King Salman’s son Prince Mohammed bin Salman named as new crown prince

On Wednesday morning King Salman of Saudi Arabia named his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the next heir to the Saudi throne, sweeping aside his son’s oldest rival, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. King Salman’s royal decree removed his nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, from the line of succession and from his post as interior minister. The promotion of Mohammed bin Salman to the position of crown prince marks the end of the gradual removal of powers from the previous Mohammed bin Nayef.

While some are calling the royal decree emblematic of a coup d’état in which Mohammed bin Nayef has been ousted; the decision has not come as a shock. It is the case that the timing has been unexpected, but the influence of Mohammed bin Salman has been consistently growing culminating in this decision. The new crown prince has enjoyed growing influence following his father’s accession to the throne in 2015. Shortly after King Salman’s accession to the throne, he was appointed as defence minister and later in the same year was named deputy crown prince.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s influence is perhaps most apparent in his role as defence minister in leading Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen fighting the Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen. It is widely believed that Mohammed bin Salman has been a driving force behind the decision to cut diplomatic ties and enforce a blockade on Qatar. Despite being behind this inconclusive and damaging military campaign, he is popular amongst Saudis for his reforms to the country’s ineffective state bureaucracy and his new long term economic plan “Vision 2030” which aims to wean the Kingdom off its dependence on oil.

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Prince Mohammad bin Salman, as Defence Minister, with US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis before a bi-lateral meeting held at the Pentagon, Washington DC, March 16 2017. 

King Salman’s decision to cement the position of Mohammed bin Salman brings into question what the consequences in the region will be, particularly with regards to the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen. Significantly, the decision to replace the 57-year-old Mohammed bin Nayef with King Salman’s 31-year-old son will give the Kingdom something it has not experienced in over half a century – a young King with the potential to rule for over 4 decades.

It is too early to predict the precise effects of this appointment on the stance of the Kingdom with regards to respective nation states in the region. That being said, given the current aggressive stance under King Salman towards Iran, it is likely that this will either continue or worsen under the crown prince. What is for sure, is that Mohammed bin Salman’s appointment will have significant ramifications for Middle Eastern politics, and more specifically for the Gulf, in the long-term.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Refugees than Ever Before?

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In a world where one in 200 children has the status of a refugee, it is of upmost importance to think of those who had no other choice than to move away from home. Today is International Refugee Day, a day that raises awareness about the issue among political leaders and civil society. Since the UN General Assembly decided in 2000 to make June 20 a day that would honour refugees around the world, members of society and heads of state have annually been reminded of the challenges that lie ahead. Thus, also today, nation-states must take into account the responsibility they face in terms of hosting and integrating refugees on their territory, while people like you and I must inform themselves of the challenges refugees face in their everyday life.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, 28,300 people a day are forced to flee their homes due to persecution and conflict, while the overall number of refugees on a global scale is as high as 22.5 million. Countries like Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon, that are geographically close to war zones, are hosting a vast number of displaced families; and throughout the last few years the number has constantly increased. The war in Syria has led to a refugee crisis that forced many to cross borders and to settle down in neighbouring countries as well as striking out for  Europe. We currently face the highest levels of displaced people on record. The number of refugees has almost tripled in the last decade, while thousands have died in the Mediterranean Sea on their way to a better life.

The British Election

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The outcome of the British elections, hung parliament though it may be, is in many respects encouraging. Though the Brexit issue may not have been in the forefront of all voters’ minds, this is a vote against hard Brexit, and thus a vote for less disharmony between Britain and the other nations of Europe. Furthermore the unique vote in Scotland, one place in which the Conservative Party did better, was a vote, in part, against the concept of Scottish independence. And we see too much micro-nationalism in the world today. A world in which we all need to work together, rather than working against one another for our own selfish interest.
The true winner of the elections was democracy. The United Kingdom, in the face of terror and fear, provided the world with a prime example of how to respond. People went to the polls to participate in a peaceful democratic process. There is an example here for many nations across the globe, when faced with tyranny, a genuine respect for democracy is of the utmost importance. For if we resort to the ballot box rather than the bullet, to resolve our differences we build a safer tomorrow – and a better world for our children.

And the hidden plus was that this vote was a vote led by the young. The youth of Britain had felt dissempowered by the Brexit vote. This was payback time. it has implications for democracy in the future.

May´s snap election: the facts

Although Theresa May was hoping to strengthen her leadership with a snap election and thought to increase her mandate in Britain´s negotiations with the EU regarding Brexit, the actual election results did not meet her expectations. The Tories lost 13 seats in the House of Commons and thus their parliamentary majority, while the Labour party on the other side gained 30 seats, leading to a hung parliament. This rather unexpected election outcome has forced the Conservative Party to enter into discussions with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland in order to form a DUP-Tory alliance.

Brexit talks in the aftermath of the elections

Undoubtedly however, a hung parliament signifies uncertainty for Britain´s future relationship with the European Union. A soft Brexit, meaning that Britain would after all remain a member of the European Economic Area, is more likely than before due to the loss of MPs on the conservative benches, and negotiations with Brussels are thus likely to become messier and longer. European politicians and diplomats are starting to worry about the disastrous effect that a hung parliament could have on the UK-EU future relationship and perceive a weak prime minister as a threat to Brexit talks. Article 50 is triggered, the clock is ticking and Brexit talks need to be concluded in 2019.

Diversity within the new parliament

Yet, no matter how uncertain the future between continental Europe and the UK may be, there is something positive to focus on: diversity within the newly elected House of Commons. Never before has a British parliament been so diverse. The statistics speak for themselves. While the 2015 election brought 191 women into parliament, in 2017 women represent almost 32 %, an increase of 9 %. The number of ethnic minority MPs has also increased by 41 since 2015. Moreover 45 members of parliament consider themselves part of the LGBT community, while the number of disabled MPs and of those who went to state schools rose as well.

 

The 10th International Media Awards to be held in London later this month

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The International Media awards are, presented in London, to celebrate high standards of journalism across the world, but with particular emphasis on Middle-Eastern reporting.

The awards will be presented at a ceremony held by the International Council for Press and Broadcasting, a group now allied to the International Communications Forum, a body affiliated with the Next Century Foundation. The awards honour editors, journalists, bloggers and anyone else who played a role in fostering understanding between people, and demystifying complex wars.

The awards are divided into several categories:

  • The Peace through Media prizes are for senior journalists, who have contributed to better understanding throughout their careers, and comprise the symbolic gift of an olive tree.
  • The Cutting Edge prizes are for journalists recognised for their high standards of analysis and reporting, often in conflict situations.
  • The Breakaway prize is for young journalists, who have already begun to make an impact at the beginning of their careers.
  • The Lifetime Achievement prize.
  • The Photography & Visual Media prize
  • The Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting prize
  • The New Media prize

In this highly advanced technological age, in  which the seeds of war can be sown from  misunderstanding, The International Media Awards recognise the media’ s integral role in achieving peace, truth and rapprochement.

Water-Apartheid in the Palestinian Territories

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The right to safe drinking water is recognised by the United Nations as a fundamental human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and an adequate standard of living”. The UN calls upon all states to ensure that every person, “without discrimination”, has access to “sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use”.

Yet this is a distant reality for millions of Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip; instead they live with water that is contaminated, overpriced and chronically short in supply.

In the Gaza Strip, at least 95% of groundwater extracted from the Coastal Aquifer is so heavily contaminated it is “unfit for human consumption” according to UNICEF. After decades of over-exploitation by Palestinian and Israeli authorities, Gaza’s only aquifer has become severely depleted and susceptible to seawater and sewage contamination. Water shortages and widespread contamination are compounded by lasting conflict between Israel and Gaza’s de facto Hamas administration: in 2014 this conflict saw crucial water infrastructure targeted and destroyed by Israeli airstrikes. Subsequently, Israel’s long-standing blockade on Gaza continues to restrict the entry of specialist materials needed to rebuild and repair this damaged infrastructure.

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Meanwhile, in the West Bank, the right of Palestinians to safe water is systematically undermined through an unequal water-sharing agreement with Israel: the 1995 Oslo II Accord. This agreement grants Israel exclusive control of roughly four times the Palestinian allocation of ‘shared’ water resources, despite Israelis and Israeli settlers comprising a vastly smaller proportion of the West Bank’s population. The disparity in water consumption is shocking: a 2013 report by local NGO Al-Haq found that 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank collectively consumed over six times as much water as 2.6 million Palestinians.

Moreover, a discriminatory permit regime enables Israel to prevent Palestinians from building and maintaining water infrastructure in the West Bank. Where building work has taken place without Israeli approval, authorities have demolished vital structures including basic latrines, water tanks and piping networks serving Palestinian communities.

Faced with chronic water shortages and widespread contamination, many Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank spend between 20-30% of their income purchasing overpriced water from Israeli water company Mekorot or other unregulated private vendors.

This is a hugely unjust situation.

 

The Iran attacks, the power of unity and the role of social media

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A deadly terrorist attack carried out by ISIL in the capital of Iran on the morning of June 7, put the country into a state of crisis. Attackers targeted two of Iran´s most crucial national symbols, the parliament and Ayatollah Khomeini´s mausoleum, and killed at least 12 people while leaving 42 injured. Jayad Zarif, Iran´s foreign minister was one of many to condemn the attack and pointed out that terrorism is on the increase, not only in Iran but on a global scale. Undoubtedly, Zarif is right. On May 22, a suicide bombing during an Ariana Grande performance at the Manchester Arena claimed the death of 23 people, and only two weeks later on June 3 a van drove into civilians on London Bridge and people got stabbed with knives close to Borough Market. But what precautions are necessary to prevent events of such character and to fight violent extremism in general ?

Like President Rouhani recently stated after the Iran attacks, it is of the utmost importance that world leaders find common ground and unite against acts of terrorism. Unity, not only among head of states, but also among members of civil society is crucial. People need to stand together in such fatal times and spread awareness about the evil represented by the acts of violence carried out by Daesh. First and foremost, social media can function as a platform teaching the youth about Daesh´s savage ideology and their evil world view, and simultaneously informing non-Muslim communities about the real values of Islam in order to prevent the spread of Islamophobia. Unity and cohesion after all, between states and among civilians, can have a tremendous impact on the fight against terrorism and undermine the power of extremist groups.

 

In condemnation of the terrorist attacks

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A day after the horrible terrorist attack on London Bridge and Borough Market in which seven people lost their life, the London Academy of Iranian Studies (LAIS) published the following article:

“The recent barbaric terrorist attacks in London and Manchester are the work of inhumane individuals. These acts of terror by individuals masquerading as Muslims, are against the very letter and spirit of the Qur’an and Islamic law. In Islamic law neither in peace nor war, is it permissible to kill civilians, or cause terror and chaos in society. Their crime is a crime against humanity.

We are filled with sorrow and grief for the victims, and honor the men and women in uniform who risk their lives in combating these heinous acts of terror, and admire the cohesion and spirit of unity in British society who do not give in to terror, and answer the terrorist call for division, chaos and hate, with unity, order and love.

The Muslim community in Britain and across Europe must rise up against the savagery perpetuated by those who proclaim to be Muslim but their actions reveal their evil nature. First, Peace loving Muslim communities must vocally condemn these acts, and vocally and in action oppose those who support the cancer of terror that has spread across the globe by Wahabbism. Second, Muslim communities must take back the mosques in their local area from the preachers of hate who poison the mind of our youth and are financed by the Wahabi movement originating in Saudi Arabia.

Third, as a community we must use social media to combat the campaign of hate and terror of Daesh (ISIS) and like minded groups. Our social media campaign must work on two general fronts, first to promote the true Islam, which is the Islam of peace and dialogue, the Islam of stability and respect for differences of opinion, and teach our youth that the savage ideology of Daesh and all those who support it or hold the same world view is opposed to Islam and condemned by Islamic law and the majority of Muslims. To do this the works of Muslim thinkers in the West such as Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr is of great use and benefit. Second, Daesh and its followers aim to divide our communities across Britain, they aim to cause an atmosphere of Islamophobia, an atmosphere of hate, we must confront this in our social media campaign and inform our fellow citizens in Europe that we stand side by side in opposing these barbaric terrorist movements.

We will stand united in the face of terror, we will say no to hate, and we will defeat the ideology of hate which has taken the lives of thousands of individuals from all walks of life and all faiths across the globe.”