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


Friday, February 21, 2020

JMD on NBN: Nicholas Blincoe, More Nobel Than War


NICHOLAS BLINCOE
A Soccer History of Israel-Palestine
BOLD TYPE BOOKS 2019
February 19, 2020 James M. Dorsey




Nicholas Blincoe’s More Noble Than War: A Soccer History of Israel-Palestine (Bold Type Books, 2019) is a beautifully narrated and written history of a century of conflict between pre-state Jews and Palestinians and Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians after the establishment of the state. It is a story that goes far beyond the history of the conflict, the mirror images of developments in Jewish and Palestinian society, and the internecine ideological infighting and power struggles within the two communities. It paints in graphic detail the incestuous and inseparable relationship between sports and politics and the importance of soccer, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, in identity and nation formation as well as nation building. It also demonstrates in graphic detail how first Jews and then Palestinians exploited soccer to first achieve international recognition of their struggles and then as nations by dispatching teams to tour other countries and being granted membership in world soccer body FIFA. In doing so, Israelis and Palestinians set an example that decades later became a key pillar of the Algerian liberation struggle in the 1950s and 1960s with the National Liberation Front (FLN)’s creation of its own national soccer team that put its fight for independence on the world map. The skeletal facts of Blincoe’s tale have long been known. The significance of Blincoe’s contribution is that he puts flesh on the skeleton by weaving the facts into a meticulously researched and reported, easily accessible narrative in which he brings key players and ideological trends to life. It’s a tale that is all fact but reads like a thriller.

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, February 17, 2020

Pakistan puts press freedom at the core of struggle for new world order



By James M. Dorsey

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

Sweeping new regulations restricting social media in Pakistan put freedom of expression and the media at the heart of the struggle to counter both civilizationalist and authoritarian aspects of an emerging new world order.

The regulations, adopted without public debate, position US social media companies like Facebook and Twitter at the forefront of the struggle and raise the spectre of China’s walled off Internet with its own state-controlled social media platforms becoming the model for a host of illiberals, authoritarians and autocrats.

The regulations, that take effect immediately, embrace aspects of a civilizational state that defines its legal reach, if not its borders, in terms of a civilization rather than a nation state with clearly outlined, internationally recognized borders that determine the reach of its law and that is defined by its population and language.

The regulations could force social media companies to globally suppress criticism of the more onerous aspects of Pakistani law, including constitutionally enshrined discrimination of some minorities like Ahmadis, a sect widely viewed as heretic by mainstream Islam, and imposition of a mandatory death sentence for blasphemy.

The new rules force social media companies to “remove, suspend or disable access” to content posted in Pakistan or by Pakistani nationals abroad that the government deems as failing to “take due cognizance of the religious, cultural, ethnic and national security sensitivities of Pakistan.” The government can also demand removal of encryption.

Social media companies are required to establish offices in Pakistan in the next three months and install data servers by February 2021.


The Asia Internet Coalition, a technology and internet industry association that includes  Facebook and Twitter, warned that the regulations “jeopardize the personal safety and privacy of citizens and undermine free expression” and would be “detrimental to Pakistan's ambitions for a digital economy."

The introduction of the regulations reflects frustration in government as well as Pakistan’s powerful military with social media companies’ frequent refusal to honour requests to take down content. Pakistan ranked among the top countries requesting  Facebook and Twitter to remove postings.

On the assumption that Facebook, Twitter and others, which are already banned in China, will risk being debarred in Pakistan by refusing to comply with the new regulations, Pakistan could become a prime country that adopts not only aspects of China’s 21st century, Orwellian surveillance state but also its tightly controlled media.

The basis for potential Pakistani adoption of the Chinese system was created in 2017 in plans for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a US$60 billion plus crown jewel of the Belt and Road, an infrastructure, telecommunications and energy-driven initiative to tie Eurasia to China.

The 2017 plan identifies as risks to CPEC “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. The plan appears to question the vibrancy of a system in which competition between parties and interest groups is the name of the game.

It envisions a full system of monitoring and surveillance to ensure law and order in Pakistani cities. The system would involve deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.”

A national fibre optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media that would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.” The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

Critics in China and elsewhere assert that repression of freedom of expression contributed to China’s delayed response to the Coronavirus. China rejects the criticism with President Xi Jingping calling for even greater control.

Pakistan’s newly promulgated regulations echo Mr. Xi’s assertion during the Communist party’s January 7 Politburo Standing Committee meeting  that “we must strengthen public opinion tracking and judgment, take the initiative to voice, provide positive guidance, strengthen integration, communication and interaction, so that positive energy will always fill the Internet space... We must control the overall public opinion and strive to create a good public opinion environment. It is necessary to strengthen the management and control of online media.”

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, February 14, 2020

Defending political freedoms: Incidents in Israel and Scandinavia raise alarm bells



By James M. Dorsey

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

Incidents this week in Israel and Scandinavia ring alarm bells.

They highlight how the rise of civilizationalist leaders in democracies empower anti-liberal and anti-democratic forces.

They also illustrate the contradictory choices made by on the one hand an institution that stands for academic freedom and freedom of expression and on the other a commercial entity whose business is pre-empted on being all things to all people.

They further demonstrate the impact on democratic societies when civilizationalist leaders like US President Donald J. Trump, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban and other West European leaders undermine freedoms of expression and the media at home and fail to stand up internationally for basic human, political and minority rights.

The irony in the incidents is that it was Scandinavian airlines SAS, the flag carrier of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, rather than Israel’s prestigious Hebrew University that opted to take a stand against groups demanding that they submit to their political goals, nationalist sentiments and anti-democratic attitudes.

Initially, it looked like SAS was caving into charges by anti-immigration and far-right parties in Sweden and Denmark that an ad emphasizing Scandinavia’s multiculturalism was disrespectful of the region’s culture.

“What is truly Scandinavian? Absolutely nothing. Everything is copied,” the ad suggested, pointing out that Swedish meatballs came from Turkey, Danish pastries from Austria, liquorice from China, and progressive politics from Greece. “We take everything we like on our trips abroad, adjust it a little bit, and it’s a unique Scandinavian thing,” the ad said.

But after first withdrawing the ad for 24 hours, SAS reinstated it, saying that it  “brings travellers to, from and within Scandinavia, and we stand behind the message in the film that travel enriches us. We are proud of our Scandinavian heritage.”

SAS went on to say that “the experiences we bring back from our travels inspire us as individuals, but also our society. It is regrettable that the film is misunderstood, that some choose to interpret the message and use it for their own purpose.”

By contrast, Hebrew University in Jerusalem aligned itself with a campaign to silence critical voices by deciding to offer academic credits to students who volunteer for a right-wing political group that targets left-wing scholars, activists, politicians and cultural figures in violation of university regulations that exempt credits for work performed for political groups.

Founded in 2006, Im Tirtzu, Hebrew for If You Will, operates a website that publishes the names and contacts of dozens of lecturers who it claims violate “the values of Zionism in Israel." It accuses opponents of Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza of being "foreign moles who protect terrorists."

Hebrew University justified its decision by classifying volunteer work for Im Tirtzu as s social service on par with welfare organizations operated by the municipality in hospitals; services provided to youth, seniors, Holocaust survivors and asylum seekers; and university-run projects for socio-economically disadvantaged groups.

The two incidents spotlight the battle for basic freedoms at a time that freely elected civilizationalist leaders not only challenge democratic rights at home but have also surrendered the high ground in the global struggle to shape a new world order by withdrawing from the battle of ideas, the one battleground on which they have an undisputed advantage.

The West’s ideational upper hand is obvious with illiberals, authoritarians and even autocrats often feeling the need to pay lip service to democratic concepts.

The appeal of freedoms of expression is further evident in domestic criticism of the China’s handling of the Coronavirus crisis and months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong; the call for greater freedoms in the popular Arab uprisings in 2011 and revolts in the last year that toppled the leaders of Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq and Bolivia.

Abandoning the battle of ideas amounts to shooting an own goal. It deprives the West of the ability to capitalize on the fact that post-Soviet Russia no longer projects universal values.

Its Russia-centric values are rooted in the ethno-nationalist Russian Orthodox Church and right-wing, often racist and supremacist Eurasian philosophies propagated by ideologues close to the Kremlin.

Russia’s conservative and homophobic social mores appeal at best to religious conservatives in the West. Similarly, few buy into China’s projection of itself as having the good of the world rather than China’s interests, often at the expense of others, at heart.

A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 63% of respondents across 25 countries prefer to live in a world with the US as the preeminent power while only 19% said the same about China.

Political scientist Samuel Goldman, an expert on Christian Zionism, argues that by abandoning adherence to the West’s universal values, Mr. Trump’s America surrenders its exceptionalism, occupation of the moral high ground and the claim of many of his Christian Zionist supporters that in modern times God had tasked America rather than Israel as being the model.

“Like Israel in its faithless moments, America is untrue to itself when we neglect individual rights and equality among citizens of various origins, faiths and creeds in favour of cohesion and power. Nationalism that opposes what is unique in the nation is not conservative. It is a contradiction in terms,” Mr. Goldman 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

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Erdogan battles on multiple fronts in risky regional power bid



By James M. Dorsey

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

The optics seem evident: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is at odds with just about everybody.

Mr. Erdogan is on opposite sides of Russia in Syria, with Turkish and Syrian troops poised for an all-out fight in the north of the war-torn country, as well as in Libya and didn’t do himself any favours by coming out swinging against his supposed Russian ally during a visit to Ukraine earlier this month.

On all three flashpoints, Turkey and Russia are testing the limits of what was always at best an opportunistic, fragile partnership aimed at capitalizing on a seemingly diminishing US interest in the Middle East, evident already under President Barak Obama, and in Donald J. Trump’s haphazard redefinition of what he sees as America’s national interests.

If that were not already a plate full, Mr. Erdogan’s relations with his US and European allies are strained over unilateral Turkish moves in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey’s acquisition of a Russian S-400 anti-missile system and/or Turkey’s military intervention in Syria as well as refugees and much more.

Turkey has threatened to close Incirlik Air Base and a critical radar station in Kurecik if the United States and the European Union fail to recognize what Turkey views as its national interests.

At the same time, Mr. Erdogan frets about his alliance with Qatar in the wake of suggestions that the Gulf state and Saudi Arabia are searching for a way to end a Saudi-led 2.5-year-old economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar.

Reports that the talks between the kingdom and Qatar have failed may not put Mr. Erdogan’s concerns to bed with the United Arab Emirates, Qatar’s most hardline detractor, restoring postal services with the Gulf state.

The restoration, mediated by the United Nation’s Universal Postal Union, was the first time that a third-party succeeded in negotiating any easing of the boycott.

Piling it on, Mr. Erdogan’s powerful navy, imitating Chinese tactics in the South China Sea, has significantly raised tensions in the eastern Mediterranean by sending naval forces to escort Turkish drill ships into contested waters and to block Greek and Cypriot petrochemical exploration vessels in waters recognized as theirs under international law.

Turkey has warned Israel that it needs Turkish approval to build together with Greece and Turkey an undersea natural gas pipeline to Europe.

As he battles on multiple regional fronts, Mr. Erdogan is walking a finely calibrated tightrope, rather than hitting out blindly at everyone, in the assumption that neither Russia nor the United States or, for that matter, Qatar, can afford to lose Turkey. By the same token, neither can Turkey risk jeopardizing its relationships.

As a result, Mr. Erdogan’s confrontational moves constitute a high stakes gamble, particularly with Turkey’s military build-up in northern Syria, an area in which Mr. Erdogan does not enjoy air superiority.

The Turkish leader is betting on Russia blinking first by reigning in Syrian forces and pressing for a negotiated resolution of the crisis.

Mr. Erdogan’s provocative visit to Kiev and backing for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia was about far more than differences over the Russian-backed Syrian assault in Idlib, the last rebel outpost in the country.

Concerned that Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 has put a halt to Turkey’s maritime dominance of the Black Sea and turned it into a Russian lake, Mr. Erdogan sought in Kyiv to play both sides against the middle.

The International Crisis Group has warned that in the Black Sea “Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea has enabled it to expand its naval capability, project power south and shift the strategic balance in its favour.”

Russia’s de facto coastline grew from 475 to 1,200 kilometres or about 25 per cent of the sea’s total shorefront since the annexation.

Add to that 300 kilometres of coastline belonging to Abkhazia, a Russian-backed breakaway region of Georgia.

In a bid to counter Russian advances, Mr. Erdogan’s gamble also constitutes a bid to persuade NATO to back Turkey in the Black Sea, reversing a decades-old policy of keeping the alliance out of the region.

With 13 Turkish soldiers having died in the last week in two Syrian attacks on Turkish targets and Turkey claiming to have killed more than 100 Syrian soldiers in retaliation, Mr. Erdogan’s gambit appears to have produced initial dividends with the Trump administration backing the Turkish leader in his high-stakes Syrian bid.

One key joker is the degree to which Mr. Erdogan may feel that he has no choice but to escalate further than he would like to in response to far-right nationalists who resonate with part of his voter base and are pressuring him to go for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s jugular.

"What are you waiting for? Don't beat around the bush while Turkish soldiers are being martyred in attacks carried out by soldiers of another state," said Meral Aksener, leader of the Iyi or Good Party.

Added Devlet Bahceli, head of Mr. Erdogan’s coalition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP): “Assad is a murderer, a criminal and the source of hostility. There will be no peace in Turkey until Assad is brought down from his throne. Turkey must start plans to enter Damascus now, and annihilate the cruel ones."

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

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Iran looms large in Central Asia despite sanctions and Saudi financial muscle



By James M. Dorsey

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

Saudi Arabia may have been getting more than it bargained for when authorities in Khujand, Tajikistan’s second largest city, ordered that the city’s largest and most popular mosque be converted into a cinema.

The order followed the closure of some 2,000 mosques in the country in the last three years and the arrest last month of scores of Muslim clerics and teachers, many of whom were accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that is banned in both Tajikistan and the kingdom.

Fewer men sport beards in Tajikistan after being harassed by police, while women in hijabs are far and few between after many were detained and intimidated.

Imams deliver sermons praising President Emomali Rahmon that are approved by authorities, reinforcing his effort to cloak himself in Islamic legitimacy despite the crackdown.

Larger mosques are equipped with surveillance cameras to ensure prayer leaders stick to their texts.

The arrests no doubt will have pleased Saudi leaders who stepped in to help Tajikistan financially in 2015 as the country’s relationship with Iran soured over Iranian demands that Tajikistan pay down its huge debt, allegations that a businessman charged with fraud in the Islamic republic had deposited large sums of money in the National Bank of Tajikistan, and a meeting between Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a Tajik opposition leader.

As relations with Saudi Arabia improved and Saudi Arabia pledged to pump money into infrastructure projects like the Rogun hydroelectric power plant and a highway in eastern Tajikistan as well as education, Tajikistan accused Iran of involvement in the murder of Tajik social and political figures as well as 20 Russian military officers during the 1990s Tajik civil war, which Iran helped bring to an end.

Tajik authorities also closed down an Iranian trade and cultural center in Khujand and helped block Iran’s application to become a member of the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Iran is an observer at the SCO.

Developments in Tajikistan, however, no longer look all that good from a Saudi perspective and bode ill for the kingdom elsewhere in Central Asia. In fact, the more than four years of strained relations between Tajikistan and Iran have made way for quickly warming ties.

Driving the patching up of differences is the fact that landlocked Tajikistan, like its neighbour, Uzbekistan, needs access to ports and Iranian ports, including the Indian-backed one in Chabahar at the top of the Arabian Sea, offer the cheapest and shortest transportation options.

Iran’s attractiveness to Central Asian nations increases the Islamic republic’s importance to the Belt and Road, China’s infrastructure, transportation and energy-driven initiative to connect the Eurasian landmass to Beijing.

There is an element of irony in the Saudi-backed crackdown on mosques and clerics in Tajikistan. That was long the preserve of Uzbek president Islam Karimov, whose state security services tightly  controlled religion under the guise of combating Islamic extremism, until his death in 2016.

Mr. Karimov’s successor, Shavkat Mirziyoev, has promised to reverse his predecessor’s repressive policies and put his government "at the service" of the Uzbek people.

Mr. Mirziyoev’s reforms included emasculating the security service's Religious Committee, by ending its oversight of all religious education, publications, and gatherings, and sacking its supervisor, Aydarbek Tulepov, without replacing him.

Mr. Mirziyoev has also created an academy of higher Islamic learning that is operated by the state-run Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Uzbekistan.

Meanwhile, delegations of Saudi businessmen visited Uzbekistan twice last year to explore investment opportunities.

Saudi Arabia’s textiles-focussed Ajlan & Bros Holding Group plans to invest over the next five years up to US$2 billion in an Uzbek cotton-textile cluster.

Already a vital node for Uzbek exports and imports, Iran is nonetheless written all over Mr. Mirziyoev’s transportation infrastructure plans. A decree issued in late 2017 identified as key to the plans the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Oman. China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan, and three Trans-Afghan corridors.

The three Afghan corridors take a rail line connecting Uzbekistan’s Termez to Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif as their starting point. Uzbek  plans envision the rail line being extended to the Afghan city of Herat from where it would branch out to Iran’s Bandar Abbas port, Chabahar; and Bazargan on the Iranian-Turkish border.

The Central Asian focus on Iranian ports, despite harsh US sanction, takes on added significance with the Chinese-backed Pakistani port of Gwadar, a mere 70 kilometres down the coast from Chabahar, a Belt and Road crown jewel at the core of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), running into problems.

China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) recently terminated its container liner services between Karachi and Gwadar because of a lack of cargo destined for transit to Afghanistan.

Zhang Baozhong, chairman of China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC), insisted that transit trade was key to Gwadar’s success.

Port authorities said last month that two 20-foot containers containing 54 tonnes of bagged fertilizers had been shipped to Gwadar from Karachi for onward transport to Afghanistan in what amounted to an effort to kickstart transit trade.

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, February 4, 2020

What the Deal of the Century Tells Us About the World We Live In



By James M. Dorsey

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

The real issue with US President Donald J. Trump’s Deal of the Century Israeli-Palestinian peace plan is not whether it stands a chance of resolving one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. It doesn’t.

More important is the fact that Israel will, in violation of international law, be empowered to unilaterally annex occupied territory and take steps towards creating an ethnically more homogenous state by transferring a significant proportion of the Jewish state’s Israeli Palestinian population to what the plan envisions as a future Palestinian entity.

Mr. Trump, by endorsing annexation and populations transfers that violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, has put Israel at the cutting edge of an emerging new world order dominated by civilizationalist leaders.

These leaders think in terms of might is right rather than adherence to international law. They envision civilisational states that define themselves and their boundaries on the basis of a specific civilization as opposed to nation states that are determined by internationally recognized borders, population and language and have little time for the rule of law.

In doing so Mr. Trump, like many of his other likeminded civilizationalist leaders, including India’s Narendra Modi, China’s Xi Jinping and Myanmar’s Win Myint who pursue discriminatory policies that marginalize and disenfranchise minorities and undermine social cohesion, is contributing to a world in which mass migration, radicalization and increased political violence will likely pose threats on a far larger scale than they do today.

If Israel indeed moves ahead with implementation of Mr. Trump’s plan, it will likely find itself at the forefront of the civilizationalist effort to shape a new world order that pays little heed to human and minority rights anchored in international law and that rejects agreements on the status of occupied land and people that were forged in the wake of the 20th century’s devastating world wars.

Becoming a flashpoint in the struggle for the shape of a new world could prove to be for Israel more of a curse than a blessing.

It could turn Israel into yet another but nonetheless prime example of what civilizationalist politics is likely to produce: an illiberal if not authoritarian state whose policies are at best controversial rather than, as Israel likes to see itself, the Middle East’s shining and only real democracy,

Few in the international community, including a majority of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s civilizationalist counterparts, with the exception of Mr. Trump and potentially Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Hungary’s Victor Orban, would recognize Israel’s unilaterally declared post-annexation borders.

Responding to Mr. Trump’s plan, conservative Gulf states praised US efforts to achieve peace and called for negotiations but were careful not to endorse Mr. Trump’s blueprint while the Arab League that groups all Arab states outright rejected the proposal.

This did not stop Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s post-popular revolt Sovereignty Council who has close ties to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, from meeting Mr. Netanyahu a day later in Uganda.

Nonetheless, few in the international community would endorse the deprival of citizenship of some 300,000 Palestinian Israelis and their transfer together with their lands in what is known as the Triangle in central Israel to a future Palestinian state.

Only 13 percent of Israeli Palestinians surveyed last year by the Israel Democracy Institute defined themselves as first and foremost being Palestinian while 38 percent said their primary identity was Arab.

Meanwhile, 65 percent said they were “proud to be Israelis.” An even larger number, 83 percent, said they strived to be full members of Israeli society.

"Peace is made with the enemy. We are residents of the state, and we are not the enemy. The prime minister (Netanyahu) wants to save his skin at the expense of inciting hatred against the Arab population," said Shuaa Massarweh Mansour, the mayor of Taiibeh, a town of 50,000 Israeli Palestinians that was included in the plan’s suggestion for a population transfer.

Mr. Mansour was referring to last month’s indictment of Mr. Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases.

Demonstrations on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip in response to the Trump plan were fairly muted but that is no guarantee that implementation will not provoke wide-spread protest directed not only against Israel and the United States but also the Palestine Authority.

Those protests would likely spread to Israeli Palestinians resident within Israeli borders prior to the 1967 Middle East war in which Israel conquered the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights that were annexed before Mr. Trump endorsed their incorporation into Israel, and Gaza.

An Israeli crackdown on the protesters would only add to problems created by implementation of the Trump plan.

The plan appears to be designed to pre-empt what would be a worst case civilizationalist scenario in which continued Israeli occupation would force Israel to choose between being a democracy and a Jewish state because of demographics that would likely see Palestinians becoming a majority of the population.

The irony is that implementation of the plan without Palestinian consent and cooperation could produce the same dilemma.

As a result, Mr. Trump’s civilizationalist approach towards solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Mr. Netanyahu’s enthusiastic embrace of the plan threatens to not only put Israel at the cutting edge of the struggle to shape a new world. It risks turning Israel into a poster child of everything that is wrong with civilisationalism.

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

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Protesters push Arab militaries off their pedestal


"No Constitution Under Military Rule"/ Credit: Gigi Ibrahim

By James M. Dorsey

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

A decade of anti-government protests in the Arab world have thrown popular trust in the military into the garbage bin and undermined the military’s position as one of the most trusted institutions.
Long gone are the days when protesters on Cairo’s Tahrir square chanted “the military and the people are one.”

In 2011 it was the barriers of fear that protesters broke. Created by autocratic rulers, fear was what long kept the disgruntled from taking their grievances to the street.

In 2019 and 2020 those barriers have been further reduced with protesters refusing to back down despite the use of brutal force by law enforcement and security forces in Lebanon and Iraq and occasional violence elsewhere in the Arab world.

Changed popular perceptions of the military are the result. Increasingly, the military is seen at best as positioning itself to salvage what can be salvaged of an ancien regime and at worst the enforcer of a hated regime.

“Iraqis broke the shackles of fear and reached the point of no return. The movement will not stop, and the Iraqi people will never be silenced…,” said Ali Hashim, a protester in Baghdad, speaking only a week after one night of mass killings in December.

In increasingly violent clashes in Beirut earlier this month, protesters unsuccessfully sought to persuade the security forces they were attacking that their demands for a complete break with Lebanon’s political elite was also in the interest of men in uniform.

“Among the most important lessons cited by Sudanese and Algerian protesters so far are…(that) transition plans designed by the military—particularly proposals for quick elections—can be a trap,” said Middle East scholar Michele Dunne.

Algeria’s newly elected president Abdelmadjid Tebboun is struggling to garner legitimacy with mass protests continuing nine months after the toppling of Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Voters voted with their feet in last month’s presidential poll with 60 percent abstaining.

Algeria was railroaded into the election by its powerful military in a bid to outflank protesters by holding the poll before they had an opportunity to prepare for it.

A crucial nail was driven into the coffin of the notion of a unity of purpose between protesters and armed forces with the 2013 military coup in Egypt that produced one of the Arab world’s most repressive regimes under general-turned-president Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi.

Protesters realize almost a decade after the 2011 protests in which demonstrators declared victory once leaders like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had resigned, that their only chance of success is to retain their street power until elites, including the military, agree as appears to be the case in Sudan to a truly transformational process.

In Sudan, unlike in Egypt in 2011, this meant protesters and/or civil society groups ensuring that they had a seat at the table before they surrendered the street.

In Lebanon protests escalated as a result of the elite’s attempt to address the crisis with the appointment as prime minister of Hassan Diab, widely seen as beholden to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia and political group.

Mounting violence on the streets of Lebanon and Iraq in which hundreds of protesters have been killed or wounded will do little to rebuild confidence in the military and allied security forces.

If Lebanon and Iraq are anything to go by, clashes are likely to escalate and leave deep-seated scars.

“Our backs are against the wall. We have nothing more to lose. We are fighting a regime with a history of 40 years of corruption and their armed defenders,” said a masked protester on the streets of Beirut.

Taking journalist and scholar Rami Khouri’s analysis of what he terms ‘revolutions’ that are pitted against the decades-old ‘resistance’ of hard-line Arab states, Iran and its non-state Arab allies who opposed the US, Israel and conservative Gulf states Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as a starting point, militaries become outposts of a political system that has produced brutal autocracies and/or economic and environmental mismanagement.

“Arab and Iranian ruling elites and their own citizens now openly fight and resist each other, seeking to define their countries' identities and policies. This is probably the most consequential ideological battle in the Middle East since its state system was established a century ago,” Mr. Khouri said.

It’s an epic battle that has turned the once revered military into yet another institution that finds itself on the wrong side of history.

While Arab protesters have made that clear on the streets of Khartoum, Algiers, Beirut and Baghdad, Iranian students demanded the departure and demise of the Revolutionary Guards in anti-government demonstrations prior to and after the recent killing of Iranian general Qassim Soleimani.

"The only way out of our current predicament is the simultaneous rejection of both domestic despotism and imperial arrogance. We need a politics that doesn't merely claim security, freedom, and equality for a select group or class, but that understands these rights as inalienable and for all people," said a statement by Iranian students demanding an end to all foreign interference in the affairs of the region, be it by the United States, Iran or the conservative Gulf states.

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