The term ‘Middle East’ can be confusing. It was coined about 1900 by a British civil servant and today numbers between 15 and 19 countries, including: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Cyprus, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia. Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
North African countries also become associated.
The Arab World consists of 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa: Algeria, Bahrain, the Comoros Islands, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
In 1948 Egypt, Iran and Pakistan signed the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights . In 1990, 45 Islamic nations signed the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights based on Sharia Law. It does not include a complaints mechanism. In 2009 the Arab Human Rights Committee was formed to oversee compliance. But, by 2012 only 15 Islamic states have ratified it. Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
My previous blog dwelt briefly with Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Israel-Palestine, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen with mention of Daesh, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Shall we carry on?:
AFGHANISTAN The current untapped mineral wealth has been assessed at $3 trillion yet there is extreme poverty. Progress has been hampered by numerous war lords, 5 years, 1996-2001, of Taliban rule, drug profiteering, suicide bombings, a resurgent Taliban, and abuses by occupying troops sent to help,
The country now has a strong human rights framework within its current constitution, none of which is enforced. Afghan security forces and its intelligence agency have been accused of committing grave human rights violations like disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture of suspects. Afghanistan is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries and Afghans name the Ministry of Education the third most corrupt of 13 ministries. Teaching is discouraged with many salaries below $100 a month and 41% of schools have no buildings. Under Taliban rule, women were denied any schooling. Since then impressive starts at female education were made by Afghan women and organizations plus foreign countries and organizations. Adult literacy rate of Afghans increased from 18 to 38% from 1979 to 2015 yet female literacy is 17%. The most common ages for girls to marry are 15 and 16 thus denying further education. Afghanistan has one of the world’s lowest literacy rates.
Civilization began here some 5,000 years ago. The earliest documents date from the Iranian Achaemenian Dynasty, in control from 550 to 331 BC when Alexander the Great defeated the Achaemenian emperor Darius III and squashed resistance. Alexander and his successors, the Seleucids, brought Greek culture. Then the Mauryan Empire of India gained control bringing Buddhism. Nomadic Kushans established an empire with Afghanistan a cultural and commercial center (30–375 AD). They took Buddhism as far as China. From the end of the Kushan Empire the area was fragmented under the Iranian Sassanian Empire untl 642 when Arabs invaded bringing Islam. Arab rule gave way to the Persians, who controlled the area until conquered by the Turkic Ghaznavids in 998. Various princes ruled sections until the Mongol invasion of 1219, led by Genghis Khan. A descendant, Tamerlane, made Afghanistan part of his vast empire.
In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani unified the Pashtun tribes and created the Durrani Empire, which is considered the beginning of modern Afghanistan. In the late 1800s Afghanistan became a buffer state between the British Indian Empire and the Russian Empire.
Prior to WWI my wife’s father earned several citations as a member of the Royal Horse Artillery, with the responsibility to prevent Afghan hill tribes using the 53-mile Kyber Pass to raid Pakistan then part of India.
On August 19, 1919, after the 3rd Anglo-Afghan war, the country regained full independence from the UK.
From the 1930s to the 1970s, Afghanistan had the essence of a national government and Kabul was known as the “Paris of Central Asia.” A brief foray into democracy ended in a 1973 coup and a 1978 Communist counter-coup. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the frail Afghan Communist regime, sparking a long and destructive war. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure from internationally supported anti-Communist mujahedin rebels. In 1996, after a subsequent series of civil wars, Kabul fell to the Taliban, a hard-line, Pakistani-sponsored, movement that emerged in 1994 to end the country's civil war and anarchy.
After the 11 Sept 2001 New York tower attacks, a US, Allied, and Afghan anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering involved Osama Bin Laden. The UN-sponsored Bonn Conference in 2001 established a process for political reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution.
In December 2004, Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan. The Nati
presidency came to an end in 20onal Assembly was inaugurated the following December. After winning a second term in 2009, Karzai's 14. The Afghanistan election of 2014 was controversial, and despite UN supervision there were many allegations of fraud. After a second round of voting, the two front runners, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah, came to a power-sharing agreement. Ghani serves as the president.
Despite gains toward building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and continuing provincial instability — particularly in the south and the east — remain serious challenges.
BAHRAIN: A kingdom with 1.6 million people, Bahrain has the 9th-highest military expenditure per capita ($936) in the world. The USA and UK have naval bases there.
The Human Rights Watch describes Bahrain’s record as "dismal", and having "deteriorated sharply in the latter half of 2010". The government has marginalized the native Shia Muslim population. Torture and forced disappearances are common. Its penal code is barbaric with stoning for minor offenses.
IRAQ - KUWAIT: perhaps named after influential Uruk, Sumer, founded 6,500 years ago, Iraq has both suffered from, and been guilty of, gross violations of human rights. In 1638 it was taken by the Ottoman Turks from the Persian Empire, remaining as a backward and neglected province.
In 1798 Britain set up an office in Baghdad to keep an eye on Napoleonic threats to India. In 1858 Britons explored the Tigris and Euphrates areas seeking commercial avenues and did make Basra a thriving port. In 1908 the first discovery of oil in the Middle East in Persia (Iran) set off many searches.
In March 1917, during WWI, Britain with Indian troops captured Iraq where oil was also found that by 1929 became the Iraq Petroleum Company, headquartered in London and is still controlled by British Petroleum, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell, Oil was found in Kuwait in 1938 In the 1970's Kuwait negotiated control of its oil from Chevron, a successor to Standard Oil, headquartered in California and active in over 180 countries.
As part of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after WWI the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq was organized under a mandate of British protection which lasted until 1921 when it was granted independence. Adjacent Kuwait had to wait until 1961. In establishing boundaries among Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, little thought was given to the Arabs and Kurds who were resentful of hundred of year of colonial rule and forgotten British and French promises of independence. Even Winston Churchill considered them uncivilized and needing the use of gruesome killing weapons to make them behave. Tiring of military devastation, the UK formed puppet regimes. In 1925 the UK set up the first, but supervised, parliamentary elections under puppet-King Feisal with full independence with a Leaque of Nations seat planned for 1932. Feisal died in 1933, followed by his son, then 7 coups by 1941. The UK sent forces to defeat the pro-Nazi regime in Bagdad. There was turmoil until 1958 when a military coup overthrew King Feisal II, ending Hashemite rule that survives in Jordan. A pro-British regent was killed, dragged through the streets, and run over by a fleet of busses. There was yet another coup after which thousands of Iraqis were massacred, Saddam Husein’s Baath party, in which he worked with the US CIA, rose to control. It is believed that both the CIA and Husein supplied names for execution. Husein thought his anti-communism would endear himself to the USA.
When the UK granted Kuwait independence in 1961, Iraq revived an old claim that Kuwait had been governed as part of an Ottoman province in southern Iraq and was therefore rightfully Iraq's. After intense global pressure, Iraq recognized Kuwait in 1963. Yet, there were occasional clashes along the Iraqi-Kuwait border, and relations between the two countries were sometimes tense. Relations improved during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), when Kuwait assisted Iraq with loans and diplomatic backing. After the war the Iraqi government launched a costly program of reconstruction.
By 1990 Iraq was $80 billion in debt so demanded that Kuwait forgive its share and help with other payments. It also complained that Kuwait was pumping oil from a field that straddled the border and was not sharing the revenue. Iraq also accused Kuwait of producing more oil than allowed under OPEC quotas. Iraq's complaints grew increasingly harsh.
Kuwait had an army of 16,000 men, an airforce of 2,200, and a navy of 1,800, compared to Iraq’s 950,000 men, 4,500 tanks, and hundreds of fighter jets and helicopters., In spite of weeks of Iraqi military build-up along the border, Kuwait was caught off-guard when, 02 Aug 1990, Saddam Husein invaded Kuwait. The invasion took 2 days to defeat a strongly-resisting Kuwait that suffered 420 killed, 362 wounded, 120 tanks and armoured vehicles, 39 aircraft and 4 ships destroyed, and 12,000 POWs, Kuwait’s king, Jaber III, and the government fled to Taif, Saudi Arabia. About half of the Kuwaiti population, including 400,000 Kuwaitis and several thousand foreign nationals, fled the country. The Indian government evacuated over 170,000 overseas Indians by flying almost 488 flights over 59 days. Organized resistance to Iraqi annexation and rule was immediate, causing a breakdown of Kuwait social restrictions but an increase in Iraqi arrests, tortures, and executions.
World condemnations failed to eject Iraq, so 39 countries, with 28 contributing troops, followed the US lead in ousting Iraq, permitting the Kuwait government to return by 15 March 1991. More than 600 Kuwaiti oil wells were set on fire by retreating Iraqi forces, causing massive environmental and economic damage to Kuwait.
Content with rescuing Kuwait, hostilities ceased, but the US led a long propaganda war accusing Iraq of various violations especially the false one of amassing weapons of mass destruction,
On 19 Mar 2003, the US led a coalition that sent into Iraq 177,194 troops, about 130,000 US, 45,000 UK, 2,000 Australia, 200 Poland. Complete victory was claimed 01 May. 36 other countries were involved in its aftermath which included the disbandment of the Iraq Sunni army causing unemployment, resentment, and recruits for Al Qaida, prisons such as Abu Ghraib where the CIA and US troops were guilty of torture, rape, and the murder of about 1,000 prisoners.
Actually, it did seem an impossible task for the Coalition to inject democracy into a country long ruled by Sunni dictators. The Shi’a were more moderate but still not up to the task even though there were only 100 revenge killings against Sunni oppressors.
Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shi’a cleric, whose father and two brothers were murdered by Saddam, rose to major importance in opposing US influence. He supports the poor, the 2 million displaced Iraqis, fights corruption, and control from both the US and Iran.
Corruption is pervasive at all levels of government in Iraq, ranking it 168th among countries freer of it. It also rates near the bottom in human rights. Numerous laws have been passed that lack enforcement. Lack of empathy is enormous.
QATAR: Qatar’s 2.6 million people have the fourth-highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita (36.82 tonnes) in the world, along with the world’s highest per-capita income ($130,000) assisted by the abuse and low wages of hundreds of thousands of mainly migrant south Asians, according to Human Rights Watch.
Qatar is rated the 16th safest country, Its Qatar Airways earns top ratings. It forbids pork, pornography, an unmarried man and woman sharing the same dwelling, and controls the use of alcohol. Flogging and stoning are legal under Sharia Law. Qatar claims it does not use it but it is used in the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, northern Nigeria, Afghanistan, Brunei, and tribal parts of Pakistan, including northwest Kurram Valley and the northwest Khwezai-Baezai region.
Qatar has issued dress and alcohol restrictions for tourists.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: A constitutional monarchy of 8 million people, rated #10 among world countries in economic freedoms, it consists of seven emirates, which are: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras al-Khaimah, Fujairah, and Umm al-Quwain.
Basically authoritarian and conservative, the UAE is one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf, with other cultures and beliefs generally tolerated. It quarrels with Iran over ownership of some Gulf islands. It did recognize Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Its economy boomed and diversified when it started to export oil in 1962. It is now a tourist and trading hub with large foreign investments.
ENHANCING HUMAN RIGHTS: I extend my gratitude to the billions still striving to ensure empathy to the less fortunate, but much more light is needed to reveal the flaws of the country that considers itself the greatest ever, and in many respects is, even though it ranks 38th in human rights. It is so frightening when its vice president tells the West Point graduating class that they are certain to see combat, thus implying that elements within the country will continue to be guilty of numerous violations of human, animal, and environmental rights, such as allowing the God of Greed to rule in disregard for foreigners, minorities, equal opportunities, the persecution of whistle blowers, ignoring science, and unbeneficial interference in other countries. Improving the Middle East should be easier if we first eliminate our own flaws.
Ye Olde Scribe