2018 Year in Review

The Big Issues and How We Covered Them

JANUARY 

With signs pointing to the civil war in Syria entering its final stages and Russian President Vladimir Putin declaring victory over ISIS there in December 2017, we took a look at the key actors positing themselves to take the lead in the future and post-war development of the ravaged country. Thomas J. Shattuck wrote that while reading about China when thinking of the civil war in Syria may surprise some, Beijing actually sees two main areas of interests in the country: preventing the rise and spread of the militant jihadist group the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) in the Middle East and China and preparing Syria to be part of its One Belt One Road Initiative. Shattuck highlighted that because China vetoed a number of anti-Syrian UN resolutions and has provided various forms of economic and military aid to the country during the war, the Syrian government is giving Beijing and Chinese businesses a front seat in development. 

We also looked ahead to the Lebanese parliamentary elections, in which Hanin Ghaddar rightly predicted Hezbollah would win the majority, and for the first time, would democratically win Lebanon. Ghaddar wrote that Hezbollah’s win would mean that they no longer needed anyone’s blessing to start a war from Lebanon against any enemy that Iran wishes to fight. 

Majalla’s Joseph Braude also shed light on Russian disinformation in Arab countries, a topic that has often flown under the media radar.  Braude wrote that Russia’s media assets, combined with a growing physical infrastructure of Russian cultural and educational facilities in Arab lands, make for a formidable rival in the Arab info-sphere as Moscow has worked consistently to win over a mass audience spanning the region’s socioeconomic strata.

FEBRUARY

The relationship between Donald Trump and the U.S. Muslim community has received a lot of media coverage, especially following Trump’s statement during the campaign that he would seek a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and his executive order blocking travel from six Muslim-majority countries. In Febrary, Majalla’s Joseph Braude took an in-depth look at the shifting contours of the long-standing debate on governmental surveillance, profiling and monitoring of Muslims. Joseph wrote that in the current climate, the country has seen new Jewish-Muslim Alliances under the banner of fighting bigotry, new Latino-Muslim alliances to promote immigration and citizenship for newcomers; and new disputes within the American conservative camp as to whether to support the republican president.   

Against a morbid backdrop of three aircraft — Russian, Turkish and Israeli — being downed over Syria, Majalla’s Joseph Braude looked into the prospects for a hot war between Iran and Israel as well as the heightened Iranian proxy warfare in Arab lands which had increased as words escalated and violence flared, both inside Iran and across the region.

In February we also discussed why the world should be wary of China as it works to seize the mantle of global statesmanship in view of the country’s expanding sustained offensive against human rights under the leadership of Xi. Thomas J. Shattuck pointed to the number of high-profile disappearances, kidnappings and arrests orchestrated by the Communist Party of China in its attempt to quell dissent since 2015 to argue that Xi’s China is not the leader the world is looking for. 

MARCH

In a three-part cover story, we took a look at the cascading sex scandals in British-based charities that riveted the UK and began to spur a crisis of confidence in aid work globally. While the #MeToo movement shone light on men’s abuse of authority over women in dozens on industries, Majalla’s Joseph Braude wrote that the Oxfam scandal  highlighted an even starker imbalance because it involves women in the world’s poorest countries — violated, at that, in their hour of greatest need.  Majalla’s Yasmine El-Geressi, wrote about the raging long-standing controversies over the UK’s foreign aid budget and argued that the charitable sector should not be immune from scrutiny or censure but that slashing or even cancelling overseas development aid to restore public confidence punishes the wrong parties.In the final part of our coverage, El-Geressi looked at the research into the large and complex debate on how aid effects economic development and government dependency and corruption.

In March we also brought you in depth coverage of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s high-profile visits to Egypt and the UK, and his two week coast to coast tour of the US during his first foreign tour as heir to the Saudi throne. During the tour the Crown Prince broke precedence in corporate, bipartisan, inter-religious, entertainment and energy meetings, and saw the signing of dozens of ambitions agreements. Saudi women have had a momentous year as the young, reform-minded Prince lifted a number of key restrictions on their rights as part of the wide-ranging social and economic reform initiative. Women can now attend football matches, partake in sports themselves and are allowed to drive cars. 

The controversy around Cambridge Analytica in its use of improperly accessed personal data to influence prominent political campaigns ranging from the 2016 US General Election to the UK’s Brexit raised several important questions with potentially dire consequences. In this month we took a look at the profound implications this breach in digital security yields in the Middle East and its social media infrastructure, as well as how people in the Middle East responded to the contentious revelations.

 

APRIL

In April, Ronald J. Granieri brought you an in depth look at the divide in European attitudes towards immigrants, an issue that has played a role throughout the continent’s history as the various states of the continent have modified their borders and transferred populations, but has emerged with especially vehemence when the new arrivals came from outside of Europe, and especially when they are Muslims.

We also brought you an interview with the first Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London on the conditions of the Coptic Christians in Egypt today and the history of the persecution and marginalisation faced by the indigenous community.

Ambassador Dennis Ross, who served under several US administrations as a senior diplomat and advisor on the Middle East, wrote about the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He argued that the fact that the Crown Prince crossed a threshold and essentially broke a taboo should remind the Administration that there is a possibility, that there are signs of change, and that Arab leaders may be willing to play a role supporting a credible peace initiative.
 

MAY

On May 7 Putin will was inaugurated as Russia’s president for the fourth time and will thus continue to lead Russia for another 6 years, making him the longest ruling leader of Russia since Joseph Stalin. Maia Otarashvili wrote that the world should still expect Putin to carry out policies that will be more reactionary rather than strategic and the West is likely to find him at the negotiating table in the near future, as he may start looking for an “exit ramp” out of the wars in which he is engaged abroad (Ukraine, Syria). 

In the month of May, we also took an extensive look at Iran in light of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the controversial Nuclear Deal on May 8. Ambassador Dennis Ross wrote that while the Iranians will play a victim on the JCPOA as a way of deepening the breach between the US and the Europeans, it is unlikely that they will lessen their threats in the Middle East. He concluded that it is vital that the Trump administration develops a clear policy towards Iran that it does not simply talk about, but actually carries out. Joseph Braude looked at the challenges that arose for Europe and the Middle East following America’s JPOA departure. Braude brought attention to a range of statements as amounting to hopes for a heightened Arab-Israeli coalition against Iran and a range of Iranian statements that aimed to sabotage the envisioned alliance by driving a wedge between the Arabs and Israelis. He concluded that mainstream Arabic media outlets will have a role to play in whether the Iranian communications strategy is amplified or refuted. 

Later in the month, Braude returned with an analysis of the White House’s new policy on Iran which was delivered by Mike Pompeo in a stern message to Iran and its enablers. The article titled “Pompeo Draws a Red Line,” explained that the US was open to negotiating a new deal with Iran provided that Iran accepts twelve demands which Tehran emphatically rejected.  

We also brought you a video on the fans from around the world who flocked to Windsor to watch the Royal Wedding which saw Prince Harry tie the knot Meghan Markle.
 

JUNE 

In June, Ronald J. Granieri delved into the heart of the Brexit debate to dissect the question of borders. He outlined that advocates of leaving the European Union emphasized the need for Britain to “take back” control of its borders, with special attention to reducing the flow of immigration, while not harming global trade. But wanting something and getting it are two very different things, especially if getting it depends on complex negotiations where both sides have an interest in driving the hardest possible bargain, even if both have a strong interest in an ultimate deal that leaves them on reasonably good terms, Granieri argued. He concluded that although one might regret the British decision to bet the future of their economy and global role on a vaguely worded referendum decided based on misleading premises on a single day in June, there was no way for the British to disavow their desire to leave the EU. 

In an opinion piece, Ambassador Dennis Ross wrote about the need for Arab leaders to play a more prominent role on peace-making than they have ever done before. He opined that Arab leaders today can serve Palestinian interests by going public and supporting a peace deal if it crosses a threshold of credibility so that they do not miss a possible opportunity. 

In June we also brought you an article by Thomas J. Shattuck on China’s expanding influence on Djibouti, a small African country located at the critical juncture between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in light of the US’s decision to demarche China for shining military grade lasers at American pilots while they were flying an aircraft in early May. Shattuck argued that taking a deeper look at the layout of the base and how China has conducted itself in East and South China seas should cause nations to worry. 

On the historic summit between President Trump and the leader of North Korea held on June 12, Joseph Yun wrote that in order for the two sides to bridge the gap between what they hope to achieve and what is realistically possible, the US should concentrate on both a broad vision for the future of the relationship and on the immediate steps needed to finally reach an agreement that will give Washington the denuclearisation is wants and Pyongyang the security guarantees it seeks.
 

JULY

Majalla’s Hanan Azizi wrote on the increasing civil unrest in Iran due to economic hardship and a growing lack of living resources, this includes a week of water shortages. The famous Tehran bazaar witnessed mass protests the likes of which haven’t been seen since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, where many of the protestors expressed anger over increased government spending toward its foreign policy goals rather than spending it on public services. The article also highlighted examples of members of the Revolutionary Guards and conservative supporters using the unrest to call for an early election or to impeach the reformist Rouhani. 

Joseph Braude brought you a close look at Trump’s controversial Helsinki summit with Putin in which the former denied US intelligence findings of Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Amid criticism from both democrats and republicans, he had to retract the statement the following day. Braude went on to say that Trump’s actions are moving toward hurting the western alliance, which only works in Russia’s favor. 

Yasmine El Geressi interviewed Hanan Al Shaykh, a prominent Lebanese writer and playwright. In the interview, al-Shaykh talked about her life, writing and struggles she faced as a female writer and feminist in the Middle East. 
 

AUGUST

Amid a wave of new wave of US sanctions imposed on Iran, Joseph Braude looked that the effects they are having on the Tehran. As a result of the sanctions, European companies have started pulling out of Iran despite the fact that European states did not pull out of the nuclear deal. Iran also faced difficulties in steel, aluminum and gold trading and has had its currency lose more of its value, resulting in more protests. 

Ambassador Dennis Ross also wrote an article on the subject arguing that Iran will most likely follow the historical trend of trying to relieve the pressure on itself. For instance, he predicted that the regime would sell arms to the Houthis and they in turn would target Saudi oil tankers thus increasing oil prices. He also stated that if Iran wanted to exit the sanctions they would do it indirectly through Russia, and they would most likely do so early next year. 

Another highlight of the month was an article on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s historical legacy of preserving human rights by Ahmed Taher. In the article Taher opined that this legacy is made evident through the country’s constitution that clearly states the rights of citizens and the obligation for the government and King to maintain those rights. Saudi Arabia has also adopted many international conventions for human rights such as The Convention Against Torture and The Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moreover, the Kingdon also has this preservation in mind for its Vision 2030 Plan, in which it seeks to ensure rights of people on both a national and global scale. 


SEPTEMBER

Hezbollah has undergone some changes over the years, and exploiting these changes can help in defeating it, argued Hanin Ghaddar in an article which highlighted that one of such developments was the group’s diminished spending on social charities and services but increased spending on weaponry and warfare training. Moreover, she argued that it was necessary that other factors be exposed such as the groups close alliance with Iran and how such an alliance puts Lebanon in danger. 

Yasmine El-Geressi interviewed UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, in which he reasserted the close ties between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UK and insisted that Saudi Arabia had the right to exercise self-defence against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. He also praised the Saudi-led coalition which seeks to restore the legitimate government in Yemen, while also criticizing Iran for violating international law by arming the Houthis. 
 

OCTOBER

Joseph Braude wrote an article of the current situation in the run up of the US sanctions on Iran, which took place on November 4 of this year. He highlighted Trump’s hardened stance on Iran and newfound hostilities between Iran and France as the latter foiled an Iran sponsored terror plot in Paris targeting a rebel Iranian movement. 

Joseph Braude also Brough you wrote a piece on the hotly anticipated US midterms. He wrote that although Democrats felt confident in the run up of the elections, some factors have made them lose momentum. First and foremost, there was the confirmation of Bret Kavanagh to the Supreme Court after a congressional hearing on his alleged sexual assault went in his favor. Moreover, Braude highlighted that strong red states were unlikely to go to the Democrats, as they would have needed to rely on suburban Northern states to gain a majority in Congress. 
 

NOVEMBER

Mohamed Abd El Kader Khalil wrote an article that shows Saudi diplomacy’s reliance on peaceful methods of conflict resolution rather than violent ones. He also highlighted the example of the Kingdom’s role in resolving the crisis in the Horn of Africa between Eretria and Ethiopia. 

Today, the Middle East remains highly unstable.  Terrible conflicts in Syria and Yemen continue, and have taken a horrendous human toll.  Iran is active and employing the tool of Shia militias as it seeks to extend its influence throughout the Arab Middle East.  Ambassador Dennis wrote an article arguing for the necessity of a US presence in the Middle East, saying that a lack of the US leaves vacuums and these vacuums are often filled with the worst forces. As such, he criticized Obama for his “Asian pivot” and Trump for not having a clear coherent policy with regards to the Middle East. 

Joseph Braude reflected on the US mid term election results, which saw Democrats winning 27 seats in the House thus gaining a majority in the lower chamber. On the other hand, Republicans maintained a majority in the Senate having won 53 seats out of a possible 100. Furthermore, for the first time in history two Muslim women were elected for Congress, Plastinian-American Rashida Tlaib gained a seat in the House for Michigan’s 13thcongressional district, while Somali-American Omar won a House seat in Minnesota’s 5thcongressional district. 

Majalla’s Mustafa El-Dessouki and Joseph Braude ended the month with an interview with Rabbi Scheier, to discuss the institution of the rabbinate, the American Jewish community’s history of social action and his experience as a bridge-builder between Jews and Muslims.


DECEMBER

Israel launched an open-ended operation “Northern Shield” to expose and thwart tunnels built by Hezbollah aimed at infiltrating Israel, however Hanin Ghaddar argued in that Hezbollah’s tunnels into Israel are part of a much bigger threat and that the group’s underground missile facilities are in fact much more dangerous. Ghaddar concluded by writing that the Lebanese people still need to start realizing the looming disaster and the repercussions of Hezbollah’s power over their daily lives, explaining that when the people start asking questions, Hezbollah will have to respond, and eventually be held accountable for its actions. 

After a week of mixed outcomes with respect to Iranian sanctions and military confrontation with its neighbours and the world, Joseph Braude wrote that the jury is out as to whether Iran’s economy, military footprint, and domestic security sector have been holding their own in the face of U.S.-led economic sanctions. He concluded that however agile Iran’s leadership claims the economy has been in the face of sanctions, U.S.-led pressure on Iran appears to coincide with a new wave of repression in the country. Later in the month, Braude wrote about the Iranian government’s new losses in the court of international public opinion, ranging from legal action arising from its crude exports to Latin America to condemnation of its interference in Iraq. However, Braude wrote that the regime remains on the offensive against Western adversaries — and has taken drastic measures at home in response to mounting popular rage about its economic failings.


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