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Articles by: Dr James M Dorsey

Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around

Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around

  Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes around. Not only because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria and neglected alternative options that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much of the international community.[Read More…]

Landing in Riyadh: Geopolitics work in Putin’s favour

Landing in Riyadh: Geopolitics work in Putin’s favour

  When Russian President Vladimir Putin lands in Riyadh this week for the second time in 12 years, his call for endorsement of his proposal to replace the US defense umbrella in the Gulf with a multilateral security architecture is likely to rank high on his agenda. So is Mr. Putin’s push for Saudi Arabia to finalize the acquisition of[Read More…]

A self-inflicted wound: Trump surrenders the West’s moral high ground

A self-inflicted wound: Trump surrenders the West’s moral high ground

  For the better part of a century, the United States could claim the moral high ground despite allegations of hypocrisy because its policies continuously contradicted its proclaimed propagation of democracy and human rights. Under President Donald J. Trump, the US has lost that moral high ground. This week’s US sanctioning of 28 Chinese government entities and companies for their[Read More…]

Learning lessons: Protesters stay one step ahead of rulers

Learning lessons: Protesters stay one step ahead of rulers

There’s a déjà vu feeling to this year’s wave of protests across the Arab world. It’s not that this year saw the toppling of the leaders of Algeria and Sudan as a result of popular revolts, a harking back to the 2011 protests that overthrew the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. It’s that it’s the protesters in Iraq,[Read More…]

Running hot and cold: Gulf balances on the edge of war and peace

Running hot and cold: Gulf balances on the edge of war and peace

  With war and peace hanging in the balance, tensions in the Gulf are running hot and cold. Saudi and Iranian leaders are this week walking back from the brink, signalling that they want to avoid outright military confrontation and manage rather than resolve differences. In fact, there is every reason to believe that neither Riyadh nor Tehran has a[Read More…]

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Saudi policy shift: A rare Trump foreign policy success

Saudi policy shift: A rare Trump foreign policy success

By the law of unintended consequences, US President Donald J. Trump’s mix of uncritical and cynical embrace of Saudi Arabia and transactional approach towards relations with the kingdom may be producing results. Saudi Arabia appears to be backing away from its largely disastrous assertive and robust go-it alone foreign and defense policy posture and reverting to a more cautious approach[Read More…]

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Big power rivalry in the Gulf requires a US strategy rethink

Big power rivalry in the Gulf requires a US strategy rethink

  As French, Pakistani and other leaders seek to engineer a meeting between the US and Iranian presidents on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, big power rivalry could rack up tension in the waters of the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. With prospects for a face-to-face encounter between presidents Donald J. Trump and Hassan Rouhani slim at[Read More…]

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Saudi oil attacks put US commitments to the test

Saudi oil attacks put US commitments to the test

  Neither Saudi Arabia nor the United States is rushing to retaliate for a brazen, allegedly Iranian attack that severely damaged two of the kingdom’s key oil facilities. That is not to say that Saudi Arabia and/or the United States will not retaliate in what could prove to be a game changer in the geopolitics of the Middle East. Yet,[Read More…]

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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Bishkek on June 13, 2019. (Photo by Grigory SYSOYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP)

Eurasia’s Great Game: India, Japan and Europe play to Putin’s needs

Eurasia’s Great Game is anything but simple and straightforward. A burgeoning alliance between China and Russia that at least for now is relegating potential differences between the two powers to the sidelines has sparked a complex geopolitical dance of its own. With India, Japan and Europe seeking to drive a wedge between the two Asian powers, Central Asian states, where[Read More…]

Death of female Iranian soccer fan puts FIFA and Asian soccer body in the dock

Death of female Iranian soccer fan puts FIFA and Asian soccer body in the dock

When Sahar Khodayari this week set herself alight in front of a Tehran courthouse, she indicted world soccer body FIFA, its Asian regional group, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and their presidents, Gianni Infantino and Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa. Messrs. Infantino and Al Khalifa have been selective in their support for women’s soccer rights. Mr. Infantino was in[Read More…]

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Playing politics: Trump and Netanyahu risk sparking nuclear arms race

Playing politics: Trump and Netanyahu risk sparking nuclear arms race

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani may not be the only one to have welcomed US President Donald J. Trump’s cancellation of peace talks with the Taliban. Probably, so did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the run-up to this month’s Israeli elections. The cancellation likely reduces fears harboured in recent weeks by Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli intelligence community that the US[Read More…]

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A bird’s eye view of Asia: A continental landscape of minorities in peril

A bird’s eye view of Asia: A continental landscape of minorities in peril

Many in Asia look at the Middle East with a mixture of expectation of stable energy supplies, hope for economic opportunity and concern about a potential fallout of the region’s multiple violent conflicts that are often cloaked in ethnic, religious and sectarian terms. Yet, a host of Asian nations led by men and women, who redefine identity as concepts of[Read More…]

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Gulf wealth: All that glitters is not gold

Gulf wealth: All that glitters is not gold

Little suggests that fabulously wealthy Gulf states and their Middle Eastern and North African beneficiaries have recognized what is perhaps the most important lesson of this year’s popular uprisings in Algeria and Sudan and the 2011 Arab revolts: All that glitters is not gold. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and to a lesser extent Kuwait have in the last[Read More…]

Protest: The King is dead, long live the king

Protest: The King is dead, long live the king

  Protest is back on the front burner. Protesters occupy streets in cities ranging from Hong Kong and Moscow to Khartoum and Algiers. They would likely do so in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, were it not for unprecedented pre-emptive security measures. When protest is not on the streets, it is embedded in culture wars wracking countries like the[Read More…]

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Aramco’s IPO: A bell weather of Saudi balancing between East and West

Aramco’s IPO: A bell weather of Saudi balancing between East and West

  Saudi Arabia’s planned awarding of mandates for the management of an initial public offering (IPO) by its national oil company Aramco is likely to serve as a bell weather for how Riyadh balances its relations with the United States and China. In an early indication that Western financial institutions like Goldman Sachs may be losing their near monopoly, Saudi[Read More…]

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Diverging Gulf responses to Kashmir and Xinjiang ripple across Asia

Diverging Gulf responses to Kashmir and Xinjiang ripple across Asia

Recent diametrically opposed responses to repression of Muslims by China, India and other Asian countries highlight deep differences among Gulf states that ripple across Asia. The different responses were evident in Gulf reactions to India’s unilateral withdrawal of Kashmir’s autonomy and Qatar’s reversal of its support of China’s brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in its troubled, north-western province of Xinjiang.[Read More…]

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Business and boxing: two sides of the same coin

Business and boxing: two sides of the same coin

What do a planned US$15 billion Saudi investment in petroleum-related Indian businesses and a controversial boxing championship have in common? Both reflect a world in which power and economics drive policy, politics and business at the expense of fundamental rights. And both underscore an emerging new world order in which might is right, a jungle in which dissenters, minorities and[Read More…]

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The Kashmir crisis spotlights what a civilizational world looks like

The Kashmir crisis spotlights what a civilizational world looks like

India’s decision to deprive Kashmir of its autonomy, alongside a clampdown in the troubled north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang and US-backed Israeli annexation of Arab land, is the latest indication of what a new world order led by civilizational leaders may look like. In dealing with recent conflicts, US President Donald J. Trump, Israeli and Indian prime ministers Benyamin Netanyahu[Read More…]

Uyghur asylum seeker puts international community on the spot

Uyghur asylum seeker puts international community on the spot

Ablikim Yusuf, a 53-year old Uyghur Muslim seeking a safe haven from potential Chinese persecution, landed this week in the United States, his new home. But Mr. Yusuf’s perilous search that took him from Pakistan to Qatar to Bosnia Herzegovina where was refused entry and back to Qatar highlighted China’s inability to enforce its depiction of the brutal clampdown on[Read More…]

Security architecture in the Gulf: Troubled prospects

Security architecture in the Gulf: Troubled prospects

Russia, backed by China, hoping to exploit mounting doubts in the Gulf about the reliability of the United States as the region’s sole security guarantor, is proposing a radical overhaul of the security architecture in an area that is home to massive oil and gas reserves and some of the world’s most strategic waterways. Chinese backing for Russia’s proposed collective[Read More…]

Saudi Iranian rivalry polarises Nigerian Muslims

Saudi Iranian rivalry polarises Nigerian Muslims

A recent ban on a militant, Iranian-backed Shiite group raised the spectre of the Saudi Iranian rivalry spilling onto Nigerian streets as security forces launched a manhunt to find the alleged Boko Haram operatives who killed 65 people attending a funeral. Nigeria, Africa’s foremost oil producer, banned the Iranian-backed Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) this weekend after demonstrations in the[Read More…]

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Shifting Sands: Chinese encroachment in Central Asia and challenges to US supremacy in the Gulf

Shifting Sands: Chinese encroachment in Central Asia and challenges to US supremacy in the Gulf

China and Russia are as much allies as they are rivals. A joint Tajik-Chinese military exercise in a Tajik region bordering on China’s troubled north-western region of Xinjiang suggests that increased Chinese-Russian military cooperation has not eroded gradually mounting rivalry in Central Asia, long viewed by Moscow as its backyard. The exercise, the second in three years, coupled with the[Read More…]

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China’s risky bets

China’s risky bets

China’s infrastructure and energy driven US$1 trillion Belt and Road initiative involves risky bets across a swath of land populated by often illiberal or autocratic governments exercising power without independent checks and balances. Seeking to reduce risk, China is bumping up against the limits of its own long-standing foreign and defence policy principles, foremost among which its insistence on non-interference[Read More…]

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Climate change: UAE and Russia eye geopolitical and commercial mileage

Climate change: UAE and Russia eye geopolitical and commercial mileage

Climate change, much like war, could prove to be a geopolitical and commercial gold mine. At least, that is the take of DP World, Dubai’s global port operator, and Russia’s sovereign wealth fund. DP World is partnering with the fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) to create an all-year round maritime sea route from Europe to Asia through the[Read More…]

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Algerian soccer success is a double-edged sword

It took Algeria barely two weeks to charge Algerian soccer fan Samir Sardouk and sentence him to a year in jail for harming the national interests of his country. Mr. Sardouk was convicted for shouting “There is no God but Allah, and they will come down” during the African Cup of Nation’s opening match in the Egyptian capital of Cairo[Read More…]

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Muslim causes vs national interest: Muslim nations make risky bets

Muslim causes vs national interest: Muslim nations make risky bets

Saudi attitudes towards the plight of thousands of illegal Rohingya in the kingdom fleeing persecution in Myanmar and squalid Bangladeshi refugee camps help explain Saudi support for China’s brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in its troubled, north-western province of Xinjiang. For more than half a year, Saudi Arabia has been deporting large numbers of Rohingya who arrived in the kingdom[Read More…]

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Tension in the Gulf: Not just maritime powder kegs

Tension in the Gulf: Not just maritime powder kegs

A recent interview in which Baloch National Movement chairman Khalil Baloch legitimized recent militant attacks on Iranian, Chinese and Pakistani targets is remarkable less for what he said and more for the fact that his remarks were published by a Saudi newspaper. Speaking to Riyadh Daily, the English language sister of one of Saudi Arabia’s foremost newspapers, Al Riyadh, Mr.[Read More…]

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A risky gamble: Official Turkish delegation to inspect troubled Xinjiang

A risky gamble: Official Turkish delegation to inspect troubled Xinjiang

  An official Turkish visit to the troubled north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang to assess reports of a brutal crackdown on the region’s Turkic Muslims could shape Turkey’s challenge to conservative Gulf states’ leadership of the Islamic world and complicate Muslim silence about the most frontal assault on their faith in recent history. The visit to assess the situation in[Read More…]

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Crisis in Georgia: Russians challenge Putin’s civilizationalist ambition

Crisis in Georgia: Russians challenge Putin’s civilizationalist ambition

A political crisis in the former Soviet republic of Georgia challenges the fundament of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s civilizationalist effort to project Russia as a major power whose defense of the Russian Diaspora allows it to redefine the country’s borders. The challenge emerged as protesters demanded the resignation of interior minister Giorgi Gakharia for violently breaking up demonstrations against the[Read More…]

UAE withdraws from Yemen: Managing alliances and reputational threats

UAE withdraws from Yemen: Managing alliances and reputational threats

A United Arab Emirates decision to withdraw the bulk of its forces from Yemen shines a spotlight on hard realities underlying Middle Eastern geopolitics. The pullback suggests that the UAE is preparing for the possibility of a US military confrontation with Iran in which the UAE and Saudi Arabia could emerge as prime battlegrounds. It also reflects long-standing subtle differences[Read More…]

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Vladimir Putin vs Liberalism 1:0

Vladimir Putin vs Liberalism 1:0

Certain that Western and liberal democratic leaders would limit themselves to verbal denials, Russian president Vladimir Putin knew he was kicking into an open goal when he declared on the eve of the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Osaka that liberalism had “outlived its purpose.” He may even have anticipated that US president Donald J. Trump would go further[Read More…]

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The Middle East: Barrelling towards a nuclear and ballistic missiles arms race

The Middle East: Barrelling towards a nuclear and ballistic missiles arms race

The Middle East is barrelling towards a nuclear and ballistic missiles arms race. The race is being aided and abetted by a US policy that views the region through the dual prism of the need to stop in its tracks an aggressive, expansionary, and destabilizing Islamic republic that seeks to dominate and as a lucrative market for the US defense[Read More…]

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Public decency law puts Saudi reforms in perspective

Public decency law puts Saudi reforms in perspective

A newly adopted Saudi law on public decency helps define Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vague notion of ‘moderate Islam.’ It also lays bare the pitfalls of his social reforms as well as his preference for hyper-nationalism rather than religion as the legitimizing ideology of his rule and his quest for control of every aspect of Saudi life. In an[Read More…]

Building cohesive societies: Southeast Asian states take on gargantuan challenge

Building cohesive societies: Southeast Asian states take on gargantuan challenge

Several Southeast Asian governments and social movements are seeking to counter mounting polarization and inter-communal strife across the globe fuelled by the rise of civilizationalist leaders who think in exclusionary rather than inclusionary terms. In the most high-brow of various initiatives, King Abdullah of Jordan is scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies[Read More…]

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Russian Iranian strains raise spectre of US-Israeli-Russian deal on Syria

Russian Iranian strains raise spectre of US-Israeli-Russian deal on Syria

  With Israel set to host an unprecedented meeting of the national security advisors of the United States, Russia and Israel, this week’s efforts by German foreign minister Heiko Maas and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe to mediate between the US and Iran could prove to be a sideshow. The meeting of the national security advisors, against the backdrop of[Read More…]

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Clerics and entertainment seek to bolster MbS’s grip on power

Clerics and entertainment seek to bolster MbS’s grip on power

A public apology by a prominent Salafi scholar sheds a light on Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s version of ‘moderate Islam,’ his effort to shape the Middle East and North Africa in his mould, and the replacement of religion with hyper-nationalism as the source of his legitimacy. Claiming to speak in the name of the Sahwa or Awakening movement,[Read More…]

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Soccer emerges as the Gulf crisis’s potential icebreaker

Soccer emerges as the Gulf crisis’s potential icebreaker

 It was on the soccer pitch that 2022 World Cup host Qatar definitively shrugged off the UAE-Saudi-led economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state as the crisis entered its third year with no prospect of resolution. World soccer body FIFA’s abandonment of Saudi-United Arab Emirates-backed plans to expand the 2022 World Cup from 32 to 48 teams just days[Read More…]

Defying authority: Arab, Russia and Pakistan protesters learn lessons of 2011

Defying authority: Arab, Russia and Pakistan protesters learn lessons of 2011

  Demonstrators in Sudan, Algeria and nations beyond the Middle East such as Pakistan and Russia are applying lessons learnt from the 2011 popular Arab revolts as the Sudanese military uses an apparent Saudi-United Arab Emirates template to crack down. This week’s crackdown in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, in which reportedly some 100 people were killed as of this[Read More…]

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Eyeing UK soccer clubs: Gulf buyers come with baggage

Eyeing UK soccer clubs: Gulf buyers come with baggage

The bitter Gulf rift between Qatar and its Saudi and United Arab Emirates-led detractors could spill on to the pitches of English soccer. A flurry of reports suggest that the Gulf rivals are seeking to buy big name English clubs. Abu Dhabi billionaire Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nahayan, a member of the emirate’s ruling family, said this week that[Read More…]

Saudi religious moderation: How real is it?

Saudi religious moderation: How real is it?

Meet Mohammed bin Abdul-Karim Al-Issa, the public face of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s version of moderate Islam. A 54-year old former justice minister, Mr. Al-Issa, one of a younger generation of Islamic scholars willing to do Prince Mohammed’s bidding, has been doing the rounds internationally and making all the right moves to project the de facto Saudi leader[Read More…]

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Pakistani woes likely to dominate Chinese vice president’s visit

Pakistani woes likely to dominate Chinese vice president’s visit

Security and the viability of China’s massive investment is likely to top Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan’s agenda when he lands this weekend in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. A series of violent attacks, including on Chinese targets, coupled with enhanced Saudi influence in Pakistan and mounting tension between the United States and Iran that could suck the South Asian[Read More…]

US geopolitical interests offer Iran sanctions loophole amid mounting tension

US geopolitical interests offer Iran sanctions loophole amid mounting tension

  The Indian-backed Iranian port of Chabahar has emerged as a major loophole in a tightening military and economic noose and ever harsher US sanctions that President Donald J. Trump, reluctant to be sucked into yet another war, sees as the best way to either force Tehran to its knees or achieve regime change. Alice Wells, the State Department’s assistant[Read More…]

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Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war. The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to[Read More…]

Mounting tension with Iran sheds a light on dynamics of US geopolitics

Mounting tension with Iran sheds a light on dynamics of US geopolitics

  Mounting tension between the Trump administration and Iran are likely to shed light on US dynamics shaping today’s geopolitical environment. Looming large is the figure of US national security advisor John Bolton, a proponent of a muscular US foreign policy in which the United States employs military force to impose its will and fortify its superpower status as the[Read More…]

Tackling hate speech: Tech companies and world leaders opt for band-aid solutions

Tackling hate speech: Tech companies and world leaders opt for band-aid solutions

There’s a ‘blame the messenger’ quality to global efforts to counter misinformation, extremism and hate speech by world leaders and technology companies. The efforts are informed by a historically proven false assumption that suppressing expressions of racism, bigotry, supremacism and intolerance or psychological warfare campaigns by the likes of Russia will ensure that they do not reach the public. Perhaps,[Read More…]

Want to curb violent attacks? Curb civilisationalism | James M. Dorsey

Want to curb violent attacks? Curb civilisationalism | James M. Dorsey

Decades of Saudi global funding of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism is perceived to have created breeding grounds for radicalism in Muslim communities even if it was largely not directly responsible for the rise of jihadism. The same is true for civilisationalism of which jihadism is just one expression as are intolerant, supremacist expressions of Evangelism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Civilisationalism, wittingly or[Read More…]

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Arab power struggles: “The King is dead, long live the King” |James M. Dorsey

Arab power struggles: “The King is dead, long live the King” |James M. Dorsey

Political transition in the Middle East and North Africa operates so far on the principle of ‘The King is dead, long live the King.’ Libya’s battle for Tripoli alongside ongoing mass anti-government demonstrations that toppled autocratic leaders of Algeria and Sudan demonstrate that both popular Arab protests that in 2011 forced four presidents out of office and the counterrevolution it[Read More…]

Destabilising Iran

Destabilising Iran

Alarm bells went off in September in Washington’s corridors of power when John Bolton’s National Security Council (NSC) asked the Pentagon for options for military strikes against Iran.[1] The council was responding to three missiles fired by an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia that landed in an empty lot close to the United States embassy in Baghdad and the launching of rockets[Read More…]

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Violence complicates Pakistan PM’s tightrope walk as he visits Iran and China

Violence complicates Pakistan PM’s tightrope walk as he visits Iran and China

  Two attacks in as many weeks in Pakistan’s troubled province of Balochistan shatter hopes that the country has gained the upper hand in efforts to reduce political violence. The attacks also raise questions about Pakistan’s ability to walk a geopolitical tightrope. Coming days before Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan embarked on a two-day visit to Iran, the attacks highlight[Read More…]

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Anatoly Maltsev/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9762785o)
Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin
Russia US Summit in Helsinki, Finland - 16 Jul 2018
US President Donald J. Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shake hands during a joint press conference in the Hall of State at Presidential Palace following their summit talks, in Helsinki, Finland, 16 July 2018.

War in Libya: A rare instance of US-Russian cooperation

There is little that Russia and the United States agree on these days. Renegade Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar may be a rare exception. As Mr. Haftar’s mortars rained on the southern suburbs of the Libyan capital Tripoli and fighting between his Libyan National Army (LNA) and the United Nations-recognized government expanded to the south of the country, both[Read More…]

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James M. Dorsey – Eurasia’s Great Game and the Future of the China-Russia Alliance

James M. Dorsey – Eurasia’s Great Game and the Future of the China-Russia Alliance

Addressing last year’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, then US defense secretary Jim Mattis dismissed fears first voiced in 1997 by Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of America’s greatest 20th century strategists who advised US presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter, that long-term US interests would be most threatened by a “grand coalition” of China and Russia “united not by ideology but[Read More…]

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Credit: Truthout

Illiberals and autocrats unite to craft a new world media order

Underlying global efforts to counter fake news, psychological warfare and malicious manipulation of public opinion is a far more fundamental battle: the global campaign by civilisationalists, autocrats, authoritarians and illiberals to create a new world media order that would reject freedom of the press and reduce the fourth estate to scribes and propaganda outlets. The effort appears to know no[Read More…]

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Ratcheting up tension: US designation of Revolutionary Guards risks escalation

Ratcheting up tension: US designation of Revolutionary Guards risks escalation

The stakes in the Middle East couldn’t be higher. Suspicion that the United States’ intent is to change the regime in Tehran rather than its officially stated goal of forcing Iran to curb its ballistic missile program and support for militias in Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen was heightened with this week’s decision to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)[Read More…]

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Kazakhstan: Testing a 21st century upgrade of faith-driven Saudi soft power

Kazakhstan: Testing a 21st century upgrade of faith-driven Saudi soft power

 A recent study of the popularity of a Saudi-inspired quietist ultra-conservative strand of Islam among Kazakh businessmen suggests that the kingdom has upgraded its faith-driven soft power campaign as part of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vow to promote an undefined form of moderate Islam at home and abroad. The upgrade represents a significant departure from the kingdom’s more than[Read More…]

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Middle Eastern protests challenge debilitating Gulf counterrevolution

Middle Eastern protests challenge debilitating Gulf counterrevolution

Much of the Middle East’s recent turmoil stems from internecine Middle Eastern rivalries spilling onto third country battlefields and Saudi and United Arab Emirates-led efforts to roll back the achievements of the 2011 popular Arab revolts and pre-empt further uprisings. This week’s successful toppling of ailing Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and months of anti-government demonstrations that have put Sudanese leader[Read More…]

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Squaring the circle: US challenges China on Xinjiang

Squaring the circle: US challenges China on Xinjiang

A draft US resolution that would designate a Pakistani militant as a global terrorist threatens to be China’s, and possibly Pakistan’s showdown at the OK Corral. The draft is supported by Britain and France. The resolution, if formally tabled in the full United Nations Security Council, could force China to justify its ten-year long blocking of efforts to designate Masood[Read More…]

Civilizationism vs the Nation State

Civilizationism vs the Nation State

Many have framed the battle lines in the geopolitics of the emerging new world order as the 21st century’s Great Game. It’s a game that aims to shape the creation of a new Eurasia-centred world, built on the likely fusion of Europe and Asia into what former Portuguese Europe minister Bruno Macaes calls a “supercontinent.” For now, the Great Game[Read More…]

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The fallacy of soccer’s magical bridge-building qualities

The fallacy of soccer’s magical bridge-building qualities

Edited remarks at Brookings seminar in Doha: Lessons from the 2019 Asian Cup: Sports, Globalization, and Politics in the Arab World Imagining himself as a peacemaker in a conflict-ridden part of the world, FIFA President Gianni Infantino sees a 2022 World Cup shared by Qatar with its Gulf detractors, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as the magic wand[Read More…]

The battle for leadership of the Muslim world: Turkey plants its flag in Christchurch

The battle for leadership of the Muslim world: Turkey plants its flag in Christchurch

When Turkish vice-president Fuat Oktay and foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu became this weekend the first high-level foreign government delegation to travel to Christchurch they were doing more than expressing solidarity with New Zealand’s grieving Muslim community. Messrs. Oktay and Cavusoglu were planting Turkey’s flag far and wide in a global effort to expand beyond the Turkic and former Ottoman world[Read More…]

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The emerging new world order’s alarm bells: Men like Brandon Tarrant and Andreas Breivik

The emerging new world order’s alarm bells: Men like Brandon Tarrant and Andreas Breivik

This week’s attack on two mosques in New Zealand reflects a paradigm shift: the erosion of liberal values and the rise of civilisationalism at the expense of the nation state. So do broader phenomena like wide spread Islamophobia with the crackdown on Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang as its extreme, and growing ant-Semitism These phenomena are fuelled by increasing intolerance and[Read More…]

Chinese pressure tactics put countries between a rock and a hard place

Chinese pressure tactics put countries between a rock and a hard place

Recent Chinese pressure on Myanmar to approve a controversial dam project and the arrest in recent days in Kazakhstan of a human rights activist suggest that China in a seemingly tone-deaf pursuit of its interests is forcing governments to choose between heeding increasingly anti-Chinese public sentiment and pleasing Beijing to ensure continued political and economic support. Apparent Chinese disregard of[Read More…]

Kazakh police raid raises spectre of China’s long arm

Kazakh police raid raises spectre of China’s long arm

A police raid on a Kazakh group documenting the plight of Kazakhs and Uyghurs caught in a brutal crackdown in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang is about more than a government seeking to please Beijing in the hope that it improves the lot of its ethnic kin while preserving diplomatic and economic relations. Amid suspicions that the raid on the[Read More…]

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Iran and North Korea highlight pitfalls of Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ strategy

Iran and North Korea highlight pitfalls of Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ strategy

Donald J. Trump’s hitherto failed ‘maximum pressure’ approach to Iran, as well as for that matter North Korea, begs the question what the US president’s true objectives are and what options he is left with should the policy ultimately fail. In the case of North Korea, it remains to be seen whether the country’s reported rebuilding of a rocket launch[Read More…]

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Walking a Chinese tightrope: Kazakh quiet diplomacy produces limited results

Walking a Chinese tightrope: Kazakh quiet diplomacy produces limited results

The Kazakh government, in defense of Kazakh and by implication Central Asian behind-closed-doors diplomacy towards China in the face of mounting domestic pressure, has offered a rare public account of its ability to improve conditions for its ethnic kin caught in a crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang. Kazakhstan’s detailing of its ability to reduce[Read More…]

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Turkish-Chinese spat puts Central Asian leaders on the spot

Turkish-Chinese spat puts Central Asian leaders on the spot

A Turkish-Chinese spat as a result of Turkish criticism of China’s crackdown on Turkic Muslims in its strategic but troubled north-western province of Xinjiang complicates efforts by Kazakhstan and other Central Asian states to at best deal quietly behind closed doors with the plight of their citizens and ethnic kin in the People’s Republic. China’s threat that the Turkish criticism[Read More…]

Saudi gas export plans shine new light on efforts to isolate Iran

Saudi gas export plans shine new light on efforts to isolate Iran

Saudi plans to become a major gas exporter within a decade raise questions about what the real goal of the kingdom’s policy, and by extension that of the United States, is towards Iran. Officially both Saudi Arabia and the US, which last year withdrew from the 2015 international accord that curbs the Islamic republic’s nuclear program and imposed harsh economic[Read More…]

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A China Wins Twice Proposition: The Belt and Road Initiative

China’s dazzling infrastructure and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a US$1 trillion investment across Eurasia and beyond, has lost its shine. Increasingly, China’s leveraging of the initiative is being perceived by a growing number of recipients and critics alike as a geopolitical power play, a tool to shape a new world order partly populated by autocrats and authoritarians, and[Read More…]

Saudis’ Yemeni headache won’t go away if and when the guns fall silent

Saudis’ Yemeni headache won’t go away if and when the guns fall silent

Edited remarks at Stand with Yemen Symposium and Exhibition 23 February 2019 These are tough times for Saudi Arabia. The drama enveloping the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the brutal way in which it was carried out have captured public attention. In reality, however, Saudi Arabia’s real problems began earlier as a result of its conduct of the Yemen[Read More…]

South Asian Geopolitics: Saudi Arabia: 1 Iran: 0?

South Asian Geopolitics: Saudi Arabia: 1 Iran: 0?

It may be reading tea leaves but analysis of the walk-up to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit and his sojourn in Islamabad suggests that Pakistan may be about to fight battles on two fronts rather than just the Indian one in the wake of this month’s attacks in Kashmir. Prince Mohammed’s expressions of unconditional support for Pakistan coupled[Read More…]

Kashmir puts Chinese counterterrorism on the defensive

Kashmir puts Chinese counterterrorism on the defensive

Heightened tension in Kashmir and evidence of a Chinese military presence on the Tajik and Afghan side of their border with China’s troubled north-western province of Xinjiang are putting on display contradictions between the lofty principles of the People’s Republic’s foreign and defense policies and realities on the ground. The escalating tension between Pakistan and India puts to the test[Read More…]

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must walk geopolitical tightrope during Asian tour

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must walk geopolitical tightrope during Asian tour

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s three-nation tour of Asia is as much about demonstrating he stands tall – despite Western criticism of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen – as it is about exploiting geopolitical and economic opportunity. Prince Mohammed is betting on the optics of his visit to Pakistan, India, and China offsetting[Read More…]

Geopolitics, the black swan in Saudi-Indian relations

Geopolitics, the black swan in Saudi-Indian relations

When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week, the elephant in the room is likely to be what weighs more: the issues the two men agree on or the ones that divide them. As a matter of principle, Prince Mohammed and Mr. Modi are likely to take their strategic partnership to a new[Read More…]

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Suicide attack in Iran frames visit to Pakistan by Saudi crown prince

Suicide attack in Iran frames visit to Pakistan by Saudi crown prince

This week’s suicide attack on Revolutionary Guards in Iran’s south-eastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan, the second in two months, could not have come at a more awkward moment for Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan. The assault on a bus carrying the guards back from patrols on the province’s border with the troubled Pakistani region of Balochistan killed 27 people[Read More…]

Harsh Turkish condemnation of Xinjiang cracks Muslim wall of silence

Harsh Turkish condemnation of Xinjiang cracks Muslim wall of silence

In perhaps the most significant condemnation to date of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in its north-western province of Xinjiang. Turkey’s foreign ministry demanded this weekend that Chinese authorities respect human rights of the Uighurs and close what it termed “concentration camps” in which up to one million people are believed to be imprisoned. Calling the crackdown an “embarrassment[Read More…]

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Prince Mohammed’s Khashoggi bullet: An insight into Saudi strategic thinking

Prince Mohammed’s Khashoggi bullet: An insight into Saudi strategic thinking

Continued, albeit slower-paced US and Turkish leaks potentially provide insight into far more than the circumstances of the October killing of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. They focus attention on crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s strategic thinking as well as his tightened control of the kingdom’s media. In the latest disclosure, The New York Times, quoting anonymous[Read More…]

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Papal visit boosts UAE effort to redefine concepts of tolerance

Papal visit boosts UAE effort to redefine concepts of tolerance

The United Arab Emirates is projecting itself as a leader of inter-communal and inter-faith harmony with the first ever visit by a Catholic pope to the Gulf and an inter-faith conference that is as much about dialogue as it is about absolute political control. There is no doubt that the UAE is a leader in the Muslim world in promoting[Read More…]

Support for US Iran policy out of left field: China dramatically reduces trade with Tehran

Support for US Iran policy out of left field: China dramatically reduces trade with Tehran

China has dramatically reduced its trade with Iran in line with US sanctions, raising questions whether Iran will remain committed to an international agreement that puts severe limits on its nuclear endeavours. Reduced Chinese trade also suggests that Iran is likely to face increased obstacles as it seeks to blunt the impact of the harsh US sanctions imposed last year[Read More…]

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Players’ Skewed Maps complicate Eurasia’s 21st Century Great Game

Players’ Skewed Maps complicate Eurasia’s 21st Century Great Game

The United States and China are playing Eurasia’s 21st century Great Game from different but equally skewed maps. While the US map appears to be outdated, the Chinese map portrays a reality that is imagined. If the skewed realities of both China and the United States have one thing in common, it is in strategist Parag Khanna’s mind the fact[Read More…]

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Inside the Beltway: Iran hardliners vs Iran hardliners

Inside the Beltway: Iran hardliners vs Iran hardliners

Alarm bells went off last September in Washington’s corridors of power when John Bolton’s national security council asked the Pentagon for options for military strikes against Iran. The council’s request was in response to three missiles fired by an Iranian-backed militia that landed in an empty lot close to the US embassy in Baghdad and the firing of rockets by[Read More…]

President Donald Trump meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Saudi Arabia and the West’s right wing: A dubious alliance

Traditionally focussed on ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim Islam, Saudi funding in the era of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has been streamlined and finetuned to ensure that it serves his geopolitical ambitions, primarily stymying the expansion of Iranian influence in the Middle East and North Africa and enhancing the kingdom’s global impact. The effort, however, has so far produced a mixed[Read More…]

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US troop withdrawals threaten to fuel greater, potentially problematic Gulf assertiveness

US troop withdrawals threaten to fuel greater, potentially problematic Gulf assertiveness

As far as Gulf leaders are concerned, President Donald J. Trump demonstrated with his announced US troop withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan that his insistence that the “world is a dangerous place” has never been truer. The troop withdrawals coupled with Mr. Trump’s praising of Saudi Arabia’s alleged willingness to foot the reconstruction bill in Syria, moves that emphasized his[Read More…]

Stepped up US military posture in the Gulf threatens Indian hopes for Iran’s Chabahar port

Stepped up US military posture in the Gulf threatens Indian hopes for Iran’s Chabahar port

The arrival of the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier group in the Gulf to deter Iran from further testing ballistic missiles is likely to dampen Indian hopes that the Trump administration’s exemption of the port of Chabahar from sanctions against the Islamic republic would help it tighten economic relations with Central Asia and further regional integration. The group’s presence[Read More…]

Gulf rivalries spill onto the soccer pitch

Gulf rivalries spill onto the soccer pitch

With the 2018 World Cup in Russia behind it, the soccer world’s focus shifts to the 2022 tournament in Qatar. Politics and the Gulf’s internecine political and legal battles have already shaped debate about FIFA’s controversial awarding of World Cup hosting rights to Qatar. The battles highlight not only the sport’s dominance in the Middle East by autocratic leaders but[Read More…]

President Donald Trump meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Shifting Middle Eastern sands spotlight diverging US-Saudi interests

A series of Gulf and Middle East-related developments suggest that resolving some of the Middle East’s most debilitating and devastating crises while ensuring that efforts to pressure Iran do not perpetuate the mayhem may be easier said than done. They also suggest that the same is true for keeping US and Saudi interests aligned. Optimists garner hope from the fact[Read More…]

US Senate resolution potentially changes Middle East dynamics

US Senate resolution potentially changes Middle East dynamics

A draft US Senate resolution effectively portraying Saudi policy as detrimental to US interests and values and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as “complicit” in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if adopted and implemented, potentially could change the dynamics of the region’s politics and create an initial exit from almost a decade of mayhem, conflict and bloodshed. The six-page draft also holds Prince[Read More…]

Saudi diplomatic offensive seeks to put Khashoggi behind it and thwart Qatar

Saudi diplomatic offensive seeks to put Khashoggi behind it and thwart Qatar

As Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman tours friendly Arab nations in advance of the Group of 20 (G-20) industrialized nations summit in Argentina, Saudi diplomacy aims to achieve two goals: put the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi behind it and thwart Qatari efforts to benefit from the kingdom’s predicament. The Saudi campaign is producing predictably mixed results. It is[Read More…]

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Nuclear energy; Saudi Arabia’s coming Washington battle

Nuclear energy; Saudi Arabia’s coming Washington battle

When Saudi General Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz went shopping in the late 1980s for Chinese medium-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear, chemical or biological warheads he made no bones about keeping the United States, one of the kingdom’s closest allies, in the dark. it was “my task to negotiate the deal, devise an appropriate deception plan, choose a[Read More…]

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Chinese consulate attack puts Pakistan between a rock and a hard place

Chinese consulate attack puts Pakistan between a rock and a hard place

Two attacks in Pakistan, including a brazen assault on the Chinese consulate in Karachi, are likely to complicate prime minister Imran Khan’s efforts to renegotiate China’s massive, controversial Belt and Road investments as well as an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout and ensure that Pakistan is shielded from blacklisting by an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog. The attack[Read More…]

(L-R) Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi King Salman, and Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stand together as Saudi Arabia's cabinet agrees to implement a broad reform plan known as Vision 2030 in Riyadh, April 25, 2016. To match Insight SAUDI-PLAN/PRINCE  Saudi Press Agency/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS.    ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.  - RTX2CU2M

The Khashoggi crisis: (Re)Shaping US politics as well as relations with Saudi Arabia

The killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have gotten more than they bargained for. The killing has sparked multiple battles that are likely in coming months to shape relationships ranging from that between the United States and Saudi Arabia to those between US President Donald J, Trump, his Republican party, the US Congress, and the country’s intelligence community. The[Read More…]

The Khashoggi crisis: Saudi Arabia braces for tougher post-election US attitude

The Khashoggi crisis: Saudi Arabia braces for tougher post-election US attitude

Saudi Arabia is bracing itself for a potentially more strained relationship with the United States in the wake of Democrats gaining control of the House of Representatives in this week’s mid-term elections and mounting Turkish efforts to corner the kingdom in the Khashoggi crisis. To counter possible US pressure, the kingdom is exploring opportunities to diversify its arms suppliers and[Read More…]

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Strange bedfellows: Ideology trumps defense of ethnic, religious and minority rights

Strange bedfellows: Ideology trumps defense of ethnic, religious and minority rights

A global rise of nationalist and populist tendencies has not only given anti-migrant, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and racist tendencies a new lease on life, but opened the door to alliances between groups that once would have had nothing to do with one another. Developments in Israel, Indonesia and Germany suggest renewed nationalism and populism is in some cases redefining how states[Read More…]

The Khashoggi crisis: Putting Humpty Dumpty back together

The Khashoggi crisis: Putting Humpty Dumpty back together

The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and potential Western sanctions against Saudi Arabia has sparked renewed debate about the value of the longstanding alliance between the United States and the kingdom. The debate is not limited to the US or the kingdom, both of which are assessing the reliability of the other even if that is a debate that is[Read More…]

Saudi Arabia and Iran: When it comes to exiles, the pot calls the kettle black

Saudi Arabia and Iran: When it comes to exiles, the pot calls the kettle black

If Saudi Arabia is under pressure to give chapter and verse on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Istanbul, Iran risks straining relations with Europe at a time that it needs European support the most by targeting ethnic rights activists. Mr. Khashoggi’s murder has focused attention on Saudi harassment and intimidation of dissidents as part of[Read More…]

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Reforming the Faith: Indonesia’s battle for the soul of Islam

Reforming the Faith: Indonesia’s battle for the soul of Islam

Nahdlatul Ulama, with 94 million members the world’s largest Sunni Muslim movement, is bent on reforming Islam. The powerful Indonesian conservative and nationalist group that operates madrassahs or religious seminaries across the archipelago has taken on the ambitious task of reintroducing ijtihad or legal interpretation to Islam as it stands to enhance its political clout with its spiritual leader, Ma’ruf[Read More…]

The Khashoggi Crisis: A blessing in disguise for Pakistan’s Imran Khan

The Khashoggi Crisis: A blessing in disguise for Pakistan’s Imran Khan

The death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is proving to be a blessing in disguise for cash- strapped Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. Mr. Khan’s blessing is also likely to offer Saudi Arabia geopolitical advantage. On the principle of all good things are three, Mr. Khan struck gold on his second visit to the kingdom since coming to office in[Read More…]

A gruesome murder bares world powers’ flawed policies

A gruesome murder bares world powers’ flawed policies

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s gruesome murder raises fundamental questions that go far beyond Middle Eastern geopolitics. They go to the risks of support for autocratic regimes by democratic and authoritarian world powers, the rise of illiberal democracy in the West, increasing authoritarianism in Russia, and absolute power in China in which checks and balances are weakened or non-existent. Mr. Khashoggi’s[Read More…]

Turkey plays Khashoggi crisis to its geopolitical advantage

Turkey plays Khashoggi crisis to its geopolitical advantage

With Turkish investigators asserting that they have found further evidence that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed when he visited the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago, Turkey appears to be leveraging the case to enhance its position as a leader of the Islamic World and reposition itself as a key US ally. To enhance its geopolitical position vis[Read More…]

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President Donald Trump meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

MbS: Riding roughshod or playing a risky game of bluff poker?

A stalemate in efforts to determine what happened to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is threatening to escalate into a crisis that could usher in a new era in relations between the United States and some of its closest Arab allies as well as in the region’s energy politics. In response to US President Donald J. Trump’s threat of “severe punishment”[Read More…]

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Jamal Khashoggi rejiggers the Middle East at potentially horrible cost

Jamal Khashoggi rejiggers the Middle East at potentially horrible cost

The fate of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, assuming that his disappearance was the work of Saudi security and military officials, threatens to upend the fundaments of fault lines in the Middle East. At stake is not only the fate of a widely respected journalist and the future of Turkish-Saudi relations. Mr. Khashoggi’s fate, whether he was kidnapped by Saudi[Read More…]

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Remodelling the Belt and Road: Pakistan picks up the torch

Remodelling the Belt and Road: Pakistan picks up the torch

Pakistan, following in the footsteps of Malaysia and Myanmar, is the latest country to balk at the China and infrastructure focus of Beijing’s Belt and Road-related investments. Preparing for his first visit to China as Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan is insisting that the focus of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a US$60 billion plus crown jewel of the[Read More…]

Pakistani poker: Playing Saudi Arabia against China

Pakistani poker: Playing Saudi Arabia against China

Desperate for funding to fend off a financial crisis fuelled in part by mounting debt to China, Pakistan is playing a complicated game of poker that could hand Saudi Arabia a strategic victory in its bitter feud with Iran at the People’s Republic’s expense. The Pakistani moves threaten a key leg of the USD60 billion plus Chinese investment in the[Read More…]

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Achieving religious harmony in a world of fear and populism

Achieving religious harmony in a world of fear and populism

Edited version of remarks made at the Inter-Religious Organization Singapore, 1 October 2018 This is a tough time for men and women of the cloth, at least those whose message is one of peace, tolerance, mutual respect, equality and inter-faith dialogue. Underlying the rise of populism, nationalism, protectionism, fear of the other, anti-migrant and anti-foreigner sentiment, and hate speech is[Read More…]

Fragility of Middle East alliances becomes ever more apparent

Fragility of Middle East alliances becomes ever more apparent

Three recent developments lay bare the fragility of Middle Eastern alliances and a rebalancing of their priorities: the Russian-Turkish compromise on an assault on the rebel-held Syrian region of Idlib, the fate of troubled Abu Dhabi airline Ettihad, and battles over reconstruction of Syria. These developments highlight the fact that competition among Middle Eastern rivals and ultimate power within the[Read More…]

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Global watchdog takes Saudi Arabia to task for lax anti-terrorism finance measures

Global watchdog takes Saudi Arabia to task for lax anti-terrorism finance measures

A Financial Action Task Force (FATF) report criticizing Saudi Arabia’s anti-money laundering and terrorism finance measures puts the kingdom on the spot 17 years after the 9/11 attacks and casts a shadow over its diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar on the grounds that the Gulf state supports militants. In a nod to the kingdom, the international watchdog described as[Read More…]

Battling it out at the UN: Potholes overshadow US-Iran confrontation

Battling it out at the UN: Potholes overshadow US-Iran confrontation

It’s easy to dismiss Iranian denunciations of the United States and its Middle Eastern allies as part of the Islamic republic’s long-standing rhetoric. The rhetoric makes it equally easy to understand American distrust. But as President J. Trump and Hassan Rouhani, his Iranian counterpart, gear up for two days of diplomatic sabre rattling at the United Nations in advance of[Read More…]

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Attack in Iran raises spectre of a potentially far larger conflagration

Attack in Iran raises spectre of a potentially far larger conflagration

An attack on a military parade in the southern Iranian city of Ahwaz is likely to prompt Iranian retaliation against opposition groups at home and abroad. It also deepens Iranian fears that the United States. Saudi Arabia and others may seek to destabilize the country by instigating unrest among its ethnic minorities. With competing claims of responsibility by the Islamic[Read More…]

China struggles with Belt and Road pushback

China struggles with Belt and Road pushback

China, in an implicit recognition that at least some of its Belt and Road-related projects risk trapping target countries in debt or fail to meet their needs, has conceded that adjustments may be necessary. “It’s normal and understandable that development focus can change at different stages in different countries, especially with changes in government. So China can also make some[Read More…]

Criticism of Saudi leadership seeps through cracks as report questions kingdom’s utility for Britain

Criticism of Saudi leadership seeps through cracks as report questions kingdom’s utility for Britain

Signs of opposition to policies of Saudi King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and potentially increased domestic polarization have in the past week spilled on to the streets of London while a just released report questioned the economic and political benefits of Britain’s relationship with the kingdom. The London incidents, involving a brother of King Salman[Read More…]

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Regional players manoeuvre to reengineer the Israeli Palestinian landscape

Regional players manoeuvre to reengineer the Israeli Palestinian landscape

A possible ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, is proving to be much more than an effort to end escalating violence that threatens to spark yet another Middle Eastern war. United Arab Emirates-backed Egyptian and United Nations efforts to mediate an agreement, with the two countries’ nemesis, Qatar, in the background, are about[Read More…]

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Turkey’s financial crisis raises questions about China’s debt-driven development model

Financial injections by Qatar and possibly China may resolve Turkey’s immediate economic crisis, aggravated by a politics-driven trade war with the United States, but are unlikely to resolve the country’s structural problems, fuelled by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s counterintuitive interest rate theories. The latest crisis in Turkey’s boom-bust economy raises questions about a development model in which countries like China[Read More…]

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Pakistan at a crossroads as Imran Khan is sworn in

Pakistan at a crossroads as Imran Khan is sworn in

Criticism of Pakistan’s anti-money laundering and terrorism finance regime by the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) is likely to complicate incoming Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan’s efforts to tackle his country’s financial crisis. Addressing the criticism of the 41-nation APG, which reports to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism watchdog that earlier[Read More…]

Amid ethnic protests, Iran warns of foreign meddling

Amid ethnic protests, Iran warns of foreign meddling

Video link: https://av.voanews.com/Videoroot/Pangeavideo/2018/08/6/61/61c5c34a-8423-42b6-a9c5-de80b804fb7c.mp4 Iran has raised the spectre of a US-Saudi effort to destabilize the country by exploiting economic grievances against the backdrop of circumstantial evidence that Washington and Riyadh are playing with scenarios for stirring unrest among the Islamic republic’s ethnic minorities. Iran witnessed this weekend minority Azeri and Iranian Arab protests in soccer stadiums while the country’s Revolutionary[Read More…]

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Yemen war challenges Saudi moral authority

Yemen war challenges Saudi moral authority

Saudi conduct of its ill-fated war in Yemen coupled with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s alignment with the Trump administration and Israel, and his often coercive approach to diplomatic relations, has opened the door to challenges of the kingdom’s moral leadership of the Sunni Muslim world, a legitimizing pillar of the ruling Al Saud family’s grip on power. The cracks[Read More…]

Saudi Arabia and Iran woo incoming Pakistani prime minister

Saudi Arabia and Iran woo incoming Pakistani prime minister

An offer by a Saudi-backed bank to lend financially strapped Pakistan US$4 billion is likely intended to bolster Saudi influence when former international cricket player Imran Khan is sworn in in the coming week as the South Asian country’s next prime minister. The offer was most immediately related to a statement by Asad Umar, Pakistan’s new finance minister-in-waiting, that Pakistan[Read More…]

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Talking to Rouhani: Is Trump shooting from the hip or following a script?

Talking to Rouhani: Is Trump shooting from the hip or following a script?

Message to Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Tel Aviv: Not to worry, US President Donald J. Trump has no intention of meeting his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, unconditionally. On the contrary, Mr. Trump’s surprise announcement that he is willing to talk to Mr. Rouhani is likely part of a plan formulated almost a year before he returned to government service by[Read More…]

Despite concerns, China sees a potential ally in Pakistan’s Imran Khan

Despite concerns, China sees a potential ally in Pakistan’s Imran Khan

Pakistani prime minister-in waiting Imran Khan’s ability to chart his own course as well as his relationship with the country’s powerful military is likely to be tested the moment he walks into his new office. Pakistan’s most fundamental problems loom large and are likely to demand his immediate attention. He probably will have to turn to the International Monetary Fund[Read More…]

Lack of global leadership spurs instability in the Middle East

Lack of global leadership spurs instability in the Middle East

With multiple Middle Eastern disputes threatening to spill out of control, United Arab Emirates minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash acknowledged what many in the Middle East have long said privately: the UAE’s recently-found assertiveness and determination to punch above its weight stems from its inability to rely on traditional allies like the United States. What is true[Read More…]

China’s policies spur Central Asians to cautiously chart independent course

China’s policies spur Central Asians to cautiously chart independent course

China’s brutal crackdown in its north-western province of Xinjiang and growing questions about the dark side of some of its Belt and Road investments is fuelling anti-Chinese sentiment, prompting some countries to explore ways to chart an independent course, and feeding into the narratives of rising populist leaders. The incarceration of up to 2,500 Kazakhs in re-education camps in Xinjiang designed to[Read More…]

Securing Xinjiang: China adds security component to Belt and Road initiative

Securing Xinjiang: China adds security component to Belt and Road initiative

China appears to be shifting gears in its multi-billion dollar Belt and Road initiative. Long projected as driven by economics and the benefit of infrastructure linkages, China appears to be increasingly adding a security component to the initiative against the backdrop of President Xi Jinping positioning of his country as a superpower rather than a developing nation. The emergence of[Read More…]

Saudi-UK media tie-up: Targeting the non-Arabic-speaking Middle East

Saudi-UK media tie-up: Targeting the non-Arabic-speaking Middle East

  Long satisfied to attempt to dominate pan-Arab media and battle it out with Qatar’s state-owned Al Jazeera television network, Saudi Arabia has now set its hegemonic sights on influencing the media landscape of the non-Arabic speaking greater Middle East. In the wake of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s concentration last year of control of Saudi-owned pan-Arab media in an[Read More…]

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A double-edged sword: China and Pakistan link up with fibreoptic cable

A double-edged sword: China and Pakistan link up with fibreoptic cable

This month’s inauguration of a fibreoptic cable linking Pakistan with China could prove to be a double-edged sword. Constructed by Chinese conglomerate Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd, the cable is likely to enhance both Pakistan’s information communication technology infrastructure as well as the influence of Chinese authoritarianism at a moment that basic freedoms in Pakistan are on the defensive. The $44[Read More…]

Pakistani elections spotlight the country’s contradictory policies

Pakistani elections spotlight the country’s contradictory policies

  A virulently anti-Shiite, Saudi-backed candidate for parliament in Pakistan’s July 25 election symbolizes the country’s effort to reconcile contradictory policy objectives in an all but impossible attempt to keep domestic forces and foreign allies happy. Ramzan Mengal’s candidacy highlights Pakistan’s convoluted relationship to Islamic militants at a time that the country risks being blacklisted by an international anti-money laundering[Read More…]

Xinjiang: Pan-Turkism fuels China’s hearts-and-minds campaign

Xinjiang: Pan-Turkism fuels China’s hearts-and-minds campaign

Chinese efforts to woo Saudi Arabia’s ethnic Chinese community highlight the People’s Republic’s effort to avert criticism from the Muslim world of its crackdown in the north-western province of Xinjiang and strengthen relations with the kingdom and Middle Eastern nations. The efforts to woo a community, a significant part of which is of Turkic origin, identifies itself as Turkestani, and[Read More…]

Xinjiang: China ignores lessons from the past

Xinjiang: China ignores lessons from the past

A Chinese campaign to forcibly assimilate ethnic Uyghurs in its north-western province of Xinjiang in a bid to erase nationalist sentiment, counter militancy, and create an ‘Uyghur Islam with Chinese characteristics’ ignores lessons learnt not only from recent Chinese history but also the experience of others. The campaign, reminiscent of failed attempts to undermine Uyghur culture during the Cultural Revolution,[Read More…]

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Whither Wahhabism?

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could well dash expectations that he is gunning for a break with Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism rather than a shaving off of the rough edges of Wahhabi ideology that has been woven into the kingdom’s fabric since its founding more than eighty years ago. Prince Mohammed has fuelled expectations by fostering Islamic scholars who advocate[Read More…]

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Pakistan’s financial crisis puts Belt and Road on the spot

Increased Pakistani dependence on China to help it avert resorting to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to avoid a financial and economic crisis spotlights fears that the terms of Chinese investment in massive Belt and Road-related projects would not pass international muster. Concerns that China’s US$ 50 billion plus investment in Pakistani infrastructure and energy, the Belt and Road’s crown[Read More…]

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Saudi religious diplomacy targets Jerusalem

A United Arab Emirates-backed Saudi effort to wrest control from Jordan of Islam’s holy places in Jerusalem signals a sharper, more overt edge to Saudi religious diplomacy and the kingdom’s quest for regional hegemony that risks deepening divides in the Muslim world. The effort also serves to support Donald J. Trump’s plan for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that[Read More…]

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The Middle East: History threatens to repeat itself

The Middle East: History threatens to repeat itself

  If the notion that history repeats itself is accurate, it is nowhere truer than in the Middle East where the international community, caught by surprise by the 2011 popular Arab revolts, has reverted to opting for political stability as opposed to sustainability, ignoring the undercurrents of change wracking the Middle East. Major powers do so at their peril. The[Read More…]

Shooting oneself in ones’s own foot: Pakistan’s failed effort to evade terrorism finance listing

Shooting oneself in ones’s own foot: Pakistan’s failed effort to evade terrorism finance listing

The Pakistani government’s removal of a virulently anti-Shiite militant from its terrorism list at the very moment that an international money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog was deciding to put the country on a watchlist highlights Pakistan’s struggle to come to grips with militancy. The decision by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that was reported by Pakistani media but[Read More…]

Malaysian-Saudi relations: A lesson in the pitfalls of authoritarianism and autocracy

Malaysian-Saudi relations: A lesson in the pitfalls of authoritarianism and autocracy

Embattled former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was the main loser in last month’s election upset that returned Mahathir Mohamad to power as his country’s anti-corruption crusader. Yet, Mr. Razak is not the only one who may be paying the price for allegedly non-transparent and unaccountable governance. So is Saudi Arabia with a Saudi company having played a key role[Read More…]

Indonesian Muslim leader signals global shifts in meetings with Pence and Netanyahu

Indonesian Muslim leader signals global shifts in meetings with Pence and Netanyahu

Yahya Staquf, a diminutive, soft-spoken leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim movement, and Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s advisor on religious affairs, has held a series of meetings in recent weeks that reflect the Muslim world’s shifting attitudes towards Israel and the Palestinians and a re-alignment of socially conservative Muslim and Christian interests. Just this month, Mr. Staquf, a[Read More…]

King Mohammed prays in a mosque in Zanzibar

The Saudi-Moroccan spat: Competing for the mantle of moderate Islam

Lurking in the background of a Saudi-Moroccan spat over World Cup hosting rights and the Gulf crisis is a more fundamental competition for the mantle of spearheading promotion of a moderate interpretation of Islam. It’s a competition in which history and long-standing religious diplomacy gives Morocco a leg up compared to Saudi Arabia, long a citadel of Sunni Muslim intolerance[Read More…]

Morocco may have lost the World Cup but could lead the way in protest

Morocco may have lost the World Cup but could lead the way in protest

Mounting anger and discontent is simmering across the Arab world much like it did in the walk-up to the 2011 popular revolts that toppled four autocratic leaders. Yet, this time round the anger does not always explode in mass street protests as it recently did in Jordan. To be sure, fury at tax hikes in Jordan followed the classic pattern[Read More…]

Saudi Arabia drags geopolitical baggage on to the World Cup pitch

Saudi Arabia drags geopolitical baggage on to the World Cup pitch

Saudi Arabia has much at stake when its national soccer team enters the pitch for the opening match of the 2018 World Cup in Moscow. With politics a permanent fixture, Saudi Arabia is playing in the World Cup finals for the first time in more than a decade at a moment that the kingdom is vying for enhanced influence in[Read More…]

Israel scores painful own goal in run-up to the World Cup

Israel scores painful own goal in run-up to the World Cup

Argentina’s cancellation of a friendly against Israel because of Israeli attempts to exploit the match politically is likely to reverberate far beyond the world of soccer and spotlights the risks of Israeli efforts to persuade the international community to recognize Jerusalem as its capital. The Argentinian decision suggests that despite the fact several countries, including East European nations, are debating[Read More…]

Jordanian protests: Revisiting the Arab Spring and setting a benchmark

Jordanian protests: Revisiting the Arab Spring and setting a benchmark

  Protests that forced Jordan’s prime minister to resign and laid bare the country’s systemic economic and political crisis shed a new light on the root causes of popular protests in the Middle East that swept the region in 2011 and have since continuously erupted at local levels in a swath of land stretching from Morocco to Egypt. The protests,[Read More…]

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Mahathir’s reforms could put Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the spot

Mahathir’s reforms could put Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the spot

Newly elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammed Mahathir is adopting policies that could reshape the Southeast nation’s relations with powerful Gulf states. A series of anti-corruption measures as well as statements by Mr. Mahathir and his defense minister, Mohamad (Mat) Sabu, since this month’s upset in elections that ousted Prime Minister Najib Razak from office, are sparking concern in both Saudi[Read More…]

Politicizing Education: Israel and Myanmar set worrisome precedent

Politicizing Education: Israel and Myanmar set worrisome precedent

 Israel and Myanmar, two countries with troubled human rights records and disputed histories of dealing with ethnic and national rights, have set a worrisome precedent by giving each other a veto over what students are taught about the other. A recently signed education agreement between Israel and Myanmar allows for editing each other’s textbooks as they relate to the portrayal[Read More…]

The Middle East’s Nuclear Technology Clock Starts Ticking

The Middle East’s Nuclear Technology Clock Starts Ticking

The Middle East’s nuclear technology clock is ticking as nations pursue peaceful capabilities that potentially leave the door open to future military options. Concern about a nuclear arms race is fuelled by uncertainty over the future of Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement, a seeming US willingness to weaken its strict export safeguards in pursuit of economic advantage, and a willingness by[Read More…]

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