that I am afraid about for Sudan is that there are many internal and external players, who want to cease the opportunity for worsening the situation. They view revolutionary disturbances as opportunities for achieving their goals.
The other thing that I am afraid about for Sudan is that there are many internal and external players, who want to seize the opportunity to add fuel to fire. They see in these revolutions and unrest an opportunity for achieving their goals.
These are many actors both within and outside Sudan who are as such, primarily the Muslim Brotherhood. In the beginning, Sudan fell to the sway of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, after trying out their demagogic ideology they have realized that it does not provide any solution. It has gradually put aside the Muslim Brotherhood prescription and moved toward liberal economic solutions.
Probably this experience was one of the key reasons behind recent disturbances. Moving away from one economic path to another mostly causes a gap that needs time for citizens to adjust to, especially if this transformation is about shifting from rentier economy to a productive economy. It seems that this is what Sudan has decided to adopt and what the pro-regime media has been talking about.
Sudan is passing through a very difficult phase, where the Sudanese decision-maker will be left with two options; either to persistently continue with economic reforms or revert to temporary solutions and subside goods thus burdening the treasury as the case has been. I hope that Sudan would not face what the countries that were invaded by the winds of the “Arab destruction” have suffered from.

Will Lebanon’s support of UN compacts benefit Syrian refugees?
Scott Preston/Al Monitor December 28/18
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Lebanese policymakers have echoed a common refrain also self-evident among the public: coping with the presence of some 1.5 million Syrian refugees is a struggle. Lebanon implemented a few measures to stanch the flow and decrease the number of refugees, such as closing the border in October 2014 and encouraging Syrians to return home, yet it also recently voted in favor of two landmark UN resolutions supporting the rights of migrants and refugees.
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) and the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), adopted Dec. 10 and 17, respectively, were the result of 18 months of international negotiations following the UN General Assembly's adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016. Inspired largely by the Syrian refugee crisis, the compacts serve to standardize best practices among the world’s nations in dealing with migration flows. The provisions, however, are nonbinding.
Hadi Hachem, chief of cabinet for the Lebanese foreign minister, whose office has been working to define Lebanon’s position toward the compacts, told Al-Monitor that Lebanon’s approval was rooted in its support of the Lebanese diaspora.
“The GCM is a universal declaration, and Lebanon is a country that has 14 million Lebanese abroad, so we are interested in migration because we are a country where we export migration,” said Hachem. “We want to give a legal frame for migration movements.”
A number of Lebanese civil society organizations were involved in advising on the creation of the GCM. The Insan Association, which advocates for the rights of migrants, organized the Middle East’s regional civil society consultation, held Aug. 24-25, 2017. The purpose was to identify humanitarian priorities and then pass them along to the UN Secretariat overseeing the drafting of the resolution.
Roula Hamati, head of research and advocacy at Insan, explained that Lebanon’s need to grease the inflow of remittances also pushed the country to support the GCM. “Lebanon’s position in the negotiation was basically that [politicians] would want to see more on the question of remittances, on [support] of the diaspora and some of the things that they have taken on as good practices,” Hamati told Al-Monitor, explaining that the government hopes to see reduced fees for transferring funds to Lebanese bank accounts.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, despite its endorsement of the GCM, had reservations about some aspects of the compact, leading the ministry to submit a letter to the UN Secretariat outlining the government’s concerns. According to Hachem, these included objectives 16 and 22, which call for member states to “empower migrants and societies to realize full inclusion and social cohesion” and to “establish mechanisms for the portability of social security entitlements.”
Hachem stated, “We have reservations about these two objectives. … We have a reservation about everything that touches the sovereignty of the country because the declaration is non-binding and abides by local laws.”
According to Nasser Yassin, director of research at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University in Beirut, these grievances are rooted in the government’s fear of any demographic changes that could upend Lebanon’s sectarian balance of power as well as a desire to reduce so-called pull factors thought to encourage migration.
Lebanon also deliberated before voting in favor of the GCR, the world’s most significant document concerning refugees since the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol, which defined refugee status and countries’ obligations to refugees. Lebanon is not a signatory to either document.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, head of the Global Communications Desk for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in New York, said of the resolution, “[It focuses on] how to build a holistic response for both refugees and the host community, really focusing on education and livelihood and these types of longer-term solutions and interventions that will help entire generations.”
The Lebanese government ultimately decided to back the GCR because of its principles of international cooperation in dealing with refugee crises. Hachem asserted, “The refugee system is a big issue now, and we need to have the burden shared among and between all countries who face this [issue].”
In drafting the GCR, the United Nations also recommended interventions in 14 countries, including in Jordan. In an email to Al-Monitor, Anne Rummery, senior regional communications officer for UNHCR in Geneva, wrote that Lebanon did not express any interest in participating in the program. It did, however, agree to share its experience and has taken part in UNHCR’s Regional Refugee Response Plan for the Syrian refugee crisis, which informed the objectives of the GCR.
The GCR includes provisions for increasing job opportunities and furthering the local integration of refugees. Yassin believes that Lebanon must do more in this regard if it is to fully comply with the two new compacts. In 2019, the United Nations will hold a conference during which member states are expected to announce “concrete pledges and contributions towards the objectives of the global compact.”
Experts are skeptical that the compacts will do much to improve the daily quality of life for Syrians in Lebanon due in part to the way Lebanon classifies them.
“The Syrians in the country are neither migrants nor refugees, the Syrians are displaced,” Hachem said. “We [the government] gave them the status of a displaced person, and this is because it’s a temporary situation. It has to be solved when the situation in their own country is better. The situation in Syria is better now security-wise, so we ask the displaced people to head back to their own country.”
Without a binding resolution, Lebanon may pick and choose which objectives to implement based on its national interests.
“I think it might again provide some avenues for collaboration and perhaps some South-South collaboration on certain issues,” said Yassin. “It might provide some new way for UNHCR to bring in new actors to collaborate and offer more shared responsibility here and there. But I don’t see it as a game changer in Lebanon because the positions in particular on the refugee question in Lebanon are written on the wall.”
Found in: Refugees
*Scott Preston is a journalist based in Beirut, writing about social and political issues in the Middle East. On Twitter: @scottapreston

The Danger of the Muslim Brotherhood
رامي دباس: خطر جماعة الإخوان المسلمين

Rami Dabbas/Jihad Watch/December 28/18
The Muslim Brotherhood was the first to mobilize the modern-day jihad in Afghanistan, when the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader in Egypt sent an envoy named Kamal al-Sananiri to Pakistan. Kamal was in Saudi Arabia, where he met the Palestinian Brotherhood leader Abdullah Azzam and persuaded him to travel to Islamabad. From there, Azzam became director of the mobilization campaign of the Arab Mujahedeen in Afghanistan.
According to terror researcher Thomas Hegghammer, this meeting demonstrates the key role that the Muslim Brotherhood networks played in the role that Arabs played in the jihad in Afghanistan. The Brotherhood served as the primary connection between Arab countries and the jihad groups in Afghanistan early in the 1980s. The Brotherhood also exhorted Islamic organizations such as the Muslim World League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now the Organization of Islamic Cooperation) to aid the Afghan mujahedin.
The participation of Saudis in the Afghan jihad started first through the Muslim World League and the Muslim Brotherhood. Abdullah Azzam is the one who said that jihad in Afghanistan was an eye for every Muslim. Osama bin Laden was one of the Arabs who came to Afghanistan in 1984. His political leanings were formed by the high school teachers he studied under in a Syrian Muslim Brotherhood school.
Bin Laden and Azzam met. Azzam played an influential role in the life of bin Laden, who became the chief sponsor of the recruiting of mujahedin. This is a historical fact: the Muslim Brotherhood invented modern jihad terrorism. The Brotherhood is one of the main sources of al-Qaeda.
If you do not support the Muslim Brotherhood, in its eyes you are an infidel and enemy of Allah, whatever your political stance or intellectual affiliation. If you are a nationalist, you are an infidel. I If you are a patriot, you are an infidel. If you are a liberal, you are an infidel. Muslim Brotherhood members and followers consider themselves to be part of a righteous movement and do not tolerate anyone who is not one of them.
The Brotherhood makes intensive attempts to brainwash youths who have been attracted to its message. The goal always sought is one of political interests.
The concept of civil jihad, which the group has maintained day and night, has become a mere myth of the Brotherhood, and something that the Muslim organization will adopt at some later stage. as it pursues the concept of what is called armed or military jihad to achieve its goals, including seizing power anywhere it can. The famous saying of the Muslim Brotherhood is “Death in the name of Allah is our highest hope.”
The intellectual line of the Muslim Brotherhood is fully allied with the ideological line of al-Qaeda and Hamas. That is very dangerous.
At the same time, the group practices a strategic deception: it is allied with liberal movements to get into power. It exploits their support, as we see in many countries of Europe, as well as in Canada and during the Obama era in the United States.
The Muslim Brotherhood uses taqiyya and claims it is in favor of democracy, peace, human rights and the peaceful transfer of power, which all are lies.
The Brotherhood does not believe in the secular state. It seeks to remove it. It is planning to establish Islamic governments.
The Muslim Brotherhood does not believe in the homeland. It denies the very principle of citizenship. It despises the idea of a nation state.
There is no place for non-Muslims in the ideology and organization of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood does not believe in democracy. It uses it as a tool. It uses it to rob state institutions.
The mind has no place in the Brotherhood’s philosophy.
Stability is not the right atmosphere for the Brotherhood to advance. It loves the atmosphere of chaos, because it achieves its goals through it.
The agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood is an entirely different one from what most people think. Their unknown aspects of their agenda are larger than the known ones. What they have kept secret is much bigger than what they have declared. The Brothers are more suspicious and vague than clear and transparent.
The Brotherhood hijacks your freedom and democracy, steals your will, and grabs your right to decide your future.
The Brotherhood wants to hijack your homeland and create an Islamic caliphate and implement totalitarian sharia law everywhere.
The movements of political Islam, even those that are not dependent on violence, teach Muslims that Western societies are infidel and corrupt. This is very dangerous.
There is no big difference between the mentality of al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood’s view of dealing with Europe and America. The only difference from the Brotherhood’s point of view is that al-Qaeda preaches violence in order to reach its goals, while the Brotherhood preaches taqiyya to infiltrate Western governments and replace their constitutions with the Qur’an and sharia.
The Brotherhood views Europe and the West in general as a corrupt and infidel society in which the Muslim should not be integrated. They also oppose Western governments and the war against terrorism. There is no difference between different Islamic jihad groups except minor ones. They all agree on the goal of conquering and dominating the West, then creating an Islamic caliphate.
Finally, people have to understand that every Islamic jihad terror leader from ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc.. were Muslim brotherhood members in the past: Abdullah Azaam, Osama bin Laden and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The list goes on. All of them were Muslim Brotherhood before they went to Al-Qaeda and ISIS and other terror groups. It’s funny when countries such as Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Lebanon designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror organization while USA still has not done so.
*Rami Dabbas is a Jordanian academic and activist.