*Sarah Leah Whitson (Human rights activist)
**Dr Laith Kubba (Political activist, researcher)
*** Roshan Mohammad Salih (Journalist)
America needs the world and the world needs America. The past four years have been not only traumatic but disastrous to both. Unilateralism prevailed as never before; hostility, violence and mistrust dominated the Trumpism phenomenon. Populism almost swept Europe after it complicated the race relations within USA. But has the defeat of Trump at the polls paved the way for a new reformation process that will end the internal fragmentation, disunity and mistrust? The unprecedented euphoria surrounding the whole process has sent the greatest world power on a soul-searching path to regain its wasted opportunities and regain the trust of a world that has paid a heavy price for arrogance, misadventures and ill-advised foreign policies by successive administrations.
Tuesday 17th November 2020
Sarah Leah Whitson: Thank you for inviting me to this discussion. I am the director of the recently launched Democracy for the Arab World. We are a new organisation launched before the second anniversary of Jamal Kashogi’s murder. Dawn was founded by Kashogi. Please visit our website to see some of the work we are doing.
I want to focus on my area of expertise not approaching the post Trump era globally but the post Trump era for the Middle East in terms of how I see the Bdien presidencey playing out. We are not really in the post Trump era. We are not really in the post trauma era. Seventy million Americans are voting for Donald Trump. Not enough to win but enough to indicate just how deeply divided the country is on many issue.
With regard to Biden’s election there is some good news and some bad news and I am going to echo some of the remarks that I have been giving in panels and disucssions now.. There is a lot of interest now for what a Biden presidency may mean from those of us who aspire fora democratic future for the Middle East where people hae security, freedom and dignity.
The good news and the biggest news that we cannot underesttimate is kicking Trump out of office.The good news about that is there is a good, broad strong concensus. The execesses in the Middle East grew with Mohammed Bin Salman must be curbed in a rare show of bi patrisan support to end US participation in the war in Yemen Congress voted twice to halt arms sales. And they only went through because of President Trump’s vetos for both those bills.
But the outrage over the murder of Jamal Kashogi also helped to curbe the arms sales
Because Mohammed bin Salman was just a too brutal and sadistical ruler to befriend and to reckless and destructive to arm. I believe that there is consensus on this. President Biden has said unequivocally that he will end arms sales and re assess the relationship with Saudi Arabia in particular.
And I find myself requoting and retweeting his words from the 2019 democratic debate because I think it was important for us to cite them when we push for Biden to implement them in the United States. And I am quoting now: “Kashogi was murdered and dismembered I believe on the orders of the Crown Prince. I would make it very clear that we are not going to sell more weapons to them. We are going to make them pay the price and expose them for the pariah that they are. There is very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia. I would end the subsidies and end the sale of material to the Saudis who are murdering children in Yemen and they should be held accountable.”
These were Biden’s words in 2019. Sadly he was not as clear and unequivocal in recent times – certainly not on his campaign website where his foreign policy has no section or even mention of Saudi Arabia, Certainly nothing on arms sales. But it does mention our support for the war in Yemen.
Nor was Biden clear in his recent statement on the anniversary of Jamal’s murder when he said we will reassess our relationship with the kingdom and end US support for the war in Yemen and make sure America does not leave its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil. Call me a nit piker but I note here the absence of any clear commitment to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
So I assess that his language has got progressively more mute on the subject of selling arms to Saudi Arabia on the subject of arms sales. Nevertheless he is strengthening relations with countries that support democracy and human rights.
So I would say that the warm embrace with dictators in the region will be over and there will be a return to a more formalistic relationship certainly with lots of strong words. We will be able to return to the days when the advocacy community in the USA is knocking on the doors of the executive branch, the State Department and the National Security Council to lobby for the release of detainees, to get statements issued condemning the egregious abuse and certainly we don’t want to see public displays of affection with the leadership in Saudi Arabia.
The second most important piece of evidence and good news at least as important as the first, is that the Biden presidency dramatically reduces the likelihood of a war with Iran if we manage to avoid this in the waning months of the Trump administration. I am sure many of you saw yesterday there were news reports of how Trump was narrowly dissuaded from launching missile attacks on Iran just last week in some last gasp for war efforts.
Biden said he would resume the nuclear agreement and push for mutual dialogue. There will be a dramatic reduction on sanctions on Iran which will definitely be life saving and good news for the people of Iran. It will help restore relations with European figures where this became an increasingly dividing issue. And he will make clear to Israel. Saudi and the UAE that the US will not support them in a war with Iran. Avoiding such a war will be a good thing first and foremost for the people of the Middle East including the Israelis, Emirates, Saudis and Iranians.
This is complicated like all things in the Middle East are complicated and even holding Biden to his promises, even getting him to act on sentiments of disgust regarding the Saudis worst abuses and avoiding war with Iran. Accepting a trade off from those who want to go to war with Iran will not be easy. It was not easy for Obama even though in his personal sympathies he hated the tyrants as much as we do, was critical of Israel’s policies, aspired to democracy and human rights and avoided a foolish military intervention in Syria. Despite this he joined the war in Yemen and made deals with Saudi and the UAE. This was the pay back for the Iran deal but it created disasters of its own, certainly for the people of Yemen and nurturing the monster that today is Mohamed bin Salman.
That is where the bad news comes which falls into three buckets: first Biden’s personal political philosophy and his approach to the Middle East. He is not focused on the Middle East, does not have a particularly nuanced view of the Middle East. He generally sees the Middle East from the old school view of American primacy in interventionism: that the United States should and can control what happens in the region, including for example not only supporting the Iraq war and advocating for Iraq’s partition.
There are those who are keeping of track of things. More importantly he will face the silent call of profitable arms sales and the pressure that that the arms industry will bring to bear on any effort to cut arms sales.
Finally he will face pressure from Israel which is part of the Gulf equation more so than at any other previous time. They will advocate against any punitive measures against Saudi Arabia or the UAE or even a cooling of relations regardless of these governments abuses.
As a result I doubt that Biden will proactively cut arms sales to Saudi Arabia or even the pending arms deal to the UAE which even if it is signed can now be suspended under the Biden administration. The genius of the Israel, UAE, Bahrain accord which is not a peace deal is that it tethers the USA to the Gulf states via Israel, just as Egypt and Jordan have been tethered to the USA in their peace deals with Israel. Just as they have benefitted now for decades with lucrative quid pro quo arms which are a perennial gift from the USA taxpayers to Egyptian dictators and Jordanian kings for making peace deals with Israel. Now also to the UAE and Bahrain and soon Saudi will insist on and likely receive under Biden automatic tethering to the USA in the way they deal with Israel. Israel will not protest and it will grease the wheels of arms sales.
The UAE or rather Mohamed bin Zayed because this was his deal did not get anything for the Palestinians in his arms deal. He did not just get arms. What he really got, what the UAE really paid for or used their Palestinian chip to pay for was the unbreakable tie of the US and US protection via Israel. Biden has promised that our ties to Israel are unwavering, unshakable and unconditional. You name it, its there.
I think that while Biden will not veto legislation to sell arms to Saudi I doubt he will make it happen. He can pressure American popular sentiment to force the Saudis to end the war in Yemen which would do the Saudis a favour as it would get them out of this ridiculous war. I am certain he will not pressure the UAE to withdraw its control of the island of Socotra in Yemen. They have set up a joint surveillance base with Israel.
Similarly with Israel we will not see a change in its policy under Biden. Today the Palestinian prime minister announced that the PA had resumed its relationship with Israel because Israel had given them a letter committing to written agreements and he reported that he was hearing better words from Biden officials in the expectation that there would be a return of the PA mission to Washington, a resumption of US assistance to the PA and a resumption of assistance to the refugee agency UNRWA. No move back on the recognition of Golan as part of Israel, the move back on Jerusalem and certainly no cuts in military aid to Israel which is the lynch pin of support and green light for Israel to do whatever it wants.
Similarly, on Egypt we may expect some concern about detainees but I don’t expect any change on policy under the Biden administration because again it is tied to Israel. Even on the issue like Kashogi’s murder which is very important for my organization Dawn I don’t see Biden taking an aggressive step.
One example. There is the National Intelligence Report which contains evidence as to why bin Salman ordered the murder of Kashogi. The US congress demanded that that report be released and made public. The Trump administration refused to do that for many months and finally they released only a classified version to congress and have refused to declassify it. There is now a law suit which our organization is a part of against the Department of National Intelligence to force them to release that report in the public interest.
A new president can put a signature on a piece of paper to release that report. Will he move to release it on January 20th on his inauguration? I am not so sure. The release of that report will put Biden in a very difficult situation. Even when you have an administration whose sentiments may be extremely critical of the worst abusers in the region the relationships and ties are very difficult to separate.
So that is the good news and the bad perspective from my point of view. Thank you for listening.
Dr Laith Kubba: It is a pleasure to be with you on this interesting panel. Let me start by thanking the previous speaker who focused very much on the Middle East and very specific issues. Allow me to give a slightly different angle. I will try and give a perspective on the change of leadership in the US globally and then maybe touch on the Middle East, mentioning Iraq and its neighbours which is the area I know most about.
We need to zoom out a little bit. Let us remind ourselves about the perspective that we are talking about here. I am sure more than half the world stayed awake on the night of the election to see who the winner was. Everybody was glued to their tv screens watching what is outcome of this election because it is going to impact them one way or the other – be it the environment, be it the economy, be it COVID, be it peace, instability in the region. There were to many big issues at stake. I think Trump has left his mark on history and US society although in a negative way but still he has left his mark.
Let us not forget there was a moment in time not so long ago in 1990 when the US was the super power of the world. A unipolar system where the US was at the centre of it at the breakdown of the Soviet Union. A triumphant US emerged. That moment was short lived. I think the Clinton years from 1992 – 2000 were very much a good ride. The economy was getting better, the US was enjoying very much the ride of being in a unique position where its rivals disappeared, its agenda started to advance in the world. That took eight years. With Bush came another eight years following 9/11 and the wars that were launched and then eventually the crash that happened in the market. They were not good years. The Americans remember the burden of those years that were left and that paved for Obama to come addressing the new generation, bringing health care, creating significant changes and Biden was his vice president in particular on Middle East issues. I think he is very well versed and it is important to look at the personality of Biden during these years.
He is a politician. I happened to testify twice to the Committee on Foreign Relations at the senate that was chaired by Biden. Once was before 2003 and once was after 2003 and I had the chance to speak to him on a one to one basis before the briefing. He is a politician I think anchored in his beliefs. He has integrity. He is very much a politician and a pragmatist. That is his style. If he knows not only the domestic politics but he is also very well versed in the domestic politics of the Middle East.
His views on the security of Israel are known. They are strong. He is open to influence. I think the view he expressed on Iraq was based on ill advice that was given to him by let us say some Iraqi influencers. But he is very much open to influence and to listening to different views. I would not describe him as an advocate for dividing Iraq but he suggested at some point that maybe a Bosnian type solution would resolve the violence in Iraq. Again my impression is that this was very much based on advise that was given to him.
So we are talking about I think a politician with defined qualities with known qualities and the papers that were written recently about him and his views support this. We have a known quantity. The way things work in the US – I lived in the US for close to 20 years and know those circles. It is not simply the president. The president has a lot of influence. There are two types of presidents throughout history: those who come from within the establishment and those who come from outside the establishment.
Biden is a person who comes from within the establishment. He is very seasoned. He has to work within the establishment. He would push agendas. He would basically not go against the establishment. Trump did. Maybe other candidates tried to in the left of the Democratic Party. They may have tried to push an agenda outside the establishment. Biden belongs to the establishment.
So the way he will conduct his politics in Washington depends very much on his team. Today they will announce who his team is. His transition team is known but the key positions will start to be filled. Some of the names around him are known. Tony Blankin the other names escape me. The person who headed the International Crisis Group and others are all expected to take key positions. And those again are known leaders with a very clear track record on human rights be it on international issues from a moral point of view.
So ultimately it is not only Biden it is his team. And let us remember that he has not secured a majority of Democrats in the senate. This may change. But now his hand will be tied. The lobbies that are in Washington will play a critical role as always be it the Israeli lobby, be it the Saudi lobby, the Bahraini, the Kurdish or the Armenian or any other lobby. Some of those lobbies are very seasoned. They have access to the staff, they have access to the team, they know how to fed arguments and they know how to influence events.
It is one thing to stand from a distance and label and judge the policies that are adopted. It is another to try to look at how these things are shaped from within. I think the Trump years have left the US weaker in general. Having looked at the evolution of the US as the strongest economy, the leader of the Western world during those four Trump years it has weakened significantly. America is pulling out of its global role. Trump very much acted against the Republican Party considering the Republican Party as part of the establishment. Stirring up very raw, crude lets us say feelings, prejudices, emotions and building a power base but very much against the establishment and many governors and senior people traditional establishment Republican leaders have urged voters to vote against Trump.
The outcome of all this is that America has emerged as a weaker country. Where is Biden going to take us from here? I think for sure he is going to go back as I said to well defined policies. He will work with international organisations be it the UN or NATO. He will try and reach out to Europe. He will try and build alliances, he will try to engage in international treaties.
He will wave the policy of carrot and stick that Trump used and engage some more in politics. So that is likely to have an impact in particular in the Middle East. One thing Trump did was he did not want to engage in the politics of the Middle East. He actually sub contracted a lot of the Middle East work to Israel. So Israel had an expanded role during the Trump years. It has reached out and the fact that he pushed down the throat of the Gulf countries and Sudan the peace deal irrespective and Israel took full advantage of it and expanded. This will not be sustained under Biden.
America will re engage in the politics of the Middle East. There will be some rebalancing here. Not much. I don’t know. The Palestinians have received some signals or the Israelis have received some signals. As I said it is to early to make a prediction.
In the bigger picture Trump made China the number one rival or competitor from an American point of view maybe quite rightly. China is rivalling the US definitely on its economic power for sure and maybe beyond. So his focus on China has benefitted Russia. I am not very sure that approach will be sustained by Biden.
Looking again at the Middle East the advantage Biden has is that Trump passed many cards to Biden. So Biden will enter into negotiations with many countries. Let us say that in the nuclear agreement with Iran his hands are very strong. There are many sanctions against Iran and Biden is prepared to play poker with them. He is prepared to put some cards on the table but in return he will demand more concessions from Iran.
The Israelis hands are stronger. For them to abandon some of the cards that Trump gave them they will again focus on a few gains from American. There are still two months before Trump leaves office. They can be a critical two months. There is still a lot of speculation about his minister of defense resigning. Not only his minister of defense, a number of senior staff at the Pentagon resigning and being filled by unseasoned immature people but really filling the space. Yes sir type of staff.
There is speculation out in the media if Trump is going to do anything he is not going to do it against Iran. This has become clear. It will either be in Iraq or in Lebanon and Syria. It is unlikely to be in Syria because Russia has taken that responsibility. So the two that are left are Lebanon or Iraq. I am playing down the Yemen card because it is not that critical. I think the ones that are critical are Lebanon and Iraq. Lebanon is too hot. It will set fire to the region. It is more likely. He will take some proactive action in Iraq.
Iraq is in a fragile transition. In six months there will be elections. There is a lot of speculation about the stability of Iraq. There will be a lot of changes in the Middle East. The good news it that it is unlikely there will be an intentional war, or tension or escalation. The bad news is it might happen anyway because the scene is so complex and full of challenges and unless you have skilled hands and mature politicians on all sides I think we are still going to pass a dangerous phase.
Roshan Mohammad Salih: Good evening. Happy to be here again. I run a big British Muslim news website in the UK but obviously we have viewers and readers all over the world. I am going to talk about Trump and Biden through the lens of my readers and what they have been telling me. I will put my own opinions in there as well.
It might surprise you that Muslims generally are not universally anti Trump. We saw in America that the vast majority of American Muslims – around 70 percent – voted for Trump. Whereas around the world it is much more nuanced and it depends on the region we are talking about.
I am not particularly looking forward to a post Trump world and it may surprise you to know that a lot of Muslims are not particularly looking forward to it either. So what I say is through my own lens and that of my readers. The two candidates obviously have their pros and their cons. It is not a black and white issue and a Biden presidency will not necessarily be better than a Trump presidency.
In terms of Trump’s foreign policy record I will not repeat what the other speakers have said. I will run through it very quickly. He has avoided major wars that America has been involved in. He has avoided that. But that is a big stick in his armory. Instead he has opted for smaller scale conflicts such as that against ISIS in Iraq, a sanctions strategy against his enemies such as Iran and of course the major weapon sales that Sarah was speaking about earlier.
I think his most consequential actions have been with regard to Iran and Israel. So Iran with drawing from the nuclear deal, the pressure strategy when it comes to sanctions, the assassination of General Sulaimani earlier on this year on January 1st. With Israel Trump is being spoken of as being the most pro Israel administration in US history, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the embassy there, recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
Then we have peace deals with Bahrain, the UAE, Sudan, perhaps Oman. Saudi Arabia to come. Cutting off funds to Palestinian groups like UNRWA is the most prominent of them. But when we look back at history we might say that Trump’s domestic legacy is much more important than his foreign policy because right now he appears to be dividing the nation. The peaceful transfer of power is not happening and he has literally got a vast section of the population who are die hard supports and they hate the other half. Maybe I am exaggerating a little bit. It seems to me that America in the next few years will become internally rather than externally focused.
You can argue from a Muslim perspective that that is actually a good thing. We have seen with Brexit for example Britain is now much more focused on domestic issues, on Scottish independence, on the Irish question. It is not thinking about foreign wars. I think you could plausibly argue from a Muslim perspective that the divide in America is actually good for the Muslim world.
In terms of Muslim reaction to the election. As you know 69 or 70 percent of American Muslims voted for Biden. It is clear that they were pro Biden, the anti-Muslim rhetoric has gone through the roof so it is obvious that American Muslims are not comfortable. But through the surveys that I have done through my website and I must admit anecdotal evidence as well it seems to me it might be a 60 world split around the world Muslims: will probably be 60 percent for Biden, 40 percent for Trump.
Many feel, quite frankly that they prefer an open enemy rather than a sneaky enemy. That is why Palestinians would say they prefer Netanyahu to a left wing Israeli government. So they feel Trump was not interested in getting involved in a major war in the Middle East despite his rhetoric. I have to speak frankly. There is a huge amount of resentment. There are lots of non Muslims here as well so I am going to chose my words carefully. There is a lot of resentment in the Muslim world towards the United States. And that is not something that we can gloss over.
We have had several major wars in the last two decades Afghanistan and Iraq being the major examples. Libya is a more recent example and then Syria as well. Frankly Muslims around the world are just sick and tired of these wars and these brutal economic sanctions as well. Economic warfare also kills people and causes huge suffering.
So that is the reason why that 40 percent might have secretly or openly wanted Trump to win because they feel that Trump is dividing America. And dividing America is good for the rest of the Muslim world because America becomes internally and not externally focused.
In terms of Biden those who like Biden would have said that ultimately the consensus is that he is going to continue US foreign policy by and large but with a kinder rhetoric, with a kinder face. But one thing in his favour is that he is much more of a stable person than Donald Trump. The worst thing about Trump for foreign governments is that although they might have liked him he was incredibly unpredictable. He could have done anything. And when governments look at each other they want stability. They want predictability for people even if they are enemies. They want their friends to be predictable and they want their friends to be predictable. Donald Trump was anything but that.
So in terms of a Biden foreign policy he is unlikely to radically reverse Trump’s foreign policies but there could be two big exceptions. That could be Iran and Yemen. When it comes to Iran with Obama he was an architect of that. He has pledged to reenter the nuclear deal and to negotiate with the Iranians. The Iranians have said they are not going to negotiate anything whatsoever.
And it is interesting because I have a lot of Iranian friends and they also were split about who they wanted to win. You might think that Iranians definitely wanted Biden to win. After four years of Trump they were on the verge of war they would all want Biden to win. But obviously there is a big constituency in Iran which you could call the conservatives who felt that an open enemy was better and they want to undermine the reformists so they were secretly hoping that Trump would win.
Israel-Palestine. Biden is obviously a strong advocate of Israel. Israel is unlikely to change in terms of substance. He will change in rhetoric compared to the Trump era no doubt about that but he is not going to reverse those major moves that Trump made in terms of moving the embassy to Jerusalem, the peace deals, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan. He will probably restore ties with the PLO. Whether that makes any difference realistically I don’t think it does. I have said for many years that the two-state solution is a dead duck. The Israelis destroyed it with settlements. Ultimately when international politicians talk about the two-state solution they are just hood winking everybody because they know it is dead as well. They are just kicking the problem down the road.
Even a left winger like Jeremy Corbyn when he was Labour Party leader would pay homage to the two-state solution. I am sure he knows it is a dead duck as well. It is an example of politicians and commentators taking the audience for fools really. Every single person, even those who are invested in the process know that it is not possible. This will not happen. So Biden will not approve of things like the West Bank annexation. He has already said that Israel needs to stop the settlements because they choke off any hope of peace. But he is not going to reverse any of those major Trump era moves.
In terms of Saudi Arabia obviously they had this very personal relationship especially Jerad Kushner and BS. That might be missing from the US-Saudi partnership. But the US has been a constant pillar of Gulf security over the last 50 years with that deal: cheap oil in return for security. Biden has nevertheless committed to reassess Saudi-US relations. He has said he wants to end the disasterous Saudi war on Yemen, reassess the relationship with Saudi Arabia. “I would want to hear how Saudi Arabia wants to change its approach to work with a more responsible US administration” he said in remarks to the Council on Foreign relations. Probably he will also push Saudi and the Gulf states to end the blockade of Qatar.
In terms of Turkey that is an interesting one because obviously Trump and Erdogan had a bit of a romance. They had a good relationship and Trump turned a blind eye to a lot of Erdogan’s activities that Congress wanted him to address. We know that Turkey has grown more aggressive in the last few years. It will be interesting to see the relationship between Erdogan and Biden because Biden has actually called for regime change, peaceful regime change, but he has actually called for regime change to topple Erdogan.
To conclude I do not expect the US and the Muslim world to suddenly become friends because Donald Trump has gone. I think there is a fundamental issue with the US presence in the Middle East which a powerful nation like Iran opposes and Iranian allies oppose. And then Saudi and other major nations in the region desperately want the US to stay. That is a major issue and it won’t go away.
We are going to see a lowering of the rhetoric in the Biden era if it happens. I am still not convinced that it is going to happen. Lets see. But there will certainly be more predictability from Biden compared to Trump. But I would still say that if an event forces Biden’s hand just like George Busy Jnr came into power saying he wasn’t interested in foreign wars but then 9/11 happened and events forced his hand and the rest is history. If an event forces Biden’s hand I do not expect his foreign policy to me much different to that of Donald Trump.
*Sarah Leah Whitson is the Managing Director for Research and Policy at the Quincy Institute. Previously, she served as executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division from 2004 – 2019, overseeing the work of the division in 19 countries, with staff located in 10 countries. She has led dozens of advocacy and investigative missions throughout the region, focusing on issues of armed conflict, accountability, legal reform, migrant workers, and human rights. She has published widely on human rights and foreign policy in the Middle East in international and regional media, including The New York Times, Foreign Policy, The Los Angeles Times, and CNN. She appears regularly on Al-Jazeera, BBC, NPR, and CNN. Before joining Human Rights Watch, Whitson worked in New York for Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Law School. Whitson is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is on the boards of the Artistic Freedom Initiative and Democracy for the Arab World Now. She speaks Armenian and Arabic.
**Dr Laith Kubba was senior advisor to Iraqi Prime Minister and a spokesman for the Iraqi government. He was also a senior director for Middle East and North Africa programs at the National Endowment for Democracy since 1999. He was formerly director of international relations at the Al-Khoei Foundation in London, a global charity and faith-based endowment, and founded the International Forum for Islamic Dialogue, a London-based network of liberal Muslim activists and intellectuals. He regularly contributes in global media talks on democratization in the Middle East and North Africa, Islam and democracy, and politics in Iraq. Dr. Kubba holds a B.A. from the University of Baghdad, Iraq, and a Ph.D. from the University of Wales, UK.
***Roshan Muhammed Salih has been a journalist for 21 years. After a brief stint in teaching he started his career in local newspapers in the UK before moving into TV journalism with London Weekend Television. He then went to work at Al Jazeera’s new English website in Qatar. Upon his return to the UK a few years later he became head of news at Islam Channel between 2005-2007. He then moved onto Press TV where he was head of news in London for five years. During his career he has reported from over 25 countries. Highlights include the Iraq war and occupation, the Pakistan earthquake in 2006, the Lebanon/Israel war, the Iran nuclear crisis, the Egyptian revolution, the Libyan revolution, the World Cup, the Olympics and much, much more. On a personal level, Roshan is 46 years old and of mixed Sri Lankan/Welsh heritage. He likes travel, reading and sport, and speaks fluent French and good Arabic.