Oct 29 2014

The UK must fully recognise its special obligations towards Iraqi and Afghan refugees

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by James Souter

This piece was originally posted on the LSE British Politics and Policy Blog on Wednesday 29 October 2014.

Iraqi refugee children, Damascus, Syria, 2012. Wikimedia Commons

Iraqi refugee children, Damascus, Syria, 2012. Wikimedia Commons

When activists, politicians and commentators make a moral case for offering asylum to refugees in the UK, they very often do so in humanitarian terms, arguing that we bear a moral obligation to protect refugees from the awful situations they have fled. This humanitarian approach to asylum has been long-established, and is reflected in international law to which the UK has committed itself, such as the 1951 Refugee Convention. It is also morally compelling in its own right: asylum is indeed a vital way of saving lives and alleviating suffering.

Yet this humanitarian case for asylum, powerful though it may be, is incomplete as it stands. It pays no attention to the important question of who bears responsibility for causing refugee crises in the first place and, by effectively treating asylum as a response to other people’s problems, it seems to assume that we are not connected to the refugees we may go on to protect. A purely humanitarian approach to asylum also tends to frame asylum as a matter of charity rather than justice: that is, as something that it is good for us to do, but which is not required if what we see as more pressing domestic problems make themselves felt.

It is important to recognise that the UK is, in some cases, linked in very direct ways to the refugees whom we may or may not go on to offer asylum, and that our obligations towards them go beyond purely humanitarian imperatives. Some refugees have collaborated or served with British forces; others have been caused to flee in the first place by interventions and foreign policies in which the UK has been deeply involved; while others flee from countries with strong historical connections to the UK. Iraqi and Afghan refugees are among the refugee populations which are linked to the UK in these kinds of morally important ways. Continue reading

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Oct 28 2014

Islam and Social Media

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by Dr Mohammed Ibahrine

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 14.52.30

Twitter profile of prominent Islamic preacher, Dr Mohammed Al-Arifi, twitter.com

Just as in other regions, countries with a Muslim majority have witnessed a rapid diffusion and adoption of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in recent times. In the Arab World, Facebook is still the leading social networking website with 81,302,064 users. Twitter follows with 5,797,500 users (Arab Social Media Report, 2014). The Arab Region is only second to the USA when it comes to the number of daily YouTube views. With 90 Million video views per day, Saudi Arabia has the world highest number of YouTube views per Internet user (Arab news, 2014).

The popularity of social media platforms in the Arab World has led some scholars to expect its impact on religious life to rise. The common argument is that social media has the potential to change people’s religiosity and practices of piety. The impact of social media on religious behaviours of individuals and communities in environments characterised by conservatism and traditionalism, it is argued, will be more profound than in environments characterised by liberalism and openness.

Communicating and winning the hearts and minds of believers and non-believers through da’wa is a central commitment for many Muslims and Islamic leaders. Today, social media has become an invaluable means to pursue the path of da’wa and the dissemination of the Muslim thoughts. Only very few voices condemn the use of the new digital media as incompatible with Islamic practices. For instance, Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh, Grand Mufti in Saudi Arabia, advances a critical stance towards social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter because, as he says, they disseminate lies and may destroy established relationships in the real world. In a similar line, religious authorities in some Islamic countries issued fatwas against the use of social media like Twitter, arguing for its incompatibility with shari’a because of trading accusations and promoting lies.

While some of the Islamic religious leaders advise their followers not to use social media platforms, the overwhelming majority of scholars and preachers capitalise on the effectiveness and efficiency of social media in engaging with the community of believers and enhance their fidelity and loyalty.

During the first generation of the Internet, there were some traditional websites like Islam Online that acted as a one stop-shop for religious information and comprehensive services to the Islamic ummah.

The mushrooming of digital platforms during the second era of the Internet led to a process of undermining the monopolistic nature of religious orthodoxies. For many, social media became an ideal platform, the new Mosque or madrasa, for the dissemination of the Islamic belief. These digital platforms led to the emergence of what some call “Facebook fatwas”. F-Fatwas introduced a new paradigm to the practice of religious instructions in the way they were formulated, issued, disseminated, received and acted upon. F-Fatwas sparked commentary and feedback among many sectors of Muslim societies, including religious authorities, Islamist intellectuals as well as young urban or secularised Muslims.

One type of Islamic use of social media platforms is proselytisation, which is widely popular amongst Islamic preachers. Mohammad Al-Arifi topped the list with nine million followers, second is Aid al-Qarni with seven million, followed by Ahammad al-Shugairi with six million (Twitter, 2014). Ironically enough, some deceased religious scholars have social media accounts in their names set up by their religious and intellectual followers in order to reach the younger generations. Continue reading

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Oct 22 2014

Kuwait’s Domestic Policy in a New Oil Price Regime

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by Dr Hessah Al-Ojayan 

Since crude oil hit a recent high of $107.9 a barrel in June this year, the closing price has been gradually declining reaching $82.6 on October 16th. This level is the lowest since July 2012. The decline is driven by the increase in supply coupled with a weak demand. More supply is mainly coming from the the US and Libya, with the US oil production increasing by almost 14% compared to last year. Libya’s production, having recovered from the civil war, has also increased from 200,000 barrels per day (b/d) in April this year to reach about one million b/d in September. Further adding to prospective global supply, Paraguay announced this week that it has discovered oil for the first time. Weakening demand is also adding pressure on oil prices, with the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) recently announcing that Germany cut its oil imports from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) by 2% this year. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has cut its projection for global growth in 2014 from 3.4% in July to 3.3% and its forecast for 2015 from 4% to 3.8%, which also does not bode well for global energy demand.  On the back of the IMF growth forecast revisions, the International Energy Agency (IEA) had to cut its estimate for demand for OPEC crude oil by 200,000 b/d for 2015.

Kuwait City, copyright Ra'ed Qutena, 2011, flickr.com

Kuwait City, copyright Ra’ed Qutena, 2011, flickr.com

With OPEC producing 43% of the world’s oil, falling oil prices will negatively affect the revenues of many of its member countries and will eventually force them to consider cutting down production; many of them have a national budget breakeven price of above $90/barrel. Officials in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and the UAE showed no public intention of reducing production. However, confidential information was leaked from Kuwait, stating that Al-Khafji field, a joint venture between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that produces 300,000 b/d, is being shut down due to environmental concerns. Also, the Kuwaiti Alqabas newspaper reported on October 20 the possibility of shutting down another joint field, Al-Wafra, which produces 110,000 b/d, because the Kuwaiti Labor ministry was refusing to renew the identification cards of Saudi Chevron company employees. These shutdowns would reduce Kuwait’s oil production by around 10%. Globally, the final decision on how many barrels to produce per day will be made during OPEC’s next meeting, on November 27.

Kuwait produces between 2.5 to 3 million b/d and exports 80% of them to East Asia, with the remaining 20% going to Europe and the Americas. 90% of Kuwait’s revenues come from oil. Annually, 75% of total revenues are used for national expenditures, which amounted to about K.D 23 billion for the fiscal year 2014-2015 (approximately $80 billion), with the remaining 25% allocated to the Kuwait Investment Authority (national sovereign fund) for the purpose of supporting future generations. The breakeven oil price for the Kuwait budget is $75 per barrel. Beyond that, national expenses would exceed revenues. The current oil price of $90 per barrel is alarming and it is critical that Kuwait starts putting forward a contingency plan in order to avoid a possible financial deficit. It is time to call for a radical transformation. Continue reading

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Oct 16 2014

Kurdish Liberation Movement in Iraq – Interview with Dr Yaniv Voller

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In preparation for his talk on Tuesday 11 November at LSE, MEC research fellows Filippo Dionigi and Zeynep Kaya met with Yaniv Voller to discuss his most recent book ‘The Kurdish Liberation Movement in Iraq: From Insurgency to Statehood’. Starting from the Kurdish liberation movement in Iraq, this book analyses the concepts of sovereignty and legitimacy in international politics.


Filippo Dionigi: In what ways does this book help understand the current Kurdish situation in Iraq? Does it provide a framework for the complex, historical question of Kurdistan Iraq?

Yaniv Voller: It clearly does. You cannot understand the current Kurdish situation and the way the Kurds relate to the current Iraqi government without understanding the roots of the Kurdish struggle for liberation and the evolution this struggle has gone through. In my opinion, what we see today is just another stage in this struggle of liberation. What I argue in the book is that the Kurdish liberation movement has transformed from focusing mainly on guerrilla operations to concentrating on less violent forms of resistance, more particularly statebuilding. To put it differently, I argue that statebuilding, which has been taking place since 1991, is just another liberation strategy. If you look at the way the Kurds have been armed, you can see that almost every step the Kurdish leaders have taken was driven by defining sovereignty, which also explains the title of the book: Emphasising on the fact that the Kurdish movement is still a liberation movement that moved from insurgency to statehood.

Zeynep Kaya: If we widen our perspective a bit, moving from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), to focus on your framework of de-facto statehood. Would that framework be applicable when trying to understand other self-determination movements, for example Palestine or South Sudan?

YV: I do not think this framework applies to the Palestinian case. The idea of a Palestinian state is already legitimate. Palestinians are not necessarily struggling to gain international legitimacy for their cause, but they have to struggle against the Israeli presence. In the case of the KRG, it’s the complete opposite situation: The KRG has managed to drive out what they identify as the ‘occupying forces’, the Iraqi army, and they have managed to build a more or less independent state, but they haven’t been able to achieve international legitimacy yet. South Sudan is a much more interesting case. When South Sudan managed to gain autonomy, it was very clear that it was on its way to statehood. I would think Western Sahar is probably the ideal analogy: It has a government which controls a certain part of the claimed territory, while the rest of the territory is still under the control of Morocco. There are many similar cases around the world as well that I use to structure my theoretical framework. Some examples include Kosovo, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Somaliland.

FD: How does the regional context affect the capacity of the KRG to progressively gain its autonomy and perhaps its independence? Since the Kurdish people are not limited to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and an independent Kurdish state there would have implications for neighbouring countries.

YV: The KRG has become a very significant regional player in the last few years, especially since 2003. From being the object of intervention, where Iraqi Kurdish provinces were constantly subjected to interventions by neighbouring states, what we see today is the growing assertiveness of the KRG and its leadership. If the KRG gains its independence, then it is bound to produce shock waves around the region. However, on the other hand, it has a potential of becoming the solution for the future: if the Kurds have a state on some territory, it might ease the pressure off others in neighbouring countries to negotiate a solution. The creation of a Kurdish state, even one not covering the entire territory of historical Kurdistan, could serve as a base for settlement. Continue reading

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Sep 29 2014

US and Iran: ‘More cooperation than meets the eye’

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Bitter adversaries for a generation, the US and Iran now face a common enemy: the ‘Islamic State’. But, in an interview with DW, Dr Roham Alvandi argues that politics prevent Tehran and Washington from cooperating publicly. On Monday 16 October, Dr Alvandi will be presenting his most recent book ‘Nixon Kissinger and the Shah’ at LSE.

John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif during direct talks, July 14 2014

John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif during direct talks, July 14 2014


DW: What are the US and Iran’s respective interests in fighting the “Islamic State”? Are they opposed to IS for the same reasons?

Roham Alvandi: They’re not quite the same reasons. They each have their own interests in Iraq, and they each have an interest in containing and eventually defeating the Islamic State. From the US point of view, what they’re trying to do is defeat the IS threat but also create some sort of inclusive government in Iraq where you have some sort of balance between the Shi’a, the Sunni and the Kurds.

Whereas from the Iranian perspective, that’s much less their priority. They’re very much backing their allies in Iraq. But on the whole, there’s probably more cooperation going on than meets the eye. I suspect that there was a great deal of cooperation behind the scenes that has to do with the creation of the new government in Iraq, and I suspect that there’s also some cooperation in terms of the military operations that are going on. But neither side has an interest in acknowledging that openly, so they’re going to keep that very quiet.

Ayatollah Khamenei said that he rejected an offer from the US to cooperate against the Islamic State. Why would Iran oppose cooperating with Washington against a common enemy?

Iran assisted the United States in Afghanistan back in 2001. They helped defeat the Taliban; they helped create the Bonn process [to rebuild Afghanistan's political institutions]; they helped create the Karzai government. And what they got in exchange for that was “axis of evil” and more sanctions. Nothing came out of it and that was quite a gamble for President Khatami who had convinced the leadership that this was the right thing to do. So you can’t really blame them for being skeptical as to whether the US will really come through on any sort of quid pro quo as far as Iraq is concerned.

Continue reading

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