France Adopting Biased Stance on Regional Crises: Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TASNIM NEWS AGENCY OF IRAN)

 

France Adopting Biased Stance on Regional Crises: Iran

News ID: 1576462 Service: Politics

بهرام قاسمی

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi slammed French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian for his recent anti-Tehran remarks and said the western European country has a “one-sided and biased” stance on crises facing the Middle East region.

Qassemi made the remarks on Thursday in response to comments made by Le Drian, who earlier in the day expressed concern about what he called Iran’s “hegemonic” intentions in the Middle East.

At a joint press conference with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir during a trip to Saudi Arabia, Le Drian said, “I’m thinking specifically about Iran’s ballistic program.”

In reply, Qassemi said, “Unfortunately, it seems that France has a one-sided and biased view of the crises and humanitarian catastrophes in the Middle East.”

This view only exacerbates regional conflicts, “whether intentionally or unintentionally,” he added.

The Iranian spokesman also stressed the need for stability and security in the region and advised leaders of France and other nations to take a “realistic and responsible” stance on the conflicts.

Qassemi also pointed to arms sales by “trans-regional countries” to Middle Eastern governments, including those used in Saudi Arabia’s ongoing military aggression against Yemen and said the western support has only led to “more instability and insecurity” in the region.

Yemen’s defenseless people have been under massive attacks by the coalition for more than two years but Riyadh has reached none of its objectives in Yemen so far.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and some of its Arab allies have been carrying out deadly airstrikes against the Houthi Ansarullah movement in an attempt to restore power to fugitive former President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh.

Over 14,000 Yemenis, including thousands of women and children, have lost their lives in the deadly military campaign.

US Air Force official: Missile targeting Saudis was Iranian

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNBC NEWS)

 

US Air Force official: Missile targeting Saudis was Iranian

  • Iran manufactured the ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Shiite rebels toward the Saudi capital, says the top U.S. Air Force official in the Mideast.
  • Saudi Arabia long has accused Iran of giving weapons to the Shiite rebels and their allies, though Tehran has just as long denied supplying them.
  • “There have been Iranian markings on those missiles,” Harrigian told journalists. “To me, that connects the dots to Iran.”

A still image taken from a video distributed by Yemen's pro-Houthi Al Masirah television station on November 5, 2017, shows what it says was the launch by Houthi forces of a ballistic missile aimed at Riyadh's King Khaled Airport on Saturday.

Houthi Military Media Unit | Reuters
A still image taken from a video distributed by Yemen’s pro-Houthi Al Masirah television station on November 5, 2017, shows what it says was the launch by Houthi forces of a ballistic missile aimed at Riyadh’s King Khaled Airport on Saturday.

Iran manufactured the ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Shiite rebels toward the Saudi capital and remnants of it bore “Iranian markings,” the top U.S. Air Force official in the Mideast said Friday, backing the kingdom’s earlier allegations.

The comments by Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, who oversees the Air Force’s Central Command in Qatar, further internationalizes the yearslong conflict in Yemen — the Arab world’s poorest country.

Saudi Arabia long has accused Iran of giving weapons to the Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies, though Tehran has just as long denied supplying them.

“There have been Iranian markings on those missiles,” Harrigian told journalists at a news conference in Dubai ahead of the Dubai Air Show. “To me, that connects the dots to Iran.”

There was no immediate reaction from Tehran.

Saudi Arabia says it shot down the missile Nov. 4 near Riyadh’s international airport, the deepest yet to reach into the kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry later said investigators examining the remains of the rocket found evidence proving “the role of Iranian regime in manufacturing them.” It did not elaborate, though it also mentioned it found similar evidence after a July 22 missile launch. French President Emmanuel Macron similarly this week described the missile as “obviously” Iranian.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement Tuesday that the July launch involved an Iranian Qiam-1, a liquid-fueled, short-range Scud missile variant. Iran used a Qiam-1 in combat for the first time in June when it targeted Islamic State group militants in Syria over twin militant attacks in Tehran.

Harrigian declined to offer any specifics on what type of missile U.S. officials believed it was, nor did he show any images of the debris. He also didn’t explain how Iran evaded the blockade by the Saudi-led coalition, which intensified after the missile targeting Riyadh.

“How they got it there is probably something that will continue to be investigated over time,” the lieutenant general said. “What has been demonstrated and shown based on the findings of that missile is that it had Iranian markings on it. That in itself provides evidence of where it came from.”

The Houthis have described using Burkan-2 or “Volcano” Scud variants in their recent attacks, including the one Nov. 4. Those finless missiles are reminiscent of the Qiam, wrote Jeremy Binnie of Jane’s Defense Weekly in a February analysis.

“The Burkan-2 is likely to heighten suspicions that Iran is helping Yemen’s rebel forces to develop their ballistic missile capabilities,” Binnie wrote.

Adding to that suspicion is the fact that Yemen’s missile forces previously never had experience in disassembling and rebuilding the weapons, said Michael Knights, a fellow at The Washington Institute For Near East Policy who previously worked in Yemen.

It is “not a stretch to believe that Tehran is supporting the Houthi missile program with technical advice and specialized components,” Knights wrote in an analysis Thursday. “After all, the Houthis have rapidly fielded three major new missile systems in less than two years while under wartime conditions and international blockade.”

The U.S. already is involved in the war in Yemen and has launched drone strikes targeting the local branch of al-Qaida, though it stopped offering targeting information under the Obama administration over concerns about civilian casualties. That prohibition continues today, though the Air Force continues to refuel warplanes in the Yemen theater and offers support in managing airspace over the country, Harrigian said. The Saudi-led coalition also uses American-made bombs and ordinance in its attacks.

Yemen long has had ballistic missiles, dating back to the 1970s when Yemen was split between the socialist South Yemen and North Yemen. After unification in 1990 and a later civil war, Yemen largely moved its ballistic missile stockpile to a mountain base in Sanaa, the capital. It also purchased more from North Korea.

When the Houthis seized Sanaa in September 2014, their allied fighters also held control of the ballistic missiles. The Yemeni military was widely believed to possess around 300 Scud missiles at the time, though exact figures remain unknown.

The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015 on the side of Yemen’s internationally recognized government. It then attacked the ballistic missile base in April 2015, touching off massive explosions that killed several dozen people. Saudi Arabia implied at the time that the Scud arsenal in Yemen had been seriously degraded, if not entirely destroyed, as a result of the airstrikes.

It soon would become clear that wasn’t the case. In June 2015, the rebels fired their first ballistic missile into Saudi Arabia near the southwestern city of Khamis Mushait. In the time since, Yemen’s rebels have fired over 70 ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies’ missile defense project.

For its part, Iran long has denied offering any arms to Yemen, though it has backed the Houthis and highlighted the high civilian casualties from the Saudi-led coalition’s campaign of airstrikes.

But others in Iran have been coy about the ballistic missiles in Yemen. Mehdi Taeb, an influential hard-line cleric who is a brother to the intelligence chief of the hard-line Revolutionary Guard, said in April that Iran tried three times to send missiles to Yemen. The Guard, answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, oversees Iran’s missile program.

“We did it one time via an airplane, one time via a Navy boat and one time with a ship,” Taeb said in an online video.

The cleric said ultimately the administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered the transfers stopped over negotiations on the nuclear deal with world powers, without offering a specific time for the attempted shipments.

“They said come back because the Americans said, ‘If you send missiles to Yemen, we will end the negotiations,'” Taeb said.

Saudi Arabia: 24 Hours That Have Shaken The Middle East

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

A resignation, detentions and missiles: 24 hours that shook the Middle East

Story highlights

  • Weekend’s events serve as an opening salvo for a new period in the region’s crisis-ridden history, analysts say
  • They represent an escalation in a years-long proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran

(CNN)When 32-year-old Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman rose to power two years ago, many predicted that change was afoot. The events of November 4 have shown that change would not just be swift, but also seismic, extending unremittingly beyond the kingdom’s boundaries.

A 24-hour sequence of political bombshells began on Saturday afternoon, when Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation from the Saudi capital of Riyadh, blindsided his country’s political establishment. Hours later, Saudi Arabia’s official news agency reported that the country’s military had intercepted a Yemen-borne ballistic missile over Riyadh. Even as images of the blast were flashing on TV sets around the region, similarly dramatic news began to trickle in: Some of Saudi Arabia’s most high-profile princes and businessmen were being sacked and detained in an anti-corruption drive led by bin Salman.
The events serve as an opening salvo for a new period in the region’s crisis-ridden history, analysts say. They represent an escalation in a years long proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, threatening to activate new fronts in the region, with the Saudi show of force beginning with a sweeping consolidation of power from within.
close dialog
Tell us where to send you Five Things
Morning briefings of all the news & buzz people will be talking about
Activate Five Things
By subscribing you agree to our
privacy policy.
On Friday, ISIS’ last strongholds in Iraq and Syria fell. It marked a major milestone in a fight that saw archrivals converge on the extremist group until its so-called caliphate was on its last legs. On Saturday, regional powerhouses appear to have trained their sights on one another.
“I think the end of ISIS, the so-called Islamic State, does not really mean the end of geostrategic struggles,” London School of Economics Professor Fawaz Gerges told CNN’s George Howell.
“On the contrary, the dismantling of the so-called caliphate will basically intensify the geostrategic struggles between the pro-Iranian camp led by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and its allies in the region, including the United States.”

A resignation sets the stage

On Friday evening, Lebanon’s Saad Hariri was summoned to the Saudi capital. It was his second visit to the country in a week. Hariri is a dual Saudi-Lebanese citizen and the regional powerhouse is widely seen as his political patron.
Just a week before, it appeared the Prime Minister had averted a major crisis between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. He had met with the Crown Prince and outspoken Saudi Minister Thamer al-Sabhan, appeasing their fears about the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which has members in his Cabinet.
“A long and fruitful meeting with my brother Prime Minister Saad Hariri. We’ve agreed on many issues that concern the good people of Lebanon. God willing, the best is yet to come,” Sabhan wrote in a tweet.
The meeting came on the heels of a series of tweets in which Sabhan chastised the Lebanese government for its inclusion of Hezbollah. Hariri appeared to have defused tensions with his visit.
Lebanese MP Yassin Jaber, a member of a pro-Hezbollah parliamentary bloc, told CNN that he met with Hariri just as he returned from Saudi Arabia, and described the premier as cheery and in a “joking” mood.
But when Hariri returned to Saudi Arabia the second time, it was an altogether different matter.
It would be the first time a Lebanese premier submitted his resignation from outside the country. Multiple local media reported that nearly all Hariri’s closest aides were caught unawares.
“Over the past decades, Hezbollah has unfortunately managed to impose a fait accompli in Lebanon by the force of its weapons, which it alleges is a resistance weapon,” Hariri said in his resignation speech.
“I want to tell Iran and its followers that they are losing their interferences in the Arab nation affairs. Our nation will rise just as it did before and the hands that want to harm it will be cut,” he said in remarks apparently aimed at Hezbollah, which he shared a coalition government with.
Hariri’s resignation spells the collapse of a 30-member government of national unity that saw Saudi-backed Hariri fill the post of prime minister, and Hezbollah-backed Michel Aoun occupies the presidency. That government, analysts say, was one of the byproducts of the Obama administration’s landmark Iran nuclear deal.
“With this arrangement, we saw some sort of appeasement where we saw mutual steps from the US and Iran in improving relations and lowering tensions in various areas,” said Riad Kahwaji, director of Institute for Near East and Gulf Military.
The period marked a brief time of stability, in which Lebanon seemed to have steered clear of regional fault-lines.
“With (Hariri’s) resignation yesterday, this arrangement has come to an end and we are back to an escalation between Iran and Saudi Arabia on the Lebanese front. Lebanon is back in the arena of the showdown between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“Everyone in Lebanon is holding tight and worried … we’re seeing now that we may again be engulfed in conflict,” said Jaber.

Riyadh intercepts ballistic missiles

Hariri’s resignation triggered a crescendo of war drums. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the remarks were a “wake-up call” to “take action” against Iran. Saudi Minister Sabhan promptly tweeted: “The hands of treachery and aggression must be cut off,” echoing Hariri’s threats against Hezbollah.
Just hours later, Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched a ballistic missile targeting King Khalid International Airport in the Saudi capital. Saudi forces intercepted the missile over northeast Riyadh, the Saudi Ministry of Defense said, but the Houthis hailed it as a “success” that “shook the Saudi capital.”
The attack was conducted using a Yemeni-made, long-range missile called the Burqan 2H, the rebels said. The missile launch was the first time the heart of the Saudi capital has been attacked.
The Saudi-led coalition accused a regional state of providing material support to the Houthi rebels, saying the firing of a ballistic missile at Riyadh “threatens the security of the Kingdom and regional and international security,” according to a statement carried by Saudi state-TV al-Ekbariya.
The coalition didn’t name the country. Saudi Arabia has been fighting a proxy war in Yemen against Iran, which it accuses of arming the Houthi rebels.
Analysts dubbed this a “major escalation” in the Yemeni war.
“This is a major escalation and will have tremendous implications on the situation in Yemen itself, because Saudi Arabia now feels extremely the urge to retaliate against the Houthi movement that controls the government in Sanaa,” said Gerges.
Gerges added that combined with the political rupture in Lebanon, the ballistic missile attack spells an outbreak of tensions “throughout the region.”

Saudi Arabia wages war within and without

Saudi Arabia was still putting out the fires caused by the missile attack when state TV announced the onset of an anti-corruption crackdown led by the crown prince. Over 17 princes and top officials were arrested on graft charges, according to a list obtained by CNN and cited by a senior royal court official.
The list includes billionaire business magnate Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who owns 95% of Kingdom Holding, which holds stakes in global companies such as Citigroup, Twitter, Apple and News Corp.
The list also includes the formal head of the royal court Khaled Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi media mogul Waleed Al-Ibrahim and Prince Turki Bin Nasser.
“Some of the wealthiest figures in the Arab world are in apprehension today,” said military analyst Riad Kahwaji.
“This is unprecedented. We’re seeing it for the first time and it’s definitely causing shock waves across the region.”
Reportedly, the detainees are being held at the lavish Ritz-Carlton hotel. “I think there’s a lovely irony in that many of these corrupt deals happened at the Ritz-Carlton and now these guys are locked up there,” said historian Robert Lacey, who wrote two books about the kingdom.
“In historical terms, what we’ve seen in the last few months is nothing short of revolutionary,” said Lacey. “I’ve been waiting for 40 years for these things to happen, and they happened in four months.”
Mohammed bin Salman’s campaign of “two fronts,” as analysts have dubbed it, is being met by cheers and apprehension. But there is near consensus that these are uncharted waters, and the results will be dramatic.

 

 

Netizen Report: Voices of Yemen’s ‘Forgotten War’ Speak Out, Despite Legal Barriers

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘GLOBAL VOICES’)

 

Netizen Report: Voices of Yemen’s ‘Forgotten War’ Speak Out, Despite Legal Barriers

An airstrike in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, in May 2015. Photo by Ibrahem Qasim via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Global Voices Advocacy’s Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Yemeni blogger Afrah Nasser was awarded this year’s International Free Press Award for her work covering the conflict in Yemen despite the many obstacles faced by journalists in the country. But Nasser, who also holds Swedish citizenship, was nearly unable to attend the awards ceremony in New York in person, because of the US travel ban on Yemeni nationals.

After three applications and many letters in support of her application, Nasser finally obtained her visa from the US Embassy in Stockholm, where she resides.

On Twitter, she remarked:

I never really had faith in the power of media & public opinion as I have today. Makes me think of people who don’t enjoy my high media profile. This is why, we need to get the tragedy in Yemen as well-known as hell so we can all help pushing an end for it!

While Nasser has done much of reporting from her home in Sweden, Yemeni journalists working on the ground face much graver obstacles.

Among them is political commentator and writer Hisham Al-Omeisy, who was detained by Houthi rebels without explanation in August 2017. This week, it was reported that Al-Omeisy was arrested on charges related to his correspondence with US-based organizations.

Al-Omeisy has been actively tweeting about the humanitarian crisis and violations committed by both warring parties in the ongoing conflict in Yemen. He also has analyzed and spoken about the conflict to international media including the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, and NPR.

For more than two years, a coalition of Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh (who was removed from power following street protests in 2011) have been fighting to seize power from the internationally-recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Hadi’s government is also supported by a Saudi-led airstrike campaign.

Journalists and media covering the conflict face risks from all warring parties, making it difficult for Yemenis and the outside world to get information on what’s already been described as a “forgotten war”. Placing restrictions on key voices like those of Nasser and Al-Omeisy only exacerbates the situation.

#Istanbul10 human rights defenders released pending trial

The Turkish court in Istanbul conditionally released eight of the ten human rights defenders on trial who were arrested in July 2017 on accusations of “membership in a terrorist organization” while attending an information management workshop. Among the defendants was Idil Eser, the director of Amnesty International’s Turkey chapter. In their court testimony, multiple defendants explained that they had never even heard of the terror organizations that Turkish public prosecutors accused them of supporting.

In the days leading up to the trial, netizens tweeted in support of the #istanbul10 using the hashtag #FreeRightsDefenders. The group is expected to reappear before the court on November 22.

Pakistani political workers arrested under Electronic Crimes Act

Two political party workers were arrested by the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency, for allegedly writing posts critical of government and state institutions. The workers, who are affiliated with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) party, have been charged under the penal code along with multiple sections of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), which carry a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Ironically, the PML-N party was responsible for pushing through the controversial PECA law, despite opposition from digital rights advocates. The PML-N has been engaged in a rift with Pakistan’s powerful military establishment since August 2017, when the Supreme Court disqualified former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif following a corruption inquiry into his family’s offshore wealth, sparked by the 2016 release of the Panama Papers. The Ministry of Information Technology, which was instrumental in pushing the electronic crimes law through, now admits that it has no oversight mechanism in place and the law is being misused.

Other political workers and journalists have previously been interrogated and arrested under different sections of the law as well, an indication that authorities may be using the law as a silencing tool.

Palestinian man arrested due to poor translation on Facebook

A Palestinian construction worker was arrested by Israeli police after posting a picture of himself with a bulldozer and inserting the caption, in Arabic, “good morning.” The post was erroneously translated (into Hebrew) by Facebook as “attack them.” The man has since been released, and Facebook said it is investigating the issue.

Kuwait’s Constitutional Court rejects DNA law on privacy grounds

Kuwait’s DNA law was struck down by the Constitutional Court in a decision that is being lauded as a positive step for the protection of citizens’ privacy. The law — which required all Kuwaiti citizens, residents and visitors to provide DNA samples to authorities for storage in a database operated by the Interior Ministry — was passed following a 2015 suicide bombing that killed 27 people. Anyone who refused to comply with the law faced one year in prison, a fine, and sanctions that could include canceling their passports. The emir requested the law be revised to “safeguard people’s privacy.” It is likely that Parliament will amend it so that only suspected criminals are asked to give their DNA.

Need to prove your loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party? There’s an app for that.

Apps designed by the Chinese Communist Party hit China’s Apple and Android app stores surrounding the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party. Estimates of the number of CCP apps range from dozens to up to 400, with many app developers building party apps for local party branches and party organizations. Among the apps is Smart Red Cloud, which “aims to use artificial intelligence to educate and evaluate party members” through ideology tutorials, chat functions and party-related activity notifications.

The apps disseminate information and enable the CCP to monitor and evaluate party members’ political orientation. At least one state-owned company, the China Tiesiju Civil Engineering Group, ranks party members on a monthly and weekly basis in response to scores on tests of party knowledge, penalizing users who perform poorly and rewarding those who perform well.

Chelsea Manning turned away at Canadian border

Chelsea Manning was turned away at the Canadian border while trying to vacation in Montreal and Vancouver. The former US military officer and leaker of documents demonstrating human rights violations committed by the US government in the Iraq war was detained overnight and told she was inadmissible “on grounds of serious criminality.” A Canadian lawyer representing Manning has submitted a formal request asking the government to reconsider its decision. More than 40 human rights organizations and academics sent letters to the Canadian government in support ofthe human rights activist.

New Research

Subscribe to the Netizen Report

 

 

Top 5 Worst Countries With Blasphemy Laws: All Are Islamic Nations

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

 

Top 5 Worst Countries With Blasphemy Laws Ranked by USCIRF, One Christian Nation Listed at No. 7

(PHOTO: REUTERS/FAYAZ AZIZ)Protesters gather to condemn the killing of university student Mashal Khan, after he was accused of blasphemy, during a protest in Peshawar, Pakistan, on April 20, 2017.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued a report on blasphemy laws around the world, with the top five worst-scoring nations all seeking to protect Islam.

“In all five of the worst-scoring countries (Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Qatar), the blasphemy laws aim to protect the state religion of Islam in a way that impermissibly discriminates among different groups,” a press release from the organization stated on Wednesday.

The major report found that 71 of the world’s 195 countries have blasphemy laws, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment and death.

USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark said that religious freedom should protect people’s rights to express their thoughts and beliefs, even those that others may find blasphemous.

“Advocates for blasphemy laws may argue that they are needed in order to protect religious freedom, but these laws do no such thing. Blasphemy laws are wrong in principle, and they often invite abuse and lead to assaults, murders, and mob attacks. Wherever they exist, they should be repealed,” Mark insisted.

Christians and other religious minorities have been targeted by such blasphemy laws in Pakistan where they’re punished any time an accusation of having insulted the Islamic faith is lobbed against them.

In June, a Pakistani Christian father was arrested on charges of blasphemy after he asked a Muslim man to pay for a bicycle that he had repaired the week before, but was then accused by the same man of insulting Islam.

Islamic hardliners have also taken justice into their own hands. In one instance in November 2014, a Christian couple was burned to death by a mob after they were accused of having desecrated the Quran, a claim that turned out to be false.

Iran, which persecutes Christians, Baha’is, and other minorities, has threatened to execute anyone who’s accused of insulting the Islamic faith.

The Iranian government has been particularly concerned about the rise of Christianity in the country, especially among youths. This has led to Islamic seminary officials calling on the government to “stop the spread” of the faith.

Though the majority of high-ranking countries beyond the top five focused on defending Islamic sensibilities, Italy and its blasphemy laws protecting the Roman Catholic Church also scored a high ranking, coming in at number seven.

Article 403 of Italy’s criminal code reads:

“Anyone who insults the State religion in public by offending those who profess it shall be subject to a prison sentence of up to two years. Anyone who insults the State religion by insulting a minister of the Catholic Church shall be subject to a prison sentence of one to three years.”

USCIRF noted in its report that most of the blasphemy laws that it studied were “vaguely worded,” and failed to specify intent as part of the violation. It added that a majority of blasphemy laws are embedded in the criminal codes of countries, with 86 percent of nations with such laws threatening imprisonment for offenders.

“Though implementation varies, countries from Switzerland to Sudan persist in outlawing expression of views deemed ‘blasphemous,'” Mark added.

“Some countries, including Canada, have such laws but do not actively enforce them. We call upon those countries to set an example for the others and repeal their blasphemy laws. And we call upon all countries to repeal any such laws and to free those detained or convicted for blasphemy.”

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov

Saudi Arabia and Israel Agree on Al Jazeera

Peace and Freedom

There are still honourable Israelis who demand a state for the Palestinians; there are well-educated Saudis who object to the crazed Wahabism upon which their kingdom is founded; there are millions of Americans, from sea to shining sea, who do not believe that Iran is their enemy nor Saudi Arabia their friend. But the problem today in both East and West is that our governments are not our friends

By Robert Fisk

The Independent 

may-saudi.jpgTheresa May has already suppressed a report so it wouldn’t upset the Saudis. And we wonder why we go to war with the Middle East AFP

When Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite channel has both the Saudis and the Israelis demanding its closure, it must be doing something right. To bring Saudi head-choppers and Israeli occupiers into alliance is, after all, something of an achievement.

But don’t get too romantic about this. When the wealthiest Saudis fall…

View original post 1,094 more words

The People Of Iran Will Soon Over Through Their Mullah Mass Murder Dictators

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FORBES)

World Affairs #ForeignAffairs

What Does The Future Hold For Iran?

 Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

A Shahab-3 long range missile (L) and Zolfaghar missiles (R) are displayed during a rally marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran on June 23, 2017. Chants against the Saudi royal family and the Islamic State group mingled with the traditional cries of ‘Death to Israel’ and ‘Death to America’ at Jerusalem Day rallies across Iran today. / AFP PHOTO / Stringer (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

With developments regarding Iran and the Middle East on fast forward recently, voices are heard speaking of winds of change in Iran. Iran’s society, described as a powder keg due to social discontent, is literally simmering.

And after far too many years, the international community is gradually but surely realizing how appeasement will only yield further destruction. Catapulting events further is Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s failure to engineer the recent presidential election to unify his regime for the tsunamis ahead.

Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi was the keynote speaker of a recent convention in Paris where she delivered a very different and new perspective on how to resolve the Iran dilemma.

We are also only a week away from July 14th, marking the second year of the Iran nuclear deal signing. Despite a windfall of over $100 billion dollars pouring into Iran, this agreement has failed to provide meaningful change in people’s lives.

And yet, Tehran has in fact allocated these funds to fuel turmoil across the Middle East, in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and beyond.

Returning to Iran’s milestone May 19th presidential “election”, Khamenei attempted to end his regime’s impasse by placing his weight behind conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi in that race.

Considering Raisi’s notorious role in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, and a massive campaign launched by activists of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) inside Iran, Khamenei’s candidate stood no chance.

However, the fact that the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani was able to secure a second term will not render any change in the regime’s status quo. In fact, quite the opposite.

In an attempt to fabricate the final vote tally, the mullahs’ regime boasted a 70+ percent voter participation. Merely a month later, however, Iran’s Assembly of Experts, an 88-cleric body tasked to select the next supreme leader and supposedly maintain him under their oversight, issued a statement declaring “people’s votes, demands and views” are of no significance whatsoever. This is the Iranian regime’s definition of democracy.

Thus, with a look at the past 38 years and the ever so changing status in and out of Iran today, there are three initial conclusions we can reach:

1) The rule of the mullahs’ dictatorship in Iran must come to an end.

2) Such an objective is now within reach more than ever before. Rifts inside Iran’s political hierarchy are inflicting deep, irrecoverable wounds.

3) In contrast to its neighbors, Iran enjoys a democratic alternative and an organized opposition movement fully capable of setting this regime aside.

For those continuing to advocate a policy of encouraging reform from within, this regime will not be reformed. Period. This has been proven through 20 years of three presidents claiming to be reformists/moderates. The slate includes Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami and the current Hassan Rouhani.

All the while, for three decades the West has gone the limits in testing the appeasement policy. Unfortunately, lessons have not been learned from Chamberlain’s disastrous agreement with Hitler.

And yet, despite the deafening propaganda orchestrated by the mullahs’ regime, this apparatus is threatened most not by a foreign foe, but the numerous protests and revolts witnessed each day through Iran. This is a ticking time bomb winding down fast.

The regime’s incompetence in resolving domestic and foreign dilemmas, and its failure to obtain nuclear weapons has left the ruling regime highly concerned over the road ahead.

Unfortunately, the countries going through the Arab Spring had no alternative apparatus to replace their ousted ruling governments. This is not the case with Iran.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran, (NCRI), an umbrella coalition with the PMOI/MEK as its core member, enjoys vast influence inside Iran, seen in the following developments:

1) Back in 2009 the NCRI established the main uprising core across Iran, elevating the motto of “Where is my vote?” to a more demanding, “Down with the Dictator.”

2) For a year now the NCRI has directed a campaign focusing on seeking justice regarding the 1988 massacre. Iran, with its very young population, witnessed the regime succumbing to the people’s will of condemning Raisi for his role in the mullahs’ decades of executions.

From day one of their rule the mullahs have been at war with the entire Iranian population. All other wars, especially the devastating Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, the ongoing onslaught in Syria and Iran’s role in the killings, and the regime’s face off with the international community over its effort to build an atomic bomb, have been aimed at cloaking this ultimate war.

Thus, it is a mistaken conclusion to believe Iran resorting to such wars are signs of its strength. With no government stepping up to the plate to confront Tehran’s all-out belligerence.

It has only been the Iranian opposition, represented by the NCRI, leading the effort to expose the mullahs’ true nature. The NCRI hoisted the flag peace and freedom in response to the mullahs’ warmongering, been the sole supporter of the Syrian people from their first protests back in March 2011, and continuously blown the whistle on Iran’s notorious nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.

Four decades of appeasement in the face of Iran’s human rights violations, deadly meddling in the Middle East and beyond, terrorism and a concentrated nuclear/ballistic missile drive, have failed miserably. There is also no need for another devastating war in an already flash point region.

A solution is at hand, demanding strong and brave decisions by the United Nations, European Union, United States and regional countries.

a) Designating the Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization;

b) Revoking Tehran’s membership from all international organizations, including mainly the UN and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation;

c) Setting international tribunals to hold Khamenei and other senior Iranian regime officials accountable for gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity;

d) Recognizing the Iranian people’s legitimate resistance to topple the mullahs’ rule.

This regime has taken advantage of a highly flawed appeasement policy for too long. The Iranian people and their organized resistance, pioneered by the NCRI, need not a single dime, rifle or bullet. Together they are more than able and absolutely capable to end the mullahs’ rule.

“…the ultimate solution to the crisis in the region and confronting groups like ISIS, is the overthrow of the Iranian regime by the Iranian people and Resistance,” Mrs. Rajavi said.

Saudi envoy denies Pakistani mediation in Gulf row

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTANI NEWSPAPER DAWN)

MARWAN bin Radwan Mirdad says PM Nawaz Sharif, while travelling to Saudi Arabia, did not indicate the purpose of his visit —INP
MARWAN bin Radwan Mirdad says PM Nawaz Sharif, while travelling to Saudi Arabia, did not indicate the purpose of his visit —INP

ISLAMABAD: Acting Saudi ambassador Marwan bin Radwan Mirdad has denied that Pakistan is mediating between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over their diplomatic row.

Speaking at a press conference at the Saudi embassy here on Thur­s­day, the Saudi charge d’affaires said Pakistani “prime minister did not say he was mediating”.

He was speaking through a translator. He rejected media reports about the Pakistani mediation effort as untrue. “Whatsoever is in the media is not correct,” he said.

Says Kuwait and Sudan are making reconciliation efforts

Last week Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif travelled to Jeddah on a daylong trip along with Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Adviser to the PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz accompanied them.

The acting ambassador’s statement puts the prime minister in a potentially embarrassing position. The PM’s Office had, in a statement before Mr Sharif’s departure on the mediation mission, said: “Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif will visit Kingdom of Saudi Arabia today in context of the emergent situation among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.”

The crisis in the Gulf started late last month with the hacking of the website of the Qatari news agency and peaked when Saudi Arabia and its allies Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates severed ties with Qatar over allegations of promoting extremism and terrorism and hindering efforts to contain Iran.

The Saudi diplomat said the crisis happened because Qatar had been persistently violating a 2014 accord between Qatar and GCC countries. Although the 2014 accord, which had then paved the way for resumption of ties between Qatar and its neighbours, is not public, it is said to be a commitment by the signatories about non-interference in each other’s affairs, cooperation on regional issues and ending support for extremist groups.

Mr Marwan said Mr Sharif, while travelling to Saudi Arabia, did not indicate the purpose of his visit.

The acting envoy separately noted that Kuwait and Sudan were making reconciliation efforts.

Pressed by the media, he said: “There is, however, a possibility that the issue could be discussed in some future meeting. Leadership of both countries is currently in Makkah.”

As per media reports, the prime minister’s mediation effort was not encouraged by the Saudi royal family. Saudi king Salman bin Abdul Aziz had told Mr Sharif that “the fight against extremism and terrorism is in the interest of all Muslims and the Ummah”.

The Saudi government usually does not acknowledge Pakistani endeavours for resolving disputes in the Gulf.

PM Sharif had undertaken a similar effort last year to reduce tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the aftermath of execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr.

However, soon after PM Sharif’s visit to the two countries, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir had denied Pakistani mediation between his country and Iran.

The Foreign Office and the Inter-Services Public Relations, the media wing of the military, did not respond to queries about Mr Marwan’s claim.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2017

Yemen Now Faces ‘The Worst Cholera Outbreak In The World,’ U.N. Says

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR)

Yemen Now Faces ‘The Worst Cholera Outbreak In The World,’ U.N. Says

A Yemeni child suspected of having cholera sits outside a makeshift hospital in the capital, Sanaa, earlier this month. World health authorities say that of the more than 1,300 people who have died of the disease, a quarter have been children.

Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

Seized by violence and teetering on the edge of famine, Yemen is grappling with another danger that threatens to outpace them both: cholera.

“We are now facing the worst cholera outbreak in the world,” international health authorities said in a statement Saturday.

Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF, and Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, say that “more than 1,300 people have died — one quarter of them children — and the death toll is expected to rise.”

They suspect that is because Yemen now has upwards of 200,000 cases to grapple with, and that number is growing quickly — by a rate of roughly 5,000 cases a day.

“And geographically, it is expanding,” Mohamed El Montassir Hussein, Yemen director for the International Rescue Committee, told NPR’s Jason Beaubien earlier this month. “It’s not a small area. It’s almost the whole country.”

Hussein added:

“There is nowhere in the country you can say, ‘This place is better than another’,” says Hussein. “Every family is suffering from something whether it’s cholera or lack of food, having child soldiers in the family or having someone go join the rebels or the military. There’s been a whole collapse of the social life.”

After more than two years of civil war, Yemen’s health care system is at risk of “complete collapse,” a UNICEF spokesman told Jason.

The country has been roiled by violence since Houthi rebels seized power and ousted the president, who fled to neighboring Saudi Arabia. Since then, a Saudi-led coalition supported by the U.S. has waged a protracted campaign against the rebels — and some worry that support makes the U.S. complicit in Yemen’s deepening humanitarian crisis.

“There’s a U.S. imprint on every civilian death inside Yemen that’s caused by the Saudi bombing campaign,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut told NPR’s Michele Kelemen last month after the U.S. signed a new arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

“The Saudis simply could not operate this bombing campaign without us,” he continued. “Their planes can’t fly without U.S. refueling capacity. They are dropping munitions that we’ve sold them. We are standing side by side with them often when they are reviewing intelligence about targets.”

Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman — who, as NPR’s Deborah Amos reports, is said to have been “the prime mover in the kingdom’s decision to go to war in Yemen” — recently authorized a $66 million donation to support UNICEF and WHO’s anti-cholera efforts there.

“We look forward to discussing this contribution with the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre,” UNICEF responded in a statement Friday. “Such generosity will make a great difference to thousands of children at risk of contracting this rapidly spreading disease.”

Lake and Chan made clear in Saturday’s statement just how rapid it’s spreading — and, in turn, just how rapid the response needs to be.

“We are working around the clock to detect and track the spread of disease and to reach people with clean water, adequate sanitation and medical treatment. Rapid response teams are going house-to-house to reach families with information about how to protect themselves by cleaning and storing drinking water,” they said.

“We call on authorities in Yemen to strengthen their internal efforts to stop the outbreak from spreading further.”

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman elevated to Crown Prince  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman elevated to Crown Prince

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman waves as he meets with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 11, 2017. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS
By Stephen Kalin and William Maclean | DUBAI

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman made his son his successor on Wednesday, removing his nephew as crown prince and giving the 31-year old almost unprecedented powers as the world’s leading oil exporter implements transformation reforms.

A royal decree appointed Mohammed bin Salman crown prince and deputy prime minister. He retains defense, oil and other portfolios.

It said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a counter-terrorism chief admired in Washington for putting down an al Qaeda campaign of bombings in 2003-06, was relieved of all positions.

Although Mohammed bin Salman’s promotion was expected among close circles it came as a surprise at a time the kingdom is facing heightened tensions with Qatar and Iran and is locked in a war in Yemen.

The royal decree said the decision by King Salman to promote his son and consolidate his power was endorsed by 31 out of 34 members of the Allegiance Council, made up of senior members of the ruling Al Saud family.

Always intent on dispelling speculation of internal divisions in the Al Saud ruling dynasty, Saudi television was quick to show that the change in succession was amicable and supported by the family.

Throughout the early morning it aired footage of Mohammed bin Nayef pledging allegiance to the younger Mohammed bin Salman who knelt and kissed his older cousin’s hand.

“I am content,” Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said. Prince Mohammed bin Salman replied: “We will not give up taking your guidance and advice.”

Analysts said the change ends uncertainty over succession and empowers Prince Mohammed bin Salman to move faster with his plan to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil, which includes the partial privatization of state oil company Aramco.

“The change is a huge boost to the economic reform program…Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) is its architect,” said John Sfakianakis, director of the Riyadh-based Gulf Research Center.

Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, said the king’s decision was aimed at avoiding a power struggle between his son and Mohammed bin Nayef by setting the line of succession clearly.

“It’s clearly a transition that has happened smoothly and bloodlessly. Now it’s clear, it’s straightforward. That kind of clarity lowers the risk, there’s no question as to who’s going to be in charge.”

ESCALATING REGIONAL TENSIONS

“Some people were predicting that this would lead to a division in the family and strife and some kind of revolt. I don’t see that happening.”

A senior Saudi official said the decision was taken due to what he called special circumstances presented to the members of the Allegiance Council. He added that Mohammed bin Nayef supported the decision in a letter sent to the king.

The royal decree did not nominate a new deputy crown prince. The position is relatively new in Saudi Arabia where a king has traditionally chosen his own successor.

As deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman has been responsible for running Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, dictating an energy policy with global implications and spearheading plans for the kingdom to build an economic future after oil.

That the royal succession in the world’s top oil exporter is closely scrutinized only makes the rapidity of Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power, and the speed with which his better known cousins were brushed aside, more astonishing.

The announcement follows 2-1/2 years of already major changes in Saudi Arabia, which stunned allies in 2015 by launching an air war in Yemen, cutting back on lavish subsidies and proposing in 2016 the partial privatization of state oil company Aramco.

Financial analysts said Prince Mohammed’s promotion gave further assurance that key parts of radical reforms to diversify the Saudi economy beyond oil would continue.

“We do not expect to see any major changes to key areas of policy, including economic,” said Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.

Last year Mohammed bin Salman, or “MBS” as he is widely known, announced sweeping changes aimed at ending the kingdom’s reliance to oil, part of his campaign to tackle systemic challenges that the kingdom has previously failed to address.

 

POWER BEHIND THE THRONE

Until his father Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud became Saudi Arabia’s seventh king in January 2015, few people outside the kingdom had ever heard of Prince Mohammed.

MBS as he is widely known is now Defense Minister, a role that in Saudi Arabia gives its incumbent command of one of the world’s biggest arms budgets and makes him ultimately responsible for Saudi Arabia’s military adventure in Yemen.

He also heads the Council for Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA), a group of cabinet ministers who meet weekly and which oversees all elements of policy that touch on the economy or social issues like education, health and housing.

Prince Mohammed chairs the supreme board of Aramco, making him the first member of the ruling family to directly oversee the state oil company, long regarded as the preserve of commoner technocrats.

But perhaps most importantly, he also holds the critical position of gatekeeper to his father, King Salman, who in Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy retains the final say in any major decision of state.

Outside Saudi Arabia, that rapid advance and the sudden changes to longstanding policies on regional affairs, energy and its economy have prompted unease, adding an unpredictable edge to a kingdom that allies long regarded as a known quantity.

Inside, they have prompted admiration among many younger Saudis who regard his ascent as evidence that their generation is taking a central place in running a country whose patriarchal traditions have for decades made power the province of the old.

Saudi Arabia’s stock market surged more than 3 percent in early trade on Wednesday after Prince Mohammed’s promotion was announced.

After 70 minutes of active trade, the stock index .TASI was 3.4 percent higher. National Commercial Bank 1180.SE, the biggest listed lender, which is expected to play a major role in funding some of the non-oil industries which Prince Mohammed aims to develop, was the top gainer and soared 10 percent.

Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main rival for regional influence, called Prince Mohammed’s appointment a “soft coup”.

Iran’s leadership was critical of comments by Prince Mohammed last month that the “battle” should be taken into Iran.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei labeled the Saudi leadership then as “idiots”.

(Reporting by Stephen Kalin, William Maclean, Rania El Gamal, Sylvia Westall, Sami Aboudi, Andrew Torchia, Reem Shamseddine, Angus McDowall; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Angus MacSwan)