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


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Middle Eastern Black Swans dot China’s Belt and Road



By James M. Dorsey

Edited remarks at the RSIS Book Launch of China and the Middle East; Venturing into the Maelstrom (Palgrave 2018), 20 September 2018


If any one part of the world has forced China to throw its long-standing foreign and defense policy principles out the window and increasingly adopt attitudes associated with a global power, it is the greater Middle East, a region that stretches from the Atlantic coast of Africa to north-western China, a swath of land populated by the Arab, Turkic and Persian worlds.

It was a series of incidents in 2011 during the popular Arab revolts that drove home the fact that China would not be able to protect with its existing foreign and defence policy kit its mushrooming Diaspora and exponentially expanding foreign investments that within a matter of a few years would be grouped as the infrastructure and connectivity-driven Belt and Road initiative linking the Eurasian landmass to the People’s Republic.

Policy principles of non-interference in the domestic affairs of others, an economically-driven win-win approach as a sort of magic wand for problem solution, and no foreign military interventions or bases needed reinterpretation if not being dumped on the dustbin of history.

The incidents included China’s approach to the revolt in Libya as it was happening when it deviated from its policy of non-interference by establishing parallel relations with the opposition National Council. The outreach to Libyan leader Col. Moammar Qadhafi’s opponents did not save it from being identified with the ancien regime once the opposition gained power. On the contrary, the Council made clear that China would be low on the totem pole because of its past support for the Qadhafi regime.

The price for supporting autocratic rule in the greater Middle East meant that overseas Chinese nationals and assets became potential targets. To ensure the safety and security of its nationals in Libya, China was forced to evacuate 35,000 people, its most major foreign rescue operation. The evacuation was the first of similar operations in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The evacuations didn’t stop militants in Egypt’s Sinai from kidnapping 25 Chinese nationals and radicals in South Sudan from taking several Chinese hostages. The kidnappings sparked significant criticism on Chinese social media of the government’s seeming inability to protects its nationals and investments.

With Uyghurs from China’s strategic north-western province of Xinjiang joining militant jihadists in Syria and two Uyghur knife attacks in Xinjiang itself in the cities of Hotam and Kashgar, the limits of China’s traditional foreign and defense policy meshed with its increasingly repressive domestic approach towards the ethnic Turkic people.

Finally, the greater Middle East’s expectations were driven home in a brutal encounter between Arab businessmen and ethnic Chinese scholars and former officials in which the Arabs took the Chinese to task for wanting to benefit from Middle Eastern resources and trade relations without taking on political and geopolitical responsibilities they associated with a rising superpower.

Add to all of this that in subsequent years it was becoming increasingly difficult for China to remain on the sidelines of the Middle East’s multiple conflicts and rivalries. This was particularly true with President Donald J. Trump’s coming to office. 

The greater Middle East’s problems escalated with Mr. Trump’s abandonment of any pretence of impartiality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; his heating up of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran by withdrawing from the 2015 international agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear program; and his toying with attempting to change the regime in Tehran that encouraged Saudi Arabia to step up Saudi support for Pakistani militants in the province of Baluchistan; the likely return of Uyghur jihadists in Syria to Central and South Asia that has prompted the establishment of Chinese military outposts in Tajikistan and Afghanistan and consideration of direct military intervention in a possible Syrian-Russian assault on Idlib, the last rebel-held stronghold in Syria; and finally the potential fallout of China’s brutal crackdown in Xinjiang.

Already, the events in 2011 and since coupled with the mushrooming of Belt and Road-related investments has led to the creation of the country’s first foreign military base in Djibouti and the likely establishment of similar facilities in its string of pearls, the network of ports in the Indian Ocean and beyond.

China’s potential policy dilemmas in the greater Middle East were enhanced by the fact that it doesn’t really have a Middle East policy that goes beyond its shaky, traditional foreign and defence policy principles and economics. That was evident when China in January 2016 on the eve of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Middle East, the first by a Chinese head of state in seven years, issued its first Middle East-related policy white paper that fundamentally contained no new thinking and amounted to a reiteration of a win-win-based approach to the region.

Moreover, with China dependent on the US security umbrella in the Gulf, Beijing sees itself as competitively cooperating with the United States in the Middle East. That is true despite the US-Chinese trade war; differences over the Iranian nuclear agreement which the United States has abandoned and China wants to salvage; and Mr. Trump’s partisan Middle East policy.

China shares with the United States in general and even more so with the Trump administration a fundamental policy principle: stability rather than equitable political reform. China’s principle of non-interference is little more than another label for the US equivalent of long-standing support of autocracy in the Middle East in a bid to maintain stability.

In some ways China is learning the lesson, despite recent developments in Xinjiang, that US President George W. Bush and Susan Rice, his national security advisor and subsequent secretary of state, learnt on 9/11. Within a matter of weeks after the Al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, Bush and Rice suggested that the United States was co-responsible for the attacks because of its support for autocracy that had fuelled anti-American and anti-Western sentiment. It was why Bush launched his ill-conceived democracy initiative.

China, as a result of its political, economic and commercial approach towards the Belt and Road, is starting to have a similar experience. Chinese overseas outposts and assets have become targets, particularly in Pakistan but also in Central Asia.

The kidnappings in 2011 in the Sinai and South Sudan were the beginning. Uyghurs joined groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda not because they were pan-Islamist jihadists but because they wanted to get experience they could later apply in militant struggle against the Chinese.

Beyond profiling themselves in fighting in Syria, Uyghurs have trained with Malhama Tactical, a jihadist for profit Blackwater, the private military company created by Erik Prince.
Anti-Chinese sentiment in countries like Kazakhstan and Tajikistan is on the rise.

Iranians are grateful for Chinese support not only in the current battle over the nuclear accord but also in the previous round of international and US sanctions. They feel however that last time round they were taken for a ride in terms of high Chinese interest rates for project finance, the quality of goods delivered, and a perceived Chinese laxity in adhering to deadlines.

Resentment of the fallout of the Belt and Road investment taps into the broader threat involved in supporting stability by backing autocratic regimes That is nowhere truer than in the greater Middle East, a region that is in a period of volatile, often bloody and brutal transition. It’s a transition that started with the 2011 Arab revolts and has been pro-longed by a powerful Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led counterrevolution. Transitions take anywhere from a quarter to half a century. In other words, the Middle East is just at the beginning.

China, like the United States did for decades, ignores the rumblings just below the surface even if the global trend is toward more authoritarian, more autocratic rule. 9/11 was the result of the United States and the West failing to put their ear to the ground and to take note of those rumblings.

Of course, current rumblings may never explode. But the lesson of the people’s power movement in the Philippines in 1986, the video in late 2010 of a fruit and vegetable vendor in Tunisia who set himself alight that sparked the Arab revolts, months of street and online protests in Morocco in the last year, the mass protests in Jordan earlier this year against a draft tax bill that have now restarted because of the legislation’s resurrection, and the current protests in the Iraqi city of Basra potentially are the writing on the wall.  All it takes is a black swan.

Said Financial Times columnist Jamil Anderlini:” China is at risk of inadvertently embarking on its own colonial adventure in Pakistan— the biggest recipient of BRI investment and once the East India Company’s old stamping ground… Pakistan is now virtually a client state of China. Many within the country worry openly that its reliance on Beijing is already turning it into a colony of its huge neighbour. The risks that the relationship could turn problematic are greatly increased by Beijing’s ignorance of how China is perceived abroad and its reluctance to study history through a non-ideological lens... It is easy to envisage a scenario in which militant attacks on Chinese projects overwhelm the Pakistani military and China decides to openly deploy the People’s Liberation Army to protect its people and assets. That is how ‘win-win’ investment projects can quickly become the foundations of empire.”

The Chinese crackdown in Xinjiang could just be a black swan on multiple fronts given the fact that its fallout is felt far beyond China’s borders. For starters, the wall of Western and Muslim silence is cracking with potentially serious consequences for China as well as the Islamic world.

What is happening in Xinjiang is fundamentally different from past incidents including protests against a novel by Salman Rushdie and Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa ordering his killing; the 2006 Muslim boycott of Danish products because of controversial Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, and the more recent protests sparked by the burning of a Qur’an by a Florida evangelist. The Chinese campaign in Xinjiang challenges fundamentals of the Islamic faith itself.

The earlier incidents were sparked by protests, primarily among South Asians in either Birmingham or Pakistan. This month has seen the first of Xinjiang-related anti-Chinese protests in Bangladesh and India. The first critical article on Xinjiang in the Pakistani press was published this week.

Malaysia is the first Muslim country to speak out with condemnations by a senior figure in Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s political party as well as the country’s likely next head of government, Anwar Ibrahim. 

Consideration in Washington of Xinjiang-related sanctions by the Trump administration, coupled with United Nations reporting on the crackdown and a German and Swedish ban on deportations of Uyghurs, puts the issue on the map and increases pressure on Muslim nations, particularly those like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan that claim to speak on behalf of Islam.

This together with the fact that Chinese support for autocratic or authoritarian rule creates a potential opportunity to export its model of the surveillance state, the most extreme example of which is on display in Xinjiang, constitutes risks and involves potential black swans. To be sure, Pakistan can hardly be described as a liberal society, but it is also not exactly an authoritarian state, yet Pakistan is China’s first export target. And others closer to home could follow.

If all of this is more than enough to digest, factor in the geopolitics of Eurasia, certainly as they relate to the greater Middle East. The Chinese-backed Russian-Iranian-Turkish alliance is brittle at best, witness differences over the possible battle for Idlib and the post-war presence of Iran in Syria.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran, and to a lesser degree Israel are players in what is a 21st century Great Game. That is particularly true in the Caucasus and Central Asia as well as Pakistan and as it relates to port diplomacy in Pakistan’s Gwadar and the Indian-backed Iranian port of Chabahar.

Add to this the fact that if Saudi Arabia is the world’s swing oil producer, Iran is Eurasia’s swing gas producer with the potential to co-shape the supercontinent’s future energy architecture.

And finally, there are multiple ways that China risks being sucked into the Saudi-Iranian rivalry not least if the United States and Saudi Arabia decide to take plans off the drawing board and initiate a campaign to destabilize Iran by stirring unrest among its Baloch, Kurdish, Iranian Arab and Azeri minorities.

The long and short of this is that the Great Game in Eurasia remains largely undecided and that change in China’s foreign and defense policy is already a fact. The question is how all of this will affect China and how potential obstacles on the Belt and Road will play out.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title and a co-authored volume, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa as well as Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa and just published China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Two-Trillion Bubble: What Aramco IPO reveals about MBS’s 2030 Vision


The Two-Trillion Bubble: What Aramco IPO reveals about MBS’s 2030 Vision

The disconnect between Saudi imperatives and the expectations of Western governments and financial markets who repeatedly focussed on unmet Saudi time indications of the Aramco IPO rather than broader policy statements fit a pattern of misperceptions.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018 08:26 GMT


A Saudi decision to indefinitely delay an initial public offering (IPO) of five percent of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company or Aramco, the Saudi state-owned oil company, has further dented investor confidence and fuelled debate about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ability to push economic reform. It has even prompted speculation that his assertive policies, including the Kingdom’s ill-fated military intervention in Yemen, harsh response to Canadian human rights criticism and failed Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar, could dampen his prospects of eventually ascending the throne.


Read further on: http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2018/09/trillion-bubble-aramco-ipo-reveals-mbss-2030-vision-180918075517829.html

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

JMD on NBN: Saudi Inc. by Ellen R. Wald


ELLEN R. WALD
Saudi Inc.
The Arabian Kingdom’s Pursuit of Power and Profit
PEGASUS BOOKS 2018
September 17, 2018 James M. Dorsey



Ellen R. Wald’s timely, well-written history of the Saudi national oil company, Saudi Inc. The Arabian Kingdom’s Pursuit of Power and Profit (Pegasus Books, 2018), is as much the story of the Saudi oil industry as it is of the ruling Al Saud family’s reliance on black gold to ensure the survival of its regime. In painting a picture of the Al Saud’s long-term strategy to build up over decades the know-how and expertise needed to run an oil industry and their determination to ultimately after almost half a century take over ownership in a legal, orderly, commercial transaction, Wald contrasts the kingdom’s approach in colourful and painstaking detail with nationalisations as they occurred in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East. It is also the story of a US government that increasingly saw Saudi oil as crucial to its post-World War Two global military operations and was determined to ensure that American oilmen, despite their arrogant underestimation of Saudis whom they saw as Bedouins and willingness to bend the truth to enhance their profit margins, were sufficiently accommodating to avoid British mistakes in Iran that resulted in nationalisation and a US-British backed coup to roll back the Iranian takeover. Wald’s book provides essential background for the role that the Saudi Arabian Oil Company better known as Aramco plays in Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to ween the kingdom off its dependency on oil revenues and diversify its economy. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the kingdom’s future as one of the world’s foremost oil producers at a time of significant economic change.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies



Sunday, September 16, 2018

China struggles with Belt and Road pushback


Credit: Center for Global Development


By James M. Dorsey

China, in an implicit recognition that at least some of its Belt and Road-related projects risk trapping target countries in debt or fail to meet their needs, has conceded that adjustments may be necessary.

"It's normal and understandable that development focus can change at different stages in different countries, especially with changes in government. So China can also make some strategic adjustments when cooperating with these countries, but it's definitely not a reconsideration of the B&R (Belt and Road) initiative," Wang Jun, deputy director of the  Department of Information at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges told the Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper.

The Chinese concession, initially made public in an August 27 speech by President Xi Jinping and reaffirmed by the Global Times.  came in the same week that Pakistan during a visit of Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi demanded that China expand its US$50 billion plus investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the single largest country infrastructure investment related to the People’s Republic’s Belt and Road initiative, to include manufacturing and poverty reduction projects.

The change in China’s approach towards Belt and Road would in the case of Pakistan involve a substantial recast of CPEC that appeared to position Pakistan as a raw materials supplier for China, an export market for Chinese products and labour, and an experimental ground for the export of the surveillance state China is rolling out, particularly in its troubled north-western province of Xinjiang.

The focus of Chinese investment takes on added significance as Pakistan weighs options to solve its financial crisis, including a request for up to US$12 billion in assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that would involve a straightjacket for structural reform.

An IMF assistance package would require Pakistan to provide chapter and verse of the finances of Belt and Road-related projects that have so far been kept under wrap.

Mr. Wang, the foreign minister, seemed despite the statements suggesting change, cautious in his response to the Pakistani demands. He indicated that that expansion, if not re-orientation of CPEC, would not be immediate. "The two sides have agreed that the CPEC cooperation will gradually shift to industrial cooperation," Mr. Wang said during his visit.

Pakistan was not the only country that was pushing back at China’s approach towards the Belt and Road. Nepal joined Pakistan last November in withdrawing from dam projects because of China’s commercial terms.

More recently, protests against the forced resettlement of eight Nepali villages have apparently persuaded CWE Investment Corporation, a subsidiary of China Three Gorges, to consider pulling out of a 750MW hydropower project. CWE said it was looking at cancelling the project because it was “financially unfeasible.”

Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has suspended or cancelled US$26 billion in Chinese-funded projects since his election victory in May.

Similarly, Myanmar is negotiating a significant scaling back of a Chinese-funded port project on the Bay of Bengal from one that would cost US$ 7.3 billion to a more modest development that would cost US$1.3 billion in a bid to avoid shouldering an unsustainable debt.

China has written off an undisclosed amount of Tajik debt in exchange for ceding control of some 1,158 square kilometres of disputed territory close to the Central Asian nation’s border with China’s troubled north-western province of Xinjiang. 

Zambia, following in the footsteps of Sri Lanka that was forced to give China a major stake in its port of Hambantota because it could not service its debt, saw itself this month left with no choice but to hand over control of its international airport as well as a state power company.

The Chinese concession also comes amid increased international attention on China’s crackdown on Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, including, the roll-out of its 21st century Orwellian surveillance state.

The concession is part of a concerted effort to downplay the geopolitical nature of the Belt and Road initiative and stress its sustainable development and job creation aspects.

Ray Washburne, president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), an intergovernmental agency that channels US private capital into overseas development projects, earlier depicted the Belt and Road initiative as a ploy to ingratiate itself with other countries by funding infrastructure projects.

China ”is not in it to help countries out, they're in it to grab their assets,” Mr. Washburne said. He charged that China was intentionally plunging recipient countries into debt, then going after “their rare earths and minerals and things like that as collateral for their loans.”

That view persuaded Greenland this month to select a Danish rather than a Chinese company to build and upgrade three airports.

“The big fear is that even a small Chinese investment will amount to a large part of Greenland’s GDP, giving China an outsized influence that can be used for other purposes,” said Danish foreign and defence policy scholar Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen.

Mr. Rahbek-Clemmensen’s concern reflects a widespread belief that the sheer scale of Belt and Road, involving up to US$1 trillion in investments in scores of countries across the globe lends it significant geopolitical attributes irrespective of what Chinese leaders may have had in mind.

A recent study by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) argued that the Belt and Road is driven by “interest groups within and outside China (that) are skewing President Xi’s signature foreign policy vision.” The study argued that the positioning of the initiative persuaded Chinese local and regional authorities as well as companies to brand their activities as Belt and Road-related to gain economic and political advantage.

Earlier, the Washington-based Center for Global Development warned that “there is…concern that debt problems will create an unfavourable degree of dependency on China as a creditor. Increasing debt, and China’s role in managing bilateral debt problems, has already exacerbated internal and bilateral tensions in some BRI (Belt and Road initiative) countries.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title and a co-authored volume, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa as well as Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa and just published China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom  

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Party vs Faith: China drafts restrictions for all religions



By James M. Dorsey

China intends to extend aspects of its crackdown on Islam in the north-western province of Xinjiang to all religions as is evident from the publication of proposed restrictive guidelines for online religious activity.

The guidelines, according to Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times, would ban online religious services from “inciting subversion, opposing the leadership of the Communist Party, overthrowing the socialist system and promoting extremism, terrorism and separatism,” identified as the three evils China say it is combatting in Xinjiang.

The guidelines would also forbid livestreaming or broadcast of religious activity, including praying, burning incense, worshipping or baptism ceremonies in the form of text, photo, audio or video.

The guidelines, published on China’s legislative information website, are likely to be adopted after October 9 when the window for public comment closes.

The newspaper quoted Zhu Weiqun, former head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference as saying that the guidelines were designed to regulate online religious information and protect the legal rights of religious people and religious freedom.

"Some organizations, in the name of religion, deliberately exaggerate and distort religious doctrine online, and some evil forces, such as terrorism, separatism and religious extremism, and cults, also attempt to expand their online influences," Mr. Zhu said.

By applying the guidelines to all religions, the government hopes in part to take the sting out of an increasing number of media reports as well as assertions by the United Nations that its policy in Xinjiang involves massive violation of religious and human rights. China has denied any violations.

While the crackdown on Islam in Xinjiang is the most severe because of Chinese concerns about Uyghur nationalist aspirations as well as Islamization and Arabization, references to more conservative, if not ultra-conservative strands of Islam, and the potential return to Central Asia of militant Uyghur foreign fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq, it reflects a wider Chinese effort to control religion.

Similar to Xinjiang where Uyghurs report that mosques are being destroyed, authorities elsewhere in the country have destroyed what allegedly were ‘underground churches,’ including a massive evangelical church in China's northern Shanxi province that services a congregation of 50,000.

A rare, mass protest last month by Hui Muslims, who together with Uyghur’s account for the bulk of China’s estimated 20 million Muslims, forced local authorities in the northern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region to suspend plans to demolish a newly built mosque.

Former inmates of re-education camps as well as family members of  detainees assert that re-education involves subjecting religious views to the precepts of the Communist party, putting allegiance to the party above that of God, and breaking with religious dietary rules and other Islamic legal requirements.

The drafting of the guidelines come as China is finding it increasingly difficult to keep a publicity lid on developments in Xinjiang. The Global Times announcement came a day after Human Rights Watch issued a damning report and two days after a detailed expose in The New York Times, part of a flurry of media and academic reports published despite probable Chinese efforts to suppress critical reporting where it can.

Independent Media, publisher of 18 major South African titles with a combined readership of 25 million, recently refused to publish a column by foreign affairs columnist Azad Essa on a United Nations report asserting that up to one million Uyghurs were being detained in the re-education camps. Mr. Essa was told his column had been discontinued because of a redesign of the groups’ papers and the introduction of a new system.

China International Television Corporation (CITVC ) and China-Africa Development Fund (CADFUND) own a 20 percent stake in Independent Media through Interacom Investment Holdings Limited, a Mauritius-registered vehicle. There was no immediate indication that Chinese stakeholders were responsible for the cancellation of Mr. Essa’s column.

China’s ability to keep its lid on the crackdown is nonetheless slipping. US officials said this week that the Trump administration, locked into a trade war with China, was considering sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies involved in Xinjiang in what would be the first US human rights-related measures against the People’s Republic.

The administration was also looking at ways to limit sales of US surveillance technology that could assist Chinese security agencies and companies in turning Xinjiang into a 21st century Orwellian surveillance state.

Deliberations about possible sanctions gained momentum after US Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the chair of the congressional committee, called for the sanctioning of Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary and Politburo member Chen Quanguo and “all government officials and business entities assisting the mass detentions and surveillance”. He also demanded that Chinese security agencies be added “to a restricted end-user list to ensure that American companies don’t aid Chinese human-rights abuses.”

With the media reporting and UN and US criticism putting pressure on the Islamic world to speak out, cracks are emerging in its wall of virtually absolute silence.
Rais Hussin, a supreme council member of Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) party and head of its Policy and Strategy Bureau, cautioned in an editorial this week against deportation of 11 Uyghurs wanted by China.

“Being friendly to China is a must, as China is a close neighbour of Malaysia. But it is also on this point that geographical proximity cannot be taken advantage by China to ride roughshod over everything that Malaysia holds dear, such as Islam, democracy, freedom of worship and deep respect for every country's sovereignty… On its mistreatment of Muslims in Xinjiang almost en masse, Malaysia must speak up, and defend the most basic human rights of all,” Mr. Hussin said.

Mr. Hussin’s comments may not be that surprising given that Mr. Mahathir, since returning to power in May in an upset election, has emerged as a point man in a pushback by various nations against Chinese-funded, Belt and Road-related infrastructure projects that are perceived as risking unsustainable debt or being potential white elephants.

Mr. Mahathir has, since assuming office, suspended or cancelled US$26 billion in Chinese-funded projects in Malaysia.

Echoing Mr. Hussin’s statements, Ismailan, a Hui Muslim poet, posted pictures on Twitter of Bangladeshi Muslims protesting in the capital Dacca against the crackdown in Xinjiang.

“They are the first people of Islamic world to stand up for brothers and sisters in #china. Muslims, our fate is connected!” Ismailan tweeted, insisting that his opposition to the crackdown and “the use of concentration camps to solve the problem” did not amount to support for Uighur nationalism.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title and a co-authored volume, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa as well as Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa and just published China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom  

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

JMD on NBN: Courtney Freer on Rentier Islam


COURTNEY FREER
Rentier Islamism
The Influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gulf Monarchies
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 2018
September 11, 2018 James M. Dorsey



Courtney Freer‘s new book Rentier Islamism: The Influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gulf Monarchies(Oxford University Press, 2018) contributes significantly to an understanding of one of the most controversial political groups in Middle East politics. Widely viewed as a player that cannot be excluded from the political process in the region, the Muslim Brotherhood is at the crux of political conflict, particularly in Egypt, where its president, Mohammed Morsi, was toppled in a military coup in 2013, and in the Gulf where it is at the crux of a dispute that has pitted Qatar against an alliance led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Courtney Freer’s study of the Brotherhood in the Gulf portrays the development of an opposition group in an autocratic environment. It also is a study of a group that operates in an environment in which one of its key appeals, the provision of social services like healthcare, is of little use because the oil-rich Gulf states introduced welfare states that offered their citizenry cradle-to-grave social security as part of the social contract. Similarly, the Brotherhood’s role as a provider of a religiously couched identity had to compete in societies with strong tribal allegiances and governments that co-opted Islam as part of their legitimization. Nonetheless, the Brotherhood played a key role in state building in the Gulf where highly educated members of the group fleeing persecution in countries like Egypt and Syria found employment, particularly in education and the judiciary. By tracing the different trajectories of the Brotherhood in the Gulf ranging from Kuwait where an institutionalized parliamentary system allowed it to ease into mainstream politics to the UAE where it came go be seen as an existential threat alongside all expressions of political Islam, Freer fills a vital gap in the literature about a region that is in throes of volatile, often brutal transition.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Turkic Muslims: China and the Muslim world’s Achilles Heel



By James M. Dorsey

A list of 26 predominantly Muslim countries considered sensitive by China reflects Chinese concerns that they could reinforce religious sentiment among the People’s Republic’s Turkic Muslim population with potentially far-reaching consequences if the Islamic world were to take it to task for its crackdown in Xinjiang, the most frontal assault on Islam in recent history.

The list compiled by Human Rights Watch as part of a just published report on the crackdown in China’s strategic north-western province details the roll-out of the world’s most intrusive, 21st century surveillance state as well as an attempt to re-educate a population of 10 million that includes primarily Uyghurs, an ethnically Turkic Muslim group, as well as Muslims of Central Asian origin.

The re-education is designed to reshape the population’s religious beliefs so that they adopt an interpretation of Islam that is in line with the Chinese Communist Party’s precepts rather than prescriptions of Islamic holy texts in a bid to counter Turkic Muslim nationalist, ethnic or religious aspirations as well as political violence.

China worries that national and religious sentiment and/or militancy could challenge China’s grip on Xinjiang, home to 15  percent of its proven oil reserves, 22  per cent of its gas reserves, and 115 of the 147 raw materials found in the People’s Republic as well as part of its nuclear arsenal.

Included in the list of countries are former Soviet Central Asian nations as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, many of which border on Xinjiang, Southeast Asian nations like Malaysia and Indonesia, and key Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey that has historic, ethnic and linguistic ties to China’s Turkic Muslims and for decades was empathetic to Uyghur aspirations.

China’s crackdown, according to a plan developed by the Baluntai Town government in north-central Xinjiang, involves targeting among others Turkic Muslims who remain in contact with family and friends abroad, people who have stayed abroad “too long” and those who have, independently and without state permission, organized Hajj pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia. China is particularly concerned about Uyghur contact with Muslim countries.

“It was 2 a.m. and my daughters (in a foreign country) were chatting with their father (in Xinjiang) on the phone. You know, they’re daddy’s girls and they were telling him all their secrets … when suddenly my daughters ran in to tell me, ‘The authorities are taking away daddy!’” Human Rights Watch quoted Inzhu, a 50-year-old mother, who lives in an unidentified country, as saying.

The Muslim world’s silence constitutes for China a double-edged sword. China’s campaign in Xinjiang is effectively enabled by the silence, driven primarily by a desire of governments, many of which are deeply indebted to China, to preserve economic relations, and allows it to largely ignore criticism by Western nations, human rights groups as well as the Uyghur Diaspora.

On the flip side, silence potentially gives Muslim countries a degree of leverage. Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad seemingly exploited that leverage with China treading carefully in the face of an anti-Chinese election campaign that returned the 93-year old to office in May and Mr. Maharthir’s subsequent suspension of US$22 billion of Chinese-backed, Belt an d Road-related infrastructure projects.

The leverage could also factor in financially troubled Pakistani intentions to review or renegotiate agreements related to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a crown jewel in China’s Belt and Road initiative and at US$50 billion plus, its single largest country investment.

The risk for China is that mushrooming publicity about its crackdown in Xinjiang that includes pressure on Uyghurs abroad to return to the Chinese province and risk incarceration and has led to countries like Egypt, Afghanistan the United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia, extraditing Uyghurs to China, will make it increasingly difficult for Muslim countries to remain silent.

The risk is also that the crackdown could have a boomerang effect, fuelling radicalization at home as well as abroad. A study, by Qiu Yuanyuan, a scholar at the Xinjiang Party School, where officials are trained, that was quoted in The New York Times, warned that “recklessly setting quantitative goals for transformation through education has been erroneously used.. The targeting is imprecise, and the scope has been expanding.”

The risks are enhanced by black swans such as a recent court case in Kazakhstan that has forced the government in Astana to walk a fine line between avoiding friction with China and shielding itself from accusations that it is not standing up for the rights and safety of Kazakh nationals.

Kazakhs were taken aback when 41-year-old Sayragul Sauytbay, a Chinese national of Kazakh descent, testified in an open Kazakh court that she had been employed in a Chinese re-education camp for Kazakhs only that had 2,500 inmates. She said she was aware of two more camps reserved for Kazakhs.

Ms. Sauytbay was standing trial for entering Kazakhstan illegally. She said she had escaped to Kazakhstan after being told by Chinese authorities that she would never be allowed to join her family because of her knowledge of the camps. Ms. Sauytbay was given a six-month suspended sentence and allowed to stay in the country where her recently naturalized husband and children reside.

The inclusion of ethnic Kazakhs, a community in China of 1.25 million people, in the crackdown sparked angry denunciations in Kazakhstan’s parliament. “There should be talks taking place with the Chinese delegates. Every delegation that goes there should be bringing this topic up… The key issue is that of the human rights of ethnic Kazakhs in any country of the world being respected,” said Kunaysh Sultanov, a member of parliament and former deputy prime minister and ambassador to China.

Anti-Chinese sentiment in the Pakistani Chinese border province of Gilgit-Baltistan ran high earlier this year after some 50 Uyghur women married to Pakistani men were detained on visits to Xinjiang and China refused to renew the visas of Pakistani husbands resident in Xinjiang.

Beyond economic leverage, China has so far benefited from the fact that Muslim politicians and leaders see more political mileage in pushing causes like the Palestinians rather than ones that have not been in the Islamic world’s public eye.

You gain popularity if you show you are anti-Zionism and if you are fighting for the Palestinians, as compared to the Rohingya or Uyghurs,” said Ahmad Farouk Musa, director of the Islamic Renaissance Front, a Malaysian NGO.

It’s a bet Muslim countries and China could continue to win but could prove costly if they eventually lose.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title and a co-authored volume, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa as well as Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa and just published China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom