Catherine Shakdam, Head of the Next Century Foundation’s new Yemen Unit, talks on Al Jazeera as Southern separatists regain control of the port city of Aden and subsequently on the wider implications of the latest developments in regard to the war in Yemen:
In an article titled “Deal of the Century means US recognition of apartheid”, Iran’s Press TV reports that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman offered Palestinian supremo Mahmoud Abbas ten billion dollars to accept Trump’s Mideast deal.
Is there an argument that given that Palestinians live as disenfranchised citizens in a virtual state colonised by Israel at present, it might be advantageous if they banked what they could get and then campaigned from that base for a better future?
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates has strongly condemned US President Donald Trump’s controversial proposal for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, dubbed “the deal of the century,” saying it translates into “Washington’s recognition of the Israeli regime’s apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories”.
The deal also appears to be opposed by a majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens. See the Peace Index for April.
What would Trump’s proposal actually mean? According to documents leaked by Haaretz the proposed deal comprises the following:
- A tripartite agreement will be signed between Israel’s government, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) as well as the Hamas resistance movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, and subsequently a Palestinian state will be established that will be called “New Palestine.”
- “New Palestine” will be established in the West Bank and Gaza, with the exception of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
- The settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal under international law and UN Security Council Resolution 2334, will remain under the Israel’s control and will expand to reach out to other isolated settlements.
- The city of Jerusalem al-Quds will not be divided but is to be shared by Israel and “New Palestine,” with the Israel maintaining general control.
- The Arab population living in Jerusalem al-Quds will be citizens of New Palestine, but Israel would remain in charge of the municipality and therefore the land.
- The newly formed Palestinian state would pay taxes and water costs for East Jerusalem to the Jerusalem al-Quds municipality.
Writing the introduction to the Next Century Foundation’s Media Credibility Index shortly after the start of the Arab Spring, Jamal Khashoggi explained that he believed there were three clearly distinct eras in the growth of mass media in the Arab and Islamic Worlds. In the middle of the 20th century Cairo and Beirut were mass media and cultural hubs for the Arab and Islamic Worlds. Their dominance was brought to an end variously by factors such as the nationalization of Al Ahram and the Lebanese civil war. The era of the London based Saudi print media partially filled the vacuum that was thus created. But not until the launch of Aljazeera in Doha in 1996 did the Arab World’s mass media truly come of age.
“Wow” I thought. This man is on the button. Jamal was more of an acquaintance than a friend. Other members of my family knew him well, however, and he was close to us. Yes, I thought, the new Arab Media in all of its incarnations from bloggers to broadcasters has become a many headed hydra, almost uncontrollable because of its multi-faceted nature.
But there are those in the corridors of power in Cairo, Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Istanbul that want to restore the old order and re-establish control, those that dislike this new and subversive mass media. But there were also surprising gems of encouragement. For a brief moment in time Bahrain flirted with allowing an opposition newspaper. Kuwait post liberation from Saddam had an extraordinarily free press. And the mass media in Iraq was beyond belief, with more daily newspapers than there were days in the year.
Still the great powers, the giants of the Arab World, wanted to restore the status quo ante. And they set about doing this through creating a climate of fear. New repressive Media Laws were introduced in Cairo and Abu Dhabi that set a benchmark. Others followed these trend setters with enthusiasm. The incarceration of bloggers and tweeters became commonplace for the most minor of offences. And journalists most certainly had to watch their backs facing, at best, tremendous fines in the courts, and at worst, targeted assassination.
Most of us grumbled about this. We did what we could at the NCF. My late father, Claud Morris, believed in the concept of “Peace Through Media” and in tribute to that we established The International Council for Press and Broadcasting (subsequently merged with the International Communications Forum associated with Initiatives of Change) and launched The International Media Awards. We even changed the ethos of the NCF to one of support for Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms in order to better justify our stand for Media Freedom.
Jamal wanted more. He felt the world should not just talk about it but should do something about it. He decided on a scheme whereby you could get round the new Western controls on alternative media. This needs a little explanation. The big media platforms in the Middle East are forums like Facebook and Twitter. We at the NCF launched an ideological Facebook page in Arabic called Al Khawatir (reflections) and found that with a budget of $20 a week and a few ideologically driven interns to write posts we could develop a following of a million a month in unhappy places in the Middle East like Algiers, Tripoli, Cairo, Riyadh, Sanaa or Baghdad.
Facebook was strong everywhere. Twitter was particularly strong in Saudi Arabia and is currently in the ascendancy everywhere, perhaps because it is a favoured method of imparting the thoughts of the great and the good. The under thirties may have started the trend. But Arab politicians like Sheikh Khalid, the current Foreign Minister of Bahrain and influential diplomats like the former Qatar Ambassador to London, Nasser al Khalifa, were quick to build huge twitter followings with their passionate tweets in both Arabic and English and their relationship with their fans.
The difficulty for would be opposition tweeters is the controls that Twitter currently has. They have become necessary of course, to prevent trolls and to stop forms of abuse like one person – or government – holding multiple accounts. So you may not open a twitter account without providing a phone number for verification. A huge problem if you want to say what you think in the Middle East because a phone number can be traced one way or another and you may be subject to arbitrary arrest if you are not a member of the establishment. Or at least you would be frightened of the possibility of arrest.
And along comes Jamal. He sets up a scheme whereby he and a friend in Canada would buy hundreds of sim cards. Then if you wanted to start a twitter account all you would need to do was to message Jamal or his friend by one of the more confidential platforms available, WhatsApp for example. And Jamal’s friend would set up a one-time simcard for you in Canada that you could use to enter for verification of the twitter account and he would send you back the verification code from Canada and the authorities in Saudi Arabia could never trace you.
Of course social media is powerful. Remember the overthrow of President Mubarak in Egypt was largely Facebook fanned and encouraged. The old adage, the pen is mightier than the sword might be rewritten, the pen encourages the sword of retribution. Or rather the finger on the smartphone in today’s world.
Had that been the all of it maybe it could have been overlooked. But that was not the half of it. Jamal was an activist with numerous projects. There was another project with the working title, “Democracy for the Arab World Now”. That too was dangerous.
However, most dangerous of all were his columns in the Post, the Washington Post. Had he been the usual ranting fanatic oppositionist he might just have been ignorable. But he was not. Jamal was considered and thoughtful. He was fair in his analysis and honest but modest in his criticism. He was the most dangerous kind of critic.
The rumour that Jamal had his fingers cut off before he was killed appears to have been apocryphal. But the fact that such a horrific story circulated underscores the savage symbolism surrounding this one man’s death. There were those in the corridors of power who believed Jamal had to be silenced. It had to be done. He was uniquely dangerous.
And it was done. Brutally, cruelly, with Mafia-like ruthlessness. The killing was effective and, arguably, has done what it was expected to do in regard to the repression of freedom of speech.
There has been a cost of course, a cost to the Saudi Arabian establishment, a storm indeed. But perhaps that remains a cost they can bear. The intention may certainly have been to send a more discreet and equivocal message. But the message is what has mattered. People will think twice in future before they kick against the establishment in such a dangerous way. Try to use matches and you may get burned.
Was this unique?
So, is Jamal’s killing worse than other politically motivated assassinations? We have seen it happen again and again. Sometimes the killings are not high profile. The NCF took a press delegation to visit Arafat days before his death and he was fit as flee demonstrating his push ups. I was always convinced he was assassinated and was always bothered by the refusal to allow an autopsy. So often the killings never make the headlines. The snatching of the NCF’s hostage negotiator, Abu Innas, off the sidewalk in Al Adhamiyah Baghdad by the police, never to be seen again. But assassinations are so commonplace are they not? Was Jamal’s killing worse than others. More brutal and brazen than most perhaps. But not of itself worse than others. All murder is evil. State sanctioned murder is worse than evil and those responsible and those complicit by their silence will no doubt face their God someday and have to give account for their behaviour.
But some would conclude that Jamal’s murder may be worse in its outcome because its ripples will mean that freedom of expression is set back. Will it not?
Well I don’t know. Possibly not. Possibly the calls for freedom of speech will be amplified by Jamal’s death. The killing of Jamal has done much to highlight the issue. Now it is up to us to do something to ensure that his death is neither forgotten nor in vain.
NCF Secretary General William Morris interviewed during a debate on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a longstanding family friend and a generous and public spirited journalist who lost his life because what he had to say was not tolerated by his government. Latterly Jamal had been writing for the Washington Post. This broadcast was made before today’s suggestion from the Turks that the killing of Jamal may in fact have been deliberate.
A year since the blockade against Qatar, the Gulf nation has for the first time taken the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ) over what it described as human right violations.
The boycott, which has been in effect since June 2017, is led by Saudi Arabia with the support of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – all previous partners of Qatar in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – and Egypt.
In June, Qatar’s government put forward a case, seeking reparations by arguing that the UAE enacted a series of measures that discriminate against Qataris. The measures include expelling Qataris from the UAE, prohibiting them from entering or passing through the UAE, ordering UAE nationals to leave Qatar, and closing UAE airspace and seaports to Qatar.
Qatar’s government argues that these actions were in violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) – including discrimination on the basis of nationality. A tactical move by Qatar as the UAE and Qatar are the only Gulf signatories to the convention.
In response, the UAE offered a defence to Qatar’s case, citing similar allegations that were leveled against Qatar when the diplomatic row broke out last year. The UAE’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Saeed Al-Nuwais, has dismissed Qatar’s discrimination case as baseless and rejected all allegations.
However, on Monday, the ICJ ruled in favour of Qatar. The vote, albeit a narrow one with eight judges in favour and seven against, ruled that the measures put in place by the UAE amounted to racial discrimination and must immediately reunite Qatari families affected by the blockade and allow Qatari students to continue their education in the UAE. The ICJ’s decision, whilst provisional is nonetheless binding and a further proceeding is expected to be scheduled at a future date.
Despite the difficulties, Qatar overcame the economic impacts of the blockade – maintaining healthy growth. The blockading countries were already under economic hardship as a result of low oil prices, and have themselves suffered from cutting economic trade with Qatar. Energy-rich Qatar tapped into its massive wealth reserves to absorb the initial impact on its economy and secured alternatives means of trade for food supplies and maritime routes and ports.
This is a small victory for Qatar, who still remains isolated and estranged from neighbouring countries. A political solution to the Gulf crisis seems further far afield, as neither Qatar nor the blockading nations have shown any signs of backing down.
The war in Yemen shows no sign of abating. This past week a Saudi Arabian airstrike hit a wedding in the country, killing over twenty people, including the bride. This is not a new scenario. Saudi air strikes fired into Yemen have struck markets, schools, and hospitals. The dialogue surrounding these attacks has been depressingly familiar. The UN decries these attacks as war crimes whilst Saudi Arabia claims that the attacks are caused by the Houthis’ use of human shields (i.e. hiding military positions and equipment in civilian zones). The West’s response to the crisis has been weak. Cautious not to upset their regional ally, Saudi Arabia, statements from Western countries have focused the blame on Iran. They claim that Iran has been ‘exacerbating’ the violence by providing the Houthis with missiles. Tehran has denied involvement. However, a UN inspection in January showed Houthi weapons to have been manufactured in Iran, weakening that denial.
Iran is certainly perceived as being an actor in this war, and the Sunni-Shiite divide is a prevalent theme in the Yemeni crisis: the Shiite Houthis backed by Iran against the Sunni-President Hadi supported by Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, the idea that the Yemen war is an aspect of regional geopolitics has left the West with its hands tied. There is concern that, if Yemen was to lose its Sunni government, Iran would be able to expand upon its ‘Shia crescent’ (to use King Abdullah II of Jordan’s phrase). The idea being that Iranian control of Yemen, together with Iran’s existing Shiite allies in Iraq and Syria, creates a Shia bloc in the Middle East. Thus, the Yemen crisis is being described as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with fears that success for the Houthis means success for Tehran. This has prevented the West from condemning the actions of the Saudi military, and those left to suffer are the Yemeni people.
The war has killed nearly 10,000 Yemenis and has been described as the worst humanitarian crisis today by the UN. Three out of four Yemenis require humanitarian aid of some kind. A land, sea and air blockade on Yemen was introduced by Saudi Arabia in November, leading to enormous shortages of medicine and food. This blockade was reduced to allow aid to come through Hodeidah, Yemen’s largest port. However, the entire country is struggling for its basic needs. The European Council for Foreign Relations says food insecurity is a problem throughout Yemen. In Houthi-controlled territories, starvation is rampant.
As people are struggling for basic needs, both sides of the conflict continue to commit human rights abuses. Amnesty have investigated thirty ground attacks executed in Yemen, by both pro and anti-Houthi forces, and found none that distinguished between civilians and combatants. Pro-Houthi forces have committed a wave of arrests of opponents including human rights defenders, journalists, and academics. Similarly, anti-Houthi forces have persecuted and harassed civilians in both pro-Hadi areas and disputed territories.
Something must be done to curb these atrocities. One small ray of hope is the new Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths. He remarked following a trip to Sana’a ‘there is no doubt a desire for peace’ and that ‘it is difficult to spend time in Yemen without appreciating the great suffering this war has caused’. His plan of action is to bring civilian leaders to the same negotiating table as the warlords and generals to highlight the extent of the crisis. He is also championing the divorcing of humanitarian negotiation and political mediation. Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is currently actually aggravated due to Saudi Arabia running a humanitarian program for the people of Yemen concurrently with its attacks. This has meant that negotiations allowing for more aid workers and supplies have been hindered by Saudi Arabia’s political desire for the country. They have found that they can prevent further aid from being administered until certain of their political demands have been achieved. This politicisation of aid further hurts the Yemeni people. Divorcing the two into separate negotiations, one table to discuss humanitarian packages and another for peace negotiations, will allow for greater access to aid and improve the lives of the Yemenis.
Griffiths faces difficulties due to his nationality as a British citizen. As he tries to mediate between the Houthis and the Saudis, Griffiths will struggle to appear fair and unbiased due to Britain’s famous ties with Saudi Arabia. That being said, there may be a positive outcome to Griffiths being British. Britain is currently under pressure from international bodies and NGOs concerning its continued sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. But the arms industry is such an enormous part of the British economy, and the Saudis are vital to its continuation. As long as the British government can continue the partnership without tangible negative consequences, weapons will be sold to Saudi Arabia. So far, the British Government has claimed Saudi Arabia’s use of these weapons does not violate Britain’s arms trade policy. Saudi Arabia’s evident collateral attacks on civilians within this conflict show this statement to be mere political maneuvering in order to continue the billion pound industry that is Britain’s sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. However, with a new, British envoy, reports from the UN may hold more weight in Griffiths’ home country, creating greater pressure on the British government to be less ready to give carte blanche to further sales. Regardless of which, Griffiths is himself Yemen born and has worked in the region and for that reason alone, garners respect from the warring factions. He is the best hope we have.
Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 5th of March 2018. Panel/ Annual Discussion/ Debate on the rights of the child.
Mr. President, the Next Century Foundation wishes to express its concern about the rights of children in the Republic of Yemen. The situation in Yemen is the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster. Civilians are becoming victims of unrelenting violations of international humanitarian law. Most of Yemen’s children have neither security nor education and are exposed to inhumane challenges on a daily basis. The blockade led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is threatening millions and the international community should step in and stop this horror.
Yemen’s children are malnourished, many actually facing famine.
22.2 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, 60% of the population endures food insecurity, and an outbreak of cholera is putting vulnerable children at great risk. Saudi Arabia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1996, and yet, their use of food and medical aid as a weapon against an already suffering people and their children should be condemned.
Every child has basic rights, including the right to life. Children have a right to be protected from violence especially from the sight of horrendous war.
The Saudi-led blockade in Yemen not only harms children’s right to live but also affects our right to know what is going on. This because of the difficulties faced by journalists who wish to enter the country. The UN could have made better progress by engaging more with the public and bringing more attention to bear on this issue. We hope that Mr. Martin Griffiths, the recently appointed UN Special Envoy to Yemen, will help bring peace to this arena, and if he fails to do so, will expose those responsible for this ongoing tragedy.
If we ignore the crisis in Yemen, we betray the Middle East. Indeed if we turn aside and fail to help Yemen’s children, we betray humanity. Thank you.
Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 4 SR on the 12th of March 2018, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Mr President. The Next Century Foundation wishes to promote peace and security in the Middle East and calls on the regional powers to pursue these aims. The Islamic Republic of Iran is one such power that has the ability to drive regional change. Iran continues its pursuit of regional dominance in competition with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and this has an undoubted influence on the politics of the Middle East. Despite their rivalry and their precarious diplomatic relationship, the Next Century Foundation hopes and believes that the two powers can take progressive and peaceful steps towards reconciliation with one another. If they did so they could then actively work in cohesion to facilitate stability in surrounding nation states, such as the Syrian Arab Republic and the Republic of Yemen where civil war is still ongoing, and the Kingdom of Bahrain where tensions remain acute.
The Syrian Civil War has become an international conflict in which many nations have had some level of involvement. The Republic of Turkey, the United States of America, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Russian Federation are all powers that have a presence in Syria. As a nation in such close proximity to the conflict, Iran has the potential to contribute significantly to the possibility of a peaceful future for Syria by working closely with other members of the international community, particularly their regional neighbours, in promoting security, stability and peace. It can lead in taking the steps towards peace. The Syrian Civil War has been a direct cause for the refugee crisis witnessed in Europe in which so many people have been rendered displaced.
Similarly, the civil war in Yemen persists with the human cost mounting. Thus far, 20 million people are estimated to be displaced and almost three quarters of the population are in need of aid. A conclusion and resolution to the conflict is paramount in Yemen for the sake of the people and regional stability.
In Bahrain too, Iranian involvement, though less belligerent, has an effect. Undoubtedly there would have been fuller participation in the 2014 national elections in Bahrain had Iran not encouraged prominent opposition leaders to back down on full participation. It is to be hoped that Iran will be more constructive when it comes to promoting full engagement by all communities in the forthcoming Bahrain national elections later this year.
Iran’s position on the global stage is incredibly important but their role in promoting a peaceful future for the Middle East is paramount. It is a role they must not shirk.
William Morris, Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, on Press TV, discussing the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.
William Morris, Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, on Press TV, discussing Mohammed bin Salman’s crackdown on corruption.
On a historic night in Saudi Arabia, while a Houthi missile was being intercepted over the capital, Riyadh, an anti-corruption crackdown was being launched. In an unprecedented scenario, on 4 Novermber 2017, eleven Saudi princes, along with a number of former and sitting ministers and high-ranking businessmen, were detained on the orders of the anti-corruption committee, headed by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
For years, Saudis have been complaining about the corruption that has been wearing out the country’s business and developmental infrastructures. In previous anti-corruption attempts, only ministers and some lower-ranking businessmen have been held accountable. This move is unprecedented in sweeping up members of the royal family and prominent ministers and businessmen, putting them under ‘hotel’ arrest, freezing their assets, and preparing them for trial. The shape of the trial is a subject for another discussion, but this is certainly a bold move that shakes-up the entire country (particularly, the hit on the predominant concept in Saudi that certain individuals are untouchable).
Looking back two years from today, Saudi Arabia has been taking considerable steps towards reforming and developing the nation. Ever since the announcement of Vision 2030 in April 2016, a young, dynamic Saudi leadership has caught the world’s attention, and the entire country has been geared up toward the success of this vision. Despite the fact that the path toward reform is long and fraught with difficulties, the Kingdom we know today is different than the one we knew last year; or even, last week.
The plan is to modernise the Kingdom. Many issues that the country has been criticised for, for decades, are being addressed and acted upon, today. Economic diversification and women’s empowerment takes the lead among these issues.
To an extent, the aim of the Vision is to shift the country’s economy away from being oil-dependent and to boost investment in the private sector. The initial public offering for Saudi Aramco – the world’s largest oil company – is vital to the success of that aim, yet other sectors are also as vital. Tourism and entertainment industries retain a large portion of the economic segment of the plan. Magnificent tourist projects have attracted the global business community, such as Al Qidya Entertainment city, the Red Sea Islands, and Neom. Hence the recent anti-corruption movement boosts foreign investors’ confidence in the Saudi market.
Along with other social and cultural developments, many decisions which contribute toward preserving women’s rights in the kingdom have been taken: King Salman has ordered the issuance of women’s driving licenses; male guardian laws have been amended; female participation in sports has been acknowledged; and women are already encouraged to work.
Many are criticising the Crown Prince for making major changes in a rushed manner. It is true that he has set himself and the nation highly ambitious goals. But it is analytically false to say that the Saudi Arabia we know today, led by Mohammed Bin Salman, is reckless. In fact, this weekend’s events, both the immediate reaction to the Houthi missile and the unprecedented action against corruption, were representative of the Saudi cautious character. On one hand, Saudi Arabia did not respond recklessly to the attack on its capital and start shooting everywhere. On the other hand, the anti-corruption move was pre-planned.
It is important to understand the Crown Prince’s Vision strategy from a macro perspective. The plan is to redraw the Kingdom’s future with economic and social reforms, and eventually political reforms. Although many are understandably sceptical about the latter, the ultimate success of the vision depends on both social and political reforms.
Economic, social, and political levels do not operate separately, they simultaneously compliment each other. A sudden change in one of them will create a vacuum and disrupt the structures that comprise the other levels. Although analysing these levels separately is beneficial for short-term planning and constructive criticism, it runs the risk of overlooking long-term goals. We all know this and the Crown Prince certainly knows it too.
For instance, the ban on women driving has always been particularly pushed-for by the religious establishment and the conservative segment of Saudi society. But there has not been any backlash from those two crucial constituencies since the ban has been lifted. This is a point that has puzzled many analysts, inside and outside the country. A large part of the answer relates to the cautious steps that are being taken to maintain a balance between and within the economic, social and political spheres, while taking significant strides towards overall reform.
The strategy of the Vision is that the greater the ambition for economic reform, the lower the obstacles for social and political reform. The Crown Prince stated in his first TV interview that privatization will grant the people the ability to directly “monitor” the economy. That is only possible if done correctly. Nevertheless, realising the need for transparency is a step toward political reform.
Lastly, for starters, there is nothing particularly new about the goals of the Vision. Saudis have always been criticised and have blamed themselves for the oil addiction and poor gender equality. And there have been many attempts to overcome these conundrums. The Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel Al Jubeir, tellingly pointed out that if there is a historical trend that is observed from Saudi Arabia, it is that of a “constant change” and progress.
It is the perennial nature of the Vision’s goals which makes it bold and gives hope to the Saudi youth, who constitute 70 percent of the country’s population. Despite the challenges, the train of reform in Saudi Arabia is running and on track.
The Next Century Foundation took part in the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. During the General Debate on Item 9 “Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance” the NCF delivered an oral intervention on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab States urging them to take the necessary steps in order to improve women’s conditions, following the recent example of Bahrain.