Sample Newsletters

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.

Boundaries in the Arab world and their remarkable durability

Summary: the boundaries of Arab states, mainly drawn by colonial powers, have shown remarkable durability. In some instances, these boundaries have been challenged but such challenges have generally failed to change the map of the region.

We are again grateful to Greg Shapland for this posting. He is a writer on politics, security and resources in the MENA region. He was Head of Research Analysts in the FCO from 2010-13 and is now an Associate Fellow at Chatham House.

Read more

Syria: government gains, international complications

Summary: Asad government strengthens its position, but still faces rebels in two main areas. US does a deal with Turkey and concentrates on mopping up IS. Coalition bombing of Raqqa criticised.

In our posting of 16 April we commented that Syrian government forces had won another significant victory, taking control of eastern Ghouta close to Damascus, but that the war was very far from over. That is still the case, but the international players are beginning to concentrate on the end game.

Read more

Rendition, defection in the Gulf

Summary: The humanitarian impact of the Qatar blockade; a Saudi-Qatari prince is rendered from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia; a senior UAE prince defects to Doha via the Qatari embassy in London. Rumours of US-brokered talks in Switzerland to resolve the crisis.

Despite another attempt by the White House to resolve the situation last month, the dispute between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc continues. “The information in our hands today does not indicate any glimmer of hope for a solution now, as the matter does not happen suddenly,” Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said on Sunday.

Read more

Libya: another peace conference

Summary: Macron gets verbal agreement on elections from the main players. Many disagree. Outlook uncertain.

Yesterday 30 May President Macron hosted a one-day conference on Libya. It was attended by the four most representative political figures in Libya today, Fayiz al-Sarraj prime minister of the UN backed Government of National Accord, Khalifa Haftar commander of the “Libyan National Army” which controls eastern Libya with the exception of Derna, Aqila Salih speaker of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and Khalid al-Mishri, the newly-elected head of the High Council of State (described in an International Crisis Group report as a “Muslim Brotherhood affiliate”).

Read more

Iran: misunderstandings and miscalculations

Summary: Trump has reneged on the Iran nuclear deal. Aim to cut Iran down to size but without a strategy to achieve it. Other parties to the deal unlikely to play his game. Tehran’s position likely to harden, sharper confrontation with Israel, impact on world oil.

Once again we are grateful to Alastair Newton for the article below, which will shortly be published on the Global Lead website.  Alastair worked as a professional political analyst in the City of London from 2005 to 2015. Before that he spent 20 years as a career diplomat with the British Diplomatic Service.

Read more

Renewable energy in the Middle East and North Africa

Summary: the region is a good one for solar and wind energy. Wide recognition of the possibilities, but action is patchy and mostly disappointing.

In our posting of 2 December 2015, on the occasion of the opening of the giant solar thermal plant on the edge of the Moroccan Sahara at Ouarzazate, we described the extraordinarily low level of renewable energy production in the Middle East and North Africa and forecast rapid change.

Read more

Turkey, Israel, and the Gaza crisis

Summary: Turkey is Israel’s sixth largest trade partner but the Palestine issue poisons relations; the Turkish public and opposition demand action over Gaza; Turkey and the US also bitterly at odds over a range of major issues.

The emir of Kuwait, the king of Jordan and the Egyptian foreign minister are among the notables attending the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s extraordinary summit in Istanbul today. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is hosting and so expectations are high the meeting will deliver a punchy message to the U.S. and Israel about the recent killing by Israeli forces of 60 Palestinians on the Gaza border. As Turkish relations with Israel deteriorate again, differences between the Saudi-lead bloc plus Israel and the Iran-Qatar-Turkey axis become more entrenched.

Read more

Socotra

Summary: UAE deploys troops in Socotra provoking local protests and anger from Hadi government officials; Saudi Arabia intervenes, solves the dispute and deploys its own troops.

Socotra is a large island (82 miles long, 31 miles wide) in the Arabian Sea at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden, 150 miles east of the Horn of Africa and 240 miles south of the coast of Yemen. It is physically inhospitable, mountainous and with no good harbour. The rainfall is light but spread throughout the year, and the island has an extraordinary range of unique fauna and especially flora, recognised by UNESCO as a world natural heritage site in 2008. It has about 50,000 inhabitants, and a unique language, Socotran, akin to the Mahri language spoken in eastern Yemen across the water.

Read more

Iraq: Sadr in the lead

Summary: Iraqi elections unexpectedly show Muqtada al-Sadr in the lead, which will be unwelcome to both Washington and Tehran. Coalition forming won’t be easy.

The elections in Iraqi appear to have been conducted successfully, with no violent incidents reported. Turnout was 44.5%, not surprisingly much lower than in previous polls given the turmoil which has displaced so many Iraqis, above all the rise and fall of IS (considered in our posting of 7 May).

Read more

The UAE’s Foreign Policy – 2018 Edition

Summary: UAE’s ambitious foreign policy. Supporting non-oil investment in new areas such as Central Asia, preparing for non-US future, alliance with Saudi Arabia, opposition to Islamists and Qatar. Painful mistakes to be learned from.

We are grateful to Dr. Christopher Davidson for the article below. He teaches Middle East politics at Durham University, and 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.

Read more

Pilgrims to Mecca: restrictions and complaints

Summary: sites in the holy places loved by pilgrims but regarded as idolatrous to be closed down. International concern ineffective. Contrast with MBS’s declared intentions.

Saudi Arabia attaches great importance to its responsibility for the custody of the holy places, above all Mecca and Medina. Muslims of all kinds visit them from all over the world, especially to perform the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once (subject to various exceptions), but also throughout the year to perform the Umra or lesser pilgrimage, as an act of devotion.

Read more

Syria: missile attack

Summary: US/French/UK strikes against chemical weapons facilities. Success in narrow terms, limited impact in Syria and the region. The war goes on.

Contrary to the (guarded) forecast in our posting of 13 April the USA, France and UK carried out missile attacks on what they said were chemical weapons facilities in Syria in the early hours of 14 April. The evidence and facts as the Allies saw them are summarised by Reuters at link. The operation was successful in the sense that the facilities were destroyed.

Read more

Honour killing

Summary: a euphemism for extra judicial killing to protect the reputation of a family. Ancient and widespread, but information other than anecdotal exceptionally hard to find.

“Honour” crime is a euphemism for violence whose object is to protect the reputation of a family. According to a useful summary in the BBC ethics guide “Honour killing is the murder of a person accused of ‘bringing shame’ upon their family.” It has a long history, at least from Roman times, and is a global phenomenon. Any number of cases are reported, often with detail. A global figure of around 5,000 killings a year is often quoted. But it is exceptionally difficult to pin it down in a comprehensive report.

Read more

Three years of war in Yemen, what has the MBS-led coalition achieved?

Summary: deadlock after three years’ war, with the Saudi coalition mis-perceiving the indigenous Huthi movement as an Iranian puppet, and the Huthis still in control of territory including the capital, but increasingly corrupt and oppressive. Population destitute and dying. Some hints of a negotiation. UN and outside powers may be reviewing a policy which has become untenable.

In our most recent posting on Yemen (5 February) we concentrated on the problems of the south. Today we return to the main international conflict in northern and central Yemen between the Huthis and the Saudi-led coalition.

Read more

The Smoke and Mirrors Effect of Lebanese Banks Exiting Syria

Summary: The Syrian economy is growing again and banks that stayed through the war are waiting to capitalize on Syria’s peace dividend. Lebanese banks should be the best placed, but some are leaving the market because Washington has upped the ante against Hezbollah’s global financial enterprise.

Regional private banks operating in Syria have endured high security, operational, financial and reputational risks by staying in the country since the outset of protests in 2011. Now that talks about reconstruction have started to gather pace, they all expect a potential windfall to turn things around.

Read more

New UK military base in Kuwait

Summary: UK and Kuwaiti governments in discussions to consider options to enhance the UK military presence in Kuwait.

Last month British Ambassador to Kuwait Michael Davenport revealed that Britain is considering establishing a permanent military presence in Kuwait at the request of its government.

Read more

MBS spread his wings

Summary: MBS announces jumbo development in Egypt: UK and USA next in line. More miscellaneous social and economic reforms, but oppressive measures an own goal.

During a visit to Egypt, his first public trip abroad since he became Crown Prince last year, MBS reportedly signed a $10 billion agreement for the construction of a 1,000 km² mega city in south Sinai. This is intended to link up with Neom, the planned 26,000 km² city and economic zone to be constructed in Saudi Arabia on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba, via a causeway/bridge passing across the islands of Tiran and Sanafir (our posting of 13 April 2016).

MBS goes on to visit Britain tomorrow 6 March, and after that the USA.

Read more

The many-headed hydra: Islamic militancy in Egypt

Sisi’s second presidential term will be challenged by Islamic extremism.  The long-standing violence in Sinai is only one, albeit the most active, hotspot. Problems are worsening in Lower Egypt, too, as a result of the marginalisation of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.  It is not certain, however, that the Egyptian government will be as successful in combating such militancy as it was in the 1990s in dealing with the Gami’at Islamiyya.

We are once again grateful to George Joffé, Research Associate at the London Middle East Institute in SOAS, for the article below.

On February 9th, the Egyptian army spokesman announced that the army and the police in Sinai had launched a major anti-terrorism campaign, just over one month before the presidential elections, which are expected to confirm Abdelfattah Sisi as Egypt’s president for a further four-year term, are due to start.

Read more

Quasi-Democracy – Egyptian Style

Summary: Egypt’s presidential election promises to be a lesson in ‘façade democracy’ and is unlikely to resolve any of the basic issues that Egypt faces, despite the IMF’s recent words of encouragement.

We are once again grateful to George Joffé, Research Associate at the London Middle East Institute in SOAS, for the article below.

Egypt’s new National Elections Authority has decided that, between March 26th and March 28th this year, Egyptians resident in Egypt are to vote in the first round of the  elections which will decide who the country’s next president will be.

Read more

Fighting in Aden: southern separatists, regional rivalries

Summary: southern separatists take Aden. Another blow to the credibility of the internationally recognised government of President Hadi, and the appearance of a split in the coalition between Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

International attention on Yemen is mainly focused on the war between the Houthis, Zaidi Shia tribes whose heartland is in the mountains of the far north of the country but whose control now extends to Sanaa and much of Western and Central Yemen, and the government of President Hadi, recognised by the United Nations and militarily supported by the Saudi-led coalition but with minimal presence in Yemen itself.

Read more

Prisoners in the Ritz

Summary: Riyadh Ritz reopening soon, remaining prisoners moving to Al Ha’ir prison. Most capitulated, holdouts including Prince Walid bin Talal continue to face torture by mercenary for their confessions and foreign assets. Sex party leaks destroy ex-Telecoms chief Saud Al Daweesh.

Saudi authorities say they are winding up a major part of the purge and the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh will reopen as a normal hotel again soon. Besides one severely limited BBC report in the early days of the crackdown information about what has been going on inside the hotel for the last two and a half months has been sparse.

Read more

An open-letter from Prince Turki bin Faisal to President Donald Trump

Summary: Prince Turki bin Faisal, former head of Saudi intelligence, writes a polemical letter to President Trump criticising his announcement on Jerusalem.

Yesterday 10 December an English text was circulated which appeared to be a draft letter from Prince Turki bin Faisal, former head of Saudi intelligence, to President Trump criticising the announcement on Jerusalem . We understand that the letter has now been published in a Saudi newspaper. The English text circulated yesterday is below.

Read more

Useful idiots

Summary: Tom Friedman’s interview with MBS was a missed opportunity to make MBS answer some hard questions about corruption and the Yemen war. As austerity measures continue and the royal family seek to extract revenge, the purge will backfire like MBS’s other policies.

Saudi Arabia is one of the least penetrable countries in the world. Freedom of speech and association are severely curtailed and foreign journalists who dare criticise the regime find themselves promptly expelled or otherwise lose access that effectively ends their career. Conversely journalists who show an aptitude for disseminating Saudi propaganda unchallenged thrive in the Kingdom and are always invited back. Pulitzer prize winning journalist Tom Friedman’s interview with Mohammed bin Salman is his third since MBS rose to prominence. Since it was published on November 23 it has attracted a wave of criticism.

Read more

Doubts in the desert

Summary: Saad Hariri’s decision to suspend his resignation represents a further blow to the credibility of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Saad Al Hariri is back at work, for now at least, saving Lebanon from a dangerous political vacuum.

We are grateful to Alastair Newton for the commentary below on the fallout from the Hariri affair.  Alastair worked as a professional political analyst in the City of London from 2005 to 2015. Prior to that he spent 20 years as a career diplomat with the British Diplomatic Service.

Read more

Bitter Differences in the Gulf

Summary: Qatari foreign policy has been incautious and provocative and Qatar is reaping what it sowed, although it can accurately describe its enemies as hypocrites. Hard to see anything but regime change satisfying Abu Dhabi, though Saudi Arabia would be content to compromise.

We are grateful to David Roberts for the posting below. He 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.

Read more

Where’s Hariri ?

Summary: Hariri still detained in Riyadh, next moves uncertain. Another own goal by Saudi Arabia following the dispute with Qatar.

In our posting of 9 November we quoted some evidence that the resignation of Saad Hariri announced on 4 November in Riyadh was not what it seemed, made under some degree of duress.

Read more

Yemen: war without end?

Summary: Yemen is facing a dire humanitarian crisis but with some armed groups profiting from the war there is still no end in sight.

Yemen is facing a humanitarian crisis including the fastest growing cholera epidemic ever recorded, the world’s largest food emergency and widespread population displacement. 7 million people are reported to be facing famine. On Saturday, following the interception of a missile fired toward Riyadh, Saudi Arabia announced the temporary closure of all Yemeni air and sea ports prompting a 60 per cent overnight jump in fuel prices and a 100 per cent rise in the price of cooking gas.

We thank Helen Lackner for today’s article that considers the current situation in Yemen.

Read more

Saudi night of the long knives

Summary: “anti-graft” campaign, many arrested including super-rich and the National Guard commander. Possible reasons.

The weekend of 4/5 November saw a number of big stories from Saudi Arabia, some connected, some probably not. On 4 November the King issued a series of orders described as “anti-graft”, because of “exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to, illicitly, accrue money.” An anticorruption committee was established chaired by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and with Draconian powers. It is reportedly looking into the 2009 floods that devastated parts of Jeddah, as well as the government’s response to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus outbreak.

Read more

Balfour Declaration: a new Balfour Centenary Declaration

Summary: debate in Parliament produces nothing new. Among many comments on the centenary a new Balfour Centenary Declaration supported by MPs from all parties and many others.

As expected (our posting of 20 October) the approach to the centenary of the Balfour declaration, today 2 November 2017, has produced much comment. The British and Israeli prime ministers are expected to speak at a commemoration banquet tonight.

Read more

Transparency & Aramco

Summary: Discrepancies between Aramco revenue and official Saudi government oil income data; leaked documents shed light on royal family’s offshore investments.

The Aramco float is on track and will be boosted by a new $500 billion mega-city project, MBS told Reuters in a wide-ranging interview last Thursday that covered topics from the new mega-city NEOM where he hopes to woo investors to the Opec pact, Qatar and the Yemen war.

We thank Nick Stadtmiller for his analysis below which attempts to calculate leakage from Aramco’s total (domestic and foreign) gross revenue by subtracting its estimated costs and comparing this figure to the official oil income in SAMA statistical yearbooks.

Read more

Qatar dispute blunders on

Summary: no change in the Qatar vs. the four dispute. Tillerson getting nowhere. Some consequences in the real world; new e-book published today.

We are pleased to announce today the publication of our completed new e-book “The Future of the Middle East”, edited by Hugh Miles and Alastair Newton. To download the free e-book for e-readers, including Kindle, or as a PDF please click here. We would like to thank once again all the experts who participated. A list of all the experts and their chapters can be found here on the Global Policy Journal website.

The dispute between Qatar and “the four” (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt), last considered in our posting of 11 September, shows no sign either of abating or of concluding.

Read more

Crunching the numbers behind Vision 2030

Summary: Signs of a slowdown in Vision 2030; fiscal austerity has solved short term economic problems but long term future growth prospects remain challenging.

Saudi Arabia receives 90% of its revenue from oil so when the oil price dropped sharply in 2014 its economy was badly affected, prompting the IMF to warn that the Kingdom could be bankrupt by 2020 if it did not undertake major economic reforms.

We thank Nick Stadtmiller for the article below which considers the economics behind Vision 2030.

Read more

Iran/US: A temporary stay of execution?

Summary: Any sense of relief over Donald Trump’s decision last week ‘only’ to decertify the Iran nuclear agreement should be tempered by the fact that Congress will really struggle to come up with something which will satisfy the President within the 60-day deadline, thereby reopening the possibility that he will pull the US out of the agreement in three-months time, risking a major crisis in the Gulf.

We thank Alastair Newton for today’s posting about President Trump’s decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal. The UK, France and Germany have since distanced themselves from President Trump with a statement of “concern” for which it would be hard to find a parallel, only slightly softened by a reference to Iran’s “regional activities”.

Read more

The Future of the Middle East

Summary: Final chapter in forthcoming e-book considers what will happen when the Saudi and Egyptian regimes fall and the West’s struggle against Jihad.

Today’s chapter is by Hugh Miles, an award-winning author and freelance journalist whose recent work includes the BBC TV documentary “Kidnapped! Saudi Arabia’s Missing Princes” which was broadcast last month.

Read more

Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa

Summary: New e-book chapter examines various phases of women’s quest for rights and equality in the MENA region and compares their situation to their peers elsewhere.

We thank Nadereh Chamlou, a former Senior Advisor at the World Bank, for the chapter below which considers the situation of women in the region, past, present and future.

Read more

King Salman goes to Moscow

Summary: the first visit of a reigning Saudi king to Moscow. Syria/Iran, oil, business on the agenda. Some unpublished detail.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia arrived in Moscow yesterday 4 October for a visit which commentators rightly describe as historic.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.”

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

Turkish Economy as a Motor of Growth in the Mediterranean Rim?

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”.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.”

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

Brexit

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.

Read more

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.

Read more