Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Interview with Tobias Lang on Suwaidaʾ situation

by Kristen Gillespie, SYRIA:direct
The Druze of Syria have largely attempted to remain neutral in Syria’s four-year old uprising, although an estimated 14,000 Druze are currently wanted for fleeing mandatory conscription, a pro-opposition Druze human rights activist told Syria Direct last month.
Likewise, some Druze have participated in the civil disobedience that marked the beginning of the Syrian uprising, and periodically clash with regime forces in Suwayda, but the sect has not taken up arms against the government—a possibility many analysts consider far-fetched.
Still, Sheikh Abu Fahed Waheed al-Balaus, leader of the “first real [Druze] political movement to emerge during this crisis,” delivered a widely circulated speech earlier this year in which he called the Druze “more honorable than the Alawites” and alluded to Assad’s ouster from power if he did not “undertake to preserve Syria.”
While the speech found support among Druze outside Syria, inside the country, Balous has since gone underground, withdrawing for a spiritual “retreat” to “recuperate” after months of involvement in public affairs, according to pro-Balaus Facebook page a-Tawhediyun al-Judud.
The fiery rhetoric was particularly notable because of a persistent “leadership vacuum” within the Druze in Syria, says Tobias Lang, a Vienna-based political scientist and Ph.D. candidate who founded the MENA Minorities blog.  
“There has always been a vacuum because the regime has prevented leaders from emerging,” Lang tells Syria Direct’s Kristen Gillespie.
Syria’s many minorities have long been plagued by an extinction complex, by which they fear any changes in the political system could threaten their existence by stirring up historical grievances. In this respect, the Druze are no different; their survival is paramount and their decisions reflect that priority.
In recent weeks, Syria Direct has interviewed half a dozen Druze activists from across the political spectrum in addition to defected officers and found that what the Druze want most of all is to protect their land, security and sect.
To this end, the Druze “have managed to position themselves as not being diehard Assad supporters,” Lang says. But among Syrians, they are known for not supporting the opposition. As the war rages around the Druze, “the best thing for them is to stay out of it. But the question is how? Can they stay out of it?” (...)
 Read the full interview over at Syria:direct

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The MENA Minorities Knesset candidate ckeck: (1) The Zionist parties

Lets have a look at the possible members of the next Knesset from a MENA Minorities perspective. These are the non-Jewish canidates of the Zionist parties who have realistic chances for a Knesset seat. The candidates of the Joint Arab List will follow soon.

Likud:

Ayoob Kara 24th slot (realistic chances)  

The only non-Jew on the Likud list who has realistic chances for a seat is former MK and vice minister Ayoob Kara. His term as vice minister (for the delelopment of the Negev and Galilee) from 2009-2013 earned him some criticism for conducting his own "foreign policy" like meeting european far-right politicians (some with an anti-semitic background) and sending his bureau chief to talks with Syrian opposition figures in Bulgeria, which caused an diplomatic incident. Anyhow, he has good chances for a comeback. His appointment to the slot reserved for non-Jews should also be seen as a signal of goodwill to the party-internal far-right opposition around Moshe Feiglin. While the latter didn't make it to the electoral ticket, Kara is widely seen as associated with Feiglin's Jewish leadership faction and close to the settler movement.

Zionist Camp (Labor & Hatnua):

Zuheir Bahloul 17th slot (almost sure)

Bahloul is a well known Sunni-Arab sports commentator on Irseali TV. I doubt his appointment will bring many Arabs to vote for the Zionist camp and he is everything else than an political heavyweight. His choice for the Arab/Druze slot was not very popular among veteran Arab and Druze party members. According to every pollls he is allmost 100% in the next Knesset.

Saleh Saad 26th slot (intact chance)
Saleh Saad, a Druze from the village of Beit Jann, has also ok chances holding the 26th slot-he is on a Labor ticket. If the Zionist Camp wins 23+ seats and enters government he might almost sure enter the Knesset as a successor of a minister. Saad is a local official of the Histadrut, the Zionist trade union, in which he had even served as chair of the Galilee section. Saad's father was one of the early labor-party activists inside the Druze community. 

Yisrael Beinenu:

Hamad Amar 6th slot (small but intact chance)
Normally Druze Hamad Amar would have been considered to as a safe candidat but according to the latest polls Lieberman's party is very near to the four seat threshold. Amar is close to Lieberman and a respected figure inside the party. Of course he is a right-winger but doesn't use a provoking language like Ayoob Kara. Compared to Kara a senior Druze activist once described him to me as "a more action less talk guy". Amar is from the mixed Arab town of Shfaram (Shafa ʻAmr in Arabic). I've alsways seen him as a

Kulanu: 

Akram Hassun 12th (small but intact chance)
Hassun is the former mayor of Karmel City, a short lived merger of Daliat al-Karmel and Isfiya, and was a also a Knesset member for Kadima. Recently he was briefly the head of the once ruling party (its a novelty that a non-Jew leaded a Zionist party), before he joined the new Kulanu-party of former Likud-minister Moshe Kahlon. If Kalanu enters goverment and has about 10 seats he is in.

Meretz

Issawi Frej 3rd (good chance)
A Sunni from from the Arab town of Kafr Qasim. He was a member of the previous Knesset and an activist in the Peace Now movement. If social democratic Meretz jumps over the threshold, which is not sure according to the polls, he is safe. We can assume he is not a gimmick to catch Arab votes, since Meretz normally performes not very strong among Arabs.


The other Zionist parties have no Arab candidates on their tickets, even though some like Shas, Yesh Atid and even the far right Jewish Home have potential among certain sectors of the Arab population (e.g. Shas among Beduines, Jewish Home among Druze etc).

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Round up: IS raiding Christian villages in Khabur

Map by @le_carabinie (see here for bigger version)

IS takes over Assyrian village Tal al-Jazira by Asrar Chbaro 
by Asrar Chbaro, Al Monitor/An Nahar
This is the Islamic State (IS),” was the answer heard by Father Sirjun Zumaya, pastor of the congregation of the Assyrian Mar Girgus church in Lebanon, when he tried to call his wife’s uncle Wanis in Tal al-Jazira. The village had been attacked by the “birds of darkness” at 5 in the morning on Feb. 23. Since then, the line has been out of service.
Zumaya told An-Nahar the details of the conversation that took place at 1 p.m. on the day of the attack. He said: “When one of the organization’s fighters responded on the phone, I answered, ‘I hope you’re well, I want to speak with the phone’s owner.’ The fighter said he wasn’t there, but I was sure that the number belonged to him, which made me call. I spoke to Wanis in Assyrian, and he responded to me in Arabic in a terrified voice, ‘I am very well, and with the Islamic State.’ These are the words that he said before the Islamic State fighter took the phone back.”
Before he hung up, the IS fighter said that the responsibility of preserving security fell on the inhabitants of the village. In the Islamic religion, which they claim to follow, the preservation of security is a duty. But the IS fighter refused to take responsibility for their security, and replied, “This is none of your business.”
Zumaya’s relative is not the only one who is “out of service.” The inhabitants of the village, which includes around 35 homes, are all out of service. The inhabitants of some of the 12 neighboring villages located on the west bank of the Khabour River to Jabal Abdulaziz were also hit by the attack. They lie along the line that reaches from Tal Tamr to Tal Hormuz. Around 200 people have been taken hostage. According to Zumaya, “The news coming from there is not reassuring. Yesterday, I heard that one of my relatives was killed, and a young woman was raped. What is happening does not bode well. We fear the worst.”
Assyrians in Lebanon stand in solidarity with their kin by Samya Kullab, The Daily Star

by Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen, The Guardian
A few hundred Christian militants are at the vanguard of a fight in far north-eastern Syria to preserve some of the last major Christian pockets within the swath of central Arabia conquered by Islamic State.
For the past week, about 450 militiamen have tried to defend four Assyrian Christian villages among a cluster of 30 ancient settlements in Hassakeh province that had survived more than two millennia of war, invasion and insurrection.
Isis has shelled the area from its outskirts, ransacked its ancient core, and chased men, women and children into exile, capturing at least 300 hostages and killing dozens more. In doing so, the jihadi group has all but fulfilled its pledge to rid the area it controls – from Raqqa in Syria to Mosul in Iraq – of anyone who does not submit to its draconian ways.
The purge has led to the plains of Iraq’s Nineveh province being emptied of its entire Christian population, as well as of Yazidis, Shabaks and Turkmen. Until Isis stormed through the area last August, roughly 80,000 Chaldean Christians had continued to live there even after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 – which saw the number of Iraqi Christians fall by more than 70%.
In Syria though, the upheaval across the border, its own civil war and then the rise of the jihadis had not had the same existential effect on the Assyrians. Until now. Last Monday, an estimated 8,000 Assyians remained in the heartland area near Hassakeh province. That number could now be as low as 2,000 and is falling fast.

The twilight of Middle Eastern Christianity by Hisham Melhem, Al Arabiya

Islamic State seizure of Syria Christians: What we know by BBC (February 26)
Jaramana: Despite pressures, Druze remain in regime camp by SYRIA:direct

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Alleged deal concerning Idlib Druze between Nusra and Junblat

Jumblatt, Nusra reach agreement on Idlib’s Druze: report - See more at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Life/Travel-and-Tourism/2015/Mar-02/289264-jumblatt-nusra-reach-agreement-on-idlibs-druze.ashx#sthash.WrxUB9u1.pCKQCf1n.dpuf
Jumblatt, Nusra reach agreement on Idlib’s Druze: report - See more at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Life/Travel-and-Tourism/2015/Mar-02/289264-jumblatt-nusra-reach-agreement-on-idlibs-druze.ashx#sthash.WrxUB9u1.pCKQCf1n.dpuf
Jumblatt,Nusra reach agreement on Idlib’s Druze: report
by The Daily Star
Jumblatt, Nusra reach agreement on Idlib’s Druze: report - See more at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Life/Travel-and-Tourism/2015/Mar-02/289264-jumblatt-nusra-reach-agreement-on-idlibs-druze.ashx#sthash.WrxUB9u1.pCKQCf1n.dpuf
BEIRUT: An agreement has reportedly been reached between Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and the Nusra Front regarding Druze living in Syria’s Idlib.

According to local daily Al-Akhbar, the agreement calls for Idlib’s Druze to embrace Islam and destroy the tombs of their relatives. In return, the Nusra Front would stop imposing Sharia - Islamic law - on Idlib’s Druze. (...)

The report said the deal was reached after negotiators for both sides met with a UAE-based mediator from the Syrian Opposition Coalition, identified as Abu Uday.
Here is the the original report by Firas Choufi in al-Akhbar. The report provides some additional details but like often its also spiced with conspiracy theories. However, for the first time Walid Junblat's activities - which have been rumoured for a good while now - towards the hard-pressed Druze in Idlib are revealed in detail.

Some weeks ago I had the opportunity to ask Junblat personally about the Idlib Druze. He was very clear, that compromises which might limit the freedom of religion are acceptable if they contribute to the survival of the community. This stance, which is also reflected in the deal described above, might not be overly popular (not only among Druze but also Christians) but under the rule of Jabhat an-Nusra the Druze seem to have no better choice.
Jumblatt, Nusra reach agreement on Idlib’s Druze: report - See more at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Life/Travel-and-Tourism/2015/Mar-02/289264-jumblatt-nusra-reach-agreement-on-idlibs-druze.ashx#sthash.WrxUB9u1.bChEoTeg.dpuf
BEIRUT: An agreement has reportedly been reached between Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and the Nusra Front regarding Druze living in Syria’s Idlib.
According to local daily Al-Akhbar, the agreement calls for Idlib’s Druze to embrace Islam and destroy the tombs of their relatives. In return, the Nusra Front would stop imposing Sharia - Islamic law - on Idlib’s Druze.
Last year, ISIS and Nusra forced Druze in Idlib, situated in northwestern Syria and bordering Turkey, to announce their conversion to Islam. They have also forced residents of the areas they control to live under Sharia.
The report said the deal was reached after negotiators for both sides met with a UAE-based mediator from the Syrian Opposition Coalition, identified as Abu Uday.
- See more at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Life/Travel-and-Tourism/2015/Mar-02/289264-jumblatt-nusra-reach-agreement-on-idlibs-druze.ashx#sthash.WrxUB9u1.bChEoTeg.dpuf
BEIRUT: An agreement has reportedly been reached between Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and the Nusra Front regarding Druze living in Syria’s Idlib.
According to local daily Al-Akhbar, the agreement calls for Idlib’s Druze to embrace Islam and destroy the tombs of their relatives. In return, the Nusra Front would stop imposing Sharia - Islamic law - on Idlib’s Druze.
Last year, ISIS and Nusra forced Druze in Idlib, situated in northwestern Syria and bordering Turkey, to announce their conversion to Islam. They have also forced residents of the areas they control to live under Sharia.
The report said the deal was reached after negotiators for both sides met with a UAE-based mediator from the Syrian Opposition Coalition, identified as Abu Uday.
- See more at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Life/Travel-and-Tourism/2015/Mar-02/289264-jumblatt-nusra-reach-agreement-on-idlibs-druze.ashx#sthash.WrxUB9u1.bChEoTeg.dpuf
BEIRUT: An agreement has reportedly been reached between Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and the Nusra Front regarding Druze living in Syria’s Idlib.
According to local daily Al-Akhbar, the agreement calls for Idlib’s Druze to embrace Islam and destroy the tombs of their relatives. In return, the Nusra Front would stop imposing Sharia - Islamic law - on Idlib’s Druze.
Last year, ISIS and Nusra forced Druze in Idlib, situated in northwestern Syria and bordering Turkey, to announce their conversion to Islam. They have also forced residents of the areas they control to live under Sharia.
The report said the deal was reached after negotiators for both sides met with a UAE-based mediator from the Syrian Opposition Coalition, identified as Abu Uday.
- See more at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Life/Travel-and-Tourism/2015/Mar-02/289264-jumblatt-nusra-reach-agreement-on-idlibs-druze.ashx#sthash.WrxUB9u1.bChEoTeg.dpuf
BEIRUT: An agreement has reportedly been reached between Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and the Nusra Front regarding Druze living in Syria’s Idlib.
According to local daily Al-Akhbar, the agreement calls for Idlib’s Druze to embrace Islam and destroy the tombs of their relatives. In return, the Nusra Front would stop imposing Sharia - Islamic law - on Idlib’s Druze.
Last year, ISIS and Nusra forced Druze in Idlib, situated in northwestern Syria and bordering Turkey, to announce their conversion to Islam. They have also forced residents of the areas they control to live under Sharia.
The report said the deal was reached after negotiators for both sides met with a UAE-based mediator from the Syrian Opposition Coalition, identified as Abu Uday.
- See more at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Life/Travel-and-Tourism/2015/Mar-02/289264-jumblatt-nusra-reach-agreement-on-idlibs-druze.ashx#sthash.WrxUB9u1.bChEoTeg.dpuf
BEIRUT: An agreement has reportedly been reached between Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and the Nusra Front regarding Druze living in Syria’s Idlib.
According to local daily Al-Akhbar, the agreement calls for Idlib’s Druze to embrace Islam and destroy the tombs of their relatives. In return, the Nusra Front would stop imposing Sharia - Islamic law - on Idlib’s Druze.
Last year, ISIS and Nusra forced Druze in Idlib, situated in northwestern Syria and bordering Turkey, to announce their conversion to Islam. They have also forced residents of the areas they control to live under Sharia.
The report said the deal was reached after negotiators for both sides met with a UAE-based mediator from the Syrian Opposition Coalition, identified as Abu Uday.
- See more at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Life/Travel-and-Tourism/2015/Mar-02/289264-jumblatt-nusra-reach-agreement-on-idlibs-druze.ashx#sthash.WrxUB9u1.bChEoTeg.dpuf