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ECFR: Gulf rift: uneasy dynasties in a changing world

Friday, 7. March 2014 5:31

This week, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha, citing Qatar’s apparent failure to heed the terms of a security agreement made at a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting late last year. The two issues in the dispute are Qatar’s perceived backing for the Egyptian Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the coverage on Qatari pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera, which has been favourable to the Brotherhood and its challenge to the Egyptian authorities after the military ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi last year. [...]

Category:Commentary, Published articles 2014 | Comment (0) | Autor:

FT: Diplomatic crisis as Gulf states withdraw ambassadors from Qatar

Wednesday, 5. March 2014 5:41

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have withdrawn their ambassadors from neighbouring Qatar, as frustration over the gas-rich emirate’s maverick foreign policy prompts the worst intra-Gulf diplomatic crisis in recent history.

The three nations, which are seeking to marginalise their neighbour’s support for political Islam in the region, cited Qatar’s unwillingness to adhere to agreements of the 32-year-old six-member Gulf Co-operation Council as the reason for recalling their envoys, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama also asked Doha, which has been a big backer of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group, not to “support any party aiming to threaten security and stability of any GCC member”.

They accused Qatar of failing to agree on a unified policy to “ensure non-interference, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any member state” after it failed to sign up to a common security pact at a GCC foreign ministers meeting in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Qatar’s cabinet in a statement said that the ambassadors’ withdrawal had been driven by “a difference in positions on issues out of the GCC,” reiterating its commitment to the six-member group, adding that it would not reciprocate and withdraw its ambassadors.

The diplomatic crisis, a rare escalation of behind-the-scenes negotiation into a damaging public spat, poses the most severe challenge of the short reign of the young Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The sheikh met the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in November, promising a new face to Qatar’s foreign policy.

“The new emir promised things would change, and he failed to deliver,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a UAE-based political scientist, referring to a meeting held between Sheikh Tamim and the Saudi and Kuwaiti rulers last November.

“There is a desire to sanction Qatar politically and diplomatically.”

Gulf states had believed the new emir would promote a more consensual approach to foreign policy, co-ordinating more closely with his GCC neighbours, rather than striking out on major policy initiatives alone.

”Qatar has been warned a number of times by GCC countries that its policies, particularly with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood, ran counter to the critical security interests of the region,” said Michael Stephens, researcher at the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar. “As a result the GCC nations have taken an unprecedented step to haul Qatar back into line, and further escalatory steps could be taken in future.”

Last month, the UAE rebuked the Qatari ambassador in Abu Dhabi after Sheikh Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who is based in Qatar, attacked the UAE for not supporting Islamic government.

The UAE’s crackdown on domestic Islamists has over the past couple of years prompted several disagreements, many of them on social media, between emiratis and Sheikh Qaradawi and his supporters.

Abu Dhabi this week convicted a Qatari national, dubbed a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, for aiding a banned UAE Islamist group that the authorities claim is linked to the brotherhood.

So far Qatar has not bowed to initial pressure from Abu Dhabi over Sheikh Qaradawi’s comments, says Andrew Hammond, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“Qatar does not want to allow Saudi and the UAE to dictate policy,” says Mr Hammond. “Qatar is convinced it is standing up for just causes, such as Egypt, as well as its interventions in Libya and Syria.”

The ousting of Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first elected president who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has become the biggest flashpoint in GCC-Qatar relations.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have generously supported the military-backed interim regime led by Field Marshall Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Qatar, a financial supporter of Mr Morsi’s government, has criticised the manner in which the president was deposed.

The three Gulf states have also been pushing Doha to rein in its popular pan-Arab satellite channel, Al Jazeera, which they accuse of promoting an Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood agenda. Three Al Jazeera journalists are facing trial in Cairo on charges of belonging to the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.

The channel’s reporting sparked another bilateral spat with Saudi Arabia, which recalled its ambassador from Doha between 2002 and 2007.

Oman, which does not tend to co-ordinate closely with the other Gulf monarchies, and Kuwait did not withdraw their ambassadors.

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Qatar a year on: Still Ikhwanistan

Sunday, 16. February 2014 23:56

(from European Council on Foreign Relations webpage)

http://ecfr.eu/publications/summary/qatars_transition_like_father_like_son304

Qatar’s leadership transition: like father, like son [...]

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

Egypt’s Salafis: ‘New Brothers’ walking a political minefield

Tuesday, 7. January 2014 18:49

(This article was first published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on its website)

One of the most intriguing turns of the post-uprising scene in Egypt has been the emergence of the Salafi movement – as a political force, as a rival to the Muslim Brotherhood, and most recently as an ally of the July 3 military regime. The Salafi Nour party’s general secretary Galal Murra appeared on television as one of the handful of pliant politicians flanking General Abdulfattah al-Sisi as he announced the removal of elected president Mohammed Morsi last year after mass protests against Brotherhood rule. Since then the party’s leadership has remained faithful to the new regime as its conflict with the Brotherhood intensified and a hysterical anti-Islamist atmosphere ensued. [...]

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The Iran deal: What it means for Saudi Arabia

Wednesday, 27. November 2013 6:06

(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. [...]

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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. [...]

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Saudi women drivers: the red light that never changes

Wednesday, 13. November 2013 6:28

(also published on European Council on Foreign Relations website)

Saudi liberals have been predicting for years that a decision to allow women to drive is imminent. The predictions started with Abdullah taking over the managing of state affairs as crown prince in the late 1990s and intensified after he became king in 2005. Nothing happened then and nothing has happened now, as women make considerable efforts to promote the issue through social and political activism. [...]

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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 [...]

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Ali Anouzla’s Saudi Article – The Last Straw?

Wednesday, 25. September 2013 22:10

This article appeared on Lakome.com on 12 September and there is some speculation in Morocco that it was the spark that led to the arrest of journalist and editor Ali Anouzla five days later. Accusing Saudi Arabia of being the central force ruining the “Arab awakening” that begin in Tunisia in 2010, it was an argument rarely stated in so forthright a manner in Arab media – a reflection of the power and manipulation of Saudi Arabia in Arab media and politics. Anouzla’s web newspaper project had been infuriating the Moroccan authorities for some time – not least for its strong coverage of King Mohammed’s pardon of a Spaniard convicted of paedophilia. Prosecutors say it was the posting of an al-Qa’ida video that explains the move against Anouzla now, but few are taking that seriously. He is being held in Morocco’s worst prison, Sale near Rabat, where suspected militants are held – one indication of the government’s determination to make Anouzla pay. Just in case the Saudi article disappears completely from the Lakome website, here is the Arabic below. [...]

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Street politics and manipulation in Egypt

Friday, 5. July 2013 19:44

Street politics is an inherently unstable and risky affair. Bypassing normal rules of political engagement, it can bring great dividends and or it can be an arena for sinister manipulation. Fortunately nothing has emerged from the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings of 2011 to suggest there was any of the kind of foul play involved in the street protests of 1953 in Iran against elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh, now widely regarded as part of a CIA-orchestrated coup. [...]

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