LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Quotation for today/The
Miracle Of curing the Two Blind Men
Matthew 9,27-35/: "As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’ When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you.’ And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, ‘See that no one knows of this.’ But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district. After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, ‘Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.’ But the Pharisees said, ‘By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.’ Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness."
Pope Francis's Tweet For Today
Lent is a time of grace, a time to convert and live out our baptism fully.
Le Carême est un temps de grâce, un temps pour se convertir et vivre en cohérence avec son baptême.
Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For March 28/14
Riyadh Briefing: President Obama's Visit to Saudi Arabia/By: Simon Henderson/Washington Institute/March 28/14
Kindly allow us to watch while you die/By
Michael Young/The Daily Star/March 28/14
Egypt's New Military Brass/By: Gilad Wenig/Washington Institute/March 28/14
Why 'Moderate Islam' is an Oxymoron/By: Raymond Ibrahim/CBN News/March 28/14
Western Ignorance of the 'Conditions of Omar'/By: Raymond Ibrahim/PJ Media/March 28/14
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For March 28/14
Lebanese Related News
Prime Minister Tammam Salam: an optimist with a heavy burden
Lebanese Soldier Killed in Drive-by Shooting in Tripoli
Mustaqbal Bloc Calls on State to End Security Chaos
Lebanese Government Approves Security Plan
Franjieh Nominates Aoun for Presidency without Withdrawing Own Candidacy
Five Injured in Syrian Raid on Mountains Surrounding Arsal
Dangerous Terrorist' Sami al-Atrash Killed in Army Raid in Arsal
Lebanese Cabinet to Tackle Shifting ISF Intelligence Bureau to Independent Branch in Next Session
U.N. Security Council Says Presidential Elections Local Lebanese Affair
Berri Says he Has No Candidate, his Role is Limited to Overseeing Successful Polls
Conditions Suitable for Presidential Vote, Says Suleiman
Geagea Says Will 'Withdraw Hizbullah from Syria' if Elected President
Saqr Orders Convicting 21 People over Tripoli Bombings, including Eid, Minkara
Majority of terror arrests made: Lebanon Army chief
Miscellaneous Reports And News'
Syrian Army, Hezbollah advance on Flita, bomb rebels in Latakia
Obama, Pope Francis meet for the first time
Israel's Peres to Meet U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Chief
Storms Ground MH370 Air Search after New Debris Sighting
Report: Turkey and Israel to reopen embassies
Sisi Resigns from Military Service, Announces Running for President
Analysts: Sisi May Revive Strongman Era to Quell Egypt Unrest
Kerry Urges Egypt to Drop Mass Trial Sentencings
U.S. Lawmakers to Vote on Secret CIA Interrogation Report
'Saudi King Decrees Half Brother Moqren to be Future Monarch
Obama, Pope Francis meet for the first
The Associated Press, Vatican City
Thursday, 27 March 2014
President Barack Obama called himself a “great admirer” of Pope Francis as he sat down at the Vatican Thursday with the pontiff he considers a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality. Their historic first meeting comes as Obama's administration and the church remain deeply split on issues of abortion and contraception. Obama arrived at the Vatican amid the pomp and tradition of the Catholic Church, making his way to greet the pope after a long, slow procession through the hallways of the Apostolic Palace led by colorful Swiss Guards and accompanied by ceremonial attendants. The president bowed as he shook hands with the pontiff in the Small Throne Room, before the two sat down at a wooden table in the Papal Library. “It is a great honor. I'm a great admirer,” Obama said. “Thank you so much for receiving me.”
As they meet, the six-year president, with his sinking poll numbers, would not be blamed for seeking some reflected glory from a pope who, one year into his pontificate, is viewed as an agent of change in the Roman Catholic Church. Obama is the ninth president to make an official visit to the Vatican. His audience marks a change of pace for the president, who has devoted the past three days of a weeklong, four-country trip to securing European unity against Russia's aggressive posture toward Ukraine. The pope whom Obama will sit with this time is a different pontiff than the last one to host him. Obama visited Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, a cordial meeting that nevertheless drew attention to the differences between the church and Obama on abortion. To be sure, the relationship between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church is a fraught one. And Vatican officials say Obama will not leave without having heard Francis' views on Obama's health care law and its mandates for contraception coverage. But in Francis, the White House sees the popular pope and his emphasis on economic disparity as a form of moral validation of the president's economic agenda. “Given his great moral authority, when the pope speaks it carries enormous weight,” Obama said in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera published ahead of his papal visit. “He can cause people around to the world to stop and perhaps rethink old attitudes and begin treating one another with more decency and compassion.”
Several presidents have found allies if not comfort in the pope.
President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II famously shared an antipathy for the former Soviet Union, Reagan the Cold War warrior and the pope a Polish priest who fought communism in his country and later in Europe.
“Sometimes in these meetings there are compatible personalities,” said Paul Begala, a former aide to President Bill Clinton and a Catholic himself. He recalled being with Clinton when the president met John Paul II in Denver.
“They were only supposed to meet alone for five minutes,” he said in an interview earlier this year. “Those two gregarious, charismatic men sat in that room for an hour without another soul in there.”
The Obama-Francis chemistry remains to be seen, but thematically both seem to be on some of the same pages.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, at the Vatican this week trying to secure Francis' attendance in Philadelphia next year, said he expected the Obama-Francis meeting to be good for both the U.S. and the Vatican.
“We have the most important religious figure in the world as part of that meeting, and one of the most important political leaders, so anytime the church and politics come together is an important moment for dialogue, discussion and the commitment to the common good,” Chaput told reporters Tuesday at the Vatican.
Still, there are difficult areas of discord between U.S. bishops and the Obama administration over abortion and the administration's health care overhaul. U.S. bishops were among the most outspoken opponents of Obamacare, objecting to its mandatory coverage of contraception. The Supreme Court this week seemed divided when hearing arguments in a case in which companies argued that they have religious rights and can object to such coverage based on such beliefs. Vatican officials noted that during the recent visit of Secretary of State John Kerry with his Vatican counterpart Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the cardinal raised the issue of the health care mandate. The Vatican statement issued after that meeting said Parolin had “expressed the concern of the U.S. bishops for the reforms in relation to the guarantee of religious freedom and conscientious objection.”
Anticipating that the issue will be a topic of their meeting, Catholics for Choice published an ad in the International New York Times Thursday as an open letter to Obama declaring that “Francis' interpretation of church teachings does not represent that of the majority of Catholics, especially on issues related to sexuality, reproductive health and family life.”
Francis faithfully backs church teaching on abortion — he has said he's a “son of the church” — but his emphasis and tone are elsewhere. He has said he wants his church to be more of a missionary, welcoming place for wounded souls rather than a moralizing church. He caused a fuss in November when he decried some conservative economic theories as unproven. “The excluded are still waiting,” he wrote.
Francis' attention to poverty has also captured the attention of Republicans, prompting some to stake out high-profile anti-poverty positions. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has extended a formal and open invitation to the pope to address Congress when he visits the United States. No doubt there is a political dimension to Obama's visit as well. The president won the Catholic vote in both of his elections, helped by heavy support from Hispanic Catholics. Some of that support has waned since. Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center found that the pope remains hugely popular, with more than 8 in 10 U.S. Catholics saying they have a favorable view of the
Franjieh Nominates Aoun for Presidency
without Withdrawing Own Candidacy
Naharnet /Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh announced Thursday that he nominates his ally Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun for the presidency of the republic, noting that he will not run in person without Aoun's "consent." “My name has been suggested as a possible presidential candidate but I will support General Michel Aoun and I won't accept to run in the election without General Aoun's consent,” Franjieh told LBCI television, in a weekly TV show dedicated to interviewing the major presidential candidates. “There are two major candidates in our political camp, but General Michel Aoun is the stronger candidate. This does not mean that I have joined the FPM, but Aoun's political choices oblige me to respect his position as well as my loyalty to my political camp,” Franjieh clarified.
“For the Marada Movement, it has been settled, our candidate is General Aoun,” he added. Asked whether he would support naming Commando Regiment commander Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz -- Aoun's son-in-law – as army chief, Franjieh said: “My good relation with Chamel Roukoz and his capabilities speak for themselves.” “A settlement might lead to the election of a March 8 or March 14 president and I cannot be elected as president except under a settlement in which both camps would be satisfied,” Franjieh noted. He stressed that the rival March 14 coalition will not endorse his nomination or Aoun's nomination.
Responding to remarks voiced by a pro-March 14 journalist during the TV show, Franjieh said: “They started claiming to be defenders of sovereignty after the Syrian (army's) withdrawal (from Lebanon) and I garnered the highest number of Christian votes (in parliamentary elections) after the Syrians pulled out.” “No president will be elected – (Lebanese Forces leader) Samir Geagea or anyone else -- without a regional and international settlement,” Franjieh emphasized. In response to a question, the Marada leader said: “(Syrian President) Bashar Assad is my friend and brother and he will remain so.”
“If I become a president, I will stay in the March 8 camp even if I am open to my rivals, whose rights will be reserved,” he stated. On his relation with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat, Franjieh said: “Walid Beik has his political weight in the country and I was told several times that he must be reassured regarding the presidency, but I said that I have allies and I believe in their political approach.”
“I respect his position but I won't seek anyone's approval, as my strength and alliances are the things that might secure my election as president,” he added.
Asked about the issue of eavesdropping, Franjieh said: “I'm not with random tapping of people's conversations and not with assigning tapping to any specific security agency, because even after 9/11 this did not happen. There must be control over eavesdropping and we voiced objections over this issue during today's cabinet session." "I believe that any issue that enjoys consensus under the National Pact would be implemented without the need for the president's muscle-flexing and any issue outside national consensus will be obstructed, regardless of the president's clout," Franjieh said, when asked about the issue of disarming Hizbullah.
"If Western countries asked me to disarm Hizbullah within three months and put me before two choices -- a problem in my country or a blockade by foreign countries -- I would choose the international blockade in order to preserve domestic peace," he said, in response to a hypothetical question. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May but the Constitution states that the parliament should start meeting March 25 to elect a new head of state. No one has yet officially announced his candidacy for the top post but there are several contenders from the rival March 8 and 14 camps.
Dangerous Terrorist' Sami al-Atrash
Killed in Army Raid in Arsal
Naharnet/The fugitive Sami Ahmed al-Atrash died in hospital after he was critically wounded in an exchange of gunfire with an army patrol that raided his house in the Bekaa border town of Arsal on Thursday, state-run National News Agency reported. “Atrash was wanted on multiple arrest warrants,” NNA said. The army later issued a statement saying “following investigations, the Intelligence Directorate managed to locate the whereabouts of the dangerous terrorist Sami al-Atrash in the town of Arsal.” “Atrash opened fire at the army patrol that raided his location in the town, which prompted it to respond in kind,” the statement said, adding that “he later died of wounds he sustained” in the clash. “The slain terrorist was wanted on charges of preparing bomb-laden cars; firing rockets and mortars at Lebanese villages and towns; kidnapping citizens; taking part in killing four citizens in Arsal's Wadi Rafeq and several soldiers in Arsal's Wadi Hmayyed; and plotting to assassinate an officer with an explosive device,” the army announced. Meanwhile, NNA said the army carried out another raid in Arsal in which "the fugitives Ali Younis Ezzeddine and his brothers Nasser and Mohammed in addition to eight Syrians were arrested." The name of Sami al-Atrash had been mentioned for the first time in media reports claiming that he collaborated with Sameh Breidi in preparing the first car bomb that exploded in the Beirut southern suburb of Bir al-Abed, a Hizbullah stronghold. Last month, Military Investigative Judge Nabil Wehbe interrogated detained cleric Sheikh Omar al-Atrash and issued an arrest warrant for him. State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr had charged the cleric with “belonging to an armed terrorist group with the aim of committing terrorist acts; transporting suicide bombers; preparing and transporting cars, suicide vests, rockets and explosives; attacking the army in Majdelyoun and al-Awwali Bridge; firing rockets on Israel; and the possession of arms and explosives.”
Sheikh Omar al-Atrash is a cousin of Omar al-Atrash, the main suspect in the Rweiss and Bir al-Abed bombings who was reportedly killed in a blast that targeted his car at dawn on October 11, 2013.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam: an
optimist with a heavy burden
March 27, 2014/By Wassim Mroueh/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Wednesday that a genuine commitment to dissociation from Syria’s crisis would improve security in Lebanon, adding that facilitating his government’s mission was the responsibility of all parties represented on the Cabinet. In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with The Daily Star, Salam said that each of the March 8 and March 14 coalitions were closely following the developments in Syria, which was creating tension in the country. “The success of our government in reducing this political tension, which could always translate into a deterioration in security, hinges on the commitment of all parties to the policy of dissociation from the Syrian crisis as stipulated by the policy statement,” Salam said. “This requires efforts, by all political factions participating in the government, to prioritize the higher national interest.”
The prime minister said that while adherence to the dissociation policy would help to protect stability in the country, heightened security on the ground was necessary as well.
“There is a need for strict security measures under the law in order to address any deterioration once it happens, along with other pre-emptive measures to thwart sabotage plans,” Salam said.
He said that such measures would restore the prestige of the state and significantly reduce security threats. “The Lebanese have experienced such steps when implemented by our government in Arsal and the surrounding region and they were successful. We hope that similar measures will be taken soon in other areas that are witnessing security incidents,” Salam said. Last week, the Lebanese Army deployed in the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal and reopened the road linking it to neighboring Labweh, after residents of that town blocked the route in protest against rockets that hit their village. Labweh locals argued that they were fired upon from the mountainous outskirts of Arsal. Labweh residents are largely supportive of Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad to quash a three-year rebellion, while Arsal’s mainly Sunni residents sympathize with the opposition.
Lebanon has witnessed a wave of bombings linked to Syria’s war in recent months. The attacks have mainly targeted Shiite areas associated with Hezbollah.
Salam added that the anticipated range of presidential candidates demonstrated a healthy breadth of political representation.
“I will not make predictions on whether the upcoming president will be elected within the constitutional period,” Salam said. “All that I want to say is our government has expressed in its policy statement its commitment to provide the suitable atmosphere to hold the presidential election on time, out of respect for the Constitution and the principle of transition of power, and it will stick to this commitment.”
The two-month constitutional period to elect Lebanon’s new president began Tuesday. There are fears that a president will not be elected on time, forcing a repeat of the situation in 2007, when rival March 8 and March 14 coalitions failed to agree on a single candidate and plunged the country into a six-month power vacuum.
The prime minister said he believed that a greater harm resulting from Syria’s war was the presence of over 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
“ Lebanon cannot shoulder this burden alone and it is in need of help from sisterly and friend states along with donors,” Salam said. “We are waiting for the support for Lebanon expressed during the recent Paris conference to materialize.”Earlier this month, the International Support Group for Lebanon promised to work closely with the Lebanese government to manage the refugee crisis. The ISGL, which comprises a number of states including the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, last year established a multi-donor trust fund to help Lebanon cope with the influx of Syrian refugees. The fund is managed by the World Bank.
“We in the government adhere to our commitment in the policy statement to lay down the necessary mechanisms to address the issue of refugees and hold the Arab and international community responsible in this regard,” Salam said. Acknowledging that his mission as the head of the national unity government was not easy, Salam said he hoped that the parties in his Cabinet would facilitate its work.
“I am totally aware of how complicated the situation is and of the fact that political parties are at odds over all local and external issues,”he said.
“But I rely on these same parties to facilitate the work of the government through adherence to the path of consensus, something which led to the birth of the Cabinet of national interest.”
“I am optimistic ... and the positive attitude and enthusiasm demonstrated by ministers are promising.”
Lebanese Soldier Killed in Drive-by Shooting in Tripoli
Naharnet Newsdesk 27 March 2014/The Lebanese army carried out raids in the northern city of Tripoli on Thursday after a soldier was killed in a drive-by shooting, the military and a radio station said. The army said in a communique that two masked men riding a motorcycle killed Fadi al-Jubaili, an army warrant officer, at around 6:15 am after opening fire on him in the area of Boulevard. Al-Jubaili was heading to work when he was killed, it said. Military police launched an investigation into the murder, the communique added. Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) said the military carried out raids in the area to arrest the suspects. It later reported that Dahham al-Sheikh Jilati, a Lebanese, and a Syrian named Aaqbeh Hamish were apprehended on suspicion of killing the soldier. Also Thursday, Internal Security Forces Corporal Samer Dandashi escaped unharmed after he came under fire in the Tripoli area of Bab al-Ramel. On Wednesday, an 11-year-old boy was killed from sniper fire in Tripoli. The clashes renewed after an Alawite resident from the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood died when unknown assailants opened fire at him near al-Ridani bakery, NNA said. Tripoli has been rocked by repeated bouts of violence linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria, pitting its Sunni majority, who largely support the rebels, against the Alawite minority, who back President Bashar Assad. Alawites make up 11 percent of the city's population. Sunnis account for 80 percent. The Lebanese army, that has deployed in the city to calm the situation, has come under fire from gunmen from both sides. Several soldiers have been killed and injured in the different rounds of fighting that the city has witnessed.
Government Approves Security Plan
Naharnet Newsdesk 27 March 2014/The cabinet approved on Thursday a security plan for the northern city of Tripoli and areas bordering Syria as President Michel Suleiman said a solution to the fighting and repeated attacks were urgently needed. Health Minister Wael Abou Faour told reporters that the cabinet approved the recommendations of the Higher Defense Council on a security plan in Tripoli and Bekaa valley's northern areas. Defense Minister Samir Moqbel and Interior Minister Nuhad al-Mashnouq proposed the plan to the HDC during a meeting it held under Suleiman on Wednesday. Suleiman told the cabinet that the army will come under attack as long as it is a separation force in Tripoli. “A security solution has become necessary,” he told the first cabinet session that he chaired after the government received parliament's vote of confidence last week.
“The situation is no longer acceptable,” he said. Tripoli witnesses frequent gunbattles between two of the city's impoverished rival neighborhoods, one dominated by Sunnis who support Syrian rebels, and the other by Alawites, who are from the same sect of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Clashes in Tripoli have left scores of casualties over the past days alone. Border areas also come under rocket attacks and shelling from Syria. Suleiman hailed the Arab League summit that concluded on Wednesday, saying it supported Lebanon's army, the Syrian refugees, the Baabda Declaration and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Suleiman attended the first day of the summit that was held in Kuwait. On recent corruption scandals, he said: “The state should carry out its duties.”
Majority of terror arrests made:
Lebanon Army chief
March 27, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Eighty-five percent of terrorism-related arrests have been made, said Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi in remarks published Thursday. The Lebanese Army “was able to break Israeli spy networks and terrorist cells, arresting more than 85 percent of those involved in the bombings that targeted the Army and Lebanese security forces,” Kahwagi said. He said the military has identified the remaining suspects, their objectives and funders as well as their whereabouts, adding that the Army was monitoring their movements prior to their arrest. Kahwagi’s remarks were made during the book signing for Haitham Zeaiter’s “the Mossad earthquake ... spies in justice’s grip.”"Lebanon is passing through a critical phase of its history in light of the security and stability threats facing it where the Army [serves] as the safety valve,” Kahwagi said during the ceremony held at UNESCO Palace in Beirut late Wednesday. He vowed that the military would not give up its right to enforce stability and prevent self-security. Kahwagi said the Army has taken a “bold decision” to prevent sectarian strife in Lebanon. “We won’t tolerate chaos,” he stressed. Kahwagi said the Lebanese Army was being targeted by Israel through spy networks and terror cells. “But this will not deter us from continuing to dismantle the network and arrest those cells,” he pledged. “The Army is fully ready to repel any Israeli aggression."
Mustaqbal Bloc Calls on State to End Security Chaos
Naharnet Newsdesk 27 March 2014/ Al-Mustaqbal parliamentary called on Thursday to end the security chaos across the country by the implementation of a comprehensive plan, in particular in the northern city of Tripoli and along the border with Syria. “Tension in the towns of Arsal, Akkar and Tripoli shouldn’t be left for lawlessness,” MP Ziad al-Qadri said after the lawmakers' weekly meeting at the Center House. The bloc pointed out that the residents of Tripoli should be allowed to enjoy security and development. “Illegal arms (in Tripoli) should be removed and impunity should end,” al-Mustaqbal officials stressed. The bloc also condemned the clashes that erupted in the Beirut neighborhood of Tariq al-Jadideh, considering that “outlaws and the resistance brigades are responsible for the incitement.”One person was killed and at least ten were wounded on Saturday at dawn in clashes that erupted at dawn between Salafists and supporters of Arab Movement Party leader Shaker al-Berjawi near the Sports City center in Beirut. Concerning the situation along the Lebanese-Syrian border, the bloc denounced disregards by the Foreign Ministry on the violations committed by the Syrian regime to the Lebanese sovereignty. “The cabinet is demanded to prepare an advanced security plan to deploy the army along the eastern and northern border with Syria, in cooperation with the UNIFIL,” the officials noted. Lebanon has been the scene of security incidents since the war in Syria erupted three years ago, in particular, in the northern city of Tripoli and along the Lebanese-Syrian border. On the presidential elections, the bloc called on the rival political parties to facilitate the matter “that will move Lebanon to a new stage.”“We are waiting for a new president and cabinet that would adopt the dissociation policy and safeguard the country from the Syrian repercussions.” The bloc reiterated calls on Hizbullah to withdraw its fighters from the neighboring country Syria to “save the lives of the Lebanese youth.” Hizbullah argues that its military intervention in Syria is necessary to fend off the threat of Qaida-linked groups seeking to infiltrate Lebanon and to prevent the fall of Syria in the hands of “Israel and the U.S.” The party's rivals in Lebanon have strongly rejected the presence of its fighters in Syria, saying that contradicts with the Baabda Declaration, which Hizbullah had endorsed and which calls for neutralizing Lebanon from regional conflicts.
Report: Turkey and Israel to reopen
By JPOST.COM STAFF, HERB KEINON/03/27/2014/The Israeli and Turkish embassies in both nations will reopen, according to a report in the Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman on Thursday.
The report followed a meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's personal representative on energy and security issues, David Meidan, and Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief, Hakan Fidan, in Ankara earlier this week, during which the move to normalize relations was allegedly discussed. A possible visit by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Israel was also allegedly discussed.
The Prime Minister's Office denied Thursday's reports of normalization. Turkish media attention on Israeli-Turkish relations was heightened in the run-up to critical municipal elections, to take place this coming Sunday. However, Jerusalem assessed that a win by Erdogan's AK party in the key city of Istanbul would strengthen his position and lead him to toughen his position toward Israel.
Erdogan and Netanyahu agreed to normalize relations after a three-year deadlock in March 2013, after Netanyahu – at the behest of US President Barack Obama – called Erdogan and apologized for operational errors that may have led to the loss of life on the ship. The expected normalization, however, never materialized. Diplomats from the two countries met at least four times over the past year working on an agreement that would enable a restoration of full ties. Turkey withdrew its ambassador immediately after the incident, and expelled Israel’s envoy in 2011.
Storms Ground MH370 Air Search after New Debris Sighting
Naharnet Newsdesk 27 March 2014/Thunderstorms and gale-force winds grounded the international air search for wreckage from Flight MH370 on Thursday, frustrating the effort yet again as Thailand reported a satellite sighting of hundreds of floating objects. The Thai report was the second in two days suggesting a possible debris field in the stormy southern Indian Ocean from the crashed jet. But an international air and sea search has frustratingly failed so far to secure wreckage confirmed to have come from the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, which went missing on March 8 with 239 people on board. Planes and ships have faced fierce winds and sometimes mountainous seas as they hunt for hard evidence that the plane crashed, as Malaysia has concluded. On Tuesday the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) called off both the air and sea search.
The agency on Thursday cancelled the air search because of worsening weather after it had got under way, but said ships would stay and try to continue. "Bad weather expected for next 24 hours," it tweeted.
Thailand's Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency said it had satellite images taken on Monday of 300 objects, ranging from two to 15 metres (6.5 to 50 feet) in size.
It said they were scattered over an area about 2,700 kilometres (1,680 miles) southwest of Perth, but could not confirm they are plane debris.
The agency said the objects were spotted about 200 kilometres away from an area where French satellite images earlier showed objects.
Malaysia had said late Wednesday that those images taken Sunday showed 122 floating objects.
The Boeing 777 is presumed to have crashed on March 8 in the Indian Ocean after mysteriously diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing path and apparently flying for hours in the opposite direction.
Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately redirected by someone on board, but nothing else is known.
AMSA had said earlier the French satellite images were in an area authorities have pinpointed as a potential crash zone some 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth.
Six military planes from Australia, China, Japan and the United States had been set to fly sorties throughout Thursday, along with five civil aircraft, scouring two areas covering a cumulative 78,000 square kilometres.
Five ships from Australia and China also were set to resume searching the zone.
- Clock ticks on black box -
The search suspensions caused mounting concern as the clock ticks on the signal emitted by the plane's "black box" of flight data.
The data is considered vital to unravelling the flight's mystery but the signal, aimed at guiding searchers to the device on the seabed where it hopefully can be recovered, will expire in under two weeks.
The drama is playing out in a wild expanse of ocean described by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott as "about as close to nowhere as it's possible to be".
The French images provided by European aerospace giant Airbus depicted some objects as long as 23 metres (75 feet), Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.
Seeking closure, anguished families of those aboard are desperately awaiting hard evidence, which the aviation industry hopes can also provide clues to what caused one of aviation's greatest mysteries.
US law firm Ribbeck Law Chartered International fired the first salvo Wednesday in an expected barrage of lawsuits on behalf of grieving families. The firm is targeting Malaysia Airlines and Boeing.
"We are going to be filing the lawsuits for millions of dollars per each passenger based on prior cases that we have done involving crashes like this one," the firm's head of aviation litigation, Monica Kelly, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
ent by the firm, which filed an initial court petition in the US state of Illinois on Tuesday, said the two companies "are responsible for the disaster of Flight MH370". Malaysia Airlines has declined detailed comment.
Malaysia's government said this week that satellite data indicated the plane plunged into the sea, possibly after running out of fuel.
- 'Appalling' handling -
MH370 relatives have endured more than a fortnight of agonising uncertainty.
Two-thirds of the passengers were from China, and relatives there have criticised Malaysia in acid terms, accusing the government and airline of a cover-up and botching the response. The sister of New Zealand victim Paul Weeks lashed out Thursday. "The whole situation has been handled appallingly, incredibly insensitively," Sara Weeks told Radio Live in New Zealand.
"The Malaysian government, the airline, it's just all been incredibly poor." Scores of Chinese relatives protested outside Malaysia's embassy in Beijing on Tuesday, and a day later Premier Li Keqiang urged Malaysia to involve "more Chinese experts" in the investigation. While Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately diverted, other scenarios include a hijacking, pilot sabotage or a crisis that incapacitated the crew and left the plane to fly on auto-pilot until it ran out of fuel.Focus has also been on the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, with the FBI Wednesday saying it was close to completing an analysis of data from a flight simulator taken from his home. Malaysian authorities had sought FBI help to recover files deleted from the hard drive.So far, no information implicating the captain or anyone else has emerged. Source/Agence France Presse.
Sisi Resigns from Military Service, Announces Running for President
Naharnet Newsdesk 26 March 2014/Egypt's army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Wednesday he had he quit the military to run for president, in a widely anticipated move almost nine months after he toppled the elected leader. Sisi, who was also defense minister, faces no serious competition in the upcoming election, likely before June, and is expected to easily win the poll riding on a wave of popularity. He declared his candidacy in a televised address. His statement came after a meeting of top brass. Before the meeting, the army chief gathered his belongings at his office in the defense ministry, the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported on its website.
During the meeting, Mansour promoted army chief of staff Lieutenant General Sedki Sobhi, who is expected to replace Sisi as armed forces chief, to the rank of general, military officials said. Sisi is easily the country's most popular political figure after he overthrew the freely elected but divisive Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July. He is riding on wave of nationalist fervor and demands for a firm leader who can restore stability after more than three years of turmoil since the overthrow of veteran president Hosni Mubarak. But Morsi's supporters have not given up their campaign of protests against his ouster. At least one person was killed on Wednesday in clashes between pro-Morsi students and police, the health ministry said. In all, at least 1,400 people, mostly Morsi supporters, have been killed in violence since his overthrow.
Source/Agence France Presse
Kindly allow us to watch while you die
March 27, 2014/By Michael Young/The Daily Star
Three years into Syria’s conflict, one still wonders why the monumental magnitude of the suffering there continues to provoke so little outrage in the West. In the New York Times last week, Anne Barnard highlighted the limited aid provided to alleviate the Syrian tragedy. For example, some $20 million in private donations were given to Mercy Corps, an international aid group, after the Haiti earthquake, while only $2 million has been given for victims of the Syria war. Barnard wrote, “The disparities play into a rising frustration among international aid workers, and Syrians themselves, that the enormous human toll and strategic impact of the conflict have not mobilized a stronger and more urgent international response.” Accounts of human misfortune can become very powerful and move reluctant political leaders. In the 19th century, there was a movement in Britain to support the Greeks in their war against the Ottoman Empire, and later the Bulgarians in their war against the Ottomans. Indignation at the massacres of Christians in Mount Lebanon and Damascus in 1860 led France to send an army to the Levant in 1860-1861. Similar reactions allowed President Bill Clinton to deploy American forces, along with NATO, to end the Bosnian conflict in 1995 and to intervene in Kosovo in 1998-1999.
In all these cases, public attitudes in the West served to buttress military interventions to end atrocities – real or exaggerated. As Gary Bass has written in his excellent “Freedom’s Battle,” on the origins of humanitarian intervention: “Humanitarian intervention emerged as a fundamentally liberal enterprise, wrapped up with the progress of liberal ideas and institutions.” In other words, it emerged from the way Western societies perceived themselves and from the liberal ideology defining their sense of purpose.
That liberalism was certainly visible when the Arab uprisings broke out in Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011. The response in the West was broadly favorable, and Western governments came to reflect the mood of their publics. The Obama administration had no choice but to push its ally Hosni Mubarak out of office, or risk finding itself “on the wrong side of history” in Egypt, to borrow a sentence American officials seem to use indefatigably these days. Recall that in 2012, the White House used the same formulation when describing the backers of President Bashar Assad, including Russia. As the spokesman, Jay Carney, put it at the time: “I would simply say that it is our belief ... that supporting the Assad regime is placing oneself or one’s nation on the wrong side of history.”Perhaps, but those on the wrong side of history appear to be winning in Syria, while those on the right side stand by and do nothing. Meanwhile, Western publics look at the conflict, find it all very complicated, shrug their shoulders and avert their eyes.
Last week, Carla del Ponte, previously a prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and today a commissioner of the independent United Nations commission investigating human rights violations in Syria, made a surprising statement. At a news conference, she called for an international tribunal to judge those guilty of war crimes in Syria.
The statement was surprising because it went against the grain in the West. In the last two decades, several ad hoc tribunals have been set up under U.N. auspices – for the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the Rwandan genocide, the Sierra Leone conflict and the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister. But today, there is no international impetus to create a tribunal for Syria, despite the mass of evidence justifying one.
Part of the problem is that the justification of humanitarian intervention often needs to be simplistic: It requires a clear victim and villain. In Syria, many in the West see a brutal regime fighting what they believe to be extreme Islamists. As one-dimensional as that impression may be, it makes taking sides more difficult.
Less understandable is Western indifference when a crime is well recognized. Last year, for example, a New York Times/CBS News poll, conducted after chemical weapons were fired against civilians near Damascus, showed that 60 percent of respondents opposed retaliatory strikes by the United States. Such opposition was expressed despite the fact that 75 percent of the respondents said they thought Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons.
On the basis of the evidence then available, this represented an abandonment of any notion of international norms of behavior. To admit that mass murder occurred and then to add that it’s not our problem, is roughly the equivalent in international terms of failing to come to the assistance of someone in danger. It ridicules any expectation of a rules-based international order.
But there is a more controversial reading of Western attitudes toward Syria also making the rounds. It holds that there will always be less sympathy for Arab victims from Western publics. While the evidence is scant (after all, the Egyptian, Libyan and Tunisian uprisings captured the Western imagination), there may be truth in that Syrian victims often seem strange. Many are from rural areas, ill-educated and poor, so they appear profoundly alien to Westerners in search of a moral cause. This incomprehension can lead to unwanted outcomes. When global indifference is mixed with a sense of victimhood, it can make for an explosive cocktail. Those looking to strike against the West can draw on the ensuing resentment to justify their violence.But beyond that, such apathy says something about Western societies themselves. It tells us that the universal values they claim to embody and that characterize them are worthless in some contexts. Worse, it makes us pity the Syrians for having revolted at a moment when the West has been so self-absorbed.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.
Why 'Moderate Islam' is an Oxymoron
by Raymond Ibrahim/CBN News
March 24, 2014
At a time when terrorism committed in the name of Islam is rampant, we are continuously being assured—especially by three major institutions that play a dominant role in forming the Western mindset, namely, mainstream media, academia, and government—that the sort of Islam embraced by "radicals," "jihadis," and so forth, has nothing to do with "real" Islam.
"True" Islam, so the narrative goes, is intrinsically free of anything "bad." It's the nut-jobs who hijack it for their own agenda that are to blame.
More specifically, we are told that there exists a "moderate" Islam and an "extremist" Islam—the former good and true, embraced by a Muslim majority, the latter a perverse sacrilege practiced by an exploitative minority.
But what do these dual adjectives—"moderate" and "extremist"—ultimately mean in the context of Islam? Are they both equal and viable alternatives insofar as to how Islam is understood? Are they both theologically legitimate? This last question is particularly important, since Islam is first and foremost a religious way of life centered around the words of a deity (Allah) and his prophet (Muhammad)—the significance of which is admittedly unappreciated by secular societies.
Both terms—"moderate" and "extremist"—have to do with degree, or less mathematically,zeal: how much, or to what extent, a thing is practiced or implemented. As Webster's puts it, "moderate" means "observing reasonable limits"; "extremist" means "going to great or exaggerated lengths."
It's a question, then, of doing either too much or too little.
The problem, however, is that mainstream Islam offers a crystal-clear way of life, based on the teachings of the Koran and Hadith—the former, containing what purport to be the sacred words of Allah, the latter, the example (or sunna, hence "Sunnis") of his prophet, also known as the most "perfect man" (al-insan al-kamil). Indeed, based on these two primary sources and according to normative Islamic teaching, all human actions fall into five categories: forbidden actions, discouraged actions, neutral actions recommended actions, and obligatory actions.
In this context, how does a believer go about "moderating" what the deity and his spokesman have commanded? One can either try to observe Islam's commandments or one can ignore them: any more or less is not Islam—a word which means "submit" (to the laws, or sharia, of Allah).
The real question, then, is what do Allah and his prophet command Muslims ("they who submit") to do? Are radicals "exaggerating" their orders? Or are moderate Muslims simply "observing reasonable limits"—a euphemism for negligence?—when it comes to fulfilling their commandments?
In our highly secularized era, where we are told that religious truths are flexible or simply non-existent, and that any and all interpretations and exegeses are valid, the all-important question of "What does Islam command?" loses all relevance.
Hence why the modern West is incapable of understanding Islam.
Indeed, only recently, a Kenyan mosque leader said that the Westgate massacre, where Islamic gunmen slaughtered some 67 people, "was justified. As per the Koran, as per the religion of Islam, Westgate was 100 percent justified." Then he said: "Radical Islam is a creation of people who do not believe in Islam. We don't have radical Islam, we don't have moderates, we don't have extremists. Islam is one religion following the Koran and the Sunna" [emphasis added].
Note his point that "Radical Islam is a creation of people who do not believe in Islam," a clear reference to the West which coined the phrase "radical Islam." Ironically, the secular West, which relegates religious truths to the realm of "personal experience," feels qualified to decide what is and is not "radical" about Islam.
Consider one example: Allah commands Muslims to "Fight those among the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, nor forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, nor embrace the religion of truth [i.e., Islam], until they pay the jizya [tribute] with willing submission and feel themselves subdued" [Koran 9:29].
How can one interpret this verse to mean anything other than what it plainly says? Wherein lies the ambiguity, the room for interpretation? Of course there are other teachings and allusions in the Koran that by necessity lend themselves over to the fine arts of interpretation, or ijtihad. But surely the commands of Koran 9:29 are completely straightforward?
In fact, Muhammad's 7th century followers literally acted on this and similar verses (e.g., 9:5), launching the first Muslim conquests, which saw the subjugation of millions of Christians, Jews, and others, and the creation of the "Muslim world." Such jihadi expansion continued until Islam was beaten on the battlefield by a resurgent West some two or three centuries ago.
Western scholarly works, before the age of relativism and political correctness set in, did not equivocate the meaning of jihad. Thus the authoritative Encyclopaedia of Islam's entry for "jihad" states that the "spread of Islam by arms is a religious duty upon Muslims in general … Jihad must continue to be done until the whole world is under the rule of Islam … Islam must completely be made over before the doctrine of jihad [warfare to spread Islam] can be eliminated. Islamic law expert and U.S. professor Majid Khadduri (1909-2007), after defining jihad as warfare, wrote that "jihad … is regarded by all jurists, with almost no exception, as a collective obligation of the whole Muslim community."
(As for the argument that the Bible contains similar war verses, yet Jews and Christians are not out to conquer the world—so why say Muslims are?—see "Are Judaism and Christianity as Violent as Islam" for a detailed breakdown of the similarities and differences. Also see "Islamic Jihad and the Doctrine of Abrogation" to understand how the Koran's more tolerant verses have been abrogated by its more militant ones, such as 9:29.)
In short, how can a sincere Muslim—by definition, one who has submitted to the teachings of Allah—"moderate" verses like 9:29? How can he "observe reasonable limits" vis-à-vis these plain commands to combat and subjugate non-Muslims?
Must Muslims not, at the very least, admit that such teachings are true and should be striven for—even if they do not personally engage in the jihad, at least not directly (but they are encouraged to support it indirectly, including monetarily or through propaganda)?
Just recently, reports appeared telling of how Islamic groups in Syria were following Koran 9:29 to a tee—forcing Christian minorities to pay them jizya, i.e., extortion money, in exchange for their lives. In fact, all around the Islamic world, Christians and other minorities are regularly plundered by Muslims who justify their actions by referring to the aforementioned verse.
Are all such Muslims being "extreme" in light of the commands of Koran 9:29—which specifically calls for the taking of money from Christians and Jews—or are they simply upholding the unambiguous teachings of Islam?
One may argue that, if Muslims are to take Koran 9:29 literally, why are Muslim nations the world over not declaring an all-out jihad on all non-Muslim nations, including America? The ultimate reason, of course, is that they simply can't; they do not have the capability to uphold that verse (and Islamic teaching allows Muslims to postpone their obligations until circumstances are more opportune).
It would obviously be silly, if not suicidal, for, say, Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam, to issue a statement to the West saying either accept Islam, pay jizya/tribute, or die by the sword. But just because Muslim nations do not currently have the capacity to actualize Koran 9:29, does not mean that they do not acknowledge its veracity and try to actualize it in other places when they can.
A quick survey of history before the meteoric rise of Western military might put Islam in check makes this especially clear.
Bottom line: If Islam teaches X and a Muslim upholds X—how is he being "extreme"? Seems more logical to say that it is Islam itself that is being "extreme." Similarly, if a self-professed Muslim does not uphold Islamic teachings—including prayer, fasting, paying zakat, etc.—how is he being a "moderate"? Seems more logical to say that he is not much of a Muslim at all—that is, he is not submitting to Allah, the very definition of "Muslim."
It's time to acknowledge that dichotomized notions like "moderate" and "extreme" are culturally induced and loaded standards of the modern, secular West—hardly applicable to the teachings of Islam—and not universal absolutes recognized by all mankind.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians (Regnery, April, 2013) is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Syrian Army, Hezbollah advance on
Flita, bomb rebels in Latakia
March 27, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: The Syrian Army and Hezbollah are advancing on the village of Flita near the Lebanon border, where rebels had fled following the fall of the Syrian city of Yabroud, Hezbollah sources and an activist group told The Daily Star. “There was heavy fighting yesterday evening and last night, as the regime tried to take the town, but that has now stopped,” Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said. The regime is continuing to shell the city, he said. A leader of the Military Council of Qalamoun, a rebel group, was killed in clashes, and around eight others, including one of his assistants, were killed in a barrel bomb attack, Abdul-Rahman added. Earlier this month, the Syrian Army and Hezbollah took Yabroud after months of battles for the strategically-located city, as it acted as a conduit for rebel supplies from Lebanon.
Syrian planes bombed rebel positions in the coastal province of Latakia, where opposition fighters have been making gains while battling government troops for six straight days, the Observatory said.
The area is the heartland of President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The Observatory said government aircraft Thursday dropped several barrel bombs on a hilltop area known as Observatory 45. The Local Coordination Committees, a Syria-based opposition group that also documents the conflict, reported two government airstrikes on the strategic post. Following the start of their push in Latakia on Friday, rebels from several Islamic groups, including an Al-Qaeda-affiliate, seized a border crossing with Turkey. This week they also gained a tiny outlet to the sea, the first time in the conflict.
'Saudi King Decrees Half Brother
Moqren to be Future Monarch
Naharnet/Saudi Arabia's 90-year-old King Abdullah on Thursday appointed his half-brother Moqren, 69, as the next heir to the throne of the world's largest exporter of crude oil.` The decision, announced in a royal decree, comes as a source close to the circle of power told Agence France Presse that current Crown Prince Salman, 79, was sick and "may decide not to claim the throne" because of his ill health. The decree did not mention Prince Salman, who is also defense minister of the strategic Gulf state. Under the rules of succession in Saudi Arabia, power passes from brother to brother under the right of primogeniture among the sons of Abdul Aziz bin Saud, the kingdom's founder. The king made public his decision on the eve of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, who is expected in Riyadh late on Friday afternoon. Under Thursday's decree, Prince Moqren, currently second deputy prime minister, is named the next crown prince. Prince Moqren will be proclaimed sovereign "if the posts of crown prince and king become vacant," according to the decision taken by "more than three-quarters" of the 34-member Board of Succession, the princes of the royal family. The decision is irrevocable, the decree said, stipulating that "nobody can change this decision" which takes effect from Thursday. "King Abdullah wants to assure a smooth succession by this internal reorganization of power" within the family, another source told AFP, adding that the decision had been "taken in agreement with Crown Prince Salman". "It was passed by 27 of the 34 members. Others had reservations or abstained in the vote," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity and without elaborating. The Board of Succession is supposed to designate the future heir. But a source close to royal circles in Riyadh told AFP King Abdullah had met the board and asked it to approve his decision to appoint Moqren crown prince "in case of the accession to the throne of Crown Prince Salman, or his absence." The same source said the king also informed the board of his intention to appoint his son Mitab as second deputy premier. In addition to that post, Moqren also headed the kingdom's intelligence services until July 2012. "About two-thirds of the board members approved" the appointment of Mitab, according to the same source.
He added that Prince Salman asked that support be given to his son, Prince Mohammed, to be appointed to the defense portfolio. King Abdullah established the board in 2006 to institutionalize the process of transition, which would normally exercise its prerogatives after the monarch's death. Analysts believe that the ageing Al-Saud dynasty should consider moving to the next generation within the ruling family for the succession. But they also say that doing so could run the risk of igniting rivalries among the sons of dead kings or those of the present sovereign. SourceAgence France Presse
Western Ignorance of the 'Conditions of Omar'
by Raymond Ibrahim/PJ Media
March 22, 2014
A jihadi group occupying the Syrian town of Raqqa recently gave Christian minorities living there three choices: 1) convert to Islam, 2) remain Christian but pay tribute and accept third-class subject status, or 3) die by the sword. According to the BBC, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria issued a directive
citing the Islamic concept of "dhimma", [which] requires Christians in the city to pay tax of around half an ounce (14g) of pure gold in exchange for their safety. It says Christians must not make renovations to churches, display crosses or other religious symbols outside churches, ring church bells or pray in public. Christians must not carry arms, and must follow other rules imposed by ISIS (also known as ISIL) on their daily lives. The statement said the group had met Christian representatives and offered them three choices—they could convert to Islam, accept ISIS' conditions, or reject their control and risk being killed. "If they reject, they are subject to being legitimate targets, and nothing will remain between them and ISIS other than the sword," the statement said.
Because several Western media outlets uncharacteristically reported on this latest atrocity against Syrian Christians, many Westerners are shocked—amazed to hear of such draconian conditions.
In reality, however, these three choices are fully grounded in Islamic teachings, as shall be demonstrated below.
So why is the West, here in the "information age," utterly if not abhorrently ignorant of the teachings of Islam? Because those responsible for making such knowledge available—specifically academia, media, and government—are more interested in whitewashing Islam and bemoaning Islamophobia (see pgs. 219-249 of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians for specifics).
Most symbolic of all this is that right around the same time news that jihadis were subjugating and extorting jizya-money from Syrian Christians appeared, the Saudi-funded Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding at Georgetown University, Washington D.C., held a seminar discussing how Islam is misunderstood and being demonized by so-called "Islamophobes."
I have direct experience of this. Many years ago, as a graduate student at Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, my interest in medieval Islamic history, Sharia, and jihad received askance looks from professors—not least because most classes offered were about the evils of colonialism and Orientalism, or Islamic "feminism."
It was the same when I worked at the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress, a governmental institution; there, our conferences regularly focused on the purported achievements of Islamic civilization.
As for the endemic Muslim persecution of Christians—past or present—apparently only an "Islamophobe" would raise that topic up.
Speaking of government, also around the same time jihadis were giving Christians the three classic choices of Islam—conversion, subjugation, or death—a delegation of Syrian Christian clergy came to the Senate Arms Services Committee meeting room to offer testimony concerning the sufferings of Syria's Christians. Then,
Sen. John McCain marched into the committee room yelling, according to a high-level source that attended the meeting, and quickly stormed out. "He was incredibly rude," the source told Judicial Watch "because he didn't think the Syrian church leaders should even be allowed in the room." Following the shameful tantrum McCain reentered the room and sat briefly but refused to make eye contact with the participants, instead ignoring them by looking down at what appeared to be random papers. The outburst was so embarrassing that Senator Graham, also an advocate of U.S. military intervention in Syria, apologized for McCain's disturbing outburst. "Graham actually apologized to the group for McCain's behavior," according to the source, who sat through the entire meeting. "It was truly unbelievable."
Less dramatically but equally revealing, CIA chief John Brennan recently declared that the ideology of those offering Christians three choices is "a perverse and very corrupt interpretation of the Koran," one that has "hijacked" Islam and "really distorted the teachings of Muhammad."
And if the attempts to suppress the reality of Christian suffering under Islam by academia, media, and government were not enough, months and years back, when the plight of Syria's Christians was becoming known, even random (but supposedly nonbiased and independent) think tanks and writers also tried to suppress it.
Is it any wonder, then, that Christians in Syria being offered three choices—Islam, subjugation, or death—is mindboggling to the average person in the West, appearing as a wild aberration?
The Conditions of Omar
Yet knowledge of the particulars of Islam's three-fold choice has been available for centuries; early Western peoples were much acquainted with it, including the now much maligned "Orientalists."
Whereas Koran 9:29 provides divine sanction to fight the "People of the Book" (namely, Christians and Jews) "until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued," the lesser known Conditions of Omar (also known as the Pact of Omar) lays out in detail how they are to feel themselves subdued.
Named after the second caliph, Omar bin al-Khattab (r. 634 to 644), the Conditions was purportedly agreed upon between the caliph and a community of Christians conquered by invading Muslims, ironically in the region of Syria. It has since been referenced in most major works on the treatment of dhimmis—non-Muslims living under Islamic authority.
There are different versions of the text of the Conditions, varying only slightly. Excerpts from one of the most authoritative versions follow (see Crucified Again for my complete translation). As in most versions, the conquered Christians appear to be speaking and agree:
Not to build a church in our city—nor a monastery, convent, or monk's cell in the surrounding areas—and not to repair those that fall in ruins or are in Muslim quarters;
Not to clang our cymbals except lightly and from the innermost recesses of our churches;
Not to display a cross on them [churches], nor raise our voices during prayer or readings in our churches anywhere near Muslims;
Not to produce a cross or [Christian] book in the markets of the Muslims;
Not to congregate in the open for Easter or Palm Sunday, nor lift our voices [in lamentation] for our dead nor show our firelights with them near the market places of the Muslims;
Not to display any signs of polytheism, nor make our religion appealing, nor call or proselytize anyone to it;
Not to prevent any of our relatives who wish to enter into Islam;
Not to possess or bear any arms whatsoever, nor gird ourselves with swords;
To honor the Muslims, show them the way, and rise up from our seats if they wish to sit down;
We guarantee all this to you upon ourselves, our descendants, our spouses, and our neighbors, and if we change or contradict these conditions imposed upon ourselves in order to receive safety, we forfeit our dhimma [covenant], and we become liable to the same treatment you inflict upon the people who resist and cause sedition.
To "become liable to the same treatment you inflict upon the people who resist and cause sedition" simply meant that, if any stipulation of the Conditions was broken, the Christians would resume their natural status as non-submitting infidels who "resist and cause sedition" against Islam—becoming, once again, free game for killing or enslavement.
Far from being merely a historical or theoretical text, the Conditions are very much on the minds of some Muslims. Aside from the new reports that jihadis are enforcing theConditions—and to a tee—on the Christians of Raqqa, Syria, consider the following words of Saudi Sheikh Marzouk Salem al-Ghamdi, spoken once during a Friday mosque sermon:
If the infidels live among the Muslims, in accordance with the conditions set out by the Prophet—there is nothing wrong with it provided they pay Jizya to the Islamic treasury. Other conditions are . . . that they do not renovate a church or a monastery, do not rebuild ones that were destroyed, that they feed for three days any Muslim who passes by their homes . . . that they rise when a Muslim wishes to sit, that they do not imitate Muslims in dress and speech, nor ride horses, nor own swords, nor arm themselves with any kind of weapon; that they do not sell wine, do not show the cross, do not ring church bells, do not raise their voices during prayer, that they shave their hair in front so as to make them easily identifiable, do not incite anyone against the Muslims, and do not strike a Muslim. . . . If they violate these conditions, they have no protection.
From here, one can understand why all around the Islamic world Christians are under attack—their churches bombed, burned, or simply denied permits to exist or renovate, and their Bibles, crosses, and other symbols of "polytheism" confiscated and/or destroyed; why Christians who openly speak of Christianity are accused of proselytizing or blaspheming—both which can lead to execution; and why Christians are being forced to pay tribute or else convert to Islam or die.
Just the other day in Pakistan, Christians "began the construction of a church on land donated by the Christian Akber Masih, a resident in the area. They built the walls of the building and placed a cross in front of the main gate of the small construction yard." But "when a large group of Islamic extremists saw the Christian symbol they arrived unexpectedly with bulldozers and started demolishing the building." Although the Christians notified police and authorities, "the perpetrators were not arrested." As for the aggrieved Christians, they "have received threats and have to abandon the idea of the project to build a church."
Thanks to Western intervention in the colonial era, the Conditions largely disappeared—not least because Muslim leaders and elites were themselves westernizing. But today, as Muslims turn back to their Islamic heritage and its teachings—not least because Western leaders and elites are urging them to, in the name of multiculturalism if not moral relativism, the Conditionsare returning; and woe to the Christian minority who dares break them by exercising religious freedom—what I call the "How Dare You?!" phenomenon, which is responsible for the overwhelming majority of Islamic attacks on non-Muslims.
Even so, thanks to the "progressive" dissembling of academia, media, and government—the supposed guardians and disseminators of truth and knowledge—such simple facts about Islam remain a great mystery in the West, to our own detriment.
**Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians (Regnery, April, 2013) is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Riyadh Briefing: President Obama's
Visit to Saudi Arabia
By: Simon Henderson/Washington Institute
March 26, 2014
The summit is a crucial opportunity for the two allies to repair relations, but major differences will likely persist.
What's on the agenda?
Whatever both sides say officially, the real answer is "Iran, Iran, and Iran," for several reasons: because of its nuclear program and what King Abdullah sees as President Obama's flawed diplomacy; because of its backing for Bashar al-Assad in Syria; and because, in Saudi eyes, Washington grossly underestimates the threat Tehran represents not only to the kingdom's own oil-rich Eastern Province and neighboring Bahrain, but also to the rest of the Middle East. Meanwhile, any prospect of Saudi assistance on a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations has been made unlikely by Riyadh's refusal to allow the Washington bureau chief of the Jerusalem Post, a U.S. citizen, to accompany the president.
How's the meeting likely to go?
Diplomatic insiders say that this sort of meeting usually starts with a rather tense half hour as everyone expresses their frustrations. Then both sides get down to the business of deciding how to move forward. At ninety-one years old, King Abdullah probably only has enough stamina for a meeting lasting an hour or so, two hours maximum. He has difficulty standing up and tires easily. It could be a diplomatic disaster: a two-hour meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in October, after the breakthrough in nuclear diplomacy with Iran, apparently did not get beyond the shouting stage.
What's on King Abdullah's mind?
The Saudi monarch sees the United States as his kingdom's ultimate security guarantor. But ever since Washington withdrew support for President Mubarak of Egypt in 2011, Abdullah and other Gulf leaders have worried about the reliability of Washington's posture toward even longstanding allies. President Obama's U-turn on military action against Syria over its use of chemical weapons last summer only added to the concern, which has likely morphed into exasperation after recent events in Crimea, where the Saudis judge that President Obama was outmaneuvered by Vladimir Putin.
Who else will be in the meeting?
On the Saudi side, the two leaders will probably be joined by Crown Prince Salman, the king's seventy-eight-year-old half-brother and heir apparent; Prince Mitab bin Abdullah, the king's senior-ranking (though not eldest) son, who is also minister of the national guard; Prince Saud al-Faisal, the king's nephew and long-serving foreign minister; Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the king's nephew and interior minister who recently became the point man on Syria; and Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the United States and the king's most-trusted English translator.
What are they likely to agree on?
It is not obvious. King Abdullah wants Bashar out of Syria as soon as possible, largely to deliver a strategic setback to Tehran. This is apparently a shorter timeframe than President Obama has in mind. On Iran, the king is worried about the regime's existing nuclear capabilities, while President Obama's redline is a nuclear weapon. The king judges that Iran's nuclear progress already makes it a quasi-nuclear weapon state, and that U.S. diplomacy is giving Tehran the status of hegemonic power in the Gulf. He might even tell President Obama that the kingdom now needs to match Iran's nuclear status, perhaps by going to Pakistan for assistance. Egypt will be another source of disagreement. The kingdom's support for Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and the military appears total -- Riyadh has just declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization and is financing the purchase of Russian weapons for the Egyptian military.
That was perhaps the biggest question mark until a report today that he is in Morocco recovering from shoulder surgery and is due back in the kingdom next week. The ex-ambassador to Washington and now head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Bandar bin Sultan was apparently sidelined in terms of handling support for the Syrian opposition. He was replaced, but perhaps only temporarily, by Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, who rose to prominence while running the Saudi deradicalization program in the years after the September 11 attacks. Whatever the full story, recent Saudi decisions suggest a policy debate on Syria -- it is now against the law for Saudi citizens to fight in Syria or support the armed rebels materially or financially. Riyadh has also declared two jihadist groups in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), to be terrorist organizations. At the very least, the kingdom seems to be acknowledging concerns that Saudi jihadists in Syria represent a danger to the kingdom if and when they return home.
Will President Obama have other meetings?
When President Francois Hollande of France visited Riyadh in December, he had a private luncheon with the king's son, Mitab. President Obama might also have a separate meeting with Crown Prince Salman, who could be the next king. Concern about Salman's health has not been allayed by his hectic travel schedule. After returning from recent state visits to Pakistan, Japan, India, the Maldives, and China, he chaired the weekly cabinet meeting the next day. And this week he went to Kuwait to attend the Arab Summit.
Another meeting had been proposed with the other leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman), who would have joined the Obama/Abdullah summit in a display of unity as well as support for U.S. policy. But two recent developments killed that idea: on March 5, Riyadh, Bahrain, and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar to protest Doha's interference in their internal affairs, and on March 15, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani visited Oman.
**Simon Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute.
Egypt's New Military Brass
By: Gilad Wenig/Washington Institute
March 26, 2014
A closer look at how the supreme military council will operate now that Field Marshal Sisi has thrown his hat into the presidential ring, including a chart illustrating the SCAF's likely new membership.
Today, following months of speculation, Field Marshal Abdul Fatah al-Sisi announced his resignation as Egypt's defense minister and his candidacy for president. Sedki Sobhi, former chief of staff under Sisi, has been promoted to colonel general -- one rank below field marshal -- and nominated as the new defense minister, while Abdel Moneim al-Terras, former commander of the Air Defense Force, is expected to become the new army chief of staff. The resultant restructuring of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will likely put some of Sisi's closest allies in key positions and should provide him with a strong base of military support and influence once he wins the presidency as expected (click on the image below for a chart illustrating this projected restructuring).
The SCAF, Egypt's highest military body, was created by President Gamal Abdul Nasser under Law No. 4 of 1968 following the country's defeat in the 1967 war. Its official purpose was to coordinate the strategy and operations of the armed forces during wartime, which is why President Anwar Sadat later sought counsel from it prior to the 1973 war.
Yet the body took on a more ceremonial role following the Camp David Accords of 1978 and the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979. In contrast to the National Defense Council, the SCAF's status was not enshrined in the constitution, and it seemed to convene only on anniversaries of past wars during the Hosni Mubarak era. Following the January 2011 uprising that ousted Mubarak, however, the SCAF's role fundamentally changed.
On February 13, 2011, two days after Mubarak's fall, the SCAF issued its first constitutional declaration and officially assumed control of the state for six months. It also disbanded the 1971 constitution, called for constitutional amendments, a referendum, and elections, and announced the formation of a constitutional amendment committee. After a mid-March referendum on proposed amendments passed overwhelmingly, the council released a constitutional declaration that codified its legislative and executive powers and established a legal basis for its enhanced political role.
During the next thirteen months, mounting violence and repression undercut popular support for military rule. Following multiple delays and a series of mass protests, the SCAF agreed to hold parliamentary and presidential elections, with the Muslim Brotherhood emerging victorious from both. Days before it handed power to new president Muhammad Morsi, however, the council issued another constitutional declaration on June 18, giving itself legislative authority, virtual autonomy from the government, and veto power over the new constitution. By wresting power from the presidency before Morsi even took office, the SCAF and its chief -- perennial defense minister Muhammad Hussein Tantawi -- legally became the country's most powerful entities despite publicly receding from politics on June 24.
months later, after a deadly attack in Sinai on August 5, Morsi unexpectedly abrogated the June 18 declaration and assumed full executive and legislative power for himself. Seizing on popular discontent toward the military, he also removed Tantawi and army chief of staff Sami Anan, appointing Sisi -- the director of military intelligence and a protege of Tantawi -- as defense minister. Meanwhile, the top ranks of the military were purged, with approximately seventy generals forced into retirement and a younger generation of military leaders taking their place.
While Morsi's move established unprecedented civilian control over Egyptian politics, the military retained substantial autonomy over its own affairs. The December 2012 constitution, which a Brotherhood-dominated assembly rushed to completion, preserved the military's vast economic interests, empowered it to try civilians before military courts, and ensured that future defense ministers would be appointed from within the officer corps. The power of the generals further expanded in January 2013, when Morsi responded to protests by declaring a state of emergency in the three major Suez Canal cities, prompting the military to assume administrative control of Suez, Port Said, and Ismailia.
Over the next few months, as Morsi and the Brotherhood's popularity declined, reports began to circulate that the president was thinking about replacing Sisi to stave off a coup. Though unconfirmed, these rumors suggested that the military remained Egypt's kingmaker despite Morsi's electoral victory and political maneuvering. Following mass antigovernment protests that coalesced on June 30, the military issued an ultimatum demanding that Morsi respond to popular calls for new elections or a referendum on his presidency. When he refused, the military removed him from power on July 3.
THE SCAF POST-MORSI
Since then, Sisi and the SCAF have embraced a more public profile. While power technically resides with the civilian government that was appointed immediately following Morsi's ouster, the military remains the most pivotal player. This dynamic was clearly on display during the constitution-drafting process in late 2013. Although the army had an official representative on the drafting committee, Mohamed Magd El Din Barakat, and assistant defense ministers Mohamed al-Assar and Mamdouh Shahin participated in debates related to the armed forces, Sisi himself reportedly intervened to help broker a compromise when a deadlock occurred over articles relevant to the military's authority.
In addition, Sisi has repeatedly addressed the public regarding his political aspirations, especially since January. He has also spoken out on national development, the economy, and Egypt's security challenges. His resignation and decision to contest the presidency represent the military's ever deeper entrenchment in politics.
Today's announcements also come on the heels of two revealing developments. On February 24, interim president Adly Mansour issued Laws 18 and 20, which amended parts of Law No. 4 of 1968. The first new law stipulated that the defense minister must hold the rank of major general for at least five years and must occupy a central role within the armed forces prior to being appointed. It was released nearly a month after Sisi was promoted to the rank of field marshal and received SCAF approval to run for president, and mere weeks before he resigned. In retrospect, the government was seemingly anticipating Sisi's resignation and laying the legal groundwork for the SCAF to function under Sobhi, his nominated successor.
According to Law No. 20, which formalized the new SCAF's structure and mission, the council is to consist of twenty-five members, including the defense minister and chief of staff. The president and defense minister -- who will remain in office for two presidential terms -- can appoint members to the SCAF, and the defense minister will continue to chair the council unless the president attends a meeting. The secretary-general of the Defense Ministry -- currently Mohamed Farid Hegazy, a longtime military official -- now serves as the SCAF's secretary. More broadly, the law states that the SCAF will "set the goals and strategic tasks of the armed forces" in a way that helps achieve "the political interests…determined by the political leadership," in addition to overseeing all military- and defense-related matters.
Following the new laws, Sisi decided to reshuffle the SCAF on March 17, an unorthodox move given that such changes generally take place biannually in either January or July. He vacated three council seats by pushing Ibrahim Nasouhi and Mustafa al-Sharif into retirement and appointing Mohamed Arafat, commander of the Southern Military Zone, as head of the Inspection Authority. In other changes, Ahmed Wasfi, former commander of the Second Field Army, was named the new director of training; two former chiefs of staff now head the Second Field Army and the Southern Military Zone; and Khairat Barakat, former director of the Military Records Authority, is now director of officer affairs.
While these changes may seem operational in nature, they indicate a more strategic angle, particularly regarding the decision to give Wasfi a more central role. Some of Sisi's closest allies within the military establishment will hold key portfolios within the SCAF and the armed forces. Once he becomes president, he will be able to count on their support, compliance, and -- most important -- their sway.
THE NEW SCAF
In light of today's announcement and other information, twenty-five generals will likely hold seats on the SCAF (see chart). Based on Law No. 20, however, the defense minister may invite other experts to consult with the council or attend its meetings as he sees fit. So while the official SCAF membership may consist of these individuals, the law's flexibility leaves room for other officers -- active or retired -- to partake in the SCAF's deliberations, signaling the potential emergence of Egypt's newest men on horseback.
**Gilad Wenig is a research assistant in The Washington Institute's Program on Arab Politics.