Tag archive for » Gulf «

EL PUZLE ISLÁMICO: Batallas internas en el islam político

Tuesday, 24. June 2014 4:16

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. [...]

Category:Commentary, Published articles 2014 | Comments (1) | Autor:

Former UK diplomats turn business advisers

Wednesday, 9. April 2014 5:14

An article of interest from Issue 944 of Gulf States Newsletter,  April 2013 (note: Cowper-Coles is now with HSBC) regarding the debate over the appointment of the British ambassador in Riyadh to head the British government’s controversial inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood (author unknown, according to GSN format):

At a 1 March evidence session for the UK Foreign Affairs Committee’s hearing into London’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (GSN 939/1, 934/16), MP for Penrith and the Border Rory Stewart asked former ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir Tom Phillips whether “it is a problem… that such a very large number of our senior diplomats and soldiers go on to take jobs where they are employed by members of the Gulf royal families, or work with businesses with significant interests in the Middle East? Does that get in the way of our being able to achieve objective criticism of these governments?” [...]

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Saudi Arabia: cultivating sectarian spaces

Friday, 15. November 2013 2:55

(Part of a European Council on Foreign Relations report, ‘The Gulf and Sectarianism’, published November 2013)

Sectarianism has long underpinned Saudi Arabia’s domestic and foreign policy, and it has proved to be a particularly effective tool in the government’s management of the Arab Awakening, the movement of protest and revolt that began in Tunisia in December 2010. Saudi Arabia deployed a sectarian narrative to describe the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, calling it an Iranian-backed movement of Shia empowerment that aimed to disenfranchise Sunnis, the “rightful” Islamic centre of which Riyadh sees itself as champion. Saudi Arabia readily applied this framework to the conflict in Syria as it developed later that same year: the government characterised it as a battle in which a majority Sunni population has had to defend itself from an alignment of deviant Islamic schools and ideologies that aim to subjugate Sunnis – an easy sell considering that Shia powers and actors, specifically Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria’s own Alawi community, have been the most prominent supporters of President Bashar al-Assad. [...]

Category:Published articles - 2013 | Comment (0) | Autor:

A very Gulf coup

Friday, 1. November 2013 17:31

(From the latest issue of Turkish Review, Volume 3 Issue 5: http://www.turkishreview.org/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=223386)

When Hosni Mubarak handed over power to his military peers in Egypt two years ago in the face of over two weeks of determined protests, the shock and fear in the Gulf was profound. As much as the US and Israel, if not more so, Saudi Arabia in particular had long bet on the strong arm of Mubarak’s police state, with the military in the background, to maintain the ‘stability’ that kept dangerous democratic forces in check [...]

Category:Published articles - 2013 | Comment (0) | Autor:

Little Culture Shocks

Tuesday, 8. October 2013 4:27

My first day in Oxford, I arrived at 2 in the afternoon into Heathrow from Dubai, and got straight onto the express train to Paddington then in 20 minutes on the train to Oxford via a neighbouring platform. Pretty straightforward. But when I arrived, little culture shocks began. I search out a Sainsbury’s inside a shopping centre. The shopping centre is dead though the doors are open. Lights are on in Sainsbury’s as a few people push trolleys around. As I get closer I realize they are staff, and they are smirking at the funny guy reading the sign on the door saying it closed at 6.15 pm. That was me. I walk on down the streets and see a red crosses daubed on walls by decorators inside a shop. It makes me think of the two swords of the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi logos. A man stops on a staircase before completing his way down to a basement. I catch him in the corner of my eye and for a second thought for some reason that he was holding the palms of his hands out in a moment of prayer. With no supermarkets to shop in, I check out the prices in a few Pret-A-Manger type shops before moving on in disgust at the extortionate rates, hiked up even more if you want to sit in. Finally I settle on Burger King. How Gulf is that. And when I’m done, I get up without thinking and head for the door. But I catch myself, embarrassed, as a young bloke on the left notes my confusion, then pick up the tray and shove the paper and plastic remains into the designated bin. Life Further North.

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Why Doha isn’t about to give up the Brotherhood

Thursday, 18. April 2013 22:52

It has become rather fashionable in some circles to predict the imminent demise of Qatar’s alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Brotherhood calques around the Arab world. I don’t see it happening, and here’s why: [...]

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Islamists Empowered: Back to the Future

Thursday, 7. February 2013 18:32

With the fall of Hosni Mubarak, victory in legislative elections and the presidential vote, and now the approval via referendum of a new constitution, Islamists have begun the work of putting their renaissance project into practice.

Unlike Salafism, which dreams of a recreation of the pre-colonial moment, political Islam has aimed more to repatch together the Islamic state but in an unambiguously modern, post-colonial context. The Brotherhood does not aim to return clerics to man a reestablished classical Sharia court system, rather it seeks to distribute the dominion of Sharia via parliament, legislation and an advisory role for clerics via Al-Azhar. Laymen play a key role in the process of Islamicization that they would not have had before the irruption of Western hegemony and modernity – something alien, for example, to Wahhabi Salafism which simply recognizes the sovereign powers of the temporal ruler in return for the clerics’ advisory role in policy and control of courts, mosques, education and their own coercive force (‘the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice’). [...]

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Analysis – Some Gulf rulers wary of U.S. shifts on Islamists, Iran

Wednesday, 5. September 2012 3:29

By Andrew Hammond and Rania El Gamal

DUBAI | Wed Sep 5, 2012 3:43pm BST

(Reuters) – The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ideological affiliates in the Arab Spring uprisings has stoked fears among Gulf Arab governments that the United States may one day abandon its traditional allies as it warms up to Islamists. [...]

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Analysis: Saudi Gulf union plan stumbles as wary leaders seek detail

Thursday, 17. May 2012 1:56

By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI | Thu May 17, 2012 11:46am EDT

(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s thrust for a Gulf Union, driven by fear of Arab Spring contagion and spreading Iranian influence, has stumbled on misgivings among smaller neighbors about a loss of sovereignty and increasing domination by Riyadh.

Gulf diplomats, officials and analysts expressed surprise that Saudi Arabia had opened itself up to such a public setback.

The union proposal, initially designed to contain Shi’ite Muslim dissent in Bahrain and counter the growing sway of Shi’ite Iran, surprised Gulf Arab leaders when King Abdullah first unveiled it at a summit in December. Rather than fade away, it acquired momentum when a Saudi minister outlined plans for shared foreign and defense policy last month.

Yet when the meetings ended on Monday, there was little hiding the fact that some leaders in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) had put the brakes on the project, if not shot it down entirely.

“These things need to be looked at in depth,” said Ghanem al-Najjar, professor of political science at Kuwait University.

“You don’t just decide that you will have unity, by trying to create some sort of unified body against Iran and to handle the development created by the Arab uprisings,” he said, referring to street revolts that have toppled several dictators since early 2011 and have rattled GCC member Bahrain’s monarchy.

It will “take time” to get all Gulf countries on board, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters after the GCC summit, explaining that Gulf leaders wanted to know “details and details of the details” of how Saudi Arabia imagined a “union” bringing them closer than they are now.

He even stated baldly that there was “no step to have a special relationship between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia” – despite fanfare to the contrary in pro-government Bahraini media – while admitting both leaderships would welcome a closer association.

“They had no idea really what they wanted the union to look like, then they came on Sunday to try to work things out and couldn’t agree. By Sunday night there were strong rumors it wasn’t going well,” said a Qatar-based analyst familiar with the talks. Saudi officials were angry and disappointed, he said.

People with access to the room where the leaders met noted few smiling faces, in contrast to most such events, and even sensed anger among some of them.

Revealingly, heads of state from Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) did not attend the summit, which brought leaders from the other three member states – Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.


The Saudis envisage close economic, political and military coordination and a new decision-making body based in Riyadh, replacing the current Secretariat of the 31-year-old GCC.

Reports from officials, diplomats and media suggest that Oman, Kuwait and the UAE mounted the strongest objections to the union proposals, fearing being lorded over by the Saudis as well as difficulties in integrating varying social and political systems. A Saudi spokesman was not available to comment.

“The UAE will not accept a single country taking over a union, so that issue has to be clear,” a UAE official told Reuters, pointing to the UAE’s 2009 withdrawal from a monetary union over Saudi insistence that Riyadh host the central bank.

Asked if he thought the union would eventually happen, the official added: “Let’s just say it will take more time.”

Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest and most powerful state in the group of major, U.S.-aligned oil and gas producers.

Although the six states look similar on the surface – Arab, conservative Muslim and with similar social customs – there are wide differences of tribe, history, sect and geography among them, particularly in Bahrain with its Shi’ite majority, as well as in their degree of openness to Western culture.

Oman, which has long sought to protect its identity deriving in part from a distinctive Indian Ocean coast and maritime tradition, said as early as 2006 that it would not join the as-yet unrealized single currency project.

“The UAE may not be as keen on a stronger union because they may worry about Saudi Arabia being dominant within that,” a Western diplomat said.


Dubai-based defense analyst Theodore Karasik said the UAE was also concerned that rushing into a Gulf Union could endanger progress already made in delicate defense negotiations.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are arguing over where to locate the central command of a Gulf missile shield that the United States has pushed them on as the best means of defense against Iran, but they are reticent about sharing data.

“A GCC military technical committee has been working on a shared anti-ballistic missile plan for the last few years and now there’s a debate about where it should be based – the UAE or Saudi,” Karasik said.

Kuwaiti parliament speaker Ahmed al-Saadoun said equal levels of political openness in each country should precede a closer political compact. Saudi Arabia has no elected parliament, while Kuwait has the most lively political culture.

“Freedom of expression and the right of popular participation in decision-making…, we hope (that) will be achieved in all GCC states shortly so the union can be established,” Saadoun said on Twitter.

“Leaders of Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Oman expressed concern about a loss of identity of individual states and pointed to differences in law between the countries,” the Kuwaiti daily al-Qabas commented. “A lot of GCC decisions have still not been implemented. It would be better to get these done first.”

Even the rise of Iran over the past decade and the Arab Spring uprisings have failed to put all GCC six on the same page, while lingering border disputes have often marred ties among states where personalized, dynastic rule is the norm.

While Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE want a strong policy to stem Iranian influence in the region, Qatar and Oman have hedged their bets by nurturing good relations with Tehran.


The only country to wholeheartedly welcome the fast track to Gulf Union appears to have been Bahrain, where many see the proposal as a way of crushing an uprising led by majority Shi’ite Muslims who they believe have backing from Iran.

“I believe the union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain will happen 100 percent, with maybe the others coming afterwards,” said Anwar Eshki, a Saudi analyst and ex-adviser to the cabinet.

Bahrain, whose economy relies on oil from a field shared with Saudi Arabia, allowed Riyadh to send in Saudi troops in an initial attempt to suppress the protests last year.

But the turmoil has revived, economic growth has been cut in half and a sense of crisis pervades an island state increasingly divided by sect where hardliners on both sides gain ground.

Iran has strongly objected to the Saudi move to formalize its influence over Bahrain, with parliamentarians saying it would deepen divisions on the island and speaker Ali Larijani even suggesting it should be Iran that Bahrain integrates with.

Nabeel al-Hamer, media adviser to Bahrain’s King Hamad, tried to reassure supporters afterwards, promising a Riyadh summit in coming months to sign a unity charter including Qatar.

Bahrain’s opposition movement dismissed the entire project as just the latest maneuver by aloof, entrenched rulers to put off the day when they cede powers to an elected government.

“This is an attempt to escape a political resolution by putting Bahrain under the hegemony of Saudi Arabia, which wants to show it is the big power in the region,” said political activist Abdulnabi Al-Ekri. “I think it will be a failure.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hammond, Sylvia Westall, Angus McDowall, Amena Bakr, Regan Doherty and Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Mark Heinrich)

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Wary of Iran, Saudis seek progress on Gulf union

Monday, 30. April 2012 1:33

By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI | Mon Apr 30, 2012 4:16am BST

(Reuters) – Wary of Iran and regional protest movements, Gulf Arab states are pushing ahead with plans for a political union that would involve joint foreign and defense policies, the Saudi foreign minister said in a speech at the weekend.

The comments by Prince Saud al-Faisal come two weeks ahead of a summit of U.S.-aligned Gulf leaders in Riyadh that will review an outline for such a union after Saudi King Abdullah first floated the idea last December. [...]

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