February 16/14

Bible Quotation for today/
1 Corinthians 10/14-21/:'So then, my dear friends, keep away from the worship of idols.  I speak to you as sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.  The cup we use in the Lord's Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ.  Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf. Consider the people of Israel; those who eat what is offered in sacrifice share in the altar's service to God.  Do I imply, then, that an idol or the food offered to it really amounts to anything?  No! What I am saying is that what is sacrificed on pagan altars is offered to demons, not to God. And I do not want you to be partners with demons.  You cannot drink from the Lord's cup and also from the cup of demons; you cannot eat at the Lord's table and also at the table of demons.  Or do we want to make the Lord jealous? Do we think that we are stronger than he? 


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For February 16/14

Christian land issue raises decades-old anxieties/By Samya Kullab, Rayane Abou Jaoude/The Daily Star/February 16/14

America’s Dented Reputation and Prestige in the Middle East and Beyond/By: Raghida Dergham/ February 16/14

Salafi insurgency fermenting in northern Sinai/By: Jonathan Spyer/The Jerusalem Post/February 14/14

Arab world: The twilight of the Brotherhood/By ZVI MAZEL/J.Post/February 16/

Obama as the Hamlet of Syria/Hisham Melhem/Al Arabyia/ February 16/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For February 16/14
Lebanese Related News

Members of Lebanon's new government

24-Minister Cabinet Announced after 11-Month Deadlock
Salam: New Govt. Should Be Able to Stage Presidential Elections, Approve Electoral Law

Lebanon announces government of ‘national interest’
Hariri vows to keep Sunnis out of conflict

Lebanon's Salam, Consensus PM for Tough Times

Salam's Path to Form Cabinet Plagued by Local, Regional Obstacles

March 14 Obtains 9 Ministers in New Cabinet as Questions are Raised over 'Centrist' Hennawi

Berri Photohopped into Protocol Cabinet Picture

Aoun Calls for 'Restoring Relations' Post-Cabinet Formation

Phalange Party Is the New Cabinet's 'Biggest Winner'

Hariri, Miqati Congratulate Lebanese on Formation of Cabinet

Political Standoff Expected between Batroun's Harb, Bassil in Cabinet

Mustaqbal Secures Ministries Concerned with STL, Guarantees 'Supervision' over Security Matters

Int'l Support Group for Lebanon Hails New Govt., Urges 'Continuity of State Institutions'

Baabda Palace Responds to Controversy over Derbas, Assures He's a Centrist Minister

Sayyed Cuts Ties with March 8 Camp after 'Huge Mistake' of Rifi's Appointment

Two of Three Women in Seized Labweh Booby-Trapped Car Acquitted

Hollande Urges International Support for New Cabinet as UK, Spain Congratulate Salam

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Brahimi: Syria Peace Talks Break Off, No New Date Set

U.S. Still Declares Support for Muslim Brotherhood
Why Salafist-takfiris should worry us

Obama says considering new pressure on Assad

U.N. urges access to Palestinian Yarmouk camp in Syria

Two killed in UK storms that keep battering Britain

Yemen president lashes out at ‘below-par’ security services

Thousands protest in Bahrain on uprising anniversary

Kurds clash with Turkish police at protests for rebel leader's release

Blast kills NATO soldier in Afghanistan

Turkey Passes Bill Tightening Control of Judiciary


Members of Lebanon's new government
February 15, 2014/The Daily Star

The March 8 and March 14 coalitions have each been allotted eight seats in the government with the remaining ministerial posts divided among Salam, President Michel Sleiman and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt.
Below is a brief profile of the members of the new government.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam, 68, a Sunni from Beirut, comes from a prominent political family and is the son of the late Saeb Salam, a former Lebanese prime minister. He graduated with a degree in economics and management from the U.K. and in 1982 took over as head of the Makassed Philanthropic Islamic Association of Beirut. He was elected MP for Beirut twice, in 1996 and 2009 respectively, and served as culture minister in Fouad Siniora’s 2008-09 cabinet.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Samir Moqbel, 74, a Greek Orthodox from Beirut, is a contractor and engineer. He was Lebanon’s first environment minister in Rafik Hariri’s 1992-95 Cabinet. He was deputy prime minister in Mikati’s 2011-14 government.
Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, 41, a Druze from Rashaya, is a Progressive Socialist Party member. His work in the PSP started soon after graduating from the American University of Beirut with a degree in business management. He served as state minister in Fouad Siniora’s 2008-09 government and then in Saad Hariri’s 2009-11 Cabinet. Abu Faour served as social affairs minister in Najib Mikati’s 2011-14 Cabinet.
Agriculture Minister Akram Shehayyeb, 67, a Druze from Aley, is an MP and member of the Progressive Socialist Party. He headed the PSP’s office in Damascus from 1985 to 1991. After returning to Lebanon he ran in the 1991 parliamentary elections and won a seat for Aley. He was re-elected for the seat in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009. He served as environment minister in Rafik Hariri’s 1996-98 Cabinet.
Environment Minister Mohammad Mashnouq, 72, a Sunni from Beirut, is a Lebanese writer. He has authored a corpus of studies and instructional books. He headed Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency between 1973 and 1979. He is the founder of several educational associations and organizations that deal with social welfare, culture, heritage and the environment including Beirut’s Cultural Council.
Minister of the Displaced Alice Shabtini, 67, a Maronite from Jbeil, is the head of the Military Court of Cassation. She has been a judge for 41 years specializing in international labor law. She is also a professor of labor law.
Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas, 73, a Sunni from Tripoli, is a lawyer and independent political figure. Derbas is the former chairman of the Lawyers’ Syndicate in Tripoli. He ran in the 1972 parliamentary elections.
Youth and Sports Minister Abdul-Muttaleb Al-Hinawi, 61, a Shiite from south Lebanon, is a retired brigadier general. He graduated from the Military Academy in 1975 and held several Army posts including the head of the Office of Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi. He is also a military adviser to President Michel Sleiman.
March 14
Interior Minister Nuhad Mashnouq, 58, a Sunni from Beirut, is a prominent figure in the Future Movement. He was elected into Parliament in 2009. A member of " Lebanon first" parliamentary alliance, Mashnouq also serves on the committees of Human Rights and Foreign Affairs. He began his career as a journalist and political writer in several local newspapers and was also former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s senior adviser.
Telecoms Minister Boutros Harb, 70, a Maronite from Tannourine, is a lawyer and an independent Christian political figure in the March 14 coalition. He won the parliamentary seat for Batroun in 1972 and was re-elected for the same seat in 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009. Harb held three portfolios – public transport, labor and education – in Salim Hoss’ 1979-80 Cabinet, was education minister in Omar Karami’s 1990-92 Cabinet and labor minister in Saad Hariri’s 2009-11 government.
Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi, 61, a Maronite from Kesrouan, is a veteran Kataeb Party member. After majoring in political science, Azzi launched a career in journalism in the 1970’s before entering politics. As a Kataeb member, he handled the party’s secret negotiations with Yasser Arafat and other PLO officials during Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War. He currently holds the post of deputy Kataeb Party leader.
Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon, 53, a Greek Catholic from Beirut, is a lawmaker and prominent businessman. He was elected member of Parliament in 1996, 2000, 2005, and 2009. He also served as state minister in the cabinets of Rafik Hariri (2000 to 2003) and Fouad Siniora (2005 to 2008).
Information Minister Ramzi Joreige, 74, a Greek Orthodox from Beirut, was former head of Beirut’s Bar Association. He has a degree in French law and a degree in Lebanese law from St. Joseph University. He also obtained a Graduate Certificate in Public Law from St. Joseph University. Has published several law-related articles and given lectures at international conferences.
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, 59, Sunni from Tripoli, is Lebanon’s former police chief. He studied criminology at the Lebanese University and was promoted to the rank of Major General in 2005 when he was named head of the Internal Security Forces. Rifi retired as police chief in 2013. He is a member of the managing board of Prince Nayef Program for Intellectual Security Studies.
Economy Minister Alain Hakim, 52, a Catholic from Beirut, has worked in the banking sector since 1989 and is currently assistant general manager at Credit Libanais. Holding a doctorate in management, Hakim is a professor at Universite Saint Joseph and also lectures for the Association of Banks in Lebanon.
Minister of State Nabil De Freij, 59, a Latin Rite Roman Catholic from Beirut, is a member of the Future parliamentary bloc. He is a graduate of the Ecole Nationale De Commerce in Paris. He was elected Beirut MP in the years 2000, 2005 and 2009. He is the president of the Beirut horse racing track and a founding member of the local dairy company, Candia. He is the liaison officer at the Francophone Parliament.
March 8
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, 46, a Maronite from Batroun, is a member of the Free Patriotic Movement. Bassil holds a master's degree in civil engineering from the American University of Beirut. He also owns a real estate company. Bassil served as telecoms minister in both Fouad Siniora’s 2008-09 government and Saad Hariri's 2009-11 Cabinets and as energy minister in the most recent government. He is the head of the FPM’s political relations committee.
Minister of State Mohammad Fneish, 61, a Shiite MP from Tyre, is a lawmaker in Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc. He won in the parliamentary elections of 1992, 1996 and 2000. He served as energy minister in Fouad Siniora’s 2005-08 Cabinet; labor minister in Siniora’s 2008-09 Cabinet, and twice as state minister – once in Saad Hariri’s 2009-11 Cabinet and then in Najib Mikati’s 2011-14 Cabinet.
Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan, 54, a Shiite from the Baalbek-Hermel region, is a member of Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc. He holds a PhD in molecular biophysical chemistry, which he received from the University of Orléans, France, in 1987. He ran on Hezbollah’s list in 1996 and was elected MP of the Baalbek-Hermel constituency. He was re-elected in the 2000, 2005 and 2009 polls. He served twice as agriculture minister, first in Saad Hariri's 2009-11 Cabinet and then in Najib Mikati’s 2011-14 Cabinet.
Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, 49, Shiite from Marjayoun-Hasbaya region, is a member of the Amal Movement. He was elected Hasbaya-Marjayoun MP four times successively in 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009. He served as agriculture minister in Rafik Hariri’s 2003-04 and health minister in Najib Mikati’s 2011-14 government.
Works and Transport Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, 65, a Shiite from the Baalbek-Hermel region, is a member in Nabih Berri’s Liberation and Development bloc. He has a law degree from the Beirut Arab University. Zeaiter was first elected MP of the Baalbek-Hermel district in 1992 and was re-elected for the same seat in the years 2000, 2005 and 2009. He served as defense minister under Salim Hoss’ government from 1998 to 2000 and as social affairs minister under Omar Karami’s 2004-05 Cabinet.
Energy Minister Arthur Nazarian, 63, Armenian Orthodox from Beirut, is a lawmaker and businessman. A member of the Tashnag Party, he won unopposed in the 2009 parliamentary elections. He is a member of the Armenian General Benevolent Union.
Culture Minister Raymond Areiji, a Maronite from Zghorta, is a founding member of the Marada Movement. A lawyer with a degree in mathematics, Areiji is a member of the Beirut Bar Association and served as Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh's consultant. He is currently a member of the party's politburo and its foreign relations coordinator.
Education Minister Elias Abu Saab, 46, a Maronite, is a former mayor of Dhour Choueir. He is the owner of Sawt al-Mada Radio Station and the husband of prominent Lebanese singer Julia Butros. Abu Saab is also the head of the American University of Dubai which was founded in 1995. He also cofounded the Emirati Lebanese Friendship Association and is a former member of the board directors for the Directors of the Young Arab Leaders


Lebanon announces government of ‘national interest’
February 15, 2014/By Dana Khraiche, Thomas El-Basha/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam Saturday formed his 24-member Cabinet, bringing together figures from the country’s rival political groups and ending months of political deadlock.
Salam’s government will face a number of challenges including Lebanon’s deteriorating security situation as well as the upcoming presidential elections due on May 25.
“After 10 months of intensive efforts following my designation by 124 MPs which required a lot of effort, patience, and flexibility, the Cabinet of national interest was born,” Salam told reporters at Baabda Palace after Cabinet Secretary General Suhail Bouji announced the government decrees.
“It is an all-embracing Cabinet representing the best formula that will allow [Lebanon] to face the political, security and socioeconomic challenges in this current phase,” he added.
A presidential decree appointing Salam and his Cabinet was issued after talks between President Michel Sleiman, Salam and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at Baabda Palace.
A self-avowed centrist, Salam, 68, was appointed on April 6, 2013, after a fall out among ministers led to the resignation of former Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
In his televised address to the Lebanese, Salam said his Cabinet was in line with the National Pact and left no room for political disruptions.
“I distributed the 24 portfolios in a way that achieves [sectarian] balance and national partnership at a distance from the negative effects of disruptions,” he said.
Salam also noted his government adopted the principle of rotating ministerial portfolios based on party and sect. He said the mechanism would “liberate ministries from sectarian chains.”
He said his Cabinet would be able to ensure the necessary atmosphere to hold National Dialogue sessions, the timely elections of the next president and draft a new elections law for the country.
The newly formed Cabinet brings together Lebanon’s rival March 14 and March 8 coalitions as well as so-called centrist figures loyal to the president, Salam and Progressive Socialist Party MP Walid Jumblatt.
While Hezbollah was allotted two portfolios in the government, the Future Movement has four ministers including the sovereign Interior Ministry.
Salam named Samir Moqbel as deputy prime minister and defense minister. Nuhad Mashnouq was named interior minister, Gebran Bassil foreign minister and Ali Hasan Khalil finance minister.
Retired Police Chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, seen as a controversial figure by the March 8 coalition, was appointed justice minister.
The Energy portfolio was handed to Tashnag MP Arthur Nazarian.
The government line-up includes only one female minister – Judge Alice Shabtini for the Ministry for the Displaced.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri phoned Salam and congratulated him on the formation of the new government, praising the Beirut MP's "patience and wisdom.”
According to his office, Hariri expressed hope that this Cabinet would be up to the challenges and would hold the presidential elections on time.
The March 8 coalition, the Future Movement, and Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party agreed last month on a deal to form an all-embracing Cabinet.
The deal is based on 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup in which eight ministers are allotted to the March 8 and March 14 coalitions each. The rest of the ministers are to be named by the president, the prime minister-designate and Jumblatt.
The lineup effectively grants the rival camps veto power in the government.

Christian land issue raises decades-old anxieties
February 15, 2014 12:27 AM/By Samya Kullab, Rayane Abou Jaoude/The Daily Star

AL-QAA/BEIRUT: Samir Awad laid out the documents one by one; some ordained ownership of three morsels of land in Wadi al-Khanazir, another representing nine in Bayoun and another three in Nahmet al-Fouah.
Altogether the mukhtar has 40 units in the vast agricultural tract of Masharih al-Qaa, but only five are accessible to him. The rest, Awad says, were appropriated illegally right under his nose.
He lost his lands gradually beginning in his boyhood years before the Civil War. Now Awad is a middle-aged man and can’t quite recall which plots in Masharih al-Qaa are his, but is nonetheless adamant that he is their rightful owner. Part of the problem is that the 180 million square meters of land – divided into 1,440 real estate units – in the majority Christian border town of Al-Qaa is communally owned. Awad is a shareholder among many. Some have taken advantage of legal loopholes and sold their plots of land, disfranchising others in the process.
The mukhtar says his lands in Masharih al-Qaa were arrogated by illegally constructed residential buildings or sold without his consent. The area is inhabited by residents from the neighboring Sunni majority town of Arsal and the mostly Shiite Hermel, a demographic feature that has also given rise to decades-old Christian anxieties that, in many ways, is epitomized by the land issue.
“The land was never distributed,” Awad says. “Everyone knows what he owns on paper, but in reality it’s messy.” In reality, the land issue in Al-Qaa is one of corruption and poor governmental regulation, but the fact that it happens to affect a majority Christian town has transmuted it into a political one, in which an increasingly marginalized sect interprets land loss as an existential threat.
The issue is not singular to the border town, as Christian municipalities in Zghorta, Jezzine and Jbeil have also rallied against what they perceive to be the seizure of their lands by their Muslim neighbors.
Bashir Matar, a municipal council member in Al-Qaa and land activist, describes the Muslim presence in the agricultural areas of the town as an “occupation” and “rape,” an indication that the Syrian occupation of the town, which began in 1978 when its army massacred more than 30 young men and ended in April 2005, still colors how locals perceive their Muslim neighbors in Masharih al-Qaa.
On Sept. 25, according to Matar, the Interior Ministry bequeathed municipalities with the right to manage construction permits in their own communities, presumably to focus on anti-terrorism measures in and around the area. At that point, Internal Security Forces personnel were tasked with managing such permits. The decision was revoked about a month and half later, but Matar says “the damage had been done.”
Matar says about 150 new residential complexes were built in Masharih al-Qaa during the brief window of time as the ministry decision greatly facilitated the construction process. In total, he estimates there are 1,200 illegal constructions in the area. “It’s not that I think it’s wrong that some people are selling, it’s that they are selling land that belongs to others as well,” he says, explaining why he believes the constructions, which stand on lands that were sold willingly by their owners, are illegal. “They don’t have this right.”
“People are silent about this issue because they are getting paid,” he alleges, pointing a finger at March 8 supporters who sit on the municipal council, among them Mayor Milad Rizk, whom Matar accuses of profiting “indirectly.” “Since he [Rizk] took charge things have gone downhill, largely because people are unaware of their [land] rights, and he [Rizk] isn’t doing anything about it,” Matar says. The municipal council is divided with seven members against and seven for Rizk’s resignation. “Rizk always uses the excuse that he doesn’t want to start a sectarian problem for not taking charge and fighting illegal construction,” he adds. But other residents in Al-Qaa question lobbyists like Matar and his assertion that the constructions in Masharih al-Qaa are in fact illegal. A well-informed source who has family in the town told The Daily Star that most Christians who sold their lands did so years ago, but have only recently charged that the transaction was illegal. “The prices [of those lands] have changed, so now they want those lands back,” said the source, who requested anonymity. “The Army has erected checkpoints in Masharih al-Qaa to stop these people from constructing on lands that don’t belong to them,” the source said. An Army Intelligence officer stationed close to the checkpoint told The Daily Star that “the municipality is selling land, but the people have also sold their own land.”From the outset, Masharih al-Qaa appears surprisingly vacant for an area where there are supposedly thousands of new constructions. The skeletal frames of a handful of new houses dot the main road, just before the last checkpoint toward the Syrian border, nowhere near the number that Matar claims have been erected in the past few years.
While the sincerity of the legal concerns surrounding the land issue in Al-Qaa is moot, the selling of Christian lands in general is a source of disquiet.
According to Talal al-Doueihy, head of the “Lebanese Land – Our Land Movement,” Christians once owned 8,130 kilometers of land in Lebanon after independence. “Today, Christians own approximately 4,000 kilometers of land, including surveyed land,” Doueihy said. “They lost 50 percent of their lands.”Due to successive wars, many Christians emigrated, compelling them to sell their lands, he said.
Another problem Christian land owners suffer from is the revocation of their right to pre-emption, a contractual right under which a party has a primary opportunity to buy an asset or piece of land before it is offered to a third party, in this case a non-Christian. mer Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, however, terminated the right after he took office in 1997, Doueihy claimed.
“They [Hariri’s administration] wanted to let Arabs from the Gulf invest in the country,” he said. “Almost 100 percent of land buying is done by Muslims from Christians,” Doueihy added. “This has created a sort of panic for Christians.”From the regulation side, there are four draft laws that have been submitted to Parliament’s committees for review that relate to the issue of land.
The first was submitted by Butrous Harb, which calls for ceasing the selling Christian-owned property altogether. It’s less controversial equivalent was proposed by MP Joseph Maalouf, which calls for ceasing the sale of lands over 3,000 meters and outlawing intermediaries from purchasing land. MPs Sami Gemayel and Ibrahim Kanaan have also submitted laws regulating the rights of foreigners to purchase lands.
“The law I submitted is directed against the selling of lands and is not oriented toward a specific religion; rather it is meant to create some hurdles to impede the crooked practices that exist today,” Maalouf says.
According to the MP, legal loopholes, such as the ability of a third party to purchase land meant for someone else “who might have malicious intentions,” and a lack of registration and other hidden fees facilitate dubious land transactions. In addition, Maalouf believes the selling of land should require a majority municipal vote. In cases like Al-Qaa, where municipal division have actually exacerbated land issues, the MP recommends involving the local governorate to temper disagreements. Maalouf says illegal construction is a ubiquitous problem but that “Christians are losing the most.”
For author Pierre Atallah the Christian land issue symbolizes the extent of the sect’s anxieties in the country, a condition that has been mounting since the signing of the Taif Accord that ended the Civil War.
“The Taif ended the war, yes,” he says. “But at the end of the day Christians lost the role the once played as a real partner in Lebanese affairs, the role of the president for instance has diminished. And in one way or another has influenced the feelings of the Christian community and pushed about 20 percent of them to sell their lands.” “These Christians gave up on the idea of Lebanon,” he said. Reflecting on the pluralistic principles upon which the country was founded, Atallah says: “It’s not just land, it’s the idea of Lebanon that is at stake.”


Hariri vows to keep Sunnis out of conflict
February 15, 2014/By Dana Khraiche/The Daily Star/-
BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri delivered an impassioned plea Friday for moderation, lashing out against extremism and Hezbollah, vowing never to drag Lebanon’s Sunni community into a sectarian war.
He also urged Speaker Nabih Berri and top Shiite religious leaders to use their influence with Hezbollah to convince the group to end its military intervention in Syria. Hariri blamed Hezbollah for “sabotaging inter-Muslim ties” between Sunnis and Shiites by refusing to withdraw from the war in Syria. “We assume that people’s suffering – the scenes of booby-trapped cars, suicide attacks that claimed innocent lives, the hundreds of coffins carrying those killed in the battles, the panic and anxiety haunting citizens, the sectarian tensions ... are enough to reconsider decisions that brought only death and destruction to Lebanon,” he said.
Speaking via video link during an event to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Saad Hariri issued a renewed demand for Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria to combat sectarianism that has taken hold in Lebanon. “I address the wise men of the Shiite sect, the Higher Shiite Council, the sons of Imam Musa Sadr, Sheikh Mohammad Mahdi Shamseddine, Sayyed Mohammad Fadlallah, and Muslim scholars who claim righteousness,” Hariri said. “In particular, I address Speaker Nabih Berri, in his capacity as a pillar of the Shiite sect in Lebanon, and as a leader who has always found ways to come up with solutions and bridge gaps.”Hariri, who held talks with Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh Friday, said that Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian war posed a threat to Lebanon’s security and “national partnership,” as well as driving a wedge between Sunnis and Shiites in the country.
The party’s role alongside regime forces has created an unprecedented wave of suicide bombers infiltrating Lebanese neighborhoods where the party enjoys broad support, he said.
“But the most dangerous of all is the growing sectarian aspect of the Lebanese involvement in this war, which is also affecting the Army and security forces,” he said.
“Fighting terrorism requires an immediate decision by Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria, abandon the illusion of its pre-emptive war and recognize that the Lebanese state is responsible for the safety of its borders and citizens,” he said. He added that combating the rise of terrorism in Lebanon also required national unity to restore commitment to the Baabda declaration, an agreement signed in 2012 by rival groups, including Hezbollah, to adopt a position of neutrality toward the war in Syria. Hariri has repeatedly urged Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria and has blamed the resistance group for the series of terrorist attacks that has targeted predominantly-Shiite areas controlled by the party. “We will not stop betting on the voice of logic and the brave national stance that breaks the wall of political stubbornness,” he said.
Hariri, who has been outside the country for almost three years, also rejected attempts to drag Lebanon and the Sunni sect into a war between Hezbollah and extremist Sunni groups.
“As the Future Movement, we will confront provocations and suspicious calls to involve Lebanon, and the Sunni sect in particular, in insane wars that will only drag Lebanon into a sectarian inferno,” Hariri said.
“Just as we refuse to fashion ourselves in the image of Hezbollah, so we refuse to create ourselves in the image of ISIS [The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria] and the Nusra Front,” he said. “We refuse to drag the Future Movement into a war between Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda.”Hariri also spoke about the upcoming presidential polls, voicing his party’s opposition to allowing a vacuum at the country’s top post, which, Hariri noted, is the only presidency in the Arab world reserved for a Christian. “We consider the Lebanese Christian Maronite president a symbol of coexistence between Muslims and Christians,” he said.
Commemorating the start of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon probing the 2005 assassination of his father, Hariri said revenge was never a policy of Rafik Hariri.
“Can you imagine that [the martyrs including Hariri] would seek revenge, or respond to political assassinations with political assassinations, or take up weapons against those carrying weapons and violate the national consensus?” Hariri said. At the start of the rally, the Future Movement said its MPs had signed a document that will be delivered to the U.N. secretary-general demanding an expansion of the STL’s mandate to include assassinations carried out after 2005.Hariri said the March 14 coalition should protect national unity and keep Lebanon neutral for the sake of the country despite Hezbollah’s actions in Syria.
He urged his supporters follow his late father’s example. “The Future Movement will either be in the image of Rafik Hariri, or will cease to exist.”

Salafi insurgency fermenting in northern Sinai
By: Jonathan Spyer/The Jerusalem Post/February 14, 2014
Northern Sinai has long played host to a variety of smuggling networks and jihadi organizations. Since General Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi's military coup of July 3rd, 2013 in Egypt, however, there has been an exponential increase in attacks emanating from this area. This increasingly lawless region is now the home ground for an emergent Islamist insurgency against the Egyptian authorities. Since July, 2013, more than 300 reported attacks have taken place in Sinai. The violence is also spreading into the Egyptian mainland, with attacks in recent weeks on a security facility in Cairo, and the killing of an Interior Ministry official in the capital. Some of the groups engaged in the fighting are linked to global jihadi networks, including al-Qaeda. Others have connections to elements in Hamas-controlled Gaza. The precise links between the various organizations engaged are difficult to trace. This emergent reality in northern Sinai has serious implications for Israel. While the main focus of the jihadi activity is directed against Sisi's administration in Cairo, some of the groups centrally involved have a track record of attacks against Israeli targets. In al-Qaeda's official propaganda channels, the north Sinai area is described as a new front in the war against 'the Jews and the Americans.'
The most significant group operating in northern Sinai today is the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem) organization. This organization has been active since 2011. It originated in Gaza, and made its way to Sinai following the ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The group's name will raise a wry smile for Israeli and Jewish readers. The Arabic term 'Beit al-Maqdis' (House of the Holy) for Jerusalem derives from the older Hebrew name for the Jewish Temple – Beit Hamikdash, with the same meaning. Contemporary Islamists and jihadis, of course, would fiercely deny that any Jewish Temple ever stood in Jerusalem.
But this absence of logical consistency appears to have little impact on the organization's energy for violent activity. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis was responsible for repeated attacks on the El-Arish-Ashkelon gas pipeline in 2011-12, which eventually led to the suspension of supplies via this route.
The group also carried out the cross-border terror attack on August 18, 2011, in which eight Israelis were murdered, and an additional strike into Israel on September 21, 2012, which took the life of an IDF soldier.
More recently, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the rocket attack on Eilat on January 20, 2014. The rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome system. The organization's main focus in recent weeks has been on increasingly high-profile attacks against Egyptian targets. These have included an attempt on the life of Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim on September 5, 2013, and a series of bomb attacks in Cairo in January,2014. On January 25, 2014, the group claimed responsibility for downing a military helicopter over northern Sinai. The weapon used in this attack, a Russian Igla air-defense system, was reportedly smuggled out from Gaza, where the group maintains links with Salafi Jihadi elements. So what exactly is Ansar Beit al-Maqdis? According to a former militant of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization, Nabil al-Naeim, the group is funded by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, following a deal brokered with powerful Brotherhood strongman Khairet al-Shater. Naeim suggested that Ansar Beit al Maqdis is supplied with weapons by the Brotherhood via the Gaza tunnels and Libya. He maintains that the Hamas authorities in Gaza are aware of the deal. The alleged Brotherhood links were also asserted by Sameh Eid, described in an al-Arabiyya article as an 'expert on Islamist groups.' Eid referred to the group as the 'military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood,' and said that Shater had threatened the Egyptian authorities with 'escalation in Sinai and the targeting of the Egyptian Army.' Little hard evidence, however, has yet emerged to support the claims of a direct Muslim Brotherhood link to Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.
The Egyptian authorities have an obvious interest in linking the violence erupting out of northern Sinai with the Muslim Brothers. Having brought down the Muslim Brotherhood government, General Sisi's subsequent strategy has been to deny the Brotherhood any way back into political activity, preferring to force it along a path of confrontation on which it is likely to be defeated by the army.
It is certainly possible, of course, that the Brotherhood has now as a result elected to begin to link itself to armed groups and to prepare for insurgency. But hard facts have not yet emerged to support this contention.
Clear links between Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and the al-Qaeda network, however, do exist. In recent testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, Tom Joscelyn of the Federation for the Defense of Democracies noted that the group uses al-Qaeda's official channels for its propaganda – such as al Fajr Media Center.
Also, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has on many occasions praised its operations. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis also often features al Qaeda leaders and 'martyrs', including Osama Bin Laden, in its videos.
This shows that at the very least, a clear ideological identification is there, along with probable organizational links at one or another level.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is only the most active and prominent of a whole number of jihadi networks operating against the Egyptian authorities from Sinai. Joscelyn in his testimony notes evidence that elements of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are active in Sinai. He also mentions a third grouping directly linked to al Qaeda, the Muhammad Jamal network, as also active on the peninsula.
What does all this add up to? An Islamist insurgency is now under way in northern Sinai. It involves groups with roots in the Gaza Strip. If some accounts are to be believed, both the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Hamas authorities in Gaza are involved in it on one or another level. Almost certainly, the regional networks of al Qaeda form a significant part of it. The Islamists have already begun to strike west into Egypt proper.
What this means is that any hopes that Sisi's coup would lead to a rapid return to quiet and order in Egypt should rapidly be abandoned. Rather, the new regime is facing a similar test to that endured by Mubarak in the 1990s and Nasser in the 1950's. Islamism in Egypt is not going to quietly accept the verdict of July 3rd, 2013.
For Israel, the emergent insurgency raises the prospect of two de facto al Qaeda controlled areas adjoining its border – one in southern Syria and the other in the Salafi playground that is now northern Sinai.
Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

U.S. Still Declares Support for Muslim Brotherhood
By Raymond Ibrahim on February 14, 2014 in Other Matters
During a press conference in Washington, D.C. this last Wednesday, Deputy Spokesperson for the U.S. State Department Marie Harf said that “The United Sates does not rank the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.”
Harf assuring world that there’s nothing to fear from the Muslim Brotherhood/This despite the fact that those who support the Brotherhood often employ terrorism, including al-Qaeda and other jihadi organizations; this despite the fact that, since the ousting of the Brotherhood and Morsi, Egypt has been engulfed in terrorism; this despite the fact that the Brotherhood and their supporters targeted Egypt’s Christians, destroying around 80 churches in a few weeks. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Sisi, the man who ousted the Brotherhood to massive praise in Egypt, just went to Russia to meet with President Putin, as the U.S. continues losing one of the Mideast’s most strategic nations.
In Russia, the Muslim Brotherhood is a banned organization. Even the UK’s former prime minister, Tony Blair recently declared “This is what I say to my colleagues in the west. The fact is, the Muslim Brotherhood tried to take the country away from its basic values of hope and progress. The army have intervened, at the will of the people…”The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt; and many fellow Egyptians — both Muslim and Christian — know that it is involved in terrorism. Russia and many other nations also know this. But apparently not the United States. The other possibility is that the U.S. government does know of the “nefarious” nature of the Brotherhood, but is allied to it anyway. During the same conference, Harf said that contact between the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the Brotherhood is ongoing. Much of this was revealed in the context of Ahmed Eleba, an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo currently arrested for, among other things, his close ties to the Brotherhood, including Khairat al-Shater. Currently imprisoned, al-Shater is the deputy leader of the Brotherhood; along with Morsi and other top Brotherhood leaders, he is being tried for, among other things, direct ties to terrorism.

America’s Dented Reputation and Prestige in the Middle East and Beyond

By: Raghida Dergham
(Translation - Karim Traboulsi) 02/14/2014
What does President Barack Obama intend to do, now that he has admitted that “with each passing day, more people inside of Syria are suffering,” that “the state of Syria itself is crumbling,” and that “[this] is “bad for Syria. It is bad for the region. It is bad for global national security,” “because…extremists…have moved into the vacuum in certain portions of Syria in a way that could threaten us over the long term”? The U.S. President’s frustration will not save Syria from what Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called, in a testimony before Congress, an “apocalyptic disaster.” Obama’s lament for the “heartbreaking” situation in Syria will not help the victims of explosive barrels, deliberate starvation, and siege. It will do little to help the victims of terrorism, which metastasized in Syria because of the prolongation of the conflict, as a result of the farce of U.S. dissociation, and thanks to Russia’s nationalistic hubris. If Barack Obama is now determined to mend his old policies, then he should first embark on a quest to restore the world’s confidence in him and his promises. He must upend the reputation he personally acquired because of how he has dealt with the Syrian crisis. If he genuinely believes that the deteriorating humanitarian situation, the growth of Islamic radicalism, and the continuation of killing and crimes against humanity, as well as war crimes, all make Syria “one of our highest national security priorities,” as he said, then the U.S. president must put forward policies and not just express heartbreak. Frustration does not constitute a policy, but rather a way to avoid positions that Barack Obama knows full well what features they should have. The roadmap to a radically new stance on the Syrian tragedy is available to the president, but what he needs to do is to make bold decisions instead of hiding behind his finger. Today, will Obama continue to hide behind his finger or will he surprise everyone and act?
The point is not that the U.S. president should reverse the decision to keep the U.S. clear of the others’ wars in deference to the American public. No one expects U.S. soldiers to be deployed to Syria under any circumstances; even the military strike that Obama had threatened the regime in Damascus with before he backed down in the 11th hour is no longer on the table, for those watching and waiting to see what Barack Obama will do, as he hints at new shifts in his policy on Syria. The first stop on the road to change in any policy will necessarily have to be the reassessment of previous policies, to identify their successes or failures. In Syria, the policy of attrition and mutual exhaustion and destruction between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his allies – Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) – and the Salafist extremists and al-Qaeda affiliates, has failed. The regime in Damascus believes it is on the verge of victory, and is confident that it will survive and that it has not been drained and exhausted. Its allies are determined to fight any and all battles on its side or on its behalf, while the regime continues to be showered with weapons from its ally Russia and cash from its ally Iran.
Extremists and terrorists have seen Syria as a global magnet for their ideological battle. But the self-dissociation of the Obama administration from the Syrian crisis has helped these profiteers proliferate and take advantage of the U.S. aversion to involvement in Syria. The prolongation of the conflict because of the triple Russian-Chinese veto at the UN Security Council has also helped the schemes of the extremists and terrorists, who find themselves a major and as of yet unexhausted actor in Syria. so it is time to recognize that the policy of attrition, exhaustion, and mutual destruction in Syria has failed miserably, and instead resulted in a tragic disaster for Syria and its people. There is no room for this policy to continue unchanged. There is no way for a decisive military victory to be achieved by any side in Syria either, as both sides have been mutually exhausted. As regards the idea of an alliance between the regime forces in Damascus and its allies, and the Western powers, whose intelligence agencies have flocked to Damascus to exchange information about al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and their ilk, this is the delusional wish of the regime and its allies – but also an example of the manipulative nature and shortsightedness of the policy of Western powers, led by the United States. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly suggested that the Obama administration will not contract Bashar al-Assad and his dynasty as the cornerstone of the war on terror. He said repeatedly that Assad was the magnet attracting terror to Syria and the region. He left the impression that the Obama administration will thwart Damascus’s wager on dragging the U.S. into a political partnership in the war on terror, as Damascus felt the U.S. intelligence community was prepared for such a partnership.
Damascus’s tactic is patience, and it is wagering on exhausting Washington. Damascus is confident that the Obama administration will once again back down and follow the path drawn for it by Damascus, Tehran, and Moscow towards a partnership in the war on terror, with a view to evade the obligations regarding a transitional political process in Geneva 2, as this would practically establish an alternative ruling body to replace Assad’s regime. President Obama is required to clarify his position directly on this issue, and not just through his Secretary of State. There is an impression that Obama is using Kerry for political posturing, while keeping his options open in a way that is not necessarily in line with the administration’s public discourse. But even if this is just an impression that the axis of Syria, Russia, Iran, China, and Hezbollah have, the fact that the U.S. president has failed to clarify his position on the partnership desired by this axis reinforces the latter’s strategy. The U.S. president must therefore clarify who he is and where he stands on the strategy of partnership with Bashar al-Assad in the war on terror, which has been drafted by Moscow, backed by Tehran, and endorsed by Damascus. To be sure, it would not be logical for the Obama administration to revive its demands for Assad to step down, if it is going to approve a strategy that adopts him as a cornerstone.
If Barack Obama chooses to refuse the call for such an alliance, then he must pursue a clear, coherent, and determined strategy that would include plans to eliminate the growing Salafist extremist scourge in Syria, and the Neo-Jihadists and foreign fighters that the prospect of a terrorist-ideological war there is attracting. One way to achieve this is to engage in intelligence-based cooperation regionally and internationally, in tandem with qualitative measures with the partners in the dialogue on Syria and other partners who have experience in pushing back and defeating al-Qaeda and its ilk. Another alternative way is to rebuild confidence – and quickly – with internal Syrian factions in the moderate opposition and local leaders, as had happened in Iraq through the so-called tribal Sahwat or Awakening.
Certainly, insisting on the success of Geneva 2 and its primary objective, namely the establishment of a transitional governing body with full powers, is also extremely important in this effort. Here, U.S.-Russian relations come into play. This relationship, which has been widely praised in the few months after the agreement on dismantling the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal, must take on a practical dimension. The Obama administration is required to show some firmness and clarify that it does not intend to continue to cave in to the Russian leadership on the Syrian issue, bearing in mind that Russia is a key ally of the regime in Damascus. There is a clear imbalance in this issue: Russia is a powerful ally for Damascus that funds, supplies weapons, and prevents the Security Council from adopting resolutions. Russia opposes accountability for the regime, protects it against punishment for war crimes, defends its policy of deliberate starvation, siege, and bombardment with explosive barrels, and uses its influence with the United States to jointly sponsor a political process even after it undercuts its frame of reference – as Russia is confident that Washington will defer to its dictates, because the U.S. is averse to further involvement and just wants to distance itself from and shirk its responsibilities in Syria. The Obama administration has no similar alliance with the Syrian opposition. It only supports it verbally but barely practically. Washington has diverged with its allies over the Syrian issue, both Arab and European. Its reputation now is one of betrayal, abandoning of allies, and backing down. The U.S. has lost the prestige of leadership and influence that comes with being a superpower. There is an opportunity today for President Obama to restore confidence in the U.S. and his country’s prestige. But this requires him to make a decision. The opportunity is favorable because Russia has overplayed its hand, and gained itself a reputation for being the devil’s ally who has nothing but contempt for human beings when it comes to its national interests.
Russia today appears as if it is above being held to account. It is boasting of its victory over “aging” America in Syria and the Middle East. But Vladimir Putin’s Russia has put itself under siege both at home and in its surroundings. In effect, Russia is not immune to crises. The time is right for a serious and firm talk with Russia – if Obama really wants to bring about a change in the path of the Syrian tragedy. The talk, or the other firm message, must be addressed to Tehran. Ali Larijani, chairman of the Shura Council in Iran, commenting on statements by U.S. officials on the sanctions, said they were “arrogant opportunistic scoundrels,” describing America as “a roaring old lion who is afraid to pounce.” The U.S. president can clarify to Iran that any new lifting of sanctions requires it to reform its foreign policy. U.S. law and the D’Amato Act require this, and this is what Barack Obama must affirm firmly and with determination, as he defends the engagement with Iran. He must put Syria at the forefront of what Tehran is required to change in its policies.
The U.S. President has several tools and various options at his disposal to enact effective policies, if he wants to adopt different attitudes toward the Syrian disaster. If he has really decided that the Syrian crisis is now at the top of U.S. national security priorities, then he can notify Moscow and Tehran that Washington now perceives their role in Syria from the standpoint of U.S. national security. Indeed, their policies contribute to the growth of terrorism, the collapse of Syria, and the destabilization of neighboring countries. As for the deterioration of the reputation and prestige of the U.S. in the Middle East and beyond, this is something that Barack Obama needs to remedy and repair. He will not able to do so unless he overturns his past practices, stands firmly and without hesitation, and show determination.
This is how President Obama can restore the moral leadership that the U.S. claims to have. Hiding behind fingers is not a policy befitting of the man who came to the White House on the back of promises that took the whole world by storm, but which today seem to have been nothing more than a mirage.
Translated from Arabic by Karim Traboulsi

Question: "In what ways is the Christian life like the Olympics?" The Olympics represent the pinnacle of athleticism, training, and competitiveness, going all the way back to ancient times. The apostle Paul used illustrations from the world of athletics in several of his letters. In three Epistles, he used the image of all-out racing to urge vigorous and lawful pursuit of spiritual growth and service. Four times Paul spoke of his own growth and service in terms of his own such race.
To the gifted but immature believers in Corinth, Paul wrote, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Here, Paul compares the disciplined effort necessary for spiritual growth to an Olympic athlete’s effort to win the prize that awaits only the winner of a race. Growing Christlikeness does not just happen on its own. God certainly “works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13), but the believer must cooperate with God by exerting responsible and serious effort to follow what the Holy Spirit teaches. “Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). For the disciplined believer, the prize is the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14, ESV). To what does God call the believer? It is to become like Jesus Christ in heart and lifestyle (Romans 8:28–30).
The true believer demonstrates the reality of God’s work in his heart by enduring all sorts of tests in the development of Christlikeness. The believer is in training, much as an Olympic athlete must train for a race. No pain, no gain. That is why the writer of Hebrews exhorted, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1–3). Jesus is portrayed as the finest runner, the One who set the pace, our model and hero in life’s race. Just as a runner in the Olympics must dispense with anything that would hinder his running, we must disentangle ourselves from sin. As a runner in the games must keep his eyes on the finish line, so we must keep our eyes on Christ and His joyful reward.
Some believers in Galatia had lost faith in God’s grace and were returning to a legalistic, performance-based religion. Paul wrote strong words to them: “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you” (Galatians 5:7–8). The true Christian life can be lived only by faith—faith in the pure Word of God and faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. To follow Satan’s deceitful advice to try to earn God’s grace and free gift of salvation is to stumble in our race. Trusting our own works only insults God and does us no good.
Paul wrote with similar urgency to believers in Philippi, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then . . . I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain” (Philippians 2:14–16). Paul encouraged the Philippians’ pure faith and likened his own labor on their behalf to running a race. He had invested hard work and deep suffering in teaching them God’s story, and he wanted his exertion to pay off—much like an Olympic athlete deeply desires his sacrifices to result in victory.
Another passage in which Paul uses the metaphor of a race is Galatians 2:1–2. There Paul tells how he had visited Christian leaders in Jerusalem in order to check with them the gospel he preached to the Gentiles. What was his reason for taking such care? “For fear that I was running or had run my race in vain” (NAS). It was vital to Paul that he knew, believed, and taught God’s truth. This was the way that he “ran his race.”
It was in peaceful confidence that Paul approached the end of his life. Anticipating his impending martyrdom in Rome, he wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, “The time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6–8). We don’t know if Paul had been an athlete in his younger years. In these references to the Olympic races, he certainly showed deep interest in and understanding of competitive running. He used that understanding of the Olympic races to illustrate the basics of the Christian life.
A runner must train for his race, know the rules, and commit to winning. A believer must endure hardship, exercise absolute and enduring faith in the Word of God, and keep his eyes on the goal. In the power of the cross, the believer grows more and more like the Savior. Despite obstacles, challenges, temptations, and even the threat of death, the Christian continues to run the race Christ has marked out for him.
Recommended Resources: Run to Win: How to Finish Strong in the Race of Life by Greg Laurie and Logos Bible Software.

Why Salafist-takfiris should worry us

February 15, 2014/By Rami G. Khouri/The Daily Star
Several months ago when I wrote about the looming danger of the growing strength of Salafist-takfiri groups in Iraq and Syria, I focused on the threats that thousands of their fighters, bombers and terrorists posed to those countries and also to other lands where they would travel in due course.
Both the scale and threat of the Salafist-takfiri enterprise in the Middle East are now much more significant, because they control more territory, they can assault many foes across Syria, Lebanon and Iraq as a single operational theater; they have expanded to comprise tens of thousands of adherents; the conditions that brought them to prominence persist; and they have yet to face an enemy that is willing or able to eradicate them.
I wondered months ago whether we would soon see some coordinated action by regional and foreign powers to redress the danger posed by such groups as the Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), Ahrar al-Sham and many others that were both locally anchored and also pan-Islamic like Al-Qaeda. Some focus on fighting President Bashar Assad’s regime, Hezbollah and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government in Iraq, while others are content to carve out territory that they can transform into their imagined pure Islamic society. This is an ever-changing universe of identities and allegiances among Salafist-takfiri groups that evolve over time, as some merge into larger umbrella coalitions. More recently, some such organizations have also fought each other, especially as some Syria-based groups have pushed back the aggressive expansion of ISIS.
The frightening thing about the growth of these groups is what they tell us about the condition of societies in the Levant and other Arab countries. Beyond the immediate and real security threat these groups pose to everyone in the region, we should also see them as a frightening symptom of erratic modern Arab statehood. These groups did not just suddenly appear over the past three years as war raged in Syria; rather, they have been incubating for much longer because of the slow deterioration of conditions in Middle Eastern countries over the past quarter century or so.
The gradual fraying of state authority in the region has created zones of nongovernability or even chaos, which provide the ideal environment for such groups, whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Syria or northern Sinai. As the state retreats from parts of society, the gap is filled either by strong nonstate actors such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Sadrists in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen, or by Salafist-takfiris who exploit the chaos and impose their own brand of security and order.
The combination of these two phenomena leads to the third development of recent decades, which is the steady deterioration in significance of official borders between countries. In Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Iran, people, money, goods, arms, refugees and ideologies cross frontiers with almost total abandon. Artillery fire across borders, by state armies and nonstate armed groups, is now routine. The slow erasure of the reality of state lines reflects a wider problem of the dilution of state sovereignty.
In some countries, nonstate groups are stronger than the state itself, such as Hezbollah’s military capabilities in Lebanon. This weakness of central state authority in means that other governments and foreign nonstate organizations both can interfere in the country at will, as we see happening across the Levant. Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah and Salafists in northern Lebanon are all actively engaging in the war in Syria, either directly by supplying fighters and arms or indirectly by supporting those who are fighting.
Many of these actors also try to use soft power to shape the culture, identity and political ideology of countries in the Levant, as is happening in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Iraq. Global powers similarly penetrate these countries, and the result is the kind of protracted tensions we have witnessed in Lebanon since the 1970s or in Syria and Iraq in recent years. This sort of thing does not happen in strong states with credible governments.
The Salafist-takfiri groups are only the most recent players in this sad game of weak and contested statehood. They are also among the most dangerous because they perform beyond the usual realm of state-to-state or state-to-insurgency relations, where conflicts can be mitigated and cease-fires negotiated.
You would think that the tens of thousands of battle-hardened Salafist-takfiri militants, extremists and terrorists who are steadily expanding their reign across Syria, Lebanon and Iraq would prompt some kind of serious coordinated response by local and foreign governments, all targets of these groups. The absence of any such coordinated response is a further cause for concern. We should genuinely worry about the Salafist-takfiris – not only for what they do, but also for what they tell us about ourselves.
**Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR. He can be followed on Twitter @RamiKhouri.

Obama says considering new pressure on Assad
February 15, 2014/By Steve Holland/Reuters
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif: President Barack Obama said on Friday he is considering new ways to pressure the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he pledged fresh U.S. assistance to Jordan's King Abdullah, whose country is reeling from the Syrian civil war. Obama and Abdullah held talks at the Sunnylands retreat, the estate of the late philanthropist Walter Annenberg, in a desert region of California.
With the Syrian civil war a central focus of their talks, Obama told reporters with Abdullah seated beside him that he does not expect the conflict to be resolved any time soon and that "there are going to be some immediate steps that we have to take to help the humanitarian assistance there." "There will be some intermediate steps that we can take applying more pressure to the Assad regime and we are going to be continuing to work with all the parties concerned to try to move forward on a diplomatic solution," Obama said. Obama did not disclose what steps he has under consideration, but Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier while traveling in Asia that a set of new options are under discussion. "We have been ramping up our support to the moderate opposition and Jordan has its own strong role to play in relationship to the moderate opposition," said a senior Obama administration official after Obama and Abdullah held two hours of talks. The official said the two leaders also discussed the rising extremist threat emanating from Syria and what might be done to counter it.
With Jordan under pressure from housing more than 600,000 Syrian war refugees and facing other economic troubles, Obama announced at the outset of their talks that he intends to provide the strong U.S. ally with $1 billion in loan guarantees. In addition, he said Washington will renew a five-year agreement that locks in annual aid for Jordan. The current package, which expires at the end of September, has been providing $660 million a year. Obama did not say what funding level he would urge Congress to back in another five-year agreement. Frustrated that conditions on the ground in Syria remain horrendous, and confounded by Assad's refusal to engage in serious negotiations about a transition in power, Obama has been signaling a potential shift toward a more aggressive policy. Senior administration officials who briefed reporters about Obama's talks with Abdullah said all options remain on the table short of putting American boots on the ground. Among the long-standing options has been the possibility of arming Syrian rebels. Such a step would only be applied if it would help nudge the process toward a political solution, one official said. "Helping to improve the position of the Syrian opposition, put pressure on the Syrian regime, is certainly part of the overall calculation," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Obama met Abdullah at the Sunnylands retreat as a way to hold informal discussions on a wide-ranging set of issues.

Arab world: The twilight of the Brotherhood
LAST UPDATED: 02/15/2014
Toppling of Mohamed Morsi has weakened the movement; winning elections in Tunisia remains its last hope to gain power democratically; won’t make up for loss of Egypt. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood protest in Egypt, December 27, 2013.
These are sad times indeed for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Having tasted victory in Egypt, the Brothers were poised for the next step in their long-range plan of restoring the Caliphate – only to see their hopes dashed to the ground. No wonder they can’t accept the new reality.
Mohamed Morsi’s ouster was a bitter blow to the World Organization of the Brotherhood (WOB), set up in the 1930s by movement founder Hassan al-Banna. His initial triumph in taking the presidency had been seen as a first step towards conquering other Arab countries, in the wake of the Arab Spring. In Tunisia the Brotherhood party, Ennahda or The Renewal, became the largest party in the first elections following the ouster of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali; in Morocco, their Justice and Progress party made such a good showing it was tasked by the king to form the government. In Algeria, Libya and Yemen, the Brotherhood made an impressive show of strength; in Jordan, they lead the opposition to the king.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, with the exception of Qatar, were bitterly opposed to the movement, which spawned jihadi and al-Qaida-affiliated terror organizations.
Qatar, a longstanding ally of the Brotherhood, offered sanctuary to members fleeing the wrath of Gamal Abdel Nasser in the ’50s. They helped transform the small Beduin country, and their influence can be felt in the emir’s foreign policy and in the powerful Al Jazeera channel, which actively promotes the movement and its Egyptian branch – to the extent that the new regime in Cairo closed down its office and jailed its workers.
WOB leaders followed with growing concern the groundswell of protest against their president. They recognized the signs from their own bitter experience and made their warnings heard in the crucial period of June 2013, urging Morsi to agree to demands for new presidential elections in order to salvage the movement. The president and his mentors in the Guidance Bureau would not listen; their obstinacy led to a resounding – maybe even irreversible – defeat for the Brotherhood, not only in Egypt but throughout the Arab world.
Yet the WOB did not give up easily.
After Morsi’s arrest on July 3, it launched an all-out effort to have the country’s “legitimate ruler” restored.
In an interview with Egyptian daily Al-Watan on July 12, WOB secretary- general Munir claimed that the army had dealt a blow to “all forces of political Islam,” and stated that his organization had called for the mobilization of all the countries where it was represented – some 80 altogether. He expressly threatened Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, adding that the US would not support the new regime and that the Brotherhood was urging the EU to adopt the same policy.
This, in effect, made clear that the organization had its allies in the White House, and in the EU; indeed, both did give Sisi the cold shoulder, and refrain to this day from granting their official support to the new regime.
Furthermore, “political Islam” is the “soft” expression used to qualify jihadi and Salafist terror organizations. Such organizations in Sinai did not wait for the arrest of Morsi to issue a joint declaration to the effect that toppling the president “would open the gates of hell to Egypt.”
To coordinate efforts with other Islamist movements, the WOB organized at least two meetings to discuss how to restore Morsi to the presidency. It took advantage of the presence of many Islamic parties and organizations at the conference of the Sa’ada Turkish Islamic party in Istanbul on July 10, and called for a special session on Egypt. Among the participants were Mahmoud Hussein, secretary-general of the Brotherhood in Egypt; Rachid Ghannouchi, head of the movement in Tunisia; a Hamas representative; and Munir himself.
According to Sky News in Arabic, the consensus was that Morsi’s ouster had been a serious setback for world Islam, and especially for Hamas; Morsi and his people were blamed – without being named – for having failed to tackle Egypt’s pressing problems, something which would have a positive impact on public opinion. It was decided to launch Operation Deep Breath, involving demonstrations to destabilize the country, attempts to discredit the new regime in international media, and a fullblown effort to divide the army. Pressure to suspend military assistance to Egypt was to be exerted on the US. Only Turkey and Qatar, two countries openly supporting the Brotherhood, were expected to help.
Moreover, on July 13, Egyptian leaders of the movement held a secret meeting in a Cairo apartment, and decided to target top army brass, promote terror in Sinai and call on Hamas to lend its expertise toward the preparation of explosives.
There were a few tense weeks. More than 1,500 people – nearly a third from the security forces – died in bloody confrontations between demonstrators and the army. But today, though terror in Sinai is not abating, the Brotherhood can no longer get the masses to the streets. The regime has banned all of the movement’s activities, put most of its leaders in jail and decreed it a terrorist organization.
The WOB then convened at another meeting on September 25, away from the media, under the auspices of the extremist Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistani organization. It was held in Lahore, Pakistan, close to the border with Afghanistan, where al-Qaida has its largest base of operations. The meeting was intended to deal with a number of issues such as the situation in Syria, but once again revolved around Egypt. There was an impressive turnout – with representatives from the Brotherhood and other Islamic organizations such as Hamas, from Jordan, Yemen, Morocco, Somalia, Malaysia, Sudan, Libya, Mauritania, Syria, Algeria and Tunisia.
Yet at the end of the day, the Brotherhood and their Salafi allies could neither paralyze the country nor garner popular support; they could not even convince world public opinion to call for the return of Morsi.
While it is unfortunately true that the West is still dragging its feet regarding Sisi, Russia is only too eager to fill the gap and recently concluded a $2 billion arms contract with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, helping with the financing of the deal.
Altogether, the Brotherhood has to be content with the support of its traditional allies Turkey and Qatar, both countries which find themselves on a collision course with the new regime in Cairo – which has summoned its respective ambassadors to express the regime’s displeasure, before recalling its own ambassador from Ankara.
Cairo even went as far as to call for the extradition of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the outspoken cleric who lives in Qatar.
However, in Tunisia, the Brotherhood – which had caused a political crisis that led to the assassination of two members of the secular opposition – were quick to understand that what had happened in Egypt could happen to them, and voluntarily relinquished power to a neutral government that is set to hold new elections. It was a move hailed by the West as the symbol of true democracy – though it reflects the fact that in Tunis as in Cairo, the Brotherhood had no blueprint for running a country and developing its economy.
The fact is that Ennahda remains the last hope of the Brotherhood, in its endeavor to gain power by democratic means – though even if it does succeed, it won’t make up for the loss of Egypt.
Unfortunately, al-Qaida and the like are still very much alive. The unhappy fate of the movement which inspired their founders will not deter them from pursuing their bloody course.

Obama as the Hamlet of Syria

Saturday, 15 February 2014
Hisham Melhem/Al Arabyia
The deadlocked Geneva II talks on Syria, and the prospect that Russia will support the regime’s refusal to discuss political transition, the worsening humanitarian crisis resulting from the Medieval-like sieges imposed by the Assad regime against whole neighborhoods, the failure of Syria to fulfill its obligations and deliver its stockpile of chemical weapons, President Obama’s implicit admission that his Syria policy is not working, but “we are continuing to explore every possible avenue to solve this problem,” and the mounting threats of Islamist extremists and their potential attacks on U.S. targets, has led to speculation, hints and wishful thinking that White House may be on the verge of shifting its approach to the Syrian conflict towards adopting a much tougher posture.
That view was bolstered, albeit briefly, by Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that Obama has asked his senior advisors “to think about various options that may or may not exist…”
The news reports mistakenly spoke about Obama asking his aides “to develop new policy options,” as if Washington is adopting a new approach to the three year old bloody conflict. Within hours White House officials moved swiftly to put Kerry’s comments “in context,” explaining that he was not talking about a “new initiative” but, as White House spokesman Jay Carney puts it “Kerry was reiterating what has always been the case, which is that the President is always looking at options on policy matters like Syria.”
He added “This is not a one-time thing. It’s not like this is a new review…. But I wouldn’t see this as some new announcement or new consideration.”
‘We are a people of love living under a regime of hate’
On Valentine’s Day, the people of Syria send messages of love via You Tube to the world. The heading was “We are a people of love living under a regime of hate.” The messages went like this: “Amid massacres, a message from Syria on the day of love, from Syria with love.”
“In the Syrian tragedy, like Hamlet, Obama’s biggest flaw was his hesitancy”
Only the second word in this sentence was changed from placard to placard describing Syria’s unspeakable agony: devastation, starvation, bombardment, death… But in an ambivalent world reciprocity is hard to find. It is even harder to find love in an amoral U.S. administration lacking passion and compassion.
Since the Geneva II “process” began, more than 5,000 Syrians perished. Assad’s use of siege warfare is causing famine in Syria for the first time since the First World War. His sacking of the great ancient city of Aleppo is the first since that jewel of a metropolis was last sacked by the Mongol conqueror Tamerlane in 1400.
And as if the depredations of the Assad regime are not enough, Syrian cities and country side are being ravaged by a new plague of Islamist predators that are terrorizing Christian and Alawite civilians and also Sunnis not sufficiently “Muslim” or refuse to collaborate with their deadly schemes. Syrians are on their own or under the tender mercies of their lethal “friends.”
Obama as hesitant Hamlet
Ever since the Assad regime met the peaceful uprising with fire, President Obama who says that he was elected to end America’s two longest wars in its history; Afghanistan and Iraq, was dead set against any direct military intervention, even if very limited in Syria.
Even when the Syrian regime first resorted to massacring civilians and engaging in sectarian cleansings of Sunni villages and neighborhoods (savage tactics that some of the primitive Islamists purporting to defend the Sunnis resorted to against Alawites and Christians later on) President Obama maintained his emotional and intellectual detachment. He dithered, and obfuscated, he promised to arm the moderate rebels and then he delayed or reneged.
Last June, when the administration knew that the Assad regime has used Chemical Weapons President Obama asked the CIA to supply the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Council (SMC) with light arms, but later on we were told the supplies got stuck in the delivery “pipelines” and because of alleged bureaucratic problems. Then it was revealed that the administration never wanted the rebels actually to achieve military victory, but merely to push the regime to accept the Geneva II process. Also, according to officials, maintaining a thin supply of arms to the rebels will help Washington to convince them to go to Geneva.
In the Syrian tragedy, like Hamlet, Obama’s biggest flaw was his hesitancy. He proved time and again that he is unwilling or unable to act quickly during crucial moments.
That tragic hesitancy was on full embarrassing display last summer when he decided publicly that he will strike Syrian military installations, after chemical weapons attacks claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians, only to defer the decision later to congress, knowing that congress was not in the mood for military action. Later, Obama was saved by the bell, when the Russians proposed a deal to dismantle Syria’s chemical arms.
Ever since, the President and his top aides have touted the chemical weapons agreement as a great victory achieved, only because he unsheathed his sword. Ironically, Syria was supposed to have delivered its chemical weapon stockpile to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the first week of Feb. 2014. So far Syria has delivered only 11 percent of that stockpile. Like Hamlet, Obama’s hesitancy affected many Syrians in gruesome and tragic ways. Obama’s hesitancy and dithering, in fact contributed significantly to creating a security vacuum that was immediately filled by a cruel strain of Islamists.
A changing region and a changing approach
American officials correctly say that the old order in the Middle East is changing, mainly because of the Arab uprisings which put a number of States in a “transition” mode, but also because Iran has decided to resume negotiations with the P 5 + 1 group over its nuclear program, and because of the changing energy landscape in North America. And unlike the posture of the last decade, when the U.S. was deeply engaged militarily in two land wars simultaneously, Obama would like to have a lighter military footprint in the region.
These officials admit that Syria is an extremely difficult challenge and is not easily susceptible to outside pressure. Hence, the Administration’s gambling on a “positive” Russian role to help “delivering” Assad, whether on chemical weapons or on the “transition” aspect in the Geneva I Communique.
The Obama administration is still deeply wedded to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and in the meantime would like to contribute to the humanitarian relief efforts, provide limited material support to the rebels and political cover, and work with them and regional allies to isolate the radical Islamists.
The officials are adamant that any U.S. military role in Syria will lead eventually to a deeper involvement like the war in Iraq; and they want those who want the U.S. to resort to military force in the Middle East to understand that the American public has become more “isolationist.”
Main points of contention
These officials expect that Syria will be one of the main points of contention in President Obama’s talks with Saudi officials when he visits the kingdom in late March.
American officials claim that the Saudis and other Arab states wanted the planned military strike in the summer against Syria to have been a major operation, and that a limited attack would not have been sufficient for the anti-Assad Arab coalition.
The thinking in the Obama Administration is that the downfall of Assad will not lead necessarily to the withdrawal of Hezbollah forces or the Iranian security elements from Syria.
When it comes to arming the rebels, you keep hearing the same refrain: we are concerned that the weapons may fall into the wrong hands, and that there are certain dynamics that could transform Syria into another Afghanistan if the weapons flow freely to the opposition.
The Obama administration will NOT under any circumstance arm the opposition to achieve a decisive military victory against the Assad regime, according to highly placed sources. At this stage the US sees an opportunity to collaborate with regional powers to isolate and weaken the worst Islamist groups such as ISIS and al-Nusra Front. In this context the Administration is trying to convince the Russians, so far unsuccessfully, that if Assad remains in power he will be a great magnet for extremist Islamists and these Islamists will eventually hurt Russia in the Caucasus region as well as hurt Iran.
In drones he trusts
It will be counterintuitive for President Obama to use military force, except or unless America’s national security interests are attacked directly. In that context, his exercise of American leadership defers qualitatively from his predecessors. And Syria is a case in point. But the critics of this proposition would point out to the President’s wide use of Drones in his war on al Qaeda and its affiliates.
This is true, and the origin of this approach can be traced back to one of his most important moments in a famous debate in his first presidential campaign with his then bitter opponent Hillary Clinton, when Obama volunteered that if he is elected he will not hesitate to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty in hot pursuit of al-Qaeda leaders. Early in his first term he began to deliver on his promise.
However, the extensive use of Drone attacks has another explanation that is related to President Obama’s political survival. It is true that he is fighting America’s sworn enemies who mercilessly attacked the homeland on September 11, 2001, but he is also preventing them from undermining him politically.
The failed terror attack attempted by Omar Farouk Abdulmutallib, who was recruited by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to blow up an airliner above the city of Detroit, was a turning point. Had the Dec. 28, 2009 plot succeeded, hundreds of U.S. citizens would have been killed, and with them Obama’s chances for another term. Hence, pursuing al-Qaeda in its various manifestations to the end of the earth, including ordering the risky attack on Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan, became the most important objective for President Obama. Intervention in Syria, from this perspective, carries unforeseen burdens and none of the benefits of the limited attacks by pilotless drones.
President Obama’s trust in the effectiveness of the Drones may have saved the US from terror attacks, and for this he should be commended, but the drones may have also saved his political career. Obama does not see such reward in Syria. Alas, the Syrian messages of love will not be reciprocated or answered by the hesitant and passionless master of the White House.