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.
Loving Beethoven and your country seem to be a dangerous combination
Summary: Israel has a lot of experience silencing violent opposition but supporting Palestine peacefully through the Arts is still a dangerous threat.
Arab embassies and consulates: business as usual
Summary: The day-to-day business in most Arab embassies and consulates is PR, diplomacy and serving regime members but they are also busy with surveillance and, at times, engage in other far more sinister activities.
Silent Famine amidst political bickering: Yemen in July 2020
Summary: an ineffectual UN effort, a derelict oil tanker, an ongoing war, Covid-19, acute food insecurity – the stark tragedy of Yemen in the summer of 2020.
Of death and death sentences
Summary: The decision by a Bahrain court to uphold two death sentences highlights how authoritarian regimes exact revenge and silence opponents.
Humanitarian aid plunges even as Yemeni prospects worsen
Summary: Humanitarian aid to Yemen faces drastic cuts in a country stalked by war, famine and now Covid-19.
Egypt and COVID-19: don’t ask, don’t tell
Summary: despite rising numbers of COVID-19 cases the regime prepares to reopen the economy; medics and other objectors are accused of supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
An Abu Dhabi business empire disintegrates
Summary: Amidst allegations of fraud and other serious financial irregularities two huge Emirati companies owned by businessman BR Shetty have collapsed.
Dubai, the “world’s fastest city”, runs into Covid-19
Summary: Pre-pandemic, Dubai’s economy was stuttering but now the picture is bleaker and much more challenging.
Covid-19 reaches Yemen
Summary: Yemen is a country torn by war, debilitated by disease and constantly threatened by famine. Now it is being hit by the coronavirus.
Lebanon: Too late for the IMF bailout?
Summary: An IMF bailout may not be enough to save Lebanon from a catastrophic economic collapse.
Egypt… so far, so good
Summary: Coronavirus in Egypt is spreading fast but the lockdown measures have been relaxed to save the economy; peak-corona expected third week of May.
Peace in Yemen: hope slips away
Summary: Hopes that a Saudi coalition declaration of a unilateral ceasefire would lead to peace talks have been comprehensively dashed by events on the ground.
Mohammed Bin Salman: Playing with an empty hand?
Summary: Mohammed Bin Salman is beginning to run out of options as Saudi Arabia grapples with the twin challenges of Covid-19 and the oil price rout.
Iraq and its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic
Summary: Iraq has implemented measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but confusing messages and political opportunism are hobbling an effective response.
Yemen: five years of war
Summary: on the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Saudi-led coalition’s attack on Yemen, a war which has caused the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe continues unabated.
Business is brisk in MENA arms trade
Summary: War in three countries, tension with Iran, growing regional instability. Is it any surprise that the arms trade to MENA is hot and getting hotter?
Sweeping arrests, an OPEC+ setback, and rumours of the death of King Salman
Summary: Arrests of leading members of the Saudi ruling family, a humiliating setback in Vienna and rumours that King Salman died.
Lebanon: One minute to midnight
Summary: with a US$1.2bn Eurobond payment coming due 9 March, Lebanon faces stark choices and little room to manoeuvre.
Algeria, Tunisia and the war in Libya
Summary: Both Algeria and Tunisia have cause for concern as the war in Libya, fuelled and supported by outside players, continues with no end in sight.
Yemeni lawyer awarded for exposing UAE atrocities in Yemen
Summary: Huda al Sarari, a courageous Yemeni lawyer, is the winner of the 2020 Martin Ennals Award.
Yemen’s humanitarian emergency: UN action in 2020
Summary: As opportunities for peace in Yemen recede, the urgency to resolve humanitarian aid issues grows ever more pressing.
As Assad nears victory in Idlib, Turkey take casualties
Summary: Turkey faces difficult decisions in Syria as Assad’s forces close in on Idlib.
Plans for new Saudi mega-city Neom stoke internal criticism
Summary: MBS’s tough handling of tribal leaders and development plans for Saudi mega-project Neom stoke internal criticism and are called a capitulation to Israel.
Algeria and Morocco: an opportunity missed?
Summary: change at the top in Algeria has not led to better relations with Morocco.
Yemen: further problems for the Riyadh Agreement
Summary: The Riyadh Agreement signed 5 November 2019 was supposed to merge Yemeni government and Southern Transitional Council (STC) security forces in Yemen under the auspices of Saudi Arabia but thus far little progress has been made.
Justice in Bahrain
Summary: a decision by a Bahraini court to reimpose the death penalty on two men whose convictions for the murder of a police officer are highly suspect raises questions about the UK’s role in efforts to reform Bahrain’s judiciary.
The Gulf and Global Markets
Summary: Thus far a modest market reaction and US President Donald Trump’s wish to avoid a major spike in oil prices as he gears up for his re-election campaign are signs that war is not the inevitable outcome of the Sulemaini assassination
Tilting to war: the assassination of Suleimani
Summary: The assassination of the Iranian Quds Force general Qassem Suleimani dramatically alters the political landscape of the Middle East. How Iran responds will determine if the region is marching toward a major war.
Turkey’s deepening involvement in the Libyan conflict
Summary: A maritime rights agreement between Turkey and the besieged Tripoli Government of National Accord draws Turkey deeper into the civil war in Libya.
Israeli Defence Minister pushes major settlement expansion in Hebron
Summary: a proposal for a major expansion of the Jewish settler presence in Hebron seems likely to go ahead.
Algeria: will the 2019 elections save the situation?
Summary: a slate of ageing candidates in the upcoming presidential election is unlikely to satisfy the street as hundreds of thousands of Algerians continue peaceful protests.
Oil: Riyadh Trumped!
Summary: Saudi Arabia heads into the Vienna OPEC meeting facing stiff headwinds in its bid to secure a higher price for oil.
Algeria: Hirak and the Ides of December
Summary: Peaceful protests have drawn millions of Algerians into the streets for more than nine months. A presidential election set for 12 December is unlikely to stop them.
Yemen: many questions remain in the wake of the Riyadh Agreement
Summary: The agreement signed between the Southern Yemeni separatists and the Saudi supported Hadi government leaves many questions unanswered.
Saudi Aramco: Yield is the key
Summary: Saudi Aramco’s IPO faces significant hurdles related to valuation, oil price and yield.
The Erdoğan Pence Agreement
Summary: The military balance shifts against Turkey and its Arab allies. The YPG strikes a deal with al-Assad. Russia backs Syria over Turkey.
Syria: “Great and unmatched wisdom”
Summary: Donald Trump is not being as inconsistent over the Middle East as the news flow may have you believe.
The Libyan blind alley
Summary: Haftar’s military operation to take Tripoli seems to have failed. His foreign supporters. Need for an international conference and a political solution.
Oil: How imminent is ‘peak demand’?
Summary: Experts disagree about when we will hit peak demand for oil, but as technological change continues to accelerate potential investors in the Aramco IPO should weigh its timing very carefully.
Morocco: the King talks about development and inequality
Summary: the King has spoken of the need to reduce regional and social inequalities but it’s more difficult in Morocco than it needs to be. Freedom of the press could be key.
Yemen: UAE-Saudi problems over their allies continue
Summary: conflict between UAE-backed separatist STC in the south and Saudi-backed Hadi government – wider implications.
That tanker again – oil for Syria
Summary: the supertanker released from Gibraltar delivers her Iranian oil to Syria. US frustrated, media confused.
Turkey, Russia and Syria
Summary: Erdoğan/Putin rapprochement – Turkey slipping away from the West, but in Syria losing ground to Asad backed by Moscow.
Gulf security patrols – Britain jumps ship
Summary: competing ideas for increased security in the Gulf “tinderbox”. UK under Johnson backs the US. Legal considerations.
British police enter the Bahrain embassy
Summary: a stunt by a Bahraini protester against the recent executions raises important questions.
BDS: US Congress, UK local action
Summary: the US Congress has passed a watered-down bill opposing BDS. Local action in the UK against an Israeli weapons company.
Yemen – Abu Dhabi pulls the plug
Summary: UAE forces begin withdrawing from Yemen. Saudi Arabia increasingly isolated and will have to reconsider.
Qatar – Afghanistan and elsewhere
Summary: Qatar pursues an independent policy with discretion – Afghanistan and various Arab disputes.
“Peace to prosperity”
Summary: Bahrain workshop on the economic tranche of the deal of the century a near flop. Next stage uncertain.
Erdoğan after the Istanbul elections
Summary: Istanbul election defeat accelerates gradual ebbing of the AKP’s popularity, but President Erdoğan still holds other cards; a slow down in Turkish foreign military activity.
Mauritania elects a president
Summary: Ghazouani peacefully elected as president in place of Abdel Aziz – no change. Economy doing well.
Sudan – counter-revolution
Summary: killing of demonstrators stalls negotiations between military and protesters. Ethiopian mediation knocked off course.
Tankers attacked near the Gulf again
Summary: two tankers attacked and left adrift in the Gulf of Oman. Pompeo again accuses Iran.
Lebanon and Israel to talk
Summary: US shuttle diplomacy has achieved agreement on talks to take place between Lebanon and Israel on the maritime border.
Iraq and Turkey: trade, water and reconstruction
Summary: since the beginning of the year, the development of relations between Iraq and Turkey has gained real momentum. The focus is on trade, water and the reconstruction of Iraq.
Algeria: election date slipping
Summary: mass protests against the “pouvoir” continue. More action against corruption. Presidential election due on 4 July will be delayed.
Donald Trump, the Middle East and the 2020 election
Summary: The US President’s re-election calculus stands to be more important in determining American policy in the Middle East than the views of any number of advisors and US allies.
Tankers sabotaged near the Gulf
Summary: four oil vessels damaged off Fujaira. Little detail – no casualties or pollution. No claims of responsibility.
Sudan: transformation or disorder
Summary: military and protesters still negotiating future pattern of rule. Severe economic problems.
Algeria: more of the gang go
Summary: very large demonstrations continue. More top level arrests.
Sudan: slide continues
Summary: huge protests continue and the military continue to give ground. Saudi/UAE/Egypt interest.
Israeli projects in Jerusalem: Holy Land or Disneyland?
Summary: a proposed cable-car line to the Old City is facing multiple objections but may still get approval. The opening of tunnels under the Old City and the construction of a second tram line are also controversial.
Turkey – a setback for Erdoğan
Summary: Mayoral elections do not go Erdoğan’s way, his first experience of the tendency of the democratic pendulum to swing. A test for Turkish democracy.
Four years of war in Yemen: why has victory been so elusive?
Summary: Hudaida ceasefire survives but going nowhere. Yemen divided, the war stalemated, human suffering continues. UN out of ideas.
The Stockholm agreement on a ceasefire around Hudaida has not broken down, but has not led to the hoped-for opening up of food and medical supplies to the population, nor to a wider ceasefire.
Middle East peace: the Balfour project
Summary: a call to action from the Balfour Project in support of reconciliation in the Holy Land.
Syria: IS end game
Summary: IS fighting in the last ditch, outside powers manoeuvring for advantage.
Algeria: “All Eyes On Me” – What exists for Bouteflika and FLN?
Summary: as Bouteflika formally confirms his candidacy for a fifth term as president the FLN faces unexpectedly large demonstrations in protest. Clock ticking.
We thank an Arab Digest member for the article below.
MBS: charm offensive
Summary: MBS’s Asian tour; Kushner’s Middle East tour. Despite staunch support for MBS from the White House, Congress and the media still want action over Khashoggi. MBS’s survival remains by no means assured.
Since our last posting on Khashoggi the international furore over his killing continues to grow and many key questions remain unanswered. MBS’s position remains delicate and the possibility of further arms embargoes or sanctions in the West remains.
The Warsaw “ministerial”
Summary: conference in Warsaw shifts focus from Iran to a wider agenda. “A new era” (Mike Pence) – not
It is a commonplace among officials experienced in organising high-level international meetings that preparation is all-important and that an unprepared meeting is unlikely to do good and may do harm. Seen from the outside this can be interpreted as the determination of officials, Yes Minister style, to keep political leaders under control. Colonel Qadhafi made the point in one of his most successful international japes when he published the agreed communiqué of an Arab summit meeting before the meeting took place.
Sectarianism in conflicts in the Middle East
Summary: sectarianism is a symptom of the problem, not the underlying problem itself. Many of the region’s conflicts are more about ethnic identity and nationalism, but Arab dictators use sectarianism to bolster their positions.
We are grateful to John McHugo for today’s posting. John is an honorary Senior Fellow at the Centre for Syrian Studies at St Andrews, and a board member of the Council for Arab-British Understanding and the British Egyptian Society. He is the author of the new book “A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi’is”.
Sudan protests – catch and release
Summary: mainly non-violent protests continue almost daily. Government hot and cold. Major peace agreement for CAR initialled in Khartoum.
Major water projects in Arab countries
Summary: dams and pipelines have been among the largest infrastructure projects in the Arab world. Some have been successful, some less so.
Sudan: Bashir’s position threatened
Summary: protests continue to grow. Economic grievances develop to “down, that’s it”. Change now or at elections in 2020?
Tunisia: suicide protest and general strike
Summary: a suicide recalls the spark of the Arab Spring. One day general strike, government caught in the austerity trap. Security improved and tourism up.
Qatar: plain sailing
Summary: no resolution of the Qatar vs. four dispute – propaganda continues. Qatar surviving well. US talks up the need for unity. Active foreign policy continues.
Is this the beginning of the end of the Yemen war?
Summary: talks in Sweden may lead to a ceasefire in Hudayda and allow in vitally needed food and medicine.
Golan Heights: most Druze boycott elections; more settlers coming
Summary: most of the Druze on the Golan boycotted the 30 October municipal elections. Separately, Israel has announced plans to increase the number of settlers in the territory.
It is hard to imagine two more different areas in the Middle East than the empty, windswept Golan Heights and the historical urban landscape of East Jerusalem. But dilemma for the indigenous inhabitants of both occupied and annexed areas is similar: whether to vote in the hope of securing improvements in their daily lives or to boycott on a point of principle. (We looked at the elections in East Jerusalem in our post of 2 November, “Jerusalem’s municipal elections: Palestinian participation”.)
Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi
Summary: Erdoğan all but fingers MBS for the murder. Prince Ahmad returns from London. Saudi Arabia losing some of its international grip, e.g. on Yemen.
It is now clear that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate-general in Istanbul by Saudi agents, some of whom are known to be linked to MBS. Many questions remain unanswered, the most important being who ordered or authorised the killing.
Khashoggi: A Canterbury Tale?
“Will no-one rid me of this turbulent priest?”
Summary: Saudi responsibility for killing Khashoggi seems to go to the top. Trump seeking to avoid commitment to protect arms sales, Kushner’s “peace deal”, and the oil price with his eye on the 6 November midterms. Turkey the key.
The Potus Premium
Summary: Trump has blamed OPEC for the high oil price, but his efforts to shut off Iranian oil may be more to blame – with uncertain political consequences.
Once again we are grateful to Alastair Newton for the article below, a slightly updated version of one published on 28 September 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.
Agriculture in Iraq’s Euphrates Valley – serious challenges
Summary: agriculture in the Euphrates valley in Iraq faces severe water shortages and other serious challenges.
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.
Yemen faces famine
Summary: famine imminent. UN process stalls, radically new approach needed.
Even the UN is running out of words for the humanitarian tragedy that is Yemen. There are some figures at link, accurately described as “near-impossible to grasp.” Famine is round the corner.
Saudi Stray Dogs in the UK
Summary: Leading Saudi dissident attacked in London. Evidence of orchestration by the Saudis and a delayed response by Met police allows suspects to escape and prompts corruption allegations.
Ghanem Al Masarir is an online Saudi political satirist who attracts millions of views daily on his Twitter and YouTube channels, mainly from inside Saudi Arabia. His success has made him one of the foremost Saudi dissidents and he is currently seeking political asylum in the UK. On Friday 31 August he was attacked by two Saudi men on the Brompton Road, SW1. The attack happened outside the main entrance of Harrods at about 6pm, in broad daylight, and was witnessed by many people – see videos here and here.
Maritime boundaries in the Red Sea
Summary: most of the maritime boundaries in the Red Sea have been delimited through negotiations or arbitration. The main current dispute is between Egypt and Sudan.
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.
In our posts of 25 July and 1 August, we looked respectively at the maritime boundaries of the Arab states in the Mediterranean and those of the Gulf. In this post, we consider the maritime boundaries of the Arab states with coastlines on the Red Sea.
Nile waters: the GERD’s difficulties give Egypt a breathing-space
Summary: Ethiopia’s dam project on the Blue Nile has run into trouble. This offers Egypt a breathing-space that it could exploit in more than one way.
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.
Blockchain & cryptocurrencies in the Arab world
Summary: The Fourth Industrial Revolution impacts on every country in the Arab world but policymaking in response to new fintech like blockchain and cryptocurrencies varies widely.
Blockchain is one of the most exciting new technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, promising transformations of entire systems of production, management, and governance. The sectors expected to be impacted most include financial services, healthcare, online retail, transportation and education, and the Arab world is no exception, although so far the most tangible impact of blockchain has been on people living in rural areas and refugee camps. Since last year the World Food Programme has been distributing food vouchers at a camp in Jordan using the Ethereum blockchain and the company behind blockchain-based health records in Jordan is now planning to expand into Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Djibouti.
The Berbers of Algeria
Summary: Algerian recognition of the Berber New Year as a national holiday the culmination of a difficult history, symbolising the possibility of national reconciliation and unity.
The Berbers or Amazigh are an ethnic group who live in the countries around the Sahara from the Siwa oasis in Egypt in the north-east to Mali in the south-west (and as a diaspora, mainly in France). There are around 25 to 30 million who speak the Berber group of languages or dialects, and many who do not. They are everywhere in a minority, with the largest communities in Morocco and Algeria. Most are Sunni Muslim.
Qatar vs Four – real consequences
Summary: the Qatar vs four dispute appears trivial and absurd but has real consequences – human, political, economic, defence.
The dispute between Qatar and the four (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt) which began in May 2017 shows no signs of abating. As we commented in our posting of 11 June four have little or no support from the outside world – Egypt is to some extent a sleeping partner. The dispute is widely regarded as pointless and meaningless.
The maritime boundaries of the Arab Gulf states
Summary: Iraq and the six GCC states share the Gulf with Iran and with each other. In many cases, maritime boundaries between them have been agreed; in other cases, disputes remain. Where offshore oil and gas deposits do not fall neatly under the sovereignty of one state, cooperative arrangements have often been instituted.
In our post of 25 July, we looked at the maritime boundaries of the Arab states in the Mediterranean. In this post, we consider the maritime boundaries of the Arab states with coastlines on the Persian Gulf.
Tunisia: economy improving, political tensions
Summary: Tunisia cooperating with the IMF, rewarded with a World Bank loan. Political infighting, drawn into the Qatar vs. four dispute.
According to the IMF the Tunisian economy has done well this year with the highest growth since 2014, at 2.5% year-on-year supported by agriculture and exports; but risks to stability, especially inflation at 7.7%, have increased and “require a decisive response, complemented with measures to protect the poor.”
Assault on Hodeida
Summary: Two full weeks into the attack, the more pessimistic scenarios are looking increasingly likely; President Hadi’s relations with the UAE improve after a meeting with MBZ; other important developments go unnoticed.
In our most recent posting on Yemen (17 May) we concentrated on the UAE and Saudi troop deployment on Socotra. Today we return to the main international conflict in northern and central Yemen between the Huthis and the Saudi-led coalition.
Saudi women driving
Summary: lifting the ban has gone smoothly, numbers small so far. Why was there a ban and why was it lifted so clumsily? Consequences including prospects for further reform.
As announced in September 2017, the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia was lifted yesterday 24 June. So far the change has come smoothly, with photographs published of happy women driving from the small hours of yesterday morning. So far the numbers are limited, because of the bureaucratic processes of issuing licences etc. More than 120,000 have applied for licences and by 2020 there may be 3 million women drivers.
Turkey: election 24 June
Summary: Turkey moves to presidential system. Odds on AKP victory, but opposition in with a chance. Importance for the Arab world.
We are grateful for the article below by David Barchard, a writer on Turkish history and politics.
A gigantic phoenix with burning wings flies high over a land of Ottoman and Islamic symbols, it passes above glorious scenes from Ottoman history, armies, and majestic Sultans. Alparslan, the victor against the Byzantines at Manzikert and Suleyman the Magnificent are invoked. Finally the phoenix, its wings still aflame, arrives over the figure of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pointing skywards, and the camera pans out to vast new projects, bridges, railways and dams. Such is the party political TV advertisement currently showing on Turkish TV for the president and the ruling AKP in the double elections due this weekend.
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.
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.
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.
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”).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.