Below are summaries of recent editions of the Arab Digest daily newsletter that got our members talking. Please click the links below each summary to read the full newsletter.
Living Together in Tunisia
Summary: Tunisia is rich in diverse cultures, religions and races which has made it one of the most open-minded countries in the region. Yet resistance to plurality remains, in particular among Islamist groups.
We thank Dr. Khedija Arfaoui for the chapter we circulate below. Dr. Khedija Arfaoui is an independent researcher, feminist, and former English instructor at the Higher Institute of Languages in Tunis. A long time actor and leader in Tunisian civil society, she has lectured and written widely on human rights and women’s issues, and has been a frequent workshop leader at home and abroad.
Political Islam diminished
Summary: following eclipse of Western-style nationalism, socialism and fake democracy, political Islam prevailed in MENA for 40 years. But degraded by violence, now losing support and giving way to autocracy.
We are pleased to present here the next chapter in our forthcoming new e-book ‘The Future of the Middle East’ co-produced by Global Policy and Arab Digest. Freely available chapters are available here and will be collected into a final downloadable publication later in the year.
This chapter, for which we thank Robin Lamb, argues that the appeal of political Islam has severely been diminished in most countries, but what comes next may not be any better.
Prerequisites for Peace in Palestine/Israel
Summary: Moving beyond the cycles of failure requires engagement in a process of decolonization of Palestine, new framings and new assumptions about why this conflict persists. Only by addressing the imbalance of power and ending the Israeli occupation in the short term can future long-term solutions be discussed.
We are pleased to announce today the publication of the twenty-second chapter of our new e-book ‘The Future of the Middle East’ co-produced by Global Policy and Arab Digest.
Today’s chapter, by Dr. Alaa Tartir, questions fundamental assumptions about the persistence of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and considers prerequisites for alternative strategies. It argues that without addressing people’s perceptions and beliefs peace will remain elusive, and that only by addressing the imbalance of power and ending the Israeli occupation in the short term can future long-term solutions be discussed.
The New Neocons and the Middle East
Summary: Perhaps especially following the ouster of Stephen Bannon, there are some parallels between what seems to be happening presently inside the Trump Administration and the shifting dynamics inside the Administration of George W Bush which led to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
We circulate today an updated version of Chapter 11 of our new serialised e-book ‘The Future of the Middle East’. Since this chapter was first published in April, there have been a number of developments, both in Washington and in the region, which demand an update. What follows is, therefore, a revised version of the original chapter which looks to take account of these developments. This being said, the main thrust of the chapter remains as in the original version.
Lebanon: Losing the Peace?
Summary: A generation after the end of Lebanon’s civil war, the country still faces enormous internal and external challenges which continue to hold it back from fulfilling its potential. There is little reason to suppose that things are about to change for the better; indeed, the risks appear to be heavily skewed to the downside.
Today’s chapter, by Nadine Windsor, considers the future of Lebanon. Nadine is currently the Head of Credit Trading and Investments at First Abu Dhabi Bank, which is the second largest bank in the Middle East by assets. She has more than 12 years of experience in the Finance industry and started her career working for Lehman Brothers in London before moving to the United Arab Emirates in 2009. Nadine is French-Lebanese and lives in Abu Dhabi. She has a Masters, specialized in Accounting and Market Finance from HEC Paris, a leading European Business School. Nadine speaks, reads and writes fluently French, English and Arabic.
Drug abuse in Saudi Arabia
Summary: Allegations of MBN’s drug abuse finally reported in mainstream media; royal family members and Interior Ministry officials suspected of being responsible for importing and distributing large quantities of illegal drugs into the Kingdom.
After Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was relieved of all his positions on 21 June he was placed under house arrest. On 19 July Reuters published an article in which “a source close to MbN” was quoted as saying the king had ordered him to step aside on account of his addiction to painkilling drugs. On 21 July a second Reuters article was published quoting a “source close to Saudi Arabia’s rulers” saying that MbN had been dismissed “because he was incapacitated by morphine and cocaine addiction, often falling asleep at public events after he became crown prince in 2015.”
The intersection of Wahhabism and Jihad
Summary: Chapter 20 of new e-book looks at the evolution of three different paths of Wahhabism and considers how they intersect with one another and with the global Jihad phenomenon.
Today’s chapter, for which we thank Mohammed Al Jarman, looks at the evolution of three tracks of Wahhabism, their evolution and intersection with one another, and with the phenomenon of global jihad. Mohammed is a candidate for MS in Global Affairs at New York University and a senior graduate researcher at the Qatar Foundation.
An impulsive actor in the Middle East
Summary: Chapter 19 of new e-book examines the rise of Erdoğan and considers the prospect of Turkey overcoming his grip.
Today’s chapter, for which we thank Bitte Hammargren, reflects on Erdoğan’s rule, the failed coup and its aftermath, and the future of Turkish foreign relations. Bitte is the Programme Leader of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.
Islam and the West: Recognition, Reconciling, Co-existence or Collision
Summary: Chapter 18 of new e-book examines the relationship between Islam and the West from first encounters to the Libyan revolution, and calls for dialogue between the West and the Muslim world.
We are grateful to Ashur Shamis for today’s chapter. Ashur is a distinguished Libyan writer and long-time political activist. When Gaddafi came to power in 1969, he was studying Aeronautical Engineering in the United Kingdom. Since 1971 he has lived in exile in the UK.
Global Oil and the Future of OPEC
Summary: Chapter 17 of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book argues that OPEC members need to address the question of how they intend to exploit their massive reserves as the world gets weaned away from oil.
Mehdi is an independent Global Energy Consultant. From 2001-2017, he was Director of Varzi Energy Ltd, an independent international energy consultancy, during which time he sat on various oil company boards either as non-executive director or adviser to the chairman.
Corruption in Saudi Arabia
Summary: Inconsistencies and manipulation of Saudi government economic data online are fuelling claims that the royal family is misappropriating the national wealth.
As Saudi Arabia presses ahead with its economic reform programme it has been increasing the level of transparency, a step that won praise from the IMF after they completed their staff mission to the Kingdom this month.
Algeria: Will the Failure to Reform Economically further Fuel Islamism?
Summary: Chapter 16 of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book argues that in the aftermath of the ‘Black Decade’ Algeria has been largely successful in countering the domestic terrorism threat. But its failure to fix the economy stands to fuel still present Islamist militancy, risking a return to civil conflict.
Kahina Bouagache is a corporate lawyer with North Africa/Maghreb expertise. She is a member of the “Women’s Legal Group ME”, an international law firm focusing on women’s and children’s rights providing pro-bono support for women’s rights NGOs.
Iran: Nationalists versus Internationalists (again)
Summary: As has been the case recently in the US and Europe, Iran’s 19 May presidential election can be seen as a choice between nationalists and internationalists, with a significant degree of uncertainty around the outcome.
Today we welcome back as guest editor Alastair Newton, a former career diplomat and immediate past-President of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies. Alastair runs his own consultancy, Alavan Business Advisory, based in Livingstone Zambia.
Shortly after this post was written news broke that another of the electoral candidates, Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, has withdrawn from the presidential race.
US-Iran Relations: From Nuclear Deal to Renewed Tensions?
Summary: Chapter 15 of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book considers US-Iran relations and suggests that what the US is really seeking is to manage a sectarian ‘competitive balance of rivalries’ between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Christopher Davidson teaches Middle East politics at Durham University. He is the author of several books on the Gulf states and the wider region, most recently Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle for the Middle East.
GCC States and Social Media Disruption in an Era of Transition
Summary: Chapter 14 of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book examines the impact of social media on the GCC: radical disruption bypassing formal hierarchies and changing social dynamics challenges the leadership and raises security concerns.
Today’s chapter, for which we thank Dr Alanoud Al-Sharekh, looks at the impact of social media on the GCC countries and finds new technologies are having a radical disruptive impact on Gulf societies, bypassing formal hierarchies and changing social behaviour.
The Future of Yemen
Summary: Chapter 13 of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book looks at the future of Yemen and finds that when the war ends the country could break up into a multiplicity of entities. In the longer term mounting environmental problems could drive millions to emigrate.
Today’s chapter, for which we thank Helen Lackner, examines the future of Yemen and finds it hard to be optimistic: the country looks set to split up when the war ends and devastating environmental problems threaten to drive millions of people to emigrate.
Helen worked as a consultant in social aspects of rural development for four decades in over thirty countries, mostly in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. She has been involved in Yemen since the early 1970s where she lived in all three Yemeni states for over 15 years.
Summary: Chapter 12 of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book examines the current state of economic relations around the Mediterranean, traces the regional footprint and outlook for the Turkish economy, and concludes that for conditions to improve regional growth engines are needed in line with the Asian model.
Dr Mina Toksoz is an Honorary Lecturer at the University of Manchester Business School and an Associate Fellow of International Economics at Chatham House (RIIA). She is a specialist in country risk analysis, and an Independent Director on the Supervisory Board of the EIU Country Risk Service. Her book The Economist Guide to Country Risk was published in November 2014. This essay will be part of a panel at the BRISMES conference in July: “The Mediterranean Rim – looking for a growth engine”.
The New Neocons and the Middle East
Summary: Chapter 11 of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book argues that there are some parallels between what seems to be happening presently inside the Trump Administration and the shifting dynamics inside the Administration of George W Bush which led to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Today’s chapter, by Alastair Newton, considers the shifting dynamics inside the Trump Administration and finds parallels with what happened under the administration of George W Bush leading to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Peering Ahead in the Middle East
Summary: Tenth chapter of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal E-book considers the breakdown of the old order in the region, takes a bold look at the future and concludes with some advice for western policymakers.
Today’s chapter, for which we are grateful to Anthony Harris, considers the breakdown of the old order in the region, takes a bold look at the future and concludes with some advice for western policymakers.
The Changing Fortunes of Saudi Arabia
Summary: Ninth chapter of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book finds that Saudi Arabia’s underlying social contract must soon be renegotiated as citizens are required to take personal responsibility for their own livelihoods and economic futures.
Today’s chapter, for which we thank Nick Stadtmiller, finds that the so-called ruling bargain between Gulf monarchs and their populations, a system that has seen decades of largely uninterrupted stability, must now change.
Future Challenges Faced by Iran
Summary: Eighth chapter of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book explores the future outlook for Iran.
Today’s chapter, for which we thank Meir Javedanfar, explores Iran’s challenging future. Meir Javedanfar teaches Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya. He is also a researcher at the Meir Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at the University of Haifa.
Egypt, the Arab Spring and the duping of liberalism
Summary: Seventh chapter of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book argues that to enjoy a democratic future Egypt has to plot a path between a secular security state and theocracy imposed at the ballot box.
Today’s chapter, for which we thank Tom Dinham, argues that Western observers of Egypt need to understand that the Muslim Brotherhood are not unproblematic, or even acceptable, partners for those seeking a democratic future for their country. Yet this does not excuse state violence employed against Brotherhood members not involved in promoting violence, and islamist groups remain a powerful political fact on the ground that cannot be ignored.
Requiem for BICI
Summary: Sixth chapter of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book argues that the promise of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry to examine the violence of 2011 has nearly been forgotten.
Today’s chapter, for which we thank Bill Law, argues that the promise of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry to examine the violence of 2011 has nearly been forgotten.
The US, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf
Summary: Fifth chapter of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book explores how the Gulf monarchies have reacted to their increasingly ambiguous relationship with the US.
Today’s chapter, for which we thank David B. Roberts, explores how the Gulf monarchies have reacted to their increasingly ambiguous relationship with the US. David is Lecturer in the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London, former Director of RUSI Qatar and author of Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City State.
Translating the Informal into the Formal
Summary: Fourth chapter of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book explores the importance of empathy to any negotiating process, using Israel and the PLO as a case study.
Today’s chapter is by Professor George Joffé who researches and teaches the international relations of the Middle East and North Africa at the University of Cambridge. Using the case of Israel and the PLO, he explores the importance of empathy to any negotiating process.
In Anticipation of the Next Cycle of Arab Revolutions
Summary: Third chapter of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book explores the likely implications of the Arab Springs’ counter-revolutions.
Today’s third chapter is by Azzam Tamimi, a British Palestinian writer on Islamic affairs. His books include: Power-Sharing Islam, 1993; Islamic & Secularism in the Middle East, 2000; Rachid Ghannouchi a Democrat within Islamism, 2001; and Hamas Unwritten Chapters, 2007.
US travel ban: Arab Reactions
Summary: Trump’s order affecting seven Muslim countries widely criticised, but governments not affected remain silent.
President Trump’s order banning nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen has aroused strong protest in the USA, UK and elsewhere. UN human rights experts say it breaches America’s international obligations. Reuters reports a poll according to which 31% of Americans said the ban made them feel “more safe,” 26% said it made them feel “less safe” and 33% said it made no difference. Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Washington state have joined other states suing the administration over the ban.
In the Shadow of the Kingdom
Summary: Second chapter of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book by Saudi opposition leader warns of the downfall of the Saudi government and calls for new engagement with the West.
Today’s chapter is by Dr Saad Alfagih, the leading Saudi opposition figure. A surgeon by profession, he is currently the head of the opposition group Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia.
Yemen, Trump and Iran
Summary: military deadlock in Yemen. Saudi coalition stalled. Iran says it is ready to deal. Trump sphinx-like.
The war in Yemen continues; the death toll has now passed 10,000. The UN special envoy who has just returned from a two-day visit to Sanaa is to brief the Security Council on 26 January. We recommend as a concise summary of the war and its background the BBC report available at link, a discussion with Elisabeth Kendall of Oxford University and Safa al-Ahmad, a Saudi journalist.
Making Revolution Islamic Again
Summary: First chapter of new Arab Digest / Global Policy Journal e-book published today. Continuities and new developments in representations of Islam, politics and violence in the Middle East.
We are pleased to announce today the publication of the first chapter of our new free serialised e-book ‘The Future of the Middle East’ which we are producing in conjunction with our partner Global Policy.
Global Policy is an interdisciplinary peer reviewed journal and online platform which aims to bring together academics and practitioners to analyse public and private solutions to global issues. Established in 2010, Global Policy is based at Durham University and edited by David Held and Dani Rodrik.
The question the e-book is trying to address is, what is the future of the Middle East and what are the associated risks and implications for policymakers?
To answer this, we have invited comment from various Arab opposition organisations – political outcasts today, but potential leaders of the Arab world tomorrow – as well as a selection of highly distinguished Western expert contributors.
Today’s first chapter is by Andrew Hammond, a doctoral candidate at St Antony’s College, Oxford University, and author of Popular Culture in the Arab World (forthcoming 2017). It explores the continuities and new developments in representations of Islam, politics and violence in the Middle East.
Britain and Israel
Summary: UK at odds with Kerry on Israel, will have to take policy decisions with one eye on Trump. Revelations about Israeli subversion in Britain.
The Palestine problem is never off the international agenda. For historical reasons and because of its permanent membership of the Security Council Britain is always involved and is sometimes seen as a lead nation. A number of forthcoming events are likely to require Britain and other states to take and defend a policy position. The first is the conference to be held in Paris on 15 January, which according to Paris “will give the participants an opportunity to present a comprehensive incentive package to encourage the resumption of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Only they will be able to conclude a peace deal directly.”
The fog of war
Summary: in the information age a lack of sound reporting compounds the difficulties of understanding events in Syria and the region.
We have referred in a couple of recent postings to the fog of war. With three hot wars raging in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, we have seen in the last few days shocking events elsewhere which appear to be linked to those wars to a greater or lesser extent: a clash between security forces and “terrorist outlaws” in Kerak, Jordan, which left thirteen dead, the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, an incident in Berlin in which a lorry driven into a Christmas market crowd killed twelve and injured forty-eight, and a shooting incident in a Zurich mosque in which three were injured.
Trump and Israel
Summary: Trump appoints David Friedman as ambassador to Israel. Embassy likely to move to Jerusalem. Strong adverse reaction from liberal Jewish opinion.
Yesterday 15 December Donald Trump’s transition team announced the nomination of David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel. Friedman is one of Trump’s lawyers, a bankruptcy specialist and Trump’s campaign adviser on Jewish world issues. He has described himself as a personal friend of Trump for fifteen years. According to the Times of Israel he is also president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organization that supports a large West Bank settlement just outside Ramallah.
Saudi women: still not driving
Prince Walid makes the case for allowing Saudi women to drive. Women’s issues always in the news.
On 29 November Prince al-Walid bin Talal tweeted “Stop the debate. Time for women to drive”, issuing a four-page statement in Arabic and English making the case for change (there is some confusion about the precise date; the statement is dated 24 November).
Many new faces in Kuwait’s parliament
Summary: Kuwait’s elections go smoothly. Many new faces in parliament, likely to oppose austerity measures.
Government will Parliamentary elections took place in Kuwait on 26 November (as discussed in our posting of 14 November) calmly and without any reported adverse incident. Only Kuwaiti citizens, about 30% of the population, could vote. Thirty out of fifty members of the previous Parliament lost their seats in a strong turnout of 70% (suggesting an increased number of women voting as this was the highest turnout since votes for women were reintroduced in 2005).
Trump: the Arab world
Summary: evidence of Trump’s intentions is limited and contradictory. Changes expected on Syria and Iran, Sisi enthusiastic, but nothing is clear.
Commentators all over the world including in the Middle East are trying to assess what Donald Trump’s success in the presidential election will mean for the region. But the necessary factual base for assessment is thin to non-existent. We will have to wait.
US/Russian Accord on Cessation of Hostilities in Syria
Summary: the truce in Syria agreed between the US and Russian foreign ministers is a military accord. It has checked the fighting and opened the door to much needed aid but to succeed it must be followed by political agreement.
First reports this morning 13 September for example from the BBC and from the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights are that the truce in Syria is being observed although as expected there have been some violations but with violence at a much reduced level.
Once again we welcome as guest editor, Basil Eastwood, former British Ambassador to Syria. The opinions in the article below are his own.
Summary: not top news in the Middle East. A few hostile or eccentric reactions.
The news of Brexit has had less impact in the Middle East than in other world regions, and such comment as we have seen is understandably confused. A headline in the Abu Dhabi-based The National is “It’s the end of the world as we know it – again”. Extensive coverage of Brexit on the Al Jazeera English website does not refer to the Middle East at all.
Saudi ban on … Pokémon
Summary: Pokémon craze brings out the nannies and moralisers worldwide, but banned only in Saudi Arabia – it’s an “innovation”.
A new form of the game Pokémon has become a worldwide craze (an earlier form was a craze ten years ago). For those not familiar with it, the game uses Google Maps data to put characters (pocket monsters, hence apparently the name) into real geographic locations. As the player walks along his smartphone tracks his position in the world, and he is able to spot and capture the characters he come across. The Cairo-based Ahram online gives more detail in Q & A form.
Britain and the Middle East: the myth
Summary: the belief that Britain pulls the strings in the Middle East survives all evidence to the contrary. A dash of paranoia and more than a dash of history – result, fantasy.
We circulate below an article published on the Al Arabiya website by Chris Doyle, director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding, on the enduring belief in the Middle East that Britain pulls all the strings, a mixture of historical fact, exaggeration, misunderstanding and sheer fantasy. It would be interesting to know to what extent Americans, Frenchmen, Russians etc encounter similar myths; probably they do but surely not to the same extent as the British.
Al Jazeera at 20
Summary: Twenty years after Al Jazeera started broadcasting the Arab media landscape has transformed from a sterile desert into a noisy, bustling souq.
Before Al Jazeera exploded on Arab TV screens 20 years ago the main function of the Arab media remained essentially unchanged since Ottoman times: to report on the precious health of the Sultan. Al Jazeera shattered this tradition and helped create first a media revolution, then a real one, across much of the Arab world. In the process, it established itself as a global media brand and one of the world’s largest news organisations, with more than 80 bureaux around the world. The network continues to cause controversies and in the past few years has been banned from several Arab countries including Bahrain, Egypt and Algeria. In April it was banned from reporting in Iraq.
Yemen: pre-Trump diplomatic activity
Summary: fighting continues – grinding stalemate. UN roadmap unlikely to run while Saudi bombing continues. Kerry in Oman talks.
Since our posting of 4 November there has been no let up in the fighting in Yemen, but in the last few days there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity.
A New York Times report of 13 November describes “a grinding stalemate, systematically obliterating Yemen’s already bare-bones economy… The Saudi-led coalition is hitting civilian targets, like factories, bridges and power stations, that critics say have no clear link to the rebels. In the rubble, the remains of American munitions have been found.” Reuters reports that yesterday 14 November at least 14 people were killed in central Yemen in air strikes on fuel trucks by the Arab coalition; the Saudi spokesman said a convoy was carrying ammunition and other supplies for the Houthis.