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The Islamic Utopia: some snippets

Thursday, 25. October 2012 12:37

Here is a chapter list and short bits of random text:

Introduction

“Given the brutal police states that some of the nation-state regimes in the Arab region became, Saudi Arabia could have been viewed as an indigenous model that survived colonialism: the Najd region where the Saudi-Wahhabi state first emerged in the mid-eighteenth century was one of the few areas of the Arabian peninsula to avoid direct European control and imperial subjugation. Indeed, since the oil boom of the 1970s, white- and blue-collar labour from around the world clamoured to live in Saudi Arabia for a job, a better wage and a better living. Saudis are ensured education and welfare coverage in a relatively safe and clean environment; the Muslim is offered sanitised access to certain aspects of modernity – fast-food restaurants, high-tech gadgetry, the internet, designer home furnishings. Only Westerners complain because there is no easy, regularised access to branded alcohol and corporatised nightlife. [...]

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A Book is Born

Tuesday, 16. October 2012 20:23

Pluto Press Logo - Independent Progressive Publishing

Middle East Studies

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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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The Muslim Brotherhood and the Gulf

Tuesday, 19. June 2012 4:38

The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the concomitant blow to the Egyptian security establishment has been the main take-away issue for governments around the Arab world from last year’s political upheaval. Egyptian security played a central role in coordinating with security agencies around the region and identifying enemies: the Brotherhood and its affiliates were among them, not least in the Gulf where the death of Nayef – the fat cat who masterminded the no-nonsense, no-dissent state – is a new challenge for the old order. [...]

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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.

OMAN, UAE, KUWAIT OBJECTIONS

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.

MISSILE SHIELD DISPUTE

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.

BAHRAINI ENTHUSIASM

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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Shi’ite Khalas group answers Saudi government

Tuesday, 3. January 2012 19:50

The Shi’ite Khalas group – set up via London after the clashes in Medina in 2009, along lines of the Bahraini opposition group of same name – responds to the Saudi government’s declaration of 23 “wanted” people over the recent unrest in the Qatif area and allegations that they have a foreign agenda and are in touch with some lone foreigner, according to the odd statement by Mansour al-Turki this week (Khalas founding statement is in this anti-Shi’ite site: http://www.dd-sunnah.net/news/view/action/view/id/825/). Here is the statement in Arabic: [...]

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The Iran nuclear debate: preserving regimes vs. destroying peoples

Saturday, 31. December 2011 23:01

Debate has raged in recent days over an article in Foreign Affairs in which Matthew Kroenig of the Council on Foreign Relations argues that the United States should not flinch from launching a military operation, and soon, to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities before Iran achieves nuclear weapons capability. In “Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option”, Kroenig writes that: “…skeptics of military action fail to appreciate the true danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond. And their grim forecasts assume that the cure would be worse than the disease – that is, that the consequences of a U.S. assault on Iran would be as bad as or worse than those of Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions. But that is a faulty assumption. The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States.” [...]

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Who leads the (Wahhabized) Muslim mainstream?

Friday, 30. December 2011 0:47

The Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University organised a conference this week titled “al-Salafiyya: manhaj shar’i wa matlab watani” (Salafism: Legal Path, National Demand) where recently appointed crown prince Nayef and the state’s official spokesman and advisor on religious affairs, the Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Shaikh, gave speeches praising al-Salafiyya, or Salafism. The use of that word was striking. The phrase refers to the al-salaf al-saleh, the pious early Muslims, companions of the Prophet and leaders of the Muslim community after his death and in that form it is often used in Saudi political and religious rhetoric. But the use of the abstract noun to indicate the school or trend of Sunni Islam promoted and championed by Saudi Arabia is unusual, at least with this force. [...]

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‘Springtime in Riyadh’: Wagging the dog over Iran

Tuesday, 18. October 2011 20:25

Although Saudi Arabia has been manoeuvring to stymie the “Arab Spring” wherever it can, with the drama of an apparent Iranian conspiracy to murder Adel al-Jubair one might say, taking a bad metaphor further, its Springtime in Riyadh. Quite a few bottles of champagne were possibly pulled out in royal palaces and the villas of commoner henchmen across the capital. For the plot to Get Jubair in Washington has taken the United States one step closer to a military conflagration with Tehran: it’s still neither imminent nor on the horizon at any vaguely definable point in the short or medium term. But 1. Washington is one significant step further down that road and 2., and what I want to point out here, getting the US administration to that stage has been a Saudi foreign policy goal of the King Abdullah – “reformer”, “king of hearts”, etc. - era. [...]

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