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People Aur Politics

A liberation zone for democratic rights, multiculturalism, international brotherhood and peace.

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Archive for the ‘World Press Today’ Category

Sri Lanka: Celebrating the LSSP’s 80th anniversary-FONSEKA Carlo

Posted by admin On December - 20 - 2015 Comments Off on Sri Lanka: Celebrating the LSSP’s 80th anniversary-FONSEKA Carlo


To mark the 80th Anniversary of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party — on the 18th of December 2015 — the Leader of the LSSP, Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy Tissa Vitharana, former Professor in the Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, offers a prescriptive publication to save Sri Lanka. The publication – pamphlet rather than book — embodying the lifesaving formula is deceptively slight in appearance. It brings to mind the document of 23 pages entitled the Manifesto of the Communist Party (more generally known as the Communist Manifesto) which hit the streets in February 1848, the year which saw the outbreak of revolutions in many overcrowded European cities. The resounding conclusion of the Communist Manifesto is memorable and worth recalling: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

Historical Sketch

As it happened, the authors of the Communist Manifesto — Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – were less than 30 years old when the first copies of their inflammatory manifesto were run off a London press in 1848. Their Party, the League of the Communists, was struggling to be born at that time. Tissa Vitharana’s publication adumbrates a programme of 18 specific policies designed to save Sri Lanka in the context of a world plagued by no less than five major crises. Three of them, the food crisis, the fuel crisis and the financial crisis are acute; the other two, namely the development crisis and climate crisis are chronic. The policies proposed by the LSSP for dealing with these crises are revolutionary in their character. The means of implementing them, however, do not require forcible overthrow of existing social conditions. In other words, although the Party’s political ends are revolutionary, its means of achieving them are constitutional.

Road to Socialism

The Founding Father of the LSSP Dr. N.M. Perera settled once and for all the theoretical question of Sri Lanka’s road to socialism. His vision of the Good Society was one that was rationally planned in accordance with modern knowledge, in which people of all communities live peacefully, sharing worldly goods in community with fairness and dignity. For him the road to the Good Society was through parliament. He never doubted the feasibility, efficacy and even inevitability of the parliamentary road in the context of Sri Lanka. He adopted such a stance at a time when conventional Marxist wisdom was that there is not, and there cannot be such a thing as a peaceful parliamentary road to socialism. He persuaded orthodox radical politicians in the country that the mass of the people in Sri Lanka would and therefore should be encouraged to use universal suffrage as the decisive instrument (if not the only one) to acquire legitimately the power necessary to change the world in the envisioned direction. In fact his political Guru at the London School of Economics, the world famous political scientist Harold J. Laski contended that the British Labour Government of 1945, which was put in power by popular vote and did what the people wanted, was nearer the Marxist ideal than the regimes established by bloody revolutions in France in 1789 and in Russia in 1917.

Transitional Programme

The transitional programme of the LSSP proposals at the current stage of our social evolution highlights the following as prerequisites for saving the country from impending doom.

* Sri Lanka should remain an independent sovereign state.

* Sri Lanka should pursue a strictly non-aligned foreign policy of friendship with all nations.

* Sri Lanka should establish unity in its rich cultural diversity with a true national Sri Lankan identity and the country should exist as a unitary state.

* Sri Lanka should be at all times as democratic as possible.

* Sri Lanka should pursue sustainable socio-economic development through a mixed economy.

* Sri Lanka should retain ownership of the land it presently holds while giving long term leases or smallholder tilling rights in perpetuo for generations. State intervention should ensure a fair price for producers and consumers with regard to essential goods.

* Sri Lanka’s economy while being regulated to safeguard national interests should encourage national planning and promote private/public partnerships and cooperatives.

* Sri Lanka should harness Science, Technology and Innovation to promote agricultural manufacturing and service industries in order that the country may achieve full development.

* Sri Lanka should invest heavily in education increasing the investment to at least 6% of GDP.

* Sri Lanka’s hitherto cost-effective health service should be further strengthened to improve its efficacy, safety and quality.

* Sri Lanka’s social safety network must be deployed to protect specially the poorer sections of our population.

* Sri Lanka should ensure the independence of the judiciary and expedite the dispensation of justice.

* Sri Lanka should maintain its enviable record of promoting all aspects of the welfare of the working class.

* Sri Lanka should restore its past glory as a prosperous agricultural society by practicing safe, sustainable, traditional methods of agriculture.

* Sri Lanka should ensure the security of every citizen by implementing the rule of law without discrimination.

* Sri Lanka should protect its unique, salubrious environment by the proper management of its natural resources and disposal of waste and by preventing the pollution of its soil, air and water.

* Sri Lanka should confer on every citizen the effective connectivity made possible in the modern electronic age.

* Sri Lanka should resist the move to uncontrolled urbanization because urbanization is the deadly and relentless destroyer of the natural environment.

Concluding Remarks

Party Leader Tissa Vitharana is acutely conscious of the fact that he happens to be the living embodiment of the legacy bequeathed to posterity by the Founding Fathers of the original LSSP which included N.M. Perera, Colvin R de Silva, Philip Gunawardena, S.A. Wickramasighe, and Leslie Goonawardene. As the present leader with a genetic relationship to Dr. N.M. Perera he is bound to feel the oppressive burden of ensuring the continued purposeful existence of the Party to which we belong. We recall with great satisfaction the fact that 80 years ago the Founding Fathers of the LSSP set themselves political goals which at that time seemed to be beyond “the art of the possible”. Concerning this matter this is what Dr. N.M Perera said on 22 May 1972 when he seconded the resolution in the National State Assembly which transformed Sri Lanka with an unbroken history of some 2,500 years of monarchical rule into a republic: “Little did we as students in London meeting in dingy digs dream, when we inaugurated a movement that blossomed later to be the Lanka Sama Samaja Party that we would in our lifetime be the proud participants of this historic day. We affirmed as our first principle on that distant day in 1930, the achievement of full national independence. It is the fulfillment of this affirmation that gives us unending pride and pleasure.” As it happened, it was none other than the first and only President of the LSSP Dr. Colvin R de Silva who as a Minister in the United Front Government of the SLFP/LSSP/CP in 1972 drafted the Constitution which transformed Sri Lanka into a Republic. The second principle the visionaries affirmed in 1930 is the socialist transformation of Sri Lanka. It is the road to this hitherto incompletely realized goal that the current leader of the LSSP is concerned to define in the present global context. He has endeavored to integrate the programme of the Party with the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. He articulates a mortal fear that if “the revolutionary reconstitution of society” the programme he adumbrates with much erudition is not achieved, humanity may insensibly and inexorably sink into barbarism and even suffer extinction. Significantly, this “barbarism scenario” is in consonance with the highest Marxist tradition. In the Communist Manifesto an optimistic Karl Marx envisaged that the sequential outcome of capitalist development would be “a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large”. If it failed, a pessimistic Karl Marx foresaw “the common ruin of the contending classes”. This “common ruin of the contending classes” is what the LSSP Leader and theoretician Tissa Vitharana, following Friedrich Engels co-author of the Communist Manifesto, once called “barbarism”. The choice before us therefore is stark: Socialism or Barbarism?

Carlo Fonseka



Interview with Afghan President Ghani: ‘I Have To Hold Our Country Together’

Posted by admin On December - 7 - 2015 Comments Off on Interview with Afghan President Ghani: ‘I Have To Hold Our Country Together’
A portrait of Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan; photographed at "The Arg" or Presidental Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan on Nov. 16, 2015

A portrait of Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan; photographed at “The Arg” or Presidental Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan on Nov. 16, 2015

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stands in front of the Presidential Palace in Kabul: “If al-Qaida was version 2.0 of terror, then the Islamic State is version 5.0.”
Interview Conducted by Susanne Koelbl in Kabul, Afghanistan
For over a year now, Ashraf Ghani, 66, has served as Afghanistan’s president. Allegations by rival candidate Abdullah Abdullah of election falsification overshadowed Ghani’s victory in September 2014. Ghani studied anthropology in the United States and also spent time living abroad. He worked stints at the World Bank and also as chancellor of the University of Kabul. In addition, he served as Afghan finance minister from 2002 to 2004 under former President Hamid Karzai.
SPIEGEL recently sat down with Ghani for an interview at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, in the same office where Hamid Karzai governed for 12 years. The furniture may still be the same, but the spirit is an altogether different one. Whereas Karzai was considered to be a man of the people, Ghani is viewed as more reserved, almost shy. During his interview, he ran the pearls of his prayer beads through his hands. He also interrupted our discussion in order to conduct his prayers.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, the attacks in Paris show that militant fundamentalists also intend to turn Europe into a battlefield. Your country has been fighting against Taliban terror for more than a decade. What can we learn from Afghanistan?
Ghani: Terrorism attacks peoples’ trust in the system of their state. There is protection, but only if there is collective action and collective understanding about how to really deal with this phenomenon.

SPIEGEL: What does that mean in concrete terms?

Ghani: We are organized by territories, whereas terrorists are organized into networks. States are very slow and terrorists are extremely fast. Intelligence sharing needs to expand beyond the regional and become global and not country-focused. We need to acquire speed and agility. The bureaucratic culture that we have inherited is an obstacle. Hierarchies may be extremely efficient for dealing with certain events, but they are not quick in responding to global, flexible networks.

SPIEGEL: Is this the beginning of the end of our civil liberties?

Ghani: The commitment to civil liberty is going to be reasserted strongly. But the concept of liberty is under attack, and our definition of insecurity, security and threats will change fundamentally. The depth of the attack on liberty will be felt painfully. People are easily shocked when their routine is disrupted and their ease of travel is restricted. We are dealing with a complete new face of terrorism — killing for the sake of killing. When I first raised the issue of the so-called Islamic State at the Munich Security Conference in February, speaking about its economy, its flexibility and pathology, people thought I was trying to scare them. But now we have experienced just that. If al-Qaida was version 2.0 of terror, then the Islamic State is version 5.0.

SPIEGEL: Islamic State is a global movement, whereas the Afghan Taliban pursues primarily local objectives. Do you believe there are similarities between the two?

Ghani: What is common among all of these groups is the intent to destroy. The majority of terrorists who come to Afghanistan are from China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or North Africa. They were expelled from their countries and pushed to ours — this is their battlefield — and all of them, be it the Taliban or others, are interlinked with the criminal economy. None these organizations could continue operating without the narcotics networks, human-trafficking and oil smuggling. Addressing it requires a truly creative global response similar to that used to stand up against Germany’s aggression in World War II.

SPIEGEL: But the problems your country faces aren’t simply the product of global terrorism, they are also the consequence of the failure of your government and army. On Sept. 28, Afghan forces failed to defend Kunduz against a few hundred Taliban fighters. The Taliban burned down the buildings of almost all the institutions that had been built up carefully over many years. How could this have happened?

Ghani: It happened because intelligence, leadership and police failures made it possible.

SPIEGEL: How was it possible for 700 or 800 Taliban to take by surprise a well-equipped security force of about 7,000 troops in the area?

Ghani: How can a few individuals bring the French government to a standstill?

SPIEGEL: The French government is far from being paralyzed! People in Kunduz say that the intelligence service had planned a comprehensive operation against the Taliban, but that the government didn’t allow it to be carried out.

Ghani: This is not accurate. We were in the process of cleaning up the government when these attacks happened in the north — not only in Kunduz, but also in other provinces. Our special forces are limited — we cannot be everywhere at the same time and we had to defend every district regardless of how insignificant it might be, because of the very social and political makeup of this country. We sent a new commander for the northern region who first informed us of the depth of the problem. We are constantly dealing with situations in which we must ensure that provinces or major cities do not fall into enemy hands. People need to understand that we don’t have an air force and the forces that we do have used to get air support from NATO, which is no longer available. Our pilots have done wonders, but they are stretched thin. We are dealing with resources that have been spread thin.

SPIEGEL: This year, you spent six months negotiating with Pakistan, the Taliban’s closest ally, even as Pakistan’s ISI secret service reportedly was simultaneously planning a series of attacks in Kabul and the military campaign against Kunduz. Do you feel deceived?

Ghani: As the leader of a country, you are not free to enjoy the luxury of such feelings. The Afghan people want peace, which requires persistence. We are determined to defend our country, and the whole region and the entire world understands the justice of our cause and the principled way in which we have engaged in it.

SPIEGEL: Your predecessor Hamid Karzai tried to do the same, but without yielding any results. Your critics say it would have been better for you to invest your time in improving your government.

Ghani: You need to understand the reality. It is extraordinarily easy to judge us from the outside. Please do understand what we have inherited. All German forces are very familiar with Kunduz. You should ask them how they judge the capabilities and resources of our armed forces.

SPIEGEL: What do you need in order to prevent another defeat like the one experienced in the provincial capital of Kunduz?

Ghani: I assigned an independent commission of inquiry to determine the key lessons. Now we need to make sure those lessons are translated into action. What we need is air support. The Americans made the decision out of principle to buy Russian equipment for us because our pilots and mechanics were trained on Russian aircraft. But, then, as a result of the Ukraine crisis, the US Congress imposed sanctions on Russia and the equipment could no longer be delivered to us. I am proud of our security and defense forces. We have sacrificed and we have endured extreme hardship, but we have maintained the key goal — we have denied the enemy its main objective of creating two political geographies in this country through the all-out war which has been unleashed against us. If we had a first-rate air force, the nature of the conflict would be completely different.

SPIEGEL: It is an open secret that the national unity government is anything but united, particularly when it comes to the allocation of influential posts. Why is it so difficult for you to work together with Abdullah Abdullah?

Ghani: First of all, it’s not difficult. The national unity government is a necessity in this country and I am happy to serve it. We have negotiated for months to create a government, but Belgium also went for a year without one. Abdullah and I have much to debate and to convince each other of, but we have also managed more than one significant crisis together. We are coming out of a very tough year, one of the most difficult in the last four decades.

SPIEGEL: Many Afghans are afraid the government will not survive the next year because there is an agreement in the coalition contract stipulating that a constitutional loya jirga must be convened before Sept. 21. The traditional grand council, a gathering of tribal representatives and elected district councilors, is expected to decide on the future role of Abduallah Abdullah and whether his position as “executive prime minister” will be made permanent.

Ghani: Don’t worry, the loya jirga will take place as scheduled.

SPIEGEL: Hamid Karzai governed Afghanistan from the period after the US invasion until 2014. What kind of country did you inherit from him?

Ghani: I inherited one of the most difficult economic situations on earth and, on top of it, a war that intensified. The war had previously largely been confined to the south and the east, but now it is an all-out war. NATO’s ISAF force, with more than 140,000 European and American troops in the country, was not only decisive for security — it was also the largest economic actor. When they left, the country went into a deep depression. The international community didn’t anticipate the severity of the economic impact.

SPIEGEL: What kind of effects has this crisis had?

Ghani: Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs as a result of the troop withdrawals. In the transport sector alone, which constituted roughly 22 percent of GDP, at least 100,000 jobs were lost. Construction of the military facilities was a major driver, with the service sector connected with it comprising an amazing 40 percent of gross domestic product. In addition, the large sum of funds that were provided in annual assistance did little to alleviate poverty, because the government did not focus on the poor. Today, 70 percent of the population still live on less than $1.75 a day.

SPIEGEL: You just announced a short-term labor program that aims to put 100,000 Afghans to work for a few months cleaning up cities, building roads and setting up irrigation systems for agriculture. Can that stop people from leaving the country en masse?

Ghani: There won’t be some overnight miracle cure. But the measures I take will be sustainable. Our goal is to cease food imports within four years. This will create a minimum of 2 million jobs in agriculture. Yesterday, I reviewed 17 small dam projects. One of these dams alone would increase the irrigated land in a province by 80,000 hectares. In addition, groundbreaking is going to take place on the Tapi pipeline project in December, which will transport natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. The first byproduct will be a railway. Both will fundamentally change our economic interaction with Central Asia. And next year alone, we will produce more electricity than we did in all of the past 40 years taken together.

SPIEGEL: You have stated in the past that you wanted to do everything differently from your predecessor Karzai, that you wanted to fight corruption and adhere to the standards of good governance. But then you made Abdul Rashid Dostum your vice president, even though he is considered by many to be a war criminal. You also appointed a former finance minister suspected of corruption as an advisor.

Ghani: I want to highlight the fact that Dostum issued a letter of apology to the victims and the people for his possible role in the conflict before joining my ticket in the election. Besides, did Germany prosecute its Nazis after World War II? No, you hired them. You should take a look at your own history before pointing the finger. What do you expect of a country that is still in conflict? I have to hold our country together, and the imperatives of what we are sacrificing in order to create hope and stability need to be viewed in this context.

SPIEGEL: On Thursday, you are scheduled to visit Chancellor Angela Merkel. How will you answer when she asks why, after 14 years of international military deployment in Afghanistan, there is such an exodus of Afghans to Germany?

Ghani: First, let me express a big thank you. Germany and Afghanistan just celebrated 100 years of friendship. This means something to me in particular, because my grandfather was the first ambassador to Germany. In addition, Germany, like US President Barack Obama, just made a commitment to remain at our side. This has been of great importance to us. Ms. Merkel and I will talk about creative ways to solve the regional problem and that of growth in Afghanistan.
SPIEGEL: During this reconstruction, will you not miss all the highly educated Afghans who have left the country as part of the massive brain drain?
Ghani: We live in an interconnected world, and you cannot prevent people from leaving. What you need to do is to create opportunities. At the same time, people are also coming back. Just take the remarkable example of Mohammad Qayoumi, who was president of San Jose State University in California. He stepped down and became my national advisor for infrastructure and technology. He returned in order to serve his country. Migration is a global phenomenon, and it goes in both directions. We will do our part; and Germany, I’m sure, will also do its part.

SPIEGEL: Mr. President, we thank you for this interview.

Syria’s Other Foreign Fighters: Iran’s Afghan and Pakistani Mercenaries-Ari Heistein ,James West

Posted by admin On November - 21 - 2015 Comments Off on Syria’s Other Foreign Fighters: Iran’s Afghan and Pakistani Mercenaries-Ari Heistein ,James West


While much has been said about the dangers of Sunni foreign fighters returning home, the return home of the far more numerous Afghan and Pakistani Shia foreign fighters has received noticeably less attention. A major reason for the disparity is that most accounts of the Afghan and Pakistani troops fighting under the Hezbollah flag in Syria mistakenly tend to minimize their ideological motivations. However, the Shia foreign fighter phenomenon could have serious ramifications for South Asia, because it serves as a pretense under which Tehran trains and indoctrinates militant Shia populations.

The liwa’ fatimiyun (Fatimiyun Brigade) is composed exclusively of Afghans and fights under the auspices of Hezbollah Afghanistan. According to an Iranian news source, the number of Afghans fighting for the Assad regime is between 10,000 and 20,000 [5], while other news sources put the number of Afghans at between 10,000 and 12,000 [6]. There is no doubt that Afghans have paid a heavy price in the fighting, as 700 Afghans [5] are thought to have been killed in action around Aleppo and Deraa alone. Many of those tracking the number of funerals [7] for Afghans fighting in Syria came up with numbers closer to the regime’s official narrative of 100 dead, because the bodies of Afghan fighters are often not recoverable and simply left to rot if they lie in rebel-held territory.

Though the number of Pakistanis fighting in Syria under the Hezbollah flag is impossible to gauge accurately, one thing is clear: it is rising. The Pakistanis were originally integrated with other units and now serve in their own distinct unit known as liwa’ zaynabiyun (Zaynabiyun Brigade). Thus far, there have been at least twenty funerals [7] for Pakistani fighters in Syria, but there are no real estimates regarding Pakistani fatalities in Syria, and the actual number of those killed in action could be much greater the number of funerals documented.

When compared with other groups, the Shia foreign fighters have an unquestionable numerical significance. Whether taking the larger or smaller estimates, the Shia contingents from Afghanistan and Pakistan are significantly larger than the group of 4,700 Westerners fighting for ISIS [8].

It is widely accepted that compensation, not ideology, brings the Shia fighters to Syria. This perception is based on anecdotal evidence, as well as the idea that Afghans’ lot in Iran and Afghanistan is a tough one and the soldiers in this conflict receive relatively high salaries. Iran targets these vulnerable young men, unable to obtain work permits or establish legal residency in Iran, and incentivizes them with various forms of compensation to fight in Syria. If they refuse, they are sometimes threatened with deportation.

One regional expert quoted in The National [9] noted: “Some are coerced to fight, others promised residency papers for their family, and a small salary. It demonstrates Iran’s exploitation of Afghan Shiite refugees.” Yet that same article described an individual who joined the fight to protect the Shia pilgrimage site of Sayyida Zaynab, quoting the recruit as saying “the Islamic State is a common enemy of Iran and Afghanistan… this is a holy war,” before going on to conclude that the foreign fighters were “mercenaries.” Similarly, The Wall Street Journal’s report [10] on Afghans fighting in Syria in 2014 looked mostly at the material benefits provided to Afghan fighters in Syria. Though the article did briefly mention the sectarian rhetoric Iranians used to appeal to and recruit Afghans, it quickly moved on to quoting Professor Nader Hashemi as saying that Iran is “purchasing mercenaries to do the fighting for them.” These articles demonstrate both that otherworldly concerns are important factors in motivating Shia groups to fight in Syria and that experts seem to be glossing over that fact.

In contrast, the fixation on ISIS’ ideological appeal rather than the financial incentives of fighting with the jihadist group indicates a clear inconsistency. ISIS offers Syrians a salary that is at least four times [11] what other rebel militias can pay in war-torn Syria, yet few people refer to its fighters as mercenaries.

The alliance between the Assad regime and Shia foreign fighters is built upon a convergence of Alawite political interests and Shia religious convictions in defeating Sunni rebel groups. As one Alawite Syria expert [12] explained, the Assads have so hollowed out the religious elements of Alawite identity that the group’s defining characteristic has become ruling Syria, and its mobilization behind the regime is largely to defend its own privilege. Meanwhile, the Shia foreign fighters’ support for the Assad regime is based on a religious mandate to fight radical Sunni rebel groups that threaten Shia holy sites.

The threat to Shia shrines and mosques originates in one of the major doctrinal flashpoints between salafi-jihadi Sunnis and Shia Muslims: the controversy regarding the Muslim principle of tawhid, the unity of God. While Shia Muslims believe that Muhammad’s family and their descendants (including the twelve Imams) had an elevated status and that it is permissible to pray at their graves, radical Sunnis believe this to be shirk, or a heresy of associating or equating others with God. Therefore, the salafi-jihadis see the Shia and their places of worship as justified targets of jihad and the obligation to “enjoin right and forbid wrong [13].”

In the past, Shia communities beyond the Arab Middle East have mobilized in response to threats to pilgrimage sites in the Arab world. For example, The International Business Times reported that 30,000 Indian Shia [14] had filled out visa request forms to fight in Iraq and defend the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala when it looked like ISIS might be approaching. While the Indian government prevented its citizens from going in order to avoid being entangled in the Syrian conflict, this incident points to potential ideological motivations for Shia Muslims fighting in Syria and Iraq. In this context, it is hard to understand why commentators have so boldly written off Shia concerns that groups like ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra will take Damascus and destroy the pilgrimage site known as the shrine of Sayyida Zaynab, where Muhammad’s granddaughter is buried.

One could argue that since most of these recruits are from refugee camps in Iran [15], they will not serve Iranian interests in South Asia and many will simply return to Iran. After all, aren’t some even fighting in Syria because of Iran’s promises that upon return their families will be granted residency permits?

However, this argument is laid to rest by thorough scrutiny of Iranian recruitment tactics. Although it is scarcely mentioned in media reports on this issue, the Iranians are conducting recruitment inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. One German journalist chatted with Shia volunteers for Assad in Kabul [16] while Shia leaders [17] in Afghanistan noted that “the recruitment drive is co-ordinated by the Iranian embassy in the Afghan capital. It provides visas to ‘hundreds’ of Shia men each month willing to fight in Syria.” Similarly, residents of Pakistan are recruited to join the fight in Syria through Urdu-language websites [18]. Thus, while some Shia recruits are undoubtedly rallied from the dismal refugee camps in Iran, at least hundreds—if not thousands—have left Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight in Syria under Iranian direction. Presumably, those recruited from Afghanistan and Pakistan will be returning to their home countries after serving in Syria.

Furthermore, the Iranians have already indicated a desire to extend their influence in South Asia through infrastructure projects [19] and establishing branches of Hezbollah in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran hopes to ensure its own security and undermine U.S. interests with its meddling in Afghanistan. As the U.S. troop drawdown continues, training and indoctrinating a strike force similar to Lebanese Hezbollah in Afghanistan could allow Iran to expand its influence and fill the power vacuum in the midst of a deteriorating security situation.

Iran also has motive for fueling sectarian-based activity in Pakistan. Much like Syria and Yemen, Pakistan is a fault-line for the Saudi-Iranian competition for hegemony in the Muslim world and it is entirely plausible that this rivalry could bleed into Pakistan once more, recreating the dramatic escalation of sectarian violence the country experienced in the late 1980s. Therefore, Iran’s interests would be well served by the cultivation of a readily deployable proxy group under the control of the IRGC and based in Pakistan.

As the number of Shia foreign fighters in Syria from Afghanistan and Pakistan continues to rise, the potential ramifications for the Muslim world become even more severe. When these battle-hardened foreign fighters return home after being trained and indoctrinated by Iran and having built a network of likeminded people, it is no stretch to believe that they could serve as transnational networks to advance longstanding Iranian ambitions in South Asia.

Ari Heistein is a research associate for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. James West is a research associate for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Zyzzzzzy [20]​

India’s Sacred Cows and Unholy Politics-SHASHI THAROOR

Posted by admin On November - 13 - 2015 Comments Off on India’s Sacred Cows and Unholy Politics-SHASHI THAROOR


NEW DELHI – The headlines out of India in recent weeks have often made sickening reading. Startlingly, the central protagonist in most of these stories is that most peaceable and innocent of animals, the cow.
A Muslim man was beaten to death by a mob in a small town an hour from New Delhi in response to rumors that he had slaughtered and eaten a cow, sacred to Hindus. Another man died after being attacked by villagers who believed he was involved in cattle smuggling. And a trucker was killed in Udhampur, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, over rumors that he had been involved in cow killings. Three deaths in just three weeks.
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Public officials, too, are getting in on the action. After the chief minister of Karnataka, a member of the opposition Congress party, recently declared that he would eat beef, a politician from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) threatened to behead him if he follows through.
Likewise, 20 policemen stormed the canteen of the Kerala state government’s outpost in Delhi, because it advertised a “beef fry” on its menu. Kashmiri legislator Engineer Abdul Rashid had his face smeared with black paint for throwing a “beef party.” And the chief minister of BJP-ruled Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, declared that Muslims living in India would have to give up eating beef.
To be sure, there have been plenty of other repellent stories of intolerance that have nothing to do with cows. Two children from the impoverished Dalit community recently burned to death in their own home, in an arson attack by upper-caste goons. A prominent public intellectual had his face blackened with ink for organizing a book release for a former Pakistani foreign minister in Mumbai. And Hindu zealots stormed a Cricket Control Board meeting to disrupt discussion of a possible India-Pakistan cricket series (which now seems unlikely to take place).
But none of these incidents has acquired the toxicity of the assaults on those deemed insufficiently respectful of the holy cow. Indeed, a signal illiberal achievement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP regime has been the revival of the cow as an instrument of political warfare. And the recent spate of attacks reveals a serious problem with the country’s trajectory under Modi.
Of course, the cow has long had a place in Indian politics: the country’s constitution includes a provision explicitly urging a gradual movement toward full prohibition of cow slaughter – a ban that has already been implemented in most states.
For most of India’s existence, however, the default approach has essentially been “live and let live” – make your own choice about beef, and let others do the same. I am a vegetarian myself, but I have never considered it my business what others eat. Where beef was legally available, it was consumed not just by Muslims and other minorities, but also by many poorer Hindus, who could not afford other kinds of meat.
But that response was possible only so long as relatively liberal or moderate officials (including an earlier BJP-led coalition government) were in power. The Modi government does not fit that description. Instead, it is full of leaders who seem more concerned with what goes into other people’s mouths than what comes out of their own.
Modi’s government has given voice to a peculiar kind of Hindu chauvinism, one that embraces activist assertion of a narrowly constructed version of the faith. It cannot be described as “fundamentalism,” for Hinduism is a religion singularly devoid of fundamentals: it lacks a single sacred book, a single version of divinity, and even the equivalent of a Sabbath day. In fact, Hindus who eat beef can, like those who abjure it, find support for their beliefs in the religion’s ancient texts and scripture.
Rather, what Modi’s government has fostered is a form of subjective intolerance, with supporters, emboldened by the BJP’s absolute majority, imposing their particular view of what India should be, regardless of whom it hurts. The state of Maharashtra’s recent beef ban – which threatens the livelihoods of a million Muslim butchers and truckers – would not have been imposed by any previous state government or supported by any previous administration in New Delhi.
Such bans are not really about beef, but about freedom. Indians have generally felt free to be themselves, within their dynamic and diverse society. It is that freedom that the BJP’s representatives and followers are challenging today.
The good news is that a backlash has already emerged. Nearly 40 distinguished authors and poets have returned their prestigious Sahitya Akademi (Literary Academy) awards to protest the silence of the academy and other government bodies following the killing of three intellectuals by suspected Hindu hardliners. A top scientist has now followed suit, returning his Padma Bhushan, the government’s third-highest honor. As these gestures highlight the explosion of Hindu chauvinism, support for Modi has begun to erode.
When Modi came to power, foreign observers lauded him as just the kind of decisive, business-minded economic reformer that India needed in order to fulfill its massive potential. During the election campaign, he seemed to recognize that achieving good economic results was more important than the politics of religious identity for which his party had been notorious.
To the dismay of many, Modi has underperformed economically, while the zealots have run amok, hijacking his development agenda. And his silence in the face of it all confirms what many in India had feared: his economic sloganeering was merely a ploy to secure power. Now that power is becoming a tool of the unsavory agenda pursued by the Hindu chauvinists who enabled his rise.
As a result, divisive politics is now overwhelming constructive economic policymaking. Unfortunately for India, this is likely to continue until the cows come home.
—-Shashi Tharoor, a former UN under-secretary-general and former Indian Minister of State for Human Resource Development and Minister of State for External Affairs, is currently an MP for the Indian National Congress and Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs

Refugees and the Making of an Arab Regional Disorder-Source: Getty MAHA YAHYA

Posted by admin On November - 13 - 2015 Comments Off on Refugees and the Making of an Arab Regional Disorder-Source: Getty MAHA YAHYA


The refugee tragedy is a symptom of a wider political crisis. Finding adequate solutions for the refugees and internally displaced populations is primarily a political imperative, but it is also a development challenge that is essential for political stabilization, societal reconciliation, and peace building.

Wars in Iraq and Syria have displaced around 12 million Syrians and 4 million Iraqis as of June 2015, marking a historic turning point for the region. The increasingly sectarian nature of these conflicts is dismantling the idea of a nation-state built on societal diversity and is affecting the refugee policies of Lebanon and Jordan, the two Arab countries hosting the most refugees. A substantial new underclass of citizens has emerged, along with an evident expansion in militant identities. Without effective policies, these trends will have profound repercussions on regional and international stability.

A Historic Turning Point

Wars in Iraq and Syria are generating 90 percent of Arab refugee flows as of 2015. These displacements represent the catastrophic humanitarian implications of a profound political crisis.

The fallout from the Syrian crisis mirrors the repercussions of Iraq’s conflicts but on an amplified scale.

Governments as well as rogue entities are targeting communities based on ethnic and sectarian identities. These identity politics are playing a significant role in determining patterns of displacement and the potential for return.

Identity politics inform the refugee policies of Lebanon and Jordan. Fears of prospective changes to current social orders fuel national anxieties.

The international response to these conflicts is inadequate, while the ongoing course of territorial fragmentation in Syria and Iraq and the absence of immediate political or military solutions are creating a protracted refugee crisis.
Major Lessons for Future Policy

Addressing the refugee crisis is a political and developmental imperative. Finding adequate resolutions to the catastrophic fallout from the conflicts is primarily a political challenge, and political responses should steer clear from identity-based partition. But a developmental approach is also essential for political stabilization, societal reconciliation, and peace building.

Actors should prepare for protracted displacement. Lebanon and Jordan need to adjust their refugee policies accordingly. International and regional actors should step up to their responsibilities toward host countries
and refugees.
Maha Yahya

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The Roots of Europe’s Refugee Crisis
Setting the Scene for Future Conflicts
The internally displaced problem requires quick international action. Assistance is needed in the form of either protection for those facing imminent threats to their lives or humanitarian and other support.
An international partnership is needed. The scale of the crisis and its wide reach means that responsibility for addressing the fallout must go beyond the United Nations and include partnerships with the private sector and civil society organizations.

Education is essential. Inadequate funding for educating millions of children in the region must be rectified. Keeping these children in school gives them a foundation for a better future and makes them less vulnerable to recruitment by extremist organizations.

Warring parties in the Iraq and Syria conflicts are increasingly targeting individuals and communities based on sectarian and ethnic identities. The most visible consequences of such actions are brutal population movements that are taking place at a scale and pace unprecedented in the Arab region’s recent history.1 Meanwhile, borders and state control of territory are crumbling in the face of subnational entities. This trend is dismantling the idea of a nation-state built on societal diversity and replacing it with the notion of a sectarian or an ethnic enclave that celebrates uniformity.

Brutal population movements are taking place at a scale and pace unprecedented in the Arab region’s recent history.
Both Iraq and Syria have become wastelands of death and destruction that account for 90 percent of the displacements in Middle Eastern and North African countries.2 Close to 12 million Syrians and 4 million Iraqis have forcibly fled the mayhem in their countries as of June 2015. The displacement of Iraqis is more protracted, beginning with the first Gulf War in 1990, increasing and decreasing with successive external wars and internal conflicts, and intensifying after the emergence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS, for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Today, Lebanon and Jordan are the two Arab countries hosting the largest number of these refugees, with around 1.1 million Syrians and 8,000 Iraqis registered with the United Nations (UN) in Lebanon and 629,000 Syrians and 30,800 Iraqis registered in Jordan as of July 2015.3

The scale of forced displacements, coupled with widespread political upheaval, signals a historic turning point for the region, the likes of which have not been seen since the end of World War I. As international borders between Iraq and Syria have crumbled under the onslaught of the Islamic State, parties to the various conflicts are seeking to reshape state geographies and ensure control of territories by targeting individuals and communities based solely on identity in what amounts to acts of ethnic cleansing.

These forced population movements represent a demographic undoing of the Sykes-Picot agreement, the French-British treaty that drew the borders of countries in the Arab Levant. Ongoing identity-based population displacements are not only reconstituting Syrian and Iraqi societies but also affecting neighboring countries, namely Lebanon and Jordan. Furthermore, this process is dismantling the ethnic and sectarian diversity that has characterized these societies for millennia. It is also driving the militarization of society as some ethnic and sectarian communities seek to arm themselves for protection.

Concerns with identity are not limited to warring parties.

In Lebanon and Jordan, national anxieties related to identity increasingly dominate policy and public discussions about the refugees, albeit in different ways. Policymakers and the populace at large are increasingly alarmed that the dramatic spike in the number of refugees fleeing into their countries is altering current demographics and undermining existing social orders. In Lebanon, the fear is that the predominantly Sunni Syrians will disrupt the delicate sectarian balance in the country. In Jordan, this concern focuses on questions of national origin.

With the escalation of conflict, Syria’s neighbors hardened their refugee policies. The initial open-door and humanitarian approach has shifted to a narrower security agenda. Public narratives and official discourse about refugees in both Jordan and Lebanon no longer consider fleeing populations to be “guests” but rather consider them to be “burdens” on their host communities and a potential security threat.

International and regional reactions to the crisis and the inability to either stem the conflict or address its fallout have fueled these anxieties further. Political deadlock at the international level, particularly in the UN Security Council, has allowed a prolongation and escalation of the conflicts. In both Syria and Iraq, different regional and international actors are backing a wide variety of local groups on the ground, while diplomatic efforts best embodied in the Geneva process have yet to bear fruit.4 This has tilted the scales in favor of military and security options in dealing with the unfolding conflicts, including the broad, U.S.-led coalition fighting against the Islamic State and the more recent Russian military action in support of the Syrian regime.

Meanwhile, a large funding gap in humanitarian assistance has forced a number of UN agencies to reduce vital services, including food and education. UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) require $4.53 billion to carry out a regional response plan to the crisis in Syria for 2015–2016. Yet only $1.83 billion—41 percent—had been secured as of the end of September 2015. In Iraq, only 37 percent of the $2.23 billion requested for 2014–2015 had been funded by February 2015.5 In June, the UN issued a new humanitarian appeal for $497 million to address the urgent needs of 5.6 million vulnerable Iraqis.6

Consequently, a massive number of individuals have been pushed to the fringes of society, where they remain in limbo, unable to move backward or forward with their lives. Effectively, they are in a state of exception, defined by philosopher Giorgio Agamben as a status under which entire categories of people live and where various laws are suspended indefinitely.7 In this state of exception, a new underclass of Arab citizens is emerging, spread across those four Arab countries—two hemorrhaging citizens and two gaining refugees—and characterized by tremendous setbacks in health, education, and income. This situation also threatens the future of an entire generation of Syrian and Iraqi youth who are growing up in the shadow of conflict and with minimal prospects for the future. Their despair can trap the region in a cycle of vulnerability from which it will need decades to recover.

Identity politics—the targeting of communities based on ethnic and sectarian identities—have come to play a prominent role in the ongoing conflicts in both Iraq and Syria. While some practices are new, particularly those undertaken by the Islamic State, others are rooted in a longer history of governance in the region, especially in Iraq and Syria. The 2003 Iraq war, a watershed moment for the region, created the conditions for an even more tragic expansion of such practices and the institution of radical ruptures in Iraqi national identity and society. The unraveling of the Syrian state in 2011 transformed it into the epicenter of similar sociopolitical changes on a much more amplified scale, and accelerated the dramatic process of territorial disintegration and catastrophic societal transformation.

Identity politics—the targeting of communities based on ethnic and sectarian identities— have come to play a prominent role in the ongoing conflicts in both Iraq and Syria.
Old-New Policies

In the post–World War II period, the Arab region, particularly the Levant, has witnessed specific episodes of political targeting as well as brutal, large-scale displacements of entire communities based on ethnicity or religion.

Regionally, the forced exodus of Palestinians in 1948 when the State of Israel was established and then in 1967 after the Arab-Israeli War is perhaps the most significant identity-based displacement in the region in the era of state establishment and nation building. Close to 726,000 Palestinians forcibly left their homes and villages in 1948 fearing for their lives, followed by 325,000 more in 1967.8 Today, more than 5 million Palestinian refugees populate camps and urban centers across the world. This displacement of Palestinians would become the longest refugee crisis worldwide. It would shape the consciousness and world experience of successive generations of Arab citizens and inform their understanding of justice. It would also come to influence the policy responses of Jordan and Lebanon, both hosting substantial Palestinian refugee populations, to the more recently displaced Syrians.

In Syria and Iraq, ongoing conflict has amplified decades of identity politics wielded for political ends by the Baath regimes of both countries. Former presidents Hafez al-Assad of Syria and Saddam Hussein of Iraq distributed state favors, goods, and services, selectively giving preference to some communities and marginalizing others. Both regimes also sought to “Arabize” territories considered of strategic interest, such as oil fields and agricultural plains, by moving poor Arab populations to these areas. For example, in 1972, the Syrian government began an intense campaign to appropriate land owned by the Kurds, many of whom had previously been stripped of Syrian nationality, under an agricultural reform plan and settled thousands of Arab farmers in model villages in the area.9 In Iraq, the Arabization campaign that began in 1975 displaced Kurdish, Assyrian, and Yazidi Iraqis from predominantly Kurdish provinces, particularly Kirkuk, in a bid to undermine Kurdish national aspirations and to control oil fields. The government also moved many poor Arab families, enticed by offers of cheap housing, into this region.10

The regimes of both Hafez al-Assad and Saddam Hussein also instigated brutal attacks against select population groups as part of a broader drive to suppress opposition movements and consolidate power. These actions set the scene for broader contemporary grievances. In Syria, the most notorious incident was the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood in a 1982 military operation, including a three-week-long siege that laid waste to the city of Hama, destroyed most of its historic center, and left 10,000 to 25,000 Syrians dead.11 In Iraq, attacks against Kurdish populations culminated in the Anfal campaign and a genocidal strike involving chemical weapons against the town of Halabja in 1988 that left thousands dead. In 1991, Saddam Hussein’s forces also attacked and killed thousands of Shia, particularly the marshlands community of some 250,000 individuals that had occupied a unique habitat for close to five thousand years.12

Iraq 2003: A Watershed for the Levant

The second Gulf War that began in 2003 was a watershed for the Iraqi state and its citizens, initiating an even more profound process of state-society transformation. Beyond the massive destruction to lives and livelihoods, the war to topple a brutal dictator dismantled the central state and allowed new actors such as al-Qaeda and external forces including Iran to gain influence in Iraq. Meanwhile, key political decisions made in the postwar period set the scene for the rise of virulent forms of identity politics.

While the new Iraqi constitution guaranteed equal rights and fundamental freedoms to all citizens, the governance system put in place institutionalized political representation based on ethnic and sectarian identities and focused more on the differences between communities and less on their common bonds.13 The patronage-based networks and corruption that emerged, as well as the disastrous impact of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s divisive and nepotistic policies, further aggravated sectarian tensions and eventually paved the way for subsequent conflict as well as the emergence of the so-called Islamic State.

In this larger political context, population displacements occurred in stages and intensified with bouts of conflict. The most significant identity-based displacement occurred during the civil conflict between 2006 and 2008, when sectarian violence forced about 1.6 million Iraqis to leave their homes.14 It also reconstituted sections of Iraq’s political and social geography on an ethnic or sectarian basis, leading to the segregation of cities and administrative zones. One example is the separation wall constructed by the Multi-National Force in Iraq in 2007 around the district of Adhamiya to restore stability in the wake of sectarian bombings. It carved Baghdad into a series of disconnected enclaves that have drifted further apart and reinforced victimhood narratives among communities.15

To make things worse, the lack of political will of successive Iraqi governments and their failure to address the identity components of this unfolding tragedy meant that 759,000 Iraqis, officially registered as internally displaced from earlier rounds of conflict, have not returned to their homes. Thousands of other internally displaced Iraqis are believed to be unregistered.16 Key obstacles to return include destroyed dwellings and damaged infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, waiting to be reconstructed; institutional and fiscal bottlenecks that characterize the process of registering internally displaced persons through the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement; war-related trauma associated with areas of origin; and fear of going home without visible guarantees of safety.

The sweep of the Islamic State into Iraqi territory in June 2014 has further intensified this process of identity-based displacement and the recasting of territories on a sectarian and ethnic basis. The rogue group not only gained territorial control over large spans of two countries but also announced the establishment of its own state, or caliphate—one that did away with existing nation-states in favor of a regressive and unitary interpretation of identity. In the year that followed, 2.57 million people fled as the group targeted entire communities that had lived on the plains of Iraq for centuries.17 The Christians of Mosul forcibly left their ancestral homes, but they fared better than the Yazidis, Shabaks, Mandaeans, Shia, and Turkomans, many of whom were hunted down and killed. Fleeing populations scattered to more than 2,000 locations across the country and beyond Iraq’s borders, adding to the number of Iraqis displaced by previous conflicts.18 Thousands of Yazidi women and children continue to be enslaved by the Islamic State.

The sweep of the Islamic State into Iraqi territory intensified the process of identitybased displacement and the recasting of territories on a sectarian and ethnic basis.
These mass migrations forced by the Islamic State were significant beyond their scale and sheer brutality. In one sweep, the group has initiated an Arab pogrom, or an ethnic cleansing, that seeks to do away with the remaining but vital constituent of Iraq’s historic identity: its ethnic and cultural diversity. It is also attempting to erase centuries of coexistence and intermingling among communities of varied ethnic and sectarian groups. The wide scattering of these communities makes ensuring their continued viability far more challenging.

Notwithstanding the ruthlessness and regressive ideology of the Islamic State and similar groups, the response of government institutions to this crisis is also aggravating identity-based tensions.

Since 2014, Iraqi policymakers have based some of their decisions about the type of support extended to communities displaced by the Islamic State on sectarian and ethnic considerations. For example, authorities in Iraq’s Kurdish region, where close to 1.45 million internally displaced persons sought refuge, have provided support to Kurdish, Christian, and Yazidi communities while keeping Sunni, Shia, and Turkomans on the borders of Kurdistan and even flying some Shia to other parts of the country.19 Additionally, some 611,700 Sunnis displaced from areas controlled by the Islamic State have been denied entry into areas controlled by the government of Iraq and the Kurdish peshmerga forces, leaving them with few options to seek safety.20

Iraqi policymakers have based some of their decisions about the type of support extended to communities displaced by the Islamic State on sectarian and ethnic considerations.
The Iraqi government’s complex relationship with and its reliance on local militias for security and military functions have also undermined confidence in the central authority and led to documented abuses by these militias at the local level. This is further inflaming societal tensions and posing additional challenges for future reconciliation to the extent that when villages or towns of origin are recaptured from militants by forces affiliated with the government, many of the displaced, fearful for their lives, have not returned. Local forces have also prevented the return of others accused of sympathizing with the Islamic State by virtue of being Sunni.21

Collectively, these factors are reinforcing primordial or subnational identities at the expense of national belonging. They are also driving the increased militarization of ethnic and sectarian communities. Since the Islamic State’s takeover of Nineveh Province in June 2014, most communities have taken up arms under the auspices of either the government militia (known as al-Hashd al-Shaabi) or the peshmerga forces and are fighting to liberate their areas from the Islamic State. Some have also conducted revenge killings against those they perceived as collaborators with the Islamic State and have formed private militias to protect themselves and their communities.22

The Unraveling of the Syrian State

The brutal response in 2011 by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to a peaceful civil uprising demanding political and socioeconomic reform opened the door for multiple civil wars and a dramatic collapse of state and society that have not only mimicked but also surpassed the colossal losses in Iraq. Globally one in five refugees is Syrian, and 35 percent of Syrians have forcibly moved in the span of four years.23

Syria today is broadly governed—to the degree that it is governed at all—by five distinct entities: the Syrian government; the Islamic State; the Nusra Front, an opposition group with ties to al-Qaeda, and its allies; the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups; and the Kurds. The Syrian state has lost control of as much as 80 percent of its territory to these different nonstate actors as well as thousands of smaller paramilitary groups.24 It is also conducting brutal air raids with lethal barrel bombs over civilian areas across much of Syria. Indications are that these bombs have killed more civilians than the Islamic State and al-Qaeda combined.25

The net result of these multiple wars on the lives and livelihoods of Syrians has been catastrophic. As of January 2015, the conflict had claimed around 206,000 lives, plus 840,000 wounded and more than 85,000 people reported missing,26 many assumed to have been captured by government forces at the beginning of the civilian uprising. Close to 4 million Syrians of a total population of 22 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries, and an additional 7.6 million are displaced within Syria.27 Recent estimates suggest that the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria is 12.2 million, including 460,000 Palestinian refugees.28 The funds required to address humanitarian needs, meanwhile, have increased fivefold between 2012 and 2015.29 Infrastructural damage and economic losses have been astronomical.

Beyond this toll on human lives and on physical and economic infrastructure, mounting evidence indicates that the Syrian government and subnational military groups are using identity-based population displacements as a strategy of war, in what also amounts to ethnic cleansing. As described by the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, the situation indicates that “targeted human rights and humanitarian law violations conducted on discriminatory grounds, that is, geographic origin, religious, political or other perceived affiliation,” are driving the displacement process.30 Government attacks against densely populated areas and territories where the displaced have sought refuge “evince a strategy of terrorizing civilians,” in the words of the UN high commissioner for human rights, to make opposition-held areas unlivable, driving Syrians to areas held by the government or outside the country.31 Recent news reports point to an even more insidious and deliberate strategy of sectarian engineering—the replacement of one sectarian population group with another—in strategic areas such as Zabadani, where ferocious battles are taking place.32

Syrian government and subnational military groups are using identity-based population displacements as a strategy of war, in what also amounts to ethnic cleansing.
These actions are in line with the increasingly dominant sectarian narrative of the unfolding war. This narrative was deliberately perpetuated by the Syrian regime as part of its wider war strategy and to paint a picture of the civilian uprising as paving the way for a takeover of the country by fundamentalist Sunnis such as the Islamic State. In such a narrative, the regime is presented as the sole protector of ethnic and religious minorities and a key partner for the international community in fighting the terrorism undertaken by such entities.

Not surprisingly, such actions have intensified sectarian sentiments, affecting the strategic choices of refuge for the displaced and reproducing the sectarian logic that the conflict has now assumed. As of 2013, the escalation of conflict and the deliberate targeting of religious and ethnic minorities, through systematic bombardment by the regime or by extremist groups such as the Islamic State, the Nusra Front, the Tawhid Brigade, and the Islamic Front, forced members of these communities to seek refuge with relatives in different parts of the country. Kurds who fled Sheikh Maqsoud, near Aleppo, in 2014 sought refuge with their kinfolk in the city of Hasakah, which is under Kurdish control. Meanwhile, Christians and Alawis escaping the conflict in the central regions of Syria have moved to the coastal towns of Tartus and Latakia, which are under the control of the regime.33 Such patterns of displacement bode ill for longer-term societal reconciliation, particularly when the perpetrators may be former neighbors or government forces.

This dramatic unraveling of borders and the disintegration of the state into multiple entities means that for many refugees the chance of going back to their homes is slim at best. As in Iraq, the likelihood the displaced may eventually return depends on who controls their homes and towns of origin. Provincial military leaders often view the presence of specific communities as a disruption of the power balance in the areas they control. In cities such as Homs, for example, the return of Sunni families to their homes has not taken place; in many instances, these homes were either turned to rubble or occupied by Alawi families fleeing conflict in their own towns.34 Claims that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party) displaced 23,000 Arabs after the liberation of the strategic border town of Tal Abyad from the Islamic State in late June 2015 generated accusations of large-scale population transfers as part of a larger plan to consolidate Kurdish-controlled territories.35

Meanwhile, the arrival of large numbers of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan triggered deep anxieties that the fundamental principles and sense of identity that underpin their own nation-states would be undone. In Lebanon, this question has taken a sectarian dimension, while in Jordan it revolves around national origin.

Syrian refugees began arriving in Lebanon and Jordan in 2011 after the brutal crackdown by the Syrian regime. About 1.1 million Syrians are now living in Lebanon, spread out across 1,700 locations.36 More than 50 percent are below the age of eighteen. Lebanon bears the biggest burden relative to its size, with the highest number (257) of refugees per 1,000 inhabitants.37 In Jordan, the flow of refugees has exploded from 2,000 who crossed Jordanian borders in 2011 to 629,000 four years later. Despite the construction of four refugee camps (Zaatari, Azraq, Mrajeeb al-Fhood, and Cyber City), close to 90 percent of the Syrian diaspora lives in host communities and makeshift settlements across the country.

This massive inflow of Syrian refugees has pushed the Lebanese and Jordanian coping mechanisms and the financial and infrastructural capacities to the limit. For Jordan, the Syrian refugee crisis comes on the heels of the earlier Iraqi refugee crisis precipitated by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the sectarian civil war that followed.

Because of these identity-based and practical concerns, the attitudes of decisionmakers in both countries point to an increasingly palpable yearning to wish the refugee crisis away. This yearning is shaping the development of a refugee strategy characterized by the gradual increase in restrictive policies and a shrinking protection space.

Awakening Sectarian Demons in Lebanon

The influx of Syrian refugees has awakened sectarian demons in the Lebanese psyche. For many, the Syrian refugee crisis has the potential to undo the fundamental basis of the country’s governance system and social order.

The influx of Syrian refugees has awakened sectarian demons in the Lebanese psyche.
Lebanese officials perceive the large influx of mainly Sunni refugees as a threat to the delicate sectarian balance of the country. The Lebanese state officially recognizes eighteen religious and ethnic communities, and a long-standing national pact among the country’s political leadership distributes the top government posts among its key religious communities.38 Fears are that dramatic changes in the demographic balance between sects could open the door for demands to reconsider the basis of this pact.

This concern with sectarian balance intersects in complex ways with Lebanon’s experience with the protracted Palestinian refugee crisis. Eight decades after their arrival in Lebanon as a short-term measure awaiting a political solution, Palestinians continue to reside in twelve refugee camps across the country. With the exception of middle-class Christian families, the Lebanese state has denied most Palestinian refugees (mainly Sunni Muslims) citizenship rights for fear of altering the country’s sectarian balance. Moreover, despite radical differences in context and circumstances, many Lebanese recalled with alarm the previous military involvement of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the country. It used southern Lebanon as an operational launching pad for military attacks on Israel in the 1970s and subsequently acted as a trigger, and then as an active participant, in the Lebanese civil war from 1975 to 1982.

Perhaps the most palpable expression of this overlap between national anxieties and refugee policy lies in the debates that took place around the construction of refugee camps for fleeing Syrians. The Lebanese government has categorically refused to build such camps, despite repeated advice from international organizations. Concerns focused mainly on the idea that the construction of camps would be tantamount to acknowledging the potential permanence of the Syrian populations, as happened with the Palestinians.

With the escalation of conflict and the expanding military participation of Hezbollah, the Shia political party aligned with Iran, in the Syrian war in support of the regime, resistance to the construction of these camps took on an additional military and sectarian tint. In short, Hezbollah focused its public position on the undesirability of having such camps within its geographic areas of influence. When the UN announced plans to build a dozen refugee camps across the country, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Qassem, objected: “We cannot accept refugee camps for Syrians in Lebanon because any camp will become a military pocket that will be used as a launch pad against Syria and then against Lebanon.”39 However, it is likely that Hezbollah was equally concerned that this mainly Sunni population would further tip the demographic balance in the country away from its hegemony. The country’s leadership also displayed a rare show of unity across political and religious divides around this issue, with ministers from the different political parties echoing Qassem’s statement.

Questions of National Origin in Jordan

The issue of national origin has shaped Jordan’s perspective on the refugee crisis. Established in the post–World War I era under the British Mandate, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, unlike Lebanon, granted full citizenship to the majority of Palestinians who fled to the country following the establishment of Israel in 1948 and again after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

The issue of national origin has shaped Jordan’s perspective on the refugee crisis.
In light of these circumstances, the monarchy has built its legitimacy around East Jordanian national identity. In time, it came to rely on a delicate balance between the interests of East Bank Jordanian tribes and Jordanians of Palestinian origin. A central part of this balance is the assertion of a distinct Jordanian identity to counter proposals that the country become an alternative homeland for the Palestinians as initially envisioned by the United Kingdom and Israel during the mandate period. Palestinians have also held on to their own distinct identity and their political right of return to their homes of origin.

However, the arrival of large numbers of Syrian refugees, after a major influx of Iraqi refugees, threatens to tilt the demographic balance away from East Jordanians even further. This has prompted increased concerns among East Bankers that they “will become minorities and guests in [their] own nation,” according to a former member of Jordan’s parliament.40 Perhaps the clearest example of concerns over the balance of identities is the abhorrent treatment of Palestinian refugees attempting to flee the conflict in Syria. Since 2012, Jordanian authorities have systematically refused entry to Palestinians coming from Syria, with several instances of repatriation to Syria against international laws.41

This worry also overlaps with the growing trepidation of many Jordanians about the evident social change caused by waves of incoming populations with different customs and habits. As explained by a current Jordanian minister, these fears vary according to locality. The impact of the refugees’ presence differs between the capital Amman, a historically cosmopolitan city that has absorbed previous waves of fleeing populations, and more conservative towns like Mafraq, where refugees make up more than 50 percent of the population, generating even greater apprehensions of change not only to national identity but also to local identities.42

These identity-related anxieties are affecting the shape of refugee policies. The legal framework through which the governments of both Lebanon and Jordan operate facilitates a humanitarian and security policy approach to the refugee crisis. In due time, this approach is forcing refugees into a state of exception, defined by philosopher Giorgio Agamben as a “no-man’s land between political and legal” existence for those involved.43 In effect, what Agamben is pointing to is the absence of an autonomous space in the political order of contemporary nation-states for individuals, such as refugees, whose rights to dignified lives are reduced to a basic right to life (food and shelter) and for whom the two basic solutions proposed, repatriation or asylum, are simply not possible.

Mind the Legal Gap

Neither Lebanon nor Jordan has ratified the two international conventions for dealing with refugees: the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol.44 The convention defined refugee status and identified the legal obligations of the host state toward refugees, including guaranteeing their rights to freedom of movement, protection, justice, and work. The protocol removed the geographic and temporal boundaries included in the convention, a post-WWII instrument that had limited its applicability to persons who had become refugees due to events in Europe and prior to January 1951. A basic pillar of both instruments is non-refoulement, or protection from being forcibly expelled and returned to a context where freedoms are threatened and lives endangered.

The governments of Lebanon and Jordan consider fleeing populations as guests and not as refugees. This approach allows both governments to deny refugees a number of basic rights.
In place of this convention, the governments of Lebanon and Jordan consider fleeing populations as guests and not as refugees. This approach allows both governments to deny refugees a number of basic rights guaranteed by the convention, including the right to identification papers, the right to work, and the right to protection, and to reduce refugees’ well-being to the largesse of host countries and international agencies. The thinking behind this policy, as expressed repeatedly by different Jordanian and Lebanese political figures, is to ensure that displaced individuals are not integrated and do not settle in their area of refuge, and that new refugees are not encouraged to flee to either country. To do so, a Jordanian minister remarked, “You try to restrict their access to the labor market.” He continued, “You try to restrict their access to areas that could enhance sustainability. You provide the minimum education, health and food, but not anything further. You don’t want to enhance their engagement with the rest of the society.”45

Some Lebanese politicians have even expressed an overarching desire to wish the refugees away, by making outlandish propositions that repatriation by any means of these de factorefugees is the only durable solution to the crisis. In the words of the minister of labor, “What is at stake now is the proposal that refugees who trust the regime return to the areas under regime control, and those who have faith in Nusra Front and ISIS go to the regions under their control.”46 More recently, the minister of social affairs in Lebanon called for the creation of a joint Lebanese-Jordanian plan for the return of Syrian refugees along the same lines.47

Between Security and Humanitarianism: The Evolution of Refugee Policies

Against this background, both Jordan and Lebanon have espoused a humanitarian- and security-oriented approach to the refugee crisis. The humanitarian approach effectively means limiting support for incoming refugees to the provision of minimum shelter, food, healthcare, and, where possible, education. No projects seeking to promote active economic participation or social integration may be undertaken. The security-based approach considers all refugees as potential threats to stability.

Lebanon and Jordan initially adopted an open-door policy that welcomed refugees and generously provided varying degrees of access to health and educational services. In doing so, they have spent considerable funds on care for incoming refugees. In 2013, the World Bank estimated that the refugee crisis would cost Lebanon $2.6 billion—$1.5 billion in lost revenue and $1.1 billion in providing public services. It also suggested that an additional $2.5 billion would be required for stabilization, that is, to reinstate the access to and quality of public services to their pre-Syrian-conflict level.48 Meanwhile, Jordan’s Economic and Social Council estimates that the Syrian crisis has cost the country $1.2 billion, with the total estimated to rise to $4.2 billion
by 2016.49

By 2013, and as the conflict grew more protracted and the capacities of both Lebanon and Jordan were stretched to the limit, their respective governments undertook a series of changes to their refugee policies. The principal policy changes created additional restrictions on the inflow of refugees, their residency conditions, and their access to the labor market. For example, the Lebanese government enacted laws that restrict entry to the country as well as potential employment opportunities for Syrian refugees. These included a new residency permit law, which requires refugees to pay an estimated $200 per person every six months for permits, placing already-impoverished refugees under undue duress.50 Such insecurity is driving numerous refugees into informal employment in precarious conditions or prompting them to undertake treacherous trips in search of a more secure future, as occurred in mid-2015 with the mass exodus of refugees to Europe. Jordan has also enacted comparable restrictions on residency and employment.

This security mind-set, coupled with the refusal to accord fleeing populations refugee status and rights, renders them vulnerable to abuse and harassment with no recourse to justice. Reports of Syrian refugees forcibly returned home due to “security” concerns indicate that authorities are not upholding the principle of non-refoulement.51 Multiple human rights organizations have also documented the different forms of exploitation that Iraqi and Syrian refugees face.52 These include a constant fear of arrest, mistreatment by employers or proprietors, and the denial of healthcare and education to children. For many, limited access to resources, as well as living in fear of arrest, is forcing them to make choices that can prejudice their futures, including becoming involved in illicit activities such as the drug trade and sex trafficking.53 Effectively, it means they cannot resume their lives. As a Syrian refugee who ran a grocery store recounted recently, “After two years of living here, I would rather go to the hellhole that is ISIS territory than continue being subjected to daily humiliations in this country.”54

These policy changes also sought to appease negative public sentiment over the perceived impact of the refugees’ presence on the declining quality of public services as well as access to the labor market. For example, close to 85 percent of Jordanians believe that Syrians should not be allowed into the country, and 65 percent would like to see them confined to refugee camps.55 Equally vocal and negative voices are heard in Lebanon.

Such negativity emerged from several interrelated factors.

The majority of Syrian refugees have wound up in the most impoverished areas of Lebanon and Jordan, which, in time, has generated competition between refugees and the poorest of Lebanese and Jordanians for scarce resources.

In Lebanon, the largest concentrations of refugees are mainly in Akkar, Hermel, the Beqaa Valley, and around the cities of Tripoli in the north and Tyre in the south; in urban poverty pockets such as Hay el-Sullum; or in existing informal settlements such as Shatila. Close to 85 percent of the refugees reside in areas where more than two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line of $2.40 per day.56 In Jordan, a similar pattern is apparent as three-quarters of refugees have settled in impoverished areas in the capital, Amman, as well as two other northern municipalities, Irbid and Mafraq, and where 40–50 percent of Jordan’s poor live.

Over time, this dramatic increase in population levels has exerted mounting pressures on existing infrastructure, generating tensions between once-
welcoming residents and incoming populations. A widespread perception among Lebanese and Jordanian citizens that the presence of refugees has driven down their own quality of life fuels these tensions. Citizens feel that access to state services has declined, that wages are depressed, and that labor market competition has intensified.

The dramatic increase in population levels has exerted mounting pressures on existing infrastructure, generating tensions between once-welcoming residents and incoming populations.
While increased demand generated by the presence of large numbers of refugees has had an impact on access to services, particularly healthcare, shelter, and education, in reality the refugees have not so much caused shortages as exacerbated structural challenges that both countries were already facing. These include an economic downturn in both countries and challenges related to service delivery.

In Jordan, the presence of refugees has meant a dramatic increase in demand for educational and health services. In education, this has led to students doing double shifts in schools, overcrowding, and higher teacher-to-student ratios. Increased demand for shelter has exacerbated Jordan’s preexisting housing shortage, driving rental prices up almost sixfold in towns like Mafraq and Ramtha and affecting the poorest of Jordanians who do not own housing.57 Similarly, the arrival of refugees has increased demand for scarce water resources, causing a dramatic decline in the average daily supply for ordinary Jordanians, particularly among northern municipalities hosting refugees, to just 30 liters per person as compared to the required 80 liters.58 Meanwhile, labor competition is occurring mainly in the informal sector, such as seasonal agricultural or construction work, where an estimated 160,000 Syrians are currently employed.59

In Lebanon, increased demand for electrical and other such services has also aggravated chronic shortcomings and problems of mismanagement in the system. The education sector is witnessing challenges similar to those Jordan has seen, including double shifts and overcrowding, while increased demand for housing has driven rents up by around 400 percent in some areas of Beirut.60 Meanwhile, labor market competition is taking place in the informal sector, where close to 60 percent of refugees have sought employment.61 Their willingness to accept lower wages has displaced Lebanese workers and also put downward pressure on wages. The significance of such competition is that it is occurring among the most marginalized members of society; that is, the refugees and their host communities.

Finally, the initial focus of aid agencies on providing support to refugees while ignoring destitute host communities has also generated local resentment and aggravated the situation further. Indeed, almost 80 percent of Jordanians believe that international financial support for Syrians is unfair since they are also poor and are not receiving such support.62 Similar perceptions are evident in Lebanon as well.

The inadequate international response to the unfolding conflicts in Syria and Iraq has exacerbated the refugee crisis and its repercussions. As of mid-2015, Syria is the site of a geopolitical contest among major regional and global powers, in particular Iran, Iraq, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States. In Iraq, the international community and the Islamic State are engaged in a complex struggle. Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict have proven ineffective thus far while military and geopolitical realities and the zero-sum-game attitude of those involved indicate that a negotiated political solution to the multiple wars is increasingly difficult to attain.

This political deadlock and the competing interests mean that military options are gaining the upper hand, further complicating potential resolutions and extending the crisis. The international community has favored a costly boots-off-the-ground strategy focused on an aerial bombardment campaign against the Islamic State that, according to a 2014 estimate, has been costing the United States more than $10 million a day.63 Russia’s active entry in September 2015 into the conflict through aerial bombardments of rebel-held areas and its strategic support of the Syrian regime have raised the stakes in an international and regional proxy war also involving Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States. Meanwhile, in Syria, the complex intersection between this proxy war with the highly localized nature of paramilitary groups on the ground is propelling a spike in sectarian rhetoric and violence by all parties and making a negotiated settlement to the conflict all that more difficult to achieve.64 In Iraq, the government’s increasing reliance on local tribal forces, as well as sectarian militias and the involvement of a wide range of local, regional, and international actors including the Islamic State, augments the threat of sectarian violence and aggravates further local grievances.65

At the humanitarian level, and in contrast to the massive military spending, the United Nations has decried the shortage in funding needed for essential support, a shortfall that has also undermined the role of the international community in addressing the fallout from the crisis. The $3.47 billion gap between funds required and funds received leaves host governments in Lebanon and Jordan bearing the burden of caring for the refugees.66 It also means a further extension of this human suffering. For example, in the first quarter of 2015, the UN World Food Program was forced to cut its food assistance to 1.7 million Syrian refugees, thus reducing monthly stipends from $27 to $19. In July, it further reduced the stipend to $13.50, or $0.45 a day. To cope, the hundreds of thousands affected Syrian families in Lebanon reported a reduction in the frequency of meals and other negative coping mechanisms, including employment in unsafe environments.67

Meanwhile, since Lebanon and Jordan are both considered middle-income countries based on their gross national incomes, they are excluded from additional aid packages and concessional loans from international financial institutions. Such packages could have been used to finance development projects and support both countries in dealing with the economic and financial fallout from the crisis. “We are being penalized for achieving middle-income development,” the Jordanian minister of planning and international cooperation complained.68

A lack of funding for programs, coupled with the escalating conflict, has amplified the sense of instability among fleeing populations both within and outside Syria and Iraq.
This lack of funding for programs, coupled with the escalating conflicts, has amplified the sense of instability among fleeing populations both within and outside Syria and Iraq. Internally displaced populations face both a lack of access to humanitarian aid and the hijacking of this aid, when it is available, by local militias and thugs. Consequently, refugees and the internally displaced are having to increasingly rely on friends and relatives as well as local civil society organizations and NGOs, many of them directly affiliated with religious organizations. This is further reinforcing sectarian identities among individuals forced to turn to their own communities for shelter, support, and protection.

Collectively, these protracted conflicts and security-oriented policies are generating a new underclass of citizens spread across the four countries, including refugees, internally displaced populations, and individuals from host communities. High levels of income poverty and inadequate access to education and healthcare characterize this new underclass. In Iraq and Syria, it consists of millions of impoverished internally displaced people. In Lebanon and Jordan, this new underclass brings together disadvantaged locals and incoming refugees.

Collectively, these protracted conflicts and security-oriented policies are generating a new underclass of citizens.
On the Run in Their Own Land

The massive scale of internal displacements or individuals who are “on the run in their own land,” as the UN put it, best captures the catastrophic reconfiguration of Iraqi and Syrian societies.69 In Syria, the shifting nature and borders of the ongoing conflict and a surrender-or-starve policy of the regime and other parties to the conflict70—that includes using barrel bombs and chemical weapons and besieging entire areas to prevent the entry of food, medicine, and other essentials—have driven 7.6 million individuals from their homes. As of June 2015, the conflict in Iraq had driven 3.1 million Iraqis to seek shelter elsewhere.71

Displaced populations have moved to camps constructed for them, informal settlements or makeshift and unsound structures such as construction sites across the country. Reports indicate that due to the increasing transportation costs through conflict zones, the more destitute Syrians tend to move into informal settlements rather than official camps constructed in the north of the country or along the Turkish border.72 By August 2014, estimates indicated that 172,000 Syrians had moved to informal settlements in northern Syria, as well as in Lebanon and Jordan.73 In Iraq, most of those displaced by the Islamic State have moved to camps in the north of the country.

Living in the camps is akin to living in a ghettoized community with precarious legal circumstances, no security of tenure, measly infrastructure, physical insecurity, and minimal access to services. The situation in informal settlements is even more perilous than in formal refugee camps, as water sanitation and healthcare, housing, and educational facilities are not monitored by UN agencies or other NGOs. For example, in Syria about half of the informal settlements do not have access to functional latrines, and the drinking water is polluted, with the consequent risk of communicable diseases.74

Meanwhile, whether they are in camps, informal settlements, or still in their homes, the entire populations of Syria and Iraq are suffering a catastrophic regression in development gains. In Syria, the unemployment rate grew from 14.9 percent in 2011 to 57.7 percent three years later, while close to 80 percent of the population is now considered poor, and two-thirds are living in abject poverty,75 unable to provide the basic means for survival.76 More than 2 million Syrian children are estimated to be out of school with another 400,000 at risk of leaving school, in comparison to pre-war levels of universal education and 90 percent literacy.77 About 6.3 million Syrians are highly vulnerable to food insecurity, while one in ten Syrian children suffers from malnutrition.78 In this context, it is no surprise to find that conflict has reduced the longevity of Syrians by more than twenty-two years, from nearly seventy-eight years to fifty-five.

In Iraq, this rollback in development predates the current crisis with the Islamic State. Iraqis of all ethnic and sectarian backgrounds were excluded in post-2003 Iraq from the dividends of oil sales and of economic growth, and poverty levels have increased dramatically across most provinces.79 The country’s medical health services have disintegrated because of war-related destruction, dilapidation, and the flight of more than half the country’s doctors out of Iraq. Meanwhile, nearly 95 percent of Iraqi families have no health insurance whatsoever while literacy rates have decreased substantially.80

Race to the Bottom

The contiguity of destitute refugees and the poorest of Lebanese and Jordanians along with their competition for scarce resources is also expanding the underclass in both countries. In the words of Makram Malaeb, the former head of the Syrian crisis response for Lebanon’s Ministry of Social Affairs, “It is a race to the bottom between the poorest Syrians and the poorest Lebanese.”81

Perhaps the clearest indicator of this expanding underclass is its impact on poverty and employment levels in both countries. A 2013 World Bank report indicated that the crisis might push 170,000 Lebanese into poverty.82 Meanwhile, one-third of Lebanese youth are now unemployed, a 50 percent increase since 2011.83 In Jordan, indications are that the incidence of poverty has also expanded among ordinary citizens as Syrian workers displace Jordanians in the informal sector.

For the refugees the situation is also dire. Those residing in Lebanon have limited access to livelihoods and are dependent on aid for survival. More than half are living in insecure conditions, while 75 percent are struggling to make ends meet.84 Approximately one-third lack the necessary legal documents to move freely.85 Many have managed to find work as laborers building high-end luxury apartments. With little legal or physical protection, they earn a minimum living and sleep in the basements of construction sites.86 Estimates suggest that Syrian laborers in Lebanon are earning significantly less than the minimum wage and that 92 percent are working informally without legal or social protection. Child labor is also publicly apparent on the streets of
the country.87

Meanwhile, two-thirds of Syrian refugees in Jordan are living below the monthly poverty line of 68 Jordanian dinars ($97) per person, and one in six refugee households lives on less than $40 per person.88 Many must spend considerably more than what they earn just to meet basic needs and are having to deplete their savings or rely on social networks of families and friends. In addition, one in ten resides in informal housing considered precarious, and close to half (47 percent) of the refugees live in housing assessed as bad.89 A particularly adverse coping strategy is to pull children from school in order to find work that will generate income for the family.

In this larger context, concerns are increasing over the most vulnerable of refugees: children trapped in a life they did not choose. In a recent interview, in the Zaatari camp in Jordan, a young Syrian refugee responded to a question from the Globe and Mail about the progress of the war in his country with “I think we will not get freedom, Bashar will win.” He continued, “My dream is we will win. But my second dream is . . . when I turn 16 or 18, I will go to Syria and join the jihad.”90

This dream is a tragic emblem of a lost generation of youth growing up in the shadow of conflict. For them, the consequences of war and protracted displacement with the congruent push to the fringe are even more devastating. Many are firsthand witnesses to violence and unimaginable horrors that touched their families and communities. They have lost their friends, their homes, and their futures.

What extends the tragedy of these children is their loss of education. Today, the Arab region is host to some 21 million children who are either out of school or at risk of dropping out of school. The great majority of those children are Syrian and Iraqi refugees or from displaced populations. For example, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that in 2014 about 2.8 million Syrian children and about 50 percent of Syrian refugees aged six to seventeen were not in school.91

The Arab region is host to some 21 million children who are either out of school or at risk of dropping out of school.
In Lebanon, of the 300,000 Syrian refugee children of school age, only 30,000 are attending school and 88,000 are enrolled in informal education that is not recognized by the government or other entities.92 In Jordan, half the refugees are under the age of eighteen yet only 62 percent are attending school.93

This education deficit is catastrophic on multiple fronts. For children and youth, the absence of education represents a lost future. Without basic reading or arithmetic skills, children and youth have limited options for gainful employment or entrepreneurial activity.

Yet despite the importance of education, it remains one of the most underfunded sectors. The inability of such vast numbers of children to access education is a testament to the continued emphasis on immediate humanitarian needs such as food and clothing at the expense of a longer-term investment in the future of these children. As outlined by a senior UN official in Lebanon, the UN response plan for refugees in the country focuses on addressing the shortfall in access to primary education for refugees. However, it does not include initiatives for those who are fourteen to twenty-five years old—the age at which young boys transition to adulthood and seek options to shape their future.94

In times of war, education also helps keep children and the youth out of conflict, as was evident in a recent analysis on the different reasons given by Syrian children for joining combat. In addition to being tortured at the hands of government forces, following friends and family members into combat, participating in political protests, and needing jobs, two other specific reasons stand out. The first is the lack of education because they live in embattled areas with no schools, or because they were expelled from school for political reasons. The second is recruitment in refugee camps.

While the size of the problem is difficult to quantify, the horrors witnessed by these children and the continued traumas they are enduring place them at an increasing risk of recruitment by rogue entities. As Jane MacPhail, a UNICEF child-protection specialist, pointed out, the Zaatari camp is “a fertile ground for the recruitment of young people.” She added, “If we don’t get to these kids now, they will lose not only their sense of values, but their sense of hope.”95 Indeed, a young Syrian refugee best captured this pervasive sense of hopelessness when asked by Human Rights Watch why he was joining the war in Syria. He responded with: “Maybe we’ll live, and maybe we’ll die.”96

Emerging patterns indicate that the complex intersection of identities, conflict, and displacement previously witnessed in Iraq is being mimicked in Syria on an amplified scale. The scale of current challenges resulting from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq is also daunting on multiple fronts.

The massive population displacements are radically transforming the socioeconomic and cultural landscape of the Arab region. These transformations are not limited to the countries in conflict—they also include neighboring countries.

The use of identity as an instrument of war in ongoing conflicts is driving the region toward new kinds of state formations based on homogeneous ethnic and sectarian identities. The brutal use of such identity politics by both governments and rogue entities like the Islamic State seems to be reaching a tipping point from which recovery will be exceedingly difficult. Given the vicious, far-reaching, and fragmented nature of ongoing conflicts, the types of political settlements needed to resolve them will also be exceptionally complex.

The security-first response, which includes military campaigns by regional and international actors, is driving further wedges into fragile settings. The absence of a stabilization and peace-building strategy for areas recaptured from nonstate actors, one that includes actual measures to guarantee the safety of returnees, has opened the door for vengeful actions, including revenge killings and additional identity-based displacements. When placed in the larger context of other regional conflicts like Yemen and Libya, the ramification of this approach is that it will trap the region in a never-ending cycle of vulnerability for decades to come.

Addressing the disastrous fall out of these conflicts requires a political settlement between parties who acknowledge the catastrophic impact of their power politics on regional and even global stability. A historic political bargain among international and regional actors would include stemming support to rogue entities. By necessity, bottom-up negotiations among local actors to agree on the shape and vision for the future of both Syria and Iraq and an acceptable power-sharing formula should accompany such a bargain. The international community should support this process by restoring civilian capacities and state institutions in both countries. However, it should not support the establishment of sectarian entities as these would only pave the way for further conflict. In the meantime, this same community should renew its commitment to addressing the plight of refugees, including the rights to asylum, protection, and assistance. Failure to do so is simply prolonging the catastrophic undoing of states and societies and extending this insecurity beyond the region.

In the long term, the societal reconstitution of territories through ongoing population transfers signals immense obstacles for durable solutions to the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Challenges to the return of populations are in full evidence in the protracted displacement of Iraqis forced from their homes decades ago. Clear and transparent plans that guarantee security and stability would support the process of return.

Meanwhile, Lebanon and Jordan need to prepare for situations of protracted displacement for refugees within their borders while waiting for future political settlements to happen. In preparing for such a scenario, they need to reconsider their current humanitarian-and-security-only focus in support of refugees. Granting the refugees freedom of movement and recourse to justice would go a long way in alleviating their suffering. For both countries, it would also allow them to capitalize on the talent and labor that refugees bring with them.

Lebanon and Jordan need to prepare for situations of protracted displacement for refugees within their borders while waiting for future political settlements to happen.
In this, the governments of both countries could work with international agencies to move beyond a humanitarian approach to their refugee populations and to address the needs of a growing underclass of disenfranchised citizens. They could expand ongoing plans to carry out development programs that benefit both refugee and host communities. This could include infrastructural investments and improvement of basic services in some of the most impoverished areas that also host large portions of the refugees. It might also alleviate heightened tensions resulting from the mounting economic costs of the crisis on the country and the competition for informal sector jobs between residents and incoming refugees.

At the same time, addressing the expansion of poverty, inequality, food insecurity, and marginalization as well as the severe reversal in development gains will not be possible without a rethinking of development support to middle-income countries. Both Jordan and Lebanon need financing facilities to address considerable development challenges, including income inequalities and access to services, that preceded this crisis and that have been severely accentuated by it.

At the regional level, resource-rich countries, many of which are already among the highest contributors to official development assistance, could establish a fund that aims to mitigate some of the fallout from the current conflicts on individuals and communities. The goal of such a fund would be to provide financing for education, vocational training, healthcare, and shelter as well as financial grants to support the implementation of development projects in host countries.

In the meantime, the push to the fringes of massive numbers of people and entire communities places hundreds of thousands of children at risk of becoming a lost generation. Public-private partnerships could be established to ensure innovative approaches and the delivery of educational packages to refugee children and youth. Particular attention needs to be paid to the forgotten cohort of youth who are fourteen to twenty-five years old and who are most vulnerable to exploitation and radicalization.

The refugee tragedy is a symptom of a wider political crisis. Finding adequate solutions for the refugees and internally displaced populations is primarily a political imperative, but it is also a development challenge that is essential for political stabilization, societal reconciliation, and peace building.

The scale of the challenges requires courageous thinking, bold initiatives, and ingenuity by political and development leaders at the national, regional, and global levels. Without those, this violence and its humanitarian fallout will engulf the region and far beyond.

1 For various reasons, figures for refugees and displaced populations are estimates. This includes the inability by the UN and other international agencies to reach some conflict zones, the difficulties of assessing repeat population movements, the concern that numbers may be over- or understated depending on political interests, and that national systems of data collection for entry and exit into neighboring countries are not always reliable. However, reasonable estimates are possible using figures produced by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for the total number of individuals and families displaced by ongoing conflicts, and that are based on the registration of individuals and families with the organization. However, these figures do not include unregistered individuals who may have entered a country through informal networks or those who do not need UNHCR support. Other figures used include those of national organizations managing asylum seekers.

2 UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), World at War: Global Trends, Forced Displacement in 2014 (Geneva: UNHCR, 2015), http://unhcr.org/556725e69.html.

3 UNHCR, “Syria Regional Refugee Response—Lebanon,” accessed August 25, 2015, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=122; and UNHCR, “2015 UNHCR Country Operations Profile – Jordan,” accessed October 2, 2015, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/page?page=49e486566.

4 This is referring to the UN-backed international peace conferences on Syria that
occurred in Geneva between 2012 and 2014.

5 UNHCR, “Syria Regional Refugee Response – Regional Overview,” accessed September 24, 2015, https://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php; and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), “Iraq: Humanitarian Dashboard,” updated February 28, 2015, https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/en/system/files/documents/files/irq_dashboard_en_150228.pdf.

6 UNOCHA, Iraq: Humanitarian Response Plan 2015 (Geneva: UNOCHA, June 2015), https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/en/system/files/documents/files/2015_iraq_hrp_1.pdf.

7 Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

8 UN Conciliation Mission for Palestine, Final Report of the United Nations Economic Survey Mission for the Middle East (New York: United Nations, December 1949), http://domino.un.org/pdfs/AAC256Part1.pdf; and United Nations, Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Population of the Occupied Territories (New York: United Nations, October 1971), accessed August 8, 2015, http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/858C88EB973847F4802564B5003D1083.

9 Human Rights Watch, Syria: The Silenced Kurds (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1996), http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/SYRIA96.pdf.

10 Human Rights Watch, Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993), http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1993/iraqanfal/; and Human Rights Watch, Claims in Conflict: Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in Northern Iraq (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2004), http://www.hrw.org/reports/2004/iraq0804/.

11 Numbers vary greatly depending on the author. See Patrick Seale, Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989); and Olivier Carré and Gérard Michaud, Les Frères musulmans: Egypte et Syrie (1928-1982) (Paris: Gallimard, 1983).

12 Human Rights Watch, “The Iraqi Government Assault on the Marsh Arabs,”
briefing paper, January 2003, http://www.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/mena/marsharabs1.htm.

13 Maha Yahya, “Iraq’s Existential Crisis: Sectarianism Is Just Part of the Problem,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 6, 2014, http://carnegie-mec.org/publications/?fa=57084.

14 International Organization for Migration (IOM) Iraq Mission, Internal Displacement in Iraq: Barriers to Integration (Baghdad: IOM, 2013),

15 Alissa J. Rubin, “Bound by Bridge, 2 Baghdad Enclaves Drift Far Apart,” New York Times, July 26, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/world/middleeast/baghdad-enclaves-drift-apart.html?_r=0.

16 IOM Iraq Mission, Internal Displacement.

17 “Iraq: IDPs Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place as Displacement Crisis Deepens,” Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), June 30, 2015, http://www.internal-displacement.org/middle-east-and-north-africa/iraq/2015/iraq-idps-caught-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place-as-displacement-crisis-deepens.

18 IOM, “IOM Iraq Tracks New Displacement, Provides Aid in Baghdad,” press release, July 4, 2015, http://www.iom.int/news/iom-iraq-tracks-new-displacement-provides-aid-baghdad.

19 “Selective Treatment for IDPs in Kurdistan,” IRIN, July 16, 2014,

20 “Iraq: IDPs Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” IDMC.
21  “Iraqi IDPs Leave Overcrowded Arbat for Another Home in Kurdistan Region,” UNHCR, June 29, 2015, http://www.unhcr.org/559160dc6.html.
22 Author interviews with a UN official, New York, July 1, 2015, and with an Iraqi activist, July 28, 2015.

23 UNHCR, World at War.

24 Columb Strack, “Syrian Government No Longer Controls 83% of the Country,” IHS Jane’s, August 23, 2015, http://www.janes.com/article/53771/syrian-government-no-longer-controls-83-of-the-country.

25 Alessandria Massi, “The Syrian Regime’s Barrel Bombs Kill More Civilians Than ISIS and al Qaeda Combined,” International Business Times, August 18, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.com/syrian-regimes-barrel-bombs-kill-more-civilians-isis-al-qaeda-combined-2057392.

26 Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR), Alienation and Violence: Impact of Syria Crisis Report 2014 (Damascus: SCPR, 2015), accessed March 19, 2015, http://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/alienation-and-violence-impact-syria-crisis-report-2014-march-2015; and “Syria’s Disappeared,” BBC News, November 11, 2014, accessed March 19, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29653526.

27 UNHCR, “Syria Regional Refugee Response – Regional Overview,” accessed March 19, 2015; and Humanitarian Country Team, “2015 Strategic Response Plan: Syrian Arab Republic,” December 2014, accessed March 19, 2015, http://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/2015-strategic-response-plan-syrian-arab-republic.

28 “Syria: Palestine Refugees – Humanitarian Snapshot, February 2015,” UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), accessed March 19, 2015, http://www.unrwa.org/sites/default/files/syria_pr_snapshot_february_2015.pdf.

29 UNOCHA, “Funding for OCHA’s Syria Response,” accessed March 19, 2015, http://www.unocha.org/syria/oct-funding?year=2015.

30 Chaloka Beyani, Protection of and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons: Situation of Internally Displaced Persons in the Syrian Arab Republic (New York: United Nations, July 2013), http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/IDPersons/A_67_931Syria_report.pdf.

31 “Oral Update of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, June 16, 2014, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A-HRC-26-CRP-2_en.pdf.

32 “Captive Soldiers and Demographic Change End the Zabadani Truce” [in Arabic], Al Hayat, August 16, 2015, http://www.alhayat.com/Articles/10603868/%D9%85%D9%84%D9%81-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B9%D8%AA%D9%82%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%88%D8%AA%D8%BA%D9%8A%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%8A%D9%85%D9%88%D8%BA%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%81%D9%8A%D8%A7–%D9%8A%D9%81%D8%AC%D9%91%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86–%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%86%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D8%A8%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A.

33 “Syria: Forsaken IDPs Adrift Inside a Fragmenting State,” IDMC, October 21, 2014, http://www.internal-displacement.org/assets/library/Middle-East/Syria/pdf/201410-me-syria-overview-en.pdf.

34 Author interview with UN officials, Syria and New York, June and July 2015.

35 Ghaith al-Ahmad, “Kurds Lead Campaign to Displace Arabs in Tal Abyad,” al-Araby al-Jadeed, July 2, 2015, http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/politics/2015/7/2/kurds-lead-campaign-to-displace-arabs-in-tal-abyad.

36 UNHCR, “Syria Regional Refugee Response—Lebanon.”

37 UNHCR, Mid-Year Trends, 2014 (Geneva: UNHCR, January 2015),

38 Maha Yahya, “Taking Out the Trash: Lebanon’s Garbage Politics,” Syria in Crisis (blog), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, August 25, 2015,

39 “Hezbollah Rejects Syrian Refugee Camps in Lebanon,” Daily Star, March 10, 2012, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2012/Mar-10/166204-hezbollah-rejects-syrian-refugee-camps-in-lebanon.ashx.

40 Author interview with a former member of Jordan’s parliament, Beirut, October
17, 2015.

41 Ben Finch, “The Case That Exposes Jordan’s Deportation Double Standards,” IRIN, May 25, 2015, http://www.irinnews.org/report/101539/the-case-that-exposes-jordan-s-deportation-double-standards.

42 Author phone interview with a Jordanian minister, September 9, 2015.

43 Agamben, State of Exception.

44 UNHCR, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (Geneva: UNHCR, December 2010), http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html.

45 Norimitsu Onishi, “As Syrian Refugees Develop Roots, Jordan Grows Wary,”
New York Times, October 5, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/world/middleeast/as-syrian-refugees-develop-roots-jordan-grows-wary.html.

46 “Lebanon Minister: All Syrian Refugees Must Return Home,” Daily Star, September 5, 2014, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2014/Sep-05/269646-lebanon-minister-all-syrian-refugees-must-return-home.ashx.

47 “Derbas Urges Joint Action With Jordan to Resolve Refugee Crisis,” Naharnet, June 16, 2015, http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/182179.

48 World Bank, “Executive Summary,” in Lebanon: Economic and Social Impact Assessment of the Syrian Conflict (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2013).

49  Saleh al-Kilani, “A Duty and a Burden on Jordan,” Forced Migration Review 47 (September 2014): 30–31.

50 Joe Dyke, “Stranded Syrians at ‘Serious Risk’ of Losing Refugee Status in Lebanon,” IRIN, March 16, 2015, http://www.irinnews.org/report/101236/stranded-syrians-at-serious-risk-of-losing-refugee-status-in-lebanon.

51 “Lebanon: Syrian Forcibly Returned to Syria,” Human Rights Watch, November 7, 2014, http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/11/07/lebanon-syrian-forcibly-returned-syria.

52 Ibid.

53 Bill Frelick, “Rot or Die, Iraqi Refugees in Lebanon,” Human Rights Watch, December 3, 2007, http://www.hrw.org/news/2007/12/03/rot-or-die-iraqi-refugees-lebanon.

54 Author interview with a Syrian refugee, Beirut, May 20, 2015.

55 Svein Erik Stave and Solveig Hillesund, Impact of Syrian Refugees on the Jordanian Labour Market (Beirut and Oslo: International Labor Organization and FAFO, 2015), http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—arabstates/—ro-beirut/documents/publication/wcms_364162.pdf.

56 “WHO Donor Snapshot – Lebanon, January – June 2014,” World Health Organization, July 2014, http://www.who.int/hac/donorinfo/syria_lebanon_donor_snapshot_1july2014.pdf; and Government of Lebanon and United Nations, Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, 2015-16 (Beirut and New York: Government of Lebanon and UN, December 2014), http://www.un.org.lb/library/assets/LCRP_Brochure-062951.pdf.

57 Mercy Corps, Mapping of Host Community-Refugee Tensions in Mafraq and Ramtha, Jordan (Portland, OR: Mercy Corps, May 2013).

58 Mercy Corps, Tapped Out: Water Scarcity and Refugee Pressures in Jordan (Portland, OR: Mercy Corps, March 2014), http://d2zyf8ayvg1369.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/MercyCorps_TappedOut_JordanWaterReport_March204.pdf.

59 Stave and Hillesund, Impact of Syrian Refugees.

60 Regional Office for the Arab States, Assessment of the Impact of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon and Their Employment Profile (Beirut: International Labor Organization, 2013), http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—arabstates/—ro-beirut/documents/publication/wcms_240134.pdf.

61 International Monetary Fund, “IMF Executive Board Concludes 2014 Article IV Consultation With Lebanon,” press release, July 31, 2015, http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2014/pr14376.htm.

62 Ibid.

63 Spencer Ackerman, “Cost of US-Led War Against Isis Is at Least $780m and Growing,” Guardian, September 30, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/29/us-war-isis-cost-millions-estimate-pentagon-strikes.

64 Yezid Sayigh, “Syria’s Very Local Regional Conflict,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 9, 2014, http://carnegie-mec.org/2014/06/09/syria-s-very-local-regional-conflict/hd7i.

65 Frederic Wehrey and Ala’ Alrababa’h, “An Elusive Courtship: The Struggle for Iraq’s Sunni Arab Tribes,” Syria in Crisis (blog), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 7, 2014, http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=57168.

66 “Funding Shortage Leaves Syrian Refugees in Danger of Missing Vital Support,” UNHCR, June 25, 2015, http://www.unhcr.org/558acbbc6.html.

67 “Lebanon: Syria Crisis Response,” World Food Program, June 2015,

68 World Economic Forum, “Responding to the Refugee Crisis,” Adobe Flash video, 50:38, from the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa 2015, May 23, 2015, http://www.weforum.org/sessions/summary/responding-refugee-crisis.

69 UNHCR, “Internally Displaced People,” accessed October 2, 2015,

70 “Oral Update,”Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

71 “Iraq: IDPs Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” IDMC.

72 REACH, Displaced Syrians in Informal Settlements Within Syria and in Neighbouring Countries (Geneva: REACH, 2014), http://www.reach-initiative.org/regional-assessment-of-displaced-syrians-in-informal-settlements-within-syria-and-neighbouring-countries.

73 Ibid.

74 Ibid.

75 Abject poverty refers to individuals who are unable to meet the basic food needs of their households. In situations of conflict, the abject poor are especially vulnerable to hunger, malnutrition, and even starvation.

76 SCPR, Alienation and Violence.

77 Author interviews with the UN Department of Political Affairs, July 1, 2015, and with an international civil society activist operating in Iraq, July 14, 2015.

78 “Executive Brief – Syria Crisis,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, September 2014, http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/emergencies/docs/FAO_Syria crisis_ExecutiveBrief_15 09 2014.pdf.

79 Maha Yahya, “Iraq’s Existential Crisis.”

80 “Iraq 10 Years On: War Leaves a Lasting Impact on Healthcare,” IRIN, May 2, 2013, http://www.irinnews.org/report/97964/war-leaves-lasting-impact-on-healthcare.

81 Dana Ballout, “Lebanon to Require Visas for Syrians as Refugees Strain Country,” Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/lebanon-to-require-visas-for-syrians-as-refugees-strain-country-1420418670.

82 “The Number of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Surpasses One Million—UN Agency,” UN News Center, April 3, 2014, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=47495#.VfP_vrxVikq.

83 Ibid.

84 UNHCR, Syrian Refugee Crisis, Inter-Agency Regional Update (Geneva: UNHCR, March 2015), http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Syrian%20refugee%20crisis%20Inter-Agency%20Regional%20Update%2020150319.pdf.

85 Government of Lebanon and United Nations, Lebanon Crisis Response Plan.

86 “All Syrian Refugees Must Return Home,” Daily Star.

87 Regional Office for the Arab States, Assessment of the Impact of Syrian Refugees, 27.

88 The monthly sum of 68 Jordanian dinars per person is the minimum needed for survival, below which individuals cannot meet their basic needs for food and nonfood items; see UNHCR, Living in the Shadows, Jordan Home Visits Report 2014 (Geneva: UNHCR, 2014), http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=224.

89 Precarious settings include tents, caravans, basements, and rooftops. Ibid.

90 Mark MacKinnon, “Why Young Syrian Refugees Will Haunt the
Mideast for Decades to Come,” Globe and Mail, September 14, 2013,

91 UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Under Siege: The Devastating Impact on Children
of Three Years of Conflict in Syria (New York: UNICEF, 2014).

92 Author interview with a senior UN official, Lebanon, May 15, 2015; see also “Syrian Refugee Response in Lebanon: Education Update,” UNHCR, October 17, 2014, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/download.php?id=7305.

93 UNICEF, Access to Education for Syrian Refugee Children and Youth in Jordan Host Communities (New York: UNICEF, March 2015), http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/REACH_JENA_HC_March2015_.pdf.

94 Author interview with a senior UN official, Lebanon, May 15, 2015.

95 MacKinnon, “Why Young Syrian Refugees Will Haunt.”

96 Priyanka Motaparthy, “‘Maybe We Live and Maybe We Die,’ Recruitment and Use of Syrian Children in Armed Combat,” Human Rights Watch, June 22, 2014, http://www.hrw.org/report/2014/06/22/maybe-we-live-and-maybe-we-die/recruitment-and-use-children-armed-groups-syria.
—-Maha Yahya


Celebrating democracy:Aung San Suu Kyi scores a remarkable victory

Posted by admin On November - 13 - 2015 Comments Off on Celebrating democracy:Aung San Suu Kyi scores a remarkable victory


THE excitement was palpable. In the pre-dawn dark of November 8th, 30 minutes before voting in Myanmar’s general election began, the queue at a polling station in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, stretched for several blocks. In midmorning a line of voters trailing through a monastery’s leafy grounds suddenly shifted to allow a frail elderly woman, carried up a flight of stairs by two young men, to cast her ballot. Through blazing midday sun and afternoon rainstorms, Myanmar’s citizens turned out to vote in their country’s first competitive general election since 1990—most of them, it appeared, to deliver a blow to the army, which has controlled the country for half a century.

Full results are not yet in, but as The Economist went to press, the National League for Democracy (NLD), an opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, a longtime democracy activist, had won 291 parliamentary seats, compared with just 33 taken by the incumbent Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and 35 by assorted ethnic parties and independent candidates. Miss Suu Kyi believes the NLD is on track to win at least 75% of the seats contested—enough to give it a majority, despite the constitution’s provision that one-quarter of the seats must be reserved for the army.

The NLD has also performed well in local elections held at the same time as the national one. The party has so far taken 367 seats in state and regional parliaments, compared with the USDP’s 46 and 27 won by ethnic parties. The USDP seems resigned. “We lost,” admits its boss, Htay Oo. Thein Sein, the president, has congratulated Miss Suu Kyi, as has the army chief.

Miss Suu Kyi will not succeed Mr Thein Sein: the constitution drafted by the army deliberately ensures that by preventing anyone from taking the job who has a foreign spouse or children. But assuming the NLD gets a majority, she will decide who the president will be (by February), and, as she admits, will tell him what to do. She is already acting presidentially, calling for “national reconciliation”, talks with Mr Thein Sein and the army, and urging her supporters to be magnanimous in victory.

That has not stopped them from rejoicing. On election night, revellers danced atop cars, waving inflatable red batons and singing party songs. Kya Ma, a 47-year-old public-health teacher, said that in previous elections, “You did not even tell your friends if you voted NLD.”

Local and international observers agreed that the election went smoothly. Fears of widespread disenfranchisement due to error-ridden voter lists proved unfounded. Votes were counted openly, in the presence of party representatives. Advance votes were, however, harder to monitor. In by-elections in 2010 such ballots swung some constituencies in the USDP’s favour. This time there were scattered reports of boxes full of suspiciously fresh and similar-looking advance ballots being delivered to polling stations. But the more constituencies the NLD wins, the more such chicanery amounts to little more than fiddling at the margins.

Cabinet ministers lost their seats to political novices. The NLD achieved a near-sweep in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital, where most residents are connected in some way with the army or the current government. Before the election, U Tin Aye, a former USDP official who heads Myanmar’s election commission, said he wanted his old party to win fairly. But the USDP underestimated how unpopular it is: a USDP victory proved incompatible with a free election. Intentionally or not, the government chose the latter and paid the price.

But whereas the army’s proxy party has been defeated, the army itself remains powerful. Its faction in the parliament gives it political clout that voters, judging from the results, do not want it to have. It will still appoint the ministers of defence, interior and border affairs. This will keep the police and the powerful General Administrative Department—the country’s civil service—under military control. Whether a civilian president will be able to rein in the army remains unclear.

Myanmar in graphics: An unfinished peace
Apart from one public appearance soon after the election, Miss Suu Kyi has kept a low profile. That will not last. Voters, after all, chose the NLD not because of its policies (these are vague), but because of Miss Suu Kyi’s record of struggle against the army, including years of house arrest, and her charisma. Without constitutional reform, the highest office she could accept would be as the parliament’s speaker. But using her personal status to control the presidency would be risky. What would happen if her puppet tires of having his strings pulled? And what would happen to the NLD should Miss Suu Kyi, who is 70 years old, fall ill? In opposition the NLD never had to answer such questions; as a ruling party it would have to.

It will be a short honeymoon for Miss Suu Kyi. She will face international pressure to alleviate the suffering of the Rohingyas, a Muslim minority which the government declared stateless and which therefore had no vote. She has so far shied away from addressing their plight directly. After her victory—and the implicit rebuke it delivered to Buddhist nationalists, who tried to undermine Miss Suu Kyi’s campaign by accusing her of coddling Muslims—many will rightly expect more.

People may not know what Miss Suu Kyi stands for on many domestic issues, but they do know they want a better government, more jobs and a form of development that does not shovel money into the pockets of generals. The army is not out of politics yet, but voters will expect Miss Suu Kyi to deliver.

The High Stakes of Turkey’s Election-Sinan Ulgen

Posted by admin On October - 31 - 2015 Comments Off on The High Stakes of Turkey’s Election-Sinan Ulgen


Five months after voting for a new parliament, Turks are again going to the polls this weekend. Yet the stakes could not be more different for the two elections taking place within half a year of each other.

In the June elections, the key question was whether the pro-Kurdish HDP would clear the 10 percent national threshold. Linked to that was whether the ruling AK Party would get a constitutional majority, which would have allowed President Erdogan to drive his agenda of constitutional change and introduce the presidential system. This time around, the key question is whether the ruling AK Party can win back the majority it lost in June, and linked to that, whether there is a third round of elections looming in the horizon.

The latest opinion polls demonstrate that a very similar outcome is expected from the November elections, with four parties getting representation in Parliament, each with very similar support levels to the June elections and no single-party majority. This may seem a surreal expectation given the momentous events that have affected Turkey’s domestic environment. The resurgence of the military conflict between the government and the PKK, the Islamic State–perpetrated suicide bombings in Ankara that have led to more than 100 casualties, the rise in Syrian refugees now surpassing the 2.2 million benchmark: none of these dynamics have apparently swayed voting patterns in Turkey.

An explanation for this surprising behavior is the acute degree of political polarization that has ossified allegiances. In today’s Turkey, political competition has turned into a contest driven by cultural identities with clearly delineated and deep divisions between the nationalist, Kurdish, religious and secular constituencies. Turkish society seems to have been taken prisoner by this upsurge of identity politics, and is utterly powerless to transcend these cleavages.

This exceptionalism is also demonstrated by the shallowness of the ongoing political campaigning. Unlike past elections, when Turks were exposed to a myriad of party flags in every street corner, noisy minivans broadcasting political party slogans and jingles and countless mass rallies, this time around there is scant indication that a critical election will take place within days. It is as if, cognizant of the deep divisions, the body politic has also given up hope that campaigning will bring about any change.

Yet the prevailing degree of polarization is clearly inimical to Turkey and its democracy. It eliminates all prospects for consensus-driven rational policy making even where core strategic and security interests are involved. The reaction of the Turkish political class to the heinous Ankara bombing is a case in point; instead of displaying even for a brief moment a proclivity for national unity, their instinct was to engage in games of recrimination. But polarization has also proven to be detrimental to another aspect of Turkish democracy, as it has killed any pretense of accountability. There is no more room for self-criticism in Turkish politics, for fear that it will be abused by the competition. Again, the reaction to the Ankara bombings, where no government minister showed responsibility and resigned, is illustrative of this deficit.

The November elections provide an opportunity for Turkey to redress this environment of acrimony. The emergence of another divided parliament with no clear majorities should, under current circumstances, be viewed positively. It will mean the end of majority rule. And the establishment of a broad-based coalition government will force the Turkish political class to relearn the art of consensus politics. But this more optimistic scenario will emerge only if there is an understanding among Turkey’s political leaders, including President Erdogan, that the country has indeed entered the era of coalitions after thirteen years of single-party rule. The tantamount fear is that this particular lesson of the two consecutive elections will go unheeded and Turkey will enter yet another electoral cycle in the first months of the new year, with disastrous consequences for this critical country’s political and economic stability.

Sinan Ülgen is the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.

Images: Flickr/Voice of America [4]

On the Current Conjuncture and Agrarian Reform in Brazil-the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST)

Posted by admin On October - 31 - 2015 Comments Off on On the Current Conjuncture and Agrarian Reform in Brazil-the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST)


The political crisis that began after the re-election of Dilma Rousseff and the offensive by the opposition and the most conservative sectors of the country has put some warnings on the agenda again.

Given the national and international political conjuncture, one of the main warnings is not to equate political struggle with electoral struggle and not to succumb to the pitfalls of traditional politics.

That said, the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) is issuing its official position on the current political crisis and the current situation of agrarian reform in Brazil.

In addition to denouncing persecution, killings, and the criminalization of social movements in the city and in the countryside and criticizing the austerity that has impacted the working class very severely, the MST is demanding that the federal government make it a priority to settle all the 120,000 families in encampments (some for more than ten years), establish a National Plan of Healthy Food Production, and implement the National Program of Agroecology, approved in 2012 and stalled to this day.

The MST’s Position on the Political Conjuncture
and the Situation of Agrarian Reform

1. The Brazilian people have built democracy in the contradictions of class struggle.  We still have a long way to go, but we will not allow any setback in the rights won in our people’s struggle.

2. We have joined in building the Brazilian Popular Front, and all the initiatives of the Brazilian working-class struggles to defend workers’ rights and national causes, such as the mobilization scheduled for October 2 and 3, to advocate for changes in economic policy and the oil dispute for the Brazilian people, in the face of plans to privatize Petrobras and surrender the pre-salt, breaking the rules of production sharing and allocation of royalties for education.

3. We recognize the existence of a global economic crisis, but we do not believe that the workers should pay its cost.  We are against austerity measures and think that the Dilma government is implementing neoliberal adjustment measures that harm workers’ rights and slash social investments.  We express our total disagreement with the current economic policy.  And we demand that the president at least implement the program that got her elected.

4. The program for agrarian reform, which was already weak, suffered an aggressive cut of 64% in the MDA (Ministry of Agrarian Development) and INCRA (National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform) budgets.  Moreover, these agencies are threatened with closure.

5. We repudiate the suspension by the center of government, yielding to pressure from large farmers, of Normative Instruction No. 83, which established rules to speed up processes for expropriation of land, mainly in areas where slave labor is found.

6. We demand that the federal government implement the commitments made by President Dilma, in the meeting with the national leadership of the MST held in December 2014, which agreed on the following:

a) First, settle all the 120,000 families currently in encampments (some for more than ten years).  Present a plan with goals;

b) Develop on an emergency basis a development project for settlements, ensuring the necessary infrastructure;

c) Implement the agro-industry program for settlements;

d) Have a National Plan of Healthy Food Production.  Implement the National Program of Agroecology, approved in 2012 and stalled to this day;

e) Guarantee the issuing of credits for families, as a fundamental right for the development of food production, especially to women, ensuring their economic autonomy;

f) Disburse and augment the necessary resources for the Food Acquisition Program (PAA) and strengthen the National School Nutrition Policy (PNAE);

g) Ensure that all families in settlements have Technical Assistance.  Ensure the management and operation of the National Agency for Technical Assistance and Rural Extension (ANATER) together with the executive agencies for family farming;

h) Guarantee resources for rural housing projects, especially for the 120,000 settlement families who do not own homes;

i) Disburse the necessary resources for rural schools, especially for the projects of the National Program of Education in Agrarian Reform (PRONERA).

7. We denounce persecution, killings and the criminalization of social movements.  It is not a crime to struggle!  We condemn the massacre orchestrated by agribusiness and conservative forces against indigenous peoples, especially the Guarani-Kaiowá people.  We demand the veto of the anti-terror law proposed by the executive branch and approved by Congress.

8. We will always struggle in defense of agrarian reform and to ensure the rights of our social base.  We are committed to united mobilization in the Brazilian countryside, with all the organizations and movements impacted by agribusiness and mining.

9. The current conjuncture of the class struggle summons us to political struggle, spelled out in our specific slogans.  Structural changes and the pressure to achieve popular and structural reforms, such as agrarian reform, urban reform, political reform, the democratization of the media, university reform, go through an extensive process of social mobilization and strengthening of the alliances of the rural and urban working classes.  We are continuing the struggle!

São Paulo, September 11, 2015.
National Leadership of the MST

Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), is a social movement founded in 1984.  Em português.

Russian moves in Syria-Ahmed Eleiba

Posted by admin On October - 11 - 2015 Comments Off on Russian moves in Syria-Ahmed Eleiba


The Russian military involvement in Syria is designed to support a key Middle Eastern ally and build the country’s prestige in the region and beyond
a highly unusual move, Russian state television has broadcast footage of the operation rooms of the Russian military command overseeing air strikes in Syria. Before 30 September, Moscow had not even admitted to having a hand in the military operations in Syria, let alone soldiers on the ground, as was then rumoured.
Following the meeting between presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama on the fringes of the UN General Assembly earlier this month, Moscow made its intention to intervene militarily in Syria explicit, ushering in another round of Western-Russian friction.
But what is the Russian strategy in Syria? From an analysis of the areas targeted so far, one can conclude that Moscow has determined to strike all the extremist organisations operating in Syria, but with priority given to those affiliated with Al-Qaeda, which is fighting alongside the armed opposition to the Syrian regime.
Moscow’s purpose is to enable the Syrian army and its allies on the ground, including the Iranian Al-Quds force and the Hezbollah brigades, to recover territory captured by the jihadist groups since 2012.
This could explain Russia’s initial air strikes, which were clearly designed to help Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad defend his home territory in western Syria against the growing rebel threat.
This was why the first targets included units of the US-backed rebel coalition instead of the Islamic State (IS) group, which is concentrated in eastern Syria. Russia’s second priority is to target IS strongholds in Idlib, Raqqa and Deir Al-Zor.
Russia’s extensive aerial operations, launched on 30 September, focused on the strongholds of Al-Nusra Front, the Army of Conquest and Ahrar Al-Sham in the environs of Homs, Hama and Latakia in northern, central and western Syria.
Near Homs, Russian forces struck targets in the village of Talbisa, said to be controlled by Al-Qaeda’s Al-Nusra Front, which is fighting under the umbrella of Ahrar Al-Sham. Reports also indicate that an estimated 1,500 Al-Nusra Front fighters are based in the Wa’r district of Homs.
In Latakia, the targets were areas occupied by the Army of Conquest. Latakia is strategically crucial to Russia as it is the home of the head of the Syrian regime and it could serve as a future site for a Russian military base. In Hama, the area of Muharada came in for intensive bombardment as it is controlled by Al-Nusra Front.
Russia is involved in Syria for practical domestic reasons, not merely the pursuit of prestige. But global factors are real, too. Mired in diplomatic isolation by his 2014 invasion of Ukraine, Putin clearly did not mind being able to command a meeting with the president of the United States last week.
In addition to the significance of these targets as centres of jihadist control, it seems evident that they could also serve as central platforms for future military action. Not only would securing the areas help safeguard the Al-Assad regime, they would also open avenues for the Syrian army to extend its control outwards, expand its sphere of control and raise the morale of the army.
At the same time, the intensive Russian raids will compel these adversaries to retreat in two directions. The first will be eastward, in the direction of Iraq and IS-controlled areas. The second, most likely the preferred choice of Al-Qaeda affiliates, will be toward the borders with Turkey.
Russian forces could then strike the supply lines along these two axes, or attempt to drive them out of Syria. Some of the countries opposed to the Russian military intervention, such as Turkey, fear the consequences of a random expulsion of terrorist elements.
The Russian strikes against IS strongholds have been fewer than those against areas controlled by other extremist groups. Moscow justifies this with the argument that its campaign in Syria is against all terrorist groups. In the process, it hopes to prove that it can succeed where the international coalition has failed for over a year now.
It is interesting to note, however, that while Russian military officials have announced a four-month timeframe for their operations, Al-Assad maintains that “there is no set time limit as long as there is terrorism.”
Russia’s military-political philosophy in this campaign is informed not just by a desire to reverse the damage done to Syria by jihadist militias, but also by the need to prevent the return of jihadist volunteers from abroad to their home countries.
There is a heavy presence of Chechen jihadists in Syria, and the country does not want these to return and become “a sword in the Russian flank.” The Chechen president supports Putin in this and has called for volunteers to fight alongside Moscow in Syria. Beijing, for its part, also does not want Uyghur jihadists to return to China.
The Syrian president, who realises that the Russian intervention will alter the balance of power on the ground in his favour, has cited the foregoing as cause to support a Russian-led coalition.
In an interview with the Iranian Khabar news channel on 4 October, Al-Assad said that he had asked the Russians to intervene to fight terrorism in his country and that an anti-terrorist coalition has been forged between Russia, Syria, Iran and Iraq. His purpose was in part to suggest that the coalition is a counterweight to the US-led coalition, which is opposed to Al-Assad and has officially refused to work with him.
The Russians also claim that their intervention is informed by the view that the extremists are a threat to every country and are harmful to Islam itself. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, at the “Islam is against Extremism” conference held on 5 October, explained that while Islamist extremists have been abbreviated to IS, the Russian operations take a broader view.
IS is the common enemy of all nations and peoples and it seeks to distort the image of Islam and destroy this religion, he said, adding that the fight against terrorism requires a more comprehensive approach.
Moscow, through its military presence in the region, is now pursuing the age-old Russian policy of “reaching warm-water ports.” In the contemporary context, this policy aims to strengthen the Russian role in regional and international security arrangements in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.
The Western powers, with the Ukraine crisis in mind, regard this as evidence of disturbing intentions on the part of Putin. But Russia maintains that it is opening horizons for a diplomatic settlement to the Syrian crisis, which will only become possible by altering the balance of powers on the ground.
To the Russians, the diplomatic process must include Al-Assad as a party in the negotiations and a partner in the solution. This, however, is a notion to which the US and many European countries are firmly opposed.
Still, it appears that Russia, together with Al-Assad, is determined to press ahead with a Geneva 3 initiative based on changes to the balance of power on the ground.


NTERNATIONAL AND REGIONAL REACTIONS: The US has been quick to pounce on the Russian moves in Syria. Even before Moscow officially announced its operations, Washington began to voice criticisms and reiterate its insistence that Al-Assad cannot be part of the solution or have any political role in Syria’s future.
Washington also claimed that Russia has targeted locations held by the “moderate opposition” that the US had trained and armed. It also blamed Moscow for not having coordinated with the US-led coalition fighting IS in Syria and charged that the Russian raids have killed many civilians.
“Russia is adding fuel to the fire of the civil war in Syria by targeting moderate opposition groups,” said US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter.
Reuters, citing informed government sources in Washington, reported that the US is studying the possibility of increasing support for fighters from the “moderate” opposition in Syria. The support would include weapons to enable the opposition factions to repel IS fighters from strategic areas adjacent to the border with Turkey.
The news agency added that the US is studying with Turkey ways to support the Syrian Arab revolutionary factions that include “representatives of all ethnic affiliations.” Ankara does not want the Syrian Kurds to occupy a large segment of the northern part of Syria adjacent to the Turkish border. The sources quoted by Reuters said that as many as 8,000 fighters have come together under the umbrella of this opposition group.
The British reaction echoed that of the US. Prime Minister David Cameron said that the Russian intervention aims to assist Al-Assad and that it is a “terrible mistake.” He also charged that Russia has failed to distinguish between IS and the legitimate Syrian opposition.
British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said that if Russia wants to counter IS it cannot support Al-Assad, as supporting Al-Assad will only drive more of the Syrian opposition into IS’s embrace.
Turkey was also strenuously opposed to the Russian intervention. In an escalatory tactic, Ankara summoned the Russian ambassador to Turkey to protest against what it claims are violations of Turkish airspace by Russian aircraft.
According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, two Russian F-16s violated Turkish airspace over Hatay. The statement cautioned Russia against continuing its operations and said it will hold Moscow responsible for any inadvertent incidents that occur. The Russian Embassy in Ankara did not issue a denial of the Turkish claims.
A somewhat equivalent response came from Paris, opposing the Russian intervention and appealing to Moscow to not hit the wrong targets in Syria. Another important Western power was similarly restrained in its criticism.
While objecting to the Russian military operations in Syria, German Chancellor Angela Merkel added her belief that Russia and the US, together with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Germany, France and Britain, could work together to reach a solution to the Syrian crisis.
As for reactions in the Arab world, Cairo has officially announced its support for the Russian aerial offensive against “terrorist groups” in Syria. The aim of the Russian raids is to deliver a “debilitating strike” against IS, which will be instrumental in halting and eliminating terrorism in Syria, a Foreign Ministry statement said. Cairo also stressed the need to promote efforts to reach a political settlement to the crisis.
Riyadh, on the other hand, stood with the governments opposed to the Russian intervention. On Friday, immediately after Russia announced the beginning of its operations, Saudi Arabia joined six other nations — the US, France, Britain, Germany, Turkey and Qatar — in a joint statement demanding that Moscow “immediately cease” its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and focus its raids on IS.
The statement held that the Russian intervention is fanning the flames of the crisis and will only fuel extremism and terrorism. The UAE has also come out against the Russian intervention, indicating a general Gulf alignment on this issue.
The lines appear pretty clear with respect to stances on the Russian intervention and positions towards the Syrian regime. Each side not only has its own opinion, but also has forces engaged and/or allies on the ground.
It would be premature to predict how the situation will unfold on the ground. All of the parties may eventually head off to Geneva, in light of the new realities generated by the Russian intervention.
But what is certain is that the intervention has ushered in a new phase in the Syrian crisis. The variables in the balance of power are in a precarious state of flux, whether at the level of the Saudi-versus-Iran conflict or the broader regional and international stakes in resolving the Syrian crisis.
We can also be fairly sure that the Russian intervention has given the Al-Assad regime a new lease of life in the face of its enemies. What is still in dispute is how effective the Russian operations will be in countering IS.

The Real Threat of Chinese Nationalism-John Richard Cookson

Posted by admin On August - 29 - 2015 Comments Off on The Real Threat of Chinese Nationalism-John Richard Cookson


On Monday, China’s Shanghai Composite Index dropped 8.5 percent, the largest percentage fall since the financial crisis hit in 2007. Hours earlier it was reported that Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, would not attend a ceremony in China on September 3 marking the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War Two. So far, China’s economic slowdown has been seen as separate from the country’s antagonisms with Japan. Both domestic and antiforeign discontent might concern China watchers, and both might be simmering at the moment, but each registers as its own threat, requiring its own policy response. This is wrong. What connects these issues is the worrying role popular nationalism has taken on in China in the era after Mao Zedong and, more recently, after Deng Xiaoping.

All of this comes on the eve of a state visit by Chinese president Xi Jinping to the United States in September. Xi lands in Washington as the leader who has, according to President Obama, “consolidated power faster and more comprehensively than probably anybody since Deng Xiaoping.” No force has been more important in Xi’s power grab than nationalism. He has presided over a country that has stoked patriotic fervor as well as antagonized its neighbors and the United States. The most immediate result of stirring up national sentiment has been to strengthen Xi’s power within the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. With this backstop of popular support, Xi has steadfastly pursued a set of programs, even amid some opposition. For example, his anticorruption purge has continued even after an authority as prominent as former president Jiang Zemin warned against it becoming too ambitious.

Nationalism has worked for Xi. So far, patriotic, mass support has protected him from a strong, public challenge by the military or the party. But nationalism in China has an uncertain and at times combustible relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its leaders in Beijing. In China, street-level, unchecked nationalism—nationalism en masse—is a precarious threat both to the CCP and to regional and global stability overall.

In 2012, Xi took control of a China unthinkable without Deng Xiaoping. By opening up its economy and jettisoning Mao-era programs, China created an average of 10 percent growth per year over the thirty years beginning with 1980. Millions were brought from subsistence living to a point where median income now approaches a “middle-income trap.” As if to acknowledge this change, Xi reiterated his commitment to Deng’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics” shortly after coming to power.

But this phrase, “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” is by now, of course, “nonsense,” China scholar Roderick MacFarquhar [4] said at the time. Communism no longer connects the nation; it is no longer a unifying ideology. Instead, China now has

“No ideology. No sense of what the country is about. And the only way, and it is a very dangerous way, that they can achieve some kind of unity between party, state and people, is the dangerous route of nationalism.”

Over the last two-and-a-half decades, and with the strict tenets of communism shed as a unifying ideology, nationalism has been paired with robust economic growth in China to legitimize the country’s leadership. Both contributed to an “authoritarian resilience,” as China scholar Jessica Chen Weiss [5] describes it. Now, nationalism and economics have begun to decouple as growth has slowed and stocks have tumbled. Comparisons with Deng have turned from complimentary of Xi to concerning for China as a whole. “The country is now going through a crisis of transition, unparalleled since Deng Xiaoping set out to put clear water between China’s future and the Mao era,” writes George Magnus [6], an associate at Oxford University’s China Centre and senior advisor to UBS, in the Financial Times.

What connects the faltering economy with the animosity between China and Japan is that antiforeign protests are some of the only forms of mass, organized protest that have been permitted to take place in China. As Weiss points out, while anti-Japanese demonstrations were repressed in the 1990s and 2000s, they nonetheless flared up in 1985, 2005, 2010 and 2012. Moreover, she notes, the 1985 anti-Japanese protests were early precursors of the pro-democracy protests of 1986 and 1989, giving participants much needed experience in mass mobilization. Weiss explains what the CCP knows well, that “[e]ven strong authoritarian governments may have difficulty reining in protests that are widely seen as patriotic and legitimate.”

History shows that Chinese officials quickly repress demonstrations about domestic issues. This is less the case with antiforeign protests, which not only can have an intrinsic, patriotic legitimacy leaders find difficult to counter, but also, as Weiss argues, can have a value for China’s leaders to signal resolve in diplomacy.

In a statement released for the anniversary of the end of World War II on August 15, Japanese prime minister Abe said that his “heart is rent with the utmost grief” about the damage done by his country. But he also emphasized that “[w]e must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize.” This statement joins a list of recent perceived slights, including a row this summer over the treatment of the war in Japanese textbooks, that irk many Chinese.

Chinese-Japanese tensions have eased somewhat since the worst days of 2012, which Weiss says saw the largest anti-Japanese demonstrations since relations were normalized in 1972. Of the 287 prefecture cities Weiss and a colleague studied in 2012, nearly three-quarters saw street protests [7]. Should Xi tolerate another spate of anti-Japanese protests, he would be using popular sentiment to signal to Japanese officials that China’s avenues for compromise are few. Importantly, this wish to signal resolve in diplomacy is weighed against the threat that such protests will spiral out of control, turning to domestic grievances and turning against Beijing. In this way, any anti-Japanese protests ostensibly about the Second World War are a potential rallying point for discontent about the present. “In current American usage,” the scholar Bernard Lewis noted, “the phrase ‘that’s history’ is commonly used to dismiss something as unimportant, of no relevance to current concerns.” Not so in much of the world, and not so in China now.

China’s leaders, Xi chief among them, can wield nationalism for their own ends. And now, leaders may wish to double down on nationalism as both the economy and the legitimacy the government has gained in the post-Deng era from a strong economy weaken. But nationalism isn’t an easy tool to control. As Weiss points out,

“the past two Chinese governments fell to nationalist movements that accused them of failing to defend the country from foreign encroachments: the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek and the Manchu leaders of the Qing dynasty.”

Going into this autumn, policy makers should be mindful of what is happening in China’s streets, as well as what Xi does and says before and during his trip to Washington.

John Richard Cookson is assistant managing editor of The National Interest.

Image [8]:Flickr/Creative Commons.

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