Middle East

Some of the thousands of refugees and migrants queuing at the Greek-Macedonian border

Rarely has the EU needed Turkey so badly. And rarely has Turkey looked like such an unattractive partner.

The EU’s strategy to end its “migrant crisis” hinges on an effort to persuade Turkey to stop the flow of would-be refugees heading from Turkish shores to Greece. That plan will be the focus of an EU-Turkey summit in Brussels on March 7th. So it is particularly unfortunate that the Turkish government should have chosen the days before the summit to raid and effectively take over the country’s largest opposition news group in an apparent bid to end its critical coverage of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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By Gideon Rachman

Why is the Middle East in flames and Russia on the rampage? In both Europe and the Middle East, it is common to hear the blame placed on Barack Obama. The US president, it is charged, is a weak and disengaged leader who has allowed international events to get out of control.

By Gideon Rachman
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans populated the world. Now the world is populating Europe. Beyond the furore about the impact of the 1m-plus refugees who arrived in Germany in 2015 lie big demographic trends. The current migration crisis is driven by wars in the Middle East. But there are also larger forces at play that will ensure immigration into Europe remains a vexed issue long after the war in Syria is over.

By Gideon Rachman
When the House of Commons set out to debate military intervention in the Middle East this week, the technical issue at stake was whether the UK should extend its bombing of Isis from Iraq into Syria.


Kurdish Peshmerga forces detain suspected members of Isis on November 16

What should we call the world’s deadliest terrorist group? Should it be Isil, Isis, Islamic state, so-called Islamic State, or Daesh?

Like other news organisations, we at the Financial Times have debated which name to use and whether it matters. Politicians too have grappled with the question. France has settled on Daesh. David Cameron, British prime minister, now recommends the same.

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Donald Trump – would not rule out the idea of a database to track Muslims in America

Watching the debate on terrorism from the US this week has been a bizarre experience. The attacks took place in France – but it seems to be the US where the political demands for ever-tougher border controls are taking hold. On November 19th (Thursday), the House of Representatives passed the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act (SAFE – get it!) which would stop resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the US indefinitely. By contrast, President Hollande has just reaffirmed that France will take 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years. Read more

If Vladimir Putin is looking for a way out of his estrangement from the west over the Ukraine crisis, he sometimes has an odd way of showing it.

Two days after Russia’s president met his US counterpart Barack Obama at the UN Security Council last month and called for an international coalition to fight Islamist terrorism, Russia gave the US just one hour’s notice that it would launch air strikes in Syria. It delivered the message via a Russian general who turned up on the doorstep of the US embassy in Baghdad.

Addressing the annual Valdai Club conference on Thursday, Mr Putin reiterated his appeal for co-operation in Syria – but only after running through a typical litany of complaints about US policy and behaviour.

Yet this was a different Mr Putin from the sour figure who, at the same meeting with foreign journalists and academics a year ago, delivered arguably his bitterest anti-US diatribe since his combative “Munich speech” of 2007.

By shifting the military theatre from Ukraine to Syria – however big a gamble Russia’s military intervention there may be – Mr Putin seemed to feel he had seized the initiative. His acid wit and self-assurance were back. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
How long can a country that represents less than 5 per cent of the world’s population and 22 per cent of the global economy, remain the world’s dominant military and political power? That question is being asked with increasing urgency in the Middle East, eastern Europe and the Pacific Ocean.

Russia raises its profile in the Middle East
Russia has moved fighter jets, tanks and troops into a base in Syria, meanwhile Vladimir Putin, Russian president, is gearing up to make a major speech at the United Nations. What are the Russians up to? Gideon Rachman discusses this question with Neil Buckley and Geoff Dyer.

By Gideon Rachman
Muslims have replaced Hispanics as the focus of verbal attacks on the US campaign trail with Donald Trump shifting his anti-immigrant focus to people of the Islamic faith.

Lebanon and Turkey struggle to meet the needs of Syrian refugees
The future of Syria and its neighbouring states, Lebanon and Turkey, remains unsure as they are struggling to cope with millions of refugees from the Syrian conflict. Gideon Rachman talks to Erika Solomon, FT correspondent in Beirut, and Dan Dombey, former FT bureau chief in Istanbul, about the political and societal strains caused by the refugee crisis

Yesterday a colleague asked me what I’m planning to write my next column about – “The migrant crisis”, I said. “Why are we calling them migrants”, he replied. “Why don’t we call them refugees?” It’s a good question and one that has been exercising many commentators. Al-Jazeera, for example, has already said that it will not use the word “migrant” since that implies a choice to move country. The correct term, they argue, is “refugee” – since most of the people on the move are in fear of their lives. David Miliband, the former British foreign secretary and now head of the International Rescue Committee, makes the same argument. He says that the word migrant “suggests these people are voluntarily fleeing, whereas in fact, if you’ve been barrel-bombed out of your home three times, life and limb demand that you flee.” The FT, however, is still running headlines about the “migrant crisis”. So are we wrong? I don’t think so. Read more

Conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim

Not content with threatening to cut off funding for artists she deems disloyal to Israel, Miri Regev, Israel’s far-right culture minister, is apparently seeking to project power onto her country’s preeminent foreign policy issue: the recently signed nuclear deal with Iran. Read more

Behind Turkey’s volte-face on Isis, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is fishing for nationalist votes by tarring as terrorists the pro-Kurdish coalition, argues David Gardner

Something is rotten with the eurozone’s hideous restrictions on sovereignty, writes former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, in response to allegations he planned to hack Greece’s tax system Read more

Iran nuclear deal: historic breakthrough or mistake?
Years of painstaking negotiations between Iran and the world powers have finally led to a deal. Was it the biggest international diplomatic breakthrough in decades or a historic mistake? Roula Khalaf, FT foreign editor, and Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Tehran correspondent, debate the pros and cons.

  • Amid the political noise, the historic nuclear deal between Iran and international powers is a victory for pragmatism in Tehran, writes Roula Khalaf
  • Greece’s creditors have destroyed the eurozone as we know it and demolished the idea of a monetary union as a step towards a democratic political union, argues Wolfgang Münchau
  • Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump offers a megaphone to the noisy minority of Americans who believe they are losing the battle with modernity, writes Ed Luce
  • Europe’s creditor-in-chief has trampled over values like democracy and national sovereignty, and left a vassal state in its wake. Which country will be next? asks Philippe LeGrain (Foreign Policy)
  • We apologise to Marxists worldwide for Greece refusing to commit ritual suicide to further the cause. We elected a good, honest and brave man, who fought like a lion, writes Alex Andreou (Byline)

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  • Angela Merkel is taking her revenge on Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras by insisting there can be no more talks on the country’s debt crisis until after its referendum on the bailout on Sunday
  • After China’s main stock index fell by 5 per cent yesterday, investors are blaming the share collapse on the securities regulator and the shadowy world of margin lending
  • An Egyptian soap opera set in a neighbourhood in old Cairo circa 1948 offers an empthatic portrayal of the Jewish community – and casts Islamists as the bad guys
  • Yes? No? Greek Voters Are Perplexed by a Momentous Referendum (New York Times)
  • In Ramadi, the Islamic State settles in, fixing roads and restoring electricity (Washington Post)

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There are drawbacks to being a satirist from a deeply authoritarian state. Exile is a frequent consequence. But it has its advantages.

“I’m really blessed as an Iranian comedian,” Kambiz Hosseini told the audience of democrats, dissidents and defectors who gathered this week in Norway for the annual Oslo Freedom Forum (or “Davos for dissidents”). “There’s no shortage of material for me.” Read more

A view of the ancient city of Palmyra Getty

By Sam al-Refaie

Palmyra: the pearl of the desert. Every Syrian citizen has mixed feelings about this city. It is a symbol of the Syrians’ historic strength and of their queen, Zenobia, who rebelled against the Roman Empire. But it is also the city that held the dreadful prison in which the Assads, father and son, detained all of those suspected of having political opinions that didn’t suit their regime. Read more

The birch forests and heaths across Estonia are echoing with gunfire, explosions and the heavy crump of artillery as the tiny Baltic state holds the largest war games of its independent history

South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma is mired in scandals that have tarnished his and the ANC’s reputation, as a recent wave of xenophobic violence puts his record under fresh scrutiny

South Korea is facing a dilemma over Jehovah’s Witnesses, who conscientiously object to military service but have hope of a softening judicial stance towards their boycott

A team of Syrian investigators have risked their lives to collect secret government documents that provide evidence of war crimes by Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Will an international court ever hear their cases? (Guardian)

The most surprising event of this political era is what hasn’t happened. The world has not turned left despite the financial crisis and widening inequality, writes David Brooks in the New York Times  Read more