Obama’s ill-conceived coalition against ISIS

Musa al-Gharbi writes: The U.S. was the only non-Arab actor to participate in the Syria raids. Collaborating with the U.S. were five other Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan.

While many pundits have and will continue to describe them as “moderate Arab allies” — what “moderate” usually means is something akin to “compliant with the U.S. agenda in the region.” What may be more significant to note about these powers is that they are all monarchies—in fact, the actors who took part in the strike are most of the region’s surviving dynasties (excluding only Oman, Kuwait, and Morocco).

The Gulf monarchs are far from beloved in Iraq, even among the Sunni population. Readers may remember that the “Sunni” Hussein regime wanted to go to war with the KSA, provoking the U.S.-led Operation Desert Shield. There is a long enmity between the peoples of Iraq and the Gulf monarchs — and an even deeper enmity between these powers and the Syrians. So the idea that the populations of IS-occupied Iraq and Syria will find these forces and their actions legitimate simply in virtue of the fact that they are “Sunni” is a gross oversimplification that reinforces problematic sectarian narratives even as it obscures important geopolitical truths. Among them:

If anything, the alliance that carried out the strike actually reinforces the narrative of the IS: it will be framed as the United States and its oppressive monarchic proxies collaborating to stifle the Arab Uprisings in order to preserve the doomed status quo.

In a similar manner, it is somewhat irrelevant that salafi and “moderate” Sunni Muslim religious authorities have condemned al-Baghdadi’s “caliphate” as invalid and ill-conceived — in part because it presupposes that most of the foreign fighters who are joining ISIS for ideological reasons are devout, well-informed about fiqh and closely following the rulings of jurists, etc. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, and many of those coming from abroad to join the IS are motivated primarily by factors other than religion. Even much of their indigenous support is from people who join for money, or else due to their grievances against the governments in Iraq and/or Syria — not because they buy into the vision of al-Baghdadi and his ilk. Accordingly, the value of “Sunni buy-in,” framed religiously, is probably both misstated and overstated.

And not only will the involvement of the Gulf kingdoms strikes be extremely controversial on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but also within the emirates who took part in these raids. Syria and the so-called “Islamic State” remain highly polarizing issues across the region — many will be apprehensive of their governments getting involved, others actually support the aspirations of these mujahedeen and view their own regimes as corrupt. [Continue reading...]

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Map of U.S. airstrikes across Syria

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U.S. and allies launch airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria

The New York Times reports: The United States and allies launched airstrikes against Sunni militants in Syria early Tuesday, unleashing a torrent of cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs from the air and sea on the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa and along the porous Iraq border.

American fighter jets and armed Predator and Reaper drones, flying alongside warplanes from several Arab allies, struck a broad array of targets in territory controlled by the militants, known as the Islamic State. American defense officials said the targets included weapons supplies, depots, barracks and buildings the militants use for command and control. Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from United States Navy ships in the region.

“I can confirm that U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, using an alternate name for the Islamic State. [Continue reading...]

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Qatar expels Egypt Muslim Brotherhood leaders

The Associated Press reports: Leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood group and allied clerics said on Saturday that they are departing Qatar, where they had sought refuge following the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the crackdown on his supporters.

Their presence in Qatar had severely strained Doha’s relations with Egypt as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all of which view the more than 85-year-old Islamist movement as a threat. The expulsion threatens to further isolate the group, which rose to power in Egypt through a string of post-Arab Spring elections but suffered a dramatic fall from grace during Morsi’s divisive year in office.

Former minister Amr Darrag, who was also the top foreign affairs official in the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, and fiery cleric Wagdi Ghoneim said they are leaving Qatar following a request to do so by the Gulf monarchy. [Continue reading...]

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U.S. mobilizes allies to widen assault on ISIS

The New York Times reports: The United States has begun to mobilize a broad coalition of allies behind potential American military action in Syria and is moving toward expanded airstrikes in northern Iraq, administration officials said on Tuesday.

President Obama, the officials said, was broadening his campaign against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and nearing a decision to authorize airstrikes and airdrops of food and water around the northern Iraqi town of Amerli, home to members of Iraq’s Turkmen minority. The town of 12,000 has been under siege for more than two months by the militants.

“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on Tuesday to the American Legion in Charlotte, N.C., using an alternative name for ISIS. He said that the United States was building a coalition to “take the fight to these barbaric terrorists,” and that the militants would be “no match” for a united international community.

Administration officials characterized the dangers facing the Turkmen, who are Shiite Muslims considered infidels by ISIS, as similar to the threat faced by thousands of Yazidis, who were driven to Mount Sinjar in Iraq after attacks by the militants. The United Nations special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement three days ago that the situation in Amerli “demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens.”

As Mr. Obama considered new strikes, the White House began its diplomatic campaign to enlist allies and neighbors in the region to increase their support for Syria’s moderate opposition and, in some cases, to provide support for possible American military operations. The countries likely to be enlisted include Australia, Britain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, officials said. [Continue reading...]

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Gaza ceasefire hopes switch to Qatar as Arabs divided over Israeli offensive

The Guardian reports: International efforts to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip are focusing on the Gulf state of Qatar, whose close links to Hamas make it uniquely placed to try to mediate in a conflict that has highlighted Arab divisions in the face of Israeli attacks.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, was flying to Doha at the start of a round of emergency talks to try to halt the escalating carnage. Ban was due to meet the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and head of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. It was unclear whether Ban would also see the Hamas leader, Khaled Mishal, who lives in Doha.

Mishal and Abbas were due to meet separately.

Ban is also due in Cairo on Monday to see President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, author of a rival ceasefire plan that has already been rejected by Hamas. Hamas said Mishal had also been invited to the Egyptian capital.

Khaled al-Attiyeh, Qatar’s foreign minister, has emerged as a key figure in the ceasefire effort, not least because he is close to John Kerry, the US secretary of state. The Qataris say they are simply providing a “channel of communication” to discuss an agreement that contains the key Hamas demands: an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza, an opening of the border with Egypt and a release of scores of recently re-arrested prisoners by Israel.

Qatar’s role as mediator is being enhanced because of the deep hostility of the Egyptian government to Hamas, which has close links to the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, a key element of the Egyptian initiative – rejected by Hamas – is the return of Abbas’s Palestinian Authority to Gaza, for the first time since the 2007 takeover of the territory by the Palestinian Islamist movement. [Continue reading...]

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Qatar accused of working 1,200 people to death in £39 billion building bonanza for 2022 World Cup

The Mirror reports: Qatar is accused of working 1,200 people to death in its £39billion building bonanza for the 2022 World Cup.

An investigation by the Mirror into the oil-rich Emirate revealed horrific and deadly exploitation of migrant workers, who are forced to live in squalor, drink salt water and get paid just 57p an hour.

Campaigners fear the death toll could reach 4,000 before the Finals kick off. One worker told us: “We are treated like slaves and our deaths are cheap.”

FIFA faces renewed pressure to show Qatar a World Cup red card following the exposure of mass deaths and vile exploitation of construction workers in the region.

A team of British trade union leaders and MPs warned that the 2022 tournament is being built “on the blood and misery of an army of slave labour”, after uncovering appalling abuse during a visit to the Gulf monarchy.

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Qatar’s foreign domestic workers subjected to slave-like conditions

n13-iconThe Guardian reports: Foreign maids, cleaners and other domestic workers are being subjected to slave-like labour conditions in Qatar, with many complaining they have been deprived of passports, wages, days off, holidays and freedom to move jobs, a Guardian investigation can reveal.

Hundreds of Filipino maids have fled to their embassy in recent months because conditions are so harsh. Many complain of physical and sexual abuse, harassment, long periods without pay and the confiscation of mobile phones.

The exploitation raises further concerns about labour practices in Qatar in advance of the World Cup, after Guardian reports about the treatment of construction workers. The maids are not directly connected to Qatar’s preparations for the football tournament, but domestic workers will play a big role in staffing the hotels, stadiums and other infrastructure that will underpin the 2022 tournament. [Continue reading...]

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Qatar World Cup: 400 Nepalese die on nation’s building sites since bid won

n13-iconThe Observer reports: More than 400 Nepalese migrant workers have died on Qatar’s building sites as the Gulf state prepares to host the World Cup in 2022, a report will reveal this week.

The grim statistic comes from the Pravasi Nepali Co-ordination Committee, a respected human rights organisation which compiles lists of the dead using official sources in Doha. It will pile new pressure on the Qatari authorities – and on football’s world governing body, Fifa – to curb a mounting death toll that some are warning could hit 4,000 by the time the 2022 finals take place.

It also raises the question of how many migrant workers in total have died on construction sites since Qatar won the bid in 2010. Nepalese workers comprise 20% of Qatar’s migrant workforce, and many others are drafted in from countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. [Continue reading...]

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Arab states show cautious optimism on nuclear deal

The Wall Street Journal reports: Saudi Arabia maintained a pointed silence Sunday on the new nuclear pact between world powers and Saudi Arabia’s top rival, Iran, while other Gulf and Arab states gave a cautious welcome to a deal hoped to ease tensions in a region bloodied by proxy battles between Shiite Iran and Sunni Arab states.

Saudi political commentators voiced persistent fears that Iran would now see itself as freed to advance on other, non-nuclear fronts against its Middle East rivals.

By early Monday in the Middle East, most of the region’s Muslim powers — Turkey, Egypt, and at least four of the six wealthy Arab Gulf countries — had issued statements expressing support for the deal. The United Arab Emirates., a commerce-minded nation that traditionally has thrived on doing business with both Iran and Arab states, welcomed the deal as one it hoped would protect the region “from the tension and danger of nuclear proliferation,” the emirates’ council of ministers said.

Saudi Arabia, the most powerful of the Arab states and the most intensely suspicious rival of Shiite Iran, made no public comment on the pact Sunday, and its foreign ministry didn’t return requests for comment. [Continue reading...]

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Qatar migrant workers ‘treated like animals’

BBC News reports: Qatar’s construction sector is rife with abuse, Amnesty International (AI) has said in a report published as work begins on Fifa World Cup 2022 stadiums.

Amnesty says migrant workers are often subjected to non-payment of wages, dangerous working conditions and squalid accommodation.

The rights group said one manager had referred to workers as “animals”.

Qatari officials have said conditions will be suitable for those involved in construction of World Cup facilities.

It has not yet commented on the latest report.

Amnesty said it conducted interviews with 210 workers, employers and government officials for its report, The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood finds havens abroad

The Washington Post reports: Very few of the leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood escaped the recent military-led crackdown on their movement. Some of those who did flew out of Cairo after paying thousands of dollars in bribes to airport security officials, while others took more convoluted routes, boarding planes in distant airports en route to friendlier nations.

One of those friendly nations is Qatar, the tiny, oil-rich Persian Gulf state that helped bankroll rebels and Islamist democracy advocates throughout the Arab Spring and is now quietly absorbing the exiles that one country’s stumbling experiment in democracy has generated.

Cast out by — or, perhaps, saved from — the harshest political crackdown in recent Egyptian history, a handful of Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist leaders found refuge here in the Qatari capital, while others traveled to Istanbul, London and Geneva.

The exiles’ community is small, disorganized and ideologically diverse, ranging from fairly liberal Islamist politicians to hard-line Salafists — groups that less than two years ago competed against each other in Egypt’s parliamentary and presidential elections.

Now, as they push back against the July coup that toppled their country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, they are on the same team.

At the same time, an exile leadership is starting to take shape here among the shimmering high-rises of Doha. Several of the exiles are living temporarily in hotel suites paid for by Qatar’s state-run Arabic satellite network Al Jazeera — and it is in those suites and hotel lobbies that the future of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and, more broadly, the strategy and ideology of political Islam in the country may well be charted.

“We are not the kind to escape. We do not prefer exile. We have a task: to communicate the crisis and deliver the message to the world,” said Ehab Shiha, the chairman of the Egyptian Salafist al-Asala party, as he sat in a hotel lobby in Doha. [Continue reading...]

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Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’

The Guardian reports: Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.

This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.

According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.

The investigation also reveals:

• Evidence of forced labour on a huge World Cup infrastructure project.

• Some Nepalese men have alleged that they have not been paid for months and have had their salaries retained to stop them running away.

• Some workers on other sites say employers routinely confiscate passports and refuse to issue ID cards, in effect reducing them to the status of illegal aliens.

• Some labourers say they have been denied access to free drinking water in the desert heat.

• About 30 Nepalese sought refuge at their embassy in Doha to escape the brutal conditions of their employment.

The allegations suggest a chain of exploitation leading from poor Nepalese villages to Qatari leaders. The overall picture is of one of the richest nations exploiting one of the poorest to get ready for the world’s most popular sporting tournament. [Continue reading...]

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Qatar remains commited to Palestine

Shibley Telhami writes: Nothing was trivial about the moment: Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani gave up his post as emir of Qatar to his son at the pinnacle of his influence, in an act as rare and surprising as his ascending to power through a bloodless coup against his own father in 1995.

The very brevity of the emir’s abdication speech and the remarkable absence of boasting about his transformation of Qatar was itself a rarity in an Arab world accustomed to long, windy addresses on even trivial matters.

What drove the policies of the outgoing emir? What will come next?

The fact that the world is paying attention is a testament to the central role that this small, previously sleepy nation now plays on the world stage. The story of what drove the outgoing emir — and his key partner, Foreign and Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani (HBJ) — tells much about the driving forces in the Arab world. One hint appeared in the announcement’s sparse wording: “We believe that the Arab world is one human body, one coherent structure, that draws its strength from all its constituent parts.”

The outgoing emir, who grew up in the Pan-Arab era of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, once described himself to me as a “Nasserist.” He described his Prime Minister HBJ as a “Sadatist” — or admirer of the pragmatic, pro-Western Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who succeeded Nasser and made peace with Israel.

From this perspective, one of the emir’s most important contributions to Arab politics, the pan-Arab Al Jazeera TV, was the modern — and more credible –version of Nasser’s Sawt Al Arab radio, which itself had revolutionary impact on the Arab world in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Indeed, Al Jazeera has played a key role in the Arab world, hosting Arab nationalists as regular commentators, including Mohammad Hassanein Heikal, Nasser’s confidant. But Qatar, and Al Jazeera, also host Islamists, especially Sheikh Yousuf Al Qaradawi, one of the most influential Sunni religious authorities.

Beyond any pan-Arab aspiration, the outgoing emir’s strategy was in the long-term interest of Qatar. Yet at the core of his — and Al Jazeera’s — success is understanding the Arab and Islamic aspirations of the millions of people they tried to reach. Which is why they paid so much attention to Palestine, as the prism of pain through which Arabs viewed the outside world.

Even at the moment of abdication, Al Jazeera went immediately from Qatari commentators to Palestinian commentators in the West Bank and Gaza. Consider, in the new emir’s inaugural speech, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani followed by singling out his commitment to the Palestinian issue — of all the international issues facing Qatar and the Arab world.[Continue reading...]

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Qatari poet Mohammad Al-Ajami sentenced to life in prison

Doha News reports: Qatari poet Mohammad Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami has reportedly been sentenced to life in prison in a local court this morning.

It remains unclear what Al-Ajami was convicted of, but he was arrested in Doha last November and eventually charged with “inciting to overthrow the regime” and “insulting the Emir.”

Amnesty International, which confirmed this morning’s ruling to Doha News, said Al-Ajami has one week to submit his appeal.

“This is sending shockwaves across the Gulf region,” Amnesty researcher Dina El-Mamoun said. “Not just Qatar but beyond Qatar, among activists who feel there is sort of less and less space for them.”

On Twitter, hundreds have denounced the verdict under the hashtag #الحرية_لشاعر_محمد_بن_الذيب (freedom for poet Mohammed Ibn Al-Dheeb), questioning Qatar’s commitment to free speech after its support of so many Arab Spring revolutions.

Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth attributed the life sentence to Al-Ajami’s widely distributed Jasmine Poem, which criticized governments across the Gulf, asserting that “we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite.” [Continue reading...]

Last month the BBC provided more background on the case.

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The Qatar conundrum: The emirate that arms Syria’s rebels also embraces Hamas

Tony Karon writes: Mindful of its declining appetite for projecting power in the Middle East, the U.S. is relying on more activist partners in the region such Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to arm the Syrian rebellion. But Tuesday’s visit to Gaza by Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani — to the delight of the territory’s Hamas rulers and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, while Israel and Fatah fumed — was a reminder that U.S. allies in the region often pursue goals quite different from those of Washington, despite many shared objectives and common enemies. And the relative decline of U.S. influence in the Middle East has seen some of those independently-minded allies grow more assertive in pressing their agendas.

In Monday’s presidential campaign foreign policy debate, Gov. Mitt Romney rejected U.S. military intervention in Syria, noting instead that “The Saudis and the Qataris and the Turks are … willing to work with us. We need to have a very effective leadership effort in Syria, making sure that the insurgents there are armed, and that the insurgents that become armed are people who will be the responsible parties.” President Obama also talked up cooperation with regional allies, but warned that “we have to [make] absolutely certain that we know who we are helping; that we’re not putting arms in the hands of folks who eventually could turn them against us or allies in the region.”

But the Emir’s visit to Gaza makes clear that Qatar, the tiny Emirate whose massive natural gas reserves give it the world’s highest per capita income as well as geopolitical punching power way above its weight, has sharply different ideas from Washington’s about just who the ”responsible parties” will be in a changing Middle East. Hamas, after all, is formally shunned by the U.S. and European powers as a terrorist organization, and Washington has shown little enthusiasm for efforts by Arab governments, including Qatar, to promote reconciliation between the Islamists and the Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas was reportedly furious at the Qatari leader’s decision to become the first foreign head of state to visit the Hamas-controlled Gaza, effectively blessing the Islamist’ rule there. The Emir’s purpose was to inaugurate Qatar’s $400 billion investment in rebuilding infrastructure smashed in repeated confrontations with Israel — a massive stimulus to an economy choked off by a five-year siege imposed by Israel with Egyptian compliance. [Continue reading...]

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Video: The plight of Qatar’s migrant workers

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Blogger, Rami al-Jarrah, describes his escape from Syria

Rami al-Jarrah, who was blogging and tweeting from Syria under the pseudonym “Alexander Page,” just fled the country after his real identity became known to the intelligence services. Upon his arrival in Qatar he almost got sent back to Syria but thanks to a swift outpouring of support on Twitter, he was allowed in.

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