GULF (NON) COOPERATION COUNCIL

The increasingly taut Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) finds itself in a state of crisis, the likes of which haven’t been seen in decades. Political issues between the predominantly Sunni Middle Eastern powers, that have always existed beneath the surface, have now erupted – much like Christopher Hitchens did every time he heard the words, “Intelligent Design”. Of all things good and/or bad (depending upon your view of the rather capricious US President) that have followed Donald Trump’s election to the White House, this most definitely is the development which could have the most enduring consequences on a global level.

So, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain decided a few weeks ago to cut diplomatic ties with their enormously rich neighbour, and fellow member of the GCC, Qatar, for alleged regional meddling. Among the many allegations levelled at Qatar is that, through Al Jazeera – a channel owned and funded by the relatively tiny but deceptively wealthy nation, it has been instigating the people of the region to push for democratic reforms and overthrow authoritarian monarchies. It is widely accepted that Al Jazeera was one of the primary catalysts behind the Arab Spring. It has also been alleged that Qatar funds and supports terrorist groups, such as Al-Nusra, in the Middle East. The Qataris, on the other hand, accuse the opposing side of subverting the terms of the GCC, and the UN Charter, by taking unilateral action against them based on unfounded and malicious claims.

Now, the Qataris can’t be absolved of some of their questionable actions. Even the most loyal viewers of Al Jazeera would concede that some of their journalism is disruptive, and rather slanted. (While encouraging people to overthrow a monarchy and push for democracy is a noble act, it looks abysmally hypocritical when one realizes that Qatar itself is a monarchy.) Additionally, there have been well-documented attacks against free speech in Qatar, such as the imprisonment of poet Mohamed Rashid al-Ajami in 2011 for insulting the emir of Qatar in one of his writings. Furthermore, the Qataris have in the past refused to support international sanctions against certain terrorist organizations. In spite of this, though, one is tempted to side with the Qataris in this political tussle due to several reasons. To begin with, Saudi Arabia, the de-facto leader of the protesting faction, is arguably one of the world’s leading sponsors of terror groups. It is widely believed to have funded many terrorist organizations over the years in an attempt to spread its Wahabi ideology. Add to that its grossly illiberal laws, particularly with regard to women, and its medieval punishments, including beheadings, and Saudi Arabia doesn’t look like a country that can claim to hold the moral high ground in this, or any other type of international dispute.

Ever since a land and air blockade was imposed on Qatar, it has come to be viewed as a country that is being bullied by its relatively more powerful neighbours to submit to unjustified demands – one of which is seen as a direct attack on free speech – the call to shut down the Al Jazeera network. Not only has Qatar been able to subsist during this difficult time (with considerable help from Turkey), it has come closer to Iran – which comes as a big blow to Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni-dominated nations of the region. In the short run, at least, Saudi Arabia’s plan to corner Qatar seems to have backfired. Following the poor decision to get his kingdom involved in the seemingly endless war in Yemen, the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, along with his father, seems to have made another mistake in foreign policy. After Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first international destination as POTUS, and spoke openly against Qatar’s alleged funding to terrorists, King Salman was probably emboldened into taking this harsh step against Qatar. He may have felt that with the Americans on his side, he could get Qatar to submit to his demands. He forgot one little thing though – America’s under-fire President alone does not call the shots on their foreign policy.

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GREAT FOR INDIA: TRUMP OR HILLARY?

Contrary to what Trump would have you believe, America is still a great country. However, the same can’t be said about its presidential election this year. Both of this year’s nominees have a (let’s just say) “questionable” reputation. While Hillary’s supporters consider Trump a megalomaniacal, tax-evading, and women-abusing criminal, the “deplorables” consider Hillary a devious woman – someone who should be rotting in jail, instead of campaigning to be the next Leader of the Free World.

Say what you want about the two nominees but come 8th of November, one of them will become the 45th president of the United States of America. Just like every other country in the world, with the possible exception of the Philippines, India is eagerly awaiting the election results.  One wonders, though, which of the two nominees will be a better friend to India. While there is no way to predict the correct answer right now, my money is on Donald J. Trump. Here’s why:

India’s biggest problem, for the longest time, has been its hostile neighbour, Pakistan. Even though its economy has been floundering for several years now, Pakistan has continued to grow stronger militarily. Using its military power, and its ever-growing nuclear arsenal, Pakistan constantly tries to counter India’s rise as a global player. With no money to fund its expansionist agenda, the Islamic “Republic” relies heavily on aid money that is given to it by, among other countries, the United States of America. Given Trump’s allegedly hostile, and unfair, attitude towards Muslims, it is likely that he will deal with countries like Pakistan with a firm hand. Unlikely to appreciate the many reasons, most of them tacit, behind America giving aid money to Pakistan, Trump may put an end to this policy altogether. Hillary, having had a say in America’s policies for several years now, is unlikely to do so.

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Trump wants many things; migration into the United States of America, however, is not one of them. Now, can “President Trump” possibly stop all migration to America? No, he can’t. He wouldn’t want to either. What he can do, though, is punish, and stop the inflow of, illegal immigrants. In USA, illegal immigrants from Mexico significantly outnumber those from India. If Trump does what he claims he will, and reduces the number of illegal immigrants in America, then Indians that wish to migrate to America legally will benefit in the long run.

Trump, rather imprudently, considers India a Hindu country and evidently, has a favourable view of it. He has also expressed his desire to work closely with India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. In an attempt to reach out to the American Indian voters, Trump borrowed PM Modi’s famous election slogan, and in one of his recent campaign videos said, “Ab ki Baar, Trump Sarkaar” (Translation – This Time, Trump’s Government). Clearly, President Trump would be more likely to formulate pro-India policies, than would President Clinton.

The election campaign is almost over. Both nominees have their strengths, and obvious weaknesses. Hillary has the advantage of having been in government. Trump, on the other hand, has the advantage of never having been in government, which enables him to freely criticize some of America’s unpopular policies to get people to vote for him. America knows what it’ll get with Hillary. Trump, though, is a surprise package. So, which one of the two nominees will prove to be the better President for USA, and the world? No one knows. However, if Trump becomes the next President of the United States of America, for most Indians, it may not be such a bad thing.

WHOSE REFUGEE IS HE ANYWAY?

The immigration crisis in Europe has been bad for a while now, and it appears to be getting worse. Violence, a poor quality of life, political unrest, fear of persecution and other reasons have led to a large number of people from Northern Africa and the Middle East, fleeing to Europe, in the hope of being able to lead better lives there. The situation in these parts of the world has become so bad over the last few years that every day, thousands of people, with little regard for their safety, board fragile boats that are not fit for the sea by any means, and set sail for Europe. Now, a number of these boats drown on their way, but miraculously, quite a few of them make it to European countries such as Italy, Greece etc.

On reaching the shores of Europe, these refugees feel that the worst is over and that they can finally get on with their lives by moving to European countries of their choice, or even settling down in Italy. However, little do they know that their struggle for survival is not quite over.

This is just the beginning of another struggle; a struggle to find a permanent home. Countries such as Italy and Greece initially help these refugees. They accommodate them in their refugee camps, feed them and provide medical aid to those who need it. However, what follows is an unfortunate, human Ping-Pong match – A match played among the countries of Europe to determine who will take care of these refugees permanently.

No one country wants to accommodate and help rehabilitate all of these refugees on its own. Italy, for instance, has accommodated a large number of refugees over the last few years. However, it wants other countries from the European Union to help shoulder the burden. The Italians believe that just because their country, due to its location, is among the most accessible countries for these refugees, they should not have to take in all of the refugees and resettle them in different parts of Italy. The Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, feels that Europe is not doing its bit to help resolve the problem. And he is right.

Under to the Dublin regulations, refugees must apply for asylum in the first country of their entry to Europe. Italy believes that this rule is unfair. Why should Italy, or Greece for that matter, have to accommodate all of the refugees that wash up on their shores, only because they are the most accessible of the EU countries?

Until recently, people in Schengen countries could travel to other countries that are part of the Schengen agreement, without any problems. However, in light of the ongoing immigration crisis, a number of countries such as France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland have tightened security at their borders. This has resulted in the accumulation of a large number of asylum seekers within the borders of Italy. The French security forces have been catching refugees in their areas and dumping them back into Italian territory. A number of other countries around Italy are doing the same. It has become like a human Ping-Pong match. Men, women and children are being treated like objects. They are picked up from different parts of France and Austria and dumped back into Italy.

Recently, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, refused to take back migrants who applied for asylum in Hungary and fled to other parts of Europe before their cases were decided. The Hungarians have also decided to erect a fence on their borders to help eliminate illegal immigration into Hungary.

The Italians are irate at these developments. Renzi has warned that if Italy does not receive adequate support from the rest of the EU to deal with this problem, they will resort to “Plan B”, a plan that will “first and foremost, hurt Europe”. Renzi wants the European Union to help forge repatriation agreements with African Nations, and to share the cost of returning home ‘economic migrants’. However, no help appears to be forthcoming.

The situation is a complete mess at the moment. A few countries are suffering, whereas the other member states of the European Union are not bothered about the ongoing crisis. In their attempt to look after their own interests, they seem to have become a little too selfish. They have left countries such as Italy and Greece to tackle the problem on their own. Italy has declared that it will not accept a “Selfish Europe”. Will the European Union be able to find a viable, long-term solution? Maybe.

One thing is for sure though. If the European Union does not find a solution that is acceptable to all of its member states very soon, this problem threatens to spiral out of control.