Middle East General

Middle East General

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The refugee crisis currently affecting Europe has elicited comparisons to the refugee crisis resulting from the Second World War. This comparison, while worthwhile insofar as it has helped mobilise sections of the European community to assist the refugees, misses a key point: the Middle East and African regions are confronting the refugees crisis to a far greater extent than Europe. Europe is seeing merely a fallout of the crisis that is catastrophically affecting Lebanon, Turkey and certain other Middle East nations. Refugees making their way to Europe represent barely 0.068 per cent of the total European population, while over 25 per cent of the residents of Lebanon are refugees.

Refugees seeking rehabilitation in Europe are from many countries, with the largest group being from Syria. As Eurostat illustrates, the number of people seeking asylum in Europe from Syria numbered 130 000 in 2014, far more than the next largest group – from Afghanistan – numbering 40 000. The ‘refugee crisis’ is, then, primarily the result of four years of protracted war in Syria.

Unfortunately, the focus only on refugees distracts from the larger need to urgently resolve the Syrian crisis, and there is no concrete effort in this regard. Thus, even though some sections of European society have redeemed themselves with great humanitarian gestures and the acceptance of refugees  – Germany’s Angela Merkel and Catholic leader Pope Francis stand out amongst these, the ongoing refugee crisis is a deeper indictment of the global political elite, whether in the UN Security Council or in capital such as Damascus, Tehran, Istanbul and Riyadh, from where the war and violence in Syria has been fuelled without an end since 2011.

This indictment is at two levels. First, it relates to their inability to limit the spread of violence within the Middle East and Africa. And if the chaos of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Eritrea, Central African Republic, Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia was not enough, the misery of the Yemeni people from March also lies at their doors. Second, it points to the shambolic handling of the refugee crisis resulting from the wars the region has experienced in the past few years.

A bigger picture of the refugee crisis is necessary, as illustrated by the following facts. For 2015, the UNHCR has appealed for more than $4.5 billion just to address the needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and the rest of North Africa. This does not include the six million Syrians internally displaced in their home country, and who the UN cannot access. However, only thirty-seven per cent of these funds have been made available to the UN agency. Further, even with the global outpouring of grief for the refugees who died in the Mediterranean, especially after the widespread publication of pictures showing drowned babies like Aylan and Galip Shenu, UK prime minister David Cameron could promise to accept only 20 000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, in a radical departure from the greater goodwill exhibited by Germany. Also, Gulf Arab countries, without whose financial and logistical support the Syrian war could not have been sustained for almost five years, have refused to resettle refugees in their countries, citing concerns about demographic disproportionality and their financial assistance for refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Such data show the effective apathy of the global political elite to the suffering of these dispossessed refugees. This is compounded by another factor: the tendency of the global media and audience to take notice of an issue only when it affects white Europe or North America. While the refugees struggling to make their way into Europe are part of the media splurge witnessed from USA to Australia, and including South Africa, there is still insufficient attention being paid to refugees who are struggling to find inhabitable spaces within the Middle East and Africa. Especially noteworthy in this regard is the movement of Yemeni refugees to the Horn of Africa. The bombing of Yemen has already created 1.5 million refugees in less than six months, but is getting barely a mention in the global fixation on the ‘European refugee crisis’. The International Organization for Migration estimates that almost 60 000 refugees have arrived in Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia from Yemen since March. It is a fair question to ask why these refugees do not get as much attention as the ones who have drowned in the Mediterranean or have been held back in Hungary.

This oversight highlights the Eurocentrism that still plagues the humanitarian concern that is driving the discussion over the ‘European refugee crisis’. Indeed, this very label should be changed, and, since it is a result of the Syrian civil war, it should be called the the ‘Syrian crisis’ instead. Further, the discussion should be broadened to include refugee crises affecting other parts of the world; if the world’s concern is the well-being of refugees, then it must be understood that there are other places that also need drastic humanitarian assistance. Above all, this refugee crisis should not become a reason to detract from the political failings of the global political elite, which can and should do more to stop wars, rather than simply bandaging some wounds created as a result of their actions.

By Omar Shaukat

With the release of another video showing the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff, held hostage by the Islamic State (IS, also variously known as Isil, or Isis), IS’s confrontation with the US has become a hot topic of discussion throughout the world.

However, what such discussions typically miss is the manner in which IS has not only found enemies in the US but also within the Muslim world and the jihadist circles that at some point supported it. In fact, these internal divisions are so deep that a former ally of IS, and the US’s previous public enemy number one, al-Qaeda, too finds itself engaged in mortal combat with IS.

By Basheer Nafi’

A truism that is valid for almost all revolutions – including the English, French, and the European revolutions of the mid-nineteenth century, the Iranian Revolution and east European revolutions after the Cold War – is that every revolution has an associated counterrevolution. A common thread through most modern revolutions is that they expressed the desire of the people in a nation to restrain the modern state either by demanding constitutional rights and democracy, confronting authoritarianism and the hegemony of the ruling elite, or by demanding a just social system that would be based on the redistribution of economic burdens and wealth. The success of a revolution, however, has never been guaranteed. In the past few decades, the countries that have experienced relatively easy transitions to democracy have been those that had been part of broader regional systems, or which had received support from regional bodies such as the European Union. Even such countries were not always spared counterrevolutionary retaliations.

Women in Conflict

By Zeenat Adam

‘When women are violated like men who but for sex are like them – when women’s arms and legs bleed when severed, when women are shot in pits and gassed in vans, when women’s bodies are salted away at the bottom of abandoned mines or dropped from places into the ocean, when women’s skulls are sent from Auschwitz to Strasbourg for experiments – this is not recorded as the history of human rights atrocities to women...When things happen to women that also happen to men, like being beaten and disappeared and tortured to death, the fact that they happened to be women is not noted in the record books or human suffering…What happens to women is either too particular to be universal or too universal to be particular, meaning either too human to be female or too female to be human.’ – Catherine McKinnon, ‘Are Women Human?’

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The severing of Hamas’s relationship with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad’s government, which saw its politburo relocate from Damascus to Doha and Cairo in early 2012, would inevitably impact the Palestinian movement’s relationship with long-time allies, Hizbullah and Iran. In fact, Hamas’s political repositioning on Syria reflects a reconfiguration of regional alliances that have been spurred by the uprisings that have swept across the region since December 2010. The political rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other countries, facilitated by the uprisings in the region, saw the Palestinian resistance movement gravitate away from the ‘axis of resistance’ (Iran, Hizbullah and Syria) towards a Brotherhood-oriented Egyptian-Qatari-Turkish axis. Aside from an ideological resonance, this new alliance would also potentially ameliorate its isolation brought on by the classification of it as a ‘terrorist’ organisation by Israel, the USA, Canada, the EU and Japan.

By Elham Fakhro

Two years after the launch of Bahrain’s national dialogue, government and opposition representatives have failed to arrive at a settlement over the future direction of the country. The withdrawal from the talks of Bahrain’s largest opposition group al-Wefaq – first in July 2011 and again in September 2013 after the arrest of its deputy leader – reflects growing tensions between the two sides. A coalition of opposition groups said that the ongoing arrests of political leaders and activists were proof that the government was not serious about reform. Government representatives, on the other hand, accused the opposition of supporting violence by the February 14 coalition, a radical opposition group that the government calls a terrorist movement. Newly-energised loyalist groups also accuse the government of adopting a ‘too soft’ stance against the opposition. Bahrain’s international allies – including the United States and the United Kingdom – continue to criticise the absence of sufficient reform by the government, but have failed to broker any political settlement. As the schism between social and political groups hardens, prospects for a political solution appear increasingly dim.

Opening Remarks by International Relations and Cooperation Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim at the International Conference of the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) on MENA: A transforming Region and its impact on the African Continent, Sheraton Hotel, Pretoria, 27 August 2012.

I wish to thank you kindly for the invitation to address this distinguished audience who have gathered here to discuss what is most certainly a relevant topic. For the many visitors from far afield, I extend to you a warm South African welcome and hope that you will enjoy every moment of your stay in our friendly country.

By ‘Izzat Shahrour

The use of China's veto over the Syrian crisis demonstrates that it no longer needs to sit on the fence on such international issues. In other words, there is no ambivalence on China’s part; it is decisive in its actions and no longer desires to either please everyone or to provoke anyone. China had previously maintained diplomatic relationships with smaller countries in order to gain support against Taiwan at the United Nations, or more generally to defend China against criticism of its human rights record. China is now recognised as an emerging international power especially after it asserted itself as a major economic force. Its strategic interests have changed and with that its relations with other major powers. These developments have effected a change in its policies and diplomatic conduct.

By Fred H. Lawson

United States strategic planners are carrying out a fundamental reconfiguration of America's military presence throughout the world. The shift came to light in November 2011, when President Barack Obama announced that some 2 500 US Marines would take up permanent positions at a training base on the northern tip of Australia. It was underscored in January 2012 when the president appeared at the Pentagon for the release of an extraordinary guidance document with the striking title 'Sustaining United States Global Leadership: Priorities for the Twenty-First Century Defined'. The revised strategic posture earmarks more US military resources to East Asia in general and the South China Sea littoral in particular.

By Ali Hussein Bakir

This paper discusses the on-going regional geopolitical transformations in the wake of the Arab revolutions, and examines the impact they have had on two major regional actors: Iran and Turkey. It will look at these countries' interests, influence and the nature and future of their relations with each other. These questions will be discussed under three headings:

  • The Arab revolutions from Turkish and Iranian perspectives;
  • The Arab revolutions and their impact on the interests of Turkey and Iran; and
  • The impact of the revolutions on the relations between the two countries.
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