Arab Media: From Decolonisation to Arab Spring

(First published by Italian think tank IPSI)

Arab media has been a powerful tool in the hands of Arab states since the decolonisation period. The Nasser regime used radio, television and print media to mobilise support for Egypt’s Non-Aligned and Pan-Arab foreign policy, apply methods of mass media propaganda developed in Europe and establishing a model for the region. The power of media to function as a subversive force was seen in the 1970s when cassette tapes of preachers denouncing governments for tyranny and corruption spread in Egypt and Iran. Continue reading Arab Media: From Decolonisation to Arab Spring

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

In the House of God: A Diary of the Hajj

(The following was written after trips to Mecca in 2004 and 2005 as Reuters correspondent sent to cover hajj)

One of the jewels in the crown of the Saudi-Wahhabi state is its control of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. When Abdulaziz assumed full sovereignty after his Ikhwan stormed into its cities, he added ‘King of the Hejaz’ to his list of titles. Pilgrim revenue, mainly from the hajj season, became the major domestic source of income for the nascent Saudi state, though the Najd-run entity still relied on foreign handouts to survive.(1) The state took control of pilgrim tour operations as part of the wider process of severing Hejazi autonomy and tying its political and economic life to Riyadh.(2) As the country moved into the era of modern communications then entered the petrodollar era in the 1970s, significantly larger numbers of pilgrims were able to visit, but the hajj they were to experience was a hajj with a very specific Saudi and Wahhabi stamp. Processing the world’s Muslims through Saudi-Wahhabi pilgrimage became a vast industry, a major preoccupation of the state and a key element in its self-legitimising rhetoric. Petrodollars are of vastly greater importance to state and princely finances, but, raking in some $24 billion a year in tourist receipts mainly linked to Mecca and Medina, hajj remains a major earner for Saudi Arabia.(3) It is also a monopolistic practice – there is little Saudi Arabia can do to compete with Shi’ite pilgrimage centres such as Najaf and Kerbala, but Jerusalem, which contains the Al-Aqsa mosque, the site towards which Islamic tradition says the first Muslims turned in prayer, is accorded little significance in Saudi media or Wahhabi religious discourse, whether it was under Jordanian or Israeli control. It is a rival to the prestige and revenue of the Saudi-Wahhabi state.(4) Continue reading In the House of God: A Diary of the Hajj

On Salafism in Turkey

Salafism Infiltrates Turkish Religious Discourse

Salafi discourse has made considerable inroads in Turkey over the past 30 years, making contributions to sectarianism in ways that have yet to be fully studied and understood. Although the military coup in 1980 was carried out by those who saw themselves as the guardians of Kemalist secularism, the junta forged closer ties with Saudi Arabia, viewing it as a conservative force interested in maintaining the regional political order. These ties led to a state promotion of Islam―embodied in the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis, the ideological framework that reconciled Turkish nationalism with religion―that also aimed to undercut the opposition Islamist movement of Necmettin Erbakan. This opened the way for cooperation between the Saudi-based World Muslim League and Turkey’s religious affairs administration—the Diyanet—and the education ministry in propagating religious material.[1] Continue reading On Salafism in Turkey

عن استقلال الاعلام الغربي في الشرق الأوسط

تشرفت بفرصة نشر القال التالي في صحيفة الاخبار اللبنانية – عن موضوع الاستقلالية المزعومة في طريقة تغطيتها لأحداث الشرق الأوسط.

إني أشهد… لماذا نحر الإعلام الغربي ضميره على مذبح آل سعود؟ Continue reading عن استقلال الاعلام الغربي في الشرق الأوسط

Abdullah and His Reform Legacy

(From Middle East Eye)

The hagiographies of the deceased Saudi king Abdullah have piled up at a surprising rate, reflecting the desire – the desperate hope – among Western policy-makers that Saudi Arabia is on a path to “reform” that justifies their continued  investment in a regime whose political repression, economic plunder, improvised regional interventions and cradling of religious obscurantism and zealotry (beheading for sorcery) is of a scale arguably unique in modern times. In an astounding move, the UK government has even ordered flags to be put at half-mast. Continue reading Abdullah and His Reform Legacy

Games Without Frontiers, War Without Tears

Debate over the Charlie Hebdo attacks has centred on different problems that the tragedy speaks to – freedom of expression, integration of immigrants into French society, anti-foreigner sentiment, Western political and military involvement in the Middle East, the rise of the anti-Western phenomenon of jihadism. While it’s not entirely clear yet how the attacks came about and the motivations involved, it’s worth dwelling a little perhaps on the last. While it’s true that Western wars in the Middle East have provoked a desire for revenge, the modern jihadist is also a product of the politicking of Arab regimes. The political price for these involvements is largely paid by the West, however. Continue reading Games Without Frontiers, War Without Tears

Gulf states and Jihadist wars of no political consequence

From RIEAS Research Institute for European and American Studies

The Syrian civil war has been the third major jihad of modern times for Gulf Arab states. The first, Afghanistan, was a new experience, the inaugural transnational jihad of the modern era in which Saudi Arabia and the United States jumped into the fray against the Soviet invasion. Each with different motivations, they poured some $20 billion in the fight and Saudi interior ministry may have facilitated travel for anything between 35,000 and 40,000 young men to join in.[1] Sensing Russian weakness, Washington wanted to take the fight to the Soviets, while Al Saud were willing to provide the manpower because of a new turn that Saudi Arabia took in the 1980s: scared by the 1979 Wahhabi revolt at the Grand Mosque in Mecca the regime moved to boost its Islamic credentials. The class of ulama (religious scholars) were given wider powers over society, the kingdom embarked on a programme of global proselytization (printing Qurans and funding mosques), and Saudis were publicly encouraged to join the Afghan jihad. The Mujahideen were public heroes. Continue reading Gulf states and Jihadist wars of no political consequence

Key shifts in the Arab ‘moderates’ position on Hamas and Israel

Published by Middle East Monitor

The Egyptian, Saudi and other Arab “moderates” position on the Gaza war has been presented in most media discussion and political analysis as a striking departure from previous policy and indication of a new shift towards Israel and its view of Hamas, “resistance” and other regional challenges to the global order. The fact is, however, that their Gaza policies are the consequence of over a decade of restructuring of Arab positions to accommodate the United States. Continue reading Key shifts in the Arab ‘moderates’ position on Hamas and Israel