Al Arabiya TV runs analysis by Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE, on how alliances within and outside the Middle East are now taking place. The shifts are not yet tectonic, but might be considered fore-shocks, signaling that the potential for major changes in cooperative agreements — both formal and informal — is in process.

It’s clear that current alliances are under pressures that could, if left alone, lead to a reshaping. Reappraisals of national interests as well as partnerships are going on. Those countries that wish to play a role in the shaping of the future need to be aware of what’s happening and take steps to ensure that the map looks like what they want it to look like.

Shifting sands and shifting security alliances in the Gulf
Theodore Karasik

Changes are afoot in security alliances in the Near East. Egypt, Saudi, UAE and Jordan appear to be forming a new regional security group. At the same time, Qatar, Iran, and Turkey are establishing another alliance. The ramifications on the GCCs future are enormous as Oman may join the Qatar group. What can we expect from these new alliances? What are the impacts on Syria and the Iranian negotiations? Where will Western states, Russia, and China fit into the new regional security dynamic?

Will the Shanghai Cooperation Organization find itself expanding to the Gulf via Iran? Will there be more trouble ahead or will these alliances clash on the political level and through proxies?

The ties between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE signal a grouping that agrees on the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) as the major threat to their stability. Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco are likely to be part of this emerging security group to provide monarchal protection and stability across the region against the Muslim Brotherhood threat. Shuttle diplomatic and military missions are increasing between all states.

April:06:2014 - 07:07 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News reports that Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council is getting interested in just what affect the development of shale oil resources in various countries will have on the Saudi economy. That economy, based primarily on oil exports, is certain to be affected in some way, but to just what extent is worthy of study.

I’ve seen no one predicting that the price of oil will plummet as a result of new sources coming on line in the coming years, but new supplies will depress the prices. Just how much is the question. Some suggest future oil prices in the $70/bbl range; most others see the prices at under $100/bbl, but still in the $90/bbl range. Saudi Arabia can live with that, though it would of course prefer higher prices.

Shoura seeks study on shale oil impact

The Shoura Council has urged the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources to study the extent of shale oil’s impact on the Kingdom’s oil revenues.

The 150-member consultative body made this call while reviewing the ministry’s annual report.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter and depends greatly on oil revenues for its development and welfare projects. In February, it produced 9.849 million barrels per day of crude, up from 9.767 mbd in January.

The Shoura call comes two months after Minister Ali Al-Naimi met with International Energy Agency Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven to discuss the effects of growing US shale oil production on global oil prices.

April:02:2014 - 07:22 | Comments Off | Permalink

According to this story from Arab News, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has finally realized that extremists have hijacked Islam.

Their actions and the accordant publicity have presented the face of Islam to much of the world over the past 20 years. This is not a new aperçu and it’s highly distressing that it’s taken the OIC this long to acknowledge it.

Now, though, having acknowledge the fact, what is the OIC going to do about it? Constant railing about Israel isn’t going to defeat the extremism. In fact, it feeds it.

Extremists have hijacked Islam, says Madani

Extremist voices and groups have hijacked Islam and misappropriated the right to speak on its behalf, according to Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary General Iyad Ameen Madani.

In his address at the inaugural session of the 25th Session of the Arab Summit held in Kuwait recently, he stressed that in actual fact, Islam with its established values and aspirations and with its advocacy of justice, equality, concord, coexistence and mutuality, is totally unrelated to them and to their ideologies and what they call for.

April:02:2014 - 07:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

President Obama is undertaking his second visit to Riyadh during his two terms of office. Reporting on the substance of the visit will come out later today or tomorrow. At the moment, it’s all pre-visit chatter about expectation and setting the parameters of discussions with Saudis. I don’t expect anything earth shattering to come from the talks.

Al Arabiya TV had a brief pre-visit interview:

Obama defends not using military force in Syria

The White House held an informal press conference (“gaggle”) en route to Riyadh:

Press Gaggle:Press Secretary Jay Carney and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes en route Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The White House also provided a fact sheet on US-Saudi relations:

White House Facts on U.S.-Saudi Relationship

Reporting on Pres. Obama’s meeting with King Abdullah, Al Arabiya TV casts the visit as ‘fence-mending’:

Obama on Saudi visit meets with King Abdullah

March:29:2014 - 05:12 | Comments Off | Permalink

Gulf News from Dubai carries a story that explains how YouTube has become an alternative — and preferred — source of information for young Saudis. It reports that Google, which own YouTube, complies with government requests to shut down videos for which there is a valid legal reason, but that the Saudi government has been sparing in that regard. It notes, too, that YouTube has been offering support for new video channels produced in the region. Some of those channels are earning millions of dollars for their creators and producers. A new medium indeed.

Why Saudis are world’s biggest YouTube fans
People in Saudi Arabia watch more hours of YouTube content per capita
than anywhere else in the world

Simeon Kerr

Dubai: Google has launched a campaign to develop online videos in the fast-growing market of Saudi Arabia, where residents watch more hours of YouTube content per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Over the past year, time spent on YouTube in the conservative kingdom has increased fivefold, persuading Google to hold a seminar in the oil-rich kingdom to foster closer relationships with producers of Arabic-language web videos.

About 60 per cent of the 350 million people in the Arab world are younger than 25, with internet penetration in the region at about 70 million users — over 300 per cent growth in the last five years, according to numbers from UAE-based entrepreneurship research portal Sindibad Business. Internet penetration is expected to reach 150 million users by 2015.

Traditional media in Saudi Arabia, where more than half the population is younger than 35, is failing to engage youngsters who are turning to the internet for relevant drama, comedy, sports and news.

The same trend is sweeping the broader region, where 310m video views a day make the Middle East and north Africa the world’s second-highest online viewership after the US.

That has generated concern among some of the region’s states about the rise in political expression.

March:21:2014 - 08:31 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia is sending a preemptory message to Pres. Obama that he need not bother himself with trying to mediate the issues between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Pres. Obama, scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia later this month, is expected to discuss Iran’s nuclear issues, Syria, and Egypt. The squabble between GCC members, though, is something the Saudis believe can be handled regionally, without any assistance from Washington. Asharq Alawsat reports:

Saudi foreign minister: No US mediation over Qatar
Fahd Al-Ziyabi

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat— Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal told Asharq Al-Awsat that there was no American mediation to resolve the crisis with Qatar, following the recalling of the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain from Doha earlier this month.

This comes ahead of the scheduled visit to the region by US President Barack Obama at the end of March, with Saudi Arabia being one of the main stops of the tour.

Following a meeting in Riyadh with Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa on Monday, Prince Saud said there were no signs of a breakthrough in the crisis with Doha, and that the situation was unlikely to be resolved until the policies of “the state which caused the crisis” were revised, in reference to Qatar.

He added that recent events have shown the importance of cooperation and solidarity among the Gulf states, and that the idea of a closer Gulf union should not be dismissed.

March:18:2014 - 08:18 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia is moving forward in a full-court press to limit, restrain, and punish those promoting extremist forms of Islam, Asharq Alawsat reports. After the expiration of a two-week grace period, the government is acting on a broad front to enforce its decision to stop a number of groups it has identified as “terrorist organizations”. Among the groups are Al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi Hezbollah. Notably, the Houthi movement in Yemen is also declared a terrorist group. While only a handful of groups are currently listed (see below), the government says more groups will be named.

In the article, numerous Saudi officials charged with overseeing security and religious affairs are all stating their support and eagerness to get on board. The article also notes that several preachers have been arrested for violating the new law.

Saudis, world community react to new Saudi terror law

Riyadh and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Following Saudi Arabia’s official decision to designate a number of local and regional organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as terrorist groups, domestic and regional figures and analysts have moved to respond. Many local and regional figures have praised the decision, while also warning against potential future challenges.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Justice Minister Mohamed Issa affirmed the government’s duty to take all necessary legal measures to ensure domestic security and stability.

Issa praised the royal decree, which he said is based on protecting national security, adding that the recent escalation in the ideologies of such groups has been extremely harmful to public tranquility and the state has no choice but to seek to confront this.

The Saudi Justice Minister confirmed that the spread of these terrorist groups and their ideologies has harmed social cohesion in Saudi Arabia.

In another piece, Asharq Alawsat provides the text of the government’s statement, including a list of offenses and groups currently banned.

Full text of Saudi Interior Ministry statement designating terrorist organizations

While designation of terrorist groups is useful, there are several elements of the statement that are troubling. The very first item on the list of offenses, for example, condemns those who promote “atheistic ideologies”. I’m not aware of any atheistic terrorist groups that are threatening Saudi Arabia at present.

The eighth item, “The pursuit of unsettling the social and national fabric, or the call for, participation in, or promotion of sit-ins, demonstrations, gatherings, collective statements, or any actions that touch the unity and stability of the Kingdom under any reason and in any form,” is also fraught with the potential for abuse. “The unity and stability of the Kingdom” is overbroad and open to interpretations that meet political ends at the expense of freedom of thought and expression. If it chose to do so, the government could make this to mean any criticism of the government, its members, or its actions. Calling for women to be given the right to drive could well fall under this rubric as, clearly, there are many in Saudi society who do not like the idea at all.

Given its past record of behavior toward Shi’ite groups, the government will have to be very careful that its designation of Shi’ite groups is not just another measure of abuse.

March:08:2014 - 11:19 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Amir Taheri reviews Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson. The book demythologizes Lawrence of Arabia, noting what he actually did and did not do. There’s far less to the story than the myth (and David Lean’s 1962 film) lead one to believe.

The book also addresses, Taheri tells us, the facts behind two other famous myths, the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration.

The Deconstruction of a Hero
Amir Taheri

Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making
of the Modern Middle East

By Scott Anderson

The narrative goes something like this: The British sent one of their spies, T.E. Lawrence, to incite the Arabs to revolt against the Ottomans. Thus the British seized control of the Middle East, which they then carved into pieces in a deal with the French known as the Sykes–Picot Agreement. On the margins of the main events, the British also issued the Balfour Declaration, which gave Palestine to the Jews who created Israel.

The crucial point in that narrative is to obtain a proper understanding of its central personage: Lawrence.

If you thought you knew all you needed to know about “Lawrence of Arabia,” if only thanks to David Lean’s epic film, think again. Scott Anderson’s magisterial new book retells the story in a way that challenges some aspects of the Lawrence myth.

March:07:2014 - 08:48 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia has formally declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization. Belonging to, supporting, or offering public sympathy toward the group is now against the law, Al Arabiya TV reports.

At the same time, the government has criminalized membership in or support of Hezbollah, as well as the al-Nusra Front and ISIS organizations now active in Syria.

Saudi Arabia declares MB a terrorist group

Saudi Arabia blacklisted on Friday the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group among three other militant groups in the Middle East, Al Arabiya News Channel reported, citing a royal decree.

The Saudi terrorism list also includes the kingdom’s branch of the Shiite Hezbollah movement and the Syria-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front.

Hundreds of Saudi fighters are believed to have joined ISIS and al-Nusra in Syria. The Saudi authorities have extended a deadline for those fighters to return home.

The royal decree also criminalized taking membership in, supporting and sympathizing with any of those groups.

March:07:2014 - 08:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE, provides some analysis of why Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE decided to pull their ambassadors from Qatar yesterday. Among the reasons he cites are Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, its inability to rein in the firebrand cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Qatar’s machinations with Turkey to support the Brotherhood, and allegations that Qatar and Turkey are establishing spy networks in the GCC to report on anti-Brotherhood actions.

Gulf trio pull Qatar ambassadors – why now?
Dr. Theodore Karasik

Today, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. The statement from SPA stated that Qatar had not lived up to its agreements with the rest of the GCC states (from November 2013) regarding “among them and committing to principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other GCC countries and not supporting anyone who threatens the security and stability of GCC countries including organizations and individuals and not supporting the antagonistic media.” There are several significant reasons for this abrupt and sudden action.

First, Doha continues to support the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan). Ever since the ascension of Emir Tamim, and much to the chagrin of the rest of the GCC, the Qatari government is continuing to support all vestiges of the Ikhwan. Ikhwan institutions continue to function in Doha including associations and commercial entities.

Over at Asharq Alawsat, Abdulrahman al-Rashed offers his take on the issue. While less wide-ranging, he offers somewhat more depth.

Opinion: “Sister” Qatar

March:06:2014 - 08:25 | Comments Off | Permalink

In a surprise move and somewhat against the interest of Gulf Cooperation Council unity, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar. The reasons stated, according to this piece in Arab News based on news agency reports, is that Qatar is not getting with the program of toning down Islamic extremism in places like Syria. In particular, Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood runs counter to the policies of many of the GCC states. Also, by allowing people like the cleric Yusuf Qaradawi, resident in Qatar, to criticize the workings of individual state governments, Qatar is violating the rule about interfering in member states’ internal affairs.

While not stated, I suspect the chronic irritation of Qatar-backed Al-Jazeera TV is also a factor.

KSA, Bahrain, UAE recall ambassadors from Qatar

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain said on Wednesday they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar because Doha had not implemented an agreement among Gulf Arab countries not to interfere in each others’ internal affairs.

The three Gulf Arab states followed what the local press described as a “stormy” late Tuesday meeting of foreign ministers from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh.

In a joint statement, the three states said GCC members had signed an agreement on Nov. 23 not to back “anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals — via direct security work or through political influence, and not to support hostile media.”

Qatar had been a backer of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that is banned in most Gulf states.

March:05:2014 - 09:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

“Al Majalla” magazine runs an interview with Abdullah Anas, a former mujahideen in Afghanistan and companion of Usama bin Laden during the fight against Soviet occupation. Anas is unabashedly proud of the effort and the way in which it was conducted. He finds that the so-called jihad now being promoted in Syria can only be described as barbaric and hugely unlawful. Interesting reading.

Jihad, Then and Now
The Majalla speaks to Abdullah Anas

As the situation in Syria grows worse and simultaneously more complicated day by day, the fears of observers of the conflict have become more focused on the foreign jihadists who have travelled to the war-torn country to take part in the fighting. With the chaos unleashed by some of the “Arab Afghans” who joined the struggle against the former Soviet Union’s presence in Afghanistan in the 1980s still fresh in the minds of the world’s intelligence and security services, it is worth looking back once more at the experiences of the members of this group. Few are more familiar with the Arab Afghans and their struggle than Abdullah Anas.

The son-in-law of Abdullah Yusuf Azzam—who became Osama Bin Laden’s mentor when he arrived in Afghanistan—Anas was second-in-command at the Bureau of Services office in Peshawar that supported the Arab Afghans and Afghan Mujahideen. Today, Anas remains proud of the decade he spent involved in the Afghan struggle, and counts Ahmad Shah Massoud and Osama Bin Laden as former comrades in arms.

Before meeting Azzam, Anas was already a founder of the Islamic movement in southern Algeria and worked with Algeria’s leading Islamists Mahfoudh Nahnah and Abbas Madani. He remains a part-time imam and a teacher of the Qur’an, having studied in Saudi Arabia and Algeria. Following his religious studies he took a degree in international politics in the UK. His journey to Afghanistan began when he came across a legal opinion written by Azzam, who argued that it was obligatory for Muslims to fight in Afghanistan. By chance he later met Azzam in Mecca and was invited to travel to Afghanistan with him.

After the departure of the Soviets from the country and the assassination of Azzam in 1992, Anas grew disillusioned by the takfirist ideas that had become increasingly prominent thanks to new arrivals such as Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the current leader of Al-Qaeda. Anas’s role had been to focus on the logistical needs of the Afghan Mujahideen, while the organization that came to be known as Al-Qaeda had a larger agenda, which would become infamous in the years that followed. As infighting broke out among the Afghan Mujahideen, Anas left for Algeria, though his affiliation to the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and the subsequent military crackdown that followed its election success in 1992 forced him into exile in France and then the UK.

Today, Anas says he is in the process of writing his memoirs, running a TV channel and working with young people.

February:27:2014 - 07:26 | Comments Off | Permalink
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