Issues regarding Arab-European dialogue

I just spent three days at the Rome Mediterranean Dialogues event, where I took part in a panel on media and cultural issues in relation to ISIS. Listening to the discussions from European and Arab politicians and policy-makers, a number of points of interest or concern jumped out, which I just wanted to summarise here. Continue reading Issues regarding Arab-European dialogue

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

The Iran deal: What it means for Saudi Arabia

(This was written for the European Council on Foreign Relations, appearing on its website)

Almost everyone is happy about the deal reached between United States and Iran. Turkey, which has been drawing close to Tehran of late, is sending its foreign minister there on Monday; Oman was the location secret U.S.-Iran talks in recent months, so must be happy; the UAE issued a statement welcoming the deal. The two naysayers were always Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel has made plain its displeasure, while Saudi Arabia has maintained a royal silence. Continue reading The Iran deal: What it means for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia: cultivating sectarian spaces

(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. Continue reading Saudi Arabia: cultivating sectarian spaces

Iranian Director Kiarostami Discusses His Work in Doha

Speaking in Doha during a special retrospective of his films last week, celebrated Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami talked a little bit about his work. He prefers not to say much by way of interpretation of his work, leaving it to the individual viewer to come to his own conclusions, but he was coaxed to say some words about his first ‘breakthrough’ film, Where Is The Friend’s House? from 1987. Continue reading Iranian Director Kiarostami Discusses His Work in Doha

On The Caliphate

The word caliphate, or khilafa in Islamic political theory, has been bandied around a lot over the past two years by opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood and sister movements of political Islam. Whether the Brotherhood would like to recreate this political institution or not is one issue, but the term itself needs some clarification since it is being misused, in often hysterical tones, to suggest a theocratic system along the lines of the Shi’ite innovation in Iran since 1979. Continue reading On The Caliphate

When East doesn’t meet West at an art auction

farhad_moshiri_untitled_d5665810hMixing East and West has become such a cliche that first mention of it is enough to shut down interest in any given context. EastWest-ism is still doing well in the art world, though. One of celebrated Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri’s works, an untitled oil and acrylic on canvas that is part of his Numeral series, was unnecessarily subjected to it in the catalogue for the Christie’s Dubai auction this week. Lines of numerals are set against a background of shades of green that suggest the texture of unearthed artefacts from the past. As Christie’s notes, the numbers have a graffiti-like, Pop Art appearance but on a canvas skilfully manipulated by Moshiri to give an antique effect. But that alone seems to have led the authors to conclude baldly: “This example subtly melds Eastern and Western concepts.” It seems that Moshiri’s binary of the past and the contemporary has been liberally redefined as “east (past), west (present)”. The notes for another in the Numeral series from 2011 suggested more usefully: “the almost military alignment of the stylized numbers is visually overwhelming and inevitably raises questions on their role: do we live in a world ruled by numbers? Is history simply a long string of successive dates?” Continue reading When East doesn’t meet West at an art auction

Islamists Empowered: Back to the Future

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’). Continue reading Islamists Empowered: Back to the Future

Bahrain criticises Iran over Mursi speech mistranslation

By Andrew Hammond and Yeganeh Torbati

DUBAI, Sept 2 | Sun Sep 2, 2012 4:09pm IST

(Reuters) – Bahrain has criticised Iranian officials over a mistranslation of a speech by Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, which replaced the word “Syria” with “Bahrain” when he listed Arab states that had experienced revolts since last year.

The reference was diplomatically sensitive because Iran, a Shi’ite Muslim power and an ally of the Syrian government, has expressed sympathy with a Shi’ite-led democratic protest movement in Bahrain against the ruling Al Khalifa family. The Khalifas, backed by Washington, are Sunni Muslim. Continue reading Bahrain criticises Iran over Mursi speech mistranslation