February 09/14

Bible Quotation for today/Riches in Heaven
Luke 12/32-40: "32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom.  Sell all your belongings and give the money to the poor. Provide for yourselves purses that don't wear out, and save your riches in heaven, where they will never decrease, because no thief can get to them, and no moth can destroy them.  For your heart will always be where your riches are. “Be ready for whatever comes, dressed for action and with your lamps lit,  like servants who are waiting for their master to come back from a wedding feast. When he comes and knocks, they will open the door for him at once.  How happy are those servants whose master finds them awake and ready when he returns! I tell you, he will take off his coat, have them sit down, and will wait on them.  How happy they are if he finds them ready, even if he should come at midnight or even later!  And you can be sure that if the owner of a house knew the time when the thief would come, he would not let the thief break into his house.  And you, too, must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him.”

Pope Francis

What zest life acquires when we allow ourselves to be filled by the love of God!

 Pape François

Quelle saveur acquiert la vie quand on se laisse inonder par l’amour de Dieu !

Pope Francis
The Sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist, are privileged places of encountering Christ.
Pape François ‏
Les sacrements, spécialement la Confession et l’Eucharistie, sont des lieux privilégiés de rencontre avec le Christ.


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For February 09/14
The Arab world has reached the point of no return/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/AL Arabyia/February 09/14

The sectarian inferno/By: Hisham Melhem/Al Arabyia/February 09/14
Obama’s Visit to Saudi Arabia: A Good Opportunity To Set Things Right/By Raghida Degham/February 09/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For February 09/14
Lebanese Related News
Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade Warns of Attacks against Army, Calls for Release of al-Atrash
Miqati Meets Putin on Sidelines of Sochi Games, Tackles Regional Developments
Report: Hariri Discusses with Aoun Cabinet Formation Process
Army Arrests Man in the Bekaa over Alleged Links to Omar Al-Atrash
MP Fayyad calls for enhancing Hezbollah-FPM MOU
HIC Forms Committee to Elect New Grand Mufti before End of Qabbani's Mandate
Four Firefighters Wounded in Battling Fire that Destroyed Historical Palace in Nabatiyeh
Charbel Says Drone Above Maarab Israeli
Report: Bekaa Muslim Clerics to Protest near Defense Ministry over Ongoing Arrest of al-Atrash
Strict Security Measures near Defense Ministry HQ amid Reports of 'Terrorist Attacks'
Raad Hints 'Ploys' in Formation Process May Topple New Cabinet
Extremists ‘flocking to Ain al-Hilweh’
Manal Assi’s family demands justice
Lebanon PM upbeat on release of kidnapped nuns
March 8 warning overshadows Cabinet bid
Stun Grenade Hurled near Haret Saida Municipality Building
Miscellaneous Reports And News
Iran says its warships approaching United States
Iran assisting Al-Qaeda operations in Syria: U.S.
Top Iranian official: Israel a 'cancer' in the Middle East
Iran, U.N. agency resume nuclear talks in Tehran
Obama may be in two minds over Kerry’s Israeli-Palestinian peace mission
Renewed Syria fighting breaks cease-fire in Homs
Homs Aid Delayed as Vehicles Hit by Mortar Fire
Syria Now 'a Matter of US Homeland Security'
Syria Barrel Bomb Raids on Aleppo Kill 20
Palestinian Militants in Gaza Fire Rocket at Israel
Pope Agrees to Sri Lanka Trip, Honors Korean Martyrs
Iran sending warships close to U.S. borders
Iraq governor gives Anbar militants one-week ultimatum
Egypt army kills 16 suspected militants in Sinai

Lebanon, Maronities And Saint Maroun
By: Elias Bejjani
Fouad Afram Boustani, (1904- 1994), the Lebanese Maronite historian described the Maronite denomination as, a faith of intelligence, an identification of life, a solid belief in Catholicism, a love for others, an ongoing struggle for righteousness, a mentality of openness on the whole world, and on its different civilizations, and a vehicle for martyrdom. The Maronites established the state of Lebanon and made it an oasis for the persecuted in the middle East. They believed and practiced  multiculturalism and pluralism. They created with the help of other minorities in the Middle East the unique nation of Lebanon.
The Maronites made Lebanon their homeland since the 4th century after converting its native inhabitants to Christianity. They were identified by it, and it was identified by them, they were and still are one entity. The Maronite people were always hopeful, faithful and strong believers in the Christian Catholic doctrine. They made victories of defeats, joy of sorrow and hope of despair. The Maronites successfully created with hard work and a great deal of faith and sacrifices, the Maronite nation by fulfilling its four basic pillars, a land, a people, a civilization and a politically independent entity. They constantly fight for what was theirs, and never ever surrendered to despair.
On the ninth of February for the past 1600 years, Maronites in Lebanon and all over the world have been celebrating the annual commemoration of St. Maroun, the founder of their Christian Catholic denomination.
Every year, on the ninth of February, more than ten million Maronites from all over the world celebrate St. Maroun’s day. On this day, they pay their respect to the great founder of the Maronite Church, Maroun the priest, the hermit, the father, the leader and the Saint. They remember what they have been exposed to, since the 4th century, both good and bad times. They reminisce through the past, examine the present and contemplate the future. They pray for peace, democracy and freedom in Lebanon, their homeland, and all over the world.
Who was this Saint, how did he establish his church, where did he live, and who are his people, the Maronites?
St. Maroun, according to the late great Lebanese philosopher and historian, Fouad Afram Al-Bustani, was raised in the city of Kouroch. This city is located northeast of Antioch (presently in Turkey), and to the northwest of Herapolos (Manbieg), the capital of the third Syria (Al-Furatia). Kouroch is still presently in existence in Turkey, it is located 15 kilometers to the northwest of Kalas city, and about 70 kilometers to the north of the Syrian city, Aleppo.
As stated by the historians, Father Boutrous Daou and Fouad Fram Bustani, Maroun chose a very high location at the Semaan Mountain (called in the past, Nabo Mountain, after the pagan god, Nabo). Geographically, the Semaan Mountain is located between Antioch and Aleppo. People had abandoned the mountain for years, and the area was completely deserted.
The ruins of a historic pagan temple that existed on the mountain attracted Maroun. Boustan stated that St. Maroun moved to this mountain and decided to follow the life of a hermit. He made the ruined temple his residence after excoriating it from devils, but used it only for masses and offerings of the holy Eucharist. He used to spend all his time in the open air, praying, fasting and depriving his body from all means of comfort. He became very famous in the whole area for his faith, holiness and power of curing. Thousands of believers came to him seeking help and advice.
St. Maroun, was an excellent knowledgeable preacher and a very stubborn believer in Christ and in Christianity. He was a mystic who started a new ascetic-spiritual method that attracted many people from all over the Antiochian Empire. He was a zealous missionary with a passion to spread the message of Christ by preaching it to others. He sought not only to cure the physical ailments that people suffered, but had a great quest for nurturing and healing the "lost souls" of both pagans and Christians of his time. Maroun’s holiness and countless miracles drew attention throughout the Antiochian Empire. St. John of Chrysostom sent him a letter around 405 AD expressing his great love and respect asking St. Maroun to pray for him.
St. Maroun's way was deeply monastic with emphasis on the spiritual and ascetic aspects of living. For him, all was connected to God and God was connected to all. He did not separate the physical and spiritual world and actually used the physical world to deepen his faith and spiritual experience with God. St. Maroun embraced the quiet solitude of the Semaan Mountain life. He lived in the open air exposed to the forces of nature such as sun, rain, hail and snow. His extraordinary desire to come to know God’s presence in all things allowed him to transcend such forces, and discover an intimate union with God. He was able to free himself from the physical world by his passion and eagerness for prayer and enter into a mystical relationship of love with the creator.
St. Maroun attracted hundreds of monks and priests who came to live with him and become his disciples and loyal Christian followers. Maroun’s disciples preached the Bible in the Antiochan Empire (known at the present time as Syria), Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Israel, They built hundreds of Churches and abbeys as well as schools and were known for their faith, devotion and perseverance.
At the age of seventy, in the year 410 AD, and after completing his holy mission, St. Maroun died peacefully while surrounded by his disciples and followers. His will was to be buried in the same grave with his beloved teacher, the great monk, Zabena, in the town of Kena, next to Kouroch city, where a temple was built in Zabena’s name. St. Maroun’s will was not fulfilled, because the residents of a nearby town were able to take his body and bury him in their town and build a huge church on his grave. This church was a shrine for Christians for hundreds of years, and its ruins are still apparent in that town.
After Maroun’s death, his disciples built a huge monastery in honor of his name, adjacent to the ornate spring, (Naher Al-Assi, located at the Syrian-Lebanese border). The monastery served for hundreds of years as a pillar for faith, education, martyrhood and holiness. It was destroyed at the beginning of the tenth century that witnessed the worst Christian persecution era. During the savage attack on the monastery more than 300 Maronite priests were killed. The surviving priests moved to the mountains of Lebanon where with the Marada people and the native Lebanese were successful in establishing the Maronite nation. They converted the Lebanese mountains to a fortress of faith and a symbol for martyrhood, endurance and perseverance.
Initially the Maronite movement reached Lebanon when St. Maroun's first disciple Abraham of Cyrrhus, who was called the Apostle of Lebanon, realized that paganism was thriving in Lebanon, so he set out to convert the pagans to Christianity by introducing them to the way of St. Maroun. St. Maroun is considered to be the Father of the spiritual and monastic movement now called the Maronite Church. This movement had a profound influence on northern Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and on many other countries all over the world where the Maronites currently live. The biggest Maronite community at the present time lives in Brazil. More than six million Lebanese descendents made Brazil their home after the massive  emigration that took place from Lebanon in the beginning of this century.
God Bless all those who struggle for freedom and liberty all over the world

Obama may be in two minds over Kerry’s Israeli-Palestinian peace mission
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis February 7, 2014/The give-and-take over an Israeli-Palestinian accord, doggedly kept afloat by US Secretary of State John Kerry, is resolving itself into a complex dynamic depending heavily on personalities and their interrelations. Kerry needs to overcome reservations in President Barack Obama’s White House team; Israel’s A-team - Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon – are not of one mind on the issues; Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s popular base is infamously flimsy. The over-heated war of words between Jerusalem and Washington did not erupt in Israel’s A-Team. It came from a second-string cabinet member, Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett, who was challenged by two fellow members, the senior negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid. Yet Secretary Kerry reacted emotionally to aspersions, some of them imagined. His warning of a boycott and international isolation threatening Israel if his initiative failed, struck a sensitive nerve and was interpreted as an attempt at intimidation. But no responsible Israeli ever accused him of anti-Semitism – as US Ambassador Dan Shapiro claimed in a radio interview Friday, Feb. 7. The words of a member of Bennett’s party may have been interpreted as such, and he quickly took them back. The spoof parodying Kerry as scattering ridiculous concessions to the Palestinians was mild compared to the savage political satire routinely targeting Israeli politicians. It could have been laughed off. But by repeatedly rushing to the Secretary’s defense over a couple of remarks by a minister, frustrated by his exclusion from the negotiating loop, the State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki made a mountain out of a molehill. So where does the US-Israeli-Palestinian peace process go from here? Breaking new diplomatic ground, Kerry is pressing the Israeli prime minister and Palestinian leader to submit in writing their views and reservations on the US positions he put before them in private, one-on-one conversations. He proposes to embody their comments in a non-binding paper to be the framework for further negotiations.
That paper has two-against-one support in the top Israeli threesome: Netanyahu accepts it as a basis for negotiations, but wants changes with reference to Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and less clarity on the extent of swaps for the settlement blocs remaining on the West Bank in a Palestinian state as well as Jerusalem. These issues should be left vague, in the prime minister’s view. Lieberman, who morphed in recent months into Washington’s most ardent fan in the Israeli cabinet, urges full acceptance of the Kerry paper. Ya’alon is the holdout. He advocates its rejection – ruling out in particular the security plan composed by US Gen. John Allen.
Kerry and his team have marked the defense minister, rather than Bennett, as the mainspring of Israeli resistance to his effort. The critics of the handling of his mission are to be found in Washington as well as Jerusalem. Some circles, as high as the White House level, believe Kerry erred in places and left gaps that may be hard to bridge.
His State Department team is faulted, for instance, for over-reliance on Mahmoud Abbas as the single negotiator for the Palestinians. Instead of building a broad popular foundation, they will be placing any future accord on an extremely narrow and flimsy base. All three parties, Kerry, Israel and Abbas, are seen as missing a rare opportunity for addressing the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip at their lowest moment in a decade. Instead, Abbas has focused on the Palestinian refugee question. His latest demand is for each individual Palestinian refugee to be given the option of choosing where he wants to live after the conclusion of a peace accord with Israel. That was in fact the only core issue addressed last week. It would seem that it is up to three individuals to determine the outcome of the sensitive, brittle peace process which John Kerry set in motion nearly a year ago. But that would be an over-simplification. Netanyahu must win the approval of his government and people (he has promised a national referendum for this purpose); Abbas does not speak for the Palestinian majority; and the Secretary of State will have to take the deal back to Washington for President Obama’s approval, which is far from being in his pocket.

Report: Hariri Discusses with Aoun Cabinet Formation Process
Naharnet/Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri held a series of contacts with several rival parties to push forward the cabinet formation process that reached a standstill after it was put on front burner recently.
Al-Joumhouria newspaper reported that Hariri reportedly held a telephone conversation with Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun. However, the daily said that the matter wasn't confirmed or denied the report. Sources described the telephone conversation between the rival politicians as “positive.”Sources also told the daily that Progressive Socialist Party leader also held talks with Hariri.
Al-Joumhouria said that Jumblat contacted later on Phalange Party leader Amine Gemayel, who called on all parties to offer settlements to safeguard the nation. Meanwhile, the daily reported that caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abou Faour, who was delegated by Jumblat to discuss the cabinet formation process with the political foes, terminated his endeavors as each party held on to its stance.
On Thursday, Abou Faour held separate talks with President Michel Suleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam and Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi. Salam, a 67-year-old moderate, was appointed in April two weeks after the resignation of Premier Najib Miqati. However, Salam has been facing a difficulty in forming his cabinet over Aoun's unswerving stance to retain the energy and telecommunications ministries and his rejection to adopt the concept of rotating ministerial portfolios. Aoun has rejected the rotation of portfolios as part of a deal struck between the rival parties on the 24-member cabinet based on the 8-8-8 formula, hinting that he would pull his ministers out of it and drawing the support of his allies in the March 8 alliance.

Raad Hints 'Ploys' in Formation Process May Topple New Cabinet
Naharnet /Hizbullah on Friday warned that any “ploys and maneuvering” in the cabinet formation process might “topple the results that are sought” from the formation of a new government.
The party has called for “forming an all-embracing cabinet comprising all national components so that it can confront all political, security, economic and social problems,” said MP Mohammed Raad, head of Hizbullah's Loyalty to Resistance parliamentary bloc. The cabinet formation process has suffered a new blow as the March 8 camp rejected that the interior ministry portfolio be allocated to former Internal Security Forces chief Ashraf Rifi in return for keeping the energy portfolio with the Free Patriotic Movement. "Ploys and maneuvering in the cabinet formation process to exclude an essential component might topple the results that are sought from this inclusive cabinet," Raad cautioned. Attempt to "eliminate the word 'resistance' from the Lebanese vocabulary means that someone wants to put all points pertaining to the National Charter of coexistence on the discussion table, because this issue cannot be raised selectively,” Raad added. The FPM, Hizbullah and their allies in the March 8 camp are likely to pull their ministers out of any so-called de facto cabinet they do not approve of, forcing its collapse. The cabinet would then act in caretaker capacity and new parliamentary consultations would be held to name a new prime minister-designate.

Stun Grenade Hurled near Haret Saida Municipality Building
Naharnet/A stun grenade was hurled on Saturday evening in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Haret Saida in the southern city of Sidon, the state-run National News Agency reported. "The grenade was hurled near the gate of an orchard in the neighborhood," the NNA said. But Future TV said that the grenade was hurled near the municipality building of Haret Saida. No injuries were however reported, the same source remarked. "The grenade was dropped on a street facing the municipality building,” LBCI television detailed, adding that the road leads to a Hizbullah compound in the neighborhood. "Army troops have since cordoned off the area.” Meanwhile, local Sidon websites said a speeding car dropped the grenade behind the building, creating an atmosphere of chaos and panic among the residents of the city.

Report: Bekaa Muslim Clerics to Protest near Defense Ministry over Ongoing Arrest of al-Atrash
Naharnet /Muslim clerics and scholars are set to hold a sit-in anew near the Defense Ministry in Yarze to protest the arrest of Sheikh Omar al-Atrash, al-Joumhouria newspaper reported on Saturday. According to the daily, the army intelligence received information that a delegation from Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley will head to the defense ministry to protest the ongoing detention of al-Atrash. On Tuesday, a military examining magistrate issued an arrest warrant against al-Atrash for carrying out terrorist activities. Judge Nabil Wehbe questioned al-Atrash over his role in transporting suicide bombers to Lebanon.
Al-Atrash, 24, has also been charged with detonating bombs and explosive-rigged vehicles, attacking the army in Majdelyoun and al-Awwali bridge areas in the southern city of Sidon in December and launching rockets on Israel. The Sheikh, who hails from the Bekaa valley, was arrested last month. The Lebanese army said last week that al-Atrash has admitted to having ties with Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Jabhat al-Nusra and The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) members. He has also admitted to transporting suicide bombers in a Cherokee to attack the army in Majdelyoun and al-Awwali bridge and of transferring four rockets from Syria in August last year to launch them towards Israel.

Strict Security Measures near Defense Ministry HQ amid Reports of 'Terrorist Attacks'

Naharnet/Security measures were boosted near the Defense Ministry in Yarze following reports indicated that extremist terrorist groups have an intention to target military headquarters across Lebanon, including the ministry.
According to al-Joumhouria newspaper published on Saturday, the strict security measures were fortified after security agencies obtained information that high-ranking military officers will be targeted by terrorist acts.
The daily said that the security measures included the thorough inspection of passers-by and checking their identities. On Friday, Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji announced that the army will “tighten the noose” on suspicious groups that might pose a threat to the country's security, noting that the military will not leave any Lebanese area “under the mercy of security chaos.”The army chief underlined that the military “will not renounce its right to impose stability and prevent autonomous security.” Explosions in Lebanon have created a climate of fear in the country, with residents increasingly nervous about unfamiliar cars and certain neighborhoods. A series of deadly bombings have targeted Shiite districts of Beirut's southern suburbs and the eastern Bekaa valley in recent months. Hizbullah has a strong presence in the districts, and the attacks are believed to be in retaliation for the Shiite group's armed intervention in Syria in support of President Bashar Assad against the majority Sunni rebels seeking to topple him.

Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade Warns of Attacks against Army, Calls for Release of al-Atrash

Naharnet/The "Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade” warned on Saturday the Lebanese army that it will be targeted by attacks until it proves its patriotism, calling for the release of Sheikh Omar al-Atrash.
“The Lebanese army will remain a target until it proves its patriotism and its liberation from Iran and Hizbullah,” the brigade said via twitter. It also slammed caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, considering him a “minister that follows the instructions of Hizbullah Secretary-General (Sayyed) Hassan Nasrallah.” The brigade said in another tweet that Charbel is an “expert in targeting Sunnis in Lebanon.” The "Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade” has no known ties with any Lebanese or Syrian group, and it had claimed before responsibility for killing Hizbullah military commander Hassan Hollo al-Laqqis. The group also demanded the release of Sheikh Omar al-Atrash, urging the army to end all abuses against him in the prisons of “loathing and hatred.” The brigade called on the Sunni Muslim clerics and scholars to act according to their conscience and give al-Atrash his rights back. Al-Atrash, 24, has also been charged with detonating bombs and explosive-rigged vehicles, attacking the army in Majdelyoun and al-Awwali bridge areas in the southern city of Sidon in December and launching rockets on Israel.
The Sheikh, who hails from the Bekaa valley and was arrested last month, has also admitted to having ties with Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Jabhat al-Nusra and The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) members.
On Friday, the group announced killing an Iranian military trainer the day before in the Bekaa region. The operation created an atmosphere of panic and confusion among party members, the statement remarked, the brigade said on twitter.It also warned of attacks and strikes against Hizbullah supporters in the Bekaa and around Lebanon.Meanwhile, Mufti of Baalbek Bakr al-Rifai denied later on Friday the brigade's claims, adding that the group "does not exist."

Army Arrests Man in the Bekaa over Alleged Links to Omar Al-Atrash

Naharnet /The army on Saturday raided the house of Nawaf al-Hussein in the village of Jlala near Shtaura in the Bekaa and arrested him over his alleged links to Sheikh Omar al-Atrash.
"An army unit raided a house in Jlala and arrested its owner Nawaf al-Hussein,” the state-run National News Agency reported. LBCI television explained that the arrest was made after detainee al-Atrash confessed to ties with al-Hussein. "The arrested man was then escorted to the Ministry of Defense for investigation,” LBCI added. Later in the evening, LBCI pointed out that the brother of Nawaf al-Hussein, Abdul Aziz al-Hussein, was also detained following al-Atrash's confessions. On Tuesday, a military examining magistrate issued an arrest warrant against al-Atrash for carrying out terrorist activities in the country. Judge Nabil Wehbe questioned al-Atrash over his role in transporting suicide bombers to Lebanon. Al-Atrash, 24, has also been charged with detonating bombs and explosive-rigged vehicles, attacking the army in Majdelyoun and al-Awwali bridge areas in the southern city of Sidon in December and launching rockets on Israel.The Sheikh, who hails from the Bekaa valley, was arrested last month.

Miqati Meets Putin on Sidelines of Sochi Games, Tackles Regional Developments
Naharnet/Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin the latest developments in the region and the bilateral ties between the two countries. Miqati, who is currently in Russia, also held talks with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of his visit to the country to attend the opening of the winter Olympic opening ceremony in Sochi. "Lebanon is keen to participate in all the international sport events to stress the country's distinctive presence in all occasions,” Miqati was quoted as saying. A statement issued by the Premiers press office on Saturday also pointed out that the PM and his wife May attended a reception held in honor of the heads of the delegations participating in the opening of the 22nd winter Olympics.Miqati is accompanied by caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami, his wife and head of the Youth and Sports parliamentary committee MP Simon Abi Ramia and his wife. There was general praise for the opening spectacle in the Black Sea resort of Sochi even if commentators revived criticism of the build-up to the Games, including Russia's gay rights record and the unprecedented $50 billion cost of staging the sporting event. Putin on Friday welcomed more than 40 other heads of state and leaders for the ceremony, including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Some 3,500 fireworks weighing a total 22.5 tonnes were set off in the course of the ceremony which involved some 3,000 performers and 2,000 volunteers.

HIC Forms Committee to Elect New Grand Mufti before End of Qabbani's Mandate

Naharnet/The Higher Islamic Council announced on Saturday forming a legal and technical committee to prepare for the upcoming elections to replace the current Grand Mufti before the end of his mandate. "We discussed Dar al-Fatwa's questionable current situation and we formed a committee to prepare the road for an election to choose a new Grand Mufti,” a statement released by the HIC said after a meeting chaired by its deputy head Omar Mesqawi. The statement noted that the committee would study and prepare the required procedures to carry out the elections before the end of Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani's mandate in September 2014.
The Council, which elects the Mufti and organizes the affairs of Dar al-Fatwa, has been at the center of controversy after 21 of its members, who are close to ex-Premier Saad Hariri's al-Mustaqbal Movement, extended its term until June 30, 2015 despite Qabbani's objection. The Mufti later held elections for the Council, which current and former premiers, including Caretaker PM Najib Miqati and Fouad Saniora, deemed illegal for violating Shura Council decisions to halt the polls. Separately, the HIC urged political leaders in Lebanon to form a cabinet “without any delay or procrastination,” underscoring the “dangerous situation in the country on the political, security, and social levels.”"Any group that is obstructing the cabinet's formation must bear the national and political responsibilities that result from its attitude,” the conferees stressed. The council also condemned all “terrorist acts taking place in the country and whose price is being paid by innocent citizens.” "We reject all forms of uptight and extremist ideologies and Islam denounces these terrorist acts,” it assured.
The statement also praised the Bkirki Treaty, considering that is contributes to the building of the state and in strengthening democracy in the country.

Charbel Says Drone Above Maarab Israeli
Naharnet/Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said on Saturday that an alleged drone spotted hovering over the residence of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea in Maarab is believed to be Israeli. Charbel considered that this type of unmanned aircraft could carry a missile that weighs around 200 or 300 kilograms. According to al-Joumhouria newspaper published on Saturday, Charbel revealed that a report by the Internal Security Forces confirmed that a drone was seen with the naked eye above the residence of Geagea. On Tuesday, Charbel said that the “matter isn't a joke.” He stressed that the necessary measures should be taken to protect Maarab and those who are targeted in assassination attempts, noting that the possible use of anti-aircraft fire was discussed to shoot down the drone. The Lebanese Forces said earlier this month that a drone was spotted carrying out flights over Maarab for a period of time. Last week, LF informed the army anew that guards sighted the unmanned aircraft again on Friday. Guards described the aircraft as white and resembles a drone, adding that it flew at a law altitude and caused unusual sounds. Geagea had escaped an assassination attempt by snipers as he was taking a walk in the garden of his Maarab residence in April 2012.

Four Firefighters Wounded in Battling Fire that Destroyed Historical Palace in Nabatiyeh

Naharnet /Four firefighters were injured on Saturday as they battled to extinguish a devastating fire that erupted at a a heritage site in the southern town of Zefta in Nabatiyeh. The state-run National News Agency reported that some four hours after the blaze broke out in al-Darawish Palace, firefighters had succeeded in stemming the raging flames. The injured firefighters were submitted to Nabih Berri University Hospital in Nabatiyeh for treatment. The owner of the Palace Hussein Beik al-Darwish said that all the historic and rare contents of the palace were destroyed, pointing out that they are irreplaceable. “After preserving the Palace for 100 years it was destroyed,” he pointed out. The owner said that the Palace was built in the 1900s with an area estimated to be 1,200 meters and 15 chambers. He added that the Palace contains historical heritage that goes back to before the Ottoman era. Security agencies arrived swiftly at the scene and opened an investigation into the incident as the reasons behind the fire is still unknown.

Syria Now 'a Matter of Homeland Security'

Naharnet/The Syria conflict has become a U.S. domestic security concern, Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson said Friday, one day after returning from talks in Europe where the war-torn nation topped the agenda.
Johnson returned late Thursday from a meeting in Poland with Interior Ministers from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland. He was accompanied on the visit by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
"Syria was the number one topic of conversation for them and for us," Johnson said in his first major speech since assuming his post in late December. "Syria has become a matter of homeland security," he added, in remarks at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington. Johnson said that he, as well as security officials in Europe, are paying particular attention to extremists in their respective countries who are traveling to Syria to take up arms.
"Based on our work and the work of our international partners, we know individuals from the U.S., Canada and Europe are traveling to Syria to fight in the conflict," he said of the nearly three-year-old conflict, which is estimated to have killed more than 136,000 people. "At the same time, extremists are actively trying to recruit Westerners, indoctrinate them, and see them return to their home countries with an extremist mission," said Johnson.
He added that U.S. intelligence and security agencies "will continue to work closely to identify those foreign fighters that represent a threat to the homeland. "It's not just in this country. Our European allies are very concerned about this issue," Johnson said."Collectively, we're determined to do something about it

Egypt Military 'Kills 16 Sinai Militants in Air Strikes'

Naharnet/Egypt's military said it killed 16 militants Saturday in air strikes in the restive Sinai peninsula, which jihadists have used as a springboard for attacks across the country. The air force has pressed ahead with air strikes in the region even after militants in north Sinai downed a helicopter last month with a shoulder fired missile, killing the entire crew of five. The militants have killed scores of soldiers and policemen in a growing insurgency after the army overthrew Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July. On Saturday, air strikes killed "16 extremely dangerous extremists belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood," military spokesman Ahmed Ali said on Facebook.
Morsi's Brotherhood was designated as a terrorist group in December after a suicide car bombing of police headquarters killed 15 people. The Brotherhood says it eschewed violence decades ago and is dedicated to advancing its agenda by peaceful means. Another group, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for the December attack and another car bombing outside police headquarters in Cairo last month. The group, which appears to be inspired by al-Qaida's militant Islamist ideology, is based in the sparsely inhabited north of Sinai, along the borders of Gaza and Israel.It has branched out from attacking security forces in the peninsula to bombings and assassinations of police officers elsewhere in Egypt. Source/Agence France Presse

Obama’s Visit to Saudi Arabia: A Good Opportunity To Set Things Right
By Raghida Degham/(Translation - Karim Traboulsi)
There is a shared determination by the American and Saudi leaderships to mend their historical bilateral relationship, and to save it from deteriorating into a confrontation or declining to new lows. President Barack Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia in the second half of March is proof that Washington and Riyadh are aware of – and have admitted to – the need to repair the damage, tension, and decay that has affected their relations. This is an important opportunity for showing mutual frankness, exchanging points of view, and finding out what each side has in mind. The senior members of the Obama administration direly need to understand what is going on in the mind of the Saudi leadership, and inquire about what had led to Saudi Arabia’s break with its traditional silence, and why Saudi stopped using only back channels to express its dissatisfaction of U.S. policies on Iran, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian question. For their part, the pillars of the Saudi leadership need to examine domestic and strategic U.S. dynamics that have led the Obama administration to hold secret negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and refrain from playing a leading role in Syria, leaving this arena wide open to Russia, China, and Iran to make their power plays in support of the regime in Damascus. Preparing for this visit is necessary, more than any previous visit, given its exceptional importance and its implications for regional issues and international relations. The starting point is to admit that a rough patch has affected U.S.-Saudi relations, and pretending that this is transient or that the visit itself will be sufficient to bring water under the bridge again is not good enough to fix the problem. Indeed, what happened was a serious blow that requires a realistic diagnosis, and a willingness to adjust to new realities.
One of the important things that the two sides should avoid is to turn Obama’s visit into an occasion to promote U.S.-made weapons in the Saudi market, as though the sale and purchase of weaponry is the cornerstone of the relationship. For instance, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had almost appeared like an arms dealer during the Manama Dialogue event back in December 2013, when he cited armaments as the benchmark for U.S. policy, to deny that there was a gradual U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East and the Gulf region in the direction of Asia Pacific. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took a different approach, starting in Davos during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum nearly two weeks ago, and then again at the Munich international security conference. He wanted to emphasize that the United States has solid alliances and vital interests with the Gulf nations, and that Washington was not in the process of scrambling east. He clarified the prospects and criteria for the desired relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Kerry spoke the language of serious reassurance, and not just to appease allies, which is exactly what Riyadh expects to hear from the U.S. president during his visit to the kingdom, albeit in more detail.
It is no secret that U.S. President Barack Obama is no longer a popular figure in the Arab region as a whole, and not just in Saudi Arabia. The main reason is his policy on Syria, which contributed to the deterioration of the situation there into a humanitarian tragedy and a disaster for the country – at least from the Arab perspective. The Barack Obama of 2009 is different from Barack Obama in 2014, in the eyes of those who had pinned so much hope on him, celebrated his advent, and saw him as the torchbearer of empowerment, justice, and change. In 2009, President Obama stopped in Riyadh on his way to deliver that famous speech in Cairo, which opened a new chapter in U.S. policy towards the Muslim and Arab world. He tried to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but failed. He had a taste of political realism. He understood that even people like him had limits, and are fettered by entrenched policy. He appeared either weak or naïve, when in his mind and heart he wanted to be a bold leader and a maker of history. President Barack Obama suffered an immediate setback at the beginning of his term, causing him to abandon any boldness he had, inviting blame and disillusion.
At the start of the Arab Spring, the young president dithered, before adopting a stance on Egypt that saw him abandoning America’s erstwhile ally former President Hosni Mubarak, instead supporting the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power. From the standpoint of the U.S. administration, this was in line with the popular will and the youth revolution. But from the point of view of the youths themselves, the U.S. position was astonishing because the Muslim Brotherhood had hijacked the revolution, and began working on excluding others. The Brotherhood devoured the presidency, the parliament, and almost also the constitution – all with U.S. blessing.
Whether this was naïve or a deliberate policy, the outcome is the same, which is that the U.S. president went on to lose many supporters who once adored him but who now called him into question. Obama’s halo was shattered, and he was now seen as an American politician who had unconvincing – if not malevolent – goals. This invited a cascade of questions about the intentions of the United States under Barack Obama, not only as concerns Egypt, but also the entire Arab region. The Saudi leadership has disagreed with the U.S. leadership over Egypt ever since Hosni Mubarak was toppled. This time around, Riyadh did not content itself with anger, resentment, and brooding. It made a strategic decision not to leave Egypt to fate, and wait for U.S. policy to make up its mind. Saudi Arabia invested financially and politically in Egypt, and made its investments together with those of the UAE and Kuwait a major cornerstone of its regional policy. Qatar continued to back the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, diverging with Saudi policy there. The United States prevaricated in its policy toward this major Arab country.
Egypt, then, will no doubt be on the agenda of the talks between President Barack Obama and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. Egypt is of paramount importance in the strategic policies of Saudi Arabia and the United States equally. For this reason, it is worthwhile for the Obama administration to listen carefully to the backdrop and goals of Saudi’s Egypt strategy. It is important for the U.S. to look at that relationship from the perspective of the balance of power in the Middle East as well. For one thing, the Saudi-Egyptian relationship is fundamental for an Arab presence in the Iranian-Turkish-Israeli-Arab balance of power in the Middle East.
President Obama wants to achieve a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to seal his presidency with the fruits of the investments he had made when he first entered the Oval Office. Saudi Arabia is a very important factor in this ambition, and perhaps one of the reasons he decided to visit Riyadh was the Palestinian-Israeli question. The Obama administration understood that isolating the Palestinians and Israelis from other actors to force them to make a peace deal – as had former President Bill Clinton done – would not work. It therefore resolved to seek help from Arab actors, particularly Saudi Arabia, to help achieve the desired breakthrough by putting its weight behind U.S. efforts. Riyadh has expressed its readiness to cooperate, especially since one of the pillars of the U.S.-led effort is the Arab initiative for peace with Israel. Saudi diplomacy is throwing its weight behind the revival of the Arab initiative, clarifying its terms to persuade Israel of the seriousness of the commitments contained in it, for example as regards full normalization in return for ending the Israeli occupation and establishing the Palestinian state – as stipulated during the Arab summit in Beirut, which had officially adopted the initiative.
President Obama understands the importance of the Saudi leadership in ensuring that 22 Arab countries and 57 Islamic countries would implement the pledge to normalize with Israel, in the event of a peace deal with the Palestinians. Obama will no doubt put this issue at the top of his agenda in Riyadh – seeing that this is a personal mission for him that is part for his quest to have a historical legacy. Iraq will also be discussed, but could also be a contentious issue. What Riyadh wants there is something that Washington perhaps cannot deliver, namely, removing Iranian-backed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki from power, who is also still backed by the Obama administration. What Washington wants from Riyadh is for the latter to understand fully well that a U.S. military intervention in Iraq is out of the question, no matter what happens. Washington wants Riyadh to accept that Iranian hegemony in Iraq does not bother Washington enough to push it to make an exceptional move like changing the equation there.
The U.S.-Saudi conversation about Iraq requires deep thinking in light of the likelihood that Iraq could fall prey again to sectarian infighting, terrorism, and prospects for partition. Each of the two countries has a role to prevent the collapse of Iraq. What is important in their talks is how to tackle Iran’s overwhelming influence in Iraq, and how to extricate Iraq from the equation of Sunni-Shiite strife by means of a qualitatively new Saudi-Iranian decision with U.S. sponsorship.
One of the most important things President Obama can achieve, if he so wishes, is to broker Saudi-Iranian accords that would help rescue the Middle East from the inferno of sectarian war, from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and beyond. This is the most profound challenge for the U.S. president, if he wants to overturn his reputation in the Middle East, leave behind a historical legacy, and finish his term with an outstanding achievement. The starting point will be the U.S.-Iranian relationship and the U.S.-Saudi relationship. President Obama is in the process of ushering in a historical era in U.S.-Iranian relationship, and therefore he has the means to influence Tehran. What he needs to do is adopt a comprehensive, firm, and bold policy, instead of his diluted and hesitant approach that is limited to reaction rather than action. The means to influence Saudi policy are also available to the U.S. president, especially since he is visiting Riyadh to develop a special relationship with Saudi Arabia, which would go beyond the traditional security-for-oil approach that has characterized U.S.-Saudi-Iranian relations and Sunni-Shiite confrontation. He will find receptiveness from both sides if he shows resolve and clarifies that U.S. policy is not to fuel sectarian conflict, as many in the Middle East believe.
Syria remains a major component of any U.S. endeavor for a Saudi-Iranian détente. This requires a new kind of American involvement, linking the willingness to turn a new page with Iran to not only addressing the nuclear issue, but also the issue of Iran’s regional ambitions. Here, too, the United States has tools it can use, most notably the ability to lift sanctions on Iran in return for a radical change in its foreign policy, especially in Syria and Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia has asserted that it is not seeking to achieve victory over Iran in Syria, but at the same time, it will not cave in to an Iranian victory in Syria either. This constitutes an opportunity for President Obama to extract a Saudi approval for an accord with Iran, in the framework of a settlement in the Syrian issue, or as part of the grand bargain that would involve international understandings that include Russia.
Preparing the ground for a fateful breakthrough during President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia is absolutely necessary, especially since the visit is taking place on the back of dramatic developments in the Iranian nuclear issue, the Syrian chemical issue, the international process regarding Syria in the Geneva 2 talks, the Syrian presidential election, and the efforts to curb the growth of Neo-Jihadists in Syria and beyond.
What is ultimately indispensable for U.S.-Saudi relations is mutual frankness, rather than papering over the differences. It is important for both sides to admit their respective failures in Syria, each for different reasons. What matters is for both sides to draft realistic and practical policies to contribute to shaping the future of Syria, instead of leaving it hostage to Russian-Iranian sponsorship. Finally, it is important for the leadership in Washington and Riyadh to acknowledge that radical reform is needed for their bilateral relationship and regional policies, starting with the relationship each side has with the Iran of the Revolutionary Guard and the Iran of moderation.
Translated from Arabic by Karim Traboulsi

The Arab world has reached the point of no return

Eyad Abu Shakra/AL Arabyia
It is becoming clear that it is pointless to keep dealing with crises of coexistence in the Mashreq as though they were individual cases. There is only one big picture, albeit with many smaller details.
Without having to tediously list the incidents taking place in the region on a daily basis, I presume that any rational person has become aware of the presence of political currents that have swept up the entire Middle East and taken it to the point of no return. Unless they are defeated or reach a dead end, these political currents will continue with their individual projects.
So far none of the minor players have realized they have come to a dead end or that they have lost their gambles. Thus, we should expect these minor players to keep destroying their countries in order to benefit the interests of their major backers, who have enough reserves to allow them room to maneuver, and who enjoy adequate space to offer trade-ins and compromises at the expense of their minor dependents.
The big picture of the region is one of a Shiite-dominated political trend that is both subservient to and controlled by Iran, which is seeking to extend its influence and make as many gains as possible through the use of force. Supporters of this trend justify their forceful approach on the pretext of fighting against the radical, indeed “terrorist,” reactions of the Sunni populations.
This Shiite-dominated political trend has been justifying itself using all sorts of pretexts, which vary depending on the time, place and individual circumstances in each of the situations that trend involves itself with. For example, in Iraq it has raised the banner of “democracy” and “human rights,” exploiting two things: first, the fact that the Shiite population constitutes a majority and, second, Saddam Hussein’s infamous human rights record.
After so many rivers of blood, the Shiite-dominated political trend realizes today there is no going back
Since Saddam claimed to fight for Arab nationalism and encouraged the development of military capabilities to strike Israel, his opponents in Shiite-dominated political groups refused to resort to anti-Israeli vitriol. Indeed, the “Likudniks” in the Pentagon were at the forefront of lobbies pushing for the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam after Israel bombed his nascent nuclear facilities.
A few days, or rather hours, after the invasion of Iraq was completed, members of what was then called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Islamic Da’wa Party, as well as other Shiite groups, returned from their Iranian exile to U.S.-occupied Iraq. They then joined the Iraqi Governing Council and today are the country’s de facto rulers.
Dynastic slogans
In Syria, however, the Assad dynasty has adopted different slogans, such as “pan-Arabism,” “socialism,” and the “Zionist enemy” towards which there is much animosity. The Syrian regime- very much a part of the above-mentioned Shiite trend, albeit under the label of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party- stood against Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War, despite the fact that Iraq was an Arab country governed by the same party. It also left the Golan Heights under Israel’s occupation, preferring to move west in order to occupy Lebanon, which is exactly what Hezbollah did later: the Shiite militia left Shaba’a farms under Israeli occupation, dedicating itself instead to the “liberation” of al-Qusayr, a town in Syria.
Why are the buzzwords in Syria’s case different? Why is “secularism” another widely trumpeted slogan? It is because Sunnis make up the majority of the Syrian population. When the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, the Assad regime proclaimed the “protection of minorities” among its goals, although its crimes in the persecution of minorities in Lebanon, including assassination, incarceration and displacement, are well documented. Furthermore, despite its claims to be “secular,” the Assad regime has sponsored an overtly religious–sectarian party, Hezbollah, forging an alliance with it within both Lebanon and Syria.
Sect trend
In Lebanon, Hezbollah has used the slogans of “resistance” and “liberation,” both of which are monopolized by this Shiite trend in the same way it monopolized the right to possess weapons in the aftermath of the Taif Agreement of 1989. Incidentally, those who ignited the spark of armed resistance against Israel in Lebanon were predominantly members of secular parties; even the Shiites among them were never part of Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, in Yemen the Shiite Houthis are rapidly extending their influence in the North, thanks to Iran, while the Islamic Republic is also providing tactical support to ex-Marxist Southerners and Northern splinter groups under the banner of “federalism” or on the pretext of confronting “Salafists.”
In this regard, it must be noted that the mistakes of the former Yemeni regime helped to weaken the national fabric of Yemen, in addition to the central government. Moreover, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh concentrated power in his own hands and those of his close circle, which led to mounting anger not only among minorities, but also among Sunni tribes who now feel they were wronged during Saleh’s tenure, which lasted more than 33 years.
Still, it is perhaps a remarkable paradox that the two main groups Iran is backing in Yemen are ideologically at odds: the Shiite Houthis, whose militia is named Ansar Allah (Partisans of God), and the ex-Marxists in the Sunni-majority South.
A situation like this must be extremely frustrating to Sunnis across the region, particularly in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. This sense of frustration has led to the emergence of a population worried about its future, as well as creating fertile ground for radical Sunni terrorist groups that rejoice in murder and attempt to justify genocide. Following the collapse of the social and national trust necessary for coexistence, external extremist elements, which are resentful, misled and even suspect, have managed to establish themselves, thus accelerating the spread of a “war of extermination” mentality that thrives on extremism and reprisal.
Rivers of blood
After so many rivers of blood, the Shiite-dominated political trend realizes today there is no going back. On the other hand, the Sunni public will most certainly not allow their political and human sacrifices go down the drain. Thus, we are at a point of no return. It is characterized by the eagerness of radical Shiites to push their opponents further and further, and consequently force them into justifying terrorism, which will eventually antagonize the international community. According to their calculations, the radical Shiites believe they will win on two levels.
On the international level, they depict their radical Sunni opponents as posing a threat to regional and international peace, which would surely win them the support of the international community as they share common interests through fighting a common enemy: takfirist terrorism.
On the Shiite level, the greater the oppression being practiced and the more blood that is shed, the less chance dissatisfied moderate Shiites will object, let alone oppose, the dominance of radicals, especially when the alternative is unruly extremist Sunni groups that declare others infidels and justify murder by referring to religion and sect. This is exactly what Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon and Iraqi President Nuri Al-Maliki have been stressing in their speeches - not to mention the Syrian regime’s use of barrel bombs and the Houthi wave in Yemen.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 6, 2014.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.

The sectarian inferno

By: Hisham Melhem/Al Arabyia
The sectarian fires that are burning in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and the flames that threaten to engulf the Gulf region and Pakistan will continue to consume more Sunni and Shiite victims and will not be extinguished any time soon. Their ambers have been intensifying and spreading for years and even decades and it will take legions of new experienced fire fighters who have been scorched and horrified by them and learned how to contain them.
True, sectarian identification, grievances and mythology have existed practically since the dawn of Islam, but the modern Middle East, under the Ottoman Empire or Western Colonialism and through the first decades of the independence era never experienced such strong sectarian identification or demonization and definitely not the ferocious violence we see now on a long front stretching from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Gulf.
Marred region
In the last two centuries the region was marred by occasional sectarian tension and religious strife emanating from political and economic causes, such as the bloody clashes between the Christian Maronites and the Druzes in Mount Lebanon and the Sunnis and Christians in Damascus in 1860 resulting in the killings of thousands of Christian civilians; nonetheless these were the ugly exceptions that were prevented from igniting a wider conflict, and were contained relatively quickly by local and international players.
Today, in most of the Arab east, the sectarian narrative is the most dominant one
Although Islamist political movements have been active during the struggle for political independence (such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, established in 1928) most Arabs in the early 20th century and particularly during the period between the two World Wars were animated by secular political discourse and movements. The struggle was over how to build modern nation-states, establish political parties and elect parliaments and write modern constitutions inspired by Western models and ideas of political and civil rights, all within a political not a religious discourse.
Political conflicts not theological disputations
Political movements, states and empires always invoke ideologies, myths, and religions to justify and explain conflicts and war over tangible material interests and empowerment. Even when people appear to be fighting over religious dogma, theological disputations and doctrinal differences, they are in fact engaged in a political conflict or struggle for power. In this sense, religious and sectarian conflicts such as the one we are witnessing now are the symptoms of political conflicts and struggles for empowerment rather than the causes.
Thus, the bloody sectarian clashes between the Sunnis and Shiites from Pakistan to Lebanon, with their corollary wanton violence by mostly Sunni extremists against defenseless Christian communities, are not taking place to settle outstanding metaphysical issues or over which jurisprudence the Muslim Ummah should follow, this is a struggle over political empowerment, economic interests and to affirm their identity and protect their community since the sectarian discourse frames the conflict, usually in absolutist terms as an existential one.
Causes and new dynamics
The abject failure of the independent “secular” Arab states, particularly those swept by the forces of Arab Nationalism and or controlled by the military, in delivering on their promises of economic development, their pursuits of exclusivist and autocratic practices, and their failure even in protecting the homeland from external threats drove many of their citizens to look for political “alternatives” rooted in their history and culture.
The Faustian bargain entered into by some leftist political movements and intellectuals and the ruling Nationalists in Cairo and Damascus that as long the “battle” against the real and imagined machinations of the Imperial West and Israel is going on these movements and intellectuals will not agitate too much for more political/civil rights- that bargain has been disastrous.
The “battle” against the West and Israel was lost and with is the pursuit of political rights and human dignity.
The 1967 ‘setback’
The 1967 disastrous defeat of Egypt and Syria at the hand of Israel provided the first political and intellectual opportunity for the Islamists in the Arab world to say –correctly- that the defeat signaled the demise of Arab Nationalism as a political movement in both of its Nasserite and Baathi manifestations.
The two competing intellectual currents that tried to explain this historic “setback” were the Islamist and the Marxian.
I lived in Beirut during the five years that followed the defeat and witnessed firsthand as a young man the intense intellectual and political ferment that took place in that vibrant city then, where intellectuals, artists, political activists and politicians from many Arab states took part in debates on the pages of newspapers and literary journals such as Mawaqif, edited by the hugely talented poet Adonis, asking what went wrong?
And where do we go from here? From that moment on, the Islamists (primarily Sunnis) who were sidelined and harshly repressed in Egypt and Syria began to reassert themselves with a more relevant political discourse.
The Iranian revolution
The 1979 Iranian revolution, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was a historic milestone for the reassertion of Iran’s Shiite identity and for the mobilization of Shiite minorities to demand greater rights in the Arab world and Pakistan.
The political alliance between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria under President Hafez Assad (a regime with Baathi veneer and a Alawite core) struck immediately after the fall of the Shah, and became extremely important for the survival of the revolution in its infancy following the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980, was another milestone in Shia solidarity, on a regional scale since the Alawites are an off shoot of Shiite Islam.
In subsequent years when Iran became the senior partner to Syria it used its influence with the Shia Community in Lebanon and played a major role in establishing Hezbollah as a political or military Shiite organization to mobilize the Shiites of Lebanon and to resist Israeli occupation.
Thanks to Iranian largess, training and political sponsorship, Hezbollah today is simply the most powerful non-state actor in the world. Thus Iranian leaders during the war in Syria could boast that Iran’s borders have been extended to the Eastern Mediterranean. In fact it is not an exaggeration to say that Iran and Hezbollah have been trying to turn Beirut into a Tehran on the Med.
The Iran-Iraq war, the longest conventional military conflict in the 20th century, exacerbated tension between the Sunni Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia who supported Sunni ruled Iraq, and Shiite Iran, although the conflict was political and territorial at its core. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, played a pivotal role in transforming what began as a local Sunni Jihadi movement into a regional one, when Arab volunteers and other Sunnis - supported by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan -joined the Jihad against the Soviet Union.
The American invasion of Iraq
However, the first tectonic shift that transformed Sunni-Shiite sectarian tension into an ugly bloody conflict was the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, which unleashed new unintended dynamics and consequences that went beyond the borders of Iraq and widened the sectarian chasm in the region.
The fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime with its Baath Party veneer and Sunni Arab core turned Iraq’s already harsh political and social landscapes into embittered sectarian killing fields. For the first time in the modern era, the old familiar political, social, ethnic and sectarian order in Iraq, a major country bordering Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey was radically altered and empowered two major groups that were previously marginalized; the Shiite majority and the Kurds.The fact that many of the new Shiite leaders had longstanding relations with Iran and either lived there in exile or trained, equipped and financed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp, deepened the suspicions of the Sunni Arabs of Iraq. More importantly, for the new Shiite leadership sectarian identification, as a previously oppressed Shiite community in opposition to Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime was an integral part of their political DNA. In power, this leadership, particularly under the current premiership of Nouri al-Maliki failed to make the transition from Shiite opposition groups to Iraqi political leaders, and ended up ruling as an embittered Shiite coalition bent on keeping the Sunnis in their new diminished place.
Shying away
Maliki does not shy away from the use of overt, even crass sectarian narrative in public, as he did recently when he painted the struggle in Iraq as a continuation of the struggle of the revered Imam Hussein (the Prophet Mohammad’s second grandson, and an important figure in Shia Islam) against his enemies 14 centuries ago, or his extremely controversial call for making Karbala, the Iraqi city where the martyred Imam Hussein is buried as the new Qibla (the direction to which ALL Muslims pray) instead of the Kaaba in the holy city of Mecca.
Iran’s influence, through its complex networks and contacts with various Shiite groups and politicians, was growing exponentially, and further contributing to the alienation of the Sunnis. Ironically, Syria which wanted to bleed the U.S. forces in Iraq became the gateway for radical Sunni Arabs and non-Arabs who wanted to go to the new theater of Jihad against the Americans and their new Shia partners.
Iraq’s descent to civil war coincided with the proliferation of Arab satellite television networks, which broadcasted live to millions of people the war and its most ugly manifestations. Equally important was the explosion of new media, such as YouTube, Facebook and later twitter which demolished old forms of censorship and was used effectively to mobilize support and demonize the “other.”
Syria’s sectarian hell
The sectarian nature of the Syrian regime, with its entrenched Alawite leadership of the elite units in the army, the intelligence agencies and security forces, and its manipulation of the minorities concerns with regards to the majority Sunni Arabs, particularly the justified fears of the considerably important Christian population after their co-religionists in Iraq were subjected to widespread terror and violence that forced half the community to flee the country, meant that Assad will quickly turn the initially peaceful uprising into a sectarian conflict.
From the beginning of the conflict the Assad regime used disproportionate violence against the civilians in Sunni areas held by the rebels. Alawite paramilitary groups committed massacres against Sunni civilians in a number of strategically important villages to cleanse their population. In 2012 and particularly 2013 Syria has become a magnet for Sunni Jihadists from all over the world.
Sunni coalition
It is true that there is a Sunni regional “coalition” (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and others) fighting by proxy a Shiite “coalition” (Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah) in Syria, but it is very telling that Iran is the only country that is fighting directly on the ground through its Revolutionary Guards units. Iran, bears direct moral and political responsibility for exacerbating and widening the sectarian horrors in Syria and causing it to spill over to Lebanon, when it deployed Hezbollah forces last summer in Syria where they played a decisive role in defeating the rebel forces defending the key city of al-Qusayr.
By using Hezbollah forces, and encouraging Iraqi Shiite militias and volunteers to fight in Syria, Iran obliterated Syria’s borders with Lebanon and Iraq. Iran’s growing influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and its willingness to use force to maintain that influence, reinforced in the minds of Sunni leadership in the region their fear of an Iran dominated “Shiite Crescent” stretching from the Gulf to the Med.
Last year, the full blown Syrian civil war and the low intensity civil strife in Iraq have morphed into one frightening sectarian conflagration. Today, in most of the Arab east, the sectarian narrative is the most dominant one. It is difficult to see how these sectarian fires can be contained, let alone extinguished without a radical change in the nature of the Syrian regime by creating a truly representative governing structure, and a serious political reform in Iraq towards a more inclusive politics. The bitter reality remains, that just as it took decades to drive the region into the current sectarian inferno; it will take the region additional decades to reach a post sectarian future.
Hisham Melhem is the bureau chief of Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. Melhem speaks regularly at college campuses, think tanks and interest groups on U.S.-Arab relations, political Islam, intra-Arab relations, Arab-Israeli issues, media in the Arab World, Arab images in American media , U.S. public policies and other related topics. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al Arabiya. Follow him on Twitter : @hisham_melhem

Elias Bejjani
The Below Piece of News is really this is a stupid joke!! These Mullah's are detached from reality and dreaming. Do they for a moment think ant sane person will swallow their fantasies

Iran says its warships approaching United States
02/08/2014 15:12
"This move has a message," a top Iranian naval officer told the Fars news agency. Khamenei
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Photo: REUTERS
Iranian naval fleets were on their way across the Atlantic Ocean and headed toward the United States, reported Tehran's semi-official news agency Fars on Saturday. "Iran's military fleet is approaching the United States' maritime borders, and this move has a message," Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad of Iran's Northern Navy Fleet was quoted as saying. According to Fars, Iran had first warned the US of its plans to deploy its naval forces along US marine borders "in the next few years" in September 2012. Then, Iran's Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said that the move would counter US presence in its waters in the Persian Gulf. Fars first reported on an Iranian Navy fleet of warships making its way across the Atlantic Ocean in January 2014. At the time, they reported that the ships would sail for at least three months. Hours earlier, Iran's Supreme Leader said on Saturday the United States would overthrow the Iranian government if it could, adding Washington had a "controlling and meddlesome" attitude towards the Islamic Republic, Iranian media reported. In a speech to mark the 35th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful figure in Iran, added that officials seeking to revive the economy should not rely on an eventual lifting of sanctions but rather on home-grown innovation. "American officials publicly say they do not seek regime change in Iran. That's a lie. They wouldn't hesitate a moment if they could do it," he was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency. Khamenei made no mention of talks between Iran and world powers intended to settle a decade-old dispute about the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. But he reiterated that in dealing with "enemies", Iran should be prepared to change tactics but not compromise on its main principles. Khamenei added: "The solution to our economic problems is not looking out and having the sanctions lifted ... My advice to our officials, as ever, is to rely on infinite indigenous potentials." He added: "Our (hostile) stance toward the United States is due to its controlling and meddlesome attitude."Khamenei's comments about hostility reflect his long standing animosity towards the United States, seen as the arch-enemy by Iranian authorities. The United States and Iran have had no official ties since 1980 after Iranian students occupied the US embassy in Tehran, taking 52 diplomats hostage in protest against Washington's admission of the former Shah after he was toppled by the Islamic revolution. But Khamenei has given his guarded support to the nuclear negotiations being led by the new reformist government of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and that it is Israel's alleged atomic arsenal that threatens peace. Western powers suspect that the program is a cover for pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.

Top Iranian official: Israel a 'cancer' in the Middle East
By REUTERS, JPOST.COM STAFF/02/08/2014 08:34
US delegation walks out of Tunisia constitution party in protest of remarks made by Iran's parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani. Ali Larijani Iran's parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani in Tunisia, February 7, 2014. Photo: REUTERS
TUNIS - Iran's parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani referred to Israel as a "cancer" in the region on Friday and accused it and the United States of trying to "sterilize" the Arab Spring revolutions.
“Even after the revolutions that happened in the region, the US and Israel tried to divert and devastate some of the revolutions so that Israel can benefit,” Iran's official Press TV news quoted Larijani as saying at a ceremony in Tunisia celebrating the country's new constitution. In light of the Iranian official's address, a US delegation walked out in protest from the assembly in Tunis. The ceremony, which included French President Francois Hollande and other foreign dignitaries, was meant to mark Tunisia's newly adopted constitution, widely praised as a model for the region. Three years after its uprising inspired the "Arab Spring" revolts across the region, Tunisia is progressing to full democracy with a new charter and caretaker government in charge until elections later this year.
"What was intended to be a ceremony honoring Tunisia's achievements was used by the Iranian representative as a platform to denounce the United States," the US embassy in Tunis said in statement.
The US delegation left after the "false accusations and inappropriate comments", it said. While Tunisia has advanced towards democracy, other countries such as Libya and Egypt have struggled with unrest and violence since overthrowing their long-ruling autocratic rulers.