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


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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


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Shifting Middle Eastern sands spotlight diverging US-Saudi interests



By James M. Dorsey

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

Optimists garner hope from the fact that the US Senate may censor Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman for the October 2 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul; the positive start of Yemeni peace talks in Sweden with an agreement to exchange prisoners, Saudi Arabia’s invitation to Qatar to attend an October 9 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh, and a decision by the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut production.

That optimism, however, may not be borne out by facts on the ground and analysis of developments that are likely to produce at best motion rather than movement. In fact, more fundamentally, what many of the developments suggest is an unacknowledged progressive shift in the region’s alliances stemming in part from the fact that the bandwidth of shared US-Saudi interests is narrowing.

There is no indication that, even if Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani decides to accept an invitation by Saudi king Salman to attend the GCC summit rather than send a lower level delegation or not attend at all, either the kingdom or the United Arab Emirates, the main drivers behind the 17-month old economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state, are open to a face-saving solution despite US pressure to end to the rift.

Signalling that the invitation and an earlier comment by Prince Mohammed that “despite the differences we have, (Qatar) has a great economy and will be doing a lot in the next five years” do not indicate a potential policy shift, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash insisted that the GCC remained strong despite the rift. “The political crisis will end when the cause behind it ends and that is Qatar’s support of extremism and its interference in the stability of the region.,” Mr. Gargash said, reiterating long-standing Saudi-UAE allegations.

Similarly, United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Sweden convened with the help of the United States may at best result in alleviating the suffering of millions as a result of the almost four-year old Saudi-UAE military intervention in Yemen but are unlikely to ensure that a stable resolution of the conflict is achievable without a lowering of tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Even humanitarian relief remains in question with the parties in Sweden unable to agree on a reopening of Sana’a airport to facilitate the flow of aid.

More realistically, with the Trump administration, backed by Saudi Arabia and Israel, determined to cripple Iran economically in a bid to force it to alter its regional policies, if not change the regime in Tehran, chances are the Yemeni conflict will be perpetuated rather than resolved.

To Yemen’s detriment, Iran is emerging as one of the foremost remaining shared US-Saudi interests as the two countries struggle to manage their relationship in the wake of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. That struggle is evident with the kingdom’s Washington backers divided between erstwhile backers-turned-vehement critics like Republican senator Graham Lindsey and hardline supporters such as national security advisor John Bolton. The jury is out on who will emerge on top in the Washington debate.

The risks of the Saud-Iranian rivalry spinning out of control possibly with the support of hardliners like Mr. Bolton were evident in this week’s suicide bombing in the Iranian port of Chabahar, an Indian-backed project granted a waiver from US sanctions against the Islamic republic to counter influence of China that support the nearby Pakistani port of Gwadar.

Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Revolutionary Guards spokesman Brigadier General Ramadan Sharif suggested without providing evidence that Saudi Arabia was complicit in the attack that targeted the city’s police headquarters, killing two people and wounding 40 others.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to the Guards, said the attack was the work of Ansar al-Furqan, an Iranian Sunni jihadi group that Iran claims enjoys Saudi backing.

Iran’s allegation of Saudi complicity is partly grounded in the fact that a Saudi thinktank linked to Prince Mohammed last year advocated fuelling an insurgency in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan that incudes Chabahar in a bid to thwart the port development while Mr. Bolton before becoming US President Donald J. Trump’s advisor called for US support of ethnic minorities in Iran.

In a bid to create building blocks for the fuelling of ethnic insurgencies in Iran, Pakistani militants have said that Saudi Arabia had in recent years poured money into militant anti-Iranian, anti-Shiite madrassas or religious seminaries in the Pakistani province of Balochistan that borders on Sistan and Baluchistan.

The divergence of US-Saudi interests, agreement on Iran notwithstanding, was on display in this week’s defeat of a US effort to get the UN General Assembly to condemn Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip. Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom’s denunciation of Hamas as a terrorist organization and its demand that Qatar halt support of it, voted against the resolution.

The vote suggested that Mr. Trump may be hoping in vain for Saudi backing of his as yet undisclosed plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that is believed to be slanted towards Israel’s position.

Saudi ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said the defeated UN resolution would “undermine the two-state solution which we aspire to” and divert attention from Israel’s occupation, settlement activities and “blockade” of territories occupied during the 1967 Middle East war.

Saudi Arabia’s changing status and the divergence of longer-term US-Saudi interests was also evident in this week’s OPEC meeting in Vienna.

To get an OPEC deal on production levels, the kingdom, once the oil market’s dominant swing producer, needed an agreement with non-OPEC member Russia on production levels as well as Russian assistance in managing Iranian resistance, suggesting

The agreement, moreover, had to balance Mr. Trump’s frequently tweeted demand for lower prices, and the kingdom’s need for higher ones to fund its budgetary requirements and Prince Mohammed’s ambitious economic reforms and demonstrate that the Khashoggi affair had not made it more vulnerable to US pressure.


With some of Mr. Trump's ambassadorial political appointees expressing support for populist, nationalist and authoritarian leaders and political groups, the fact that some of the president's closest Congressional allies back the anti-Saudi resolution illustrates that there are red lines that a significant number of the president’s supporters are not willing to cross.

All told, recent developments in the Middle East put a spotlight on the changing nature of a key US relationship in the Middle East that could have far-reaching consequences over the middle and long-term. It is a change that is part of a larger, global shift in US priorities and alliances that is likely to outlive Mr. Trump’s term(s) in office.

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

Thursday, December 6, 2018

US Senate resolution potentially changes Middle East dynamics



By James M. Dorsey

A draft US Senate resolution describing Saudi policy in the Middle East as a "wrecking ball" and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as “complicit” in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if adopted and implemented, potentially could change the dynamics of the region's politics and create an initial exit from almost a decade of mayhem, conflict and bloodshed.

The six-page draft also holds Prince Mohammed accountable for the devastating war in Yemen that has sparked one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, the failure to end the 17-month-old Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar, and the jailing and torture of Saudi dissidents and activists.

In doing so, the resolution confronts not only Prince Mohammed's policies but also by implication those of his closest ally, UAE crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed. The UAE was the first country that Saudi leader visited after the Khashoggi killing.

By in effect challenging the position of king-in-waiting Prince Mohammed, the resolution raises the question whether some of his closest allies, including the UAE crown prince, will in future want to be identified that closely with him.

Moreover, by demanding the release of activist Raif bin Muhammad Badawi, better known as Raif Badawi, and women's rights activists, the resolution further the challenges fundamentals of Prince Mohammed's iron-fisted repression of his critics, the extent of his proposed social reforms as part of his drive to diversify and streamline the Saudi economy, and the kingdom's human rights record.

A 34-year-old blogger who named his website Free Saudi Liberals, Mr. Badawi was barred from travel and had his assets frozen in 2009, arrested in 2012, and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam. His sister, Samar Badawi, a women’s rights activist, was detained earlier this year. Mr. Badawi’s wife and children were granted asylum and citizenship in Canada.

A diplomatic row that stunned many erupted in August when Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador after the foreign ministry in Ottawa demanded in a tweet the release of Ms. Badawi and other activists.

Prince Mohammed and Saudi Arabia, even prior to introduction of the Senate resolution, were discovering that the Khashoggi killing had weakened the kingdom internationally and had made it more vulnerable to pressure.

Talks in Sweden between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and Houthi rebels to end the war is the most immediate consequence of the kingdom's changing position.

So is the resolution that is unprecedented in the scope and harshness of the criticism of a long-standing ally. 

While the resolution is likely to spark initial anger among some of Prince's Mohammed's allies, it nevertheless, if adopted and/or implemented, could persuade some like UAE crown prince Mohammed to rethink their fundamental strategies.

The relationship between the two Mohammeds constituted a cornerstone of the UAE leader's strategy to achieve his political, foreign policy and defense goals.

These include projecting the Emirates as a guiding light of cutting-edge Arab and Muslim modernity; ensuring that the Middle East fits the crown prince's autocratic, anti-Islamist mould; and enabling the UAE, described by US defense secretary Jim Mattis as 'Little Sparta,' to punch above its weight politically, diplomatically and militarily.

To compensate for the Emirates’ small size, Prince Mohammed opted to pursue his goals in part by working through the Saudi royal court. In leaked emails, UAE ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba, a close associate of Prince Mohammed, said of the Saudi crown prince that
“I don’t think we’ll ever see a more pragmatic leader in that country.”

Mr. Al-Otaiba went on to say: “I think in the long term we might be a good influence on KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), at least with certain people there. Our relationship with them is based on strategic depth, shared interests, and most importantly the hope that we could influence them. Not the other way around.”

The impact of the Senate resolution and what it means for the US policy will to a large extent depend on the politics of the differences between the Congress and President Donald J. Trump who has so far sought to shield the Saudi crown prince.

To further do so, Mr. Trump, with or without the resolution, would likely have to pressure Saudi Arabia to give him something tangible to work with such as an immediate release of imprisoned activists followed by a resolution of the Qatar crisis as well as some indication that the Yemen peace negotiations are progressing.

Whichever way, the fallout of the Khashoggi killing, culminating in unprecedented Congressional anger against Prince Mohammed and the kingdom, is likely to have significant consequences not only for the Saudi crown prince but potentially also for the strategy of his UAE counterpart.

That in turn could create light at the end of the Middle East's tunnel of almost a decade of volatility and violent and bloody conflict that has been driven by Saudi and UAE assertiveness in countering dissent at home and abroad in the wake of the 2011 popular Arab revolts as well as Iran that has played its part in countries like Syria and Yemen in fuelling destruction and bloodshed.

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

Sunday, December 2, 2018

ROYAL ROAD AHEAD: SAUDI PRINCE LEAVES G20 CONFIDENT, TURNING CORNER AFTER KHASHOGGI SCANDAL


  • World appears to be moving forward following shocking murder of journalist and Mohammed bin Salman appears happy to join them

THERE WAS A high-five from Vladimir Putin. And for Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi it was business as usual.

At home, Saudi Arabia’s media trumpeted Mohammed bin Salman’s meetings with world leaders, tweeting pictures of his encounters, which also included the presidents of South Korea, Mexico, and South Africa.
However, Western leaders appeared to avoid the crown prince during the family photo at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires – after almost two months of global outrage at the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The only Arab leader there, the prince stood rather isolated at the end of the line, at times looking uncertain and nervous.
Read further in South China Morning Post


Saturday, December 1, 2018

JMD on NBN: Aasim Sajjad Akhtar's The Politics of Common Sense


AASIM SAJJAD AKHTAR
State, Society and Culture in Pakistan
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS 2018
November 29, 2018 
James M. Dorsey


Aasim Sajjad Akhtar’s The Politics of Common Sense: State, Society and Culture in Pakistan (Cambridge University Press, 2018) is an incisive study of continuity as well as change in Pakistan that has moved the country towards religious conservatism and increased authoritarianism. Akhtar, a political scientist and self-confessed left-wing activist, documents the development of political power in Pakistan that with the military dictatorship in the 1980s of General Zia ul-Haq ended an era of more liberal and left-wing politics and put the country on a path of right-wing religious ultra-conservatism from which it has yet to deviate. In tracking that development, Akhtar’s book makes a significant contribution by focussing not only on its ideological but also its economic aspects as well as the religious right’s appeal to urban shopkeepers and traders. He projects the religious right as a vehicle for subordinate classes to access the state and claim a stake in status quo politics. Akhtar’s contribution with this book is also his analysis of the waning of counter-hegemonic and transformative politics in Pakistan. Akhtar notes that the perceived benefits of carving out a stake in a patronage-based system far outstrip the cost and risk of efforts to transform the system. It is that cost-benefit analysis that has given Pakistan politics resilience and undergird a system in which religion is the ultimate source of legitimacy at the expense of any opposition to class and state power. In looking at how subordinate classes cope through the politics of common sense, Akhtar’s book represents a significant and innovative addition to the study not only of Pakistan but of an era in which religious, nationalist and populist forces are on the rise.
To listen to the podcast, please click here

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

Thursday, November 29, 2018

JMD on NBN: Sumantra Bose, "Secular States, Religious Politics, India, Turkey and the Future of Secularism"


SUMANTRA BOSE
Secular States, Religious Politics:
India, Turkey and the Future of Secularism
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS 2018
November 28, 2018 
James M. Dorsey


Sumantra Bose‘s new book Secular States, Religious Politics: India, Turkey and the Future of Secularism (Cambridge University Press, 2018) is a fascinating comparison of the rise of religious parties in the non-Western world’s two major attempts to establish a post-colonial secular state. The secular experiments in Turkey and India were considered success stories for the longest period of time but that has changed with the rise of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in Turkey and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in India and the capture of state power by political forces with an anti-secular vision of nationhood. In his ground-breaking book, Bose attributes the rise of secularism to the fact that non-Western states like Turkey and India never adopted the Western principle of separation of state and church and instead based their secularism on the principle of state intervention and regulation of the religious sphere. In doing so, Bose distinguishes between the embedding of secularism in Turkey in authoritarianism entrenched in the carving out of the modern Turkish state from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and the fact that secularism in India is rooted in culture and a democratic form of government. With the anti-secular trend in Turkey and India fitting into a global trend in which cultural and religious identity is gaining traction, Bose’s study constitutes a significant contribution to the study of the future of secularism and the of the complex relationship between religious parties and the secular state.
To listen to the podcast click here
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

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



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Stitcher, TuneIn and Tumblr.

As Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman tours friendly Arab nations in advance of the Group of 20 (G-20) industrialized nations summit in Argentina, Saudi diplomacy aims to achieve two goals: put the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi behind it and thwart Qatari efforts to benefit from the kingdom’s predicament.

The Saudi campaign is producing predictably mixed results. It is proving successful with nations willing to back it for political, financial or economic gain, such as Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, and Palestine or nations like the United Arab Emirates, Russia and China that share Saudi Arabia’s illiberal, authoritarian values.

Prince Mohammed and the kingdom’s ties to Western nations, even those like the United States that have opted for maintaining close ties in the face of mounting criticism in their national legislatures, hang in the balance despite having survived the storm so far.

With the US Congress gearing up for potential action against Saudi Arabia, not only because of the October 2 killing of Mr. Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate but also the humanitarian crisis sparked by Saudi military intervention in Yemen, President Donald J. Trump has no plans to meet Prince Mohammed one on one at this weekend’s G-20 gathering.

Much like Mr. Trump’s decision may be perceived as a public slap, it does not suggest that Mr. Trump has backed away from his determination to shield US-Saudi relations and the crown prince from the potential fallout of the Khashoggi killing.

Similarly, Britain this week went ahead with joint exercises of the British and Saudi air forces although the United Kingdom has left open the possibility of imposing sanctions if the killing proves to have been government-sanctioned rather than an operation by rogue elements.

One key focus of the Saudi campaign appears to be Palestine and Iraq, countries not on Prince Mohammed’s travel schedule but where Qatar, that has been resisting an 18-month old Saudi-UAE-led economic and diplomatic boycott, stands to benefit from the Khashoggi crisis and that figure prominently in Mr. Trump’s designs for the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia this month said that it had transferred US$60 million to President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestine Authority, financially strapped as a result of the Trump administration cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in funding of the authority as well as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unwra) that supports Palestinian refugees.

Saudi Arabia’s resumption of funding followed several Palestinian statements in the last two months supporting the kingdom’s assertion that it had not sanctioned the killing of Mr. Khashoggi and expressing confidence in the Saudi judiciary’s ability to mete out justice to the culprits.

Saudi Arabia, ostensibly at Prince Mohammed’s behest, had in the past year withheld payments to the Palestine Authority because of its refusal to engage with the United States following Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the authority’s support for Turkey’s leadership in rallying Muslim opposition to US policy.

The resumption of funding is also in line with King Salman’s intervention in the last year insisting that the kingdom was committed to Palestinian rights, including declaring East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.

It also coincided with Israeli acquiescence in the flow of US$150 million from Qatar to Gaza, controlled by Islamist Hamas, in a bid to alleviate the crippling impact of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the region and prevent tension between Israel and the group spinning out of control.

Beyond countering expanding Qatari influence, the Saudi move is likely to increase the kingdom’s leverage in pressuring the Palestine Authority to back off its refusal to entertain a mooted US Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that has yet to be made public but would be stillborn without Palestinian participation.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are competing for influence in Iraq, another battleground that is important to both the United States and the kingdom because of the close ties between Iraq and Iran.

Senior Saudi and Qatari officials have frequented Baghdad in recent weeks as Iraq’s new prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, puts his cabinet together and pushes and ambitious economic development plan that is dependent on foreign investment.

Even though Iraq is likely to balance relations between the two Gulf rivals, it is also not going to trouble its burgeoning relationship with the kingdom by speaking out on the Khashoggi issue.

Prince Mohammed, despite protests in Tunisia, the only country on the crown prince’s itinerary that has not brutally suppressed freedom of expression, and a legal challenge in Argentina, which could curtail his future travel plans even if it does not stop him from attending the G-20 summit, has proven in recent days that he is not universally persona non grata.

Nonetheless, his reception in Argentina by world leaders is likely to be a litmus test of the degree of reputational damage that he and the kingdom have suffered. Mr. Trump’s apparent hesitancy to meet separately with the crown prince could set the tone if indeed the president sticks by his initial decision.

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

Monday, November 26, 2018

Nuclear energy; Saudi Arabia’s coming Washington battle



Nuclear energy; Saudi Arabia’s coming Washington battle

By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Stitcher, TuneIn and Tumblr.

When Saudi General Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz went shopping in the late 1980s for Chinese medium-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear, chemical or biological warheads he made no bones about keeping the United States, one of the kingdom’s closest allies, in the dark.

it was “my task to negotiate the deal, devise an appropriate deception plan, choose a team of Saudi officers and men and arrange for their training in both Saudi Arabia and China, build and defend operation bases and storage facilities in different parts of the kingdom, arrange for the shipment of the missiles from China and, at every stage, be ready to defend the project against sabotage or any form of attack,” General Bin Sultan, a son of the late Saudi crown prince and defense minister, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, and commander of the US-led international alliance that forced Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait in 1991, recounted in his memoire.

The incident coupled with more recent Saudi statements and the kingdom’s inability to present from the outset a credible and sustainable version of events surrounding the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on the premises of its Istanbul consulate is complicating it’s negotiations with the United States for the acquisition of designs for nuclear power plants, a deal valued at up to US$80 billion depending on how many Saudi Arabia ultimately decides to build.

Prospects of a massive deal go to the heart of US President Donald J. Trump’s jobs and deals-focussed America First policy. Yet, growing criticism and distrust of Saudi Arabia in the US Congress and intelligence community as a result of the Khashoggi crisis and the kingdom’s handling of the Yemen war that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two are likely to strengthen efforts to thwart an agreement that honours Saudi insistence on producing its own nuclear fuel, even though it could buy it more cheaply abroad.

The Saudi insistence has fuelled concerns that the kingdom may divert their fuel for military purposes. Those kinds of fears coupled with Iran’s ballistic missile program drove world powers to first sanction Iran and then conclude a 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program. Mr. Trump withdrew from the agreement earlier this year, charging that it did not provide sufficient guarantees that Iran would not be able to develop a nuclear weapon.

Democrats in the US Congress have described refusing to sell Saudi Arabia nuclear technology as  proper punishment for the killing of Mr. Khashoggi that the kingdom insists was done without the knowledge of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

While the Trump administration has as yet not abandoned long-standing strict US nuclear export safeguards to secure a deal with Saudi Arabia, it has also not unambiguously said that it would uphold them.

Like with his rejection of hard-hitting sanctions in the wake of the Khashoggi killing, Mr. Trump is likely to ultimately argue that if the United States does not conclude a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia, countries like China, Russia and South Korea, that have less strict controls will. The argument amounts to the equivalent of committing a wrong because if one doesn’t, someone else will.

Saudi officials have repeatedly insisted that the kingdom is developing nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes such as medicine, electricity generation, and desalination of sea water. They say that Saudi Arabia is committed to putting its future facilities under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Yet, with a US$56 billion military budget for 2018, Saudi Arabia is stepping up the development of a domestic military industry. The kingdom aims to source 50% of its military procurement domestically by 2030, up from its current two percent.

Speaking to CBS earlier this year, Prince Mohammed appeared to put conditions on Saudi nuclear assurances by warning that “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

In putting forward  demands for parity with Iran by getting the right to controlled enrichment of uranium and the reprocessing of spent fuel into plutonium, potential building blocks for nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia was also seen as potentially backing away from a 2009 memorandum of understanding with the United States in which it pledged to acquire nuclear fuel from international markets.

Nuclear energy cooperation was one of a host of agreements concluded last year by Saudi Arabia and China during a visit to Beijing by Saudi King Salman. The agreement included a feasibility study for the construction of high-temperature gas-cooled (HTGR) nuclear power plants in the kingdom as well as cooperation in intellectual property and the development of a domestic industrial supply chain for HTGRs built in Saudi Arabia. The HTGR agreement built on an accord signed in 2012 that involved maintenance and development of nuclear power plants and research reactors, as well as the provision of Chinese nuclear fuel.

A report by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) released shortly after the king’s visit warned that the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement had “not eliminated the kingdom’s desire for nuclear weapons capabilities and even nuclear weapons.”

Much like the era of General Bin Sultan, potential Chinese sales to Saudi Arabia of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles remain one of the murkier areas of Sino-Saudi military cooperation.

Military experts say that satellite imagery of missile bases in Saudi Arabia in recent years and other open-source circumstantial evidence, including Saudi press coverage of graduation ceremonies at the kingdom’s Strategic Missile Force school in Wadi ad-Dawasir, attest to ongoing transfers.

Saudi Arabia in 2014 showcased Chinese-made Dongfeng-3 missiles that have a range of up to 5,000 kilometres. Media reports said the missiles had been purchased in 2007, possibly with US acquiescence.

“Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in conventional ballistic and cruise missiles to provide the kingdom a shot of strategic deterrence,” said non-proliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis. Mr. Lewis’ conclusion was confirmed by Anwar Eshqi, a retired Saudi major general and advisor to the Saudi military.

“The Saudi military did indeed receive DF-21 missiles from China and the integration of the missiles, including a full maintenance check and upgraded facilities, is complete, “ Mr. Eshqi said referring to the People’s Republic’s East Wind solid-fuel, medium-range ballistic missile.

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


Saturday, November 24, 2018

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



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Stitcher, TuneIn and Tumblr.

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

The attack on the consulate by three members of the Balochistan Liberation Army, a militant nationalist group seeking what it terms self-determination for the troubled, resource-rich, sparsely populated Pakistani province that constitutes the heartland of China’s US$45 billion investment and the crown jewel of its infrastructure and energy generation-driven Belt and Road initiative.


With Pakistan teetering on the edge of a financial crisis, Mr. Khan has been seeking financial aid from friendly countries like China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as a bailout from the IMF.

Responding to widespread criticism of Chinese investment terms that go beyond Baloch grievances, Mr. Khan is seeking to renegotiate the Chinese terms as well as the priorities of what both countries have dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that will link the crucial Baloch port of Gwadar with China’s troubled north-western province of Xinjiang, the scene of a brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims.

Mr. Khan last month bought some relief by attending Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s showcase investors conference in Riyadh, dubbed Davos in the Desert, that was being shunned by numerous CEOs of Western financial institutions, tech entrepreneurs and media moguls as well as senior Western government officials because of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


However, Mr. Khan’s visit to Beijing earlier this month was less conclusive. Despite lofty words and the signing of a raft of agreements, Mr. Khan’s visit failed to produce any immediate cash relief with China insisting that more talks were needed.

China signalled its irritation at Mr. Khan’s declared intention to pressure China to change the emphasis of CPEC by sending only its transportation minister to receive the prime minister upon his arrival.

Amid criticism of CPEC by Baloch activists who charge that the province’s local population has no stake in the project and members of the business community who chafe at China importing materials needed for projects from China rather than purchasing them locally and largely employing Chinese rather than Pakistani nationals, Mr. Khan only elicited vague promises for his demand that the focus of CPEC on issues such as job creation, manufacturing and agriculture be fast forwarded.

China’s refusal to immediately bail Pakistan out has forced Mr. Khan to turn to the IMF for help. The IMF, backed by the United States, has set tough conditions for a bailout, including complete disclosure of Chinese financial support.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned in July that any potential IMF bailout should not provide funds to pay off Chinese lenders. US Pakistani relations dived this week with President Donald J. Trump and Mr. Khan trading barbs on Twitter.

The attack on the consulate coupled with Saudi Arabia’s financial support is likely to fuel long-standing Chinese concerns that Pakistan has yet to get a grip on political violence in the country. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in response to the attack that China had asked Pakistan to step up security. Pakistan has a 15,000-man force dedicated to protecting Chinese nationals and assets.


The attack together with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bombing not only signals a recent spike in political violence in Pakistan but also comes against the backdrop of increased incidents involving Iran’s Kurdish, Iranian Arab and Baloch minorities.

Earlier this month, Pakistan said it had rescued five of 12 abducted Iranian border guards, saying efforts to recover the other captives are ongoing. An anti-Iran Sunni Muslim militant organization, Jaish al-Adl or Army of Justice, kidnapped the guards a month ago in the south-eastern Iranian border city of Mirjaveh and took them to the Pakistani side of the porous frontier between the two countries.

The attack on the consulate as well as the bombing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are likely to increase pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog, and its Asian counterpart, the Asia Pacific Group (APG) to strengthen Pakistani compliance with international best practices.

An APG delegation expressed its dissatisfaction with Pakistani compliance in October and said it would report its findings to FATF by the end of this month. FATF put Pakistan on a grey list in February, a prelude to blacklisting if the country fails to clean up its act. Blacklisting could potentially derail Pakistan’s request for IMF assistance.

In sum, this week’s attacks put Pakistan between a rock and a hard place. Countering militancy has proven difficult, if not impossible, given the deep-seated links between government, political parties and militants, a web that includes Mr. Khan and many of his associates.

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, November 21, 2018

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



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Stitcher, TuneIn and Tumblr.

The killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have gotten more than they bargained for.

The killing has sparked multiple battles that are likely in coming months to shape relationships ranging from that between the United States and Saudi Arabia to those between US President Donald J, Trump, his Republican party, the US Congress, and the country’s intelligence community.

The fallout of the killing could also shape Mr. Trump’s ability to pursue his policy goals in the Middle East, including forcing Iran to its knees and imposing a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rather than putting an end to differences over how to respond to Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, Mr. Trump’s decision to stand by Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, irrespective of who may have been responsible for the murder, marks the opening of a new round in what prominent journalist Rami Khouri dubbed “a new era in the Khashoggi case.”

The battles are likely to be fought on multiple fronts. One venue will be the Group of 20 (G-20) summit at the end of this month in Argentina with Prince Mohammed, whom the Central Intelligence Agency and many in the US Congress believe to be responsible for the killing, in attendance.

How Prince Mohammed is received at the summit is certain to indicate to what degree the crown prince’s international standing has been tarnished and may constitute a reality check for him of the damage Saudi Arabia has suffered as a result of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.

It will also serve as one indication of how much of a battle Mr. Trump may have to fight in seeking to ensure that Prince Mohammed remains insulated from consequences of Mr. Khashoggi’s death.

To be sure, Prince Mohammed decided to attend the G-20 summit prior to Mr. Trump’s decision to take no further action against Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, by attending the crown prince, emboldened by Mr. Trump’s support, “is daring his international critics to put their rhetoric into action and betting that they won't," said Gulf scholar Kristian Ulrichsen.

The stakes for both Mr. Trump and Prince Mohammed are high.

In leaking its conclusion that Prince Mohammed was responsible for the killing, the CIA was sending two messages: its willingness to take on Mr. Trump against the backdrop of a long strained relationship between the president and the intelligence community and the suggestion that the agency does not believe that Prince Mohammed’s survival as king-in-waiting is crucial to US national security or the stability of the kingdom.

Both messages feed into what potentially constitutes the first major policy confrontation between Mr. Trump, the Republican party and Congress. Anti-Saudi sentiment was mounting in Congress already before Mr. Khashoggi’s killing because of Saudi conduct of its war in Yemen that has created the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two. The killing appears to be propelling the Congress into action.

The CIA’s implicit challenging of Mr. Trump’s assessment of the importance of Prince Mohammed was followed by a report  by the Washington-based Center for International Policy that concluded that US arms sales to the kingdom accounted for fewer than 20,000 US jobs a year – a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of jobs asserted by the president.

Prince Mohammed’s reception at the G-20 summit coupled with the outcome of the potential battle between Mr. Trump, the CIA and Congress could also shape developments in Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom has so far dug in its heels with King Salman relying on concepts of prestige and honour as well as patronage to signal full support for his son while Prince Mohammed appears to be trying to show that Saudi Arabia is not wholly dependent on the United States.


The letter takes on added significance with Germany this week imposing an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia and the US Congress potentially adopting similar measures.

The letter goes to the heart of debate in Washington that beyond issues of values is about the importance of the US-Saudi relationship. Members of Congress, and the intelligence and foreign policy community question the relationship’s significance despite Mr. Trump’s insistence on the value of Saudi arms purchases as well as the kingdom’s importance in managing oil prices and supporting US policy in the Middle East.

“The real facts are: 1) the Saudis need US weapons and equipment more than we need to sell them, in part because they demonstrate the US security commitment to the kingdom; and 2) it would be very difficult and expensive for the Saudis to make good on their periodic threats to ‘buy foreign’ if they can't get what they want from the United States,” said former US Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller in an article for CNN co-authored by Richard Sokolsky.

Messrs. Miller and Sokolsky went on to question Saudi Arabia’s importance in countering Iran and forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. “Saudi Arabia has proven to be too weak and incompetent to be a bulwark against Iran; on the contrary, it has been an enabler of Tehran's influence,” the two men said.

They cautioned that “direct and under-the-table (Saudi) contacts (with Israel) are a far cry from open meetings or support for a US peace plan that on issues like Jerusalem and borders violates the Arab consensus and could hand Iran and Sunni Muslims a propaganda windfall.”

Despite mounting criticism of the kingdom, most analysts argue that Prince Mohammed is likely to weather the Khashoggi crisis.

Saudi Arabia is, nevertheless, already feeling the fallout of the crisis not only internationally but also in terms of the prospects for Prince Mohammed’s plans to reform and diversify the kingdom’s economy.

The crisis was one reason why Aramco, the kingdom’s giant national oil company, shelved plans to embark on a massive corporate-bond sale to fund a US$70 billion stake in national petrochemical firm SABIC. The sale was considered after Saudi Arabia earlier suspended plans to take Aramco public in a move that Prince Mohammed had hoped would raise US$100 billion.

Close ties with the United States have long been at the core of the ruling Al Saud family’s survival strategy. They were also at the heart of the approach of Prince Mohammed who appeared determined to ensure at whatever cost US reengagement in the Middle East in alliance with the kingdom following former President Barak Obama’s perceived pivot towards Asia and determination to bring Iran back into the international fold.

The rise of Mr. Trump appears to hold out that promise. Mr. Trump’s decision to stand by Saudi Arabia and its rulers no matter what positions the president as the kind of friend the kingdom can rely on. The coming weeks and months are likely to be a litmus test of Mr. Trump’s ability to keep his end of the bargain.

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