Semester Review

I found this unit to be an incredibly interesting and informative unit. Due to the importance of the Middle East on the world stage as well as my interest in history, I felt that I owed it to myself to understand a bit more about it, and this is why I picked this unit. As Sandra has said many times throughout the semester, the Middle East is a tricky subject and when you think you start to understand it, everything messes up and you understand nothing. However I genuinely believe that I have learned a lot throughout this unit, and even if ideas and situations change, I have the basic understanding of the region such as its history and the basic elements to understand the region to a decent extent.

As I said before, prior to doing this unit, I had very little knowledge of the region and my beliefs were so wrong its ridiculous and I feel stupid to think I was so one dimensional in my previous understanding. Before this semester, I believed the Middle East was made up of two parts; Israel and the Jews, who had gotten the region out of American pity, verses the Arab countries in the region who were all allied to bring down Israel and recover Jerusalem. Being Australian and therefore having similar beliefs to Americans, I felt obliged to take the Israeli side in the conflict in the region.

After doing this unit, the main two things I have learnt are in clear violation to my previous beliefs. Firstly, I had no idea about the tension that exists between Arab countries such as Iraq and Iran, as well as many other conflicts, as I believed they were all aligned together to regain Israel. The second major thing that has happened to me during this unit, is that I have taken the Arab side in the Arab-Israeli conflict. A big swap to move from a sure thing Israel supporter to an Arab one.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed doing this unit, learning a lot and having a good time listening to Sandra’s jokes about serious issues, which really shouldn’t be joked about, although everyone loved them. The only complaint that I would have concerning the Unit is that I believe a three hour seminar to be too long. Especially when its on the Middle East and the issues really require your brain to be switched on. Nonetheless it was a very good unit and I learned a lot.

Thanks a lot,

Bill

Power Struggle in the Middle East

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For much of the Middle East’s modern history, there has been a power struggle to determine the “leader of the Arab world.” The article that I have chosen to use is one by Tarek Osman, and is titled “Who will win the Middle East?” Momentum has swung in many different countries favour; during the 1950’s and 1960’s, Egypt was the leader of the Arab world, with Cairo as its capitol.

This changed in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with Israel’s defeat of several Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Syria, power swapped to the Gulf states in the Middle East, where the wealth and therefore the new power was. Saudi Arabia was seen as the leader of this number of Gulf states, and they were then seen as the leaders for two decades to follow.

Israel then held dominance for a few years in the 1990’s, with the Oslo agreement between Israel and Palestine as well as the treaties between Israel and Jordan. This was seen as a period of peace to come as a break from the fighting that had occurred since the 1940’s when Israel first came about.

There is currently heavy debate amongst scholars as to who the current power in the region is, as many countries are seen to be in poor condition. There are two groups vying for power, as Tarek Osman’s article puts it. The new extremist Islamists, led by Iran, Qatar, Turkey and several terrorist organisations against the traditionalists of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel.

It is almost impossible to say with confidence, but in my opinion the conservative group are the ones more likely to assume the position as leader of the Arab world. This is due to the United State’s support of several of these countries, as well as the ceiling for economic growth and power in these states.

The text seems to have similar thoughts to mine, with it’s section on Egyptian’s regional politics reading like they believe Egypt to have the best chance of recovering this power. It states that “as Egypt recovers from domestic turbulence it will have the opportunity to reassert itself as a popular, independent force in regional affairs.” It states this after talking about how Egypt has been a dominant force in the Arab world since the 1950’s.

Tourism is just one of the reasons of optimism for many when they say that Egypt will once again be the leading power in the Arab world.

Tourism is just one of the reasons of optimism for many when they say that Egypt will once again be the leading power in the Arab world.

Middle Eastern Labour Migration and Foreign Labour

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One of the most interesting themes that I got from this week’s readings is the labour migration throughout the Middle East as well as the labour influx from foreign countries. Not only did people from regions of surplus labour such as Egypt and Jordan move to “capital rich and labour-poor” Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and several other countries, but even foreign labour migrated to the Middle East such as Filipinos, Sri Lankan and even Koreans. This occurred from about the 1950’s onwards, and is still a major part of Middle Eastern workforces. In 1990, 68% of the workforce in the Gulf states were foreign workers.

The article that I found this week, in relation to foreign labour, concerns Qatar’s foreign labour and the abolishment of their “Kafala System” in order to both get on the West’s good side, as well as to prepare itself for the 2022 soccer World Cup. The Kafala system is used in the small Arab Gulf states, and is a method of monitoring migrant labourers in the region. It requires all foreign labours to have a sponsor, which is generally an employer. The system has been criticised by many people and organisations, including the West as well as numerous human rights groups.

The major talking point of the Kafala System is the exit rules in it. According to the current Kafala system, it requires the employer’s consent for a foreign labourer to leave the country, but fortunately this will be replaced. Hopefully other Gulf states will take Qatar’s lead and abolish the Kafala System due to the injustices that it has.

As previously stated, all of the Gulf states have a large amount of foreign labour, and all of them have their own issues with it. Another article I found focuses on Syria and their desire to reduce the amount of foreign workers, so to create job opportunities for local workers.

I just found it interesting how foreign labour plays such a big role in the Middle East, and it’s too early to say with confidence, but it looks like foreign labour will decrease over the coming few years, even though it has been such an important part of these Gulf States for over 50 years.

 

This image is very useful in highlighting my point that an incredible amount of labour in the Gulf states is foreign workers

This image is very useful in highlighting my point that an incredible amount of labour in the Gulf states is foreign workers

 

Iran-Saudi Arabian relations improving

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Reports from the Middle East have stated that Saudi Arabia has initiated attempts at improving the very uneasy relationship between itself and Iran. This uneasiness has been evident between the two nations for a long time, beginning in 1980, when Saudi Arabia backed Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war. As well as this reason, Saudi Arabia is a Sunni ruled country, while Iran is Shiite, creating another sectarian divide. Saudi Arabia is also allied to the United States, who have a poor relations with Iran. On top of this, Saudi Arabia and Iran back different parties in the Syrian Civil War, which has been the cause of most of the tension recently. As stated, the two country have a very strained relationship, so it is big news to hear that they have taken a step forward, in what looks like the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, visiting Saudi Arabia in the near future.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal was said to have extended the invitation to his Iranian counterpart, and he is hopeful that his invitation will be accepted for the sake of achieving and maintaining the current stability in the region, which is a rarity in the modern history of the Middle East. Iranian spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nowbakht backed up al-Faisal by stating that “Saudi Arabia is a neighbour. Strengthening ties and good neighbourly relations with it is to the interests of the region.”

 

Iranian supreme leader Ayayollah Ali Khamenei meets with Saudi Crown Price Abdullah ibn Abdel Aziz, showing that the two countries can work together

Iranian supreme leader Ayayollah Ali Khamenei meets with Saudi Crown Price Abdullah ibn Abdel Aziz, showing that the two countries can work together.

 

 

Iraq is Moving Closer to Sectarian War

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This week, I decided to look into a journal, as opposed to the usual news pieces that I do. This piece that I found is a very interesting opinion entry, where the author, Kimberly Kagan is arguing that Iraq is heading towards a full scale sectarian war, due to the negative security trends in the country, as well as growing violence.

Kagan states that over 73,000 Iraqi families from Anbar have been forced to evacuate their homes due to this lack of security, and unrest in the country at present. All this has been happening while militias have retaliated with sectarian killings, causing an even greater divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

The article then goes on to state that these militias are organising competitors for the Prime Minister role in Iraq, currently run by Nouri al-Maliki. To summarise, every level of Iraqi life seems to have a sectarian divide, that is bringing the country closer to war. Kagan finishes her entry by stating that without US troops in Iraq anymore to maintain some form of peace, there is every possibility that the terrorists could win this time.

There is a huge divide between the Sunni and Shi'a Muslims in Iraq, which could lead to a full scale war between the two sides.

There is a huge divide between the Sunni and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq, which could lead to a full scale war between the two sides.

Presidential Election Called in Syria

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Syria has called a presidential election for the 3rd of June, as they believe it is the best time for the current president, Bachar Al Assad, to defy opposition and maintain the presidency as to continue into a third consecutive term in office. There has been widespread opposition to the presidential election, with the UN as well as Western nations and Arab Gulf Countries labelling the election “a parody of democracy.” This opposition is due to the to current Syrian civil war, which has led to the death of over 150,000 people. He has been called a war criminal as well as many other terms, underlining his lack of popularity.

On a positive note though, Syria has received their first presidential candidate to oppose Al Assad, MP Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar, after registration was opened this Monday the 28th of April. Poll’s still believe Al Assad will win the election, however competition is a good sign.

This is an image of President Bashar Al Assad visiting Syrian soldiers. He will run for a third term as Syrian President with the election coming up on the 2nd of June.

This is an image of President Bashar Al Assad visiting Syrian soldiers. He will run for a third term as Syrian President with the election coming up on the 2nd of June.

 

Syrian rockets hit Lebanon in attack again Hezbollah

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According to Lebanese news sources, three rockets were fired from Syria and hit East Lebanon, as a form of retaliation against Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria. Although no one was hurt in the attack, it is still a big symbol of the strained relations between the Syrian and the Lebanese.

The militant Islamist group backed up its decision to fire rockets, by stating “as long as the blood of Sunnis is being shed in Syria, Hezbollah’s strongholds in Lebanon will not be spared our direct response.” The town that was fired at, Labweh, is a predominantly Shiite town, and has been fired at previously in response to Hezbollah’s involvement in the war. This war is pitting Muslim’s against each other in a Sunni verse Shiite conflict.

Unfortunately, war is not uncommon in Lebanon. On top of their conflicts with Israel, Lebanon has been plagued by Civil War for much of the past 40 years. This is understandable as Lebanon is the one Arab country that has a very similar amount of Christians in relation to Muslims, which would of course strain tensions.

 

Sunni vs Shia

Sunni vs Shia. This image depicts exactly what the current state of affairs is in the current Syria-Lebanese relations. It is turning into a Sunni vs Shia conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister halts talks with Palestine

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This week, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu told his ministers to stop having discussions with their Palestinian counterparts. The peace talks were brokered by the United States Government, however are on the verge of collapse following Palestine’s attempts to join the United Nations, which Israel says is a “provocative” move.

This is a massive move by the Israeli Prime Minister, as the two nations work incredibly closely being in the same geographical area, and it begs the question how the two-state nation will work. As we know, both nations dislike each other so it is unlikely one will fold and give the other an upper hand, meaning there could be terrible consequences.

Another reason why it is a big move, is because there have been many peace attempts over the past few years, and although we could say none have fully worked, it has kept full scale war away, which is what could happen from this situation. As the book states, the first signs of peace came in 1993 at the declaration of principles, where there  was an image of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader, Yasar Arafat shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin, which was said to put at end to decades of confrontation and conflict.

This trend of peace attempts has continued ever since, which makes this article of banning talks between the two countries even more surprising, especially when just last week, Netanyahu actually stated that he wanted peace with the Palestinians.

After Netanyahu’s statements, it will be both interesting and scary to see how this situation progresses.

Arafat and Rabin in 1993, showing that peace between Palestine and Israel is possible

Arafat and Rabin in 1993, showing that peace between Palestine and Israel is possible

The struggle has gone on for over 60 years, following World War Two, and I found this image very interesting, at how even public opinion was, and even more interested that more Australians are with the Palestinians than the Israelis.

The struggle has gone on for over 60 years, following World War Two, and I found this image very interesting, at how even public opinion was, and even more interested that more Australians are with the Palestinians than the Israelis on the Gaza Strip Conflict.

Israeli Raid Leaves Three Dead in the West Bank

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Last week, an Israeli Raid into a Palestinian refugee area resulted in the death of three Palestinians and the wounding of at least seven others, straining tensions even further than what they were just prior to the deaths.

Israeli leaders say that the raid was an attempt to capture a militant, Hamza Abu El-Hijja, in the Jenin refugee camp, however Palestinian authorities are outraged, warning that tensions are reaching a breaking point after the death toll has risen to 60 Palestinian deaths at the hands of Israelis over the past year.

Among the deaths from the Jenin refugee area was this militant, Hamza Abu El-Hijja, who is the son of a prominent Hamas leader, and was a prisoner in an Israeli prison. This raid is incredibly serious, due to the importance of the region, and the scale of what the Palestinians and the Israelis will go to, to get what they want. Tensions are incredibly high at the moment, and if they continue to escalate, serious issues could follow.

At the funeral for the men, there were many banners highlighting the anger of the Palestinians, one reading “Where are you, Abbas? They killed us while you watched.”

This is not the first time that Jenin has been attacked by the Israelis, after the 2002 Jenin Massacre in which over 100 Palestinian residents were killed.

Although this issue is serious, it is nothing new. The Arab-Israeli conflict has been going on for over a century, and came to the level it is at the moment following World War Two, and the United Nationals Partition Plan in 1947, that began to give then-Palestinian land to the Jewish. Tensions ever since have been high, with many wars, battles and deaths taking place between the two. In between the fighting, has been the Western World, and the United Nations, who have attempted to ease tensions between the two states regularly, as shown in the Oslo Peace Process, as well as many other attempts to bring peace between the two, however with both nations believing the land to be their own, the talks have never progressed very far.

The attacks last week seemed outrageous to me, as the West Bank is Arab land, and for Israeli forces to invade and kill Palestinians sounds ridiculous to me.

 

This photo sums up the tensions between the Arabs and Israelis. Simply, a group of Arabs are burning an Israeli flag, showing their hate of the Israelis. This hate works both ways, as shown by the attacks on Palestinians that this blog entry covered.

This photo sums up the tensions between the Arabs and Israelis. Simply, a group of Arabs are burning an Israeli flag, showing their hate of the Israelis. This hate works both ways, as shown by the attacks on Palestinians that this blog entry covered.

 

 

Death sentences in Egypt

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The Muslim Brotherhood is seen as a terrorist group across many countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia. As the above link states, the Muslim Brotherhood was declared as a terrorist organisation in Egypt on Wednesday, December 25, 2013.

The Muslim Brotherhood's logo

The Muslim Brotherhood’s logo

The article that I have picked for this week focuses on the death sentences to 529 of these Muslim Brotherhood members, and the pending trial of about 700 more. the 529 members who have been sentenced to death has caused outrage in the West, as the trial proceedings lasted just two days, causing the United States as well as the European Union to express concern over the fairness of the Egyptian courts.

Amnesty International called the death sentences “a grotesque example of the shortcomings and the selective nature of Egypt’s justice system.” Many other countries as well as organisations have stated their anger at the sentences too.

As the reading states, Egypt has been marred by corruption for much of it’s modern history, especially by the government as well as the upper class nobles. This shows that acts such as these death sentences are not completely out of the blue, however this is the “largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen in recent years, not just in Egypt but anywhere in the world.” This shows that there is a degree of surprise to the consequences that are occurring, as they are on such a large scale.

The issue of corruption desperately needs to be sorted out in Egypt, or else acts like this will continue. The power of the military and a small percentage of individuals have left the country in a poor democratic, social and political position, which could result in over 1,000 death sentences without fair trial over the next two months, with many other unfair sentences sure to follow.