Massenbach-Letter: NEWS 27.05.16

Massenbach-Letter.NEWS

· Abstimmung in der Türkei:Erdogans Ermächtigung

· Radio Vatikan: Mit dem Taxi durch Syrien

· F. Hill / Brookings: Putin battles for the Russian homefront in Syria

· F. Hill / Brookings: Understanding and deterring Russia: U.S. policies and strategies.

· M. Muasher: Botschaft nicht verstanden- Die Region wartet weiterhin auf die Dividende des Arabischen Frühlings

· Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP): Not Just Tech: Entrepreneurship in the Middle East (I recommend. UvM)

· Iran’s Government and Revolutionary Guards Battle for Control of Economy

· China: Between Dynasties and Warlords

· Syria – Kurds – Iran

Statement by France, Germany, United Kingdom, United States and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and

Security Policy on Post-JCPOA Business with Iran

Grand Imam: Religions must work together for peace

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Massenbach*Abstimmung in der Türkei:Erdogans Ermächtigung.

Ihr Siegesrausch verstellt den Anhängern Erdogans den Blick auf Gefahren, die sie heraufbeschwören. Der Kurs des Präsidenten lässt eine andere – undemokratische – Kontrollinstanz wieder in den Blick rücken. Ein Kommentar.

20.05.2016, von Rainer Hermann

Das türkische Parlament hat mit dem Beschluss, die Aufhebung der Immunität von Abgeordneten einzuleiten, eine gefährliche Entwicklung in Gang gesetzt. Denn indem sich das Parlament selbst entmachtet, entfällt eine weitere demokratische Kontrollinstanz, und der Weg ist frei für eine Herrschaft von Staatspräsident Tayyip Erdogan, der auf keine Gewaltenteilung mehr Rücksicht zu nehmen hat. Die befristete Aufhebung der Immunität der kurdischen Abgeordneten ist zudem eine Kriegserklärung an die Kurden; der Türkei droht damit der Rückfall in einen Bürgerkrieg, wie ihn das Land in den neunziger Jahren erlebt hat.

Fünfzig kurdische Abgeordnete der HDP werden ihre Immunität verlieren, sobald der Parlamentsbeschluss von Erdogan unterzeichnet und im Amtsblatt veröffentlicht worden ist. Die Änderung des Artikels 83 der Verfassung sieht vor, dass Abgeordnete ihre Immunität automatisch einbüßen, wenn die Staatsanwaltschaft gegen sie ermittelt. Das ist bei den kurdischen Abgeordneten wegen einer unterstellten Unterstützung der verbotenen PKK der Fall, wegen Amtsmissbrauch auch bei Abgeordneten anderer Parteien. Noch unklar ist, ob die HDP verboten wird.

Die Aufhebung der Immunität der HDP-Abgeordneten soll deren Verurteilung vorbereiten, dadurch auch den Verlust ihrer Mandate. Das wird Nachwahlen nach sich ziehen oder aber eine Neuwahl des Parlaments erforderlich machen. In beiden Fällen rechnet die regierende AKP damit, dass ihr die Wahlkreise der HDP zufallen. Sollte sie damit keine Zweidrittelmehrheit erreichen, die für die Einführung einer neuen Verfassung erforderlich ist, will die AKP der rechtsnationalistischen MHP Angebote machen, um ihr Ziel durchzusetzen, die Türkei von einer parlamentarischen Demokratie in ein Präsidialsystem umzuwandeln. Erdogan als Präsident bedeutete dann: Eine Demokratie wäre die Türkei nicht mehr.

Der soziale Frieden ist dahin

Noch gefährlicher könnte der zweite Aspekt werden. Denn die Abgeordneten der AKP, aber auch der oppositionellen CHP und MHP geben mit dem Rauswurf der kurdischen Abgeordneten allen Kurden der Türkei zu verstehen, dass es für sie keinen Raum mehr in der Politik gibt. Denn die führenden Politiker der HDP, unter ihnen der Ko-Vorsitzende Selahattin Demirtas, sollen verhaftet und verurteilt werden. Der Beschluss kriminalisiert nicht nur die Abgeordneten der HDP, sondern auch ihre mehr als fünf Millionen Wähler. Sehen sie in der Politik keine Zukunft mehr, werden sie wieder zu den Waffen greifen. Dann wird der Krieg des türkischen Staates im kurdischen Südosten, der sich gegen die PKK richtet und schon Hunderttausende zu Flüchtlingen gemacht hat, in den Westen der Türkei getragen. Dort nehmen bereits die Übergriffe auf Kurden zu, die in der Öffentlichkeit Kurdisch sprechen. Militärisch ist der Krieg nicht zu gewinnen, auch deshalb nicht, weil die PKK zwar Kämpfer verliert, aber viele Freiwillige rekrutiert.

Der soziale Frieden, der die Türkei prosperieren ließ, ist dahin. Wieder spaltet ein tiefer Graben das Land. Gegenüber stehen sich die Anhänger der AKP, denen der Siegesrausch den Blick auf die Gefahren verstellt, und die kurdische Minderheit, in der sich die Scharfmacher durchsetzen, da Ankara die Kurden nur noch unter dem Pauschalverdacht des Terrorismus wahrnimmt.

Es gibt (noch) keine neue Gezi-Bewegung

Kurzfristig mag das Kalkül Erdogans aufgehen: mit der Dämonisierung der Kurden die ethnischen Türken hinter sich zu scharen, um damit seine Machtfülle zu vergrößern. Schon mittelfristig geht diese Rechnung aber nicht mehr auf. Denn in seiner AKP folgen ihm nicht alle; es rumort unter den Anhängern des abgesetzten Ministerpräsidenten Ahmet Davutoglu, und der frühere Parlamentspräsident Bülent Arinc sammelt Unzufriedene. Auch in der MHP wollen nicht alle den Pakt mit der AKP eingehen. Spekuliert wird, dass aus diesem Kreis eine neue Partei rechts von der Mitte entsteht, die Erdogan ernsthaft herausfordern könnte.

Da die politische Opposition weiter zu schwach und aus der Gesellschaft (noch) keine neue Gezi-Bewegung zu sehen ist, bleibt derzeit die Armee als einzige, wenn auch nicht demokratische Kontrollinstanz. Je mehr Erdogan die Legislative und Judikative entmachtet hat, desto stärker ist die Armee in den vergangenen Monaten wieder in den Blickpunkt gerückt. Sie hatte Erdogan daran gehindert, ohne Unterstützung der Nato türkische Truppen nach Syrien zu entsenden, und sie führt den Krieg gegen die Kurden. Die Armee übt zwar nicht ihre frühere politische Rolle aus, die in drei direkte Putsche mündete und einen indirekten. In dem Machtvakuum, das Erdogan als Einziger füllen will, ist sie als Institution aber wieder sichtbar.

Noch verfolgt Erdogan Ziele, für die auch die Armee steht: Er bekämpft die Kurden, und er verfolgt die Anhänger des Predigers Fethullah Gülen. Ungewiss ist, wie die Armee handeln würde, wenn Erdogan seine Machtfülle dazu nutzt, eine Islamisierung des Landes voranzutreiben. Mit ihrer Entscheidung vom Freitag haben die Abgeordneten die Büchse der Pandora geöffnet. Das wird die Türkei in viele Konflikte stürzen.

http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/abstimmung-in-der-tuerkei-erdogans-ermaechtigung-14244126.html#GEPC;s5

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From our Russian news desk:see attachments.

Valdai:Crucial Players or Insufficient Powers? The USA, Russia and the EU in the Middle East.

The Valdai Club report’s purpose is to expose interests of the three players in the Middle East as well as alteration in their strategies in the rapidly changing regional landscape.

Russian military operation in Syria, launched September 30th, 2015, and the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS,1 as well as the EU frantic attempts to address mounting refugee crisis and control migration flows are all focused on the threats originated from the Middle East. Despite their differences, all three players demonstrate genuine concern regarding the region, which throughout the last decades repeatedly became the focus of desperate diplomatic efforts and painful intrusions by major powers.

The report demonstrates that outside powers could play a useful role in relaxing security dilemmas through establishment of inclusive channels for dialogue. It also argues that partial harmonization of signaling for the local actors is needed to address the challenge of fractured social foundations of the Middle Eastern politics and to prevent new advancement of violent extremists.

Author of the report is Igor Istomin, Senior Lecturer at Department of Applied International Political Analysis, MGIMO University.

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Azerbaijan’s President Calls for Expansion of Tehran-Baku Agricultural Ties.

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev hailed the growing trend of bilateral ties between Tehran and Baku in diverse fields, calling for enhancement of

bilateral cooperation in the field of agriculture as well. Iran and Azerbaijan are “brothers” and “friends” and should increase their cooperation in agriculture and farming industry,

Aliyev said in a Sunday meeting with Iran’s Agriculture Minister Mahmoud Hojjati in Baku.

Expressing satisfaction over the good relations between the two neighbors, he said the political leadership of two nations has been making efforts to further enhance the mutual ties.

Hojjati, for his part, welcomed the measures taken in the past years to bolster the relations between the two neighbors.

He also submitted the Iranian president’s message of greeting to his Azerbaijani counterpart.

During the meeting, the two sides also exchanged views on investment in the agriculture sector and construction of joint production units.

Iran and Azerbaijan have accelerated efforts in recent years to forge closer partnership in various areas.

Back in February, the Azeri president paid an official visit to Tehran, during which the two sides signed eleven Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) and agreements to promote mutual cooperation in a range of fields.

http://www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2016/05/16/1076843

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EBRD President Sir Suma Chakrabarti visited Azerbaijan on 24-25 May 2016, as part of a trip to three Caspian states – Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

The EBRD President met the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, and discussed EBRD-Azerbaijan cooperation, the government’s recent and planned reforms, the Bank’s support for the strategic cross-border energy project, the Southern Gas Corridor, and potential cooperation in the country’s banking sector, including what could be the first local currency bond to be issued by an international financial institution.

To date, the EBRD has invested a total of €2.5 billion in Azerbaijan. Over the last four years it has increased its investment in Azerbaijan’s private sector. Recent government reforms to improve the investment climate have given further momentum to the EBRD’s expanding and diversifying portfolio‎.

The EBRD President and his delegation also had discussions with the Minister of Economy, Shahin Mustafayev, and the Chairman of the recently created Financial Markets Supervision Authority (FMSA), Rufat Aslanli. Sir Suma also met with the Minister of Finance, Samir Sharifov.

The EBRD delegation included the EBRD Managing Director for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, Francis Malige, and the Head of the EBRD Office in Azerbaijan, Neil McKain.

The EBRD team also met representatives from the banking sector and from civil society.

At a roundtable discussion with the chief executives of seven banks and financial institutions, the EBRD discussed challenges faced by the banking sector such as the low liquidity levels in the Azerbaijani manat, rising levels of non-performing loans and continued low levels of loan repayments.

Officials from the FMSA confirmed that regulatory steps had been taken that should allow the EBRD to issue a local currency bond, market conditions permitting.

During their meeting with Sir Suma, civil society representatives described good progress on a number of issues and also areas where in their view more needed to be done. Of particular note was the perceived progress in tackling petty corruption, thanks to the gradual implementation of the Azerbaijan Service and Assessment Network (ASAN) of citizen service centres.

Civil society representatives also referred positively to reforms in the customs system and simplification of the licensing and permits system and a reduction in the frequency of company inspections. President Chakrabarti and civil society representatives agreed that accelerating the work required to restore the country’s full membership of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) was a priority, an objective shared by the Government of Azerbaijan.

During the visit, Sir Suma spoke at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy and gave a press briefing to Azerbaijani and international media.

Summing up his meetings, Sir Suma said: “It was a very successful visit. I was able to discuss a variety of important subjects with the President, the government and the civil society representatives. In the meetings, I noted that the recent drop in oil prices presented an opportunity for the diversification of the Azerbaijani economy by growing the non-oil and gas private sector. This is a development that the EBRD strongly supports. I also stressed that for long-term private sector growth, in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises, it is crucial to have a vibrant and viable financial sector. The financial sector is currently facing a combination of short-term issues such as low liquidity in the local currency and rising levels of non-performing loans combined with structural issues of fragmentation, asset quality and governance. The EBRD is prepared to work with all stakeholders to find solutions. With regard to oil and gas, we will aim to make strategic investments which will guarantee the country’s long-term economic health. In that context we will support the Southern Gas Corridor, a project which diversifies export routes for Azerbaijan and is also important for energy security in Europe.”

The EBRD President added that the Bank is considering supporting the two pipelines that form part of the Southern Gas Corridor, the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) where the EBRD is considering providing a syndicated loan of up to €1.5 billion, and is also in the early stages of considering co-financing the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP).

http://www.ebrd.com/news/2016/ebrd-president-visited-azerbaijan.html

EBRD President visited Turkmenistan

…..Sir Suma stressed that the EBRD is interested in supporting Turkmenistan’s efforts under the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Initiative to reduce petroleum gas flaring which is one of the major ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions. They also discussed the security and energy situation in the region. President Berdimuhamedov reiterated the importance of possible EBRD participation in TAPI, a pipeline to bring Turkmen gas to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

President Chakrabarti discussed with President Berdimuhamedov Turkmenistan’s status of permanent neutrality and progress in Turkmenistan’s human rights dialogue under the National Action Plan developed with the support of the United Nations Development Programme for the period 2016-20 and in dialogue with the European Union and the United Nations. They also noted the increase in female representation in parliament, where currently 26 per cent of MPs are women.

President Berdimuhamedov invited the EBRD to participate in a UN conference on transport and transit corridors in Turkmenistan in November….

http://www.ebrd.com/news/2016/ebrd-president-visited-turkmenistan.html

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Brookings / F. Hill:Putin battles for the Russian homefront in Syria.

There are lots of ways for Syria to go wrong for Russia. Analysts have tended to focus on Moscow’s military shortcomings in that theater, wondering if Syria will become Russia’s Vietnam. They’ve also pointed to Russia’s deep economic troubles—exacerbated, of course, by very low oil prices—which call into question its ability to pay for the military campaign over time.

One of the understudied aspects of Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict is the ramifications it could have for the Russian government’s relations with Muslims back at home. Moscow is now home to the largest Muslim community of any city in Europe (with between 1.5 and 2 million Muslims out of a population of around 13 million, although illegal immigration has distorted many of the figures). Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders have consciously avoided choosing sides in the Sunni-Shiite divide in the Middle East—recognizing that doing so could provoke a backlash among Russian Muslims.

The rise of an extremist, Salafi- or Wahhabi-inspired, religious state in Syria—an Islamic caliphate established either by the Islamic State or by any religiously-based extremist group in the region—could pose a significant problem for Russia. That’s both because of how it’s likely to behave toward other states in the region (including key Russian partners like Israel, Egypt, and Iran) and because of what it could inspire in Mother Russia, where efforts by militant groups to create their own “caliphate” or “emirate” in the North Caucasus have created headaches for Moscow since the early 2000s.

Islam and Russia go way back

Russia is a Muslim state. Islam is arguably older than Christianity in traditional Russian territory––with Muslim communities first appearing in southeastern Russia in the 8th century. It is firmly established as the dominant religion among the Tatars of the Volga region and the diverse peoples of the Russian North Caucasus. These indigenous Sunni Muslims have their own unique heritage, history, and religious experience. The Tatars launched a reformist movement in the 19th century that later morphed into ideas of “Euro-Islam,” a progressive credo that could coexist, and even compete, with Russian Orthodoxy and other Christian denominations. Sufi movements, rooted in private forms of belief and practice, similarly prevailed in the Russian North Caucasus after the late 18th century.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, when Central Asia and the South Caucasus were also part of the state, the USSR’s demography was in flux. The “ethnic” Muslim share of the population was rising as a result of high birthrates in Central Asia, while the Slavic, primarily Orthodox, populations of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine were declining from high mortality and low birthrates. Since the dissolution of the USSR, Russia’s nominal Muslim population has swelled with labor migration from Central Asia and Azerbaijan, which has brought more Shiite Muslims into the mix, in the case of Azeri immigrants. As in other countries, Russia has also had its share of converts to Islam as the population rediscovered religion in the 1990s and 2000s after the enforced atheism of the Soviet period came to an end.

The foreign fighter problem

The Kremlin cannot afford the rise of any group that fuses religion and politics, and has outside allegiances that might encourage opposition to the Russian state among its Muslim populations. The religious wars in the Middle East are not a side show for Russia. Thousands of foreign fighters have flocked to Syria from Russia, as well as from Central Asia and the South Caucasus, all attracted by the extreme messages of ISIS and other groups.

Extremist groups have been active in Russia since the Chechen wars of the 1990s and 2000s. A recent Reuters report reveals how Russia allowed—and even encouraged—militants and radicals from the North Caucasus to go and fight in Syria in 2013, in an effort to divert them away from potential domestic terrorist attacks ahead of the February 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The Kremlin now worries that these and other fighters will return from Syria and further radicalize and inflame the situation in the North Caucasus and elsewhere in Russia. Putin intends to eliminate the fighters, in place, before they have an opportunity to come back home.

Putin also knows a thing or two about extremists from his time in the KGB, as well as his reading of Russian history. As a result, he does little to distinguish among them. For Putin, an extremist is an extremist—no matter what name he or she adopts. Indeed, Russian revolutionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries wrote the playbook for fusing ideology with terror and brutality; and Putin has recently become very critical of that revolutionary approach––moving even to criticize Soviet founder and Bolshevik Party leader Vladimir Lenin for destroying the Russian state and empire one hundred years ago in the Russian Revolution of 1917. For Putin, anyone whose views and ideas can become the base for violence in opposition to the legal, legitimate state (and its leader) is an extremist who must be countered. Syria is a crucial front in holding the line.

The long haul

With this in mind, we can be sure that Putin sees Russia in for the long haul in Syria. Recent signs that Russia may be creating a new army base in Palmyra to complement its bases in Latakia and Tarsus, underscore this point. Having watched the United States returning to its old battlegrounds in both Afghanistan and Iraq to head off new extremist threats, Putin will want to prepare contingencies and keep his options open.

The fight with extremists is only beginning for Russia in Syria, now that Moscow has bolstered the position of Bashar Assad and the secular Alawite regime. For Putin and for Russia, Syria is the focal point of international action, and the current arena for diplomatic as well as military interaction with the United States, but it is also a critical element for Putin in his efforts to maintain control of the homefront.

F. Hill / Brookings: Understanding and deterring Russia: U.S. policies and strategies.

Russia’s vast landmass and interests extend from Europe and Eurasia to the Middle East, Central and South Asia, to the Asia-Pacific and the Arctic. We will thus need a more holistic approach..

http://www.brookings.edu/research/testimony/2016/02/10-us-strategy-russia-hill

Iran Economy in Brief.

Railways: Safe and Sound
“Currently there are 10,500 km railways in Iran, but the country needs to add 9000 km”, said Mr. Pouraghaii, Vice Minister of Roads and Urban Development of Iran, at the inauguration of IRAN RAIL EXPO, “5000 km are under construction”.
Over the last two years, transport through the railway has been doubled year-by-year, which makes the goals to be ambitious: by 2020, Iran wants to increase passenger transport by trains to 40 million and cargo transport to 92 million tones, these figures currently are 27 million and 34 million tones, respectively.
Iran’s geographical position permits the country to become a corridor from west to east, as well as north to south, though to become such lots of development is needed.
Source: Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (map att.)

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Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* „Wen soll man wählen?“ – Die neue politische Obdachlosigkeit.

Kolumne Grauzone: Die Stimmung in Deutschland scheint vor allem eines zu sein: ratlos. „Wen soll man wählen?“ fragen sich viele –

das Vertrauen gegenüber etablierten Parteien ist verloren gegangen. Ausgerechnet das Bürgertum in Deutschland wird politisch zunehmend heimatlos

Das Bürgertum in Deutschland, die nach wie vor von fast allen Parteien so eifrig hofierte Mitte, wird politisch zunehmend heimatlos. Verunsicherung greift um sich. Menschen, die noch vor wenigen Jahren, wenn vielleicht zögerlich und ohne Begeisterung, irgendwo ihr Wahlkreuzchen gemacht haben, sind frustriert. Wen sollen sie noch wählen?

Natürlich gibt es viele einschlägige Erklärungen für dieses Phänomen: Die Pluralisierung der Gesellschaft, die daraus resultierende verlorene Bindungskraft politischer Parteien, die Individualisierung, die soziale und räumliche Mobilität, die Medien.

Es hat ein Stimmungswandel stattgefunden

All das stimmt ja auch. Aber es reicht nicht als Erklärung. Denn in den letzten Monaten hat ein Stimmungswandel stattgefunden, der nicht allein mit dem sozialen Wandel begründet werden kann. Es ist Vertrauen verloren gegangen. Psychologisch könnte man auch von dem Verlust eines Urvertrauens in die politischen Parteien und ihre Akteure sprechen. Und dieser Verlust an Urvertrauen geht weit über die übliche Politikschelte hinaus.

Nun könnte man argumentieren: Ist doch kein Wunder. Weder hinsichtlich der EU noch bezüglich der Einwandererpolitik und des Themas „Islam“ vermittelt die Politik der Bevölkerung das Gefühl, die Lage im Griff zu haben. Schlimmer noch: Viele Signale, die in der Bevölkerung zu einer gewissen Beruhigung beitragen könnten, werden ausdrücklich abgelehnt oder sogar diffamiert.

In diesem Fall aber müssten die Wahlergebnisse der AfD ganz anders aussehen. Denn man kommt nicht umhin: Die Frustration über die Politik ist ungleich höher als die Zustimmung für Frauke Petrys Partei. Was also ist los?

Das Extremismuspotenzial ist relativ konstant

Aufschlussreich in diesem Zusammenhang ist eine Studie des Allensbacher Instituts, die Anfang der Woche in der FAZ veröffentlicht wurde. Darin finden sich eine Reihe interessanter Zahlen, etwa über das Demokratieverständnis der Deutschen. Besonders spannend aber ist ein Detail. Die Überzeugung, dass unsere Gesellschaft unaufhaltsam auf eine große Krise zusteuert und diese nur mit einem radikalen Systemwechsel abzuwenden ist, so weiß Allensbach, vertritt etwa nur ein Drittel der Bevölkerung – seit Jahrzehnten.

Das ist zunächst positiv: Das Extremismuspotenzial ist relativ konstant und hat sich in der aktuellen Krise kaum verändert. Andererseits bedeutet das jedoch nicht, dass die Menschen dem aktuellen System und seinen Akteuren eine Lösung unserer Probleme zutrauen.

Resignation und politische Melancholie

Und damit sind wir bei der eigentlichen Ursache für die politische Obdachlosigkeit, die sich unter den Wählern breit macht: Resignation. Die Menschen sehen Deutschland in und vor gewaltigen Krisen. Doch den etablierten Parteien trauen sie eine Lösung nicht mehr zu.

Zugleich sind die Menschen realistisch genug, um festzustellen, dass radikale Lösungen weder möglich noch wünschenswert sind. Man hat den Eindruck, von den Regierenden in eine Sackgasse gelotst worden zu sein. Das Ergebnis ist Hilflosigkeit und ein Gefühl von politischer Melancholie. Die allerdings ist auch kein guter Ratgeber für die Zukunft.

http://www.cicero.de/salon/resignation-die-neue-politische-obdachlosigkeit/60932

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Radio Vatikan: Mit dem Taxi durch Syrien.

Mit dem Taxi durch Syrien? Klingt lebensgefährlich, angesichts von Terror und Krieg im Land. Die Nahost-Korrespondentin der Katholischen Nachrichten-Agentur (KNA), Andrea Krogmann, hat es dennoch gewagt. Mit Taxi und Bus fuhr sie eine Woche lang durch Syrien und besuchte Christen in Damaskus und Homs. Was sie bei der Bevölkerung vorfand, waren Schmerz und Ratlosigkeit. Wir unterhielten uns nach ihrer Rückkehr mit ihr.

Krogmann: „Ich bin mit einem privaten Taxi unterwegs gewesen, der Fahrer war ein Christ aus Damaskus. Von Damaskus aus bin ich mit einem anderen Christen gefahren, dieses Mal war es ein Soldat. Mit ihm fuhr ich bis nach Homs und noch ein Stück weiter in ein christliches Dorf namens Zaidal. Auf dem Rückweg habe ich mich dann zum Teil mit Bus und mit Taxi fortbewegt. Aus Sicherheitsgründen ist es besser, wenn man den Fahrer kennt.“

RV: Hattest du trotz allem nicht auch ein bisschen Angst?

Krogmann: „Anfangs habe ich mir diese Frage schon gestellt, auch mein Fahrer hat mich das gefragt. Ich wusste es anfangs gar nicht so recht. Natürlich gab es unterwegs sehr viele Checkpoints und Militärabsperrungen, wo Papiere kontrolliert werden oder mal in den Kofferraum geschaut wird. Es ist immer eine Anspannung dabei, das merkte ich abends vor allem immer an meiner starken Müdigkeit. Der Körper ist eben den ganzen Tag über in Alarmbereitschaft. Auch wenn die Lage für einen Außenstehenden eher ruhig aussieht.“

RV: Hast du auch Gefechte mitbekommen? Schießereien, Bombenangriffe oder Ähnliches?

Man sieht in Damaskus überhaupt keine Ausländer mehr

Krogmann: „Mit Damaskus und Homs war ich ausschließlich in von der syrischen Regierung kontrolliertem Gebiet. In der Nacht gab es immer mal wieder Kampfhandlungen in der Nähe zu hören. Man hörte Explosionen oder Schüsse. Aber nicht in einem Ausmaß, dass man sagen könnte, man würde das direkt mitbekommen. Am Straßenrand kam es immer mal wieder zu Gerangel mit Militär und Personen am Straßenrand. Von außen konnte man jetzt nicht sehen, um was es sich handelt. Aber direkte Angriffe hat es in diesem Gebiet nicht gegeben. Wohl aber sind in der Zeit, als ich in Damaskus war, Massaker verübt worden – weiter im Norden in der Region um Hama. Damaskus selbst war sehr ruhig in der Zeit.“

RV: Du warst ja schon einmal vor acht Jahren in Syrien und Damaskus. Wie zeigt sich der Krieg dort mittlerweile?

Krogmann: „Damaskus selbst, also die Altstadt, das, was man als Tourist normalerweise besucht, ist unversehrt geblieben. Wenn man an die Stadtränder fährt, sieht man die Kampfhandlungen. Die Kampfzonen sind relativ nah an Damaskus dran. Ich habe unter anderem mit christlichen Familien gesprochen, die in der Verteidigung von Damaskus Söhne oder Ehemänner verloren haben. In Damaskus selber sieht man das nicht, und für jemanden, der Damaskus mal als Tourist besucht hat, sind die Unterschiede nicht so spürbar. Natürlich ist die Stimmung anders. Man sieht auch überhaupt keine Ausländer mehr. In einer ganzen Woche in Syrien habe ich zwei Ausländer getroffen und einen ausländischen Hilfsarbeiter. Also, für ein Land, das mal sehr viel Tourismus hatte und auch davon gelebt hat, merkt man schon den Unterschied. Und das spürt man auch im Umgang mit den Leuten, die sich freuen, auch mal jemanden aus dem Ausland zu sehen!“

RV: Was hast du dort für Menschen getroffen? Welche Begegnungen blieben dir besonders im Gedächtnis?

Krogmann: „Mein erstes Interesse galt den Christen in Damaskus in verschiedenen Gemeinschaften, die jetzt ins sechste Kriegsjahr gehen und diese Situation tagtäglich aushalten müssen – als Minderheit. Ich habe Priester besucht, Bischöfe und Erzbischöfe, Ordensleute und Gemeindemitglieder. Ich habe in Damaskus aber auch mit vielen Leuten auf der Straße gesprochen, mit Händlern und Verkäufern. Von daher habe ich einen Eindruck bekommen können, wie die Bevölkerung von Damaskus die Situation wahrnimmt. Und da merkt man schon einen großen Schmerz über das, was in dieser Stadt vor sich geht, die eigentlich über lange Zeit davon gelebt hat, dass sie so bunt ist und so ein gutes Miteinander aufweist. Und jetzt, in dieser Kriegssituation, wird dieses Misstrauen spürbar. Und der Schmerz darüber, dass es nicht mehr wird, wie es mal war.“

RV: Wie haben die Damaszener darauf reagiert, dass du Deutsche bist? War die Flüchtlingspolitik in Deutschland für sie ein Thema, oder waren sie eher mit sich beschäftigt?

Krogmann: „Es ist ein sehr großes Thema! Das Erste, was mir die Leute gesagt haben, war, wie viele ihrer Leute schon in Deutschland leben. Oder dass sie wünschen, sie könnten nach Deutschland gehen, oder dass sie demnächst gehen werden. Ich habe eine Familie getroffen, die kurz vor der Ausreise nach Deutschland steht. Ich wurde von mehreren Leuten angesprochen, die wegen ihrer Familien zwischen Syrien und Deutschland pendeln und die mich fragten, ob man diese oder jene Medikamente in Deutschland kaufen kann. Die einfach Fragen zum alltäglichen Leben hatten. Auf der anderen Seite sagen die Leute, dass sie Deutschland ganz toll finden, wie es mit der Krise umgeht, und dass sie sich wünschen, dass Angela Merkel stark bleibt bei ihrem Kurs. Da ist sehr viel Hochachtung und der große Wunsch vieler Leute, nach Deutschland zu gehen.“

Es ist nach wie vor ein wunderbares Land

RV: Was ist dein Fazit von deiner Syrien-Reise? Was bleibt als Eindruck? Wie hat sich deine Sicht auf diesen Krieg verändert?

Krogmann: „Ich habe den Eindruck, es ist schwer von außen nachvollziehbar. Der Eindruck, den man hat, wenn man aus diesem Land wiederkommt, ist gänzlich anders als das, was man von außen erwarten würde. Zum Beispiel die einfache Tatsache, dass es eine Art Alltagsleben gibt, dass Restaurants geöffnet haben, Menschen auf den Straßen sind und ihr Leben führen, wenn auch nicht gesagt ist, dass jeder sich alles leisten kann, und man natürlich auch Armut und Essensspenden sieht. Ein zweiter Eindruck, den ich habe, ist, dass die Syrer eine enorme Stärke haben, mit so einer schwierigen Situation umzugehen und sich anzupassen. Und das Beste aus der Situation zu machen. Das hat mich sehr beeindruckt.

Ein Eindruck, den ich vorher schon hatte und der sich nicht geändert hat, ist, dass es einfach ein sehr offenes und gastfreundliches Volk ist. Viel stärker als in den anderen arabischen Nachbarländern. Und das in einer Situation, in der man meinen könnte, es wäre schwierig für die Menschen, noch zu teilen. Aber nein, es wird auch da gerne und von Herzen geteilt. Es ist nach wie vor ein wunderbares Land, aber die Situation ist wirklich dramatisch. Man sieht diesen Menschen den Schmerz an, dieses Land vor die Hunde gehen zu sehen. Ein Land, in dem die Christen zumindest sagen: ‚Es ging uns gut, wir hatten alles, es ist ein offenes, reiches Land gewesen. Wir haben unser Leben hier geliebt und unser Land geliebt.‘ Und dann zu sehen, was aus diesem Land wird und was aus ihrer Perspektive mit diesem Land gemacht wird für ausländische Interessen, es ist noch nicht mal ein interner Konflikt.

Und ein trauriger Eindruck ist, dass niemand eigentlich diesen Krieg zu verstehen scheint und schon gar nicht irgendeine Idee hat, wohin dieses Land geht und wie eine Lösung aussehen könnte. Wen immer man fragt: Man bekommt ratlose Gesichter zu sehen.“

http://de.radiovaticana.va/news/2016/05/19/syrien_„niemand_versteht_diesen_krieg“/1230840

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Barandat* China: Between Dynasties and Warlords.

Geopolitical Futures logo

Chinese civilization is one of the world’s oldest. Communities began to form on the Yellow and Yangtze rivers thousands of years ago. By 2,000 B.C., dynasties had emerged and lasted in various forms until the Qing were deposed in 1912. The People’s Republic of China is the heir to this long history, and as is often the case, understanding China’s past is a crucial part of forecasting China’s future.

Although China’s history is long and complex, the story of China’s rise is essentially two stories that repeat themselves over and over again. China is incredibly diverse in terms of the cultures and languages that have developed within its modern-day borders. Despite this diversity, there have been periods when a ruler emerged who was strong enough to unite the disparate parts of the country. These dynasties may rule for hundreds of years, only for China’s internal divisions to reassert themselves and cause fragmentation and regionalization.

This map simplifies a brief part of that ancient and imperial history, and tells us much about the way China works today. The map shows that the core of China has always been the fertile areas around the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. It shows that there have always been parts of China – particularly in the north, south and east – that China struggled to control and that created vulnerabilities. The map also demonstrates how Chinese power has often extended into neighboring areas, such as present-day Vietnam and North Korea.

The other element of Chinese history this map expresses is the back and forth between a gravitational force encouraging unity and a centrifugal force for fragmentation. The Zhou Dynasty was the first to divide China into administrative states to better rule the country, but after approximately three centuries, central power became diffused and regional conflict and warlords reigned for over 500 years. The map takes a snapshot of just one point in that period – in the year 260 B.C. during the Warring States period – and shows the seven most powerful states competing for influence at the time. The choice of that particular year was arbitrary – during these time periods, internal boundaries shifted almost yearly due to competition.

The Qin state eventually became the Qin Dynasty and unified the country. Shortly thereafter, the Han replaced the Qin, extending China’s borders far beyond any previous dynasty. The Han left a cultural imprint so deep that the majority of modern China’s citizens refer to themselves as the Han people. This cycle repeated itself consistently up until the current era. The Han Dynasty faced numerous challenges to its rule and eventually was succeeded by competing dynasties and states that at times were strong and unified, and at times came apart at the seams. The last Chinese dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, fell in 1912, but that did not stop this historical pattern. Before the People’s Republic of China could be declared, China would fight decades of civil war and be invaded and dominated by neighboring Japan during World War II.

The People’s Republic of China is one of the strongest and most centralized governing forces ever to rule the area. But strong as it is, it cannot hide from the forces of geopolitics. Those forces are easily observable when looking at a map of China’s ancient and imperial dynasties, and those forces remain very much alive today. The Chinese Communist Party’s greatest fear is a return to the regional divides that have been a constant throughout China’s long history. It is why the party seeks such a high level of control over the country, and why President Xi Jinping has embarked on a set of anti-corruption purges to solidify his power base. Both the party and Xi know what the alternative is, and are therefore working to avoid it at all costs.

https://geopoliticalfutures.com/china-between-dynasties-and-warlords/

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Middle East

Botschaft nicht verstanden- Die Region wartet weiterhin auf die Dividende des Arabischen Frühlings.

Von: Marwan Muasher

Eine aktuelle Umfrage der Stiftung Carnegie Endowment for International Peace unter hundert arabischen Vordenkern ließ einen breiten Konsens darüber erkennen, was der Grund für viele der Probleme in der Region ist: ein Mangel an guter Staatsführung. Die Befragten hielten die darauf zurückzuführenden inländischen Probleme – Autoritarismus, Korruption, veraltete Ausbildungssysteme und Arbeitslosigkeit – sogar für wichtiger als regionale Themen wie die Bedrohung durch den selbsternannten Islamischen Staat (IS) oder die Einmischung regionaler oder internationaler Mächte.

Diese Informationen sind nicht neu. Die Unzulänglichkeit der veralteten gesellschaftlichen Grundlagen der Region angesichts der aktuellen politischen und wirtschaftlichen Probleme wurde bereits durch die Aufstände des Arabischen Frühlings ins Licht gerückt. Aber die arabischen Regierungen scheinen die Botschaft immer noch nicht verstanden zu haben.

Fünf Jahre nach dem Ausbruch der Unruhen haben die arabischen Bürger bei den Angelegenheiten ihrer jeweiligen Länder immer noch wenig Mitsprache – und in manchen Fällen sogar noch weniger als damals. Darüber hinaus hängen sie von Rentenökonomien ab, die nicht in der Lage sind, für ihre jungen, gut ausgebildeten Bevölkerungen genug Arbeitsplätze zu schaffen. Und sie leiden unter einem alarmierenden Mangel an Rechtsstaatlichkeit, aufgrund dessen sie nicht sicher sein können, unabhängig von Geschlecht, ethnischer Herkunft oder Religion gleich behandelt zu werden.

Fünf Jahre nach dem Ausbruch der Unruhen haben die arabischen Bürger bei den Angelegenheiten ihrer jeweiligen Länder immer noch wenig Mitsprache.

Aber die momentan schlechte Staatsführung bedeutet nicht, dass die arabische Welt zum Scheitern verurteilt ist. Tunesien ist ein Leuchtfeuer der Hoffnung. Nach der Revolution von 2011 kam im Land ein konsensorientierter und integrativer Prozess in Gang, um eine neue Gesellschaftsordnung zu entwickeln, die die individuellen und kollektiven Rechte der Bürger in den Vordergrund stellt.

Zwar gibt es dort immer noch ernste Wirtschafts- und Sicherheitsprobleme, aber der erste Schritt zu deren Lösung ist der nationale Dialog, den das Land begonnen hat. Andere arabische Gesellschaften müssen nun einen ähnlichen Dialog starten, damit Volkswirtschaften und Institutionen geschaffen werden können, die die Bedürfnisse ihrer Bürger erfüllen.

Die Geschichte lehrt uns, dass solche Wandlungsprozesse Zeit brauchen. Um ihre volle Wirkung auf die Gesellschaft zu entfalten, müssen die lang unterdrückten Ideen und Energien, die durch Ereignisse wie den Arabischen Frühling freigesetzt wurden, erst reifen.

Betrachten wir die Aufstände in Europa von 1848, als die Bürger gegen autoritäre und feudale Systeme sowie den Mangel an wirtschaftlichen Möglichkeiten protestierten. Am Ende des Jahres konnten die Kräfte des Status Quo die Macht wieder erlangen, und die Aufstände schienen niedergeschlagen zu sein.

Aber etwas hatte sich verändert. Tabus waren gebrochen worden, und während der folgenden Jahrzehnte führten technische Fortschritte zur Verbreitung neuer Ideen. Bald darauf löste sich der Feudalismus auf, liberale und demokratische Werte gewannen an Boden, die Frauen konnten größere Rechte erlangen, und es entstanden Wirtschaftssysteme, die zu gesteigerter Produktivität, hohen Wachstumsraten und besserem Lebensstandard führten.

Nach und nach entwickelt sich auch in der arabischen Welt ein ähnlicher Prozess. Die Bürger (insbesondere die jungen Menschen), denen es an Vertrauen in ihre Regierungen mangelt, suchen alternative Informationsquellen und neue Wege, wirtschaftlich zu überleben. Dieser Wandel wurde von den Regierungen bislang kaum wahrgenommen, was verdeutlicht, wie sehr sie sich von ihren eigenen Bürgern entfremdet haben. Aber bald wird er nicht mehr zu übersehen sein.

All dies geschieht zu einer Zeit, in der eine weitere wichtige Entwicklung stattfindet: Die ölbasierten Rentensysteme schrumpfen rapide, was am starken Rückgang der Energiepreise in den letzten zwei Jahren liegt. Insbesondere Saudi-Arabien sah sich gezwungen, zu einem Wirtschaftsmodell überzugehen, in dem das Wachstum hauptsächlich durch Investitionen und Produktivität angetrieben wird. Andere Länder der Region müssen dem folgen und ebenfalls ihre Wirtschaftssysteme reformieren. Tun sie dies nicht, werden sie den Zorn ihrer immer wütenderen Bürger zu spüren bekommen.

Im Gegensatz zur internationalen Gemeinschaft, die sich auf den IS oder die destruktive Rolle des Iran im Nahen Osten konzentriert, kümmern sich die meisten Araber darum, ihr Leben zu verbessern.

Ein wichtiges Element innerhalb der Wirtschaftsreformstrategien ist die Technologie. Bereits jetzt haben 240 Millionen – größtenteils junge – Araber über ihre Mobiltelefone Zugang zum Internet. Etwa bis 2020 werden dann alle arabischen Jugendlichen so miteinander verbunden sein. Durch Technologie wird das Entstehen und die Verbreitung von Wissen gefördert, und das in einer Region, die bei diesem Prozess traditionell hinterher hinkt. Und momentan werden viele Technologiefirmen neu gegründet.

Dies bedeutet nicht, dass Technologie für die Region ein Allheilmittel ist. Immerhin wird sie auch vom IS verwendet, allerdings auf unheilvolle Art: um grausame Propaganda zu verbreiten und neue Mitglieder zu rekrutieren. Aber durch Technologie kann der soziale und wirtschaftliche Fortschritt der arabischen Welt beschleunigt werden, und dies auch dadurch, dass die Länder zu ihrer Unterstützung ein modernes institutionelles Umfeld schaffen.

Heute kann sich kein Land entwickeln, ohne effektive und vertrauenswürdige Institutionen zu entwickeln, ein sinnvolles System politischer Kontrollmechanismen aufzubauen und die Zuständigkeit für die Entscheidungsfindung auf mehrere Gewalten zu verteilen. Diese Elemente sind entscheidend dafür, dass die Länder ihren Bürgern eine angemessene Lebensqualität bieten können.

Eines Tages wird die arabische Welt über all dies verfügen. Im Gegensatz zur internationalen Gemeinschaft, die sich auf den IS oder die destruktive Rolle des Iran im Nahen Osten konzentriert, kümmern sich die meisten Araber darum, ihr Leben zu verbessern. Dies sollte von ihren Regierungen unterstützt werden.

Marwan Muasher war Außenminister und stellvertretender Premierminister von Jordanien. Gegenwärtig ist er Vice President for Studies beim Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Kürzlich erschien von ihm The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism.

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Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP): Not Just Tech: Entrepreneurship in the Middle East.

The conventional wisdom in the Middle East policy and media communities is that the promotion of entrepreneurship in the region is both wise and strategic. After all, the creation of new jobs and additional economic stakeholders creates better prospects for healthy democracy in the Arab world over the long run. Rags-to-riches stories of young Tunisians and Egyptians undermine the Islamic State and other extremist groups whose appeal is based on the idea that young people cannot achieve purpose and meaning by adhering to social conventions. However, the widespread focus on tech startups as the sole manifestation of entrepreneurship in the region is producing lackluster results. Nearly every conference held in Washington since 2011 has been dominated by tech veterans or promoters of “innovation” and “changing the world.” While noble, this is not producing tangible gains in terms of new jobs and status for those in the Middle East who do not already have it.

For greater impact from a U.S. policy perspective, the primary focus of entrepreneurship policies should be in promoting traditional small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), not necessarily high-tech ones. While these firms will not change the world or be “the next big thing,” they are more likely to generate new opportunities for those in the region who need it the most.

The Limitations of Tech Startups in the Middle East

The bias toward the dominant tech narrative is illustrated in a recent report produced by the Atlantic Council, “Economic Recovery and Revitalization.” Chaired by two tech entrepreneurs, it advocated a nearly exclusive focus on tech startups:

It is important to offer clarity on terms that are often used in discussing the impact of tech-enabled entrepreneurship. “Start-ups” focus on companies that start from scratch, require small amounts of capital, and emphasize technology to either reduce costs or reach customers. In contrast, “small and medium sized enterprises” (SMEs) are small businesses – usually with below $10 million in revenue – that are significantly slower growing than startups. Both significantly impact the economy in the region and both – as well as most large enterprises – are compelled to change rapidly in the new era. We believe this impact this change is best illustrated with a focus on startups.”

There are three core problems with an exclusive focus on tech startups from the perspective of U.S. political objectives in the Middle East.

First, if the goal is job creation, tech startups are not likely to generate such results. As the Atlantic Council report notes, tech startups “emphasize technology” to “reduce costs.” There is no way of getting around the fact that this largely means replacing human workers with technology. From a business perspective, this means more profits for the company and a better product. As an entrepreneur, there is nothing wrong with this, but tech startups are not inherently focused on attempting to create new jobs. Flat 6 Labs, perhaps the most well-known incubator in the Middle East, advertises on their website that they have created “400+ jobs.” While this is a step in the right direction, the number is hardly a drop in the bucket of the massive unemployment problem in the region.

Second, anyone in the Middle East with the programming or management skills needed in the tech industry is almost certainly close to the top of the socio-economic ladder or talent hierarchy. Therefore, when outside funds focus on tech startups, they tend to reinforce rather than break socio-economic barriers that negatively affect Arab politics and society. This is not to say that tech startups cannot help the working classes, as some do. Shaghalni (“Hire Me”), an online job platform that caters to blue collar workers, recently received funding from Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawaris. Shaghalni founder Omar Khalifa’s description of his winning pitch reiterates the nature of the problem. Khalifa noted that what caught Sawaris’ attention was the company’s focus on helping those outside of the economic elite, which is where he says “the real [unemployment] problem exists.”

Third, the Atlantic Council narrative is based on assumptions about technology and economic costs that are accurate in an American context, but not necessarily in the Middle East. Too many of the tech startup advocates in the U.S. lose track of important cultural perspectives. Just 24 percent of Egyptians and 34 percent of Tunisians are regular internet users, with just five and 13 percent respectively having access to smartphones. Moreover, the report also argues that SMEs produce slower growth—as though a company with less than $10 million of annual revenue is somehow insignificant. In countries like Egypt, the median monthly salary is about $560 with the average being closer to $300.An SME that produces even $1 million per year in revenue is one thing in San Francisco, but in a country like Egypt it would be able to employ 40 to 50 people.

The Value of Lower Tech SMEs

From a U.S. policy perspective, SMEs provide the advantage of more tangible and necessary impact on the Arab world. The economic demand and jobs appropriate for SMEs in many cases already exist. Middle Eastern entrepreneurs don’t necessarily need to be “innovative” or “create something new” in order to succeed. In Saudi Arabia, for example, there is a glut of skilled and semi-skilled labor ready to be put to work, though that labor force’s availability is entwined with other issues of migration, labor policy, and social change. As I wrote several years ago, even in non-oil countries such as Egypt there is no shortage of available manual opportunities for a new SME. Unskilled sectors (e.g., trash collection), semiskilled (like construction and maintenance), and businesses requiring skilled labor (like education) are all ripe for expansion.

Three recent articles on Tunisia and Egypt succinctly illustrate these points. One from the New Yorker by George Packer on “Exporting Jihad” tries to get to the heart of why 7,000 Tunisians have joined ISIS. Nearly all hail from economically depressed sections of the country that have not benefited from the “Jasmine Revolution.” As a Tunisian put it:

You feel no interest from the post-revolutionary governments in us here. People feel that the coastal areas, with twenty per cent of the people, are still getting eighty per cent of the wealth. That brings a lot of psychological pressure, to feel that you’re left alone, that there’s no horizon, no hope.

The second article describes “How five Tunisians startups have become profitable:”

All sectors are represented; meal delivery with MonResto.tn, media with stock exchange specialist ilBoursa, connected devices with Chifco, B2B services with e-reputation platform Webradar, online deals with Bigdeal.tn, classifieds with Tunisie-Annonce.com, travel with Cyberesa, ticketing with Tiklik, and gaming with Digital Mania.

As a fellow entrepreneur, I wish these firms the best of luck. But these stories illustrate how success as a tech startup does not automatically equate to socio-economic gains for the majority of the population of Tunisia. In fact, none of these companies appear to be significant employers.Moreover, their core services appeals to an upper socio-economic echelon.These firms provide few jobs or opportunities for new economic status to the people profiled in Packer’s article.

By contrast, two SMEs worth considering have recently been profiled in Wamda. Egyptian firm Tiba Solar has established a solar panel manufacturing facility. FilKhedma (“At Your Service”) connects tradesmen and technicians in Cairo with people in need of household repairs. Both of these companies provide job opportunities for working-class Egyptians and are precisely the type of firm that should be the focus of entrepreneurship policies.

Whether tech startups or SMEs, any new company faces a wide variety of obstacles, due to the bureaucratic climate, legal issues, and other challenges endemic in the region. Tech startups are often able to sidestep the most challenging of the regulations and challenges, but local governments, foreign donors, and investors ought to be willing to support traditional businesses seeking to grow and expand in the Arab world. Though massive profits may not accrue to investors through these companies, traditional SMEs are best placed to bring prosperity and security to the most people.

http://timep.org/commentary/not-just-tech-entrepreneurship-in-the-middle-east/

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Top US commander for the Middle East visited Syria: Centcom.

WASHINGTON: The top U.S. military commander for the Middle East made a surprise visit to northern Syria on Saturday to witness efforts to build up local forces in the fight against ISIS, officials said.

General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command (Centcom), met U.S. military advisers working with Syrian Arab fighters, a Centcom spokesman said.

He also met leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the spokesman said, without providing further details.

During the secret trip, which lasted several hours, the Centcom commander visited a handful of locations, CNN reported as it accompanied Votel, the highest-ranking U.S. military official to travel to Syria since its civil conflict began in 2011.

U.S. special operations forces are helping train fighters in Syria to combat ISIS as Washington leads a coalition of countries in an air war against the extremists in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS has seized swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq to create a self-styled "caliphate." Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has received pledges of allegiance from extremist groups around the world.

The United States has roughly 200 advisers on the ground in Syria, but no combat units. Votel’s visit comes as the first of 250 more U.S. special operations forces are beginning to arrive.

Kurds play a dominant role in the U.S.-backed SDF, providing the core of the forces that have pushed back ISIS in the country’s northeast.

The SDF has a total of about 25,000 Kurdish fighters and about 5,000 Arab fighters.

Washington is pushing to bring more Arab forces into the group.

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2016/May-22/353230-top-us-commander-for-the-middle-east-visited-syria-centcom.ashx?utm_source=Magnet&utm_medium=Related%20Articles%20widget&utm_campaign=Magnet%20tools

Kurdish-Arab alliance launch operations north of Raqqa, US official confirms.

WASHINGTON: A US-backed alliance of Kurdish-Arab fighters has started to clear ISIS fighters from the area north of Raqqa, the extremists‘ de facto capital, a US official confirmed Tuesday.

"The SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) have begun operations to clear the northern countryside, so this is putting pressure on Raqqa," Baghdad-based US military spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said.

The US military will conduct air strikes in support of the SDF forces, some of whom have been trained and equipped by the United States. It was not clear when an assault on Raqqa itself might come.

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2016/May-24/353605-kurdish-arab-alliance-launch-operations-north-of-raqqa-us-official-confirms.ashx
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Iran’s Soleimani leads US-backed attack on Fallujah.

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 24, 2016, 3:54 PM (IDT)

Exclusive photo of war conference.
For months, US President Barack Obama and the Pentagon opposed the participation by pro-Iranian militias in the war against ISIS in Iraq.
The main objection were to the Popular Mobilization Army commanded by Iranian Gen. Abu Mahdi al Muhandis who has been named as a “specially designated global terrorist” by Washington.

The US was also against the Badr Organization (formerly the Badr Brigade) commanded by Hadi Al-Amiri from Iran’s Al Qods Brigades. These militias slaughtered the Sunni residents of cities that they recaptured from ISIS during the last year. As a result, many Sunni Iraqis preferred to be ruled by ISIS, and did not trust the coalition of US, Baghdad and Tehran.
But on May 22, with the start of the Iraqi attack on Fallujah, the capital of Anbar province in western Iraq, it became clear that the participation of pro-Iranian forces is no longer taboo for the US.

Even though Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that 35,000 Iraqi troops launched an attack to liberate Fallujah from ISIS, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that most of these forces are not participating in the assault.

It is spearheaded by the Popular Mobilization Army and the Badr Organization, and they are under the direct command of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iranian forces in Iraq and Syria, who is operating from a field command center.

The US air force is helping Soleimani’s attempt to capture Fallujah.

In a new exclusive photo showing the Iranian war room on the front, Soleimani is seen smoking a thick cigar with al-Muhandis on his left, leaning on a US map of the area of the battle.
Our military sources report that by assisting the offensive, which the Obama administration opposed for a long time, the Americans have actually given up on attacking Mosul, the ISIS capital in Iraq, any time soon.

Instead of liberating Mosul, Washington now prefers to place it under siege and gradually cause the collapse of ISIS rule.
The American decision to support Soleimani’s operation shows the central role played by Iran for the past few weeks in the wars carried out by the US and Russia in the Middle East.

debkafile’s military sources report that the Iranian general came to Fallujah from northern Syria, near the city of Aleppo, where he commanded the Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah armies. At this stage, it can be concluded that he has failed against the Syrian rebels on the Aleppo front.

Following that failure of that campaign, which was backed by Russian air power, Soleimani has relocated to the Fallujah front where his troops are operating under the protective umbrella of the US air force.

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*Massenbach’s

Recommendation*

Der russische Präsident Wladimir Putin soll am 27. und 28. Mai Griechenland besuchen, an der Tagesordnung werde immer noch gearbeitet. Besondere Aufmerksamkeit soll dabei der 1000-jährigen Anwesenheit russischer orthodoxer Mönche am Heiligen Berg Athos gelten, wie es auf der Kreml-Webseite am Montag heißt.

http://de.sputniknews.com/politik/20160523/310055871/putin-wieder-in-der-eu.html

Vatican Radio: Grand Imam: Religions must work together for peace

Vatican Radio) The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmed Muhammad Al-Tayyib, said the time has come for “the representatives of the Divine Religions” to “strongly and in a concrete way” turn humanity towards mercy and peace, "so that humanity can avoid the great crisis we are suffering now.”

The Grand Imam was speaking to representatives of Vatican Radio and the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano after his meeting with Pope Francis on Monday.

The first impression, which was very strong, is that [Pope Francis] is a man of peace, a man who follows the teaching of Christianity, which is a religion of love and peace," – the Grand Imam said – "and following His Holiness we have seen that he is a man who respects other religions and shows consideration for their followers; he is man who also consecrates his life to serve the poor and the destitute, and who takes responsibility for people in general; he is an ascetic man, who has renounced the ephemeral pleasures of worldly life. All these are qualities that we share with him, and therefore we wish to encounter this man in order to work together for humanity in this vast field we have in common."

The Sheik is the first Grand Imam to visit the Vatican, although Pope John Paul II visited Al-Azhar during his visit to Egypt in the Jubilee Year 2000.

During the interview, the Grand Imam said religious leaders now have “heavy and grave” responsibilities in the world because “all the philosophies and modern social ideologies that have taken the lead of humanity, far from religion and far from heaven, have failed to make man happy or to take him far from wars and bloodshed.”

“Man without religion constitutes a danger to his fellow man, and I believe that people now, in the twenty-first century, have started to look around and to seek out wise guides to lead them in the right direction,” he said.

The Grand Imam also said the Cairo-based Al-Azhar University – considered Sunni Islam’s most important centre of learning – is working to fight extremist thought in Islam.

He said the curriculum identifies “erroneous concepts” to help guide young people from those who advocate violence and terrorism.

The University is also working with local Churches in a project called “The Home of the Egyptian Family,” which works to combat those who try and sow interreligious discord in the country.

The Grand Imam ended the interview by making an appeal to the whole world to “unite and close ranks to confront and put an end to terrorism.”

“This is my appeal to the world and to the free men of the world: to come to an agreement immediately and to intervene to put an end to these rivers of blood,” he said.

"Yes, terrorism exists, but Islam has nothing to do with this terrorism, and this applies to Ulama Muslims and to Christians and Muslims in the East," – the Grand Imam continued – "And those who kill Muslims, and who also kill Christians, have misunderstood the texts of Islam either intentionally or by negligence."

He pointed out Al-Azhar University held a conference one year ago which brought together Sunni and Shia Muslim authorities, Christian leaders – and even a Yazidi representative – which issued a joint statement which stated that Islam and Christianity have nothing to do with those who kill.

It also asked those in the West not to confuse those belonging to deviant groups with the rest of the Islamic world. The statement also re-affirmed the right of both Muslims and Christians to live in the Middle East, rejected forced emigration, and slavery and the buying and selling of women in the name of Islam.

“We must not blame religions because of the deviations of some of their followers, because in every religion there exists a deviant faction that raises the flag of religion to kill in its name,” the Grand Imam said.

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2016/05/24/grand_imam_religions_must_work_together_for_peace/1232088

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Serbien

moderated by Srecko Velimirovic

How Kosovo Was Turned Into Fertile Ground for ISIS.

Extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudis and others have transformed a once-tolerant Muslim society into a font of extremism.

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Every Friday, just yards from a statue of Bill Clinton with arm aloft in a cheery wave, hundreds of young bearded men make a show of kneeling to pray on the sidewalk outside an improvised mosque in a former furniture store.

The mosque is one of scores built here with Saudi government money and blamed for spreading Wahhabism — the conservative ideology dominant in Saudi Arabia — in the 17 years since an American-led intervention wrested tiny Kosovo from Serbian oppression.

Since then — much of that time under the watch of American officials — Saudi money and influence have transformed this once-tolerant Muslim society at the hem of Europe into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists.

Kosovo now finds itself, like the rest of Europe, fending off the threat of radical Islam. Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars — including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children — who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.

They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.

“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”

After two years of investigations, the police have charged 67 people, arrested 14 imams and shut down 19 Muslim organizations for acting against the Constitution, inciting hatred and recruiting for terrorism. The most recent sentences, which included a 10-year prison term, were handed down on Friday.

It is a stunning turnabout for a land of 1.8 million people that not long ago was among the most pro-American Muslim societies in the world. Americans were welcomed as liberators after leading months of NATO bombing in 1999 that spawned an independent Kosovo.

After the war, United Nations officials administered the territory and American forces helped keep the peace. The Saudis arrived, too, bringing millions of euros in aid to a poor and war-ravaged land.

But where the Americans saw a chance to create a new democracy, the Saudis saw a new land to spread Wahhabism.

“There is no evidence that any organization gave money directly to people to go to Syria,” Mr. Makolli said. “The issue is they supported thinkers who promote violence and jihad in the name of protecting Islam.”

Kosovo now has over 800 mosques, 240 of them built since the war and blamed for helping indoctrinate a new generation in Wahhabism. They are part of what moderate imams and officials here describe as a deliberate, long-term strategy by Saudi Arabia to reshape Islam in its image, not only in Kosovo but around the world.

Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2015 reveal a system of funding for mosques, Islamic centers and Saudi-trained clerics that spans Asia, Africa and Europe. In New Delhi alone, 140 Muslim preachers are listed as on the Saudi Consulate’s payroll.

All around Kosovo, families are grappling with the aftermath of years of proselytizing by Saudi-trained preachers. Some daughters refuse to shake hands with or talk to male relatives. Some sons have gone off to jihad. Religious vigilantes have threatened — or committed — violence against academics, journalists and politicians.

The Balkans, Europe’s historical fault line, have yet to heal from the ethnic wars of the 1990s. But they are now infected with a new intolerance, moderate imams and officials in the region warn.

How Kosovo and the very nature of its society was fundamentally recast is a story of a decades-long global ambition by Saudi Arabia to spread its hard-line version of Islam — heavily funded and systematically applied, including with threats and intimidation by followers.

The Missionaries Arrive

After the war ended in 1999, Idriz Bilalli, the imam of the central mosque in Podujevo, welcomed any help he could get.

Podujevo, home to about 90,000 people in northeast Kosovo, was a reasonably prosperous town with high schools and small businesses in an area hugged by farmland and forests. It was known for its strong Muslim tradition even in a land where people long wore their religion lightly.

After decades of Communist rule when Kosovo was part of Yugoslavia, men and women mingle freely, schools are coeducational, and girls rarely wear the veil. Still, Serbian paramilitary forces burned down 218 mosques as part of their war against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, who are 95 percent Muslim. Mr. Bilalli needed help to rebuild.

When two imams in their 30s, Fadil Musliu and Fadil Sogojeva, who were studying for master’s degrees in Saudi Arabia, showed up after the war with money to organize summer religion courses, Mr. Bilalli agreed to help.

The imams were just two of some 200 Kosovars who took advantage of scholarships after the war to study Islam in Saudi Arabia. Many, like them, returned with missionary zeal.

Soon, under Mr. Musliu’s tutelage, pupils started adopting a rigid manner of prayer, foreign to the moderate Islamic traditions of this part of Europe. Mr. Bilalli recognized the influence, and he grew concerned.

“This is Wahhabism coming into our society,” Mr. Bilalli, 52, said in a recent interview.

Mr. Bilalli trained at the University of Medina in Saudi Arabia in the late 1980s, and as a student he had been warned by a Kosovar professor to guard against the cultural differences of Wahhabism. He understood there was a campaign of proselytizing, pushed by the Saudis.

“The first thing the Wahhabis do is to take members of our congregation, who understand Islam in the traditional Kosovo way that we had for generations, and try to draw them away from this understanding,” he said. “Once they get them away from the traditional congregation, then they start bombarding them with radical thoughts and ideas.”

“The main goal of their activity is to create conflict between people,” he said. “This first creates division, and then hatred, and then it can come to what happened in Arab countries, where war starts because of these conflicting ideas.”

From the outset, the newly arriving clerics sought to overtake the Islamic Community of Kosovo, an organization that for generations has been the custodian of the tolerant form of Islam that was practiced in the region, townspeople and officials say.

Muslims in Kosovo, which was a part of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years, follow the Hanafi school of Islam, traditionally a liberal version that is accepting of other religions.

But all around the country, a new breed of radical preachers was setting up in neighborhood mosques, often newly built with Saudi money.

In some cases, centuries-old buildings were bulldozed, including a historic library in Gjakova and several 400-year-old mosques, as well as shrines, graveyards and Dervish monasteries, all considered idolatrous in Wahhabi teaching.

From their bases, the Saudi-trained imams propagated Wahhabism’s tenets: the supremacy of Sharia law as well as ideas of violent jihad and takfirism, which authorizes the killing of Muslims considered heretics for not following its interpretation of Islam.

The Saudi-sponsored charities often paid salaries and overhead costs, and financed courses in religion, as well as English and computer classes, moderate imams and investigators explained.

But the charitable assistance often had conditions attached. Families were given monthly stipends on the condition that they attended sermons in the mosque and that women and girls wore the veil, human rights activists said.

“People were so needy, there was no one who did not join,” recalled Ajnishahe Halimi, a politician who campaigned to have a radical Albanian imam expelled after families complained of abuse.

Threats Intensify

Within a few years of the war’s end, the older generation of traditional clerics began to encounter aggression from young Wahhabis.

Paradoxically, some of the most serious tensions built in Gjilan, an eastern Kosovo town of about 90,000, where up to 7,000 American troops were stationed as part of Kosovo’s United Nations-run peacekeeping force at Camp Bondsteel.

“They came in the name of aid,” one moderate imam in Gjilan, Enver Rexhepi, said of the Arab charities. “But they came with a background of different intentions, and that’s where the Islamic religion started splitting here.”

One day in 2004, he recalled, he was threatened by one of the most aggressive young Wahhabis, Zekirja Qazimi, a former madrasa student then in his early 20s.

Inside his mosque, Mr. Rexhepi had long displayed an Albanian flag. Emblazoned with a double-headed eagle, it was a popular symbol of Kosovo’s liberation struggle.

But strict Muslim fundamentalists consider the depiction of any living being as idolatrous. Mr. Qazimi tore the flag down. Mr. Rexhepi put it back.

“It will not go long like this,” Mr. Qazimi told him angrily, Mr. Rexhepi recounted.

Within days, Mr. Rexhepi was abducted and savagely beaten by masked men in woods above Gjilan. He later accused Mr. Qazimi of having been behind the attack, but police investigations went nowhere.

Ten years later, in 2014, after two young Kosovars blew themselves up in suicide bombings in Iraq and Turkey, investigators began an extensive investigation into the sources of radicalism. Mr. Qazimi was arrested hiding in the same woods. On Friday, a court sentenced him to 10 years in prison after he faced charges of inciting hatred and recruiting for a terrorist organization.

Before Mr. Qazimi was arrested, his influence was profound, under what investigators now say was the sway of Egyptian-based extremists and the patronage of Saudi and other gulf Arab sponsors.

By the mid-2000s, Saudi money and Saudi-trained clerics were already exerting influence over the Islamic Community of Kosovo. The leadership quietly condoned the drift toward conservatism, critics of the organization say.

Mr. Qazimi was appointed first to a village mosque, and then to El-Kuddus mosque on the edge of Gjilan. Few could counter him, not even Mustafa Bajrami, his former teacher, who was elected head of the Islamic Community of Gjilan in 2012.

Mr. Bajrami comes from a prominent religious family — his father was the first chief mufti of Yugoslavia during the Communist period. He holds a doctorate in Islamic studies. Yet he remembers pupils began rebelling against him whenever he spoke against Wahhabism.

He soon realized that the students were being taught beliefs that differed from the traditional moderate curriculum by several radical imams in lectures after hours. He banned the use of mosques after official prayer times.

Hostility only grew. He would notice a dismissive gesture in the congregation during his sermons, or someone would curse his wife, or mutter “apostate” or “infidel” as he passed.

In the village, Mr. Qazimi’s influence eventually became so disruptive that residents demanded his removal after he forbade girls and boys to shake hands. But in Gjilan he continued to draw dozens of young people to his after-hours classes.

“They were moving 100 percent according to lessons they were taking from Zekirja Qazimi,” Mr. Bajrami said in an interview. “One hundred percent, in an ideological way.”

Over time, the Saudi-trained imams expanded their work.

By 2004, Mr. Musliu, one of the master’s degree students from Podujevo who studied in Saudi Arabia, had graduated and was imam of a mosque in the capital, Pristina.

In Podujevo, he set up a local charitable organization called Devotshmeria, or Devotion, which taught religion classes and offered social programs for women, orphans and the poor. It was funded by Al Waqf al Islami, a Saudi organization that was one of the 19 eventually closed by investigators.

Mr. Musliu put a cousin, Jetmir Rrahmani, in charge.

“Then I knew something was starting that would not bring any good,” said Mr. Bilalli, the moderate cleric who had started out teaching with him. In 2004, they had a core of 20 Wahhabis.

“That was only the beginning,” Mr. Bilalli said. “They started multiplying.”

Mr. Bilalli began a vigorous campaign against the spread of unauthorized mosques and Wahhabi teaching. In 2008, he was elected head of the Islamic Community of Podujevo and instituted religion classes for women, in an effort to undercut Devotshmeria.

As he sought to curb the extremists, Mr. Bilalli received death threats, including a note left in the mosque’s alms box. An anonymous telephone caller vowed to make him and his family disappear, he said.

“Anyone who opposes them, they see as an enemy,” Mr. Bilalli said.

He appealed to the leadership of the Islamic Community of Kosovo. But by then it was heavily influenced by Arab gulf sponsors, he said, and he received little support.

When Mr. Bilalli formed a union of fellow moderates, the Islamic Community of Kosovo removed him from his post. His successor, Bekim Jashari, equally concerned by the Saudi influence, nevertheless kept up the fight.

“I spent 10 years in Arab countries and specialized in sectarianism within Islam,” Mr. Jashari said. “It’s very important to stop Arab sectarianism from being introduced to Kosovo.”

Mr. Jashari had a couple of brief successes. He blocked the Saudi-trained imam Mr. Sogojeva from opening a new mosque, and stopped a payment of 20,000 euros, about $22,400, intended for it from the Saudi charity Al Waqf al Islami.

He also began a website, Speak Now, to counter Wahhabi teaching. But he remains so concerned about Wahhabi preachers that he never lets his 19-year-old son attend prayers on his own.

The radical imams Mr. Musliu and Mr. Sogojeva still preach in Pristina, where for prayers they draw crowds of young men who glare at foreign reporters.

Mr. Sogojeva dresses in a traditional robe and banded cleric’s hat, but his newly built mosque is an incongruous modern multistory building. He admonished his congregation with a rapid-fire list of dos and don’ts in a recent Friday sermon.

Neither imam seems to lack funds.

In an interview, Mr. Musliu insisted that he was financed by local donations, but confirmed that he had received Saudi funding for his early religion courses.

The instruction, he said, is not out of line with Kosovo’s traditions. The increase in religiosity among young people was natural after Kosovo gained its freedom, he said.

“Those who are not believers and do not read enough, they feel a bit shocked,” he said. “But we coordinated with other imams, and everything was in line with Islam.”

A Tilt Toward Terrorism

The influence of the radical clerics reached its apex with the war in Syria, as they extolled the virtues of jihad and used speeches and radio and television talks shows to urge young people to go there.

Mr. Qazimi, who was given the 10-year prison sentence, even organized a summer camp for his young followers.

“It is obligated for every Muslim to participate in jihad,” he told them in one videotaped talk. “The Prophet Muhammad says that if someone has a chance to take part in jihad and doesn’t, he will die with great sins.”

“The blood of infidels is the best drink for us Muslims,” he said in another recording.

Among his recruits, investigators say, were three former civilian employees of American contracting companies at Camp Bondsteel, where American troops are stationed. They included Lavdrim Muhaxheri, an Islamic State leader who was filmed executing a man in Syria with a rocket-propelled grenade.

After the suicide bombings, the authorities opened a broad investigation and found that the Saudi charity Al Waqf al Islami had been supporting associations set up by preachers like Mr. Qazimi in almost every regional town.

Al Waqf al Islami was established in the Balkans in 1989. Most of its financing came from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, Kosovo investigators said in recent interviews. Unexplained gaps in its ledgers deepened suspicions that the group was surreptitiously funding clerics who were radicalizing young people, they said.

Investigators from Kosovo’s Financial Intelligence Unit found that Al Waqf al Islami, which had an office in central Pristina and a staff of 12, ran through €10 million from 2000 through 2012. Yet they found little paperwork to explain much of the spending.

More than €1 million went to mosque building. But one and a half times that amount was disbursed in unspecified cash withdrawals, which may have also gone to enriching its staff, the investigators said.

Only 7 percent of the budget was shown to have gone to caring for orphans, the charity’s stated mission.

By the summer of 2014, the Kosovo police shut down Al Waqf al Islami, along with 12 other Islamic charities, and arrested 40 people.

The charity’s head offices, in Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands, have since changed their name to Al Waqf, apparently separating themselves from the Balkans operation.

Asked about the accusations in a telephone interview, Nasr el Damanhoury, the director of Al Waqf in the Netherlands, said he had no direct knowledge of his group’s operations in Kosovo or the Balkans.

The charity has ceased all work outside the Netherlands since he took over in 2013, he said. His predecessor had returned to Morocco and could not be reached, and Saudi board members would not comment, he said.

“Our organization has never supported extremism,” Mr. Damanhoury said. “I have known it since 1989. I joined them three years ago. They have always been a mild group.”

Unheeded Warnings

Why the Kosovar authorities — and American and United Nations overseers — did not act sooner to forestall the spread of extremism is a question being intensely debated.

As early as 2004, the prime minister at the time, Bajram Rexhepi, tried to introduce a law to ban extremist sects. But, he said in a recent interview at his home in northern Kosovo, European officials told him that it would violate freedom of religion.

“It was not in their interest, they did not want to irritate some Islamic countries,” Mr. Rexhepi said. “They simply did not do anything.”

Not everyone was unaware of the dangers, however.

At a meeting in 2003, Richard C. Holbrooke, once the United States special envoy to the Balkans, warned Kosovar leaders not to work with the Saudi Joint Relief Committee for Kosovo, an umbrella organization of Saudi charities whose name still appears on many of the mosques built since the war, along with that of the former Saudi interior minister, Prince Naif bin Abdul-Aziz.

A year later, it was among several Saudi organizations that were shut down in Kosovo when it came under suspicion as a front for Al Qaeda. Another was Al-Haramain, which in 2004 was designated by the United States Treasury Department as having links to terrorism.

Yet even as some organizations were shut down, others kept working. Staff and equipment from Al-Haramain shifted to Al Waqf al Islami, moderate imams familiar with their activities said.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia appears to have reduced its aid to Kosovo. Kosovo Central Bank figures show grants from Saudi Arabia averaging €100,000 a year for the past five years.

It is now money from Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — which each average approximately €1 million a year — that propagates the same hard-line version of Islam. The payments come from foundations or individuals, or sometimes from the Ministry of Zakat (Almsgiving) from the various governments, Kosovo’s investigators say.

But payments are often diverted through a second country to obscure their origin and destination, they said. One transfer of nearly €500,000 from a Saudi individual was frozen in 2014 since it was intended for a Kosovo teenager, according to the investigators and a State Department report.

Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations were still raising millions from “deep-pocket donors and charitable organizations” based in the gulf, the Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David S. Cohen, said in a speech in 2014 at the Center for a New American Security.

While Saudi Arabia has made progress in stamping out funding for Al Qaeda, sympathetic donors in the kingdom were still funding other terrorist groups, he said.

Today the Islamic Community of Kosovo has been so influenced by the largess of Arab donors that it has seeded prominent positions with radical clerics, its critics say.

Ahmet Sadriu, a spokesman for Islamic Community of Kosovo, said the group held to Kosovo’s traditionally tolerant version of Islam. But calls are growing to overhaul an organization now seen as having been corrupted by outside forces and money.

Kosovo’s interior minister, Skender Hyseni, said he had recently reprimanded some of the senior religious officials.

“I told them they were doing a great disservice to their country,” he said in an interview. “Kosovo is by definition, by Constitution, a secular society. There has always been historically an unspoken interreligious tolerance among Albanians here, and we want to make sure that we keep it that way.”

Families Divided

For some in Kosovo, it may already be too late. Families have been torn apart. Some of Kosovo’s best and brightest have been caught up in the lure of jihad.

One of Kosovo’s top political science graduates, Albert Berisha, said he left in 2013 to help the Syrian people in the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. He abandoned his attempt after only two weeksand he says he never joined the Islamic State — but has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison, pending appeal.

Ismet Sakiqi, an official in the prime minister’s office and a veteran of the liberation struggle, was shaken to find his 22-year-old son, Visar, a law student, arrested on his way through Turkey to Syria with his fiancée. He now visits his son in the same Kosovo prison where he was detained under Serbian rule.

And in the hamlet of Busavate, in the wooded hills of eastern Kosovo, a widower, Shemsi Maliqi, struggles to explain how his family has been divided. One of his sons, Alejhim, 27, has taken his family to join the Islamic State in Syria.

It remains unclear how Alejhim became radicalized. He followed his grandfather, training as an imam in Gjilan, and served in the village mosque for six years. Then, two years ago, he asked his father to help him travel to Egypt to study.

Mr. Maliqi still clings to the hope that his son is studying in Egypt rather than fighting in Syria. But Kosovo’s counterterrorism police recently put out an international arrest warrant for Alejhim.

“Better that he comes back dead than alive,” Mr. Maliqi, a poor farmer, said. “I sent him to school, not to war. I sold my cow for him.”

Alejhim had married a woman from the nearby village of Vrbice who was so conservative that she was veiled up to her eyes and refused to shake hands with her brother-in-law.

The wife’s mother angrily refused to be interviewed. Her daughter did what was expected and followed her husband to Syria, she said.

Secretly, Alejhim drew three others — his sister; his best friend, who married his sister; and his wife’s sister — to follow him to Syria, too. The others have since returned, but remain radical and estranged from the family.

Alejhim’s uncle, Fehmi Maliqi, like the rest of the family, is dismayed. “It’s a catastrophe,” he said.

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Iran’s Government and Revolutionary Guards Battle for Control of Economy.

President Hassan Rouhani wants to make way for foreign deals and investment by limiting the business role taken on by the Revolutionary Guards when sanctions isolated Iran.

see more att.

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Statement by France, Germany, United Kingdom, United States and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Post-JCPOA Business with Iran

Media Note

Office of the Spokesperson

Washington, DC

May 19, 2016

05-18-16 WSJ-Iran’s Government and Revolutionary Guards Battle f or Control of Economy.pdf
05-19-16 Crucial Players or Insufficient Powers_The USA, Russia and the EU in the Middle East.pdf
02-10-16 F Hill – Understanding and deterring Russia_ U.S. policies and strategies _ Brookings.pdf

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