Richard Whittall:

The Globalist's Top Ten Books in 2016: The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer


Middle East Eye: "

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer is one of the weightiest, most revelatory, original and important books written about sport"

“The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer has helped me immensely with great information and perspective.”


Bob Bradley, former US and Egyptian national coach: "James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer (has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture."
Alon Raab in The International Journal of the History of Sport: “Dorsey’s blog is a goldmine of information.”
Play the Game: "Your expertise is clearly superior when it comes to Middle Eastern soccer."
Andrew Das, The New York Times soccer blog Goal: "No one is better at this kind of work than James Dorsey"
David Zirin, Sports Illustrated: "Essential Reading"
Change FIFA: "A fantastic new blog'

Richard Whitall of A More Splendid Life:
"James combines his intimate knowledge of the region with a great passion for soccer"

Christopher Ahl, Play the Game: "An excellent Middle East Football blog"
James Corbett, Inside World Football


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Israeli contrasts: Likud’s favoured soccer teams veers left as Bibi turns further right


By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, and Patreon, Podbean and Castbox.

The contrast could not be starker. As Israel plays a dangerous game of US politics by restricting or banning visits by controversial Democratic members of Congress to seemingly please President Donald J. Trump’s prejudiced electoral instincts, the owner of a notorious Jerusalem soccer club draws a line in the sand in confronting his racist fan base.

The contrast takes on added significance as prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu woes Israel’s far-right in advance of elections on September 17 given that storied club Beitar Jerusalem has long been seen as a stronghold for his Likud party.

Mr. Netanyahu’s barring of Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar was as much a response to Mr. Trump’s tweeted suggestion that they should not be allowed to visit Israel as it was catering to his right-wing base that includes Beitar’s fans.

Beitar is the only Israeli squad to have never hired a Palestinian player. Its fans, famous for their racist slogans and bullying tactics, have made life impossible for the few Muslim players that the club contracted in its history.

Messrs. Netanyahu and Moshe Hogeg, the Beitar owner and tech entrepreneur who founded social mobile photo and video sharing website Mobli and crypto transactions platform Sirin Labs, are both treading on slippery ground.

Mr. Netanyahu, who initially raised out of respect for the US Congress no objection to the planned visit by Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar, has ensured that Israel for the first time in decades can no longer be sure of bi-partisan support in the Congress and beyond and is likely to become a partisan issue in the run-up to next year’s US presidential election.

His pandering to Mr. Trump sparked rare criticism from the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), Israel’s most powerful and influential lobby in the United States even though AIPAC agrees that Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Ilham support the Boycott, Diversification and Sanctions (BDS) movement that targets Israel.

"We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib's support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib's calls for a one-state solution. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel first hand," AIPAC tweeted.

A breakdown of bi-partisan support for Israel may not be what Mr. Netanyahu wants, but it may be, in a twist of irony, what Israel needs. It would spark a debate in the United States with a potential fallout in Israel about whether Mr. Netanyahu’s annexationist policy and hard-line approach towards Palestinian aspirations serves Israel’s longer-term best interests.

Israel’s toughening stand was evident on Tuesday when police broke up an annual soccer tournament among Palestinian families in East Jerusalem on assertions that it was sponsored by the Palestinian Authority, which is barred from organizing events in the city. The tournament’s organizer denied any association with the Authority.

In a dismissive statement, Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan’s office scoffed: “We’re talking about scofflaws who lie and blame the agency that enforces the law when they know full well that the Palestinian Authority is involved in the event that Minister Erdan ordered halted.”

The incident was emblematic of an environment that prompted columnist and scholar Peter Beinart, writing in The Forward, a more than 100-year old, left-wing Jewish weekly, to argue that “the United States has a national interest in ensuring that Israel does not make permanent its brutal occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip.

By taking on La Familia, a militant Beitar Jerusalem fan group that has driven the club’s discriminatory policy, Mr. Hogeg is going not only against Mr. Netanyahu’s policies that emphasize Israeli Jewish nationalism at the expense of the rights of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship as well as those subject to occupation.

He is also challenging a global trend spearheaded by civilizational leaders like Indian prime minister Narendra Modi who, two weeks after depriving Kashmiri Muslims of their autonomy, is planning to build detention camps for millions of predominantly Muslim Indians suspected of being foreign migrants, Victor Orban who envisions a Muslim-free Hungary, and Xi Jinping who has launched in China’s troubled, north-western province of Xinjiang the most frontal assault on Islam in recent history

The degree of polarization and alienation that civilizational policies like those of Messrs Netanyahu, Modi, Xi and Orban is highlighted by the fact that Mr. Hogeg’s battle with his fans is over a name.

Ali Mohammed is Beitar Jerusalem’s latest acquisition. The only Muslim thing about him is his name. Mr. Mohammed is a Nigerian Christian.

That wasn’t good enough for the fans who demand that he change his name. During Mr. Mohammed’s first training session fans chanted "Mohamed is dead" and "Ali is dead."

Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Hogeg seems unwilling to back down. He has threatened to sue the fans for tarnishing Beitar’s already battered reputation and demand up to US$500,000 in damages. Lawyers for Mr. Hogeg have written to fans demanding an apology.

"They are very good fans; they are very loyal. They love the club and what it represents ... but they're racist and that's a big problem,” Mr. Hogeg said.

Convinced that the militants are a minority that imposes its will on the majority of Beitar fans, Mr. Hogeg takes the high road at a time that the likes of him threaten to become an endangered species.

"I was surprised to find that Mohamed is not Muslim, but I don't care. Why should it matter? He's a very good player. As long as the player that comes respects the city, respects what he represents, respects Israel, can help the team and wants to play then the door will be open. If those radical fans will fight against it, they will lose. They will simply lose," Mr. Hogeg said.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture

Friday, August 16, 2019

Business and boxing: two sides of the same coin



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, and Patreon, Podbean and Castbox.


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 all other others are increasingly cornered and repressed.

Rather than furthering stability by building inclusive, cohesive societies both support trends likely to produce an evermore unstable and insecure world marked by societal strife, mass migration, radicalization and violence.

A world in which business capitalizes on decisions by a critical mass of world leaders who share autocratic, authoritarian and illiberal principles of governance and often reward each other with lucrative business deals for policies that potentially aggravate rather than reduce conflict.

No doubt, the planned acquisition by Saudi Arabia’s state-owned national oil company Aramco of 20 percent of the petroleum-related businesses of Reliance Industries, one of India’s biggest companies, makes commercial and strategic economic and business sense.

Yet, there is equally little doubt that the announcement of the acquisition will be read by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, days after he scrapped the autonomous status of the troubled, majority Muslim region of Kashmir, as a license to pursue his Hindu nationalist policies that discriminate against Muslims and other minorities and fuel tensions with Pakistan, the subcontinent’s other nuclear power.

The ultimate cost of the fallout of policies and business deals that contribute or give license to exclusion rather than inclusion of all segments of a population and aggravate regional conflict could be far higher than the benefits accrued by the parties to a deal.

Underscoring the risk of exclusionary policies and unilateral moves, cross border skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani forces erupted this week along the Kashmiri frontier in which at least five people were killed.

The timing of the announcement of the Aramco Reliance deal in a global environment in which various forms of racism and prejudice, including Islamophobia, are on the rise, assures Indian political and business leaders that they are unlikely to pay an immediate price for policies that sow discord and risk loss of life.

Like in the case of Saudi and Muslim acquiescence in China’s brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in the troubled, north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang, the most frontal assault on a faith in recent history, the announcement risks convincing embattled Muslim minorities like the Uighurs, the Kashmiris or Myanmar’s Rohingya who are lingering in refugee camps in Bangladesh that they are being hung out to dry.

To be sure, Kashmiris can count on the support of Pakistan but that is likely to be little more than emotional, verbal and political.

Pakistan is unlikely to risk blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog, at its next scheduled meeting in October by unleashing its anti-Indian militants.

Anthony Joshua’s controversial fight with Andy Ruiz scheduled for December in Saudi Arabia, the first boxing championship to be held in the Middle East, pales in terms of its geopolitical or societal impact compared to the Saudi Indian business deal.

Fact is that Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the championship has provoked the ire of activists rather than significant population groups. The fight is furthermore likely to be seen as evidence and a strengthening of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s selective efforts to socially liberalize the once austere kingdom.

Nonetheless, it also reinforces Prince Mohammed’s justified perception that Saudi Arabia can get away with imprisoning activists who argued in favour of his reforms as well as the lack of transparency on judicial proceedings against the alleged perpetrators of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia insists the killing was perpetrated by rogue operatives.

What Saudi investment in India and the scheduled boxing championship in the kingdom have in common is that both confirm the norms of a world in which ‘humane authority,’ a concept developed by prominent Chinese international relations scholar Yan Xuetong, is a rare quantity.

Mr. Yan employs the concept to argue without referring to President Xi Jinping, Xinjiang, China’s aggressive approach towards the South China Sea or its policy towards Taiwan and Hong Kong that China lacks the humane authority to capitalize on US President Donald J. Trump’s undermining of US leadership.

Mr. Yan defines a state that has humane authority as maintaining strategic credibility and defending the international order by becoming an example through adherence to international norms, rewarding states that live up to those norms and punishing states that violate them. Garnering humane authority enables a state to win allies and build a stable international order.

Mr. Yan’s analysis is as applicable to India and Saudi Arabia as it is to China and others that tend towards civilizational policies like the United States, Russia, Hungary and Turkey.

It is equally true for men like Anthony Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn and business leaders in general.

To be sure, Aramco is state-owned and subject to government policy. Nonetheless, as it prepares for what is likely to be the world’s largest initial public offering, even Aramco has to take factors beyond pure economic and financial criteria into account.

At the end of the day, the consequence of Mr. Yan’s theory is that leadership, whether geopolitical, economic or business, is defined as much by power and opportunity as it is by degrees of morality and ethics.

Failure to embrace some notion of humane authority and reducing leadership and business decisions to exploiting opportunity with disregard for consequences or the environment in which they are taken is likely to ultimately haunt political and business leaders alike.

Said Mr. Yan: “Since the leadership of a humane authority is able to rectify those states that disturb the international order, the order based on its leadership can durably be maintained.”
What is true for political leaders is also true for business leaders even if they refuse to acknowledge that their decisions have as much political as economic impact.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

JMD on NBN: Sean Foley's Changing Saudi Arabia



August 8, 2019 James M. Dorsey



















In Changing Saudi Arabia, Art, Culture and Society in the Kingdom (Lynne Rienner, 2019), Sean Foley offers eye-opening insights into a changing society that is under the international magnifying glass. Using the prism of an exploding arts scene populated by artists, comedians, actors, directors and masters of new media from diverse backgrounds, Foley paints a granular picture of a country that figures prominently in global geopolitics. Breaking with the traditional geopolitical, political and economic paradigm that dominates scholarship and analysis of a kingdom widely viewed as increasingly autocratic and brutal under de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Foley illustrates the margins within which the arts scene seeks to stimulate conversations on often taboo subjects and express criticism by couching it in constructive rather than explicitly critical terms. It involves a balancing act in which artists are forced to be critical and supportive of the regime at the same time. In describing the evolution of the arts scene, Foley also paints a much more layered picture of Prince Mohammed whose reputation as a reformer has been sullied by his crackdown on dissent and the killing in 2018 of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. The evolution of a non-traditional arts scene is as much organic as it is a reflection of the generational transition in the kingdom’s absolute monarchical rule and an instinctive understanding that survival in the 21st century rests on a more complex set of factors than it did in the last century. With his well-written and erudite analysis, Foley has made a significant contribution to the literature and understanding of the dynamics that are changing the kingdom for better or for worse.

To listen to the podcast, click here

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Kashmir crisis spotlights what a civilizational world looks like



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, and Patreon, Podbean and Castbox.

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 and Narendra Modi and Arab and Muslim leaders have put flesh on the skeleton of a new world order that enables civilizational leaders to violate with impunity international law.

It also allows them to cast aside diplomacy and the notion of a nation state as the world has known it since the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia and ignore national, ethnic, minority, religious and human rights.

Fulfilling a longstanding election promise, Mr. Modi’s unilateral withdrawal of Kashmir’s right to govern itself fits the mould of Mr. Trump’s unilateral recognition of Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The recognition was enabled by Arab and Muslim leaders who have abandoned any pretence of Islamic solidarity and credibility in their increasingly selective lip service to the plight of their ethnic and or religious brethren.

The actions and policies of Messrs Modi, Trump and Netanyahu are those of civilizational leaders who define the borders of their countries in terms of historical claims; representation of a civilization rather than a nation whose frontiers are determined by internationally recognized demarcation, population and language; and rejection of the rights of others.

Recalling the principles of Indian policy in India’s first years as an independent state, historian of South Asia William Dalrymple noted how far Mr. Modi has moved his country away from the vision of a pluralistic, democratic nation state envisioned by independence activist and first Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

“Kashmir is not the property of India or Pakistan, (it) belongs to the Kashmiri people. When Kashmir acceded to India, we made it clear to the leaders of the Kashmiri people that we would ultimately abide by the verdict of their plebiscite. If they tell us to walk out, I would have no hesitation in quitting Kashmir. We have taken the issue to the United Nations and given our word of honour for a peaceful solution. As a great nation, we cannot go back on it,” Mr. Nehru said in 1952.


Mr. Modi signalled that he knew that he was playing with fire in what former US president Bill Clinton once dubbed “the most dangerous place in the world.”

Anticipating that his move would be rejected by India’s Muslim community, already on the defensive as a result of Hindu nationalist assaults, Mr. Modi sent ten thousand troops to Kashmir in advance of the revocation, detained scores of political leaders, ordered tourists to leave the region, closed schools and shut down telephone lines and the Internet.

To be sure, the timing of Mr. Modi’s move was likely propelled by Mr. Trump’s recent offer to mediate the Kashmir dispute that India rejected out of hand and US negotiations with the Taliban that could lead to a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and potentially to a Taliban takeover. Both developments would strengthen India’s arch-rival Pakistan.

Nonetheless, Mr. Modi, aided and abetted by likeminded civilizational leaders, has redefined Mr. Nehru’s notion of greatness by framing it in terms of Hindu rather than Indian nationalism, an approach that allows him to go back on the promises and legal, political and moral commitments of his predecessors.

So has Mr. Netanyahu even if Israel’s legal annexation of Arab territory conquered during the 1967 Middle East war was enacted by his predecessors.

Mr. Trump may have emboldened Mr. Modi by setting a precedent for violation of international law by recognizing Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem conquered from Jordan and the Golan Heights captured from Syria as well as de facto endorsing Israeli settlement activity on the West Bank.

Most likely, so did Chinese president Xi Jinping who has been able to ensure that the Muslim world has remained silent, and in some cases even endorsed his brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang in what constitutes the most frontal assault on a faith in recent memory.

Civilizational moves in Kashmir, Xinjiang and Israeli-occupied territories risk in the short and/or longer term sparking violent conflict, including a confrontation between nuclear powers India and Pakistan and mass popular unrest.

Some ten thousands Kashmiris spilled into the streets in recent days to protest against the revocation of self-rule the moment India eased a government-imposed curfew.

Splits in the Islamic world on how to respond to civilizational moves in long-standing disputes involving Muslim communities could prove to be a double-edged sword for Arab and Muslim leaders who increasingly prioritize what they see as their countries’ national interest above Islamic solidarity and the defence of the ummah, the Muslim community of the faithful.

Like with Xinjiang and Israeli-occupied Arab territory, Turkey and Malaysia were among the few Muslim nations to publicly criticize the Indian move.

The United Arab Emirates went out on a limb with its ambassador to India describing the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy as an internal Indian matter that would help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of administration and socioeconomic development in the region.

UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar bin Mohammed Gargash subsequently sought to bring the UAE in line with most Muslim states who called for restraint and a peaceful resolution.

The Islamic world’s varied responses to multiple crises that target the rights of Muslims suggest not only impotence but also a growing willingness to sacrifice causes on the altar of perceived national interest and economic advantage.

The question is whether that is an approach that would be popularly endorsed if freedom of expression in many Muslim countries were not severely restricted. The risk is that leaders’ inability to gauge public opinion or willingness to ignore it eventually will come to haunt them.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Uyghur asylum seeker puts international community on the spot



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, and Patreon, Podbean and Castbox.

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 Turkic Muslims in its troubled, north-western province of Xinjiang as a purely domestic matter.

Mr. Yusuf’s case also spotlighted the risk of increased mass migration in a world in which ethnic and religious minorities increasingly feel existentially threatened by civilizationalist policies pursued by illiberal and authoritarian leaders as well as supremacists, racists and far-right nationalist groups.

By choosing Qatar Airways and making Doha his first point of landing after leaving his residence in Pakistan, Mr. Yusuf further underscored the fragility of Muslim acquiescence in the Chinese clampdown and called into question application of Qatar’s asylum law. With the adoption of the law, Qatar last year became the first Arab state to legalize asylum.

While Mr. Yusuf is fortunate to have ended his ordeal with his arrival in the United States, his case accentuated the hypocrisy of the Trump administration that has demonized migrants and refugees and “weaponized” US human rights policy.

Mr. Yusuf’s plight serves the United States as it fights an escalating trade war with China and has made the clampdown in Xinjiang one of the opportunistically selected cases of human rights violations it is willing to emphasize.

Mr Yusuf put Qatar and the international community on the spot when he last weekend posted online a mobile phone video pleading for help hours before he was slated to be deported from Doha’s Hamad International Airport to Beijing.

The plea generated thousands of retweets by Uyghur activists and won him assistance from an American human rights lawyer and ultimately asylum in the US.

If deported to China, Mr. Yusuf would have risked being incarcerated in a re-education camp which has been an involuntary home for an estimated one million Uyghurs in China as part of what amounts to the worst assault on a faith in recent history.

China said last month that the majority of the detainees in what it describes as vocational training facilities had been released and “returned to society” but independent observers say there is no evidence that the camps are being emptied.

Mr. Yusuf decided to leave his home in Pakistan for safer pastures after Pakistan became one of up to 50 countries that signed a letter in support of the clampdown.

Concerned that Pakistan, the largest beneficiary of Chinese Belt and Road-related investment, could deport its Uyghur residents, Mr. Yusuf travelled on a Chinese travel document rather than a passport that was valid only for travel to China. China’s issuance of such documents is designed to force Uyghurs to return.

The travel document provided cover for Qatar’s initial decision to return him to China rather than potentially spark Chinese ire by granting him asylum. International pressure persuaded Qatar to give Mr. Yusuf the opportunity to find a country that would accept him.

China’s clampdown in Xinjiang is but the sharp edge of a global trend fuelled by the rise of leaders across the globe in countries ranging from the United States to China, Russia, India, Hungary, Turkey and Myanmar who think in civilizational terms, undermine minority rights, wittingly or unwittingly legitimize violence, and risk persuading large population groups to migrate in search of safer pastures.

Hate crimes have gripped the United States with critics of President Donald J. Trump charging, despite his explicit condemnation this week of white supremacism, that his hardline attitude and language when it comes to migrants and refugees has created an enabling environment.


Some 750,000 Rohingya linger in Bangladeshi refugee camps after fleeing persecution in Myanmar while Islamophobia has become part of US, European and Chinese discourse and Jews in Europe fear a new wave of anti-Semitism.

Italy took efforts to counter migration that are likely to aggravate rather than alleviate a crisis a step further by adopting a law that would slap fines of up to US$1.12 million on those seeking to rescue migrants adrift at sea.

The Chinese clampdown that bars most Uyghurs from travel and seeks to force those abroad to return has so far spared the world yet another stream of people desperate to find a secure and safe home. The risk of an eventual Uyghur exodus remains with the fallout of the Chinese re-education effort yet to be seen.

Mr. Yusuf could well prove to be not only the tip of the Uyghur iceberg but of a future global crisis as a result of an international community that not only increasingly has turned its back on those in need but also pursues exclusionary rather than inclusionary policies.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Security architecture in the Gulf: Troubled prospects



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, and Patreon, Podbean and Castbox.

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 security concept that would replace the Gulf’s US defense umbrella and position Russia as a power broker alongside the United States comes amid heightened tension as a result of-tit for-tat tanker seizures and a beefed up US and British military presence in Gulf waters.

Iranian revolutionary guards this weekend seized an alleged Iraqi tanker in the Gulf of Hormuz.

Iran said the vessel was smuggling oil to an unidentified Arab country. The taking of the Iraqi ship followed last month’s Iranian seizure of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero.


The Russian proposal entails creation of a “counter-terrorism coalition (of) all stakeholders” that would be the motor for resolution of conflicts across the region and promote mutual security guarantees. It would involve the removal of the “permanent deployment of troops of extra-regional states in the territories of states of the Gulf,” a reference to US, British and French forces and bases.

The proposal called for a “universal and comprehensive” security system that would take into account “the interests of all regional and other parties involved, in all spheres of security, including its military, economic and energy dimensions.”

The coalition, to include the Gulf states, Russia, China, the US, the European Union and India as well as other stakeholders, a likely reference to Iran, would be launched at an international conference on security and cooperation in the Gulf.

It was not clear how feuding Gulf states like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arb Emirates and Iran would be persuaded to sit at one table. The proposal suggested that Russia’s advantage was that it maintained good relations with all parties.

Chinese backing of the Russian proposal takes on added significance with some analysts suggesting that the United States, no longer dependent on Gulf oil imports, is gradually reducing its commitment despite a temporary spike in the number of US troops dispatched to the region as a result of the tension with Iran.

They suggest that the US response to Iranian racking up of tension has been primarily theatrics and hand wringing despite the Trump administration’s bellicose rhetoric. Warnings of “severe consequences” have proven to be little more than verbal threats.

The United States is leaving the Persian Gulf. Not this year or next, but there is no doubt that the United States is on its way out… Leaders in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Manama, and Muscat understand what is happening…and have been hedging against an American departure in a variety of ways, including by making overtures to China, Russia, Iran, and Turkey,” said Steven A. Cooke, a scholar at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

Recent tanker statistics suggest that Saudi Arabia is sending an ever-larger portion of its crude to China. On a visit to Beijing last month, UAE crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Chinese president Xi Jinping elevated their two countries’ relationship to that of a strategic partnership.

Perceptions of a reduced US commitment may make the Russian proposal of a multilateral approach more attractive in the short term. However, longer term banking on a continued Russian Chinese alliance could be tricky. The alliance could prove to be opportunistic rather than strategic.

That could force Gulf states to accelerate taking charge of their own security. So far, greater Gulf assertiveness has proven to be a mixed bag.

Fuelled by uncertainty about US reliability, perceived regional Iranian expansionism, and persistent popular discontent across the Middle East and North Africa, produced the debilitating Saudi-UAE intervention in Yemen, a failed Saudi effort to force Lebanon’s prime minister to accept the kingdom’s dictate, and Saudi and UAE projection of military force and commercial clout in the Horn of Africa.

A recent meeting between UAE and Emirati maritime security officials, the first in six years, as well as a partial UAE withdrawal from Yemen could, however, signal an emerging, more constructive approach.

If adopted, the Russian proposal could, however, suck China and Russia, despite having been able so far to maintain close ties to all sides of regional divides, into the Middle East’s multiple conflicts, particularly the Saudi Iranian rivalry. A multilateral approach could also bring latent Chinese Russian differences to the fore.

Dubbing the Russian Chinese alliance ‘Dragonbear,’ geo-strategist Velina Tchakarova cautions that it is s “neither an alliance nor a marriage of convenience, but rather a temporary asymmetric relationship, in which China is predominantly the agenda-maker, while Russia is mostly the agenda-taker.”

The Russian Chinese rapprochement operates in Ms. Tchakarova’s words on “the maxim ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ A status quo relationship would remain acceptable and be further developed so long as China’s rise is not a direct threat to Russia’s strategic interests of self-determination and security along its peripheries,” including the Middle East.

The question is less whether and more when Russia starts perceiving Chinese interests as a threat to its own. One divergence could be energy given that Russia is one of the world’s major oil suppliers while China is its top importer.

By the same token, China may longer term not want to be dependent on Russia for both its imports and the arrangements that would secure them.

Said Russia and Eurasia scholar Paul Stronski referring to the sustainability of the Russian Chinese alliance: “With China now recognising it may need to strengthen its security posture…, it is unclear how long that stability will last.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture