Analysis: Gulf Arab rulers tense over Egypt’s policy shifts

By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI | Wed Apr 27, 2011 10:04am EDT

(Reuters) – At a recent conference in Abu Dhabi, a confidant of the emirate’s crown prince vented his frustration over the downfall of a major ally who Gulf Arab rulers once thought was as entrenched in power as they are.

“How could someone do this to him? He was the spiritual father of the Middle East. He was a wise man who always led the region,” the aide told Reuters. “We didn’t want to see him out this way. Yes, people want democracy but not in this manner. It’s humiliating!” Continue reading Analysis: Gulf Arab rulers tense over Egypt’s policy shifts

Gulf angst over Egypt’s policy shift

Word is Egypt’s post-uprising prime minister will be in Riyadh next week meeting King Abdullah. One would like to be a fly on the wall at that one. It’s not been a good year for the Gulf dynasties. The regional discourse was merrily All About Iran until a Tunisian fruit-seller called Mohamed Al-BouAzizi set himself alight in December 2010 and the era of revolutions was upon us. Al Saud watched in horror as the Obama administration, grudgingly and in stages, endorsed the protest movement against Mubarak’s rule and then decided to ride the wave by echoing the street’s demand for Mubarak to go, in the desperate hope – but the best it could do at the time – of being able to regain the initiative and work with the military junta on making sure the post-Mubarak era was as pro-American as possible. The uprising spread to Yemen, where Ali Abdullah Saleh is fighting back, and to Bahrain, where Saudi forces were sent in after Al Khalifa faffed around and even considered giving this dialogue and democracy drivel a chance. It’s pretty clear Iran will feature on the Saudi agenda. Saudi-owned and influenced media has put the word out that Egypt is going too far in its shift towards What The People Want. Egypt sees itself more in the mould of Turkey when it comes to foreign policy – a country whose weight will derive from the fact that its policies on Israel and the Palestinians have some kind of connection with public opinion. Continue reading Gulf angst over Egypt’s policy shift

As-Safir Newspaper – غسان بن جدو يستقيل من «الجزيرة»

As-Safir Newspaper – غسان بن جدو يستقيل من «الجزيرة». This was just waiting to happen. The article says Ben Jiddo feels the dream of Al-Jazeera is over as an independent serious Arabic channel because it has become a source for “incitement and mobilization”. It certainly has. Also its cases of omission. Bahrain has been erased from the story of the Arab uprisings while Qatar has turned Al-Jazeera into a blatant tool of its foreign policy goals and delusions on Libya. The article mentions al-Jazeera’s “incitement” on Yemen, Libya and Syria. But I wonder if Ben Jiddo’s concern is specifically Syria; perhaps it reflects the disappointment of Hizbollah and others who appreciate Syria’s role in jibhat al-mumana3a, the bloc resisting Western policies on Palestine.

New critique of Munif’s Cities of Salt

I had the good fortune to receive a copy of a rare and arresting critique of Abdelrahman Munif’s classic Cities of Salt novels. It is by Elias Nasrallah, a London-based Palestinian writer, and just came out in Arabic last year under the title السعودية والتأريخ البديل: قراءة نقدية لخماسية عبد الرحمن منيف  (Saudi Arabia and the Fiction of Alternative History: A Critical Reading of Abdelrahman Munif’s Five-part Cycle). Munif’s cycle of five novels quickly came to be considered literary milestone for its pioneering, exhaustive and very direct depiction of the creation of the 20th century Arab petrodollar state. It was very clearly the history of Saudi Arabia with the names simply changed to maintain the fiction – Abdelaziz bin Saud is Khureibet, King Saud is Khaz’al, Faisal is Fanar, the kingdom is named the Hudeibi Sultanate, etc.. Critics of Arab nationalist, leftist and Islamist persuasion loved it for exposing the enigmatic and rather outrageous political entity that Saudi Arabia is and which all ideological trends in the Arab world love to hate. But Nasrallah is the first to hold up to real scrutiny Munif’s version of the famous rags-to-riches story of a nation ruled by a monopolistic dynasty and a school of fanatical Sunni religious scholars, protected and cradled by British imperialism before the baton was passed on to the Americans once the black stuff was found in monstrous quantities under the desert sand (of the Shi’ite zones in the east, no less). Since Munif is relating the history of Saudi Arabia, where does his story veer from the facts as known, where does he use literary licence and what purpose might it be intended to serve? Continue reading New critique of Munif’s Cities of Salt

U.S.-Saudi “crisis” (again)

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy wants to tell us that  “U.S.-Saudi relations are in crisis” ( We’ve heard this one many times before and quite frankly who’s buying it. The “conflict” over the U.S. administration’s rhetorical commitment to democracy and freedom to choose your ruler in the Middle East is miniscule in the larger scheme of agreement on shared interests. There was also “conflict” over the issue in 2003-4 when the Bush administration – oh so deluded – was pressing Arab governments on democratic reforms in the wake of its Iraq invasion. Saudi Arabia got votes for men to elect men to half the seats of ineffective municipal councils, which produced a victory for Islamist candidates that Riyadh held up to Western governments as an example of what happens if you let the natives out of the cage. In any case, this time round Obama’s government dragged its feel on backing the uprisings in both Tunisia and Egypt. It was the perservance of ordinary people facing the vicious security apparatus of arrogant rulers smug in the knowledge of Western support that eventually forced the U.S. government’s hand. And Bahrain? The Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey D. Feltman was in Manama the week that Saudi Arabia forced Al Khalifa to quit kidding around with this pro-democracy lark and give these Shia riffraff what they deserve. “Washington is upset about the king’s alleged offer to bail out Egypt if Hosni Mubarak had decided to cling to power,” WINEP tells us. More like a lovers’ tiff, nothing more.

Bahrain and Al-Jazeera’s revolution red line

It was immediately obvious during the protests in Egypt against Mubarak that something wasn’t right in the media coverage of Al-Jazeera Arabic. While the problems of Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen were being given similar-ish treatment, the democracy movement in Bahrain was more or less ignored. The Saudi foreign minister was despatched to Doha on several occasions and the result was that Qatar accepted the argument that the Gulf Cooperation Council countries – or let’s call them the Gulf Arab dynasties – were “different” (that old chestnut khususiyya again), their governments were essentially benign and any protest movement could not be framed as “uprising” or “revolt”. For Al-Jazeera that meant reducing Bahrain coverage drastically. But there was another part of the argument, one that manifests itself in Saudi-owned and Bahraini media: not only were they protests for an unwanted, unnecessary and alien notion of democracy, they were the work of Iranian agents provocateurs with an agenda of Shi’ite supremacy. Saudi Arabia establishes its cordon sanitaire in pan-Arab media. It has been a disappointment to people across the political spectrum seeing Al-Jazeera enter the sheep pen. One assumes this is temporary – there is still no love lost between Riyadh and Doha and Al-Jazeera still strives for credibility – but it will interesting to see how the Bahrain issue affects Al-Jazeera’s approaches to favourites such as Hizbollah, Hamas, Assad’s Syria and Iran itself. A recent Hassan Nasrallah speech was ignored by Al-Jazeera because he attacked Bahrain over its treatment of Shi’ite demonstrators. Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the unrest in Syria has been slow to pick up. But breathless and dubious reports of revolt in Iran remain the province of Al-Arabiya and it’s hard to imagine Al-Jazeera go Wahhabi on us and ditch supporters of Palestinian resistance to occupation and discrimination even if they happen to be Shi’ite or Iranian. In the meantime, turn on BBC Arabic instead.

Gulf media find their red line in uprisings: Bahrain

By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI | Thu Apr 14, 2011 4:41am EDT

(Reuters) – Pan-Arab broadcasters who played a key role reporting Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are helping dynastic rulers police the gates of the Gulf to stop the revolts from spreading on their patch, analysts say.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera, the leading Arabic language network, was pivotal in keeping up momentum during protests that toppled Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, both entrenched rulers who were no friends of Qatar’s ruling Al Thani dynasty. Continue reading Gulf media find their red line in uprisings: Bahrain