The Islamic State and Saudi Arabia: Further Thoughts

The Islamic State movement is a crude caricature of what its leaders think an Islamic state was and should be. Its latest violent spectacular – throwing Christians out of Mosul – is as contrary to the general tenor of inter-faith relations in the classical period of Islam, the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, as destroying non-orthodox Sunni places of worship. Those Islamic states made huge use of their large Christian populations, for one as translators of Greek thought and medicine. Periods of enforced orthodoxy were rare – the Abbasid caliph al-Ma’mun’s “inquisition” (al-mihna) of the religious scholars to oblige their adoption of Mutazila school’s theory of the Quran is the most obvious. In earlier periods there is even evidence that the Islamic states did not favour conversion of the largely Christian and Zoroastrian populations they had conquered, because the religion was for a period conceived of as an Arab patrimony and because the state wanted its jizya tax from non-Muslims. If we look at enforced covering of women and mass head-chopping there is similarly no indication of it as a defining feature of the caliphate. Continue reading The Islamic State and Saudi Arabia: Further Thoughts

The new caliphate: what it does and doesn’t mean

First published by European Council on Foreign Relations

The word “caliphate” sends many into paroxysms of horrified excitement. Following the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 the opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its Arab calques liked to raise the bogeyman of this demonic political institution which Egyptian presidential candidate for the Brotherhood’s eminence grise Khairat al-Shater and Ennahda leader Mohammed al-Ghannouchi allegedly sought to establish. The main proof in the case seemed to be little more than that the Brotherhood was established a few years after the Turkish republic abolished the office of caliph in 1924, plus a lot of paranoia. No one really asked what “establishing a caliphate” would mean in practice. Mainstream media have avoided shedding much light, beyond telling us that it is a “medieval” entity. Given that the first caliphate was established around 623 CE and the last one ended less than a century back, we can safely say that this is useless information. Continue reading The new caliphate: what it does and doesn’t mean

EL PUZLE ISLÁMICO: Batallas internas en el islam político

Published in Spanish in Vanguardia Dossier, July/Sept 2014

Islamic society and politics in the Middle East are riven by two schisms today that have produced violent instability that is set to continue until a critical moment, such as the fall of a regime such as that in Iran or Saudi Arabia, or a historical compromise between the two. It would be hard to choose one as more unlikely than the other in the current situation. Both conflicts are products of the past generation and though they have developed separately it is possible to see a link between them if we consider the Islamic Republic in Iran as a Shi’ite mirror image of the political Islam that the Brotherhood and movements such as Ennahda, Hamas, Islah are representative of within a Sunni framework. Continue reading EL PUZLE ISLÁMICO: Batallas internas en el islam político

Reform and Dissent in Saudi Arabia since 2011

From BBC Arabic on release of documentary Saudi Secret Uprising

_75195397_safaincarThe Saudi regime likes to present the country as an apolitical space where the rules of normal politics don’t apply. It promotes a vision of Saudi Arabia as an Islamic utopia, replicating the Sharia state of the early Islamic era, with Al Saud in charge of the political affairs of state and the religious scholars (ulama) assuring the application of God’s law in society. This schema obviates the need for political parties, elected legislature or right to public protest since the divinely-ordained society would have no differing opinion and the ulama have in any case arrogated the right to rule to the dynasty. Continue reading Reform and Dissent in Saudi Arabia since 2011

From World Cup to the Brotherhood: worrying trends for Doha

Published by ECFR

Qatar’s World Cup bid is just one of a number of headaches facing the Gulf state and its new emir, Tamim bin Hamad. Last week the Sunday Times published news of a stash of emails that it claimed proved a “plot to buy the World Cup”. The allegations, centring on Qatari former FIFA executive member Mohammed Bin Hammam and money paid to FIFA delegates and officials to ensure Qatar’s win, are not new. Qatar’s response has been to distance itself from Bin Hammam, saying he did not act with official blessing. There is a general assumption that Qatar did indeed play dirty to bag the deal, but the bigger issue is the corruption of FIFA to allow such things to happen. Continue reading From World Cup to the Brotherhood: worrying trends for Doha

BBC: Saudi princes tweet discontent

Feature by BBC Monitoring on 29 May
As the senior members of the Saudi royal family approach their nineties a change to the succession, and government reshuffles involving members of the family, have caused discontent among some Saudi princes. In the absence of other outlets, they have taken to Twitter to make their views known. One particular target for their anger is the head of the Royal Court and King Abdallah’s personal secretary, Khalid al-Tuwayjiri. Continue reading BBC: Saudi princes tweet discontent

Saudi Arabia and Iran Policy: In Terra Nova

From Asfar.org

In its modern iteration, Saudi Arabia has been through several crises of varying nature and intensity. But none quite resemble that which a convergence of circumstances have created in the era of the Arab uprisings. A combination of factors including the brutal war in Syria have threatened Saudi Arabia’s alliance with the United States, leaving the Saudi leadership in a precarious global position and opening up questions about its relationship with other Arab states. Continue reading Saudi Arabia and Iran Policy: In Terra Nova

NOW.: What Saudi-Iran talks could mean for Lebanon and the region

From NOW. Lebanon

In a potentially momentous surprise move that could herald an alleviation of political and sectarian conflict across the Middle East, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal announced on Tuesday an invitation to his Iranian counterpart to travel to Riyadh to enter negotiations over the rival countries’ “differences.” Continue reading NOW.: What Saudi-Iran talks could mean for Lebanon and the region

FT: Gulf states forge deal to end spat over Doha backing for Brotherhood