‘Crunch time’ for Britain’s relations with Arab world, says CAABU's Chris Doyle

A file photo from CAABU's 40th anniversary celebrations shows former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, 2nd right, Chris Doyle, director of CAABU, 2nd left, and others.
Updated 28 November 2017

‘Crunch time’ for Britain’s relations with Arab world, says CAABU's Chris Doyle

LONDON: Faced with a complex legacy of successes and failures in the Middle East, Britain has reached “crunch time” in its relations with the region, said Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU).

Speaking to Arab News ahead of Wednesday’s anniversary event to mark 50 years since CAABU’s launch in 1967, Doyle reflected on Britain’s relationships in the Middle East at a time when old conflicts remain unresolved and new challenges continue to emerge.

“Britain’s role in the world is in flux and nowhere more so than in the Arab world,” he said, emphasizing the need for “an informed and dynamic policy providing real leadership to help solve the region’s crises.”

Doyle added: “When we look across the Arab world now and Britain’s role in it, it’s not a pretty sight. We see numerous very serious conflicts, some of which Britain is directly very involved in.”

The “collective failure” to resolve crises in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Palestine illustrates the need for foreign powers intervening in Middle East affairs to address the underlying conflicts and tensions between countries and communities, which are “too often glossed over and ignored,” he said.

CAABU, which is committed to enhancing Arab-British understanding and improving relations with the region, pushes for a British government response based on resolving conflict from the roots.

It was founded in the wake of the 1967 War by a group of politicians, journalists and academics, and its members spoke up for the Palestinian community in Parliament at a time when few dared to voice their support.

Today, the organization maintains a strong focus on education, raising awareness of the factors at play in conflicts across the Middle East and challenging stereotypes about the Arab world in politics and society.

“We have definitely changed the tenor of debate on the Middle East in Parliament over the years,” Doyle said. He cited cautions against the hasty use of force and encouraging greater consideration of the impact on societies and countries being bombed, as well as the ongoing repercussions of foreign military intervention.

Looking ahead, Doyle described the “momentous challenges” facing external powers operating in a region filled with “fault lines.”

“As the region has become more divided, more polarized along all sorts of identity lines — Kurds, Arabs, Turks, Persians, and sectarian lines of Sunni, Shia, Druze, Christians — it’s become very hard to please everybody,” Doyle said.

Recent events have been a case in point, including the dispute between Qatar and some of its Arab neighbors.

“The balance between maintaining our relationships and human rights has been tricky and at times perhaps Britain has got that wrong,” Doyle said.

At other times, British foreign policy has been lacking in clout, he continued, citing the marginalization of European powers and the US in Syria and public concern over the situation in Yemen.

A YouGov Poll conducted by Arab News and CAABU in September revealed that 57 percent of Britons see UK foreign policy as ineffective, with 83 opposing the 2003 war in Iraq and little over 50 percent in support of UK airstrikes against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, showing rising sentiment against military interventions.

The same poll also indicated worrying levels of misunderstanding toward the region among Britons, with 81 percent of those surveyed admitting to knowing little or nothing about the region.

“It highlighted what we all feared — the massive level of ignorance in Britain about the Arab world,” said Doyle.

“That ignorance has led to hostility.”

This is one of the dangers CAABU aims to counteract through its education programs, providing basic introductions to Arab culture, Islam and Middle East conflicts in schools across the country.

“Relations with this area of the world and how Arabs and Muslims at the broader level are viewed may well be shaped by the acts of extremists and people who don’t want to see these healthy relations,” Doyle cautioned.

A spate of attacks by extremists across Europe this year, including five in Britain, and a rise in right-wing sentiment has given CAABU’s work in countering negative attitudes toward the Arab world a new urgency.

“We’re having to combat ideologies that we thought had been well and truly defeated, which really does scare us," Doyle said.

“If we’re going to have fruitful positive relations (between) all our countries and peoples we have a really significant ideological battle to win.”

In Iraq, bloody tribal custom now classed as ‘terrorism’

A member of an Iraqi clan enters a straw tent in the town of Mishkhab, south of Najaf on November 15, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 45 min 17 sec ago

In Iraq, bloody tribal custom now classed as ‘terrorism’

  • In Iraq, a country of 39 million people, clan origin and family name can carry weight in securing a job, finding romance, and gathering political support

BAGHDAD: A bloody, age-old custom used by Iraq’s powerful tribes to mete out justice has come under fire, with authorities classifying it as a “terrorist act” punishable by death.
For centuries, Iraqi clans have used their own system to resolve disputes, with tribal dignitaries bringing together opposing sides to mediate in de facto “hearings.”
If one side failed to attend such a meeting, the rival clan would fire on the absentee’s home or that of fellow tribesmen, a practice known as the “degga ashairiya” or “tribal warning.”
But in an age when Iraq’s vast rural areas and built-up cities alike are flooded with weapons outside state control, the “degga” may be deadlier than ever.
A recent dispute between two young men in a teashop in the capital’s eastern district of Sadr City escalated to near-fatal proportions, leaving a 40-year-old policeman with a broken hip and severely damaged abdomen.
His cousin Abu Tayba said the policeman was “wounded in a stray bullet during a ‘degga’ on a nearby home.”
“Weeks after the incident, he’s still in the hospital, hovering between life and death,” Tayba told AFP.
Even in Baghdad, disputes often involve machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, the city’s military command warned a top Iraqi court recently.
That body, the country’s Superior Magistrate Council, issued a decision last week classifying “deggas” as “terrorist acts” — and therefore warranting the death penalty — because of their impact on public safety.
A few days later, it announced it would take legal action against three people accused of targeting a home in Al-Adhamiyah, north of Baghdad, with the deadly custom.

In Iraq, a country of 39 million people, clan origin and family name can carry weight in securing a job, finding romance, and gathering political support.
They can also interfere in the work of the state, as tribal structures in some areas can be more powerful than government institutions.
Last year, Iraq’s tribes and the ministries of interior and justice pledged to work closer together to impose the law, but “deggas” seem to have hindered such cooperation.
Raed Al-Fraiji, the head of a tribal council in the southern province of Basra, told AFP the warnings have become commonplace.
“This happens every day. Yesterday it happened twice. The day before, three times,” he said.
“Two months ago, a domestic dispute between a husband and wife turned into an armed attack on the husband’s home. The exchange of fire killed one person and wounded three.”
Fraiji said tribal influence and practices were growing because the state was seen as unreliable.
“For an Iraqi citizen, the law has become weak. Meanwhile, tribes impose themselves by force.”
“Iraq is like a jungle — so a citizen will turn to a tribe to find solutions to their problems.”
The country has been ravaged by years of conflict since the US-led invasion in 2003 that removed strongman Saddam Hussein and led to the rise of militias.
A decade later, the Daesh group overran much of Iraq and was only ousted from its urban strongholds across the country late last year.

Years of instability have left many of Iraq’s communities flush with weapons and largely out of the state’s reach, contributing to a preference for tribal mediation methods.
“The government is responsible for the increase in tribal conflict and of ‘degga’ cases,” said Adnan Al-Khazaali, a tribal leader in Baghdad’s Sadr City.
“Most of the young men today are armed and even the security forces cannot stand in their way.”
Tribal leaders and government officials alike are clinging to the hope that the new ruling could change things.
“These incidents are continually happening, and are often causing casualties,” interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan told AFP.
“Court rulings and their implementation,” Maan said, could be the only way to secure peace.
Back in Basra, the head of the local human rights commission estimated around a dozen people were wounded or killed in “deggas” last year.
“These incidents threatens social peace,” said Mahdi Al-Tamimi.
“It’s sad and worrying, and cannot be eliminated without a solid and effective law.”
But Fraiji, known in Basra for his relatively progressive views, feared the court’s ruling would not be enough to take on Iraq’s powerful clans.
“The decision will only remain ink on paper if the security forces do not enforce it on the tribes,” he said.