2/16/2020

Young Bahraini man sentenced to jail over torching Israeli flag: Report

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/02/15/618722/Young-Bahraini-man-sentenced-to-jail-over-torching-Israeli-flag:-Report

Saturday, 15 February


A court in Bahrain has sentenced a young man to three years in jail on charges of torching the Israeli flag during a gathering in support of the Palestinians, amid increasing normalization of diplomatic ties between the Tel Aviv regime and Persian Gulf Arab countries.
Bahrain's Supreme Court of Appeal refused to hear the man's appeal, and issued the ruling after finding him guilty of “endangering the life and property of people, disturbing public security and disrupting traffic,” Arabic-language Bahrain Mirror news website reported.
The court ruled that the young man, whose identity was not immediately available, together with ten other people blocked the street at the entrance to the northern village of Abu Saiba on the night of May 30, 2019, poured petroleum on the lumber they had taken there and set fire to it in order to prevent Bahraini security forces from reaching them.
They then torched an Israeli flag in support of the Palestinian cause.
The development comes amid incraesing normalization between Israel and Persian Gulf Arab countries. 
The Britain-based and Arabic-language Bahrain al-Youm news agency, citing an unnamed diplomatic source, reported on October 24 last year that Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah had held a secret meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu in Hungary.
The report said the meeting was held last April, when the 70-year-old Bahraini monarch paid a visit to the Hungarian capital city of Budapest under the guise of holding talks with President Janos Ader and strengthening bilateral relations.
The source added that the meeting was held as a preparatory event for the so-called Peace to Prosperity workshop, which opened in Bahrain on June 25 and ran through the following day.
It apparently sought to advance the economic aspects of President Donald Trump’s controversial proposal for “peace” between the Israeli regime and the Palestinians, dubbed “the deal of the century.”
The Palestinian leadership boycotted the meeting, prompting critics to question the credibility of the event.
The secret meeting between the Bahraini ruler and Netanyahu was described as intimate, and took place while the Israeli prime minister was on holiday with his family. The holiday was cut short for a day. Netanyahu traveled to Budapest to meet King Hamad, and then returned the same day without any media coverage, the diplomat pointed out.
The source went on to say that the Bahraini king had expressed his great satisfaction with the meeting, stating that the relations with Israel must develop beyond diplomatic ties, and that he is looking forward to the formation of alliance in various political, security and military fields with the Tel Aviv regime against Iran.
During the meeting, King Hamad stressed that he represents Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their aspirations towards forging relations with Israel, and that the security of the Tel Aviv regime is the security of the Arab littoral states of the Persian Gulf.
Netanyahu, for his part, praised the Bahraini king and his initiatives to normalize relations with Israel. The Israeli prime minister also admired Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his outright aggressive policy towards Iran, the diplomat said.

2/10/2020

Il Bahrain firma 7 accordi dal valore di 330 milioni di Euro con le principali aziende italiane

https://bahrainedb.com/it/latest-news/il-bahrain-firma-7-accordi-dal-valore-di-330-milioni-di-euro-con-le-principali-aziende-italiane/?fbclid=IwAR33wT_CspIKY_Ksr0tLPooVvy6keUCqS1kgA8n8RiKfji5-5a_evEqiW7Q



Roma,  4 febbraio 2020 – Alcune tra le principali imprese private del Regno del Bahrain e della Repubblica Italiana hanno siglato oggi sette accordi per un valore complessivo di 330 milioni di Euro, a margine di una visita ufficiale in Italia guidata da Sua Altezza Reale il Principe Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Principe Ereditario, Vice Comandante Supremo e Primo Vice Primo Ministro.
Tra i principali accordi siglati vi sono quelli tra Alba e Fluorsid, Alba e FATA S.P.A., Alba e Techmo Car, Al Salam Bank e OMP Racing, GPIC e Saipem/Snamprogetti (gruppo ENI), Tatweer e ENI, e, infine, tra l’Economic Development Board e Leonardo. Importante per agevolare le relazioni tra le imprese dei due Paesi è stata la partnership tra l’Economic Development Board del Bahrain, l’agenzia che ha il compito di promuovere gli investimenti esteri nel Regno, e Confindustria Assafrica & Mediterraneo, l’associazione imprenditoriale che supporta le imprese italiane nei Paesi del Mediterraneo, Africa e Medio Oriente.
Gli accordi daranno ulteriore spinta alle forti relazioni economiche e industriali tra i due Paesi. Attualmente sono 61 le imprese italiane che operano in Bahrain, in particolare nel settore manifatturiero.
Sua Altezza Khalid Humaidan, Chief Executive dell’Economic Development Board del Bahrain, ha dichiarato: “La lunga storia degli scambi commerciali tra il Bahrain e l’Italia si è evoluta in una forte partnership, che sta permettendo ad entrambi i Paesi di prosperare. Le aziende del Regno del Bahrain e dell’Italia lavoreranno insieme per favorire i rispettivi ecosistemi, attrarre nuovi talenti e promuovere settori strategici che genereranno nuove aree di collaborazione. Questi nuovi accordi rafforzeranno ulteriormente lo storico rapporto che ci lega e ricopriranno un ruolo significativo nel guidare la crescita di entrambi i nostri ecosistemi.
Durante la visita ufficiale a Roma, la delegazione ha incontrato influenti imprenditori italiani e ha visitato l’acceleratore digitale LUISS EnLabs, l’Istituto Europeo di Ricerca Spaziale e il Centro Logistico Amazon.
Gli accordi siglati oggi rappresentano l’ultimo capitolo di una lunga e positiva storia di negoziati tra i due Paesi. Il Bahrain e l’Italia vantano forti relazioni commerciali in diversi settori fin dal 1973, e beneficiano di diversi accordi in diverse aree, compresa la protezione degli investimenti e l’esenzione reciproca delle tasse sul trasporto aereo e marittimo.

2/09/2020

Il principe ereditario del Bahrein in Italia: Paesi dai legami storici

https://sicurezzainternazionale.luiss.it/2020/02/03/principe-ereditario-del-bahrein-italia-paesi-dai-legami-storici/

Piera Laurenza, interprete di arabo


Il principe ereditario del Bahrein, Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, è giunto in Italia, nella sera del 2 febbraio, per una visita ufficiale che lo vedrà impegnato per due giorni. La stampa locale bahreinita parla di un incontro eccezionale, con cui aprire nuovi orizzonti nelle relazioni Roma-Manama.
Secondo quanto previsto, al-Khalifa incontrerà alti funzionari italiani, con il fine di discutere della cooperazione bilaterale tra Italia e Bahrein e dei loro legami futuri, oltre ad organizzare meeting con imprenditori, anche del mondo delle start-up, per esplorare aree di business ed investimento tra entrambi i Paesi. I quotidiani bahreiniti hanno definito la visita strategica, evidenziando come questa non miri semplicemente a sviluppare prospettive di cooperazione efficienti e costruttive, ma ha altresì l’obiettivo di presentare il Bahrein come modello di coesistenza, pluralismo e tolleranza. Tale aspetto verrà evidenziato anche attraverso visite con rappresentanti religiosi, in cui Manama cercherà di porsi come oasi di stabilità in una regione segnata da sfide e tensioni.
Secondo quanto riportato da Akhbar al-Khaleej, il fine ultimo della visita sarà instaurare un partenariato reale ed efficace, in grado di garantire vantaggi per entrambe le parti, oltre ad aprire nuove prospettive di cooperazione in ambito economico e finanziario. Secondo quanto riferito, i settori di maggiore attenzione sono petrolio, banche e industria. Ciò risulta essere di particolare rilevanza nel quadro di Vision 2030 del Bahrein, il piano sviluppato dal Paese nel 2008, il cui obiettivo è sviluppare l’economia e il benessere sociale del Regno.
Il quotidiano Al-Ayyam ha altresì parlato di tale visita in modo positivo, sottolineando che l’Italia non è semplicemente un grande Paese industriale, ma altresì una nazione con una lunga storia e una grande civiltà, di più di trentamila anni. Pertanto, è stato affermato, Roma ha un enorme potenziale da offrire al Bahrein e quest’ultimo, dal canto suo, rappresenta un importante centro finanziario e bancario a livello internazionale, oltre ad essere una porta di accesso verso la regione mediorientale e l’Asia orientale. Inoltre, è stato ribadito come l’Italia svolga un ruolo rilevante nel panorama sia europeo sia internazionale, oltre ad essere portatrice di stabilità e sicurezza. Per tale motivo, migliorare la partnership Roma-Manama potrà andare a vantaggio di entrambi i Paesi, consentendo di aprire sempre più porte anche agli uomini d’affari ed investitori.
Il quotidiano al-Watan racconta: “Quel giorno del 1971, il nobile italiano Vittorio Win speare Guicciardi, a capo della missione conoscitiva delle Nazioni Unite, arrivò in Bahrein”. Si trattava della Missione che avrebbe portato all’indipendenza del Regno. Quella data, secondo quanto racconta il quotidiano arabo, rimarrà sempre nel ricordo della popolazione bahreinita, e lo stesso vale per il nome del rappresentante italiano. Ciò evidenzia la dimensione storica dell’asse Roma-Manama. L’inizio dei rapporti commerciali risale, invece, al 1973 e da allora si sono rafforzati sempre di più. In particolare, negli ultimi otto anni, dal 2012, il volume del commercio non petrolifero tra i due paesi ha raggiunto 3.3 miliardi di dollari.
L’amministratore delegato dell’Economic Development Board, Khalid Humaidan, ha affermato che il Bahrein è stato il primo membro del Consiglio di Cooperazione del Golfo ad avviare sforzi volti a diversificare la propria economia. Attualmente le entrate non petrolifere rappresentano l’80% del Pil.
Il Bahrein, confinante con l’Arabia Saudita e situato di fronte all’Iran, è stato turbato da disordini interni sin dal febbraio 2011, quando i manifestanti hanno occupato la capitale di Manama, chiedendo più democrazia e la fine della discriminazione contro la maggioranza della comunità musulmana sciita, da parte della famiglia reale sunnita. In tale scenario, l’Arabia Saudita e altri Paesi della Penisola inviarono truppe a sostegno della monarchia. L’Iran, Paese a maggioranza sciita, chiese il ritiro delle truppe ma ciò che ottenne fu l’espulsione dell’incaricato d’affari iraniano a Manama, con l’accusa di aver avuto contatti con i gruppi d’opposizione.
Ancora oggi le tensioni nel Paese continuano e il Bahrein accusa l’Iran di essere coinvolto e di influire in tali turbolenze. Nel quadro delle recenti tensioni nel Golfo, invece, Manama, ha invitato Teheran a promuovere una tregua e a rispettare interessi, sovranità e indipendenza dei Paesi della regione del Golfo, oltre a preservare la pace e la sicurezza sia a livello regionale sia internazionale. Circa i rapporti con gli Stati Uniti, il Bahrein è sede del quartier generale della Quinta Flotta statunitense, oltre ad essere un alleato di Washington. Il presidente della Casa Bianca, Donald Trump, ha alleggerito le restrizioni sulle vendite di armi al Paese, da quando è salito al potere, nel gennaio 2017.

2/06/2020

What brought Iranian forces to Idlib front?

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/02/iran-battlefield-idlib-syria-soleimani.html



The Syrian army’s ongoing military operation in the northwestern province of Idlib has resulted in a number of strategic gains for President Bashar al-Assad’s government. On Jan. 28, the Syrian army recaptured Maaret al-Numan, a strategic town south of the city of Idlib, from rebel and terrorist groups. The achievement was seen as an important step to regain full control over the M5 highway that connects Damascus with Aleppo. As has been the case with the previous rounds of the Syrian army’s operations in Idlib, the recent advances were made possible by Russian air support for the Syrian forces. However, what has been new this time is the active presence of Iranian and Iranian-backed forces on the battlefield that has been reported.
The British newspaper The Daily Telegraph published a report Jan. 26 containing leaked radio communications from Iran-backed Afghan fighters known as the Fatemiyoun Division showing their involvement in the ongoing battles in Idlib. The newspaper said the estimated number of Fatemiyoun forces in Idlib is between 400 and 800. Earlier in January, there were media reports, citing Turkish intelligence, that several Iran-backed groups in Syria had been deployed to the Idlib and Aleppo fronts. On Jan. 27, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized “the combined forces of Russia, the Iranian regime, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime” for conducting a massive assault on Idlib and western Aleppo.
Despite its persistent military and political support for the Assad government, the Islamic Republic had refrained from getting involved in the previous rounds of the Syrian army’s operations in the country’s northwest. As such, Tehran’s decision to assist the Assad government in its current military campaign in Idlib could be considered an important development.
If we are to discuss the reasons behind Iran’s change of course regarding Idlib, first we should take into account the situation that emerged after the Jan. 3 assassination of Iranian Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani by the United States. Removing Soleimani, the mastermind behind the Islamic Republic’s regional strategy, resulted in speculation that Iran would start to lose influence in Syria. Such a possibility appeared to cause concern even for Assad, who quickly decided to dispatch his intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk to Tehran to talk with Iranian officials about their “coordination during the next stage.”
As such, Iran’s recent involvement in Idlib could be seen as both trying to send a message to its rivals that its power and influence in Syria have remained intact, and reassuring Assad that he can still count on Tehran’s support where and when needed. This reassurance effort was also evident when the Fars news agency — affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — published a report Jan. 26 underlining the role of the Quds Force in preventing the collapse of the Assad regime since the early stages of the Syrian uprising. This was the first time a semi-official Iranian news agency had written about the role of the IRGC's Quds Force in Syria before the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in 2013.
Another factor contributing to a change of Iran’s viewpoint toward Idlib could be the changing priorities of Turkey in Syria and the region. At least since the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018, a major reason behind Tehran’s hesitation to get directly involved in the Syrian government’s military moves in the northwest was its concern not to lose Ankara as a partner in circumventing the revived US sanctions. Turkey has been opposing the Syrian government’s military campaign in Idlib, supporting most of the rebel groups stationed in the area.  
However, there have been growing signs recently that Turkey is shifting the main focus of its regional policy from Syria to Libya, with hundreds of Turkish-backed rebels being deployed from Syria to the North African country to assist the Government of National Accord, which is struggling against an insurgency led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter. Meanwhile — and for the first time since 2011 — Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, met with his Syrian counterpart Ali Mamlouk in Moscow on Jan. 13. The meeting was seen as a possible starting point for a change in Ankara’s approach toward Syria. However, the latest clashes between the Syrian and Turkish militaries in Idlib, which resulted in the death of at least six Turkish soldiers, are a sign that Ankara and Damascus are still far from any kind of rapprochement. However, Iran’s policy change in Idlib might have been based on the calculation that Turkey is either unwilling or unable to sustain an active presence in that area.
The increasing American and Israeli pressures on Iran in Syria might be another factor affecting Tehran’s approach toward Idlib. Over the past several years, Iran’s main geographical concentration has been on Syria’s southern areas, from Daraa in the southwest to Deir ez-Zor in the southeast. However, with the heightened Israeli strikesagainst Iranian interests in those areas and with tensions between Tehran and Washington in the region being on the rise after Soleimani’s assassination, Iranian officials might have changed their strategic calculations on the makeup of their forces in Syria. In order to make it harder for the Israelis and Americans to target its interests, Iran might have decided to dispatch at least some of its forces to other areas, including Idlib. This way, Iran would also gain more influence on the ground in Syria, creating further obstacles for the Americans and Israelis who want to root out Tehran’s presence in Syria.
Iran’s involvement in Idlib appears to also have something to do with Iran’s grand regional plan following the killing of Soleimani, that is, attempting to expel US forces from the region. As the main concentration of the US forces in Syria is in the areas east of the Euphrates river controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, Tehran wants the Syrian government operation in Idlib to be concluded successfully as soon as possible so that the next step in realizing Assad’s promise to “liberate every inch of Syrian territory” could be started in the east of the Euphrates. Referring to this issue, Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a press conference Jan. 30 that “the Syrian government and its allies from the resistance front will go from Idlib to the eastern Euphrates to expel the Americans.”
All these points would mean that Iran is taking a more geographically dispersed, more offensive posture in Syria in order to adapt itself with the rapidly changing situation in Syria and the whole region. As such, Iran’s involvement in Idlib marks an important turning point in its strategy toward the Syrian crisis.

Hamidreza Azizi is an assistant professor of regional studies at Shahid Beheshti University and a member 
of the scientific board at the Iran and Eurasia Studies Institute (IRAS) in Tehran. 
On Twitter: @HamidRezaAz

1/23/2020

FREELANCE IN ZONE BOLLENTI: IRAQ E SIRIA, COSA SUCCEDE AI REPORTER D’INCHIESTA

https://caffedeigiornalisti.it/freelance-in-zone-bollenti-iraq-e-siria-cosa-succede-ai-reporter-dinchiesta/


Il 10 gennaio 2020 il giornalista iracheno Ahmed Abdul Samad è stato assassinato a Bassora, nel sud dell’Iraq. A riferirlo sono state fonti del quotidiano al-Hadath, edito in Giordania. A confermare la sua uccisione anche il CPJ, il comitato di protezione dei giornalisti, che ha mostrato anche un breve video pubblicato da Dijlah Tv, la televisione per cui Ahmed lavorava, in cui si può scorgere il corpo del giornalista riverso sul sedile anteriore del passeggero di un veicolo che mostra evidenti segni di colpi di arma da fuoco. Nell’agguato è stato ucciso anche Safaa Ghali, cameraman dell’emittente televisiva stessa. 
Negli ultimi mesi, risulta che Abdul Samad avesse documentato le manifestazioni di protesta nell’Iraq meridionale; lavorava come freelance per molte testate arabe e internazionali. Sono sempre di più i giornalisti in movimento verso il Medio Oriente, dopo le tensioni tra USA e Iran dai primi giorni di gennaio 2020.
 
Nicola Peddedirettore dell’Institute for Global Studies di Roma, li definisce come la «punta di diamante del giornalismo internazionale, portatori del più alto livello di rischio personale». Conosce bene il mestiere del giornalista che documenta in prima persona anche Davide Grassoforeign fighter, giornalista e scrittore che ha visto cancellato da Facebook il suo account personale, nel quale documentava la condizione dei curdi in Rojava e l’attuale situazione nella Siria del Nord. «E’ vergognoso – dice – come sempre capitano queste cose e non c’è feedback: sei cancellato e il tuo lavoro svanisce quasi nel nulla». Davide Grasso commenta così, ripensando all’ennesimo attacco inutile da parte dei social. Rientrato in Italia nel novembre del 2016, ha raccontato a centinaia di studenti, attivisti e persone la sua esperienza tra le Ypg, le Unità di Difesa del Popolo Curdo. Un racconto che attraversa le atrocità della guerra, la questione siriana e la rivoluzione del Rojava. «Andare in Rojava? Certo che si può: è necessario coordinarsi con i competenti uffici dell’Amministrazione Democratica locali e non è così complicato. Altra storia è decidere di andarci senza i dovuti permessi: il nord della Siria è tutto
pericoloso per i giornalisti, ma se si viene accompagnati si eviteranno tutte le zone contese. Non si può considerare la guerra in Siria finita, è un grave errore. Eppure, la presenza dei nostri inviati di giornali e tv in Rojava è ancora molto scarsa. I curdi hanno subito l’aggressione turca e più di 200.000 sono fuggiti: è un popolo che ha stabilito un governo autonomo basato sui principi di equità, orizzontalità, libertà di culto e uguaglianza sostanziale tra uomo e donna. Sarebbe importante documentarlo quanto
più possibile».
 
Confini, da uno all’altro. Iraq, tra manifestazioni, tumulti e missili “Katyusha” lanciati nella green zone di Baghdad. «Da Erbil si entra ancora con visto, ma non si riesce ad arrivare a Baghdad, si rimane in Kurdistan, ma non si va oltre, nemmeno a Kirkuk: c’è bisogno del visto per l’Iraq» aggiunge Nicola Pedde, a capo di un think tankspecializzato sui temi della politica, della sicurezza e dell’economia nelle regioni del Medio Oriente e dell’Africa. Sui temi della sicurezza dei giornalisti freelance in quelle aree, la pensa così: «Nessuna pettorina con la dicitura “press” vi salverà mai. E’ necessario aver molto chiari gli obiettivi, la conoscenza del territorio, pianificazione, preparazione e analisi di tutti i possibili rischi. Rischiano sempre di più i fotoreporter e i videomaker, le immagini sono più efficaci di un servizio
giornalistico scritto. La situazione è molto fluida, ovunque: l’Iraq è in piazza e resta la vulnerabilità delle manifestazioni, le violenze sui manifestanti e, di conseguenza, anche sui reporter. E resta ancora pericolosissima la Siria nord-est, il fiume Eufrate a sud-est, tutte le arterie di comunicazione commerciali dove si spostano cellule operanti nell’area, gruppi jihadisti sparsi, criminalità di varia natura, queste sono aree molto difficili, non si possono fare previsioni, purtroppo. I rischio in quelle aree è sempre dietro l’angolo e le situazioni cambiano repentinamente. Certo i problemi si possono evitare, se accompagnati e protetti bene, da un team giusto e attrezzato».
I corsi di preparazione esistono e sono sempre più frequentati da giornalisti, anche esperti che preferiscono riordinare idee e confrontarsi prima di affrontare le missioni internazionali.
 
 
Nicola Pedde è direttore Institute for Global Studies (IGS) di Roma, Direttore della rivista Geopolitics of the Middle East. Ha insegnato Relazioni internazionali all’Università di Roma La Sapienza e alla John Cabot University di Roma. Ha diretto la ricerca sul Medio Oriente presso il Centro Militare di Studi Strategici (Ce.Mi.S.S.) del Centro Alti Studi per la Difesa (CASD) del Ministero della Difesa. Ha pubblicato numerosi saggi, tra cui Iran 1979: la rivoluzione islamica (Roma 2009)
e Geopolitica dell’Energia (Roma 2001).
 
Davide Grasso, laureato in Filosofia all’Università di Torino, PhD, storico attivista della lotte universitarie e -foreign fighter- italiano nelle Ypg, Unità di Difesa del Popolo Curdo. Ha scritto: “Hevalen. Perché sono andato a combattere l’Isis in Siria”, edizioni Alegre | “Il fiore del deserto. La rivoluzione delle donne e delle comuni tra l’Iraq e la Siria del nord”, Edizioni Agenzia X | “La città e il fantasma. Dal muro di Berlino ai nuovi muri” edizioni Castelvecchi collana Saggi, 2019 “New York regina underground. Racconti dalla Grande Mela” edizioni Stilo Editrice collana Scaffale multiculturale, 2013.

1/15/2020

SO MUCH FOR REFORM Saudi Arabia executed 184 last year – the highest number in six years – including lad arrested for WhatsApp messages

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/10740075/saudi-arabia-executions-highest-in-six-years/?utm_content=buffer468a2&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer


SAUDI Arabia executed 184 people last year including a young man arrested over WhatsApp messages, shock figures reveal.
The country's government carried out its highest number of executions for six years including three teenage prisoners held in connection with pro-democracy protests.
One of the victims included Abdulkarim al-Hawaj, 21, who was tortured with electricity and beheaded because as a 16-year-old he sent WhatsApp messages about a demonstration.
Abdulkarim and 36 others were executed on a single day in April during a beheading bloodbath for prisoners convicted of "terrorism" offences.
One was crucified and put up in display as a warning to others.
A second youngster was put to death after being arrested as a 17-year-old boarding a flight to the US where he was due to begin his studies at Western Michigan University.
Campaigners say Mujtaba al-Sweikat was convicted solely on the basis of a confession extracted under torture.
Another of those killed was teenager Salman Qureish, who was arrested shortly after his 18th birthday.
Sentencing a person to death who is under 18 is banned under international law.
But executions of the youngsters went ahead despite Saudi Arabia vowing not to put juveniles to death.
One of the victims was gay and put to death after confessing to sex with four other men on trial.

BREAKING INTERNATIONAL LAW

Maya Foa, director of campaign group Reprieve, called on the US and UK to call out the executions in the "strongest possible terms" saying that international pressure "can make a difference".
She said: "According to official Saudi figures, 37 people were executed for 'terrorism' offences in 2019, but a closer look at the charges - 'disobedience against the King,' 'preparing banners with anti-state slogans,' 'incitement via social media' - reveals who these so-called terrorists really are.
"Mujtaba al-Sweikat and Abdulkarim al-Hawaj were arrested after taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations.
"For all the talk of reform, Saudi Arabia is still a country where attending a protest or criticising the regime can get you killed."
The human rights charity insisted that Saudi Arabia puts an end to all human rights abuses ahead of the G20 summit which the country’s de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, is due to host in Riyadh later this year.
Foa added: "These latest execution figures expose the gap between the reformist rhetoric and bloody reality of Mohammed Bin Salman's Saudi Arabia.
"As the Crown Prince travels the world meeting heads of state, his regime has been executing young men arrested as children for the 'crime' of standing up for democracy.
"With the G20 summit in Riyadh fast approaching, 2020 must be the year that the Kingdom's partners stop falling for the Saudi charm offensive and insist on an end to these egregious human rights abuses and violations of international law."
Reprieve’s figures show that 82 were put to death for drug smuggling and 57 for murder.
The number killed in 2019 is more than double the 88 prisoners put to death in 2014. Of the 184 who died, 88 were Saudis, 90 were foreigners and six of unknown nationality.

Soleimani killing: The unintended consequences

https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/soleimani-killing-unintended-consequences?fbclid=IwAR2giOKV2qE_mIDaTmbLhPCf33qH9xK9iM8yrTlzEt_fC1pl0BSf_B3TaFk

by Marco Carnelos


Marco

From militia retaliation to Iraq's call to end US troop presence, the assassination and its aftermath will resonate for years to come.

Quassem Soleimani’s killing will continue to shape Middle Eastern dynamics for some time, haunting US troops in the region and triggering unintended consequences for the rest of 2020 and beyond. 
The most tragic so far has been the quickly admitted, mistaken downing by Iran’s air defence of a Ukrainian jet over Tehran last week, killing 176 passengers and crew. The US reaction to a similar tragedy in 1988, when the US shot down an Iran Air jet over the Gulf, killing 290 passengers, was quite different

United against external threats

The US strike against Soleimani in Baghdad points to two preliminary conclusions. The first is that despite legitimately different views on the popularity of Iran’s political system, the extraordinary, spontaneous, cross-boundaryparticipation in mourning of the top Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander revealed how the Iranian population could react if dragged into an open conflict: strongly united against any external threat. 
The second is that the US has reconfirmed its top ranking in four of the world’s most embarrassing charts: propensity for global self-harm, enabling negative unintended consequences to affect its own interests through its own acts; unpredictability; dysfunctional decision-making, and - last but not least - the international-relations version of Murphy’s law: “If among many foreign policy options I can take the worst one, be sure I will.” 
The biggest potential net result of Soleimani’s killing could be the fulfilment of his long-nurtured dream: forcing the US to pack up and leave Iraq and Syria.
This might match one of US President Donald Trump’s long-nurtured wishes, although it’s doubtful that Washington’s Beltway agrees. This could also be a nightmare scenario for Israel and some Arab rulers, alongside Iran’s increasing detachment from the nuclear deal provisions.
As expected, in the wake of Soleimani’s assassination, Iran launched rockets against US military positions in Iraq. The strike seemed designed to cause no casualties, signalling Tehran’s desire for de-escalation; Trump’s reaction conveyed a similar impression.
As equally expected, and confirmed by the IRGC, Tehran is reserving its potential next move for US allies in the region, such as the UAE and Israel. 

Asymmetric warfare

Iran’s retaliation thus far has achieved two primary purposes: firstly, to show that if Soleimani’s elimination aimed to deter Tehran, it failed; and secondly, to comfort a public distressed by the loss of its “national hero”. 
It would be ideal if the story ended here. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the Iranian response is truly concluded. It may unfold for years through asymmetric, hybrid warfare targeting US troops in the Middle East, as outlined by one of Tehran’s most important partners, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
What must be carefully watched in the coming weeks is the evolving situation in Iraq, as related to two specific events: the parliament in Baghdad has voted for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country, and Iraqi militias close to Iran have announced their own intention to retaliate for the killing of Soleimani and Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. 
The PMU’s retaliation may not be as “harmless” as Tehran’s, although it could faceproblems in being implemented effectively.
As to the withdrawal of foreign troops, leaving aside the Pentagon’s embarrassingperformance with the draft letter suggesting the US had accepted the Iraqi request, it appears Washington does not intend to comply, while attributing similar intentions to ignore the call from its allies.
On 10 January, the State Department justified this position in light of the struggle against the Islamic State. Perhaps it missed Trump’s statement on 8 January, when he claimed that 100 percent of the group had been destroyed.

A charade between two entities

Tensions between the US and Iraq, and inside Iraq, could thus increase. Sunni and Kurdish parties did not vote for the withdrawal, possibly due to US pressure or fears of leaving the country to Iran’s influence, or both. Shia and pro-Iran factions could judge such a posture as a form of betrayal, a lack of care for Iraq’s sovereignty, or subservience to the US - or all of these combined.
Fulfilment of the withdrawal could become another charade between two entities, the US and Iraqi governments, with highly dysfunctional decision-making processes on both sides. It could drag on for months or take a nasty turn. 
Incidentally, the probability, and deadliness, of PMU retaliation could also depend on how much the US drags its feet in complying with the Iraqi government’s request. Washington has hinted at possible sanctions on Iraq, including a newtravel ban, if it pushes forward with the policy.
On Baghdad’s side, it could make the permanence of foreign troops in the country a bureaucratic nightmare by not issuing any more visas (thus preventing troop rotations), denying flight permits or ramping up procedures at security checkpoints. The international coalition could be exhausted and vanquished by widespread, systematic bureaucratic quibbles.

Kurdish independence

The unintended consequences may not end there. The US could simply move its troops to Iraq’s Kurdish region. This would be yet another slap in the face to Iraqi sovereignty, after the US raid on the Iraq-Syria border in December, Soleimani’s killing and the ensuing Iranian rocket attack. Chances are slim that Iraqi officials would judge such a move as compliance.
A further, tragicomic consequence, then, could be a changed US position towards the independence of Iraq’s Kurdish region. The Trump administration, having crushed such aspirations after the 2017 Kurdish independence referendum by acquiescing to the Iraqi government’s recapture of Kirkuk and other Kurdish-held areas - not to mention the US abandonment of its Syrian Kurdish allies to the Turkish offensive last year - could suddenly realise that Kurdish independence is good and useful. 
Such a US redeployment could allow the Americans to hinder Iran’s plans to consolidate its grip in the area, including the Shia Crescent from Tehran to Beirut.
This may seem a smart move to some armchair warriors and amateurish international law practitioners, but it could also reignite the dangerous Arab-Kurdish rivalry in Iraq. That is the last thing this ravaged country needs. Turkey and Iran would not remain idle.
Ultimately, believing that an independent Kurdish region of Iraq may spare the US from the major unintended consequence of Soleimani’s killing could be another dangerous miscalculation. The brave, but unlucky, Iraqi Kurds do not deserve to be fooled again.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Marco Carnelos
Marco Carnelos is a former Italian diplomat. He has been assigned to Somalia, Australia and the United Nations. He has served in the foreign policy staff of three Italian prime ministers between 1995 and 2011. More recently he has been Middle East Peace Process Coordinator Special Envoy for Syria for the Italian government and, until November 2017, ambassador of Italy to Iraq.

1/12/2020

Sultan Qaboos of Oman, Arab world's longest-serving ruler, dies aged 79

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-50902476

Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman, the Arab world's longest-serving ruler, has died aged 79.
The sultan deposed his father in a bloodless coup with British support in 1970 and set Oman on a path to development, using its oil wealth.
Widely regarded as popular, he was also an absolute monarch and any dissenting voices were silenced.
No cause of death has been confirmed. His cousin Haitham bin Tariq Al Said has been sworn in as his successor.
A family council had three days to choose a successor as Qaboos had no heir or publicly designated successor. Instead they opted for opening the sealed envelope in which Qaboos had secretly left his own choice.
The sultan is the paramount decision-maker in Oman. He also holds the positions of prime minister, supreme commander of the armed forces, minister of defence, minister of finance and minister of foreign affairs.
Last month Qaboos spent a week in Belgium for medical treatment, and there were reports he was suffering from cancer. Images showed a crowd of men gathered outside the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in the capital, Muscat, where the coffin had been placed before he was buried in a family cemetery.
In a televised speech after being sworn in, Sultan Haitham - a former culture and heritage minister who studied at Oxford - pledged to continue his predecessor's policies of friendly relations with all nations while further developing the country.

Presentational grey line

Smooth transition, for now at least

By Sebastian Usher, BBC World Service Arab affairs editor
This is a day that had long been dreaded in Oman where the elegant, beturbaned and white bearded figure of Sultan Qaboos had for five decades embodied the identity of a country that he had brought into the modern world.
There were concerns that his death might bring instability to Oman, which has largely avoided the unrest elsewhere in the region. For now at least, the process of finding a successor has moved swiftly and smoothly.
And Haitham bin Tariq Al Said - born in 1954 - was swift to reassure his people and the wider world that he would follow the same path as his predecessor.
Being the chosen successor of Qaboos will enhance his legitimacy within Oman, but a far harder task will be to take on the crucial role that Oman has played for so long as a trusted and independent mediator in many of the most intractable conflicts that have blighted the region.

Presentational grey line

Neutral policy, absolute rule

For almost five decades, Qaboos completely dominated the political life of Oman, which is home to 4.6 million people, of whom about 43% are expatriates.
At the age of 29 he overthrew his father, Said bin Taimur, a reclusive and ultra-conservative ruler who banned a range of things, including listening to the radio or wearing sunglasses, and decided who could get married, be educated or leave the country.
Qaboos immediately declared that he intended to establish a modern government and use oil money to develop a country where, at the time, there were only 10km (six miles) of paved roads and three schools.
In the first few years of his rule, with the help of British special forces, he suppressed an insurgency in the southern province of Dhofar by tribesmen backed by the Marxist People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.
Described as charismatic and visionary, he pursued a neutral path in foreign affairs and was able to facilitate secret talks between the United States and Iran in 2013 that led to a landmark nuclear deal two years later.
A degree of discontent surfaced in 2011 during the so-called Arab Spring. There was no major upheaval in Oman, but thousands of people took to the streets across the country to demand better wages, more jobs and an end to corruption.
Security forces initially tolerated the protests, but later used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse them. Two people were killed and dozens of people were injured. Hundreds were prosecuted under laws criminalising "illegal gatherings" and "insulting the sultan".
The protests failed to produce anything in the way of major change. But Qaboos did remove several long-serving ministers perceived as corrupt, widened the powers of the Consultative Council, and promised to create more public sector jobs.
Since then, the authorities have continued to block local independent newspapers and magazines critical of the government, confiscate books, and harass activists, according to Human Rights Watch.
Reacting to the death on Twitter, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said it was a "loss for the region", and voiced hope that the new leadership would take "inspiration from the past".
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Qaboos had left a "profound legacy, not only in Oman but across the region" while former US President George W Bush said the late leader had been a stable force in the Middle East.

1/11/2020

In Iran, we try to be hopeful. But we’re stalked by the fear of war

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/10/iran-stalked-war-suleimani-assassination?CMP=share_btn_fb&fbclid=IwAR1qn4p0Cu7Vi4RUmghLjTfucUroD591WvuvAcBqcW5D5jT4egc1MxT3cyA

Waking up to news of the Suleimani assassination was chilling. We know only too well how conflict can break bodies and souls

by 


When I woke up on Friday last week in Isfahan, the third largest city in Iran, I found my older sister standing beside my bed looking at me in silence. I saw fear in her eyes. Earlier, Qassem Suleimani had been assassinated by US forces in Baghdad. I could easily imagine what my sister was thinking: she has two sons in their 20s. I had seen the same fear in her before. During the 1980s her husband spent several years at the front during the Iran-Iraq war. She did not know for months whether he was alive or dead. Now she is worried that her sons will experience what their father did before them.
A few days later I had to leave for Stockholm, where I teach. My relatives and friends mockingly said that I was leaving them behind to deal with a war for the second time in my life. The first was in 1987, when I escaped the country while the war with Iraq raged. This week I heard references to that time everywhere – in taxis, on buses, in coffee shops, bookstores, and small villages. In the eyes of many, a new war with the US would be a continuation of that conflict. People have not forgotten how the US armed and supported Saddam Hussein.
But, as my sister showed, the initial reaction of many to the assassination was silence. They could not believe it. At newspaper stands men and women, young and old, stared quietly at pictures of Suleimani on the front pages of newspapers, from the hardline Kayhan to reform-oriented Sharq. For the first time in a long time I was unable to detect any difference between them. The limited political pluralism in the media had faded away.
A few days before the assassination, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had declared that there would not be a war with the US, and President Rouhani announced a willingness for negotiations with the west. There were glimmers of hope. The Iranian stock market improved. By last Saturday morning, though, the first day of the week in Iran, that hope had been replaced with fear. The stock market plunged, and Iran’s currency lost value. The shock had barely subsided when President Trump threatened to attack cultural sites in Iran. The war on terror was replaced by the war on culture.
The problem is that constant threats of annihilation from the White House have fuelled intense nationalist sentiment in Iran. Suleimani in particular had become an icon of patriotism. Even those who oppose the Iranian regime respect him. While corruption scandals involving high-level officials are a daily occurrence, Suleimani was regarded as one of the few who still “struggled for the people”. He embodied the revolutionary ideals of 1979. Huge crowds attended several days of processions in Ahvaz, where he fought against Saddam’s army, and in Mashhad and Kerman (his birthplace), where he fought against drug traffickers along the eastern borders.
In the small village in south-western Iran where I grew up, middle-aged men praised him as the general who kept Islamic State away from Iranian territory. However, their fear of war was intense as well. Some of them did their military service during the Iran-Iraq war. One was gravely injured by a chemical weapon, another lost a foot, and another one suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. They have seen how wars break bodies and souls. Imagining a new one frightens them to death: “How many wars must we go through in one lifetime?”
The assassination of Suleimani could not have come at a better time for Iranian hardliners. It has overshadowed their crackdown on protests sparked by economic conditions. Since mid-November the government has been under great pressure because of the death and imprisonment of a large number of protesters. Trump’s military moves have ensured that any new protest or criticism will be treated as a national security issue and harshly suppressed. Threats have become more explicit and concrete. Who dares now ask for justice for those in prisons? Who dares now protest against unpaid salaries? Who dares now ask for gender equality?
A new war has never been so close as now. Imagining the aftermath of conflict in the region, Iranians, both inside and outside the country, are terrified. Any wise person should be. When I try to sum up the mood in Iran during the past few days, the word that comes to mind is parishani, which in Farsi means a state of entanglement, bewilderment and perplexity. When Iran launched missile attacks on US bases in Iraq the other night, I called my sister from Stockholm. In a few words we fumbled for some kind of hope. But the reality facing us is bleak.
 Shahram Khosravi is professor of social anthropology at Stockholm University