Op Ed: Diplomacy Is the Only Option with North Korea

by Thomas Graham Jr.
This article originally appeared in U.S. News and World Report.

The great Cold Warrior and international negotiator Ambassador Paul Nitze once said to me “Whenever I enter one of these negotiations (U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms negotiations) I try to imagine the narrow strip where both sides can stand comfortably. Then I try to steer U.S. policy toward that place.” That is a good construct for important and sensitive negotiation with an adversary. And it could work with North Korea as well. Whatever one thinks of North Korea, with their horrible record of human rights and disregard for human life, they do have interests, which they acknowledge, and they will negotiate if approached correctly and very carefully.

North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is a dangerous state with a long track record of being willing to sell anything to anyone for its own benefit, and a history of state terrorism against South Korea. As such, it poses a double danger. First, the DPRK could sell nuclear weapons to Iran or to terrorist organizations, or it could transfer bomb production technology as it did to Syria during 2005-2007. Second, a nuclear-armed North Korea, with ballistic missiles currently capable of reaching targets throughout Northeast Asia and likely capable of reaching the United States within a few years, is a grave threat to South Korea, Japan and America.

However, Pyongyang’s policy over the years has also included a certain realpolitik and willingness to negotiate. The North Korean regime, which has few allies in the international sphere and grapples with crippling domestic problems, is above all interested in survival, economic benefits and a diplomatic relationship with the United States. Military action against North Korea is not an attractive option; the huge North Korean artillery and rocket forces amassed along the Korean Demilitarized Zone pose a serious threat to Seoul that is less than twenty miles away; and in recent years, uncertainty has developed about what the DPRK might do with its nuclear weapons. Diplomacy is the only practical option.

Some say that the North Koreans are irrational but the track record does not necessarily bear this out. The United States utterly crushed North Korea during the Korean War but 64 years have passed since the end of that conflict, and the Kim family remains in control. The North Koreans have a weak hand and they have played it with skill. Their objectives have always been clear: survival, economic benefits and a relationship with the United States. In the past, to the extent the U.S. was prepared to pay this price, agreement with the DPRK was possible. Playing on this the Clinton administration made real progress: the DPRK nuclear program was essentially shut down – not eliminated but shut down – and an agreement ending their ballistic missile program was close.

For its own purposes, the Bush administration decided to abandon all the Clinton progress, adopt a confrontational position toward North Korea and include North Korea in the president’s axis of evil speech in early 2002. Later that year, just before North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, a U.S. delegation was in Pyongyang. There, among others, the U.S. delegation met with First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Sok-ju who accused the United States of singling out North Korea for nuclear attack and, among other memorable statements, said “We are part of the axis of evil, and you are gentlemen. That is our relationship. We cannot discuss matters like gentlemen. If we disarm ourselves because of U.S. pressure, then we will become like Yugoslavia or Afghanistan’s Taliban to be beaten to death.”

The hardline was back. Over the next 15 years arms limitation was largely abandoned. North Korea conducted five nuclear weapon tests and many ballistic missile tests. The DPRK has become a direct threat to the United States. And the new ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, had raised the stakes. Arguably, negotiation is still possible but now in addition to survival, economic benefits and a relationship with the United States, the DPRK wants to be recognized as a nuclear weapon state, something the United States cannot and should not do.

However, if catastrophe at least at some level is to be avoided, negotiations have to be attempted. The North Koreans likely will be open to making an agreement that they perceive to be in their interest. The trick will be to find the terms of such an agreement that would also be in the interest of the United States. The alternatives are not attractive. Leon Sigal, a long-time, non-government expert on North Korea has suggested an approach of seeking a temporary suspension of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program while both sides discuss reciprocal steps that the U.S. could consider in order to address North Korea’s security concerns. There may be interest in this in North Korea. This could be a place to start.


 

Thomas Graham Jr. served as a senior U.S. diplomat involved in every major international non-proliferation and arms control negotiation in which the United States took part from 1970 to 1997. Ambassador Graham is a member of the National Advisory Board of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and also serves on the Board of Directors for the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

 

 

 

 

The Man Who Migrated Twice

Written by Matthew Price.
Read the original article on the BBC.
Image Credit: the BBC.


This is the story of the man who migrated twice.

Who dodged the police along the Italian border with France – twice. Avoided officials on the train to Paris – twice. Made it to the shanty town life in Calais – twice. Risked death as he stowed away on a vehicle to Britain – twice.

Now he waits for the British asylum process to decide whether he can stay. Yes, again, for a second time.

It is a story of the determination to make it to safety – wherever that is perceived to exist – and of why Europe’s migration crisis is only deepening.

First the man himself.

Let’s call him Adam, because he doesn’t want me to use his real name, and because it’s a popular name in Darfur, South Sudan, from where he comes.

He calls himself a “village man”. But today, in a smart well-ironed shirt, Adam looks at home here in the UK, although the UK has become anything but home for him.

Adam left Darfur in 2012, made his way to Libya, and spent some years there. But as that country crumbled, he felt propelled onwards, to Europe.

He followed the route so many take. Sicily to Ventimiglia in northern Italy, on to Paris, then Calais and then finally Britain.

Only it was not finally.

He was detained by the authorities, put into indefinite detention for four months, then released. He was then arrested again, detained this time for two months before it was decided that he should be sent back to Italy because there was a record (his fingerprints) that he had first arrived there.

“They put me in handcuffs,” Adam says. Four officers accompanied him back to Milan and left him there.

“I stayed 10 days in Milan, on the streets.” That was when he decided to go back, first to Ventimiglia, and this time round it was harder.

He says: “The first time I was lucky. I just took the train from Ventimiglia to Paris.”

But this second time was another year into Europe’s migration crisis and the border was being monitored more effectively. “I tried maybe two or three times to get to Marseille, but they sent me back again.”

Finally he stepped on to the railway tracks and started walking. “I just walked from Ventimiglia to Cannes for like eight hours.” From there to Paris again and on to Calais.

It was more difficult there too. The previous year “it was better. But this time was more difficult because many people (had) come and many police officers (were there) to stop people”.

He tried “for like 15 days, 20 days”, until he managed to crawl into a space underneath a bus. “And I found myself in UK the second time.”

One month and one day after he had been deported from Britain, he was back. But this is not the end of Adam’s story.

Determination, desperation, there’s no one word that encapsulates fully what you find today along the trail that Adam knows so well. His analysis, that it’s getting harder to cross borders, is echoed by others and this is why.

Italy has become the go-to country for those seeking to come across the Mediterranean. The Turkey-Greece route is all but shut down following an agreement between the EU and Ankara.

This year, more than 93,000 migrants have arrived in Italy according to the United Nations. An EU-wide relocation scheme that should have taken the pressure off Italy has moved fewer than 8,000 since it launched almost two years ago.

 

Rome is trying to do deals with Libya to stop the boats launching in the first place – but there’s no central figure of authority in that war zone. They want other countries to open ports in the Mediterranean to migrant and rescue boats – France and others have said no.

So Rome has dispersed its migrants across the country. There is growing resentment in towns and villages where people suddenly find themselves hosting others who don’t speak their language. As one man in the north of Italy put it: “I’m not against immigration, but I’m against it when it’s handled like this.”

The asylum process is stretched to breaking point. Shelters can’t accommodate everyone. In Trento, towards the Austrian border, four men, from Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria, told how they have waited almost three years in limbo – unable to work – not knowing if their final appeal will grant them the right to remain or not.

“If I’d stayed here six months and they told me ‘we are sending you back to Ghana’ (then) there is no crying,” says Ibrahim Mohammed. But after three years? “How can you tell me to go back?”

The likelihood is they will not be deported, even if their asylum appeals fail. Few are actually sent back. Instead they are stuck, unable to work, or provide for themselves. All this – and the poor state of the Italian jobs market – explains why so many decide to move on from Italy.

And with numbers growing, that is why Austria to the north and France to the west have both put in more frequent border checks.

The people they are trying to stop gather every morning for a small free breakfast at a refuge in the Italian border town Ventimiglia. Among them on one day recently were Nasser and his two-year-old son Aladin from Sudan.

Aladin – still in nappies – is ill and they desperately need a doctor.

“I’ve tried twice in the last week,” said Nasser. “My sister is in France waiting for us. The police sent us back.”

On the small winding roads through the hills to France, the police check vehicles for stowaways before you can cross the border. They have set up camp in the olive groves up on the hillsides to keep watch for those trying to get across. Occasionally a patrolling helicopter passes overhead.

For France too is “overwhelmed” – that’s the word the new president uses – and is trying to stop people coming on to its territory.

In the capital a week ago, they moved thousands off the streets around a metro station into shelters, but now another thousand are back on the streets, according to the deputy mayor, Patrick Klugman.

“What’s going now today, this week, this summer, we need urgent measures. We cannot handle it by ourselves in Paris.”

The French prime minister last week announced a series of new measures – cutting the time it takes to process asylum claims, “systematically” deporting so-called economic migrants and building more shelters to house refugees in the next two years.

However, Mr Klugman says it is not enough.

Only a tiny number of the hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers in Europe follow Adam for the whole of his journey and cross from Calais to the UK.

We don’t know how many of them do it twice.

As for Adam, there is no happy ending to his story. It has been around a year since he had his last interview in his new asylum process. Since then he has been in limbo, not knowing whether he will be deported again, or this time be allowed to stay.

He has a room to stay in – paid for by the government – and £75 a week to live off. He is not allowed to work. And he says it feels as if he is still on his journey, heading where he does not yet know.

“I have nothing to do. Just eat, sleep, nothing. Wait, wait and nothing changes.” “Sometimes you feel it’s not a life. It’s better to pass away.”

Venezuela Crises Set to Escalate as General Strike Begins

Written by Alicia Hernandez and Sibylla Brodzinsky.
Read the original article on the Guardian.
Image credit: The Guardian.


Venezuela is bracing for an escalation of the confrontation between the government and the opposition as the country awoke to near paralysis on Thursday at the beginning of a general strike.

Caracas, the capital, was littered with roadblocks of burning rubbish and tyres, and wires stretched from lamppost to lamppost to stop traffic, as opponents of the president, Nicolás Maduro, try to block his plan to consolidate power.

Near Plaza Altamira, in the upscale eastern part of the city, young men manning the barricades turned away any cars that tried to pass, including a bus stamped with the logo of the government tax agency.

“We are seeing empty streets and most shops closed,” said opposition leader Henrique Capriles while touring the city on foot.

Maduro has called for a vote on 30 July to elect a constituent assembly charged with rewriting the constitution. Opposition and human rights groups say the move is aimed at bypassing the National Assembly, which has been under opposition control since 2016, further consolidating the ruling Socialist party’s grip on power. Maduro argues a new constitution would promote dialogue in a country deeply polarised and crippled by widespread shortages of food, medicine and basic services, and unbridled violent crime.

The strike holds the threat of increasing repression from government forces and paramilitary militias, which have been blamed for more than 90 deaths during nearly four months of street demonstrations across the country. “There is a grave danger of violence on a scale so far unseen,” the International Crisis Group warned in a report.

The strike comes as the Trump administration in the US weighs up imposing “swift economic actions” if Maduro goes ahead with the election. “The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” Trump said in a statement. The United States is Venezuela’s largest trading partner, and the country is the third largest crude oil supplier to the US.

Colombia, France, Spain, and the EU have also urged the Venezuelan government to cancel the election.

The last time Venezuela’s opposition attempted a strike of this scale was in 2002. The stoppage lasted two months in an attempt to topple Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, who set the country on a path of “21st century socialism” before his death in 2013.

Mismanagement and plunging oil income under Maduro have left that project in tatters, driving hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to flee the country and leading the political opposition to try to increase pressure on the president to step down or call a general election.

On 16 July the opposition orchestrated an unofficial “consultation” of votersordered by the National Assembly in which more than 7 million Venezuelans voted to reject the constituent assembly, mandate parliament to appoint a new supreme court and electoral authority and to form a government of “national unity”. While symbolic and non-binding, the vote turned up the pressure on the government and emboldened the opposition to call the strike.

The country’s federation of business groups, Fedecamaras, which played a pivotal role in the 2002 strike, has not fully endorsed the action this time around but businesses have said their employees won’t be punished for not turning up for work.

Labour minister Néstor Ovalles said that private companies that close as part of the strike would be punished. “We won’t allow it, and we’ll be watching closely,” he warned.

Carmen Duque, who works at an insurance company, headed to work early on Thursday despite her desire to join the protest strike. “It looks like it’s a success,” she said as she manoeuvred through the blockaded streets of Altamira. “I wanted to join but I’m on call,” she said.

A woman dressed in a red T-shirt most often worn by government supporters, called strikers “puppets and zombies”. “The ones supporting this strike don’t understand anything,” said the woman, who declined to give her name.

Why is the India-China border stand-off escalating?

Written by  Soutik Biswas.
Read the original article on the BBC.
Image Credit: the BBC.


f you browse through the latest headlines about the now month-long border stand-off between India and China, you might think the Asian rivals are teetering on the brink of an armed conflict.

The rhetoric is full of foreboding and menace. A Delhi newspaper says China is warning that the stand-off “could escalate into full-scale conflict”. Another echoes a similar sentiment, saying “China stiffens face-off posture”.

In Beijing, the state-run media has begun reminding India of its defeat in the 1962 war over the border, digging out old reports and pictures of the conflict. Global Times has been particularly bellicose, first accusing India of undermining Bhutan’s sovereignty by interfering in the road project, and then declaring that if India “stirs up conflicts in several spots, it must face the consequences of all-out confrontation with China”.

The latest row erupted in mid-June when India opposed China’s attempt to extend a border road through a plateau known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China.

The plateau, which lies at a junction between China, the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, is currently disputed between Beijing and Bhutan. India supports Bhutan’s claim over it.

India is concerned that if the road is completed, it will give China greater access to India’s strategically vulnerable “chicken’s neck”, a 20km (12-mile) wide corridor that links the seven north-eastern states to the Indian mainland. And since this stand-off began, each side has reinforced its troops and called on the other to back down.

There is a dreadful sense of deja vu about the way the stand-off appears to be escalating.

This is not the first time the two neighbours who share a rocky relationship have faced off on the ill-defined border, where minor incursions by troops have been common. The region saw armed clashes between China and India in 1967, and a prolonged stand-off and build-up of troops along the border in Arunachal Pradesh in 1986-87.

Delhi believes that Beijing is testing India’s commitment to Bhutan in the latest stand-off, writes analyst Ajai Shukla. “China has always been galled by this close relationship, which has withstood sustained Chinese pressure to divide it,” he says.

This time China has upped the ante against India. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday that Indian forces should leave the area to avoid an “escalation of the situation”.

‘Not a bluff’

Indian analysts believe China’s warnings cannot be ignored. “In general, the Chinese pattern of use of force has been to prepare the ground with adequate statements and warnings. Hence, I think we should not take them lightly or see it as a bluff,” a China expert told me.

In 1962, the state-run news agency Xinhua warned well in advance that India should “pull back from the brink of war”. During the Korean War in 1950 which pitted the US and its allies against the USSR, North Korea and communist China, the Chinese warned the US through India that if they crossed the Yalu River the Chinese would be forced to enter the war.

To be true, this doesn’t mean that China is girding up for war. As things stand, both sides can share some blame for the stand-off in what is a strategically important area.

In 2012, India and China agreed that the tri-junction boundaries with Bhutan and Myanmar (also called Burma) would be finally decided in consultation with these countries. Until then, the status quo would prevail.

India believes China violated the status quo by building the road. Indian troops were sent to resist their Chinese counterparts in the area only after Bhutan, which has close ties with India, requested India to help.

China insists Indian troops invaded Doklam/Donglang to help Bhutan, and it was a violation of international law. Mr Lu says India should not “take trespass as a policy tool to reach or realise their political targets”.

Some analysts say India possibly made a mistake by openly conflating the building of the road with talk of potential “serious security implications for India“.

“I agree that there were security concerns, but it was wrong for India to voice them strongly. We could have just said that China had breached the status quo. By overplaying the security angle, we may have scored an own goal, and the Chinese are exploiting it,” an analyst told me.

Tricky situation

He has a point. Long Xingchun, an analyst at a Chinese think-tank, says “a third country’s” army could enter the disputed region of Kashmir at Pakistan’s request, using the “same logic” the Indian army has used to stop the Chinese troops from building the road in Doklam/Donglang. “Even if India were requested to defend Bhutan’s territory, this could only be limited to its established territory, not the disputed area.”

Clearly, for the stand-off to end, all three sides need an agreeable solution without losing face. As China hardens its position, many believe that finding a “three-way, face saving solution” would be tricky and time consuming. Relations between the two countries are also at their lowest ebb in many years.

Both sides possibly passed up an opportunity to resolve the crisis earlier this month when a potential meeting between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg did not happen. India said a meeting with Mr Xi had never been on Mr Modi’s agenda; and China’s foreign ministry had said the atmosphere was not right for a meeting.

There’s another window of opportunity coming up. India’s influential National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is to visit Beijing for a meeting of Brics nations later this month. Mr Doval, who is also the special representative for the India-China border, is likely to meet his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi.

“Both sides have made it a prestige issue. But diplomacy is all about keeping things going in difficult circumstances,” a former diplomat says.

Despite the deteriorating relationship, a war is unlikely to break out.

“I don’t think either side wants an armed conflict. Nobody is interested in a war. Nothing in the [stand-off] area is worth a conflict. But both sides see their reputations at stake and that could lead to a prolonged stand-off,” Srinath Raghavan, a senior fellow at the leading Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research think-tank told me.

South Korea Seeks Rare Talks with North Korea to Ease Military Tensions

Written by the Agence France-Presse in Seoul.
See the original article on the Guardian.


South Korea has offered to hold rare military talks with the North to ease tensions after Pyongyang’s first intercontinental ballistic missile test earlier this month.

Monday’s offer, the first since South Korea elected the moderate Moon Jae-In as president, came as the Red Cross in Seoul proposed a separate meeting to discuss the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean war.

The South’s defence ministry proposed a meeting on Friday at the border truce village of Panmunjom, while the Red Cross offered to hold talks on 1 August at the same venue.

If the government meeting goes ahead, it will be the first official inter-Korea talks since December 2015. Moon’s conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, had refused to engage in substantive dialogue with Pyongyang unless the isolated regime made a tangible commitment to denuclearisation.

The Red Cross said it hoped for a positive response from its counterpart in the North; mooted family reunions in early October would be the first in two years.

Millions of families were separated by the conflict that sealed the division of the peninsula. Many died without getting a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the heavily-fortified border, across which all civilian communication is banned.

Only about 60,000 members of divided families are still left in the South.

“North Korea should respond to our sincere proposals if it really seeks peace on the Korean Peninsula,” said Cho Myoung-gyon, Seoul’s unification minister in charge of North Korea affairs.

Cho stressed that Seoul “would not seek collapse of the North or unification through absorbing the North” and urged Pyongyang to restore inter-Korea communication channels, including a shuttered military hotline.

Moon, who took power in May, has advocated dialogue with the nuclear-armed North as a means of bringing it to the negotiating table and vowed to play a more active role in global efforts to tame the South’s unpredictable neighbour.

But Pyongyang has staged a series of missile launches in violation of UN resolutions, most recently on 4 July when it test-fired its first ICBM, a move which triggered global alarm and a push by the US president, Donald Trump, to impose harsher UN sanctions on the country.

Washington has also called on China, the North’s sole ally, to put more pressure on Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear ambitions, which have advanced rapidly under the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

“We make the proposal for a meeting … aimed at stopping all hostile activities that escalate military tension along the land border,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

[NEW]The European Union offered European support for South Korean efforts to negotiate with North Korea, but said it was also considering tougher sanctions on Pyongyang following its first intercontinental ballistic missile test.

In a statement Monday, the EU’s executive arm condemned the test earlier this month as a “serious threat to international peace and security” and urged an end to such actions.

The latest missile test – which Kim described as a “gift” to the Americans – was seen as a milestone in Pyongyang’s quest to build a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that can hit the US mainland.

The proposed meetings, if realised, would be a “rare opportunity to ease tension that has built up for 10 years”, said Cheong Seong-chang, analyst at the Sejong Institute, a thinktank.

“It would at least help let off some steam out of the current crisis, although the North would still maintain that it would not give up its weapons programmes,” he said.

The agenda for the meeting could include moves to suspend propaganda campaigns operated on both sides of the border for years, Cheong added.

The South’s military has deployed dozens of giant loudspeakers along the tense border to blare out a mix of world news, K-pop songs and other propaganda targeting young North Korean soldiers.

It has also occasionally launched giant balloons containing anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border despite warnings of military retaliation by the North.

The North has responded with its own propaganda broadcasts and sent anti-Seoul leaflets via giant balloons across the border.

They Fled Boko Haram and Famine – and then They Were Forced Back

Written by Kevin Sieff.
Read the original article on The Washington Post.
Image credit: The Washington Post.


 The soldiers arrived in the middle of the night, tearing through the village of Nigerian refugees, barging into stick huts where families slept in knots on the floor.

For years, those refugees had been on the run from Boko Haram insurgents, finally escaping across a dried riverbed that served as the border with Cameroon. They had settled in the village of Majina, where they farmed beans and millet. “A peaceful place,” the men said. And then, in March, the Cameroonian soldiers arrived.

The troops rounded up the refugees haphazardly and pushed them into military trucks, often separating parents from their children, according to witnesses. The refugees soon realized where they were headed: back to one of the most dangerous corners of Nigeria. Today, they are living in a displacement camp in Banki, a city racked by one of the world’s biggest hunger crises.

The United Nations would eventually put a label on what happened that night and many others to follow — “forced return.”Over the past few months, at least 5,000 Nigerian refugees were rounded up in Cameroonian villages and refugee camps and expelled to a region under frequent attack by insurgents, according to U.N. officials. Some aid officials think the actual number of those forcibly returned is over 10,000, including people evicted in sporadic operations since 2013. The Cameroonian government has denied driving out the Nigerians.

As the number of refugees around the world soars — topping 20 million — they are facing growing hostility from host countries and shrinking protection from the international legal framework put in place decades ago to defend such vulnerable people. A forced return like the one reported in Cameroon emblematizes the most extreme and unforgiving reaction to those searching for a haven.

Many countries are taking less-drastic steps that have still alarmed refu­gee advocates. Over the past three years, Pakistan has pressured hundreds of thousands of long-term war refugees from Afghanistan to return home, despite the dire poverty and violent insurgency in their homeland. In Kenya, a court blocked the government from sending more than 200,000 inhabitants of the Dadaab refu­gee camp, mostly Somalis, back to a nation beset by war and a hunger crisis. But human rights groups say many of the residents are being pressured to leave anyway.

International human rights groups last year accused Turkey of expelling thousands of Syrian refugees, a charge the government denied.

Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, ratified by 145 countries — including Cameroon — victims of war or persecution should not be returned to nations where they will face serious threats. But that edict is being ignored, according to human rights groups.

“Poorer countries hosting huge numbers of refugees for many years, such as Kenya, Pakistan and Turkey, have recently pushed back hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers,” said Gerry Simpson, a migration expert at Human Rights Watch. “They seem to be taking their lead from richer countries, such as Australia, the E.U. and the U.S., who are pulling out all the stops to limit refugee arrivals.”

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has sought to reach agreements with countries that are sending refugees home, to ensure that only voluntary repatriations occur.

But the agency’s assistance came too late for thousands of Nigerians in Cameroon.

Aid groups are still unsure what prompted what they call a mass eviction. Some U.N. officials say the refugees were probably forced out in advance of a large military operation. Other aid groups say that Cameroon, one of the world’s poorest nations, has simply grown tired of hosting Nigerians. Cameroon has been inundated by refugees in recent years, with more than 300,000 people fleeing wars in the Central African Republic and Nigeria.

Cameroon’s government has rejected the UNHCR statements on the forced returns. “I’m telling you there were no forced expulsions,” Richard Etoundi, head of the protocol unit in the Ministry of External Relations, said in a phone interview.

In addition to the thousands who were reported forced from Cameroon, many more were persuaded to go back to northeastern Nigeria after being lied to about the conditions there, according to refugees and aid officials. Arriving home, the refugees are finding a lack of housing, severe overcrowding and a scarcity of food and water. This month, the head of UNHCR, Filippo Grandi, said he was “extremely worried” about the flood of Ni­ger­ian refugees returning from Cameroon to “a situation dangerously unprepared to receive them.”

The Cameroonian military acted so hastily in removing the refugees that it inadvertently swept up a group of Cameroonian women and children in a raid in the village of Keraoua. They now sleep on the floor of an unfinished building in a bombed-out side street in Banki.

‘It was a decent life’

Abba Goni, 76, fled Banki nearly three years ago on a green bicycle with “China” stamped on the frame, riding on the packed sand from village to village, an old man much faster on two wheels than on his two gnarled feet.

Goni was born and raised in Banki, once a city of 150,000 surrounded by fertile farmland, just over a mile from the Cameroonian border. In September 2014, the Islamist extremists known as Boko Haram surged into town on trucks and motorcycles, shooting wildly and burning buildings. Goni’s first escape on the green bicycle was in the dead of night. His two wives and nine children followed.

For a few weeks, they lived outdoors, subsisting on whatever fruits they could find. When Boko Haram caught up with them, Goni got back on his bicycle, heading toward Cameroon.

Since Goni was a boy, members of his Kanuri ethnic group had moved back and forth between Cameroon and Nigeria without any documents. Boko Haram, too, had crossed the border with impunity. But the group’s stronghold remained in Nigeria, and Goni knew that if he headed deep enough into Cameroon, he would most likely be safe. In 2015, he and his family arrived in Majina, where some local men allowed him to cultivate a small patch of farmland.

“It was a decent life,” he said.

Parts of Nigeria were meanwhile inching closer to famine. When the aid group Doctors Without Borders finally got access to Banki last summer, after the military drove out Boko Haram, aid workers found a hunger crisis, with more than 10 percent of children suffering from severe malnutrition and people dying of preventable diseases. For Goni and his family, their hamlet in Cameroon wasn’t just an escape from Boko Haram, but also a refuge from starvation.

The government of Cameroon, though, was struggling to provide for so many refugees. Residents of northern Cameroon blamed food shortages on refugees. In some cases, the two populations clashed.

Experts see that frustration reflected in other countries where refugees have been pressured to leave.

“I think host governments are getting sort of fed up that a very large proportion of the burden is falling on them, without enough international assistance,” said Kathleen Newland, co-founder
of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based research organization.

In Majina, Goni never experienced that antagonism. On that March day, when he heard the sounds of trucks and men shouting, Goni first assumed Boko Haram had arrived. Then he looked outside and saw the men in uniform.

“Who is Nigerian?” the soldiers shouted, Goni recalled.

Goni asked if he could at least collect his clothes, blankets, food and his bicycle. The soldiers refused. Everything happened quickly. When he looked around, in the back of the speeding military truck, he found only one of his wives and two of his children. The rest had been left behind.

‘Get the Nigerians out’

The following morning, Goni got his first look at what was left of Banki. Entire blocks had been flattened, most likely by military airstrikes. Displaced people were living in abandoned houses.

Although aid groups had begun to distribute food and open rudimentary clinics, the Nigerian military still controlled access, posting checkpoints and barring residents from leaving town.

That meant no farming in nearby fields, no collecting of firewood and no possibility of leaving Banki again.

After being interrogated by Ni­ger­ian soldiers, Goni was directed to an abandoned building. UNHCR gave him a mat and a blanket. And he had a new home: one room with 18 people sleeping on the floor.

A month into his time in Banki, he and many of the other deportees were eating only one meal a day.

A few blocks away, in another gray, unfinished building, 32 Cameroonian women and children waved their documents — Cameroonian birth certificates and voter registration cards — when they spotted a visiting journalist.

“We kept telling the soldiers, ‘We are from Cameroon,’ but they brought us here anyway,” said Fati Kadi, 40. Her two children had been left behind during the raid, she said.

Faruk Ibrahim, a program manager with UNHCR, said the agency had expected that the Cameroonians would be taken home. “But it’s been over two months now.”

Stories of other forced returns emerged throughout March and April. More than 2 million people had already been displaced internally in Nigeria’s war with Boko Haram. With the flow of repatriated refugees from Cameroon, that number was rising.

Two hundred miles from Banki, in the city of Ngala, the border superintendent watched one day in April as the Cameroonians deposited hundreds of Nigerians on a bridge that connects the two nations.

“They just wanted to get the Nigerians out,” Mohammed Gadam, the border chief, said in an interview.

Many others in Ngala had chosen to return after they were convinced by Cameroonian and visiting Nigerian soldiers that life was much better in Nigeria, with free-flowing aid and much-improved security.

When Falta Ali, 23, arrived back in Ngala in March, two years after she fled, she saw that the city was in ruins. Aid groups set up tents, but not enough. The international community was running out of money for food aid.

Ali’s 6-month-old, Yagana Buhama, quickly developed whooping cough.

“It’s a product of the environment here,” said a doctor, Beauty Nwuba, standing over Buhama’s bed in a tented clinic. “There’s so much overcrowding.”

In March, UNHCR reached an agreement with the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments, mandating that refugees return to Nigeria only voluntarily. The number of forced returns appears to have dropped off recently, according to UNHCR.

“There is now a framework for voluntary returns,” said Cesar Tshilombo, head of UNHCR’s sub-office in northeastern Nigeria.

But other relief workers say people are still being pressured to go back to a dangerous, desperate place.

“They are threatened by Cameroonian authorities until they agree to return,” said a relief worker in Banki who interviewed refugees last month. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly about the issue.

Other countries also have been accused of compelling refugees to move home to precarious places. In a February report, Human Rights Watch said that in Pakistan, Afghan refugees have been subject to police harassment, arbitrary detention and deportation threats. More than 350,000 registered refugees had gone back to Afghanistan
in the previous six months, “making it the world’s largest mass forced return of refugees in recent years,” the group wrote. It added that the United Nations was abetting the exodus by providing subsidies of $400 per refu­gee.

The United Nations rejected the charge and said it offered support to refugees to decide their futures “based on a well-informed consideration of best options.”

The Pakistani government denied the allegations of coercion.

For now, the thousands of refugees, like Goni, who have been forced back to Nigeria have pragmatic questions. When will they be reunited with their families? How will they get their belongings in Cameroon? Will they ever be free to return?

“They keep us here like prisoners,” he said. “We weren’t ready to come back.”

‘We’ve lost democracy’: on the road with Turkey’s justice marchers

Written by Kareem Shaheen.
Read the original article on the Guardian.
Image credit: The Guardian.


Hıdır Aydur rested his blistered feet under the shade of a tree on the side of the highway that runs between Ankara and Istanbul. The 57-year-old, from Erzincan in Turkey’s north-east, who has diabetes, had been marching for 15 days. He is one of thousands journeying by foot from Turkey’s capital to its largest city, many carrying banners that say “adalet” or “justice”.

“We lost democracy in our country, and we want it back,” Aydur said, his shirt bearing the images of Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, two teachers who were jailed last month after more than 70 days on hunger strike over their arbitrarily dismissal in a government decree.

Tens of thousands of people have been dismissed or detained in a broad government crackdown in the aftermath of a coup attempt last July that left more than 250 people dead and 1,400 wounded. After declaring a state of emergency, the government’s purge went beyond the direct perpetrators of the coup to encompass a large swathe of civil society, the political opposition, academics, journalists and civil servants, squandering a rare moment of unity to solidify its hold on power.

In April, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan narrowly won a referendum that vastly expanded his powers, while the country’s judiciary has been reshaped in his image, with a quarter of the nation’s judges and prosecutors dismissed or jailed over alleged connections to Fethullah Gülen, an exiled preacher whose grassroots movement is widely believed in Turkey to have orchestrated the putsch.

Senior opposition politicians have also been imprisoned. Earlier this month Enis Berberoğlu, a lawmaker with the People’s Republican party (CHP), was jailed for 25 years after leaking information to the press on Turkish intelligence’s transfer of weapons across the border to Syrian rebels.

That arrest sparked the Adalet march, a 280-mile (450-km) walk led by the CHP’s chairman, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, which set off from Ankara on 15 June. Organisers hope it will culminate in a large rally in Istanbul’s Maltepe neighbourhood on 9 July. It has drawn supporters along the way from across Turkish society despite the scorching summer heat, as it covers nine miles a day.

The protesters, dismissed as Gülen supporters by the government, have given a variety of reasons for their involvement: the country’s slide to authoritarianism, the authorities’ abuse of the state of emergency, the arrest of journalists and politicians, the crackdown on dissent, and even opposition to retirement laws.

“Academics and teachers are being wrongfully dismissed, losing their jobs and food and they’re being deprived of their constitutional rights,” say Aydur. “The only thing left for them is to resist, and I wanted to give a voice to their resistance. We want independent courts, not one-man rule, and we want this justice for everyone including those on the opposite side.”

The atmosphere on Thursday was relaxed, belying the deep fissures and polarisation that run through a nation yet to come to terms with the coup attempt.

A year ago hundreds of thousands of Turks gathered in Yenikapı square in Istanbul to celebrate victory over the coup plotters. But the euphoria quickly turned to alarm and then despair in the weeks and months that followed.

“There is a reign of fear,” Kılıçdaroğlu said in an interview conducted during the march. “Journalists and citizens, the people, cannot speak. This is what we want to get rid of.”

“When the 15 July coup happened every party was against it, but on 20 July there was a civil coup and its main plotter was Erdoğan,” he said. “The state of emergency gave him all the power, and with all the dismissals and investigations against thousands of academics and journalists and civil servants, there are ordinary citizens who cannot even talk to their lawyers. There is oppression against the opposition, and lawmakers are being arrested. This justice march is against this civil coup.”

Many of Erdoğan’s religiously conservative supporters look upon the country’s secular opposition as elitist “White Turks” who used to dominate the upper echelons of the state and oppress the poor. In their eyes Erdoğan’s rise can be interpreted as a rebuke to the excesses of the elite.

Namik Akbas, a 32-year-old from Amasya who joined the march, said the Erdoğan government was using religion to divide people.

“Turkey has been ruled for a long time by this mentality of manipulating the public,” he said. “Adalet to me means unifying the country under secular, enlightened values. Secularism is not against religion.”

For Borga Budak, a 36-year-old CHP member from Ankara sporting a Che Guevara cap, the march is an attempt to give succour to the Turkish opposition’s cowed base.

“The idea of this protest isn’t geographical,” Budak said. “It doesn’t stop in Istanbul. People need hope, and this walk gives them hope.”

Justices Side With Immigrant Who Got Bad Legal Advice

Written by Adam Liptak.
Read the original article on the New York Times.
Image Credit: the New York Times.


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday ruled in favor of an immigrant whose lawyer falsely told him that pleading guilty to a drug charge would not lead to his deportation. When the immigrant, Jae Lee, learned the truth, he sought to go to trial after all.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority in the 6-to-2 decision, said Mr. Lee should be able to reopen the proceedings against him and take his chances at trial even though the evidence against him was quite strong.

“But for his attorney’s incompetence, Lee would have known that accepting the plea agreement would certainly lead to deportation,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “Going to trial? Almost certainly.”

Chief Justice Roberts noted that “if deportation were the determinative issue for an individual in plea discussions, as it was for Lee; if that individual had strong connections to this country and no other, as did Lee; and if the consequences of taking a chance at trial were not markedly harsher than pleading, as in this case, that ‘almost’ could make all the difference.”

Mr. Lee moved to the United States from South Korea with his family in 1982, when he was 13. After graduating from high school in New York, he moved to Memphis, where he became a successful restaurateur. He was a lawful resident but not a citizen and had never returned to South Korea.

Mr. Lee was prosecuted for possessing the drug ecstasy with the intent to distribute it, and his lawyer urged him to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. The lawyer falsely told Mr. Lee that he would not be subject to deportation after he served his sentence, which turned out to be a year and a day.

On learning the truth, Mr. Lee filed a motion to vacate his conviction, arguing that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel.

Mr. Lee, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “would have rejected any plea leading to deportation — even if it shaved off prison time — in favor of throwing a ‘Hail Mary’ at trial.”

“Not everyone in Lee’s position would make the choice to reject the plea,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “But we cannot say it would be irrational to do so.”

Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the majority opinion in the case, Lee v. United States, No. 16-327. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch did not participate in the case, which was argued before he joined the court.

In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., wrote that Mr. Lee could not overcome the ordinary standard for proving ineffective assistance of counsel, which requires not only proof of flawed advice but also that the advice harmed the defendant.

The evidence against Mr. Lee was exceptionally strong, Justice Thomas wrote. The police had found large quantities of drugs at his home, and prosecutors were prepared to present a witness ready to testify about buying drugs from Mr. Lee.

“In the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt and in the absence of a bona fide defense, a reasonable court or jury applying the law to the facts of this case would find the defendant guilty,” Justice Thomas wrote. “There is no reasonable probability of any other verdict.”

“A defendant in petitioner’s shoes, therefore, would have suffered the same deportation consequences regardless of whether he accepted a plea or went to trial,” he wrote. “He is thus plainly better off for having accepted his plea: Had he gone to trial, he not only would have faced the same deportation consequences, he also likely would have received a higher prison sentence.”

The Supreme Court’s decision reversed one from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, which had ruled that Mr. Lee had suffered no prejudice, as the correct legal advice would not have helped him. Had he gone to trial, the court said, he would have lost and still have been deported.

But Judge Alice M. Batchelder, writing for the appeals court, seemed uneasy about what the law required.

“It is unclear to us why it is in our national interests — much less the interests of justice — to exile a productive member of our society to a country he hasn’t lived in since childhood for committing a relatively small-time drug offense,” she wrote. “But our duty is neither to prosecute nor to pardon; it is simply to say ‘what the law is,’” she added, quoting Marbury v. Madison.

A Battle Over Prayer in Schools Tests Canada’s Multiculturalism

Written by Dan Levin.
Read the original article on the New York Times.
Image Credit: The New York Times


MISSISSAUGA, Ontario — The troubles began over sermons.

For nearly two decades, Muslim students in the Peel School District, outside Toronto, had been allowed to pray independently on Fridays, part of a policy in many Canadian provinces to accommodate religious beliefs in public schools.

Last fall, the school board decided to standardize the prayer sessions and offer six preapproved sermons that the children could recite, rather than let them use their own.

Muslim students protested, saying the move violated their right to free speech, and the board reversed itself, allowing the children to write their own sermons.

But the dispute unleashed a storm of protest that continued through this spring.

Demonstrators are picketing school board meetings, arguments are eruptingon social media about whether religious accommodation is tantamount to special treatment, and there is a petition drive to abolish prayer in the public schools. In April, a local imam who supported the board received a death threat. The local police now guard the school board’s meetings.

The turmoil is one reflection of how Canada’s growing diversity is encountering powerful headwinds, especially in places with significant Muslim populations.

“Although we have a policy of multiculturalism, for most Canadians there is an expectation that immigrants will conform to the mainstream,” said Jeffrey Reitz, the director of the Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies program at the University of Toronto. “Religious accommodations have been made to various groups, and you’re going to get a backlash once in a while.”

The problems in the Peel schools are a particular kind of conflict in a diverse society, social scientists say — involving immigrants and minorities who challenge aspects of Canada’s cherished multiculturalism.

In 2015, socially conservative residents in Ontario school districts, some of them Muslimobjected to an updated sex education curriculum because it teaches the names of sex organs and broaches the topic of same-sex relationships.

Since 2013, some Muslim parents in metropolitan Toronto have asked schools to exempt their children from mandatory provincial music classes, citing their belief that Islam forbids listening to or playing musical instruments.

Like its neighbor to the south, Canada is a country of immigrants, helping to fuel a national ethos that celebrates diversity. More than 20 percent of the Canadian population in 2011 was foreign born, a figure that is expected to reach nearly 30 percent by 2031, according to government estimates. In cities like Toronto and Vancouver, the proportion of ethnic minorities could top 60 percent.

The demographic changes have been especially pronounced in metropolitan Toronto, a patchwork of cities and suburban towns bustling with an array of languages and faiths.

School boards like the one in the Peel district are at the forefront of the battles over multiculturalism. The district is among the country’s most diverse, with nearly 60 percent of all residents described as “visible minority,” or nonwhite, according to the 2011 census.

It includes large numbers of Chinese, Filipinos and blacks, but nearly half are categorized as South Asian, a group that includes Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. The Peel district is home to about 12 percent of Canada’s Muslim population.

In allowing prayer in its schools, the Peel district relied on a provision in the Ontario Human Rights Code that the Ontario Human Rights Commission has interpreted as requiring government-funded schools — both public and Catholic — to “accommodate” students in observing their personal faiths.

Other provinces in Canada have similar policies.

For Farina Siddiqui, 43, a Muslim activist whose children attend public and Catholic schools in the Peel district, allowing students to worship once a week in school is a matter of religious freedom.

“We’re not asking for schools to provide a prayer hall for everyone to practice a religion,” she said. “We just ask for the right to have a space to pray.” She supported permitting the children to write their own sermons.

Tarun Arora, 40, who works for an outsourcing call center company and immigrated to Canada from India in 2003, said school boards should not be endorsing sermons or allowing prayer in his children’s public schools at all. He wants the schools to be completely secular.

“I’m sending my kids to school for education, but the schools are being treated as religious places, and this is not right,” Mr. Arora said.

He is a member of Keep Religion Out of Our Public Schools, also known as Kroops, a group that formed in January when the board decided to allow the children to write their own sermons. The group has protested outside recent school board meetings and says it plans to bring a lawsuit challenging the policy of allowing prayer in the Peel schools, arguing that the law does not explicitly permit it.

Another group with a similar name, Religion Out of Public Schools, began an online petition to eliminate religious congregation and faith clubs in Canadian schools. It has garnered over 6,500 signatures from people across Canada and the United States.

Many of the petition comments specifically criticize Islam. But in interviews, three members of the group, all of them Indian-Canadian, said they opposed the practice of any religion in public schools, not just Islam.

Renu Mandhane, the chief commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, which is charged with interpreting the Ontario code, said schools had a duty to accommodate religious belief.

“Accommodation doesn’t equal endorsing or otherwise becoming entangled in religious practice,” Ms. Mandhane said. “Whether that requires prayer space in school, we’ve never said. What’s required is we need to reasonably accommodate a person’s beliefs.”

In an interview, she disputed the argument made by many protesters that the policy benefits only Muslims. She noted that Jews and Christians were already accommodated because their most important days of worship fall on the weekend, when schools are closed.

“In many ways, what we’re seeing in Peel is the edge where human rights and hyperdiversity connect,” Ms. Mandhane continued. “What Peel shows is that even in places with huge racial diversity, you can have people who identify with different communities but disagree about human rights issues.”

To the Peel school board and many Muslims in the district, the strife over religious accommodation is little more than Islamophobia.

At board meetings, protesters have screamed anti-Muslim epithets, while attacks against Muslims who speak out publicly have spread on social media, leading to the stationing of police officers at the meetings and outside schools. The imam who received the death threat also got an online message calling for his mosque to be burned.

During one fraught school board meeting, a man tore up pages of the Quran, stunning a community that had long prized its tradition of tolerance.

“These are people trying to fuel the fire and brew our ignorances,” said Rabia Khedr, executive director of the Muslim Council of Peel, which lobbied the school board in support of the students’ right to pray. “Religious accommodation is not at the exclusion of everybody. It’s at the inclusion of everybody.”

Anver Saloojee, a political-science professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, has another explanation. He noted that many of those speaking out against the religious accommodation policy were members of the Indian diaspora, including some vocal Hindu nationalists, suggesting that in some ways the battle in Canada mirrors South Asia’s historical Hindu-Muslim conflict.

But the groups opposing accommodation, which include people from a variety of races and religions, deny that. Indian-Canadian members of the groups say their concern has nothing to do with a country they left years and in some cases decades ago.

“My religion is Canadian; that’s what gives me the strength to stand up and fight now,” said Ram Subrahmanian, a founder of Keep Religion Out of Our Public Schools.

Shaila Kibria-Carter, 42, a finance manager of Bangladeshi descent, was born and raised in Canada and lives in the nearby town of Brampton. She said that as a Peel district high school student in the 1990s, she prayed in school on Fridays. So did her college-age son. There were never any class disruptions or complaints, she said.

“What these folks are doing is preaching hate,” she said. “We’ve lived in harmony with Sikhs and Hindus and white people all our lives, and now all of a sudden someone is in meetings ripping up a Quran.”

Saudi Crown Prince’s Ascendancy Gives Hope of Reform – But it May be Premature

Written by Martin Chulov.
Read the original article on the Guardian.

Image credit: the Guardian.


On the streets of Riyadh, in its shopping malls and public spaces, Saudi Arabia’s religious police had long been a foreboding presence. They could reach into private lives at will, with powers that few could challenge, enforcing an ultra-conservative brand of Islam as a dogma for society.

For people who had lived in fear of the force, one late winter evening earlier this year came as a watershed. On the side of one of their headquarters in the city’s suburbs, a 10-metre wide emblem of the country’s reform programme – Vision 2030 – had been projected. And no one inside the building dared to block it.

“That was the government saying we are more powerful than you,” said an influential Riyadh businessman. “That was when the people knew that they [the religious police] didn’t matter any more. They had lost the powers to arrest a year earlier. And now they had lost face.”

The sudden fall from grace of one of the influential pillars of the state had taken place as a new and ambitious face of the kingdom, Mohammed bin Salman, continued an ascendancy unparalleled in Saudi Arabia’s modern history.

The 31-year-old prince’s rise was consolidated on Wednesday when his father anointed him as heir to the throne, ousting his nephew in the process and giving the newcomer unfettered powers as a change agent. The new crown prince’s mandate is formidable; overhaul an ailing economy, open up a closed society, and project the influence of a usually cautious country in new and robust ways.

In announcing the move, the king has literally banked his kingdom on the world’s most powerful thirtysomething, adding to his already full list of duties a cluster of roles that are not intended to distract from the most crucial of all – a 15-year reform programme, which many in Riyadh see as the only viable solution to an existential threat.

Private enterprise is being courted, cinemas are in the pipeline, concerts have been held – though only for men – and the touchstone issue of women being allowed to drive is again on the table, senior officials say.

Though Riyadh residents who spoke to the Guardian say they will suspend judgment on the reforms until they are delivered, talk of change is starting to resonate. “Something is definitely happening here,” said Sumaya Fayad, a shop assistant in one of Riyadh’s most popular malls. “It feels different. I don’t feel as limited anymore. There has been progress in personal freedoms, because we don’t fear as much anymore.”

Two years into the process of reinvention, the country has opened a war in Yemen, tried to steer another in Syria, opened its economy to foreigners, exposed its biggest asset – the state-owned oil company Aramco – to global markets, spoken out strongly against its regional foe, Iran, and blockaded a former ally, Qatar. Mohammed bin Salman has been given a lead stake in it all, positioning him against powerful figures within the royal family and elsewhere, in a country where disgruntled citizens have been quick to oppose cutbacks in welfare spending and pensions.

The changes have exposed the limits of state authority and highlighted the will of a combustible population, much of which has yet to be convinced that change of this scale is in their interests.

“The problem for them is that the base has always been significantly more conservative than the leadership,” said one western official in Riyadh. “Some of the senior officials are describing what is taking place as cultural revolution disguised as economic reform, but there is a danger that they’ll get ahead of themselves.”

Regardless of the warnings, citadels that had long been seen as too difficult are now being targeted. The accommodation between the hardline clergy, which has defined the national character, and the House of Saud, which has run affairs of state, has been central to the modern kingdom, with both sides relying on the other to retain power.

Mohammed bin Salman has told several global leaders that the arrangement needs to change for the modern state to survive.

Madawi al-Rasheed, a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics’ Middle East centre, says: “This has been going on since King Abdullah became king in 2005. Since Salman came to power, we see signs that they are trying to redefine Wahhabism [an ultra-conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam] as a limited religious tradition responsible for personal piety, but having no business whatsoever on the way the kingdom is run.

“But the problem for them [the ruling family] is that it is an accurate assessment to say that Wahhabism is a doctrine that has underpinned the actions of the Islamic State. Saudi religious fatwas and opinions have been used to encourage people to join terror groups.

“What we are seeing is not a reform programme at all. It is cosmopolitan liberalisation. The Wahhabi traditions are deeply embedded in a system that is repressing its own people. They are doing what other dictators do, in allowing certain personal freedoms to make people forget about the big picture.”

Senior Saudi officials acknowledge the need to sideline, even disavow, traditions and practices that gravely limit personal freedoms and human rights, especially among women and minorities.

“We are no longer averse to change,” said one ministerial aide. “We embrace it and we know that we can no longer rely on the developed world to lead the way.”

Some Saudis say small measures are already signalling a new openness to other interpretations of the faith.

“During the recent Riyadh summit, two of the world’s most influential Islamic scholars addressed a social media conference comprised of largely Saudi young men and women,” said Talal Malik, the Saudi-based CEO of conglomerate Alpha1Corp. “The new crown prince … was effectively patronising a global and dynamic vision of Sunni Islam in the kingdom, and showcasing it for Saudi youth as representing their future.

“He has made significant inroads in winning the support of one, if not the, key demographic in the kingdom – its youth, who wish to contribute to building a modern and dynamic G20 country.”

Not all Riyadh youth agree. “You know that the top 11 Twitter handles here are Salafi clerics, right?”, asked a 24-year-old student speaking perfect American English. “We are talking more than 20 million people who hang on their every words. They will not accept this sort of change. Never.”