Cosmopolitanism: An ideology for 2021?

Cosmopolitanism is a political ideology stipulating that all human beings are members of a single global community. In the thought of cosmopolitanism there are many different views about what constitutes this community. This article will focus on the work of Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, who suggests the possibility of a cosmopolitan community in which individuals from various physical, economic and social locations enter relationships of mutual respect despite holding different religious, political and cultural beliefs.

This school of cosmopolitan thought has two main aspects. The first is the universal nature of cosmopolitanism, where everybody is part of a single global community. This postulates that we have responsibility for everybody, and that the boundaries of states should not be the boundary of our moral concern. This creates a universal morality where everybody is entitled to be treated with respect and dignity. However, this concept is not unique to cosmopolitanism. What distinguishes cosmopolitanism is the second aspect, which combines this respect for universality with a recognition that there are forms of difference that should be allowed to exist within communities. People do not have to ascribe to the same values and life principles or be within the same social order for the world to exist harmoniously. Cosmopolitanism recognises that all people, who are entitled to equal respect and dignity, are going to be making different choices and living different lives. They will have different interests and faiths, and will choose to organise themselves and societies differently. In this way cosmopolitanism suggests that whilst we are all a single community, there are forms of difference that are a part of human existence in society. What is important is that these differences do not stop people from connecting with each other and existing in the same communities.

Cosmopolitanism differs from current approaches because of its focus on regular interaction between different groups and cultures in the same space. The UK takes a multiculturalist approach, in which different faiths are celebrated but also segregated, for example through single faith schools. A different approach taken in France is an integrationist approach that aims to minimise cultural differences. This approach requires everybody in France to uphold national cultural values, exemplified by the banning of full face coverings in 2011 and the requirement of secularism in its third sector. Conversely, cosmopolitanism argues that unless many of us subscribe to engaging with each other’s differences to promote living with a shared democratic responsibility, it will be difficult to overcome the issues of living together in a multi-religious and multiracial society. In this way cosmopolitanism is fundamentally different from multiculturalist and integrationist approaches, as it recognises conversation and interaction between different groups and cultures as being fundamental to overcoming differences. Regular interaction between people has a substantial impact because it makes prejudice and stereotypes difficult to uphold. Conversely, if people are siphoned off into separate subcommunities and fail to interact, as can happen in a multiculturalist approach, it becomes harder for individuals to counter prejudice. Similarly, cosmopolitanism gives the right of people to make their own lives, not just as societies but individuals. By maintaining regular interaction and dialogue between these different groups people can work together and share responsibility in building equal states. In this way, cosmopolitanism is fundamentally different from an integrationist approach, as it does not encourage a universal sharing of moral codes and ways of living. Instead, it states in order to build better societies our different ways of life and life choices need to be equally understood, acknowledged and treated as legitimate. Cosmopolitanism therefore promotes the idea of conversation, as well as regular intercultural and interfaith interactions as being essential to build societies that are free from prejudice and bias. These kinds of interactions are not fully facilitated through the multiculturalist and integrationist approaches to structuring society, and so cosmopolitanism represents a progressive alternative.

This is a powerful and useful perspective to consider when discussing current racial issues that exist in our societies, particularly relating to the Black Lives Matter movement. A recent Joint Commission report highlighted in the UK that there are clear racial injustices regarding human rights in healthcare, criminal justice, immigration, nationality and democracy. The report highlights shocking statistics, for example that the death rate for black women in childbirth in British state hospitals is five times higher than for white women. Similarly with regard to higher education, the Higher Education Statistics Authority found that black students are underrepresented in the top universities. In 2016, on average 8% of first-year undergraduates across the UK were black, however this average fell to less than 4% in Russell Group universities. This was even lower for Cambridge and Oxford, whose intakes in the same year were 1.5% and 1.2% respectively. This is by no means the full extent of racial injustice present within our current system, but a small illustration of the ways in which the state and state institutions currently perpetuate racial bias and injustice.

The extremely low intakes of black students in Oxford and Cambridge is an issue in many ways, not least because these two universities produce 90% of the country’s politicians. As a result, black voices are heavily marginalised within the core power of the state and its policy decisions, which to a limited extent explains the prejudice and racial injustice that black people face from the state today. This demonstrates the need to adopt better approaches to understanding different cultures in order to begin to eliminate these injustices. Cosmopolitanism offers a useful path forward in this sense because it proposes that interaction between all cultures is needed in order to transform society into a fairer environment, particularly related to state institutions that lead democratic governance. The lack of diversity in the voices of those currently running the country means that prejudices and biases cannot be properly addressed within state infrastructures. If the intercultural engagement proposed by cosmopolitanism is created, it can change the attitudes of individuals involved in both operating within or speaking to the state system. If this fundamental change is introduced it can help to restructure the state system which currency proliferates bias on racial and cultural identities.

As a political ideology cosmopolitanism clearly possesses a lot of merits in overcoming difference and establishing harmonious and multicultural communities. However, as the example of the UK has shown there is still much work to be done. Although this will undoubtedly be a lengthy process, a long and permanent change is needed from the injustices that permeate so strongly in our society. Cosmopolitanism should be considered, along with many other things, a useful tool in assisting this change into a fairer and equal society. On a conscious level cosmopolitanism is therefore extremely beneficial. The issue is how to build societies that support cosmopolitanism and its values of dialogue and interaction between different faiths and values. How difficult will it be in practice to ensure our societies and communities are organised in ways that sufficient conversation and interaction occurs between all the cultures, religions and values that exist within them? Only by achieving this will societies ensure there is a level of cosmopolitan understanding that reduces bias and allows for an equal appreciation and legitimacy of all values present within that society. This is a valuable question and one which is difficult to answer, but if we are to live in completely equal multiracial and multicultural societies it is a question that ultimately will need to be addressed.

Things go from Bad to Worse in China

Next Century Foundation Secretary General William Morris explores how we can all take action in response to China’s atrocious treatment of the Uighurs and behaviour over Hong Kong in his weekly podcast: Issues of the Week

China’s treatment of the Uighurs and its behaviour over Hong Kong demands a response. Governments do nothing but we can take action. We could start by boycotting Chinese goods. Not easy. Amazon fails to put countries of origin on the goods it markets. A little campaign to force Amazon to do so would do no harm – and for those environmentally inclined would enable us to buy goods without so many air miles (should Amazon comply). One way to twist Amazon’s arm would be to buy our books elsewhere. Here are a few alternative book platforms listed by country:

U.K.

Bookshop – supporting local bookshops; Hive – books, eBooks; Biblio – rare, special, and used books; Alibris – books, textbooks, movies, music; Big Green Bookshop; Eurospan Bookstore; AbeBooks.co.uk

U.S.

Bookshop – supporting local bookshops; Biblio – rare, special, and used books; Alibris – books, textbooks, movies, music; Indie Bound – independent bookshops in U.S.; Thrift Books – second hand books; Book Outlet; Libro – Audiobooks through local bookstores; Overdrive – audiobooks through your local library; Hoopla – borrow movies, eBooks, music with your library card

Anglo-American

World of Books

European

Eurospan Bookstore; Fnac – books, CDs, DVDs, films, electronics, homeware

France

Fnac – books, CDs, DVDs, films, electronics, homeware; Recyclivre – secondhand books; Label Emmaus – secondhand books and other items; La Librarie – books from local bookshops; Place des Libraries – books from local bookshops; Libraries Independentes – books from local bookshops

Canada

Indigo – books, toys, wellness, homeware, fashion, electronics; AbeBooks.com; mcnallyrobinson.com

Worldwide

Better World Books; Book Depository; Book Mooch – book exchange; Wordery; eBooks

Australia & New Zealand

Biblio New Zealand – rare, special, and used books; Biblio Australia – rare, special, and used books; AbeBooks.com; Boomerang Books – independent bookstore; QBD Books; Dymocks

Non-Book Platforms

France

Fnac – books, CDs, DVDs, films, electronics, homeware; Pres de chez nous – supporting independent ethical stores; Label Emmaus – second hand books and other items

Europe

Fnac – books, CDs, DVDs, films, electronics, homeware; Pres de chez nous – supporting independent ethical stores

Canada

Indigo – books, toys, wellness, homeware, fashion, electronics

Worldwide

Bonanza – various products available; Etsy – independent sellers; Pres de chez nous – supporting independent ethical stores

What does a Biden administration mean for the Middle East?

The Next Century Foundation congratulates Joseph Biden Jr. on his victory in the U.S. elections, and we wish him luck during this time of great uncertainty. As a new administration is set to take charge of the White House, we felt it was appropriate to examine President elect Biden’s presumed foreign policy stance on the Middle East. How does he fare in comparison to Trump? Will we witness a radical departure from the Obama era? What does a Biden administration mean for the people of the Middle East?

From Bush to Trump

Much of America’s Middle East policy over the past decade has been a response to the actions of the Bush administration, the consequences of which still reverberate across the region today. Barack Obama campaigned on a message of peace and diplomacy, articulating a desire to withdraw troops from Iraq and rebuild shattered alliances. A few months into his term, he visited Cairo to deliver an enthralling speech aimed at the Islamic world, proposing a new beginning between the U.S. and Muslims globally, based on mutual interest and respect. It’s easy to forget now, but the President’s speech appeared, at the time, to be an extraordinary break from the past. Candid and forthright, and with his usual oratory flair, President Obama signalled a new sense of hope that was so diminished under the Bush administration. The Middle East, for a brief moment, felt inspired. Perhaps the stage had been set for a new America.

But hopes were quickly dashed when it became apparent that President Obama would not prove drastically different in his foreign policy outlook. Granted, he was a more judicious and cultivated presence than the more provincial George W. Bush. But this mattered little when he assisted Europe in toppling Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, leading to a devastating civil war. Obama’s lofty rhetoric also rang hollow when it came to the sheer brutality of his escalated drone strikes policy. Correspondingly, he failed to close Guantanamo and bring the troops home like promised.

The Trump candidacy was likewise a response to the George W. Bush era. The Apprentice star continually admonished Hillary Clinton, perceived as a politician with hawkish instincts who would continue the Bush/Obama doctrine, for voting in favour of the Iraq War. Instead, Trump rallied voters behind a message of ceasing America’s “forever” wars and diminishing its troop presence abroad. After two administrations worth of foreign policy blunders, the message clearly resonated. Donald Trump took home the election, and Washington trembled in its boots. This was someone whose reckless rhetoric and bellicose behaviour indicated a man of uncertain instincts. Would President Trump spell catastrophe for the Middle East?

It turns out: not really. President Trump’s role in the region was a typical exercise in Republican leadership. Although he was initially labelled an ‘isolationist’, this proved questionable as his time passed. Undoubtedly, he often spurned a path of multilateralism and was heavily critical of organizations like the U.N. and the World Health Organisation. But to equate this with a detachment from the world stage would be erroneous. President Trump’s primary goal was, like the Presidents that preceded him, to maintain America’s power globally. He employed an actively hostile posture towards Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, imposed sanctions on countries like Lebanon and Syria, initiated a trade war with China, developed military alliances, and made a concerted effort to embolden the USA’s ally Israel. Altogether, it was not the vast overhaul of foreign policy that pundits expected, much of the speculated fears over Trump’s finger on the nuclear button did not materialize either. But what did change?

For one thing, President Trump certainly appeared more congenial towards authoritarian leaders like Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (even calling the Egyptian President his “favourite dictator”). Boisterous comments like this are indicative of President Trump’s unvarnished populist aesthetic, meant to cast himself as some sort of dramatic rupture in U.S. leadership. But as president, Donald Trump merely vocalized sentiments that always lingered, but were never espoused publicly – dispensing with the pleasantries that usually veil America’s realpolitik agenda. Yes, President Trump extolled President el-Sisi, but the coup that hoisted the Egyptian leader to power occurred on President Obama’s watch, who refused to use the word “coup” and continued to sell F-16s to the Egyptian government. President Obama’s top diplomat John Kerry even described the event as a ‘restoration of democracy’. Yes, President Trump was outwardly more amicable towards the Saudis, but Obama sold billions in arms to the same government (even whilst it was engaged in a deadly war with Yemen) and did little to mitigate its authoritarian tendencies. Iran and Israel were the only significant examples of any major divergence by President Trump, who bowed out of the JCPOA and enforced onerous sanctions on the former, while tightening relationships with the latter by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, along with mustering a peace plan that endowed Israel with large swaths of territory. Aside from these examples, President Trump navigated through the Middle East largely without initiating conflict.

President Biden

Advisors to Biden have claimed that the new leader will spend 80% of his time dedicated to domestic policy, his acceptance speech mentioning little with regards to international affairs. This is hardly unexpected, given the engulfing crisis that is the Covid-19 pandemic. But even within the domain of foreign policy, the U.S. has seen a drift away from an interest in the Middle East. Washington insiders are now absorbed with developments in China, which poses the largest threat in terms of rivalling America’s hegemony. But Joseph Biden will still have a role to play in the Middle East. He will most certainly work towards restoring many of President Obama’s policies – including returning the U.S. to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and to the World Health Organisation. He will rebuild the state department and attempt to restore American diplomacy. Yet what is crucial is how this will translate to concrete action. Joseph Biden is often perceived as another iteration of President Obama – a little more unpolished, granted, but someone who seeks to return to the status quo under the Democrats. But when the Arab world was interviewed, 58% declared that President elect Biden should distance himself from the Obama administration’s policies. It’s evident then, that harkening back to the status quo will not necessarily ensure a fruitful Middle East policy. To come to grips with what a Biden presidency would mean for the region, we can examine a few select countries that might experience the most perceptible changes.

Turkey

Biden has not remained quiet with regards to his enmity for autocratic leadership around the world. He has openly chastised the behaviour of nations like Hungary and China. Turkey also finds itself on this list. Indeed, out of all the leaders in the Middle East, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is perhaps most troubled by the prospects of a Biden presidency. Trump and Erdogan got along cordially, with the former rarely indicating any resistance to the latter’s increasing disdain for human rights and democracy. The same cannot be said about Biden, who has called out Erdogan more explicitly on issues like his aggression towards the Kurds and even partly blamed him for the ascendancy of ISIS in the region. As Vice President, he would often speak openly about Erdogan’s increasing contempt for the public press and free speech in his country. His administration also helped shelter Fethullah Gulen, the man who Erdogan accused of engendering the 2016 coup against him. Biden was perhaps most frank when interviewed by the New York Times editorial board, where he asserted forthrightly that Erdogan was an autocrat and that America should get behind the Turkish opposition in order to remove him from power through the ballot box. Leadership in Turkey worries that Biden will taint the recently strengthened bilateral relationship between the two NATO allies with his human rights rhetoric, and more seriously, threaten their interests in Libya, Syria and the Mediterranean. Questions also remain as to whether Biden will impose sanctions on the country for deciding to purchase Russian S-400s. On the other hand, Biden might tow a similar line to Trump for fear that Turkey could stray from NATO’s orbit. A game of balance will undoubtedly need to be played.

Erdogan has lent Turkey a more assertive role in the region, something that Biden will be forced to address

Iran

Though they maintained an outward ambivalence towards the Biden victory, Iran quietly breathed a collective sigh of relief. The nation has suffered immensely under the Trump administration, which pulled out of the JCPOA and sought to curb the growing regional influence of a then vitalized Iran. The tactic Trump chose was coercion. He did this by strangling Iran’s economy. Oppressive sanctions prevented the country from dealing effectively with Covid-19, taking its mightiest toll on the country’s citizens. In retaliation, Iran abandoned many of their nuclear commitments and hastened its production of enriched uranium. This complicates the situation. Much will have to be done before the two nations can sit down at the table. Biden’s desire is for Tehran to first return to its prior nuclear commitments, while a growingly suspicious Iran might wish to continue its enrichment project if the U.S. does not provide reparations for the betrayal and harm it caused the country over the last four years. Complicating things further is the role of Europe, which has grown wearier of Iran, and will likely demand more concessions from the country before resuscitating the nuclear deal. What is certain is that if Obama’s nuclear deal is re-established, it will likely be followed by echoes of disenchantment across much of the region. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel perceive Iran to be a threat, and any strengthening of its hand will be considered disconcerting.

Israel and Palestine

It was the night before the 2016 election when leaders of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank gathered in Hebron to pray for a victorious Donald Trump. Their wishes were granted. Israel enjoyed a felicitous relationship with the Trump administration, one that yielded the country a litany of triumphs. In the last four years, Netanyahu witnessed a weakened Iran, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and a Middle East plan that would have permitted the annexation of huge swaths of Palestinian land. Biden will certainly not be as cozy with Netanyahu as Trump was – who shared a special, symbiotic relationship with the Israeli leader. A two-state solution will be back on the table, and Israel will have to navigate with more caution and deliberation moving forward, as Biden is more likely to scrutinize certain Israeli actions, including any steps toward the annexation of Palestinian territory. The potential for a strengthened Iran (if Biden is to ease sanctions) also frightens Netanyahu. But Biden, an avid supporter of Israel, will not attempt to reverse any of Trump’s actions. Jerusalem and the Golan Heights will continue to be recognized as part of Israel. The U.S. embassy will not be moved back to Tel Aviv. Military aid will continue to pour into the country. In all likelihood, the President will preside over an era of continued recognition of Israel by its Arab neighbours. This, to the detriment of the Palestinians, who have suffered egregiously over the last four years. Mahmoud Abbas, along with Palestinians generally, will certainly be relieved to see Biden take the helm of America’s foreign policy. But relief should not be confused with jubilation. Indeed, Biden has indicated he will reverse some of Trump’s more draconian policies against Palestine, by restoring humanitarian support to the country and reopening the PLO mission in Washington. But with Israel so emboldened over the last few years, possibilities for a peace deal remain dim. While Biden has opposed Trump’s methods in dealing with the Israel-Palestine issue (i.e. mostly manoeuvring unilaterally), he has not questioned its outcomes.

Saudi Arabia and Yemen

Like Israel, Saudi Arabia will not be celebrating on inauguration day. The opposite is true for Yemen. Biden pronouncing a desire to end American support for the Saudi war in Yemen, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and wreaked havoc on an already penurious nation, has something to do with this. How likely this will manifest into something palpable is another question. The fact that one third of the Pentagon transition team hails from organizations financed by the weapons industry is not the most promising sign. As Vice President, Biden supported the selling of billions worth in arms to Saudi Arabia. What is irrefutable, however, is that Saudi Arabia’s autocratic ambitions will likely be tempered during the next four years, when compared to Trump, who emphatically supported the oil-rich nation. Indeed, it’s safe to say that Biden’s first diplomatic destination won’t be Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohamed Bin Salman will therefore have to practise more restraint when it comes to stamping out dissent in his country, and he will be more reluctant to pull another horrific incident like the Khashoggi affair, which Biden decried, professing that he would “defend the right of activists, political dissidents, and journalists around the world to speak their minds freely without fear of persecution and violence”. MBS will also express disquiet over Biden’s likely decision to reengage in discussions with Iran – a country that Saudi Arabia and many of its neighbours view as an existential threat. But all this must be taken with a grain of salt. If Biden’s tenure will resemble anything like Obama’s, it is likely that the Saudi Monarchy will still receive the generous support of their American allies. Historically, it has mattered little which party has been in charge. The relationship between the two countries has remained almost unassailable.

Syria

Trump will leave a mixed legacy in Syria. On the one hand, he deviated from Obama’s policy of aiming to overthrow Bashar al-Assad by ceasing America’s support for the armed opposition. On the other, he launched (largely symbolic) missiles on President Assad’s forces and imposed his draconian ‘Caesar’ sanctions on Damascus. He expressed disdain for Syrian ally Iran but was warmer to its ally Russia. Likewise, he threw support towards the Kurds for most of his reign, only to abandon them last year, upon swiftly withdrawing most of his troops from the region. Despite this seeming disarray, President Biden is likely to preserve Trump’s policies in the country. Financial pressure will continue. Troops will remain. And the potential for further intervention is unlikely. Because so many interests are entangled in Syria, much of what occurs in the country will also rest on how Biden gets along with countries like Israel, Turkey, Russia and Iran. Syria will welcome a Biden presidency, as his umbrage towards Turkey will prove helpful in reducing their inimical influence – namely in regard to their promotion of division and extremism in Syria. His less affectionate ties to Netanyahu may also prove useful to Syria, which has continually been pummelled by Israeli rockets from next door. Not to mention that President Assad still recalls Obama’s reluctance to attack the country, permitting Iran to enter and rescue his government, along with Biden’s comments arguing against arming the opposition in Syria. Nonetheless, Biden’s Syria policy remains shrouded in ambiguity. Any mention of the country was scant during his campaign. As other theatres of conflict heat up across the region, Biden will leave Syria on the backburner for the time being.

President Assad’s Syria is a tangled web of interests. How Biden approaches the country depends on his relationship with other regional powers.

Libya and Egypt

Libya is a focal point in North Africa. Nations across the region and beyond endeavour to shift the tides of war in their preferred direction. Despite this, America has been relatively apathetic towards the conflict. Biden himself apparently never wished to enter the country in the first place. American strategy is not likely to shift substantially – although unlike his predecessor, Biden might be more inclined to take advantage of multilateralism and work with the U.N. to foster a peaceful solution to the conflict. When it comes to Egypt, however, there might be a more decisive shift. Trump was a faithful ally of Sisi, pumping funds to the country’s military and security apparatus. Biden has chastised Trump for his chumminess with the repressive leader and regularly spoken out against the human rights violations that have occurred under President Sisi’s rule. If this behaviour continues, it would not be entirely unfathomable for Biden to decrease some of America’s expenditure towards Egypt.

Conclusion

Joseph Biden never attained the enthusiasm that Presidents Obama or Trump received when they ascended to power. Most votes cast for the former Vice President were directed against his opponent. The tremendous hope that tailed Biden’s predecessors is notably absent this time around. Ultimately, this works in Biden’s favour. With little expectation, there is little room to disappoint. But the President-to-be should not take this as an opportunity to play idle. He must summon the political will to do what his predecessors failed at doing and work multilaterally to ease tensions in the Middle East, instigate some degree of peace. The region has confronted enough war. It has sustained enough carnage. Biden must ensure that he ameliorates, rather than exacerbates, these profound problems.

COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip: A Disaster in the Making

With 754 new coronavirus infections reported in the Gaza strip on this Friday, the highest single-day total as of yet, COVID-19 appears to be taking a hold on the densely inhabited region (and testing is sparse in Gaza so the real figure will likely be far higher). Until now, Gaza was relatively spared from the successive waves of infections. The situation, however, may end up setting off a ticking time bomb in Gaza as the atrocious living conditions of many Gazans are ideal for disease spread with disastrous swiftness.

In this poignant video all statistics quoted are well sourced and verified. The Palestine Trauma Centre funds and runs much needed psychosocial support and therapeutic projects in the Gaza Strip. If you wish to support the work they do in Gaza, you can do so through their JustGiving appeal page, and their friends invite you to attend their online Yoga meditation on Saturday the 28th of November from 10:00 – 11:45 am GMT, detailed on their JustGiving page.

Indeed, in Gaza there are only 87 ICU beds with ventilators for 2 million people, and many are already occupied – with a capacity to admit and treat 3,234 COVID-19 cases faced with a total of 4,374 active cases (as of the 20th of November), an increasing number of severe cases, and a dearth of personal protective equipment (PPE), this capacity will rapidly be strained. In fact, the head of the European Gaza Hospital, Yousuf Alaqqad, said on Saturday that the hospital could announce at any time its inability to receive new cases, as the hospital and adjacent school used as a quarantine centre are now full. Moreover, electricity shortages and expensive fuel costs for generators are forcing doctors to choose to allocate electricity to patients most in need, such as choosing between running ventilators or lighting up surgery rooms. The difficult issue of triage is one that many Gazan healthcare professionals are now having to face.

The pandemic is only compounding an already dire public health crisis, with the 13-year blockade having made many treatments in Gaza unavailable, providing a difficult choice for the 9000 vulnerable patients each year that need Israel’s exit permits to leave Gaza for treatment, as they risk being infected with COVID-19 when they leave, or risk life-threatening conditions if they remain untreated. If they do leave Gaza for treatment, the mandatory isolation centres upon their return are often underequipped, providing additional risks of infection. The dense living situation in Gaza is also complicating self-quarantine and social distancing conditions, as well as the lack of PPE (only 42% of those that need it can afford or have access to PPE). Economic precarity and the lack of savings after years of hardship for many Gazans also makes isolation impossible.

Self-isolation or not, two successive lockdowns have had their toll on the already precarious economic conditions of many Palestinians. Workers in Gaza have seen their income fall by almost 90% since the start of the pandemic, and tens of thousands have lost their employment. Indeed, poverty rates have been predicted to rise by at least 10% by the World Bank because of the pandemic and almost 60% of Gazans are unable to afford basic food, medicine and supplies, especially as international aid to Gaza has been severely cut in recent years.

Children have also acutely suffered the effects of the lockdown; school closures and the introduction of remote learning has been a challenge for many families when faced with regular power cuts, patchy internet, and a lack of educational resources. Moreover, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) funding that runs the majority of schools, health services and humanitarian aid to Palestinians with refugee status is running dry – it now faces a $70 million funding shortfall and will be unable to pay its staff full salaries in November and December. Aside from the economic impact on many staffers (UNRWA is the main employer in Gaza after the local authorities) and the impact on Palestinian refugees, 80-90% of whom rely on the UNRWA for assistance, many children will see further disruptions in their learning. On top of this, 86% of Palestinian children and adolescents already suffer from symptoms of PTSD as a consequence of the ongoing conflict.

This impact is not only limited to children – the conflict and insecurity has led to 82% of Gazans manifesting signs of mental health issues, such as anxiety and stress as they worry about their inability to support and feed their families. However, 65% are unaware of how to access mental health and psychosocial support services. As economic insecurity and the pandemic worsens with winter’s approach, more Gazans will have to make the impossible choice between feeding their families or buying medicine for sick relatives, especially following the escalation of violence since August, and a tightened blockade by Israel.

Walid Al-Muallem dies

The Arab uprising that swept across the Middle East, took hold in Syria on March 28th 2011.  Ten years on, half a million have lost their lives and 13 million have become refugees, half of these internally displaced as what the UN euphemistically calls IDPs and 5.6 million refugees have fled across Syria’s borders, predominantly to the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.  So the news of the death of Walid Al-Muallem, Syria’s foreign minister, who died on this Monday 16th November, will evoke a chasm of emotions.

Born to a Sunni Muslim family in Damascus, Mr Walid Al-Muallem’s professional career saw him work his way up through the foreign ministry.   Walid Al-Muallem was appointed Foreign Minister in 2005, at a time when Damascus was isolated by some Arab and many Western nations, as the Syrian government was accused of being behind the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Harriri.  This lead to Syria withdrawing its 25,000 troops from Lebanon, its small neighbour it had occupied for 29 years, initially as a peacekeeping force in the aftermath of the terrible and murderous Lebanese civil war.  Ironically that same neighbour is today home to 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have now fled the Syrian civil war. 

Though Walid Al-Muallem took the post of Foreign Minister, at a difficult time when Syria was being ostracised by many governments in the Western World, it was only six years later that he became recognised more widely, as he held regular news conferences from Damascus informing the world of his government’s position in regard to the uprising that was unfolding in the streets of Syria – soon to develop into a full blown civil war.  As the civil war escalated, Walid Al-Muallem used his considerable diplomatic experience to foster allegiances with Iran and Russia and shore up support for President Bashar Assad’s government.

Walid Al-Muallem studied in Cairo University before returning to Syria to start his diplomatic career in 1964.  His missions took him to Saudia Arabia, Madrid, London, Romania and the US.  Despite being the US attaché for nine years, Walid remained sceptical of the US role in peace talks with Israel.  The career diplomat was not been shy in berating the US for their involvement in the current crisis, accusing them of encouraging the turmoil in the country through their support for anti-government forces.

In 2015, Walid Al-Muallem became the first high ranking Syrian diplomat to say the government was prepared to talk to the opposition, in an attempt to reconcile and bring peace. 

Walid Al-Muallem, passed away on Monday, his ailing health having been a contributing factor.  The 79 year old was an openly staunch defender of Syria’s Government of which he was a part. The government has not revealed the cause of Walid Al-Muallem’s death.

As a footnote, now that Walid is no longer with us, we at the NCF can add that he was, in his years as Deputy Foreign Minister, a stalwart worker behind the scenes for a peace with Israel that would involve the return of the Golan. He was engaged in proxy discussions through the NCF’s auspices initially with Deputy Defense Ministers Silvan Shalom and Efraim Sneh c.1996. Sadly the talks came to nothing through no fault of Walid’s, nor, let it be said, of Silvan or Efraim.

Libya: An Overview

With the latest Libyan peace talks currently limping on in Tunisia, Mohamed Fortia, the Next Century Foundation’s lead analyst on Libyan affairs, offers a snapshot of what is happening on the ground.

Cyrenaica (Eastern Libya)

It seems fitting to start with the current situation in Eastern Libya. Being the birthplace of the 2011 revolution, Eastern Libya, which has a population of around 1.6 million people, always opposed Colonel Gaddafi’s government in one way or another. However, opposition to Gaddafi in Eastern Libya was not uniform, this mainly due to the demographic makeup of the region.

The first of the main groups that make up the people of the East are the Bedouins who are largely tribal and reside in the smaller towns. The second are the non-Bedouins who mainly reside in the city of Benghazi and to a lesser extent Darna and Tobruk. Most of these non-Bedouins are descended from Western Libyans who migrated to these cities generations ago and now form a large majority of Benghazi’s almost 700,000 population. When it came to the opposition to Gaddafi, the grievances of the two groups were different, with the Bedouins being tribal in nature they were mainly unhappy that their tribes were not in higher positions of power. In contrast, the mainly city-dwelling non-Bedouins were unhappy with more individualistic issues such as access to better services in the East and access to more opportunities. It is important to make this distinction as it highlights the current situation in the East of the country.

When General Haftar initiated his campaign against the militias (some Daesh affiliated) in Benghazi back in 2014, it was reluctantly welcomed by the city’s population, as prior to the campaign the militias had been committing assassinations across the city with complete impunity. However, General Haftar’s campaign did not target only the militias, but many in his forces (most of whom were volunteers from various tribes) started targeting the homes and businesses of the non-Bedouin residents. This led to a mass exodus from the city of people who ultimately became internally displaced in Western Libya. General Hafter’s campaign also targeted any form of opposition, and this came in the form of removing all of the democratically elected councils in the East of the country and replacing them with his own military councils. Many in Benghazi were and are still opposed to this.

There have also been a number of disappearances. One sad example of this is the forceful abduction of Ms Seham Sergewa, who is the House of Representatives member for Benghazi and a critic of General Haftar. Her whereabouts are still unknown. Cause for great concern was the recent killing of Ms Hanan al-Barassi. She was a lawyer and activist based in Benghazi, and she ran a local association for the defence of women’s rights. Hanan was a staunch critic of General Haftar and regularly called for the reintroduction of civilian rule in Benghazi.

House of Representatives (HOR)

Although the legitimate legislature in Libya, the Tobruk based House of Representatives has more or less been reduced to a mere rubber stamp for General Haftar. This especially became the case after the targeted attacks on those seen as being in opposition to General Haftar (including Seham Sergewa), which led to many Western House of Representatives members fearing for their safety and fleeing to the West of the country. This left the House of Representatives with mainly eastern representatives, many of whom are from constituencies that support General Haftar.

However, with General Haftar’s recent military defeats there have been some moves by the House of Representatives members to regain control of the parliament and become the main political force once again in the East. We see this with the recent talks being held in Tunisia and the overt gestures by Ageela Saleh (Head of the House of Representatives) to come to a settlement with the executive branch in Tripoli.

Foreign actors in the East

Although officially the entire international community recognises the Government in Tripoli as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan state; many countries are undermining the Tripoli Government and are aiding General Haftar with his campaign. The main supporters being the Russians through the Wagner Group, as well as the French, the Egyptians and most notably the UAE. There have even been talks of a possible Russian naval base in either the city of Tobruk or Darna. This would give the Russians a strong foothold in the Mediterranean.

Tripolitania (Western Libya)

Western Libya contains almost 60% of Libya’s entire population, some 3.6 million people. In fact, the greater Tripoli area alone contains almost a third of Libya’s entire population. Being the most populous region in Libya, Western Libya had benefited from a concentration of both political and economic capital throughout Libya’s history, especially in cities like Tripoli. However, Western Libya does not have as much of a strong tribal structure as in the East, and since there were more opportunities offered in the West, there was less resistance against Colonel Gaddafi’s administration.

Post-2011 Libya saw the decline of a strong central government, and this led to the rise and empowerment of locally elected councils throughout the country. Unlike in the East, where General Haftar removed all the elected councils early on; the councils in the West grew so much that many cities in Western Libya are currently operating almost as mercantile city-states. These cities are only nominally aligned to the weak central government. A great example of this are the cities of Misrata and Zliten. However, this is not the case with Tripoli. Although the central government is weak, it does still hold the purse strings of Libya in the form of the Central Bank, The National Oil Corporation and the Libyan Investment Authority. These three institutions are administered by the central government that currently sits in Tripoli. This has led many of these different cities to compete for influence in Tripoli and has led to several instances of conflict in the capital. At times militias have sought to take full control of the capital, but due to the sheer number of differing militias in the region, it is almost impossible for one group to do so. This is somewhat good news as unlike in the East where a single military force has taken full power, the militias in the West are individually weak and so civilian-led institutions can still function.

Government of National Accord (‘GNA’)

Created in 2015 through the UN-led Skhirat Agreement, the GNA was seen as the solution to the instability that had arisen due to the confused and inconclusive 2014 parliamentary elections. The Skhirat agreement was signed off on by both the rump General National Congress (who contested the results) and the newly formed House of Representatives. It was thought that since both sides had agreed to the formation of the GNA, then a lasting solution could be reached. The only issue was that by the time the House of Representatives was to officially pass the agreement in parliament, General Haftar had already started his campaign in Benghazi and had already taken over most of the East, including Tobruk (where the House of Representatives was sitting). The House of Representatives became unwilling to pass the agreement they had initially signed off on.

The GNA, having been created under the guidance of the United Nations, received full international recognition and went on to represent the executive branch of the country. However, this meant that the still legitimate legislative branch (House of Representatives) did not recognise the executive branch and so created a political impasse in the country. This impasse grew year on year and caused the GNA to rely ever more on a patchwork of militias in order to assert control in the region. Combined with the gradual loss of interest in Libyan affairs from the US after the 2016 elections, and the constant interference by foreign powers against the GNA; the GNA was ultimately left very weak and ineffective to govern.

Foreign influence in the West

From its inception in 2015, the GNA was and is the sole legal representative of the Libyan state, and so it has the sole recognition the UN. The major powers pay lip service to this recognition whilst at the same time undermining the GNA, France and Russia being prime examples. However, whereas most foreign interference that went against the Skhirat Agreement was somewhat hidden, ever since the 2016 US presidential election this interference has become more brazen.

In 2018 the UN arranged for the Libyan National Conference, which was another attempt to reach a lasting agreement in Libya. The conference was to be held on the 14th of April 2019 in Ghadames and had the aim of providing new elections in the country and a renewed sense of legitimacy to the Libya authorities. The GNA accepted this plan and went so far as to actually hold several local elections mostly in the West and South of the country, seeing how the East was out of their control. All seemed to be going to plan then on the 4th of April 2019 Haftar initiated an attack on Tripoli. It should be noted that UN Secretary-General António Guterres had arrived in Tripoli on the exact same day to ensure that all was ready for the conference.

Although the bombing of Tripoli was denounced by the international community especially as it seemed to be planned for the arrival of the UN secretary-general, no major steps were taken to stop this new outbreak of fighting. The GNA found it very difficult to withstand General Haftar’s advance, especially now that some major superpowers were all but openly backing him. After three months of constant shelling the GNA decided to seek assistance from nations such as Turkey and Italy in order to prevent itself from collapsing.

This led to the GNA signing a security agreement with Turkey in January of 2020, which was passed in the Turkish parliament in the same month. Legally there is nothing stopping two sovereign nations conducting such an agreement. However, the GNA did have to sign a new maritime border with Turkey, which was seen by many as a way for Turkey to increase influence over the Aegean Sea.

With Turkey now openly supporting the GNA, other nations such as France and the UAE were unwilling to step up in the same way, for fears of a full-on confrontation with the Turkish military. This allowed the GNA forces to retake lost territories. This weakened General Haftar so much so that there have recently been mass protests in Benghazi denouncing him and allowed the House of Representatives to distance themselves from General Haftar and come back to the negotiating table.

Fezzan (Southern Libya)

Unfortunately, Southern Libya, with a population of around 500,000 people in total, plays a very small role in Libyan politics. This has led to much neglect in the region and allowed human traffickers to operate freely and increase to the migration problem that is faced by southern EU nations. Although not very important to Libyan affairs, Southern Libya is critical to finding a solution to the migration problem and so the international community needs to ensure that the region is given its importance when any discussion on Libya occurs.

Where things stand today

Currently, there are renewed peace talks in Tunisia, with the idea of creating a joint security force made up of ten commanders, five from the West and five from the East, who will jointly run the city of Sirte. General Haftar has refused to accept these talks, and so it is mainly made up of the GNA, House of Representatives and several local councillors.

The Egyptians have backed down momentarily as they are now concerned with the looming crisis coming from Ethiopia. It is also hoped that with a new US presidency, Joseph Biden would seek to make right the mistakes of the international community in Libya. It is hoped that with the return of the US to the global stage, it will deter other nations from foreign interference in Libya. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina divided over Biden’s victory

On the night of Joe Biden’s presidential success in the United States, Bosniaks drove through Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, honking horns and waving intertwined US and Bosnian flags through car windows. In the background, a picture of a young Biden engaging in conversation with Bosnia’s first president, Alija Izetbegović in 1993 reflected off the face of the Vijećnica; the momentous city hall that had been heavily bombed a year prior.

Biden’s victory over the incumbent Trump has sparked hope for Muslims within Bosnia and Herzegovina, who remember Biden’s involvement in stirring American politicians from their slumber in response to the war that took place in the country from 1992 to 1995. Throughout this time, Biden as a U.S. senator had advocated the bombing of Belgrade and the lifting of the embargo that had been introduced before the war on the whole of Yugoslavia, which was perceived by Bosniaks as a hindrance to their advancement a few years later.

During Biden’s election campaign this year, he vowed to help Bosnia and Herzegovina enter NATO, and do something to resolve the issue of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbia’s (Republika Srpska) refusal to comply with policies emerging from the political capital, Sarajevo. These potential developments are not regarded favourably by most Bosnian Serbs however, who argue that they received the tail end of Biden’s benevolence towards Bosnia and Herzegovina in its war years. Due to Biden’s opposition to Serbia’s government in the past and to the activities of current anti-state representatives like Milorad Dodik who sit on the United States’ blacklist, this may cause extra tensions to mount between the two largest ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina and their constituent territories. Both sides had rooted for opposing candidates in the run up to the elections; namely Muslims for Biden and Serbians for Trump. However, irrespective of the differences, the unifying factor at play for both ethnicities is the decisive role that the U.S. holds in ensuring a stable, functioning democracy in the country, since the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995.

With every new U.S. presidential term that comes, the question arises as to how much effort the U.S. administration will invest to save the country whose constitution they once drafted for peace, but that has in the post-war years caused more division than unity. Biden’s inauguration in January will provide a change to Trump’s inattentiveness towards the delicate situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Balkans on a whole. To what extent? This remains largely unknown, but it is acknowledged that in many respects, the fate of this country 25 years ago and today is still very much reliant on the involvement of the international community. We can only hope that the United States – irrespective of its own domestic issues – will be inclined, if only for the sake of its own reputation, to act to help resolve this issue in the foreseeable future.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Joe Biden: the future of US-Myanmar Relations

The success of Joe Biden in the U.S. presidential elections mirrors an eerily similar situation in Myanmar; the 8th of November marked the second election in Myanmar since the end of military rule in 2015 and final results are still trickling in. Nonetheless, a clear winner emerged. Like in the United States, Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD), Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s flagship party, appear to have won an absolute majority of seats in parliament and with this, they will begin their second five-year term in power.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has most likely mixed feelings about the U.S. elections; on one hand, like Biden, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also faces an opponent unwilling to concede defeat. The army-backed party, the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), refuses to accept her victory, calling for a military-managed re-run of the election – they accuse the NLD of bribing voters and electoral fraud. Biden as president could also put Myanmar back on the map in terms of foreign policy (Trump notoriously responded with “where is that?” when a Rohingya refugee asked about his plan to help return Rohingya refugees to Myanmar) and economic engagement, as Myanmar continues to flourish economically after decades in isolation.

However, being back on the map may not be all it’s cracked out to be; Myanmar’s dismal human rights record and genocidal tendencies have been harshly criticised and even sanctioned by many states, and Biden may decide to shift the United States back to the role of the “world’s policeman”. However, this is unlikely to be more than a mild reprimand in the face of more pressing U.S. domestic issues such as the global pandemic, attempts to keep a shaky economy afloat, and a deepening political polarisation. A mixed bag, but one that is unlikely to change much in Myanmar’s political landscape.

Libya: No instruction manual for the country

President Muammar Gaddafi was removed from power in October of 2011. Contrary to popular belief, post-Gaddafi Libya did not fall immediately into the chaos and instability that is plaguing the country right now. In fact, Libya was seen as being relatively stable compared with the other Arab Spring nations and was one of the first to hold free and fair elections back in 2012. Libya’s current instability can mainly be traced back to the parliamentary elections of 2014. The low voter turnout (18%) coupled with the growing sense of political apathy/cynicism among the population lead to a weak parliament, the creation of two competing governments and the rise of anti-democratic movements within the country.

The lack of a Constitution

Fast forward to today and Libya is still struggling with the issues of the 2014 elections in one form or other.

The founding block of any nation is the contractual relationship between those who govern and the governed. This usually comes in the form of a codified constitution and is used by a nation to outline the rights of its citizens and delineate the powers of its government, as well as the scope of those powers. Libya does not currently have a constitution, and this has posed a problem for both the General National Congress (‘GNC’) that was elected in 2012 and the House of Representatives (‘HOR’) that was elected in 2014. Neither of the two governments had any real guidance as to how they can govern the country. The result of not having a document to look back to, caused the two to be weak and susceptible to constant challenges to the legitimacy of their authority.

This issue is not one you would often see in other countries, that’s because many states consider the creation of a constitution as their top national priority. This occurred in post-revolution America back in 1776, and it was the same in post-revolution Tunisia in 2011. In Libya however, the National Transitional Council (‘NTC’) was more concerned about not being seen as another non-elected regime than it was about creating a functioning democratic roadmap for the country. Because of this, the NTC hastily set about organising elections for a new government (GNC) and only provided a weak and ambiguous Interim constitution for them. It was not until 2014 that a 60-member Constitution Drafting Assembly (‘CDA’) was elected in order to draft a constitution.

The CDA has proven to be very inefficient and incapable of providing Libya with a strong constitution. Although in 2017 the Assembly had managed to create and publish a final draft of a proposed constitution, the political seal of approval needed to pass it proved impossible to obtain. Libya has found itself in a catch 22 situation. The lack of a political framework in the country has caused political gridlock, and because of this, there is very little way for a new constitution to be ratified. This precarious situation regarding the constitution might not be all that bad. Although admirable and providing many protections, the 2017 draft constitution is vague and many of its articles could be read in contradiction with one another. This can pose many more problems in the future than it would solve. The fact that the CDA has yet to create and implement a constitution does provide Libya with the unique opportunity to amend the imperfections of the draft constitution or alternatively learn from the mistakes of the current CDA and start from Scratch.

Resolving the issue

As mentioned, one way of going about fixing Libya’s lack of constitution problem is to go back to the 2017 draft and amend the sections that would prove problematic in the future. The benefits of this are that there would be no need for new elections for a new CDA and the work would mostly involve amendments and not a complete rewrite. The cons of this approach are that the CDA, like the HOR, also received low voter turnout, boycotts and voter suppression during the course of their election. Furthermore, after 6 years in office, many in the country may wish for a fresh start with regards to the constitution.

A new Constitutional Drafting Assembly

Creating a new CDA (Constitutional Drafting Assembly) would come in the form of holding a nation-wide election to elect a 60 member body to draft a new constitution. This is the same size as the current CDA, however, unlike the current one the membership of the new CDA should be divided equally among the historical states of Libya (Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan). Unlike a legislature, which should be based on proportional representation, the CDA is creating a lasting document that needs to ensure the rights of all Libyans regardless of factions (geographic or other). Therefore, each state would receive 20 members, and they should be divided equally between men and woman.  Furthermore, there should be an equal split among Arabs and Berbers 30:30, with the 30 Berber members divided equally among the three states and among the three Berber groups of Libya (Tuareg, Amazigh and Tebou). They will also be further divided equally between men and women. Each state’s members would look something like the following.

10 Arab delegates (5 male and 5 female)

10 Berber Delegate (5 male and 5 female)

Among the three states, there would be 30 Arabs composing of 15 men and 15 women. 30 Berbers composing of 10 Amazigh, 10 Tuaraq and 10 Tebou members and within each Berber group they would be divided equally between men and women (5:5).

What it could look like

Tripolitania

5 Arab men5 Arab women
5 Amazigh men5 Amazigh women

Cyrenaica

5 Arab men5 Arab women
5 Tebou men5 Tebou women

Fezzan

5 Arab men5 Arab women
5 Tuareg men5 Tuareg women

A Helping Hand

One thing is certain, and that is without a firm push from the international community for political stability in Libya, the current CDA or the potentially new CDA will have an almost impossible task of implementing a new constitution.

The international community had (and still does hold) a responsibility to Libya and specifically the liberal democracies of the world. It is shameful that in the years following the Arab Spring, these democratic nations failed to take the opportunity to expand and strengthen the ideals of liberalism in these nations. One would have thought the at least the EU which has experience in aiding former authoritarian nations in democratic transition, would have jumped at the chance of creating a so-called democratic, stable, southern shield for themselves. In fact, what has happened is that by neglecting their duties, the Europeans had allowed for a civil war to break out in Libya, that has led to mass migration into Europe. This has ultimately weakened the EU to such an extent that authoritarianism and strong man leaders are creeping back into Europe. Even Tunisia, which is the sole democratic nation in the Arab world, is receiving almost no aid from its EU neighbours and is currently holding on to that democracy by a thread. Tunisia could have been transformed into a shining example of what a stable democracy could bring to the Middle East. Yet what we see is the opposite, and in fact, nations such as France are actively aiding non-democratic movements in Libya and the region, so much so that they are aiding the Russians in gaining a stronger foothold in the Mediterranean and destabilising EU nations such as Italy and Malta.  The EU needs to get its house in order and return to its ideals of promoting human rights, liberalism and democracy, and one way to achieve this is by aiding its southern neighbours into establishing stable liberal governments.

In the days and months ahead

With the Biden victory in the US elections, we are cautiously optimistic that a Biden presidency would mean a US foreign policy that would aim to correct what Obama regarded as the greatest mistake of his presidency, his failure to take steps to help build the institutions necessary to create peace in Libya. Hopefully, Biden will take a stand against counterproductive interference from the regional powers and once again pursue a policy of promoting democracy and the ideals of liberalism. Hopefully, with a more forceful guiding hand, the process of implementing a new constitution in Libya will become an attainable goal.

Saeb Erekat – Lifelong Commitment striving for Peace for Palestine

The Next Century Foundation is sorry to hear news of the death of Dr Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian who perhaps did more than any other to help shape the Middle East peace process. May God rest his soul. Sadly he died before his time as a consequence of coronavirus.

On Tuesday 10th of November, hundreds of Palestinians attended the funeral of Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.  Dr Erekat was a key negotiator in Palestinian peace talks with Israel, and helped negotiate the Oslo Accords in 1993, that lead to Yassar Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzakh Rabin jointly receiving the Noble Peace Prize.

History shows that peace can only be built if one party takes the first step to enter into discussions honestly and moralistically.  This is what Erekat did, he took the unprecedented steps to start a dialogue of peace with Israel, to achieve what he wholeheartedly believed in, a two-state solution.  This was a cause he gave earnest devotion to throughout his life, and a cause he believed in with sincerity to his final days.

Saeb Erekat received his doctorate in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Bradford, UK, having completed his tertiary education in the United States in International Relations and attaining an MA in Political Science.  This solid grounding lead him to first teach Political Science at the An-Najah National University, when he returned to the West Bank, and later become the key negotiator for the PLO delegation. 

Dr Erekat advocated a diplomatic solution to the Israel- Palestine conflict, asserting there was no military solution to the situation.  Breaking the long-held taboo on both sides to enter discussions with their respective counterparts, Erekat took the first steps by negotiating at the 1991 Madrid Conference, albeit under guise of the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, as his counterparts were not willing to attend a conference with the PLO.  These landmark discussions at the Madrid Conference were the first of many that lead to the Oslo Accords.

Erekat was involved in most of the peace negotiations with Israel, being an advocate for the two-state solution.  He was remembered as a friend by both the Palestinians and the left-wing of Israel’s politicians.  Described as “the brother and the friend, the great fighter” by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his senior negotiating counterpart, Israel’s Gilad Sher, tweeted “Erekat has contributed much more than most living Palestinians to advance the resolution of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict via a negotiated 2 state Peace agreement” and was a “man he considered a friend throughout the 25 tumultuous years in the Israeli Palestinian arena.”

The death of Saeb Erekat comes a day after Remembrance day, commemorating the end of World War I that saw the signing of The Treaty of Versailles.  However, scholars like the British historian, AJP Taylor acknowledge in his book, ‘The Origins of the Second World War’, “the peace of Versailles [treaty] lacked moral validity from the start”, and was a war-making rather than peace-making treaty, consequently leading to the Second World War.  In the same respect, some dismiss the Oslo Accords that were negotiated by Saeb Erekat as conceding Palestinian territory without finalising the status of the fundamental issues of borders, refugees, settlements and Jerusalem, and claimed it contributed to the second intifada of 2000.  Without reaching a settlement on these key issues, retrospectively the Oslo Peace accord has veered off the path for Palestinian self-determination, and arguably diminished Palestinian power. 

Despite this, Dr Erekat used his position as chief Palestinian negotiator on numerous occasions in the Camp David summit in 2000, the Taba negotiations in 2001, and in 2007 working with Mahmoud Abbas at the Annapolis conference, to bring talks back on track and strike an agreement for the two-state solution, but without success.

The 65 year old past away following complications after contracting COVID-19 and was buried in his hometown of Jericho, 25 miles North East of his birth place in East Jerusalem.  The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres described Dr Erekat as being “dedicated to the peaceful pursuit of justice, dignity and legitimate rights of Palestinians to self-determination, sovereignty and statehood.”  Until his last few days he remained hopeful and steadfast in his belief that a peaceful two-state solution was achievable, messaging the Israel’s former foreign minister Tzipi Livni during his illness, “I’m not finished with what I was born to do”.

The Next Century Foundation extends our heartfelt condolences to his wife Niemeh and his four children Salam, Dalal, Ali and Muhammed.

Jonathan Sacks, a great thinker, a great man

The Next Century Foundation is deeply sadened to report the death of former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. He was one of the world’s most remarkable of men. In the public arena he was known as a great and visionary thinker, whilst privately behind closed doors, he engaged in incisive political dialogue with more than one of the leading figures of the Islamic World. Indeed his dialogue with one key Islamic leader, arguably changed the course of history in some degree though it was never publicised in any way. His work in the cause of justice and peace is little known and will probably always remain unheralded.

Jonathan Sacks was a remarkable man in so many ways. He always had time for you, and he would make time if he had no time. He treated prince and pauper with equal magnanimity and graciousness. He was a believer in inclusivity but controversially in the eyes of some, he none the less valued our differences. He was a true multiculturalist in the best of ways.

I well remember my first meeting with him when Rabbi Herschel Gluck brought him to Lord Alliance’s home for the first in a short series of world changing private dialogues with one of his most prominent counterparts in the Islamic World, the leader of the Safavid Sufi movement, Seyed Safavi (now generally known as Ayatollah Safavi). I remember the then Chief Rabbi’s gentle thoughtfulness, his inspirational assertion that we should all place an equal value on one another, that we are all of us, saints, sinners, rich and poor alike, of equal value in the eyes of God, and that all religions shared common threads though we should respect the differences.

Those dialogues, held in both London and Paris, most of which were hosted by the Next Century Foundation, were secret at the time but we were today given permission by key participants to mention at least something of them. The men involved made commitments to one another to take public stances that were world changing at great personal risk. For example this from Jonathan Sacks the then Chief Rabbi, who really went out on a limb himself to ensure that corresponding steps were taken on the part of prominent Muslims: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/aug/27/israel.religion – and then in turn and in direct response, and blazing a trail in the Islamic World, this statement was issued by his friend and interlocutor:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/1434489/Suicide-bombings-are-against-Islam-says-leading-Iranian-cleric.html

Over the years I would meet Jonathan Sacks here and there. On more than one occaision those meetings would be at Israel’s national day receptions. He would always have time to argue some fine point of philosophy. I was more of an integrationalist than he, believing in the melting pot approach so prevalent in the sixties. In that respect I think we both represented opposite poles of the magnet, and I now begin to think that there is a middle road in philosophy, that represented by Kwami Appiah’s “cosmopolitanism”.

All I can say for certain is that Jonathan Sacks was one of the greatest minds I have ever had the priviledge to meet. More than a great mind. There are great thinkers that never change the world because they are neither great communicators nor do they have the courage to take risks. Jonathan Sacks could communicate. I would listen out for his messages and thoughts on Radio Four in the early morning from time to time. His dulcet tones helped make it a safer world as he reached millions with his broadcasts.

Jonathan Sacks was a man much loved. The world is a poorer place for his passing, but it is a far far better place, and indeed a safer place, for his having lived.

Bahrain mourns its Prime Minister, HRH Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa

On 11th November, the Kingdom of Bahrain with a heavy heart began a week long period of mourning for its late Prime Minister HRH Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa.

HRH Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa was Bahrain’s and the world’s longest serving Prime Minister. According to Bahrain’s official news agency, he passed away at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in the US where he was receiving treatment. 

Prince Khalifa was born into the Al Khalifa dynasty that has ruled Bahrain for the past two centuries. His father, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, ruled the island from 1942 to 1961 until Prince Khalifa’s brother took power in 1971. Under an informal agreement, Prince Khalifa ran the government and economy, whereas his brother handled the island’s diplomacy and ceremonial duties. He worked relentlessly from day one alongside his cabinet of ministers on the ambition of bringing Bahrain up to speed with modern nations to reach the hopes and dreams of its people.

During his years in government, he was seen as a traditionalist who had run the country since it’s independence from Britain in 1971. During those years, Bahrain witnessed steady economic development and growth across various sectors. He was also a staunch ally of the United States and Saudi Arabia as well as a defender of the ruling dynasty and monarchy in the Kingdom. Prince Khalifa forged a close alliance with the United States, who made Bahrain a base for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

The country has in past few hours, named the Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa as the new Prime Minister. Prior to this, the Crown Prince served as the first deputy Prime Minister and presided over the last sessions of the Council of Ministers, during the period of Prince Khalifa bin Salman’s illness.