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Islamic Societies Review

Turkey’s Safe Zone in Northern Syria and International Law

Turkey’s Safe Zone in Northern Syria and International Law

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

Abstract: Mere hours before Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visits with his Russian counterpart in Sochi, his government clarified the purpose of its invasion of Northern Syrian. The Turkish government frames its intervention as partly humanitarian, partly security missions. Considering that Erdoğan has called for such a “safe zone” as early as 2015, the political purpose of the “safe zone” can hardly be ignored. More significantly, the legal status of the proposed “safe zone” must be assessed. In this brief note, I examine the Turkish claims and weigh them against legal standards. Continue reading

The U.S. is planning “an attack on Iran”, a real Groundhog Day event

The U.S. is planning “an attack on Iran”, a real Groundhog Day event

More than 22 years ago, an attack in Saudi Arabia was blamed on Iran, and the media, then, said the US is preparing to attack Iran. Now, another attack in Saudi Arabia is blamed on Iran and the US is said to be preparing to Attack Iran. And guest what, at that time too, Afghanistan was at war, and Iran was trying to bring peace to that country. Little has changed in quarter century.

For those with short memory and those who were not alive 22 years ago, we offer this unedited news report from 1997.



From Reuters, Sat Jan 25 12:38:30 1997
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 15:21:38 PST
Subject: Senior cleric says Iran defence power unquestioned

TEHRAN (Reuter) – A senior Iranian cleric said Friday Iran had become a military power commanding fear in the region and even the United States knew that the country could defend itself.

“This country has become a military power. Our power has reached such a level that others fear it and America constantly expresses concern over it,” Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in a mass Friday prayer sermon broadcast on Tehran radio.

“Of course they (U.S.) say a lot of rubbish and charge us with a lot of things but they see that there is a military power here that can defend itself. And that is all we are saying also,” said Jannati, a member of the powerful Guardian Council.

His remarks came a day after Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Tehran would “powerfully respond to any possible U.S. military measures and reveal to the world the real
power of Iran.”

Iranian officials have reacted strongly to Western media reports linking Tehran to a June bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. airmen, saying the reports indicated Washington was preparing an attack on the Islamic republic.

Iran has not been officially linked to the truck bomb attack and the country has denied involvement. Diplomats have said the United States may strike at Iran if it is convinced that Tehran played a role in the attack.

Iran, the Gulf’s non-Arab power, has repeatedly denied U.S. charges that its military is a threat to the oil-rich region’s Arab states, saying its armed forces are purely defensive.


From Reuters
Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 13:12:01 PST
Subject: Afghan talks open in Tehran without Taleban

TEHRAN, Iran (Reuter) – A conference to secure peace between warring factions in Afghanistan began in Tehran Saturday without the participation of the Islamic Taleban militia.
“We regret that not all Afghan groups participated,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati said in his opening speech.

The conference is the latest Iranian initiative for peace in neighboring Afghanistan where the Taleban, who drove out President Burhanuddin Rabbani’s government in September, has made major military gains in the past week.

Rabbani, ousted Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and former President Sibghatullah Mojadedi arrived in Tehran earlier this week for the talks.  Taleban said Friday the militia had not received any formal invitation for the talks.

“Even if we get an invitation, we will not participate in this conference because Iran is not neutral, it favors one side,” Mullah Abddul Jalil, the Taleban’s acting deputy foreign
minister told a Pakistan-based news service.

Iran, which recognizes Rabbani’s government, has often criticized the Sunni Muslim Taleban for giving Islam a bad name.

Iranian media have blasted the Taleban as being set up by Pakistan and backed by Washington. Pakistan denies the charge. A leader of the Taleban militia said Saturday that opposition groups must accept it as the country’s government as a condition for peace talks. Attempts by the United Nations and Pakistan have failed to reconcile the Taleban and Rabbani’s government. No country has formally recognized the Taleban government.

Will Zarif’s surprise G7 visit help resolve row?

Will Zarif’s surprise G7 visit help resolve row?

by Xu Hailin, based on conversations with Li Weijian, a senior research fellow with the Center for West Asian and African Studies

Iran has been striving to overcome the crisis in its relations with the US. Although the Islamic Republic has taken some tough steps, such as shooting down a US military drone in June and seizing a British tanker in July, or ratcheting up the rhetoric against the US, Tehran doesn’t want to break down its ties with Washington.

Iran is more concerned about how to get US sanctions lifted, as they have caused a series of problems within the country. So, in addition to taking a tough line against the US, Iran is also seeking help from the international community.

The two countries are locked in a stalemate. The US could continue its maximum pressure campaign, but it is not likely to launch a war against Iran. In the meantime, Iran cannot afford to be stuck in such a stagnant situation much longer. As such, third party forces are extremely important and could play an even bigger role in the future.

During sideline talks at the G7 summit in France on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held “constructive” talks with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and French President Emmanuel Macron and gave a joint briefing to German and British officials, the BBC reported on Monday. Continue reading

Canada’s labour movement must take a stand against the Saudi arms deal

Canada’s labour movement must take a stand against the Saudi arms deal

by Simon Black and Anthony Fenton*

As Canada’s largest labour organization and the political arm of the labour movement, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has long been a voice for peace, human rights and social justice.

But on one of the most controversial issues in Canadian politics, Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia, it has failed to take a meaningful stand.

Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners are waging war in Yemen. The war has plunged the country into what the United Nations calls “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

According to a recent UN report, approximately 70,000 Yemenis have died since the beginning of 2016. Hospitals, schools, markets and mosques are common targets for Saudi coalition airstrikes.
Two thirds of the Yemeni population require humanitarian support or protection, 17 million are food insecure, three million have fled their homes and 14.5 million require access to safe drinking water. And as UN Women has found, women and girls bear the brunt of this devastating situation. A 2018 report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded that violations and crimes under international law have occurred and continue to be perpetrated in Yemen.
Canada’s complicity

Canada is complicit in the war in Yemen. The export of made-in-Canada light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia, an approximately $15-billion contract originally signed by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, is now proceeding under export permits approved by the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau.

New export permits for arms shipments to Saudi Arabia have reportedly been suspended pending an indefinite review by the Trudeau government following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But according to recent data from Statistics Canada over half a billion dollars worth of armoured fighting vehicles have been exported through the port of Saint John, N.B., to Saudi Arabia in 2019 alone.

There is credible evidence that Canadian weapons sold to Saudi Arabia are being used in the devastating war in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition continues to commit serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia also has a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of its own citizens.
Where’s the Canadian labour movement? Continue reading

Separate and Unequal: Is State’s Support to Elite Universities a Human Rights Violation

Separate and Unequal: Is State’s Support to Elite Universities a Human Rights Violation

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

Abstract: On May 11, 2019, the US federal government indicted 50 individuals, charging them with bribery and fraud in a widespread college admission scandal involving wealthy parents, coaches, administrators, and business executives, paying bribes to buy their children’s way into the nation’s elite schools. For weeks thereafter, the public discourse had become engaged primarily with the action of the individuals, secondarily with some schools’ administrators, but not with the role played by the State. I argue that the evidence unearthed for these cases point to a human rights violation because the State has actively participated in perpetuating inequality and economic disparity.


First, for clarity purposes, I shall define key terms and concepts. I use the word “State” to refer to the modern nation-state governing power, as a legal person that is in social contract with society, which authorizes (through a public mandate, electoral or otherwise) it to assume legal monopoly on the use of violence and taxation and the judicious use thereof. I also define human rights as claims by members of society against the State when the State abuses its powers or fails to treat citizens equitably and fairly. As such, human rights claims are above and beyond criminal and civil claims. With these definitions in mind, let’s consider the facts related to the so-called elite schools’ admissions and to the scandal that ensued and draw appropriate conclusions. Continue reading

Can Iran Close the Strait of Hormuz?

Can Iran Close the Strait of Hormuz?

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

Since the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran Deal and re-imposed and imposed sanctions on Iran, Iranian leaders indicated that they will close the Strait of Hormuz if they are unable to sell their oil. In the last few months, a number of incidents had occurred with the potential for impacting the flow of oil through the Strait. On Thursday, Iranian authorities said that they shot down a US spy drone over its airspace. Hours later, US military confirmed the downing of the drone, with two corrections: The model of the drone and the location of drone when it was shot down. The former fact (or non-fact) is irrelevant legally, the latter is important. US military said that the drone was shot down while flying in international space.




Both sides agree that the incident took place in the Strait of Hormuz. If the shooting down of the drone took place in the narrowest area, US claim that its drone was flying in international waters would be false because, at that point, there is no international space. The space is either under Iranian sovereignty or Omani sovereignty

It is likely, therefore, that the incident took place on either sides of the Strait, in which case, there are international waters and sovereign waters belonging to Iran, Oman, and UAE. In this case, US and Iran will be under pressure to produce evidence about the whereabouts of the drone at the moment it was shot down. The evidence can be in the form of GPS records, satellite tracks, and/or location of the debris of the downed drone.

Given these escalations, it is also important to understand the legal regimes that govern passage through narrow waterways in general and the Strait in particular.

Continue reading

US is already fighting a conflict with Iran – an economic war that is hurting the wrong people

US is already fighting a conflict with Iran – an economic war that is hurting the wrong people

by David Cortright*

Many are worried about the risk of war with Iran after the Trump administration leaked discussions of a troop deployment in response to claimed threats to U.S. warships in the region.
And in recent days, the rhetoric has only gotten more heated, with President Donald Trump saying a war would be “the official end of Iran.” Iranian officials responded in kind.
But the truth is, the U.S. has been fighting a war with Iran for decades – an economic war fought via sanctions that has intensified over the past year and has already been devastating to innocent civilians in the country.

Not only that, it’s also undermining long-accepted principles of international cooperation and diplomacy, a topic I’ve been researching for the past 25 years.

Carrots and sticks

Many nations have recognized that sanctions work best as tools of persuasion rather than punishment.

Sanctions by themselves rarely succeed in changing the behavior of a targeted state. They are often combined with diplomacy in a carrots-and-sticks bargaining framework designed to achieve negotiated solutions.

Indeed the offer to lift sanctions can be a persuasive inducement in convincing a targeted regime to alter its policies, as was the case when successful negotiations involving the U.S. and Europe led to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, which ended sanctions in exchange for Tehran shutting down much of its nuclear production capacity.

A year ago Trump withdrew the U.S. from that accord and not only re-imposed previous sanctions but added further restrictions, including so-called secondary sanctions that penalize other countries for continuing to trade with Iran. Continue reading

On Migration and the Hoarding of Resources

On Migration and the Hoarding of Resources

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

David Frum’s cover story, callously titled, How Much Immigration Is Too Much, is an illustrative example of crude opinions rooted in alternative facts

David Frum’s basic argument is this: The Global South is a shithole, from where all people, especially the “strivers” want to escape to the developed world. The developed world cannot accommodate them and for this reason mainstream politicians should act, or else fascists will rise. The author willfully ignores two basic facts that are the root causes of migration, the uncertain journey to the unknown some people undertake, leaving behind their homeland and their relatives. First, people, like most animals, seek places with concentration of resources. Concentration of resources often result from hoarding and monopolies. Second, mass migration is directly proportional to severity of violent conflicts, corruption, and instability. In other words, people migrate to escape war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, crime, instability, insecurity, and absence of rule of law.

Hoarding is achieved through legal, political, and military instruments. For instance, many poor countries can develop medicine, technologies, and products domestically and with a fraction of the cost of US counterparts. However, patent and intellectual laws prevent indigenous scientists for producing them domestically. People in Bangladesh, for instance, have died because they could not afford to buy US made malaria medicine and because Bangladeshi scientists were prohibited from producing it, though they can do so affordably. There should be a fair arrangement that protects innovation rights while accommodating underdeveloped countries through creative licensing schemes. The side benefit of such accommodation will be few Bangladeshis needing to move to the Global North to escape malaria-caused deaths for example. If Global South countries are not forced into unfair trade deals, their people would not be forced to seek resources and stability elsewhere.

Considering the role played by United States governments since the world wars of the first half of the 20th century, it is easy to see that the largest waves of migrants to the US came from countries that were destabilized through US (and/or allies) military interventions or clandestine operations. Mass migration from Vietnam, for example, was caused by US war in that country. The same applies to people from Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Iraq (after the early 1990’s war), Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq (after the 2003 invasion), Syria, and Libya. And expect the same if the politicization of humanitarian aid in Venezuela persists.

Frum claims that the Global North is disproportionately burdened by the migration waves. That claim, too, is false. According to the most recent data, the least developed countries provided refuge to one-third of the global total of these displaced people–6.7 million. Consider Lebanon, for example: It is hosting as many Syrians as nearly a quarter of its population. Wealthy Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or UAE are hosting none.

Here are some facts, to put the above points in context.

According to reports by the UNHCR, in 2017, 68.5 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes due to violent conflicts; the top five countries are places destabilized directly or indirectly by the Global North:

  • Syria — 6.3 million refugees
  • Iraq — 3.1 million refugees
  • Afghanistan — 2.7 million refugees
  • Yemen — 2.5 million refugees
  • Libya – 1.2 million refugees
  • Somalia — 986,400 refugees

Frum’s argument, is similar to the popular rhetorical narrative that says, people come to America because America is the greatest country on earth and people want to benefit from all the social and economic welfare programs in America. In other words, people migrate because they want free stuff. That is far from the truth. If social and economic welfare is the primary motive behind migration, people, including some Americans, would be lining up to migrate to Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, France, and/or Netherlands because all these countries have standard of living, healthcare, and entitlements programs that are better than those in the United States. But migrants, if they must migrate and if given the choice, will come to America to escape the uncertainty and instability (tariffs, sanctions, sabotage, military action) that America can unleash around the world, including on those European countries with better social programs. Logically, if one must leave their home to escape instability, would it not make sense to move into the home of the source of that instability and the place least likely to be made unstable by other countries. US administrations’ propensity to shut down the economy and normal life in any other country is the main reason it is desired by the peoples whose countries are destabilized by US administrations’ actions. No one wants to leave a home where the fruits of their labor can be safe and secure for them and for their children. However, if there is a bully who can and does turn the controls of normal life on and off at will, it is only reasonable for one to seek refuge where that bully is unlikely to tinker with people’s life and livelihood: in the bully’s home. This truth is self-evident and that is why some anti-immigrant extremists, like Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions, embraced broad new policies that included making life for immigrants hellishly undesired to not only shutdown immigration but also to force recent migrants out of the United States of America.

Here are a couple of ideas to limit and or even stop migration. First, the wealthy Global North should stop hoarding resources and exploiting other peoples. Share. Second, the Global North should stop waging wars on, interfering in, and destabilizing the Global South countries.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Songs of freedom: the soundtracks of political change in Sudan

Songs of freedom: the soundtracks of political change in Sudan

by Mohamed A. Satti *

The uprising in Sudan has been vocal – and musical. “Tasqut bas!” – just fall, that’s all – was a commonly-used slogan by Sudanese as they revolted against military dictator Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule. The uprising, which began in December 2018, intensified over the following weeks, forcing Al-Bashir to step down on 11 April 2019.

Sudanese played a crucial role as they camped in front of the compound housing the military and security services in central Khartoum. For five days, the protesters refused to budge until the army removed the president from power.

During the days in early April, when the revolution gathered steam, the government expelled most international media outlets. So it was up to the citizens to capture the uprising on cellphones. These cellphone images and videos were soon circulated on social media platforms to Sudanese in the diaspora and to a global audience. Local media outlets continued with regular programming despite the government’s efforts to impose a media blackout.

Cellphone footage from the heart of the revolution all contained one thing in common: the familiar beat of music. This was to be expected. Sudanese music has always been heavily laden with political rhetoric.

The saying goes that everyone in Sudan is a politician, in reference to how politics creeps into everyday conversation. Sudanese also tend to be musically savvy and are inclined to know the lyrics to many popular songs by heart.

Previous revolutions in the country have been marked by particular songs. That hasn’t been the case this time, although the protesters chanted slogans to music that was accompanied by the persistent beat of drums.

Politics and music

The link between music and politics is not new to Sudan.

One of the earliest examples of how powerful lyrics drove political change was a poem entitled “Umm Dhafayir” – The Lady with Pleated Hair – by Obeid Abdul Nur, an educator and a poet.

Written in 1924, the poem urged Sudanese to rise up and fight against British occupation. The eloquently-articulated words highlighted the importance of the nation and urged the youth to fight for their homeland. Perhaps Abdul Nur’s rousing words provided inspiration to others to integrate political content in their lyrics.

“October Al Akhdar” (Green October) was famously performed by the revered singer Mohammed Wardi during the 1964 revolution that overthrew a military government and ushered in a civilian one. The song’s lyrics applaud the power of the people to bring about political change. The use of the word “green” in the title was a direct reference to agriculture and its importance to Sudan’s economy.

In 1985 Sudan again underwent change in its leadership through a popular uprising. Again the people took to the streets to oust a military government. Again elections ushered in a civilian government. And again, songs played a central role in the revolution.

Wardi’s lyrics played a powerful role this time too. His song “Ya Sha’aban Lahabak Thouritak” – which loosely translates to “Oh People Your Flame is Your Revolution” – referred to the immense pride and confidence Sudanese people have in their abilities. In the song Wardi yearns for Sudan’s population to stand up and to speak up for itself and to control its own destiny. The words empowered Sudanese to realise their ability to work for the good of the country with resolve and purpose.

Wardi died in 2012. The legendary singer is still celebrated as “The Last King of Nubia”.

Using songs

Sudan has endured a total of almost five decades of military dictatorship since its independence in 1956. Its people yearn for political freedom.

Democratic civilian governments have never been allowed to serve out their time in office. Songs are therefore used to instil belief in the population. Music seems to lessen the pain and suffering during difficult times.

What the revolutions of 1964, 1985 and 2019 have demonstrated is that political and economic hardships push people to defy the government.

But songs also have a unifying power. The 2019 uprising is a testament to that. Shouts of “hurriyya” (freedom), “shaabun wahid jayshun wahid” (one people, one army) and “al shaab yurid ‘isqat al nizam” (the people want to overthrow the regime) were repeatedly heard.

These slogans and lyrics were often accompanied by the beat of drums, the shuffling of feet and the swaying of hips. On the day that al-Bashir was expelled, a video circulated of a group of protesters playing music. One was playing a saxophone while another beat on a drum. Those around joined in the festivities.

In 2019, songs provided motivation and guidance. Protesters in Sudan could easily have been dissuaded from pursuing their goal of instigating regime change. Al-Bashir’s three decades in power made him a cunning and wily power broker and the fear was that another uprising could be crushed like many before it. The removal of al-Bashir from power to be replaced by his defence minister isn’t the kind of democratic change that the protesters were looking for and it remains to be seen how the scenario will unfold in the coming days.

But whatever happens, the protesters have persevered, united by a common goal and guided by nationalist songs of freedom – songs that will ultimately be etched in Sudan’s history records.


* Assistant Professor of Communication and Media, American University of Kuwait 

Some of the ways Algeria’s past is shaping its future

Some of the ways Algeria’s past is shaping its future

by Dounia Mahlouly*

Bouteflika steps aside as Algerians push to reclaim and own their history
Algeria’s long-time leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika has agreed to step down following a series of mass protests against his original plan to bid for a fifth term.

After weeks of uncertainty, the country’s military chief Ahmed Gaed Salah declared the 82-year-old leader constitutionally unfit to rule. An interim leadership will be formed under the supervision of the army. Everything seems to suggest that the country is heading towards elections and a constitutional referendum.

Some observers have drawn parallels between events in Algeria and the “Arab Spring”. These mass demonstrations against corruption and acts of police brutality which swept through North Africa from 2011. The pro-democracy uprisings led to the overthrow of three authoritarian regimes: Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

Political pundits and analysts drawing these comparisons may be tempted to speculate about hidden agendas, or deplore the lack of a common ideological framework for the opposition. This is because, in countries where opposition forces failed to cohere in a meaningful way, the 2011 revolutionary momentum was easily hijacked by counter-revolutionaries.

But these debates miss the point. They overlook the social and cultural value of the Algerian protests. They also reveal that the international community has remained centred on the question of political stability since the civil war of 1991-2002. In fact, the singular achievement of these demonstrations is that Algerians have reclaimed ownership of their past.

This is apparent in the way that protesters invoked the memory of the war of independence. It could also be seen in their allusions to slogans or songs from that time, calling for “Algeria’s liberation”.

The memory of Algeria’s liberation was politically hijacked by the elites who’ve held power since the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence.
The Oujda Group

During the independence war against France, the National Liberation Army placed Bouteflika in charge of the western border, close to the Moroccan city of Oujda. He became part of the Oujda group led by Houari Boumédiène. It was Boumédiène who helped Ahmed Ben Bella unseat the first post-independence provisional government in 1962.

Boumédiène then became defence minister, and had much influence over the government through the army. Bouteflika became foreign minister. Following political tensions at the top Boumédiène overthrew Ben Bella in a 1965 military coup.

Under the military-led National Liberation Front, Algeria was a one party state until the 1989 constitution introduced a multiparty system. Bouteflika became a member of the Front’s central committee when serving as a foreign minister. With the help of interior minister and the head of intelligence, he took office in 1999.

Bouteflika was initially able to gain popularity by acting as if he intended to break with his predecessors’ anti-colonial and pan-Arab traditions. He capitalised on the imperative of national security to build legitimacy in the aftermath of the civil war. Algeria remained under a state of emergency for almost 10 years after the end of the civil war. This was known as Algeria’s “black decade”.

Beyond the country’s borders, Bouteflika proved popular. The international community was particularly receptive to this narrative in the context of the post-9/11 “war on terror”.
Under Bouteflika

Under Bouteflika, the penal code was amended to impose punishments for any “insulting or defamatory” statement likely to harm the president. This law saw independent journalists and human rights advocates repressed in the name of national security.

During the same period, a law was promulgated which granted amnesty to terrorists guilty of committing crimes during the civil war. Implicitly, this new law exonerated members of the Algerian secret services. Many of them had served with the Armed Islamic Group. This was one of the two main Islamist insurgent groups that fought the Algerian government and army in the Algerian civil war.

Historically, the power elite – made up of the military, the secret services and the Political Bureau of the National Liberation Front – built its legitimacy on a distorted memory of the war of independence. This arguably added to Algeria’s post-colonial identity crisis and the climate of polarisation that laid the ground for civil war.

Bouteflika later capitalised on the trauma of the “black decade”, while depriving Algerians of the economic and social resources they needed to cope with the growing challenges regarding migration, climate, water scarcity and security. Ironically, this is partly the reason why the question of political stability still prevails today.
Looking ahead

This history demonstrates why the debate around today’s political crisis often misses the mark and ignores the real issues. It’s important to fully appreciate what it means for Algerians to reclaim ownership of their history with confidence – and to consider a world beyond Bouteflika’s troubled leadership.

* Senior Teaching Fellow, Social & Political Sciences, SOAS, University of London

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