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The Muslim world’s changing dynamics: Pakistan struggles to retain its footing

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  By James M. Dorsey Increasing strains between Pakistan and its traditional Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, is about more than Gulf states opportunistically targeting India’s far more lucrative market. At the heart of the tensions, that potentially complicate Pakistan’s economic recovery, is also India’s ability to enhance Gulf states’ capacity to hedge their bets amid uncertainty about the continued US commitment to regional security. India is a key member of the Quad that also includes the United States, Australia and Japan and could play a role in a future more multilateral regional security architecture in the Gulf. Designed as the backbone of an Indo-Pacific strategy intended to counter China across a swath of maritime Asia, Gulf states are unlikely to pick sides but remain keen on ensuring that they maintain close ties with both sides of the widening divide. The mounting strains with Pakistan are also the latest iteration of a global battle fo

JMD on NB: Vision or Mirage: Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads

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  David Rundell Nov 25, 2020 / Interviewed by James M. Dorsey   Vision or Mirage Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads I. B. TAURIS 2020 David Rundell brings to his book,  Vision or Mirage: Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads  (I. B. Tauris, 2020), a granular analysis and insider’s understanding of the inner workings of the kingdom garnered as a US foreign service officer who served a total of 15 years in the country. Rundell skilfully weaves history into a multi-layered portrait of the transformation for good and bad that Saudi Arabia is experiencing under King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The former diplomat illustrates Salman’s long-standing focus on combatting corruption with the picture he paints of his governing of the Saudi capital Riyadh for nearly five decades before ascending to the throne. Anti-corruption has played a dramatic role since Salman became king in solidifying and concentrating power in the kingdom and breaking with a past of slow

Saudi rushes to improve its image in advance of G20 and Biden

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By James M. Dorsey Saudi Arabia has taken multiple steps to polish its tarnished image in advance of this weekend’s hosting of the virtual summit of the G20 that groups the world’s foremost economies and in anticipation of an incoming Biden administration in the United States that is expected to be critical of Riyadh and potentially more conciliatory towards Iran and non-violent Islamists. The initiatives target US and European criticism of the five-year old war in Yemen that has produced one of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises and concerns the Biden administration may adopt less Saudi and United Arab Emirates-centric policies than its predecessor headed by Donald J. Trump. The steps further seek to project Saudi Arabia as being helpful in normalizing relations between Israel and the Muslim world even if it is not yet ready to do so itself and build links with Democrats in Washington as they prepare to take office in January. Like other countries that fear a Biden admin

Subtly, China pressures Gulf states to reduce regional tensions

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  By James M. Dorsey and Alessandro Arduino Public debates about China’s Middle East policy are as much internal Chinese discussions as they are indications of where Beijing’s thinking is going and efforts to nudge countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to accommodate potential policy changes. Relying on scholars rather than officials, China is signalling to Gulf states adjustments they would have to make to enable China to become more engaged in regional security and geopolitics. The subtext in the scholars’ writings and statements is that a failure to reduce tension, particularly with Iran, could persuade China to either reduce its economic involvement in the Middle East or focus on relations with non-Arab states, two of which are arch-rivals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At the bottom line, China’s subtle hints at what it would like Gulf states to do is in line with a Russian proposal that calls for a non-aggression agreement with Iran and possibly Turkey th

UAE and Israeli settlers find common ground in Jerusalem

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  By James M. Dorsey Weakened by Joe Biden’s electoral defeat of US President Donald J. Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu risks being caught between a rock and a hard place as Jordan, the Palestine Authority and the United Arab Emirates manoeuvre for control of what is to Jews the Temple Mount and to Muslims the Haram ash-Sharif, the third most holy site in Islam. The rivalry for control of Jerusalem’s most sensitive, emotive, contested, and potentially explosive place is occurring against the backdrop of a parallel and interlinked run-up to a competition for the succession of Mahmoud Abbas, the frail 84-year old Palestinian president. The Jerusalem site has been administered since Israel conquered East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war by the Jordanian and Palestinian-controlled Supreme Muslim Council. Rivalry for the religious control of the site that hosts the Al Aqsa Mosque and is where the First Jewish Temple was built by King Solomon in 957 BC involves

Ceasefire in the Caucasus opens door to rebalancing of regional power

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  By James M. Dorsey A Russian mediated-ceasefire in the Caucasus cements a Turkish-backed Azerbaijani military defeat of Armenia but raises tantalizing questions. Spontaneous mass protests against the terms of the ceasefire and the government’s conduct of the war potentially throw into doubt the future of Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan and Armenia’s ability to implement the ceasefire. The protests also suggest that any negotiated solution to the long-standing dispute over Nagorno Karabakh, an Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan and a touchstone of Armenian identity, will have to address deep-seated existential fears on both sides of the ethnic and national divide. The ceasefire cements Azeri battlefield successes in a six-week war. Azerbaijani forces retook Azeri territory occupied by Armenia since the early 1990s in violation of international law as well as the strategic mountain top city of Susa in Nagorno Karabakh. The capture of Susa made an Azeri assault on the reg

Conflict in Ethiopia extends the Greater Middle East’s arc of crisis

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  By James M. Dorsey and Alessandro Arduino Ethiopia, an African darling of the international community, is sliding towards civil war as the coronavirus pandemic hardens ethnic fault lines. The consequences of prolonged hostilities could echo across East Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Fighting between the government of Nobel Peace Prize winning Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigrayan nationalists in the north could extend an evolving arc of crisis that stretches from the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict in the Caucasus, civil wars in Syria and Libya, and mounting tension in the Eastern Mediterranean into the strategic Horn of Africa. It would also cast a long shadow over hopes that a two-year old peace agreement with neighbouring Eritrea that earned Mr. Ahmed the Nobel prize would allow Ethiopia to tackle its economic problems and ethnic divisions. Finally, it would   raise the spectre of renewed famine in a country that Mr. Ahmed was successfully positioning as a m