December 31/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 17/09-13/I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 30-31/18
Maronite Patriarch Renews Call for Government of Specialists
Tripartite Meeting Set for Southern Lebanon to Discuss Hezbollah Tunnels
Geagea urges Aoun, Hariri to send Cabinet decree to MPs
Fneish Reassures on FPM Ties, Denies Role in Picking Adra
2 Army Intelligence Agents Hurt in Brital Clash
Cyprus Fails to Find Survivors from Capsized Migrant Boat from Lebanon
Hankache Says National Unity Government Will Not Be Productive
Khalil warns of economic situation
Army: Strict security measures across Lebanon on festive season
Hussein talks expats' affairs with Lebanese Consul in Melbourne

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 30-31/18

Three Jordanians, two Egyptians, Emirati went missing on fishing trip in UAE
Israel protests image of Jordanian minister stepping on flag
Hamas denies Mubarak claim it sent militants to Egypt in 2011
US army withdraws from military base in Syrian city of Hasakah
Erdogan Picks Ex-Prime Minister to Run for Istanbul Mayor
Morocco Arrests Swiss National in Connection With Killing 2 Tourists
Taliban Dismiss Afghanistan's Talks Offer, Agree to Meet US Officials in Saudi Arabia
Washington Stops Israel-Croatia Jet Deal
Khomeini grandson warns: No guarantees Iranian regime will survive
Offices of Khamenei, Rouhani Issue Inconsistent Reports on Protests’ Anniversary
Khomeini’s Grandson: No Guarantee for Regime Survival
Sisi Calls for Decisive Action to End Violations on State Property
Egypt Minister: Preemptive Strikes Will Continue to Combat Terrorism
Efforts Underway to Unite Libyan Security Agencies in Tripoli, Benghazi
Iraqi Sunni authority slams Grand Mufti’s Christmas fatwa as ‘reckless’
Days after her appointment, Iraqi education minister quits over links with ISIS
Ahead of Coptic Christmas, Egypt creates body to fight ‘sectarian incidents’

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 30-31/18
Syria: Assad has decisively won his brutal battle/Hassan Hassan/The Guardian/December 30/18
The Growing Poverty of Political Debate/Amir Taheri/Gatestone Institute/December 30/18
Turkey's War on Christian Missionaries/Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/December 30/18
The Rise and Fall of Carlos Ghosn/Amy Chozick and Motoko Rich/The New York Times/December 30/18
Amid squabbles over Syria, will Daesh emerge on top/Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/December 30/18
Turkey may seek to avoid new military operation in Syria/Yasar Yakis/Arab News/December 30/18
Iranian regime has perfected the art of skirting sanctions/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/December 30/18
Iran in its Iraqi ‘backyard/Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/December 31/18
Can Saif al-Islam Qaddafi become President of Libya/Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/December 31/18
Global economy: Time to pay the piper/Adil Rasheed/Al Arabiya/December 31/18
Year 2018 and the Trump-triggered geo-political flux/C. Uday Bhaskar/Al Arabiya/December 31/18

Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 30-31/18
Maronite Patriarch Renews Call for Government of Specialists 30th December 2018/Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi said that officials have no right to turn a deaf ear to the people's livelihood suffering, reiterating his call for a government of neutral and competent specialists. "We want a government that includes experts who would first introduce the reforms as per the mechanism set out at the CEDRE conference and invest the $11.5 billion funds in productive economic projects," Al-Rahi said in his Sunday sermon. "Seeking the formation of a national u unity government amid the tense atmosphere between its components will only lead to further obstruction of the government and the state institutions and exacerbate economic hardships," he warned. The patriarch blasted the "destructive policy" through which the government formation is being hindered, slamming the rampant corruption and squandering plaguing the state institutions. “Officials nowadays are not only negligent towards their duty to bring patriotic awareness to people through their performance and to ensure their political rights, but they are also raising them to pledge allegiance to a sect, a party, a leader and anyone who is in power,” he stated. “This is how they usurp power to destroy rather than construct. This is the reason behind the state's loss of its prestige and what caused the confiscation and violation of laws in cold blood,” Rahi said.

Tripartite Meeting Set for Southern Lebanon to Discuss Hezbollah Tunnels
Beirut - Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 30 December, 2018/The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) announced that it will discuss the cross border tunnels dug by Hezbollah into Israel and violations of UN Security Council resolution 1701 during an upcoming meeting. The meeting, whose date was not disclosed, will include the peacekeeping forces and Lebanese and Israeli officials. It will be held at UNIFIL’s base in Naqoura in southern Lebanon. UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said that the situation in the South was calm and that members of the force were working on the ground with the Lebanese armed forces to ensure security along the Lebanese-Israeli border. UNIFIL commander Major General Stefano Del Col was in contact with all concerned sides to “avert any misunderstanding”, he added. On Friday, the peacekeeping force said it was continuing its investigations into the Hezbollah tunnels. Together with the Lebanese army, it surveyed the premises of an old concrete factory in the southern part of Kfar Kila, after UNIFIL had observed liquefied cement flowing out from the building within this facility, it said in a statement. “The liquid overflowing on the Lebanese side had been injected by the Israeli army through a shaft drilled on their end of a tunnel that UNIFIL had previously independently confirmed to be crossing the Blue Line in the same general area. “Based on this observation, UNIFIL can confirm that the old concrete factory in Kfar Kila has an opening to the tunnel, which is crossing the Blue Line. “UNIFIL is working in close coordination with the Lebanese army in efforts to enable appropriate steps to address the violation of resolution 1701,” it concluded. UNIFIL remains engaged with the parties to ensure that all activities in sensitive areas are duly coordinated, the Blue Line is fully respected by both sides, and to help the parties uphold their respective obligations towards the cessation of hostilities under resolution 1701, it said. Israel had in December announced that it was working on exposing and destroying tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into its territories. It has so far announced the discovery of five tunnels.

Geagea urges Aoun, Hariri to send Cabinet decree to MPs
The Daily Star/ December 30/ 2018/BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea has called on the president and prime minister-designate to make "the decision to form a government” and send a Cabinet formation decree on to Parliament, despite the unresolved issues. During a dinner held in Maarab Saturday night for engineers affiliated with the LF, Geagea said that President Michel Aoun and Premier-designate Saad Hariri must end the monthslong government formation deadlock and sign off on a Cabinet lineup that “they believe is appropriate, regardless of the demands of parties,” according to the state-run National News Agency. Geagea said that once the decree is signed and sent to Parliament for a vote of confidence, “any opposing party” can then voice its objection to the lineup. “Why don’t they deal with others the same way they dealt with the Lebanese Forces and tell them, ‘This is what we have to offer. ... Those who have objections can say so in Parliament’?”At the outset of the government formation process, a main obstacle had been the LF’s demand for five ministers or four Cabinet seats including a sovereign ministry. However, the LF later accepted four ministerial portfolios, plus one minister of state. Now, as the formation has entered its eighth month of deadlock, the process has been stalled over the last-minute redistribution of ministerial portfolios among political blocs and a demand for representation by six Hezbollah-backed Sunni MPs.

Fneish Reassures on FPM Ties, Denies Role in Picking Adra
Naharnet/December 30/18/Ties between Hizbullah and President Michel Aoun as well as with his Free Patriotic Movement have not been strained by the latest standoff in the cabinet formation process, a Hizbullah minister stressed. “There is no alternative to consensus in order to form a national unity cabinet,” caretaker Sport and Youth Minister Mohammed Fneish told Kuwait’s al-Anbaa newspaper in remarks published Sunday. Denying that the FPM has accused Hizbullah of obstructing the government’s formation, Fneish warned that there are “strenuous and vigorous efforts to give the impression that the problem is between the FPM and Hizbullah.”He also urged all political forces and the press to “properly interpret President Michel Aoun’s remarks from Bkirki about who wants to create new norms in the formation of governments.”“President Aoun did not refer to Hizbullah in any way,” Fneish noted.
“Those concerned with these remarks are the forces who are practically and actually implementing such norms. Those forces, who know themselves very well, need to return to the principle of consensus and real partnership and they have to accept the results of the parliamentary elections,” the minister went on to say. Responding to a question, Fneish said Hizbullah did not play a role in choosing consensus candidate Jawad Adra to represent the Consultative Gathering in the government, noting that all that the party did was “accepting the aforementioned Gathering’s candidate.”A dispute over Adra’s political alignment has torpedoed the latest endeavor to break the government formation deadlock. The parties had previously wrangled for months over Christian and Druze representation in the new government.

2 Army Intelligence Agents Hurt in Brital Clash
Naharnet/December 30/18/Two army intelligence agents were wounded Sunday in a cash with fugitives in the Baalbek district town of Brital. “As a patrol from the Intelligence Directorate was raiding the house of the fugitive Abbas Ahmed Yaghi in the town of Brital, Bekaa, he and others opened fire at the patrol’s members, which resulted in the wounding of two soldiers, one critically,” an army statement said. “The shooters fled to an unknown destination and search operations are still underway to arrest them,” the statement added. According to the National News Agency, the wounded army agents were transferred to the Dar al-Amal Hospital for treatment.

Cyprus Fails to Find Survivors from Capsized Migrant Boat from Lebanon

Associated Press/Naharnet/December 30/18/A search in waters between Cyprus and Lebanon for more possible survivors from a capsized boat has been unsuccessful, Cypriot authorities have said. The search was mounted after a Syrian man was airlifted to a Cyprus hospital Thursday when the U.S.-flagged merchant ship Safmarine Nimba plucked him from stormy seas some 17 miles off Cyprus' southeastern coast. The Syrian man said he was among seven other people aboard a small boat that set sail from Lebanon on Dec. 21. But the boat capsized two days later due to stormy weather. Cyprus' Joint Rescue Coordination Center said a search helicopter has failed to locate anyone. The center said it's in touch with vessels in the area to be on the lookout for any survivors.

Hankache Says National Unity Government Will Not Be Productive 30th December 2018/Kataeb MP Elias Hankache on Sunday stressed that the upcoming government will not be productive due to the raging bickering between local factions, adding that any breakthrough will fail to yield an effective Cabinet because of the mentality of exclusion and lust for power. “Instead of searching for ways to disrupt, we must devise ways to become productive,” Hankache told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. The lawmaker renewed his call for a government of specialists while proceeding with a dialogue between parliamentary blocs alongside with it. “The problem lies in the political system as it is not the first time that the government formation is obstructed,” Hankache said.

Khalil warns of economic situation
Sun 30 Dec 2018/NNA - Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil said on Sunday that "the economic crisis is now turning into a financial one," expressing the hope that the country avoids a monetary crisis affecting the confidence of Lebanese citizens in their state and their future.
Khalil stressed that "any further delay in forming the government will have a negative impact on the stability of Lebanon."Commenting on the Syrian-Lebanese relations, Minister of Finance stressed the need to deal consciously with what is happening in Syria and to restore Lebanon's official position with it. Finally, he called for reconsidering the decision of Syria's participation in the upcoming Arab Economic Summit to be held in Beirut next month.

Army: Strict security measures across Lebanon on festive season

Sun 30 Dec 2018/NNA - Army units have implemented strict security measures in all Lebanese regions for the holidays, in order to preserve the safety of citizens and protect worship places and touristic and commercial facilities, army command said on Sunday.
The army command urged citizens to refrain from celebratory gunfire over the New Year 's holiday, in order to maintain public safety and order in the country. Legal actions will be taken against violators, command warned.

Hussein talks expats' affairs with Lebanese Consul in Melbourne
Sun 30 Dec 2018/NNA - MP Mustafa Hussein, met Sunday with Lebanese Consul in Melbourne, Ziad Itani, with talks centering on the situation of the Lebanese Diaspora in Melbourne and most recent developments at the domestic scene.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on December 30-31/18
Three Jordanians, two Egyptians, Emirati went missing on fishing trip in UAE
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Sunday, 30 December 2018/Jordan’s Foreign and Expatriate Affairs Ministry said on Sunday, that it had been informed that a fishing boat with three Jordanians, two Egyptians and an Emirati national, went missing last Thursday in the United Arab Emirates’ coasts. A source in the Jordanian foreign ministry said that the fishing boat left the UAE territorial water after lossing contact with it, stressing that the UAE authorities immediately began a search operation and sent a letter to the Iranian authorities to inquire about the boat, but it has not received any response yet. The source added that according to information, the boat might have entered the Iranian territorial waters, which prompted the ministry to contact the Iranian embassy in Amman for any information regarding those who went missing. No further information have been released.

Israel protests image of Jordanian minister stepping on flag
Jerulasem, The Associated Press/ Sunday, 30 December 2018/Israel's Foreign Ministry says its embassy in Jordan has filed a strong condemnation with the kingdom over a picture of a Jordanian government minister stepping on an image of the Israeli flag. The ministry said Sunday it took the incident extremely seriously and had also summoned Jordan's acting ambassador to Israel to convey its objection. A photo published on the Jordanian website Jfranews showed Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications, government spokesperson Jumana Ghuneimat stepping on a large image of the Israeli flag. Footprints were also printed on the flag, which Israel said was displayed at a gathering of Jordan's engineering union. Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement in 1994, but relations have often been frosty amid differences over Israeli policies in Jerusalem.

Hamas denies Mubarak claim it sent militants to Egypt in 2011
AFP, Gaza City/ Sunday, 30 December 2018/Palestinian faction Hamas which rule Gaza strip, denied on Saturday an allegation by Egypt’s deposed president Hosni Mubarak that it infiltrated hundreds of men across the border during the 2011 uprising.
Mubarak took to the witness stand in a Cairo court Wednesday to testify about jailbreaks allegedly orchestrated by his successor Mohamed Morsi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The former president said he had received information at the time from his intelligence chief on infiltration by militants from the Gaza Strip to the country’s east during the uprising. “General Omar Suleiman informed me on January 29 (2011) that 800 armed militants infiltrated through the border,” he said, adding that militants from Hamas, assisted by North Sinai residents, used underground tunnels to cross. But Hamas said in a statement that it “strongly denies the claims made by Egypt’s ousted president Mohammed Hosni Mubarak during his testimony in court”. “Mubarak claimed that Hamas sent 800 members to Cairo in order to release Palestinian, Egyptian, and Arab prisoners from the Egyptian jails,” it said.
“While Hamas deplores some parties’ insistence to embroil the Palestinian movement into Egypt’s internal affairs, it reiterates its commitment to its policy of not intervening in the internal affairs of other countries.”Mubarak was ousted in 2011 after three decades at the helm.
In March 2017, he was acquitted of charges of killing protesters, but he remains under investigation for alleged corruption.

US army withdraws from military base in Syrian city of Hasakah
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Sunday, 30 December 2018/The US military withdrew from its base in the city of Hasakah in Syria, the first base to be evacuated by US forces since US President Donald Trump’s announcement of troops withdrawing from Syria, Turkish media reported. Two years after the deployment of nearly 2,200 US troops inside Syria, the withdrawal seems to have begun, Turkish media outlets reported. According to local residents, about 50 US soldiers have already left their positions in the town of Al-Malikiya in Hasakah and have turned their armored vehicles into Iraq.
Turkish sources say US troops are deployed in about 18 military bases, while US officials said the withdrawal would take between two months and three months. The withdrawal in northern Syria comes in an area that Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are racing control it, while Kurdish units seem closer to making a deal with Russia away from Turkish intervention. The United States still has about 2,000 troops in Syria, many of them special operations forces working closely with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. The partnership with the SDF over the past several years has led to the defeat of ISIS in Syria but outraged NATO ally Turkey, which views Kurdish YPG forces in the alliance as an extension of a militant group fighting inside Turkey.

Erdogan Picks Ex-Prime Minister to Run for Istanbul Mayor
Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 30 December, 2018/Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan nominated Saturday former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to run for mayor of Istanbul in 2019, reported The Associated Press. Yildirim currently is speaker of Turkey's parliament. He served as prime minister during 2016-2018 and before that as Erdogan's transport minister.Erdogan served as Istanbul's mayor for four years before founding his Justice and Development Party in 2001. Yildirim's main opponent in the March 31 mayoral election will be Ekrem Imamoglu from the secular Republican People's Party.

Morocco Arrests Swiss National in Connection With Killing 2 Tourists
Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 30 December, 2018/Morocco arrested a Swiss national on Saturday in connection with the killing of two Scandinavian women, the counter-terrorism agency said. Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway were found dead early on Dec. 17 near the village of Imlil in the Atlas Mountains, Reuters reported. The man arrested is also suspected of “involvement in recruiting Moroccan and sub-Saharan nationals to carry out terrorist plots in Morocco against foreign targets and security forces in order to take hold of their service weapons", the Central Bureau for Judicial Investigations (BCIJ) said. More than 18 other men have been arrested in connection with the case, with four of them being main suspects who had pledged allegiance to ISIS in a video created three days before the tourists' bodies were found. The last terror attack in Morocco took place in April 2011, where 17 people were killed due to the bombing of a restaurant in Marrakech. In 2017 and 2018, Morocco said it dismantled 20 militant cells planning attacks in the country.

Taliban Dismiss Afghanistan's Talks Offer, Agree to Meet US Officials in Saudi Arabia
Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 30 December, 2018/The Taliban have rejected Kabul's offer for talks in January, a Taliban leader said on Sunday. The militants are set to meet with US officials next month in Saudi Arabia to work on further peace efforts. Representatives from the Taliban, the United States and regional countries met this month in the United Arab Emirates for talks to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. But, the Taliban have refused to hold formal talks with the Western-backed Afghan government. "We will meet the US officials in Saudi Arabia in January next year and we will start our talks that remained incomplete in Abu Dhabi," a member of the Taliban’s decision-making Leadership Council told Reuters. "However, we have made it clear to all the stakeholders that we will not talk to the Afghan government." Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also said the leaders of the group would not talk to the Afghan government. The militants have insisted on first reaching an agreement with the United States, which the group sees as the main force in Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have intensified after Taliban representatives started meeting US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad this year. Officials from the warring sides have met at least three times to discuss the withdrawal of international forces and a ceasefire in 2019. But the United States has insisted that any final settlement must be led by the Afghans. According to data from the NATO-led Resolute Support mission published in November, the government of President Ashraf Ghani has control or influence over 65 percent of the population but only 55.5 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, less than at any time since 2001. The Taliban say they control 70 percent of the country. A close aide to Ghani said the government would keep trying to establish a direct line of diplomatic communication with the Taliban. "Talks should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned," the aide said on condition of anonymity. "It is important that the Taliban acknowledge this fact." US President Donald Trump has announced a pullout of American troops from Syria, a decision that prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, and there have been reports that he is considering a partial pullout from Afghanistan.

Washington Stops Israel-Croatia Jet Deal
Tel Aviv - Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 29 December, 2018/Outgoing US Secretary of Defense James Mattis reportedly thwarted a USD500 million arms deal between Israel and Croatia involving 12 F-16 fighter jets. According to an Israeli official, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Mattis about two weeks ago, before the US official announced his resignation. “For reasons we don’t fully understand, the Americans hardened their conditions and, apparently, we misread their position on the deal. Practically, the F-16 deal with Croatia is dead,” said the official. He added that following the rejection from Mattis, Israel now has “to apologize to Croatia for the deal falling apart, and move on.”Netanyahu contemplated contacting Lockheed Martin, which produces the F-16s, according to the official, but has likely ended up not doing that. Israel has reportedly angered the Trump administration by adding advanced Israeli-made electronic systems to the F-16s as part of efforts to convince Croatia to buy the planes.

Khomeini grandson warns: No guarantees Iranian regime will survive
Massoud al-Zahid, Al Arabiya English/Sunday, 30 December 2018/Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Iranian regime, stressed that the satisfaction of the people is the foundation of any society, warning Iranian officials to observe the principles of human behavior, and stressing that otherwise "there’s no guarantees for them (Iranian officials) to stay in power."Hassan added that in the absence of adherence to the rules, the Iranian regime will lose the support of the people. According to the semi-official ISNA news agency, Hassan Khomeini said in a speech on Saturday in the Iranian capital Tehran: “The foundations of human behavior and reasons for survival and fall must be understood in order to take them into account. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that we will stay, and others will leave, if you do not observe the rules, they will take the arena from you.”“If you only see the formalities of society rather than the foundations of social relations and the core problems, be aware that these will bring unpleasant consequences for governments,” said Hassan. He stressed the need to win the support of the people, noting that “communities are built on the basis of consensus. Dividing society constantly and spreading hatred and hypocrisy constantly, forces individuals into dual personality, pushing them away from honesty, all these indicate that unpleasant consequences await governments.”Emphasizing the need to appease the public, he pointed out that lack of interest or development of talents is another reason for the collapse of governments. He ended his speech by warning those in power, saying: “We have to fear the day that positions are collapse and roles change,” referring to the risk of a regime fall.

Offices of Khamenei, Rouhani Issue Inconsistent Reports on Protests’ Anniversary
London - Adil Al-Salmi/Asharq Al Awsat/Sunday, 30 December, 2018/Less than three days after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani emphasized a role of popular protests across Iran in the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei responded through its weekly newsletter on the occasion of the protests’ first anniversary. The two sides agreed that the popular protests - in which demonstrators chanted slogans condemning the Iranian regime and burned Khomeini’s and Khamenei’s posters - led US President Donald Trump to meet his pledge of withdrawing from the nuclear agreement and take unprecedented measures against the Iranian regime. The US measures strengthened the conviction of various Iranian parties that Washington was intending to overthrow the Iranian political system. But the differences between the two leaders was on the timing of the protests. Rouhani said on Monday that the US withdrawal was the most important economic "problem" facing his government, and again blamed the popular protests that spread in more than 80 Iranian cities. Less than three days later, the weekly “Khat Hezbollah” newsletter, which appears on Khamenei’s official website, published a front-page photograph of a burning bus near protesters, with a title in bold stressing that the 2009 uprising was behind the US withdrawal. Rouhani has since last year been facing harsh criticism over the failure of his economic promises and the collapse of the value of the Iranian currency against the dollar. The riyal crisis grew months after rising inflation, which led to popular protests at the end of December. This is the second time in six months that Rouhani links the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal to the protests that took place in more than 80 Iranian cities, resulting in 21 deaths, according to the authorities. Uncertainty lurks over the real number of those killed and detained during the massive demonstrations. For three weeks, protesters burnt 65 offices belonging to Khamenei’s representatives in Iranian cities, as well as dozens of government buildings and courts. The demonstrators chanted slogans, criticizing top officials for their foreign policy and regional interventions and calling for the overthrowing of the regime. Senior Iranian officials, including Rouhani, sounded the alarm over the collapse of the public’s confidence in the regime.

Khomeini’s Grandson: No Guarantee for Regime Survival

London – Adil Al-Salmi/Asharq Al Awsat/Sunday, 30 December, 2018/Khomeini’s grandson, Hassan, said Saturday that there’s no guarantees for Iranian officials to stay in power, indicating fears of decline in public satisfaction with the survival of the current regime. But far from commenting on the internal situation, Hassan Khomeini's comments implicitly implied a recent speech by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in which he warned that countries that have been criticizing his regional policies will "collapse."He clearly pointed to the growing public discontent with the deterioration of the living situation, reported the Jamaran website. He stressed the need to win the support of the people, noting that “communities are built on the basis of consensus. Dividing society constantly and spreading hatred and hypocrisy constantly, forces individuals into dual personality, pushing them away from honesty. “All these factors indicate that unpleasant consequences await governments.”Hassan Khomeini also sent a message to senior Iranian officials, saying that the foundations of human behavior and reasons for survival and fall must be understood in order to take them into account. “Otherwise, there is no guarantee that we will stay and others will leave. If you don’t observe the rules, you will lose the public,” he said. His comments were made three days after Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, warned in an interview that the regime her late father helped establish some 40 years ago is weakened and could someday collapse. She said that "intimidation" and "fear" were the main things propping up the regime. She also talked about a breakdown of principles, explaining that there has not been a physical collapse, but she sees that as very likely. “In every segment of society groups of activists are in jail, from workers to teachers, truck drivers, women's rights activists, environmentalists, students..., [those involved in economic activities] and citizens who are either in jail or have been sentenced to jail," she stressed. This was not the first time she speaks about the possibility of the regime’s collapse as she said in June that international pressures faced by the regime are not related to the nuclear deal. Instead, Faezeh Hashemi said it is the result of its foreign policy, including in Syria and Yemen and the nature of its relations with regional countries and the United States. She accused Iran's top officials of "misleading" the people instead of addressing the root of the issue, citing Iran's international standing as a result of huge spending on regional policies.

Sisi Calls for Decisive Action to End Violations on State Property
Cairo - Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 30 December, 2018/Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi called on the government Saturday to take “decisive” action to protect state property from violations. In a meeting held with a number of ministers, head of the Egyptian intelligence service and Central Bank governor, Sisi ordered the concerned bodies to "confront all kinds of violations, safeguard the state’s rights and deal with this issue according to the law." During the inauguration of a number of housing projects in Alexandria on Wednesday, Sisi had slammed provincial and military officials, as well as ministers, for the state’s failure to reap what it is owed. He criticized the violation of some individuals of state land and the reluctance of others to pay dues for leasing property in government-owned areas. He also ordered the interior minister, Alexandria’s governor and the military commander of the northern region to devise a strategy to deal with illegal housing across the area, describing it as an issue of national security. In addition, the participants at Saturday’s meeting discussed efforts to improve the highway routes in Egypt, said presidential spokesperson Bassam Radi. Sisi ordered the development of the transport system in the country by expanding the application of smart transport systems, he explained. The meeting also reviewed the implementation of the major national projects in various development sectors, including infrastructure and new urban communities. “The president stressed the need to continue working according to the timetables set for completion of these projects and in line with the highest international standards,” the spokesperson said. The meeting also reviewed efforts to develop Egypt's petroleum, natural gas and mineral resources to increase domestic production and reduce imports.

Egypt Minister: Preemptive Strikes Will Continue to Combat Terrorism

Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 30 December, 2018/Egyptian Interior Minister Mahmoud Tawfik vowed on Sunday that security agencies will continue their preemptive strikes against terrorist groups and members. “The security forces will not waver in taking measures to protect Egypt’s security and stability,” he declared during a meeting at his ministry in Cairo. “Terrorist attempts will not weaken Egypt’s determination,” he continued, while underlining the security measures that have been taken during the holiday season. The security agencies will not be lenient in dealing with any violators of the order or law, Tawfik said.

Efforts Underway to Unite Libyan Security Agencies in Tripoli, Benghazi
Cairo – Khaled MahmoudAsharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 30 December, 2018/An initiative to unite Libya’s security agencies was revealed on Saturday, making it the first such overture between the rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk. Media official in the temporary capital in eastern Libya, Tareq al-Kharaz said that a meeting was held in Benghazi between head of the security agency in Tripoli, Salem Qarimida and his counterpart in Benghazi Adel al-Arfi to discuss what he described as “current and accumulating challenges”. In addition, Kharaz said that Interior Minister of the eastern government, Ibrahim Boushnaf, and his counterpart from the Tripoli Government of National Accord, Fathi Bashaagha, presented a proposal to unite security efforts in order to restore calm throughout Libya. A committee headed by Qarimida was formed to that end, he added. Kharaz said that the deteriorating security in Libya prompted the initiative and that necessity demanded uniting both interior ministries away from political bickering. The security crisis in Libya is the most important issue in the country. Several politicians are ignoring this file and they only see the political division and disputes, he continued. An agreement was reached on linking the forensics agencies between Tripoli and Benghazi, he went on to say. Officials will also review the police law and activate a communication network that will cover the entire country.

Iraqi Sunni authority slams Grand Mufti’s Christmas fatwa as ‘reckless’
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Sunday, 30 December 2018/The head of Iraq’s Sunni Endowment authority on Saturday condemned recent remarks from the country's mufti, who said it was impermissible for Muslims to join Christmas or New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Dr. Abdul latif al-Heymem labeled the statements as “offensive, irrational and unacceptable.”“These statements do not represent the Iraqi Sunni Endowment authority, which works towards establishing national unity,” he said, noting the deep historical roots Christians have in Iraq “through their Chaldean-Assyrian ancestors.”Sheikh Abdul-Mahdi al-Sumaidaie, a prominent Sunni religious figure and the mufti of Iraq, said on Friday that it is haram (forbidden) for Muslims to participate in New Year celebrations. “Do not join Christians in Christmas celebrations, because this means that you believe in their doctrine,” Sumaidaie said in his Friday sermon at a Baghdad mosque. Al-Heymem said “such reckless and irrational statements take us back to the hatred, incitement, sedition and rejection of other religions. It does not represent the joint the co-existence among Iraqis of all doctrines, nationalities and sects - whether Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. “Christians don’t prevent us from celebrating the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, so why should Christmas celebrations be forbidden?” he added.

Days after her appointment, Iraqi education minister quits over links with ISIS
Hassan al-Saeedy, Al, 30 December 2018/A scandal and slew of accusations directed at Iraq’s Minister of Education Shaima al-Hayali caused her to quit her post, after the head of the committee defending victims of terrorism, Nafie al-Imara, said she was a supporter of ISIS during their siege of Mosul, and that her nephew blew himself up near security forces. Emara said that the documented information is public, adding that Hayali is the sister of an ISIS leader named Laith al-Hayali. Hayali had been nominated by the al-Banaa Coalition, which includes the Fatah Alliance led by Hadi al-Ameri and the State of Law Coalition led by former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Hayali released a statement declaring her resignation, which is now with Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. She admitted to the accusations against her, stating that her brother’s association with ISIS was forced. “I am an Iraqi woman, first and foremost, and independent. I never worked with any party or political bloc,” she said in her statement, adding that her appointment to the ministry of education was because she was an academic from the University of Mosul, which is known for its high cadres. Hayali added that ISIS forced them to work within the scope of civil jobs, as was the case with many in the Nineveh province, pointing out that her brother's continued work with the organization was because he was under threat. She added that the threats continued even after Mosul was liberated. Hayali also said that her brother “never carried arms nor kill or help kill any Iraqi”, adding that the videos circulating of her brother are “cheap methods to incite against her.” She said there is no concrete evidence proving that he belonged to the organization on a military level. She concluded by saying that her resignation is “now in the hands of Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi to make his decision once he is sure of any relation linking me with the terrorist organization.” The Iraqi parliament had appointed the minister of education, as well as minister of culture and minister of planning last Saturday to complete the cabinet of Abdul Mahdi, whereas the posts for minister of interior, defense and justice remained vacant. According to security sources, Hayali also has two cousins who belong to ISIS. The video which circulated online showed that her brother, along with one of his sons, had fled from Iraq to Turkey using false passports, after he lost two of his sons during the suicide bombing operations against the Iraqi army.

Ahead of Coptic Christmas, Egypt creates body to fight ‘sectarian incidents’

AFP, Cairo/Sunday, 30 December 2018/Egypt’s president has ordered the creation of a committee to tackle “sectarian incidents”, the official gazette said Sunday. The decision by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi follows a string of extremist attacks targeting the country’s Coptic Christian minority. The body is to be headed by Sisi’s security and counterterrorism advisor, the gazette said. That position is currently held by Egypt’s ex-Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar. The new committee, tasked with “developing a general strategy to prevent and confront sectarian incidents”, will include representatives from security and intelligence agencies as well as the country’s top anti-corruption body.Sisi’s decision takes effect Monday, ahead of Egypt’s Coptic Christmas celebrations on January 7. Egypt’s Christians make up roughly 10 percent of the country’s mostly Muslim population. They have long complained of discrimination, and sectarian violence intermittently erupts, especially in rural areas in the country’s south. The embattled Christian minority has been targeted by a series of deadly attacks over the past two years, most claimed by ISIS extremist group. Earlier in December, two Coptic Christians were shot dead by a Muslim church security guard following a verbal dispute in the governorate of Minya.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 30-31/18
Syria: Assad has decisively won his brutal battle
حسن حسن: في سوريا ربح الأسد معركته الوحشية بشكل حاسم

Hassan Hassan/The Guardian/December 30/18
Trump’s decision to pull US troops out leaves the opposition stranded
This year is ending on a note of triumph for the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Donald Trump has announced a rapid troop withdrawal from Syria, shocking everyone including his own generals and diplomats. Last week, the United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus, which it had closed as part of a campaign of multinational pressure against the regime in 2011. Bahrain followed suit and other countries, including Kuwait, are expected to re-establish ties in the coming year. The Arab League is reportedly poised to re-admit Syria, seven years after expelling it.
These developments come five months after the regime made arguably its most consequential gain against the opposition since Syria’s insurgency erupted, when it took control of Deraa in the south-west. Deraa, the cradle of the rebellion against Assad, had been the last stronghold of non-jihadist opposition; its surrender removed any viable threat against the regime, either politically or militarily, near the capital.
Taken together, the military and diplomatic developments over the past six months leave no room for doubt: Assad has decisively won the conflict. The rebels’ former backers have not only given up on challenging his regime, they now actively want to embrace it – whether in public or in private. Internally, the regime has crushed any potent or legitimate opposition. Jihadists operating in north-western pockets of land under Turkish influence will be unlikely to find a foreign backer. Unlike the geopolitical winds that buffeted Saddam Hussein in the 1990s after the first Gulf war, everything is blowing strongly in Assad’s favour.
Trump’s decision to pull out is a game-changer. After the rebel surrender in the south, two regions had remained outside the regime’s control and both were under the protection of foreign powers, namely Turkey in the north and the US in the east. The two Nato countries had arrangements with Russia about operating in those zones to avoid confrontation, which meant that any further military advances had to be approved by Moscow, not by Assad.
For example, Russia and Turkey, whose foreign and defence ministers met on Saturday in Moscow to discuss Syria, negotiated a deal to avoid a regime assault on Idlib in September, and then maintained the agreement despite Ankara’s failure to meet its commitment of driving extremists out of the only provincial capital under rebel control.
Since September, the US has also redoubled its efforts to prevent the regime from expanding into eastern Syria. Damascus and its backers in Iran saw these areas as sanctuaries for hostile forces that could become entrenched, and whose mandate could change to fighting the regime or Iranian-backed groups. But given the existing arrangements between Russia, the US and Turkey, Damascus and Tehran had little choice but to follow Moscow’s lead.
Trump’s sudden decision has ended that problem: Assad and Iran no longer face the threat of an indefinite American presence in eastern Syria. What happens next in the areas the US has left behind will depend largely on negotiations between Russia and forces that perceive Moscow as a potential ally, not an adversary – namely Turkey and the Kurdish YPG militia.
Turkey is concerned about continued YPG dominance near its borders, while the YPG is worried about a repeat of the Russian-approved Turkish occupation of the Kurdish region of Afrin in March. Last week, Kurdish fighters appealed to the Assad regime for help against the threat of attack by Turkey in the face of the US withdrawal, and by Friday Syria’s military had arrived at the frontline in Manbij, a predominantly Arab town west of the Euphrates river.
Russia’s arrangements with Turkey and the US were part of Moscow’s long game, which is different from that of Assad’s other main ally, Iran.
The Russian policy was predicated on securing diplomatic recognition for the Assad regime as the war abated. In this, Moscow has succeeded to a large degree with Turkey since the summer of 2016, as Ankara has focused its energies on preventing the YPG from building a statelet inside Syria. The two countries worked closely through the so-called Astana process in Kazakhstan to de-escalate the conflict and address Turkey’s concerns. Russia has also sought to convince Washington of the merits of a diluted political process mostly centred on forming a committee to change Syria’s constitution and hold elections.
Russia has long presented itself as a counterweight to Iran in Syria as a way to appeal to the US, Israel and Arab regimes. The idea often circulated in western and Arab capitals is that Russia and Iran may be strong allies, but their approach to the conflict is different. While Russia wants to strengthen the Assad regime’s bureaucratic, military and security institutions, Iran seeks to build loyalist militias, as it did in Iraq.
In recent weeks, the Russian, Iranian and Syrian stars have aligned on the diplomatic and military fronts. With Trump essentially handing Syria over to Russia, the diluted United Nations-sponsored peace process in Geneva has become even less meaningful, shorn of western leverage. What once looked like an American buildup to roll back Iranian influence in Syria and beyond has collapsed overnight. More and more countries now see Assad as a potential bulwark against increased Iranian hegemony in the region.
Moscow has succeeded in persuading countries such as the UAE of the logic that a strong regime in Damascus will become less reliant on Iran and thus less beholden to it. The regime will naturally choose to restore its pre-2011 autonomy if empowered, the thinking goes.
In 2016, the UAE proposed normalising ties with Damascus as part of a plan to peel Assad away from Iran. That plan was snubbed by the Trump administration. But earlier this year, senior Emirati officials began to refloat the idea of restoring ties with Assad, encouraging its Saudi and Bahraini allies to do the same. The nature of this conflict, then, has changed drastically, with influential Arab countries now using their diplomatic capital to enable the regime to restore control over Syria. Countries that once funded the opposition fighting against Assad are working hard to strengthen him in the hope that he becomes less reliant on their rivals.
Turkish officials have also frequently stated that they would welcome a regime takeover of YPG-controlled areas if that involved removing the militia from those areas. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said on Friday that Turkey would have “no business in Manbij if the YPG terrorists leave”.
Aside from fears related to Iran and Turkey, the recent tumultuous geopolitical changes in the region also favour a lasting consolidation for Assad. A counter-revolutionary axis, led by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, sees his victory as part of their effort to reverse the legacy of the popular uprisings of 2011 and restore autocratic rule throughout the greater Middle East. Even though the UAE frames its diplomatic move as a way to counter Iran, the real driver in Syria – as it was in Egypt and Libya– is about restoring the status quo ante.
This suggests that Assad is unlikely to face the isolation that Saddam faced in the 1990s. Jordan has already reopened its borders with Syria, meaning that Damascus now has trade ties with all its neighbours except Turkey.
Assad and his backers have one major immediate challenge: how to manage the relationship with Turkey. Ankara wants to see an end to the YPG holding territory near its borders. But supporting Turkey against the YPG – a powerful force with influence throughout northern Syria – could also lead to renewed fighting between the YPG and the regime.
Russia’s failure to manage the relationship with Turkey could destroy its understanding with Ankara over Syria and lead to resumed violence, especially since the Turks have strong influence over a consortium of local and jihadist militias in northern Syria. The Russian-Turkish relationship was initially developed in opposition to the US policy in Syria. As that policy crumbles, Russia and Turkey could find themselves at loggerheads as Moscow and Damascus seek to expand influence in areas previously protected by Washington.
Regardless of what happens next, recent developments tick several key boxes for Assad and the security of his regime. Trump’s withdrawal has ended any potential threat originating from an indefinite American presence inside Syria’s borders. It has also effectively killed off any political challenge to Assad through the political process in Geneva – once an objective of the US presence in the country. Restoration of ties with Arab neighbours will consolidate the military gains made over the past six months.
Since the regime took over Aleppo in late 2016, few have questioned Assad’s recovery, but until recently many still doubted his ability to re-emerge as a regional player with normalised relations with other countries. The past year now suggests that he has a real chance of doing just that. There will be many people in the region – and beyond – willing to help.
*Hassan Hassan is the co-author of Isis: Inside the Army of Terror, and is a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington DC.

The Growing Poverty of Political Debate
Amir Taheri/Gatestone Institute/December 30/18
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.
Another significant trend concerns the virtual collapse of almost all political parties across the globe. 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 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.
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. 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.
The weakening of political parties, trade unions, international organs, and institutions like parliaments that provided platforms for debate and decision-making, has deprived many societies of both a space and a mechanism for the battle of ideas and the competition among different policy options. (Image source: iStock)
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 ones. In France, the Gaullist and Socialist parties that governed the country for seven decades have been pushed to the sidelines by the République En Marche movement of Emmanuel Macron which, in turn, is now shaken by the "Yellow Vests" 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 für 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 Social 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 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 secession 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 financial 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 many 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.
*Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.
© 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.

Turkey's War on Christian Missionaries
عزاي بولوت: حرب تركيا على المبشرين المسيحيين

Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/December 30/18
American Pastor Andrew Brunson and American-Canadian evangelist David Byle are among many Christian clerics who have fallen victim to Turkey's aversion to Christianity. According to Claire Evans, regional manager of the organization International Christian Concern, "Turkey is making it increasingly clear that there is no room for Christianity, even though the constitution states otherwise."
Today, only around 0.2% of Turkey's population of nearly 80 million is Christian. The 1913-1923 Christian genocide across Ottoman Turkey and the 1955 anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul are some of the most important events that largely led to the destruction of the country's ancient Christian community. Yet, still today in Turkey, Christian missionaries and citizens continue to be oppressed.
"One issue that differentiates Turkey from the rest of the world is that our national identity is primarily shaped by religious identity. What makes a Turk a Turk is not so much due to ethnicity, or the language people speak, but is primarily about being Muslim... A large majority of Turkish people think there is nothing in ‎their history that they should be ashamed of. [They] don't feel close to Europe or to the Middle East; they basically feel close to only themselves... one striking fact is that we [asked] if everybody would be a Turk, would the world be a better place, and Turks gave a very high rating. No self-criticism whatsoever." — Professor Ali Çarkoğlu of Koç University, who conducted a survey on nationalism with Professor Ersin Kalaycıoğlu of Sabancı University.
Bishop Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, Turkey, was murdered in 2010 by his driver, who shouted, "Allahu Akbar" as he slit the priest's throat. (Image source: Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
The day after American pastor Andrew Brunson was released from Turkish prison, another Christian who had been living for nearly two decades in the country was detained by Turkish authorities, and told that he had two weeks to leave the country -- without his wife and three children. The American-Canadian evangelist, David Byle, not only suffered several detentions and interrogations over the years, but he had been targeted for deportation on three occasions. Each time, he was saved by court rulings. This time, however, he was unable to prevent banishment, and left the country after two days in a detention center.
When he tried to return to his family in Turkey on November 20, he was denied re-entry. According to Claire Evans, regional manager of the organization International Christian Concern:
"Turkey is making it increasingly clear that there is no room for Christianity, even though the constitution states otherwise. It is no coincidence that Turkey decided to initiate this process the day after Brunson's release from prison and that, in doing so, the authorities ignored a court order. We must keep the Byle family in our prayers during this period of difficult separation."
Brunson and Byle are among many Christian clerics who have fallen victim to Turkey's aversion to Christianity. In its annual Human Rights Violations Reports, published since 2009, Turkey's Association of Protestant Churches details Turkey's systematic discrimination against Protestants, including verbal and physical attacks; nor does the Turkish government recognize the Protestant community as a "legal entity," denying it the right to freely establish and maintain places of worship.
Turkey's Protestants cannot open their own schools or train their own clerics, forcing them to rely on support of foreign church leaders. Still, several foreign religious workers and church members have been denied entry into Turkey, refused residence permits or deported.
Although missionary activities are not illegal according to the Turkish criminal code, both foreign pastors and Turkish citizens who convert to Christianity nevertheless are treated as pariahs by authorities and much of the public. It is no wonder that this is the case, given the years of anti-Christian "reports" by state institutions that shape government policy.
For example:
In 2001, after receiving a report from Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT), the National Security Council (MGK) declared Christian missionary activities a "security threat" and stated that "required precautions should be taken against [their] divisive and destructive activities."
In 2004, the Ankara Chamber of Commerce (ATO) issued a report claiming that "missionary activities provoke ethnic and religious separationist aspirations and target the unitary structure of the state."
In 2005, State Minister Mehmet Aydın said: "We think that [Christian] missionary activities aim to destroy the historical, religious, national and cultural unity... it is seen as an extremely planned movement with political goals."
In 2006, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) prepared a report referring to Christian missionaries as a "threat" and emphasized that legal regulations needed to be made to prevent their activities. That same year, Ali Bardakoğlu, then-head of Diyanet (the government-funded Directorate of Religious Affairs), said in televised comments that it is "Diyanet's duty to warn the people about missionaries and other movements that threaten society."
In 2007, Niyazi Güney, a Justice Ministry official, said that "missionaries are even more dangerous than terrorist organizations."
Such public denunciations of Christian missionaries have had concrete and devastating consequences.
In 2006, for instance, a Protestant church leader named Kamil Kıroğlu, a Muslim convert to Christianity, was beaten unconscious by five men, one of whom shouted, "Deny Jesus or I will kill you now," and another yelled, "We don't want Christians in this country!"
Also in 2006, Father Andrea Santoro, a 61-year-old Roman Catholic priest, was murdered while praying in the Santa Maria Church in Trabzon. Five months later, a 74-year-old priest, Father Pierre François René Brunissen, was stabbed and wounded in Samsun. The perpetrator said that he had committed the act against the priest to protest "his missionary activities."
In April 2007, three Christians were tortured to death in the Zirve Bible Publishing House massacre. In November of the same year, an Assyrian priest, Edip Daniel Savcı, was kidnapped. One month later, a Catholic priest, Adriano Franchini, was stabbed and wounded during a Sunday church service. The priest reportedly had been "accused of missionary activities" by some websites.
In June 2010, Bishop Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, was murdered by his driver, who shouted, "Allahu Akbar" ("Allah is the greatest") as he slit the priest's throat. At his trial, the murderer said that the bishop was a "false messiah," then twice in the courtroom he loudly recited the adhan (Islamic call to prayer).
Despite its current tiny and disintegrating presence in Turkey, Christianity has a long history in Asia Minor (part of contemporary Turkey), the birthplace of numerous apostles and saints, among them Paul, Luke, Ephrem, Polycarp, Timothy, Nicholas and Ignatius. Many events recorded in the Bible took place in that area. The indigenous peoples of the land -- Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks -- are among the first nations to embrace the Christian faith.
The first seven Ecumenical Councils were also held in the area that today is Turkey. It was in Antioch (Antakya) where the followers of Jesus were called "Christians" for the first time in history and where St. Peter established one of the earliest churches. Edessa (Urfa in southeast Turkey) was an early center of the Assyrian (Syriac) Orthodox Church. The ancient Greek city of Byzantium (a.k.a. Constantinople -- the current Istanbul) was a hub of Christianity and the Hagia Sophia, built there in the 6th century, was the largest church in the world -- until Ottoman Turks invaded the city in 1453 and converted the church into a mosque. Since then, Christians in the region have been under Muslim domination.
Today, only around 0.2% of Turkey's population of nearly 80 million is Christian. The 1913-1923 Christian genocide across Ottoman Turkey and the 1955 anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul are some of the most important events that largely led to the destruction of the country's ancient Christian community. Yet, still today -- even after Turkey joined the Council of Europe in 1949 and NATO in 1952 -- Christian missionaries and citizens continue to be oppressed in Turkey.
There seem to be two reasons for this. The first has to do with Islam's view of kafirs ("infidels"). As Dr. Bill Warner, director of the Center for the Study of Political Islam (CSPI), explains:
"The Koranic doctrine about kafirs says they are hated and are Satan's friends. Kafirs can be robbed, killed, tortured, raped, mocked, cursed, condemned and plotted against."
Warner also describes the destruction of Greek Christian civilization in Anatolia:
"[T]he process of annihilation took centuries. Some people think that when Islam invaded, the Kafirs had the choice of conversion or death. No, absolutely not. Sharia law was put into place and the Christian dhimmis continued to have their 'protected' status as People of the Book who lived under the Sharia law. The dhimmi paid heavy taxes, could not testify in court, hold a position of authority over Muslims and was humiliated by social rules. A dhimmi had to step aside for the Muslim, offer him his seat, could not carry a weapon and defer to a Muslim in every way. In all matters of society the dhimmi had to yield to the Muslim. Over the centuries, the degradation, lack of rights and the dhimmi tax caused the Christian to convert. It is the Sharia that destroys the dhimmis."
Centuries later -- in spite of the fact that the Turkish constitution is not based on Sharia law -- the thinking and behavior of most Turks are still largely Islamic. According to Professor Ali Çarkoğlu of Koç University, who conducted a survey on nationalism with Professor Ersin Kalaycıoğlu of Sabancı University:
"One issue that differentiates Turkey from the rest of the world is that our national identity is primarily shaped by religious identity. What makes a Turk a Turk is not so much due to ethnicity, or the language people speak, but is primarily about being Muslim... A large majority of Turkish people think there is nothing in ‎their history that they should be ashamed of. [They] don't feel close to Europe or to the Middle East; they basically feel close to only themselves. This global identity is something strange to Turkish mind. Turks are Turks and one striking fact is that we [asked] if everybody would be a Turk, would the world be a better place, and Turks gave a very high rating. No self-criticism whatsoever."
The other reason for Christian persecution in Turkey appears to be a widespread fear -- bordering on paranoia -- that Christians aim, through proselytizing, to take back the lands of Turkey that they used to possess before the Turkish conquest. A 2001 report by the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), for instance, claims that "missionaries refer to Pontos [an ancient Greek land] in the Black Sea area, Yazidism, the Chaldean [church] and Christian Kurds in southeast Turkey, Armenians in eastern Turkey and the ancient Christian lands in the Aegean region and in Istanbul to impress people and win them over."
In addition, the 2004 Turkish army report alleges that 10% of the entire population of Turkey will be Christian by the year 2020.
Ironically, before the 1913-1923 Christian genocide, the population of the territory that is now Turkey was about 14 million, approximately one third (4.5 million) of which was Christian. The genocide largely emptied the Ottoman Empire and current Turkey of its Christian population, creating an almost entirely Muslim country.
Despite this criminal history, many Turks still target Christians unapologetically. Many public figures -- including politicians, academics, police and labor unions -- demonize missionaries, accusing them of engaging in "separatist," "menacing," "aggressive," "destructive" and "terrorist" activities.
These people seem to be engaging in projection, as it is Islamic jihadists who have violently invaded and taken over foreign lands and turned non-Muslims into slaves or second-class subjects of their empire -- something that many Turks proudly endorse and glorify in their own history. The official website of the Turkish Armed Forces, for instance, proudly dates the establishment of the Turkish military to "209 BC, during the Great Hun Empire," whose rulers and soldiers, historian Joshua J. Mark writes, "brought death and devastation wherever they went," including Europe. The Turkish army, a member of NATO, also boasts about Turks having "subjugated and dominated numerous peoples, nations, and states over a wide-ranging geography extending from Asia to Europe, and Africa."
Put in this context, from Turkey's point of view, the persecution of pastors Brunson and Byle makes perfect sense.
*Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist born and raised a Muslim, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute and currently based in Washington D.C.
© 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.

The Rise and Fall of Carlos Ghosn
Amy Chozick and Motoko Rich/The New York Times/December 30/18
Mr. Ghosn, the ousted Nissan executive, wasn’t supposed to succeed in Japan, but he never expected to fail like this. He faces charges of financial wrongdoing at the company he helped save.
Carlos Ghosn was tired. At 64 years old, the chairman of an auto empire that spanned several continents and included Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi wasn’t bouncing back from jet lag the way he used to. Melatonin wasn’t working anymore, and he had bouts of insomnia, phoning his children in the middle of the night or going on long walks around his Tokyo or Paris neighborhood. He planned to retire soon, stepping back from spending his life on an airplane, albeit a luxurious one paid for by Nissan.
Last month, just before Thanksgiving weekend, Mr. Ghosn headed to Tokyo to meet his youngest daughter and her boyfriend and attend a board meeting. He was scheduled to land at Haneda Airport at 4 p.m.
The daughter, Maya Ghosn, 26, had spent most of her childhood in Japan and wanted to introduce her boyfriend, Patrick, to her favorite places. Bringing a boyfriend home is a common rite of passage, but a particularly intimidating prospect when growing up Ghosn — a child of one of the most romanticized and ruthless chief executives the global business community has ever seen.
Ms. Ghosn had made a 7:30 dinner reservation at Jiro, the Michelin-starred sushi counter hidden in a basement in the city’s Ginza district.
He never made it to dinner.
On Nov. 19, Japanese prosecutors surrounded Mr. Ghosn’s Gulfstream after its arrival and arrested him on allegations that for years he had withheld millions of dollars in income from Nissan’s financial filings.
Ms. Ghosn was staying at her father’s corporate apartment, and when he didn’t show up she checked with his longtime driver at Nissan, who assured her his flight had probably been delayed. She texted: “Hey, just heard your flight got delayed. Please let me know when you land, worried about you.”
[Breaking a silence, Mr. Ghosn’s daughters said they suspected that the charges against him were part of a revolt within Nissan.]
Exhausted from jet lag, she took a nap. Patrick woke her when he saw a tweet about Mr. Ghosn’s arrest. “I was in shock,” she said in an interview.
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Minutes later, the doorbell rang. Two Japanese men in black suits slipped off their shoes to enter the two-bedroom apartment and showed Ms. Ghosn a brief note in English.
“There is a case against your father,” it read, according to Ms. Ghosn’s account. “The Tokyo judge has warranted us access to search the house. We need a witness. Thank you for cooperating.”
Fifteen men, also in suits, followed. They locked the front door, told Ms. Ghosn that they were prosecutors, warned the couple not to use their phones and suggested that they might tap the apartment. They rummaged through Mr. Ghosn’s drawers, studying family photos, Maya’s 10th-grade report card, personal letters, her parents’ divorce papers.
“I wanted my dad to know that in this situation I was polite and handled it maturely, and I didn’t want to give them any reason to feel satisfied by an ounce of despair in my eyes,” Ms. Ghosn said. “But inside, I was shaking. I couldn’t stand up. I had to hold the wall.”
Six and a half hours later, at 11:30 p.m., the men left.
Worried that anything they said was being recorded, Ms. Ghosn and her boyfriend went into the bathroom, climbed into the shower fully clothed, turned on the water and whispered about what to do next. She called her siblings to figure out how to tackle Japan’s labyrinthine legal system.
Told by the authorities that she was forbidden to contact her father, Ms. Ghosn waited at the apartment for nearly two days until an American lawyer working for her family called.
“We got very clear instructions to leave as soon as possible for fear of being detained or interrogated to extort my dad,” she said. “So we got on the first flight out.”
Carlos Ghosn wasn’t supposed to succeed in Japan, but he wasn’t supposed to fail like this. He first made headlines in 1999 when, in a nation known for its distrust of outsiders, Mr. Ghosn, a brash Brazilian-born and Lebanese- and French-educated engineer, showed up in sunglasses and a pinstripe suit with plans to carry out an American-style restructuring of a failing Nissan. The Japanese carmaker had $35 billion in debt, provided lifetime employment to a bloated work force and produced a fleet of the kind of cars you’d dread getting at the rental counter.
Mr. Ghosn, then 45 and a vice president at Renault, had helped oversee a turnaround at the middling French automaker, which had agreed to spend $5.4 billion to buy a 36.8 percent stake in Nissan Motors.
John Casesa, then a top auto analyst at Merrill Lynch, advised Mr. Ghosn to rent a house in Tokyo rather than buy one.
“The widely held consensus was that he would fail, that Nissan wasn’t worth saving and it couldn’t be done,” Mr. Casesa said.
At the time, Bob Lutz, the loquacious vice chairman of General Motors, assessed the deal this way: Renault would be better off “taking $5 billion, putting it on a barge and sinking it in the middle of the ocean.”
But Mr. Ghosn, with his severe black eyebrows and puffed chest, was undeterred. He closed factories, slashed suppliers, laid off 14 percent of the work force and invested in design. Six years later, Nissan had surpassed Honda to become Japan’s No. 2 automaker, its market capitalization had quintupled and its operating margin had risen tenfold. Altima sedans, Titan pickup trucks and Murano S.U.V.s made Nissan a major player in the United States market — an achievement that Wall Street once deemed impossible.
By the early 2000s, Mr. Ghosn was head of the Renault-Nissan alliance and the first person to simultaneously serve as chief executive of two Fortune Global 500 companies, the type of chief executive who even if you didn’t know how to pronounce his name (rhymes with phone), you’d know his products.
The enigmatic “gaijin” (as foreigners are called in Japan) had achieved a status bestowed on only a handful of chief executives, akin, at least in Japan, to Steve Jobs, Warren E. Buffett or Elon Musk. Paparazzi swarmed. Fans asked for autographs. Japanese businessmen, eager to emulate the Nissan chief, inquired where Mr. Ghosn had bought his rectangular sunglasses and custom suits.
In 2004, Emperor Akihito awarded Mr. Ghosn a Blue Ribbon Medal for his extraordinary contributions, making him the first foreign business leader to receive the honor. A manga comic book, “The True Story of Carlos Ghosn,” heralded a shadowy hero from a faraway land. Lebanon put Mr. Ghosn’s face on a postage stamp.
But even as many in Nissan celebrated the comeback, others scoffed at Mr. Ghosn’s celebrity.
From the start, he faced distrust from the Japanese policymaking and business establishment. The very idea of an outsider’s bringing free-market capitalism to Japan’s quasi-socialist corporate culture jabbed at historical wounds.
“When MacArthur came after World War II, the Japanese just surrendered to his leadership,” a retired Nissan executive told Newsweek.
Mr. Ghosn pulled on a white jumpsuit to tour factory floors, but beyond the photo ops, there were signs that his splashy — some would say autocratic — presence was out of sync with modest Japanese culture. In 2004, Mr. Ghosn grazed a motorbike while driving a Porsche in the Roppongi area of Tokyo, a haven for moneyed foreigners. (The couple on the bike had minor injuries.) The Japanese media groused that Mr. Ghosn wasn’t driving a Nissan.
Then the man whose militant approach to cutting jobs (21,000, if you’re counting) earned him the nickname “Le Cost Killer” spent more than $200 million for Nissan to be a sponsor of the Rio Olympics in 2016, casting himself in the Olympic torch relay. He hopped between homes paid for by Nissan. In 2017, he paid a Lebanese artist and friend $888,000 to create a statue, “Wheels of Innovation,” for the entrance of Nissan’s Yokohama headquarters. (Having a lavish second wedding reception in Versailles the same year, with Marie Antoinette-themed costumes and, yes, lots of cake, did not help.)
“He was a person who was above the clouds,” said Yuichi Ishino, who worked in Nissan’s finance department from 2002 to 2005. “No one dared to say anything that would confront his opinions.”
The stickiest issue was always Mr. Ghosn’s pay.
In Japan, salarymen slave away at the kaisha (or company) with a sense of communal pride almost as important as the salary. Last year, Mr. Ghosn made $16.9 million ($8.4 million from Renault, $6.5 million from Nissan and $2 million from Mitsubishi). That’s nearly 11 times what the chairman of Toyota, the world’s largest carmaker, earns but well below the $21.96 million paid to Mary Barra, the chief executive of General Motors.
In 2008, the same year that Japanese law began requiring companies to disclose directors’ pay in their annual reports, Nissan’s shareholders voted to set an annual cap of about $27 million on compensation for all board directors combined.
After that, Mr. Ghosn made the case to the public that he was underpaid — instructing Nissan to hand out background materials reminding investors and the news media that he made significantly less than his counterparts at other global automakers.
At the company’s most recent annual meeting, in June, Mr. Ghosn stressed to shareholders that the company’s compensation policy was “designed to reward performance and to attract, promote and retain the best management talent in the auto industry.” He added that while Nissan tried to reward senior management “competitively,” the company remained “financially very disciplined.”
Asked by the Financial Times that same month if he was overpaid, Mr. Ghosn laughed. “You won’t have any C.E.O. say, ‘I’m overly compensated,’” he said.
Such brazenness rankled employees and the public in Japan.
“Even when a company is a global multinational company, it’s still stamped by its country of origin and the place where it has its headquarters,” said Sanford M. Jacoby, a professor of management at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied Japanese corporate culture. The Japanese, he said, put more weight “on egalitarian policies of government and pay and other things.”
In France, where the government owns a 15 percent stake in Renault, shareholders have also taken issue with Mr. Ghosn’s pay. “We believe that anyone making 240 times more than the minimum pay of his employees is out of control,” said Pierre-Henri Leroy, the head of Proxinvest, a French shareholder advisory group.
In October, a whistle-blower inside Nissan said he had evidence that Mr. Ghosn had been instructing Greg Kelly, a top aide and a board member, and a small group of confidants at Nissan to effectively create two salary pots for Mr. Ghosn’s compensation.
Hiroto Saikawa, whom Mr. Ghosn mentored and chose to succeed him as Nissan’s chief executive, at a news conference after the arrest.CreditChristopher Jue/EPA, via Shutterstock
One pot would be paid in the current year and reported in the company’s annual report and securities filings. Another amount would be designated to be paid out after Mr. Ghosn left Nissan, according to a person familiar with Nissan’s internal investigation. The whistle-blower’s findings were sent to Hiroto Saikawa, the company’s chief executive, and an internal auditor.
Nissan went to prosecutors with allegations that Mr. Ghosn, working directly with Mr. Kelly, who was once the head of human resources at Nissan, had underreported his income from 2009 to 2017, according to a person with knowledge of the internal investigation. Nissan’s investigation found that the underreporting had occurred when some of the compensation, though committed, was deferred and not reported in securities filings.
Nissan also told prosecutors that it had evidence Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly developed plans to pay Mr. Ghosn a further $124 million in cash and other financial instruments, some as compensation for a future advisory position for Mr. Ghosn.
Hari Nada, a Nissan executive and confidant of Mr. Kelly’s, sent a private jet to fly him from Nashville to Tokyo for the same board meeting that Mr. Ghosn planned to attend. The two men were arrested hours apart. Mr. Kelly’s family said Mr. Nada had assured him that he would be back in Nashville by Thanksgiving, in time for scheduled neck surgery.
Nissan would not comment about the Kelly family’s statements about Mr. Nada. Mr. Nada did not answer phone calls seeking comment.
Mr. Kelly was released on Christmas after his family cited his ill health and posted bail of 70 million yen (about $640,000). His lawyer in Nashville, Aubrey Harwell Jr., said his client denied wrongdoing. Mr. Kelly and Mr. Ghosn “had conversations regarding legal ways they could defer compensation,” Mr. Harwell said.
Mr. Ghosn, Mr. Kelly and Nissan itself all face charges they violated financial reporting laws. The company’s board removed Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly as representative directors, positions with power to sign company documents.
Greg Kelly, a top Nissan aide who was also charged in the investigation, was released on bail last week because of ill health.CreditKim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
Thirty-two days after Mr. Ghosn’s initial arrest, when his release on bail appeared likely, the Japanese authorities rearrested him on new charges that he shifted personal losses during the 2008 financial crisis temporarily onto Nissan’s books.
That Mr. Ghosn may have deceived regulators while enriching himself runs afoul of cultural norms in Japan, where the public is more likely to forgive corporate cover-ups when executives appear to be protecting the company.
“Although you don’t see it written down, there is almost a social consensus that ‘OK, you did your crime, but you did it for the company,’” said Seijiro Takeshita, dean and professor at the School of Management and Information at the University of Shizuoka.
Or as Jesper Koll, who has worked in Japan for decades as an economist and is head of Japan for WisdomTree investments in Tokyo, said: “The one thing that Japan does not want and would never tolerate is personal greed.”
‘As the World Ghosns’
Mr. Ghosn’s longtime driver has been out of touch since shortly after the arrest. The driver told the Ghosn children the day after their father was detained that the Japanese authorities had found his car in Tokyo. They tore up the leather seats and found only cat food.
Mr. Ghosn’s chief of staff, Frédérique Le Greves, who arrived in Tokyo the same day as Mr. Ghosn, has not made any statement and returned to France after she learned of the arrest, a person close to the Ghosn family said.
Their silence is one of many plot twists in the corporate saga. A person close to the family has started to call it “As the World Ghosns.”
Under Japanese law, only Mr. Ghosn’s Japanese lawyer and representatives from the French, Brazilian and Lebanese Embassies have been allowed to visit or talk to him.
Mr. Ghosn’s allies view his incarceration, with no foreseeable chance for bail, as revenge by Nissan (and, by extension, Japan) on a foreign adversary. He lives in a 16-by-10-foot cell with a tatami mat, a toilet in a corner and the lights always on, in the same facility that once housed the death-row inmates who committed a deadly sarin attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.
The frustration has led a few of Mr. Ghosn’s longtime friends in France to some extreme and possibly culturally insensitive metaphors. Two of them compared the meticulously planned surprise arrest to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, which killed 2,400 Americans.
Mr. Ghosn’s children have learned from his visitors that he has lost weight, at least 20 pounds. Prosecutors question him daily. Several requests to the jail authorities for a mattress were denied, but a Lebanese diplomat succeeded in getting him a thin cot and vitamin C pills.
The books that Mr. Ghosn is reading in jail — including “When Things Fall Apart,” by Pema Chodron; “Teachings of the Buddha,” by Jack Kornfield; and “A Little Life,” a dark novel by Hanya Yanagihara — speak to his state of mind. He has been denied other items, including family photos, a pen and paper, dental floss (“He is a big flosser,” his daughter Maya said) and an iPod Nano loaded with music by his favorite, Phil Collins.
Mr. Ghosn’s defenders, largely in the business community, contend that he is being treated harshly because he is a foreigner. They claim that the latest charge, rooted in dealings from 2008, was beyond the statute of limitations for Japanese citizens. According to Japanese law, the statute is tied not to citizenship but to how much time the accused has spent outside Japan.
His defenders also said Japanese executives at Takata and Toshiba, who were embroiled in serious accounting scandals in 2014 and 2015, didn’t receive the same harsh treatment or any jail time. (Three executives from Olympus were detained for nearly six weeks in 2012 and convicted of accounting fraud but served no prison time.)
“It seems really strategic. It’s a political fight,” said Ralph Jazzar, a banker in Paris and Mr. Ghosn’s first cousin. He recited an expression in French and then translated it: “He who wants to get rid of a great dog pretends the dog has the plague.”
Mr. Jazzar and Mr. Ghosn grew up together in a middle-class neighborhood in Beirut. Mr. Ghosn, who was born in Rio de Janeiro, was 6 when his Lebanese father moved the family to Beirut.
His sister, Claudine Bichara de Oliveira, said he was fascinated by cars at an early age. She remembers him lying in the back seat of the family car, “closing his eyes and guessing the kind of car just by hearing its horn.”
From Lebanon, Mr. Ghosn went to Paris to attend France’s most prestigious schools, Lycee Saint-Louis and the Ecole Polytechnique. And then he worked his way up Michelin.
Whether in Lebanon or France, Mr. Ghosn always assumed the role of the ambitious outsider. In 1989, he perfected his English and added America to his résumé, soon becoming the chief executive of Michelin’s North American operations. Mr. Ghosn moved his young family to Greenville, S.C. He took a road trip to see the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, studying the world’s largest tire market along the way.
If there was any community in which Mr. Ghosn seemed to finally fit, it was the global elite, a coterie of chief executives and billionaire philanthropists who have yachts in the south of France and standing invitations to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (“If Davos Were a Person, It Would Be Carlos Ghosn” was the headline of a Bloomberg profile last year.) Mr. Ghosn’s new wife, Carole Nahas, persuaded him to take ski lessons at age 60.
Mr. Ghosn’s unabashed globalism clashed with the current era of inequality and off-with-their-heads isolationism. In 2015, Emmanuel Macron, then the French finance minister, criticized Mr. Ghosn, calling his $8 million salary at Renault “excessive.” Early this year, an auditor at Nissan began investigating the homes that a company subsidiary had bought for Mr. Ghosn’s personal use, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation.
In an internal investigation, Nissan learned that a subsidiary set up in the Netherlands ostensibly to fund venture capital investments had been used to buy or rent corporate properties that Mr. Ghosn lived in when he traveled, according to a person familiar with the investigation. Nissan had invested 73 million euros (currently equivalent to about $83 million) in the venture, known as Zi-A, and Mr. Kelly was put in charge of it.
In addition to a 5,400-square-foot flat in Paris’s elegant 16th arrondissement, Zi-A bought an apartment in Rio in 2011 for $6 million. (The Ghosn family planned to spend Christmas there this year with his ailing mother.) In Beirut, there is a salmon-hued mansion on a tree-lined street that Zi-A paid $8.75 million for in 2012, followed by $6 million in renovations and furnishings, according to a person briefed on Nissan’s investigation.
Mr. Ghosn’s family said Nissan had known about the homes. “Over 19 years, the company put these things in place to maximize his productivity,” his eldest child, Caroline Ghosn, 31, said in an interview.
Mr. Ghosn hasn’t been charged with any illegal activity related to his corporate residences. Caroline Ghosn said media accounts about the homes were part of Nissan’s and Japanese prosecutors’ efforts to “muddy the waters” in a public-relations campaign against her father.
Nissan declined to comment, but a person familiar with its investigation said the fact that the Dutch subsidiary was buying homes rather than paying for car-related start-ups was among the red flags for internal auditors. The person also pointed out that Nissan did not have substantial operations in Beirut, the location of one of the disputed homes.
‘What Have You Done for Us Lately?’
“Do not take this as a coup d’état,” Mr. Saikawa, the current chief executive of Nissan, whom Mr. Ghosn had mentored, told reporters hours after the arrest.
Mr. Saikawa said he felt “strong anger and despair” over Nissan’s findings, but analysts and investors closely watching the company believed that complicated interpersonal dynamics were at play.
Critics inside and outside Nissan had started to question whether Mr. Ghosn’s star had faded. In recent years, sales had slowed. The miraculous turnaround he orchestrated started to stall. One former executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, summed up the new sentiment spreading inside the company as “What have you done for us lately?”
Mr. Ghosn at a Nissan plant in 2011. That year, he unveiled his Power 88 plan, calling for Nissan to reach 8 percent profit margins and 8 percent market share in the countries where it operated.Credit.
Midway through a plan known as Power 88, which Mr. Ghosn unveiled to much fanfare in 2011, it became clear that Nissan would fall short of the ambitious targets he had set. He wanted Nissan to reach 8 percent profit margins and 8 percent market share in the countries where it operated. Dealers complained that they were losing money and that Mr. Ghosn’s big incentives to buyers to meet his targets were eating into their margins. They also grumbled that Nissan was selling too many vehicles to rental companies that then would flood the secondary buyers’ market.
“They would sell cars in any manner and in any way without any regard for what the long-term implications were,” said Steve Kalafer, chief executive of a chain of auto dealerships in New Jersey. After 36 years of owning a Nissan dealership, Mr. Kalafer said, he sold it two years ago because he objected to Mr. Ghosn’s policies.
Mr. Ghosn’s daughters said that in the past few years he had started on a succession plan to help cement his legacy and plan for his retirement. Mr. Ghosn explored what he called a “reimagining of the alliance” that would permanently bind Nissan and Renault. And he picked Mr. Saikawa, his close confidant, to succeed him as chief executive.
“He is like Carlos Ghosn in many ways,” Patrick le Quément, a former head of design at Renault, said of Mr. Saikawa. “Not much feeling.”
But as Mr. Ghosn sought to integrate Nissan’s operations more closely with Renault, maybe connecting them permanently, the relationship was getting shaky. Some Nissan executives, engineers and marketing staff began to resent what they saw as Renault’s unfairly piggybacking on Nissan’s technology, research and brand strength, according to three former managerial employees.
The French saw things another way, accusing Mr. Ghosn of favoring the Japanese and Nissan and blocking Renault’s expansion into China, the world’s largest car market, to clear the field for Nissan.
“We felt he was escaping us,” Mr. le Quément said. “A lot of decisions were being taken that were to the detriment of Renault.”
Asked about merger discussions, a Nissan spokesman, Nicholas Maxfield, said, “It is true that the ‘Alliance 2022’ six-year plan announced last year calls for additional synergies and further convergence among member companies in specific operational areas.”
As tensions at Nissan grew, Mr. Ghosn mused about retirement, his children said, telling them that he hoped to teach, write history books and even learn to play an ancient
As tensions at Nissan grew, Mr. Ghosn mused about retirement, his children said, telling them that he hoped to teach, write history books and even learn to play an ancient flute.CreditGhosn Family
As tensions grew, Mr. Ghosn mused about getting out. On his long walks around Tokyo when he couldn’t sleep, he would pass an old man playing the shakuhachi, an end-blown bamboo flute that dates to seventh-century Japan. Mr. Ghosn told his children that in retirement he hoped to learn how to play it. A Byzantine Empire buff, he said he also might write history books or lecture M.B.A. students.
Then late in 2017, speculation spread that Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Saikawa’s relationship had become strained after Nissan faced accusations that it had been using uncertified technicians for vehicle inspections, leading to a recall and halts in production. Mr. Ghosn left Mr. Saikawa to take the blame. As the new chief executive offered a deeply apologetic bow, as is customary in Japan, and told a voracious news media that the carmaker had “done something inexcusable,” Mr. Ghosn was nowhere to be seen.
Caroline and Maya Ghosn used to joke that Nissan was the “very demanding fifth child” in their family. To them, Mr. Saikawa’s statements (without an apologetic bow) the night of their father’s arrest were proof that his fall was akin to a palace coup.
What doesn’t make sense to Mr. Ghosn’s friends and family is how the man with a preternatural talent for seeing around every corner — whether maneuvering through Japanese bureaucracy, managing French ministers or designing a midsize S.U.V. — didn’t see this coming. Maybe, they theorized, it was the jet lag and the 100 days a year he spent on an airplane, and that old man with the flute whom he saw himself becoming.
Mr. Jazzar, his cousin, said Mr. Ghosn had failed, in the end, at the “P.Y.A.” approach to management: Protect Your Ass.
“God only knows what is going on inside his head,” Mr. Jazzar said.
*Liz Alderman and Jack Ewing contributed reporting. Makiko Inoue and Hisako Ueno contributed research.

Amid squabbles over Syria, will Daesh emerge on top?

Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/December 30/18
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive to speak to members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018.
I made every effort to write an optimistic and inspiring article looking forward to 2019. However, with a dozen drafts scrunched up in the waste paper bin, I’m sorry to acknowledge that the global prospects for 2019 look pretty frightening. Here I only have space to consider the catastrophes awaiting the Middle East. The Syrian war — which everyone regards as finished — is entering a new phase, with the imminent US departure contributing entirely new dimensions to the conflict for 2019. Trapped between the hammer of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the anvil of Bashar Assad and Tehran, the Kurds have sought Damascus’ protection. Thus, in recent days, pro-Assad forces hurriedly arrived at the gates of Manbij. This may keep the Turks out of this strategically vital town, but it is difficult to imagine Assad’s overstretched army adopting a similar posture further east, particularly with a gruesome battle for Idlib on the horizon. Donald Trump offered to let Erdogan’s troops directly replace US forces, which could be interpreted as inviting long-term Turkish military occupation of eastern Syria. Superficially, this grants Erdogan more than he ever dreamed of; allowing his forces to swarm across the border and neutralize Kurdish aspirations. Yet, if Erdogan devours such vast territories, this decision will come back to haunt him, given the inevitable resistance from local Syrians.
Iran is cock-a-hoop at the American withdrawal, yet the influx of Turkish forces would clash with Tehran’s aspirations to dominate eastern Syria. Turkish and Iranian expansionism would discountenance Moscow, which has its own interests to protect. Senior Russian officials have pledged to curb Iranian proxies but, across much of Syria, Russia lacks the ground strength to enforce this. Having invested billions in propping up Assad and perpetuating its own presence, Tehran won’t simply walk away because Vladimir Putin asks nicely. There had previously been sufficient common ground in Russian-Turkish-Iranian interests to allow amicable collaboration in dictating this shattered nation’s future status. Is this all about to change?
America’s withdrawal offers Benjamin Netanyahu renewed pretexts for annexing the remainder of the Golan Heights. Iran’s ascendancy in Syria makes an Israeli invasion almost a certainty, even though neither Hezbollah nor the Israelis desire conflict right now. Israeli elections in April are an additional wildcard. Among this perfect storm of crises, the Palestinian issue remains forgotten, despite the accelerating pace of settlement building and land confiscations. Iran is cock-a-hoop at the American withdrawal, yet the influx of Turkish forces would clash with Tehran’s aspirations to dominate eastern Syria.
With Trump setting the Turks, Iranians, Russians and Israelis on a collision course, Syrian and Arab influence has been marginalized further — particularly with half of the population displaced. Will there even be an entity recognizable as Syria after it disintegrates, Yugoslavia-like, into a patchwork of rival identities and zones of influence?
During his Iraq trip last week, Trump warned that his Anbar-based forces could be deployed over the border “if we wanted to do something in Syria.” These threats — which ride roughshod over the principals of national sovereignty and international law — play into Iran’s hands by provoking renewed calls for US forces to pack their bags and leave. US bases in western Iraq have failed to deter Iran’s paramilitary proxies from dominating the Syria-Iraq border zone. The resignations of two rare US officials who genuinely understand Iraq — Brett McGurk and James Mattis — leaves a dangerous policy vacuum at a delicate moment.
Since May’s elections, Iraqi and Lebanese citizens have endured an institutional void as political factions grapple over Cabinet seats. Pro-Iran factions demand Iraq’s Interior Ministry, granting control over domestic security infrastructure. In Lebanon, Hezbollah demands not only a governing majority, but the right to appoint its acolytes to designated Sunni positions. Prolonged stalemate risks undercapitalized banks not being bailed out and Lebanon’s economy plunging off a cliff edge. Tehran’s fingerprints are likewise visible in Yemen’s peace talks. Sweden has an excellent pedigree in mediating peace efforts; yet, even though the Houthis are facing strategic defeat, Tehran is apparently blocking their freedom to negotiate a dignified end to this devastating conflict. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insists on keeping the fires of conflict burning at Saudi Arabia’s rear entrance. This is a depressingly familiar Iranian tactic; compelling proxies to block political progress until Tehran can lever concessions for other regional priorities. With Iran wielding a depressingly strong hand on the regional chessboard, the ayatollahs won’t allow flexibility from minions in Sanaa, Beirut, Damascus or Baghdad.
One of my most pressing concerns for 2019 is for the ancient Christian communities, which act as a bellwether for regional security while contributing to a healthy and irreplaceable regional diversity. A century ago, around 14 percent of the Middle East was Christian. This may fall below 3 percent by 2025. It is perhaps too late for endangered Iraqi Christians, whose numbers plunged after 2003 and 2014. The Syrian war has been catastrophic for Christians, having faced persecution by extremists and stigmatization when terrorized minorities sought regime protection. Interlocutors are often surprised when I describe thriving Palestinian Christian communities, but these are also under threat. Lebanon was already a nation of emigrants, yet Hezbollaization and political paralysis are fueling renewed, energy-sapping waves of migration, particularly from Christians who perceive no future for themselves.
Daesh has done as much as anybody to purge the region’s Christians. Its resurgence thus threatens minority groups in particular. Despite what Trump says, Daesh is still active from territories in isolated parts of Syria and Iraq. Recent research suggests that Daesh may have hidden away hundreds of millions of dollars ready for its inevitable re-emergence. The West shrugs its shoulders and abandons its regional commitments, while Iran, Russia and Turkey squabble over the scraps. Netanyahu, meanwhile, rolls up his sleeves and sharpens his knives, ready for a Sykes-Picot-style redrawing of regional borders. In the ensuing climate of anarchy and civil strife, we may have created the perfect conditions for 2019’s biggest net winner being a renascent Daesh.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

Turkey may seek to avoid new military operation in Syria

Yasar Yakis/Arab News/December 30/18
Filling the vacuum created by the US withdrawal from Syria — if it ever happens — has emerged as a new problem. A delegation from Turkey on Saturday went to Moscow to discuss this particular issue and many others pertaining to the Syrian crisis. It was composed of the most directly interested persons in the Syrian crisis: Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Head of the National Intelligence Organization Hakan Fidan, and presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin. What the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers said to the media after the meeting did not go beyond standard statements — such as that they agreed to fight all sorts of terrorism in Syria and coordinate their military moves. For Turkey, fighting terrorism primarily means the elimination of the Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), while for Russia it means the fight against Daesh.
They also reconfirmed their support for Syria’s territorial integrity, which for Turkey means territorial integrity under a unitary state structure, while for Russia it means integrity under a federative structure. The Moscow meeting was preceded by unconfirmed reports that the YPG’s political branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), had agreed to transfer power to the government in the northern Syrian district of Manbij. This news angered Turkey but was received with satisfaction by Russia. Turkey is fiercely opposed to the emergence of any sort of Kurdish entity in the region because it believes that, once set in motion, the evolution of Kurdish autonomy cannot be contained. This is why Turkey wants to expel the YPG fighters from the east of the Euphrates and set up an administration that will reflect the original ethnic composition of the area, as it was before the Syrian crisis broke out.
The other important actors’ policies are as follows.
Russia is in favor of the extension of the Syrian government’s control to the entire country, but is also in favor of increased competences devolved to the municipalities of the areas inhabited by the Kurdish majority. Russia has the means of achieving this on its own, but it wants to do so without antagonizing Ankara. Moscow does not want to spoil its warming relations with Turkey. Turkey is fiercely opposed to the emergence of any sort of Kurdish entity in the region because it believes that, once set in motion, the evolution of Kurdish autonomy cannot be contained. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova explained the Russian position on this subject by saying “the areas vacated by the US forces have to go back to the Syrian government,” adding that: “Russia and Turkey are working in close cooperation both on political matters and in the fight against terror.” This statement and the flag-showing exercise of the Syrian government in Manbij indicate that Turkey and Russia are heading toward a tough bargaining on this subject.
Iran is also in favor of extending the Syrian government’s control over its territory, but its position differs from that of Russia because, like Turkey, it is also opposed to the emergence of a Kurdish entity.
The US cooperated with the YPG fighters during the anti-Daesh fight because they proved to be a reliable and efficient partner. Therefore, Washington supplied them with huge quantities of military equipment, weapons and ammunition. But, because of Turkey’s capacity to render valuable services to NATO in the strategically important location that it occupies, Washington — or President Donald Trump — chose not to oppose Turkey carrying out the military operation it was contemplating east of the Euphrates. Nonetheless, the US will probably continue to support the Kurds one way or another, as we can see in the statements by several high-ranking officials in the Pentagon, State Department and the White House.
Hezbollah will probably help the Syrian government settle in the sites to be vacated by the US troops because it has to follow the Iranian policy line. Israel is also an important actor in Syria. So far, its interventions have been confined to preventing the spread of Iran’s influence. It has avoided, to the largest extent possible, attacking targets that are exclusively Syrian. But now the scope of its intervention may extend to protecting the Kurds or preventing their elimination. France, another actor in the region, though limited to just 200 troops, is also opposed to Turkey’s military action. It may try to impede or dilute any Turkish military action against the Kurds in the region. In light of the high number of parameters opposing Turkey’s policy, and bearing in mind that Turkey says its main aim is to restore the pre-crisis ethnic composition of the region, this could be achieved without resorting to the military operation — if the international community supports Turkey in enforcing this policy. Such an approach would eliminate the risk of unavoidable casualties that both Turkey and the Kurds would suffer in the case of a military clash, contribute to the normalization of Turkish-Syrian ties, and accelerate the democratization process in Syria.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar

Iranian regime has perfected the art of skirting sanctions
د. ماجد ربيزاده: لقد أتقن النظام الإيراني فن الإلتفاف على العقوبات

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/December 30/18
Financial pressure on the Iranian regime has been rising, and there exists no indication that Tehran will receive any sanctions relief for the next few years. US President Donald Trump is determined to sustain the primary and secondary sanctions that the Department of Justice re-imposed on Iran following Washington’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. These sanctions are critical due to the fact the they are choking off Iran’s oil output, as well as restricting its banking and financial operations.
Meanwhile, although the EU is attempting to safeguard the nuclear deal and the sanctions relief that it provides to the Iranian authorities, the European version is most likely doomed to fail. This is because of the critical role that the US plays in influencing the global financial system.
Keeping this evidence in mind, the theocratic establishment of Iran has likely been preparing to bypass these sanctions. In fact, it came as a surprise to many policy analysts and scholars when “moderate” Iranian politicians recently revealed that Iran is ready to evade the sanctions, and that the sanctions will not affect the country.
Has Iran truly perfected methods of evading sanctions? To a large extent, the regime has mastered some sophisticated means of doing so.
It is worth noting that this is not the first time that sanctions have been leveled on the Islamic Republic by individual nations, the international community or the UN due to Tehran’s violations of international laws and treaties. Previous sanctions have been linked to Iran’s human rights abuses, its nuclear program, violations of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and sponsorship of terrorist groups.
In fact, the sanctions began the same year as the ruling mullahs came to power in 1979, due to Tehran’s ransacking of the US embassy and the taking of diplomats as hostages. By 2007, the US State Department and Congress had imposed four additional rounds of sanctions on Tehran. In 2007, 2008 and 2010, the UN adopted resolutions 1747, 1803 and 1929, respectively, imposing nuclear-related sanctions on the Islamic Republic for its clandestine nuclear activities and failure to suspend its uranium enrichment program. In 2012, the EU banned imports of oil from Iran for the first time. In 2013 and 2014, sanctions reached their highest level as the US Congress leveled secondary sanctions, targeting companies that were conducting business with Iran.
Despite the economic pressure, not only did the ruling mullahs survive the global sanctions for almost four decades, but also remarkably expanded their political and military influence in the Middle East and other regions, while also setting up, funding and training militias and terror groups. One of the major reasons for this is related to the various approaches the Iranian leaders resort to in order to skirt international or unilateral sanctions.
One method that Iran utilizes to evade sanctions is relying on its senior officials, who can use their governmental and political status and immunity to conduct business and make transactions.
One method that Iran utilizes to evade sanctions is relying on its senior officials, who can use their governmental and political status and immunity to conduct business and make transactions. For example, the former Governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), Valiollah Seif, and the assistant director of the CBI’s International Department, Ali Tarzali, have been accused by the US of conducting banking transactions in Iran and in Iraq to benefit the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah. In May, the US Office of Foreign Assets Control added Seif and Tarzali to its Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List.
In addition, the IRGC or its affiliated groups use some of the region’s financial institutions, particularly in countries that Iran enjoys influence in, to conceal the true nature of the transactions. Iran’s Central Bank also holds accounts in foreign countries, and Tehran has used dubious foreign exchange houses to procure US dollars for the IRGC and the regime. In 2018, the US and the UAE foiled one of these illicit networks, which was operating in the UAE and Iran.
Furthermore, the Iranian regime has mastered the employment of front and shell companies to carry out its illicit financial activities. On the surface, such front companies, which are spread across the world from the US to Croatia, Germany and South Africa, are established to appear as legitimate independent firms. But, in reality, they are run by the Iranian regime, the IRGC or a program called the “Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order,” which helps the regime evade sanctions and provides revenue. One such revelation was related to a New York skyscraper whose tenants included Juicy Couture, Godiva Chocolatier and Starwood Hotels. Last year, acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim revealed how these entities were assisting the Iranian regime, saying: “Through all the efforts to sanction and isolate Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism, the owners of 650 Fifth Avenue gave the Iranian government a critical foothold in the very heart of Manhattan, through which Iran successfully circumvented US economic sanctions.”
The Iranian regime has mastered, and does not hesitate to use, sophisticated, deceptive and illicit methods to bypass sanctions.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Iran in its Iraqi ‘backyard’

Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/December 31/18
It often happens that an excuse is even worse than the deed it seeks to justify. However, it is very rare to see so many people defending an excuse like we’ve seen after the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, left an official celebration marking the first anniversary of Iraq’s declaration of victory against ISIS. The movie appeared more of a deliberate act on his part and not an unintended faux pas, and a reflection of Iran’s policy towards Iraq. The ceremony was broadcast live from one of the most luxurious hotels in the Iraqi capital, and it was attended by the most noted officials of the Iraqi state and the foreign diplomatic corps. A video of the Iranian envoy’s withdrawal from the ceremony was later posted on social media networks allowing millions who did not watch the live broadcast to see what happened. It often happens that an excuse is even worse than the deed it seeks to justify. However, it is very rare to see so many people defending an excuse like we’ve seen after the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, left an official celebration marking the first anniversary of Iraq’s declaration of victory against ISIS. As usual, the celebration began with the usual segments, a welcoming address, a recitation of Quranic verses and the national anthem. The ceremony’s host then asked the audience to observe a minute of silence in the memory of the martyrs. It is at this moment when everyone stood up that the Iranian ambassador who was sitting in the first row of senior statesmen and guests decided to leave the ceremony. The sight of him leaving was quite upsetting, as he was sitting the middle of the first row, surrounded by 20 guests on each side. Ambassador Masjedi simply left his seat and turned right towards the door of the large hall.
The Iraqis condemned the envoy’s behavior and some even called for his expulsion from the country. The response of the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad was worse than the deed itself as it blamed the Iraqis for condemning the ambassador’s move. Of course, the Iraqis are not to blame as they witnessed with their own eyes how the ambassador of the country that is involved the most in their country’s tragic developments behaved at an event when he and the other guests were asked to stand for a moment of silence to commemorate the lives of martyrs who died in the war against ISIS.
Lame excuses
The Iranian excuse was actually completely not acceptable. Iran said its ambassador thought that the ceremony had come to an end and that the ceremony’s host announced this so he left! However, Masjedi speaks Arabic well, as he comes from the Arab region in southern Iran (Arabistan or Khuzestan). In fact, he comes from the town of Abadan, the home of the Arabic Kaab tribe, located on the eastern bank of the Shatt al-Arab opposite of the Siba town. He was also an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general who is directly and closely connected to Iraq and Iraqis, like his commander General Qassim Soleimani is. Furthermore, almost half of the Persian language has Arabic words; hence no one can believe that Masjedi did not understand the announcement, which called for a minute of silence for the souls of the martyrs. Even if one were to assume that he really didn’t understand the announcement, then why did the ambassador not notice while heading towards the door of the hall that no one else was leaving? If he actually thought the ceremony was over, wasn’t the polite thing to do was to shake hands with those sitting next to him before leaving? However, he didn’t do any of this. In fact, Masjedi’s behavior cannot be isolated from the actions of several other Iranian officials in Iraq, who are in the habit of denigrating the sovereignty and national dignity of Iraqis through their blatant interference in local affairs, such as their interference in determining the movement of Iraqi forces fighting in Iraq and appointing senior officials in the state, including the president, speaker and prime minister.
Iran’s lackeys
Not so long ago, on the eve of parliamentary elections in May of this year, the adviser of Iran's supreme leader Ali Akbar Velayati said at a religious conference in Baghdad that communists, liberals and secularists were not allowed to rule Iraq! After the election and the selection of the three heads of state, Iran's Revolutionary Guards Commander General Mohammad Ali Jafari boasted that Iran had vanquished the United States in Iraq and given it a 3-0 defeat. They were referring to the heads of the three authorities who were selected after the election with direct Iranian intervention.
Of course, we cannot blame Iranian officials for acting this way as any country, especially one like Iran, will interfere in its neighbors’ affairs if it sees a chance to. Those to blame are Iraqi officials who do not move a finger, even if formally, whenever there is an Iranian act of this kind. Perhaps the only exception among the top officials in the current Iraqi state, who does not miss any opportunity to criticize Iranian intervention is former Vice President and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, leader of the Iraqi National List.
What’s worse is that there are many Iraqi officials who boast of their allegiance to Iran. During the time of this incident involving Ambassador Masjedi, a picture of a member of the Baghdad Provincial Council was shared on social media sites showed him sitting at his official desk with two large pictures of the late Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini and also of the current leader Khamenei. Many activists commented on the picture on whether it shows a member of the Baghdad Council or the mayor of Tehran! It is well-known that the number of pictures of the two Iranian leaders that are hanged in the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities exceed that of pictures of any Iraqi leader! So what prevents Ambassador Masjedi and others from saying to the Iraqis: It is my backyard and I am free to act any way I want?

Can Saif al-Islam Qaddafi become President of Libya?
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/December 31/18
There is speculation that Muammar Qaddafi’s oldest son, Saif al-Islam, will shortly announce his candidacy for the Presidency of Libya in the 2019 election. And it appears that he has already secured on important ally in this quest: Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin is already deeply involved in the Libyan Civil War, on the side of the Tobruk faction led by former Qaddafi regime general, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. And the Tobruk faction does seem poised to emerge as the victorious side in Civil War – at least if we set aside emerging internal divisions. On paper then, this development would make sense for all parties involved: welcome to the new Libya – the same as the old Libya, but hopefully less unhinged, and somewhat more aligned with Moscow. Nor has news of this development been met with universal rejection in Libya itself. Some seem to actively welcome the potential return to the pre-Civil War order, flawed as it may have been. It does seem that Libya is worn out by the conflict and is more willing to move towards uncomfortable compromises for the sake of peace. But even some within the Tobruk faction have serious misgivings about this. Al Jazeera, for example, quotes Mohammad al-Darrat, a member of the Tobruk-based Libyan House of Representatives as saying: “If Saif al-Islam wants to return to power, what was the point of the revolution?”So you can imagine what the Western-backed Tripoli faction in the Civil War will think about the proposition that a Qaddafi would end up being the “unity candidate” in the Presidential election. A savvier move for Haftar would be to move closer toward the Tripoli faction and court Western powers to acquiesce to his de facto dominion in Libya by backing a “compromise” candidate. The wildcard here, however, is Khalifa Haftar. Will he defer to Putin on this, or will he reject his most reliable and powerful international sponsor?
There is certainly a case to be made that acquiescing to Saif al-Islam’s plan would undermine his position, as well as thwart much of the recent progress on the ground and some of the important local alliances he has made in recent months.
Haftar needs Putin’s continued support, but may not yield to Putin on what he may consider to be a tactical mistake.For his part, Putin would likely want to favour the younger Qaddafi for a number of reasons. If this does bring peace to Libya, then the emerging country’s leadership will be firmly indebted to him. But if instead this exacerbates the Libyan Civil War, this is no loss to the Kremlin. On the one hand, a chaotic Libya will continue to be bad news for Europe, which will continue to see an overflow of refugees for which no central authority in Libya is accountable. On the other, the weaker the position of Haftar in Libya, the more dependent he is on Moscow. A savvier move for Haftar would be to move closer toward the Tripoli faction and court Western powers to acquiesce to his de facto dominion in Libya by backing a “compromise” candidate that can seem more independent minded, but which would owe his position to the backing of the Tobruk faction.
Factional makeups
And then, allow for a degree of decentralization which would allow different regions, with their different tribal and factional makeups an increasing degree of responsibility for their own problems and grievances. Haftar’s forces would become the de jure army of the united Libya, and Haftar’s own position and power would be guaranteed as commander in chief of the nation’s army, but civilian politics would be allowed to manifest and try to resolve the differences and competing claims of the vast plurality of constituencies in Libya, even as Haftar’s Libyan army retains the monopoly over the use of force. Best of all, Haftar would be able to untether himself from his dependency on the Kremlin, and forge an independent path for Libya by playing Russia and the West of each other. But we will have to wait and see how things develop. And what is perhaps even more interesting, we will have to wait and see how the people of Libya actually vote in the general election.

Global economy: Time to pay the piper
Adil Rasheed/Al Arabiya/December 31/18
On the decennial of the financial meltdown of 2008-09, global economy remains in a febrile state. After throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at the crisis for over a decade, the selfsame bad debts and trade imbalances continue to stare us in the face.
In fact, the International Monetary Fund, the ECB, the OECD and some of the biggest fund managers across the globe are predicting a global economic slowdown in 2019, with attendant risks of a new crash or prolonged recession lasting decades.
Toward a lower ‘normal’
Ironically, global stock and credit markets are said to have already suffered their worst year in 2018 since the Great Recession. Even the growth of the celebrated Chinese economy fell to its lowest level in a decade in the third quarter of 2018, when it dropped below the already managed expectations of around 6.6 percent.Even this level was secured after China infused a vigorous set of stimuli to revive flagging industrial production, retail sales and tardy investment in real estate and infrastructure. Similarly, the Indian economy has been showing signs of distress in its agrarian and financial sectors, which have been attributed to the debacle of the ruling NDA government in recent state elections of the country. Global fund managers are as bearish today as they were at the time of the financial crisis of 2008. Meanwhile, the vaunted German economy showed its first contraction since 2015, when it slipped by 0.2 percent between June and September of 2018. It is worth noting that the entire Eurozone remains on tenterhooks as its second biggest economy (the UK) prepares to leave the bloc and countries like Italy and France agitate against the EU’s austerity directives. When it comes to the US economy, where growth and employment figures showed an uptick last year, the effects of President Trump’s fiscal measures (mainly tax cuts) appear to be wearing off with growth slowing in the third quarter of 2018.
Tensions between the President and Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell over the central bank’s plans to hike interest rates that might lead to the dreaded yield curve inversion has started spooking investors. The decline in US real estate, as well as a fall in auto and retail sectors is also seen as ominous trend for the economy.
Bearish across the board
In fact, global fund managers are as bearish today as they were at the time of the financial crisis of 2008, according to a Bank of America Merill Lynch survey published in late October 2018. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that it is the first time that all four asset classes — stocks, bonds, money markets and property — have posted negative total returns since 2008, with junk bonds reporting their worst month in December 2018, since 2011. It is in the wake of these distress signals that oil prices (both Brent and WTI) have lost more than a third of their value since the beginning of October 2018. It is noteworthy that oil is often seen as the barometer of global economic prospects. Several reasons have been given for the downturn, ranging from protectionist policies and trade wars to rising debt-to-GDP levels and technology-driven market disruptions, etc.
However, it can be argued that these causes are themselves symptoms of a deeper malaise. The reason for many of our present political and economic problems is that many governments today have a lower threshold of pain.
The price of populism
Economic downturns should be viewed as important phases of correction that weed out the accumulated excesses and toxic overgrowth of prosperous times. However, attempts by fretful governments to rescue unproductive and corrupt private and public sector enterprises invariably cause systemic anomalies leading to prolonged distress and bigger economic disasters. The phenomenon of ‘too big to fail’ is against the values of free-market capitalism and not the result of it. The job of governments is to provide the best infrastructure, along with an effective legal, institutional, policy and regulatory framework for a free market economy to operate. Unwarranted state interventions through excessive money printing, fiscal overspending in populist programs and subsidies, etc. lead to higher indebtedness, inflation, creation of asset bubbles and market volatility — the very measures most economies took to offset the Great Recession of 2008. In fact, the real problem lies in not paying the Piper his due and in adhering to St Augustine’s dictum: “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet!”

Year 2018 and the Trump-triggered geo-political flux
C. Uday Bhaskar/Al Arabiya/December 31/18
Dissolution of the familiar status-quo in post-Cold War international relations (IR) and the uneasy free-fall into an uncertain new global disorder are the dominant features of how 2018 will be remembered.
While there have been many indicators related to global trade and climate change that hinted at such a rejection of the normative collective interest and its consensual prioritization by the major power cluster (recall G- 20 and COP24), towards the year-end, US President Donald Trump announced the new IR template in his distinctive manner. On Wednesday (December 26), the US President made a secret trip to Iraq and declared that “the US cannot continue to be the policeman of the world.” And specific to Syria, he added: “We’re no longer the suckers, folks. Our presence in Syria was not open-ended and it was never intended to be permanent.”It may be recalled that just the previous week, Mr. Trump had surprised his closest cabinet members by announcing (Dec 20) that US troops would be withdrawn from both Syria and Afghanistan. The timing and manner of conveying this major policy decision went against the advice of the professionals in the Beltway and predictably, the widely-respected US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis , a retired marine general submitted his resignation. The Trump decision and the Mattis resignation were met with dismay both within the US and by the major allies and considerable disquiet was expressed at the implications of such a move in the extended southern Asian region that encompasses both Syria and Afghanistan.The US has its fair share of warts like many other democracies but it has retained the ability to shine the torch inwards and recall its enshrined constitutional values
Steady hand
The steady hand that Jim Mattis brought to his domain was praised by all his interlocutors and it was suggested that the ‘only adult’ in the Trump team was leaving adding to the presidential outrage. And in keeping with the impulsive manner in which Trump ‘hires and fires’ his core team – the US President decided to force the exit of Mattis which was brought forward to end December instead of the end February schedule that had been indicated in the resignation letter. The Mattis letter is a dignified statement, wherein the disagreement with the US President, also the commander-in-chief has been conveyed in a courteous yet firm manner. The sub-text alludes to certain aspects of the US profile that have given Washington the primacy it has enjoyed since the end of World War II in August 1945.
The US led western alliance that brought together a large number of democracies during the Cold War was envisioned as a grouping that would support the global ‘liberal’ order and the contrast was with the totalitarian ideology associated with the communist block that had the former USSR and China as the leading members.
It is a different matter that the US-led liberal pursuit was often ‘illiberal’ and toward the end of the Cold War, the US partnered with communist China to contain the Soviet block and the world’s largest democracy – India was more aligned to Moscow than Washington!
Perceived national security/strategic interests often trumped the commitment to values and principles and yet the global benchmark was a normative mix of liberal democracy and a free-market orientation, that while being inherently favorable to the rich, was cognizant of the need for equitable socio-economic growth across the global demography. The Mattis letter highlights the self-image of the US, which “remains the indispensable nation in the free world” and provides the most lucid contextualization about the role of the US military and its long-term political cum strategic objective.
The combat veteran notes: “I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.”
However the Trump doctrine has reduced this leadership role to that of being “suckered” and has introduced a binary transactional approach that is almost mercenary – by indicating that the allies need to pay if they seek US protection.
While making an objective case for why the US should remain invested in its alliance relationships, Mattis frames the Holy Grail for the White House in an unambiguous manner. He asserts: “We must do everything possible to advance an international order (emphasis added) that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values.”The protection of self-interest and seeking to consolidate advantage or power is a natural compulsion among both individuals and states. The US has its fair share of warts like many other democracies but it has retained the ability to shine the torch inwards and recall its enshrined constitutional values. Institutional integrity is under attack but civil society has demonstrated a push-back capacity and individuals like Jim Mattis are illustrative. The texture of this emerging “international order” will be contested in 2019 by the major powers. Trump has triggered the retreat and dilution of US credibility in regional geo-politics. Syria-Turkey and the Kurdish denouement are case in point. Will the Moscow-Beijing combine begin to fill the regional geo-political vacuum of 2018?