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TM, ®, Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

A Quick Tour of the World from the Middle East to India
Articles on the Arab world before 2018

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2018 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

  • (August 2018) A Quick Tour of the World from the Middle East to India.

    Israel passed a racial law that declares the state to be Jewish before being democratic. Groups that criticize Israel's policy against the Palestinians are banned from universities and Palestinians are banned from appealing to the Supreme Court when Israelis steal their land. Israel, whose leader Netanyahu is paranoid about Iran (see The biggest scam in the Middle East: Israel's war on Iran), has also been instrumental in convincing Trump to kill the nuclear deal with Iran and in derailing any diplomatic progress between the USA and Iran. Since 2007 Israel has assassinated several Iranian scientists as well as an Iranian general in charge of a missile project (along with 17 of his men). One wonders what Israel would say and do if Iran assassinated an Israeli scientist.

    Turkey's president won elections again but this time the election came with new powers that follow years of crack down on dissidents. Meanwhile, the Turkish army has been fighting the Syrian Kurds inside Syria. Turkey is increasingly isolated within NATO. The Europeans don't want Turkey to join the European Union because it has an increasingly authoritarian regime, and Turkey is probably losing interest in joining anyway. Turkey is also agry at the USA for supporting the Kurdish militias (the Kurdish militias were the most serious anti-ISIS forces in Syria at the time when Turkey was actually helping ISIS). Trump demands the release of a radical Christian (a US citizen) that Turkey detains for his participation in an attempted coup. It is not clear to Turkey why radical Muslims are evil but radical Christians are not. Relations with the USA are reaching an all-time low. Recently Turkey purchased a missile defense system from Russia.

    The Syrian civil war is rapidly folding down thanks to Trump de facto surrendering to Russia. Russia and Iran have defended Assad's regime. Basically, the pro-Western rebels have been defeated by a combination of Iran's ground forces and Russian air bombings. The USA also supported the Kurds of Syria, who may have been the most effective at fighting ISIS, but Turkey's president Erdogan is paranoid about anything Kurd and has invaded Syria to fight the Syrian Kurds (not the Assad regime, not ISIS). Russia and the USA did collaborate in destroying ISIS, but the USA got nothing out of it because the defeat of ISIS benefited only Assad, Russia's ally and puppet. Turkey (and tiny, rich Qatar) originally supported ISIS against Assad. Basically, there were three alliances fighting for control of Syria: Assad-Russia-Iran, Turkey-Qatar-ISIS and the USA supporting the Kurds and the original pro-democracy rebels (notably the Sunni militia called the Syrian Democratic Forces, which still controls a third of Syria). Saudi Arabia originally supported Al Qaeda-inspired Islamists but they paled in comparison with ISIS. Turkey, which borders on both Syria and Iran, has made cynical deals with Russia in order to protect its interests: in 2016 Turkey allowed Russia to take Syria's second city Aleppo in return for being allowed to take cities ruled by ISIS; and in 2017 Turkey forced the rebels in Idlib to accept a deal with Russia in return for being allowed to take the strategic Kurdish town of Afrin (In 2018 Russia and Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib province between government troops and rebels). The Faustian pact with Russia may be coming to an end now that Russia is targeting the city of Idlib, which is largely controlled by Turkey. More than 60% of Idlib, including the border crossing into Turkey, is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an al-Qaeda-linked Islamist movement previously known as al-Nusra Front (that the Turkish government designated as a terrorist organization only in 2018). Turkey has also long supported another hard-line Islamist group, the National Liberation Front, as well as the National Army, based outside Idlib, a militia that Turkey arms and openly directs. Russia's bombing of Idlib signals that Russia feels it can close the Syrian campaign without fear of Turkey (especially since Trump's USA has abandoned Turkey). Assad has always counted on the support of a large minority of Syrians: his sect of Alawite Muslims, close to Iran's Shiite Muslims, the Christians (who fear Sunni extremists) and some Sunni Muslims. Sunni Muslims are the majority of Syria and felt oppressed by the Alawite minority. Basically the opposite of Iraq where the Sunni minority benefited from the rule of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, and oppressed the Shiite majority. The civil war has generated millions of refugees, both in neighboring countries like Turkey and Jordan and in Europe. The USA, that caused the whole problem when it invaded Iraq and indirectly helped ISIS establish its brief reign over southern Syria and northern Iraq, stopped taking in Syrian refugees. It is unlikely that the West, defeated, will want to help reconstruct Syria so it is not clear who will. The winner (Assad) has only two friends (Russia and Iran) who are both broke.

    Israel carefully stayed out of the Syrian civil war (probably happy to see Arabs killing other Arabs) and only carried out surgical strikes whenever Iran's moves alarmed it. Israel assassinated Aziz Asbar, Syria’s top rocket scientist, but this was nothing new: Israel's secret services have previously killed several Syrians, notably a general involved in its nuclear program in 2008 (on a beach in Tartus). In 2013 Israel's secret services killed the head of research and development for Assad's ally Hezbollah in Lebanon.

    Saudi Arabia is now de-facto ruled by a young Saudi scion, Mohammed bin Salman, son of king Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a young man who has shown a split personality. On one hand, he has begun to modernize his medieval-style kingdom. For the first time women are allowed to drive, which over there is a big thing. There is also talk of allowing other religions to practice in public (Saudi Arabia bans all other religions). On the other hand, he is continuing the ferocious bombing of Yemen, where Iranian-support rebels, the Houthis, overthrew a hated dictatorship. His indiscriminate massacres of civilians competes with Assad's massacres in Syria. He has also decisively targeted Qatar to punish Qatar's support of Islamists. Saudi Arabia has also de facto allied with Israel against Iran. When in 2016 Saudi Arabia executed the prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr, it was viewed as a provocation against Iran, the main Shiite country. The Saudi persecution of dissidents became an international incident in late 2018 when Saudi agents killed and dismembered a Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, inside the the Saudi consulate in Istanbul; but that was just the tip of the iceberg, as thousands of dissidents were jailed and many never returned home.

    Meanwhile, since June 2017 Saudi Arabia has led a blockade of tiny rich Qatar. The Saudis, joined by Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Yemen's government and Libya's eastern-based government, broke up diplomatic ties with Qatar accusing it of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS, and then moved to isolate Qatar with an economic embargo. Turkey and Iran support Qatar: Erdogan's Turkey simply thinks that the Muslim Brotherhood is a legitimate organization, not a terrorist organization; Iran simply sides with any enemy of Saudi Arabia. Qatar, in turn, is one of Turkey’s main financial supporters at a time when the Turkish economy (and its currency) is very weak.

    See also my article on Yemen.

    ISIS was basically finished when (in mid 2017) Iraqi troops reconquered Mosul, a large city that is all but destroyed after the battle. Iraq defeated ISIS but now the military are being sent to the south to quell demonstrations against the government. The party of radical pro-Iranian cleric Al Sadr (mostly famous for organizing the Shiite resistance against the US occupation) won recent elections but less than 50% of eligible voters cast their vote, a sign that the population is bitterly disappointed in democracy. Corruption is rampant: oil revenues have been used to enrich the politicians while the population has no elecricity and no clean water (in a country where summer temperatures can be deadly). The USA officially spent a lot of money to reconstruct Iraq but in practice all that money ended up in the pockets of US corporations, friends of the Bush government.

    There is popular resentment also in Iran, which, like Iraq, has a vast population of under-employed youth. Iran's leaders are focused on fighting US sanctions, reimposed by Trump despite the nuclear deal signed with Iran by the USA and the other world powers. Trump has pledged to target any firm that does business with Iran, but Russian, Indian, Turkish and Chinese companies so far have continued to do business as usual with Iran. Iran has complied with the nuclear treaty. The USA has not. This is the wrong time to bail out on an international agreement with Iran. US citizens don't remember it because US media are careful not to mention it, but exactly 65 years ago (in 1953) the USA and Britain overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran (prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh). Yes, Iran was the rare democracy in the Islamic world, but that was a problem for the USA and Britain. US citizens may not know this, but Iranian citizens obviously know this well. This also happens to be the 30th anniversary of the downing of an Iralian civilian airplane by the USA that killed all 290 passengers aboard. Imagine if an Iranian missile had downed a US airplane and killed 290 US citizens. Trump's betrayal of the nuclear deal is a bitter reminder that the USA cannot be trusted, and that Iran is condemned to be a strategic goal in any international game. If Israel claims to be living in a dangerous neighborhood, Iran can certainly claim the same. It is surrounded by Iraq (where it fought the Sunni radicals of ISIS much more seriously than the USA did), Afghanistan (where it was the first country to fight the Taliban, way before the USA even knew who they were), and Pakistan (that funded the Taliban). The Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS were all radical Sunni movements, much more keen on killing Shiites (like Iranians) than Christians or Jews. On top of that, Iran is feared by both Israel (that views Iran as the most serious challenge to its status of regional power) and Saudi Arabia (that sympathyzed with all the abovesaid radical Sunni movements). Iran's population is much better educated than the population of Arab countries, women can drive and work, and Iran has scientists that could match Israel's scientists. The USA has decided that this constitutes a threat.

    Pakistan's most famous cricket player, Imran Khan, ran on an anti-corruption platform against the brother of former prime miniser Nawaz Sharif and won presidential elections. It is no mystery in Pakistan that the military favored Khan. The Pakistani military resented Nawaz Sharif's attempt to reduce the military's influence on Pakistani politics Sharif's first term as prime minister ended when the military forced him to resign (1993), and his second term ended with a military coup (1999). Sharif was eventually convicted of corruption, as was his daughter Maryam Nawaz. He nonetheless returned to the country and was promptly jailed, but released right after the election. Terrorist attacks continue all over the country, and it's getting difficult to distinguish between the traditional attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, the new attacks by ISIS (that wasn't really active in Pakistan until it was kicked out of Iraq) and the occasional anti-Shiite or anti-Christian attacks by Sunni fanatics. People sometimes forget that Pakistan became an Islamic republic before Iran did (1956). An ISIS suicide bomber just killed 149 people at a campaign rally in Mastung, a city of Pakistan's Balochistan, the second deadliest attack in Pakistan since independence. A US drone strike killed the commander of the Pakistani Taliban, Maulana Fazlullah, so the USA is still actively interfering in Pakistan's internal affairs. Khan's inaugural speech was promising: he pledged to crack down on corruption, to stabilize Balochistan and the Northwest (where most terrorism originates from), to reduce the nation's dependence on loans and aid, to fight child sex abuse (hopefully a reference to child marriage), and to improve literacy (Pakistan has one of the lowest in the world, 40%, with 23 million children who don't attend any school at all). He didn't say much about women's rights, but after all Pakistan did have a female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, unlike the USA that has never had a female president (not a female vicepresident).

    China's investment in Pakistan ebbs and flows. In 2015 China and Pakistan unveiled a network of roads, railway and pipelines that will connect Gwadar in Pakistan to China's Xinjiang province. The projects will give China direct access to the Indian Ocean. This is called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China is building the port of Gwadar (currently a fishing village), located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf near Iran. China is also building a 300 megawatt coal power plant near Gwadar, and Gwadar's new airport will be Pakistan's largest.

    Pakistan is also widely considered responsible for the endless civil war in Afghanistan: the Afghani Taliban were born in and supported by Pakistan, Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda group obviously had friends in Pakistan. In the first six months of 2018, the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan was a record 1,692. The Taliban control at least half of the country.

    India predated the global nationalist wave when in 2014 it elected Nerendra Modi as prime minister. He is the leader of the Hindu nationalist party. Protests spread throughout India after his ministers Chowdhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga defended the rapists and murderers of an eight-year old Muslim girl in Kashmir, Asifa Bano. In the most recent incident of Hindu extremism, his minister Jayant Sinha has celebrated the killers of a Muslim man. India also assassinated Kasmir's Islamist leader Saddam Paddar (Kashmir being the Muslim region that is split between Pakistan and India). Somehow India can get away with anti-Islamic actions that would generate international condemnation if done by Israeli officials. If last year was India's year of the gang rape, this year seems to be the year of the mob lynching. Dozens of people have been lynched by mobs that believed gossip spread on social media like Whatsapp. In most cases the rumors were about child kidnapping. All the rumors turned out to be false, all the lynched turned out to be innocent. Nonetheless, India's stock market has reached all-time highs. The top performer has been Tata Consultancy Services. Tata became famous as a manufacturer of really tiny cars, but it has diversified into computer services. Economic growth in India has pretty much paralleled China's over the last ten years in terms of GPD growth but India lags far behind in infrastructure with only one subway and no high-speed railways.

    Whether inspired by India's Hindu nationalism or not, violence against the Muslim minority has flared up also in India's southern neighbor, Sri Lanka, which just came out of a lengthy and bloody civil war (the Buddhist majority versus Hindus of the Tamil ethnic group). It is not been widely reported that Sri Lanka has leased the Hambantota port to China and the surrounding land for 99 years. Sri Lanka is a strategically important island in the route between the Chinese Sea and the Middle East and Africa.

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2018 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • Articles on the Arab world before 2018

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TM, ®, Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.