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A little acknowledged clause may be main obstacle to revival of Iran nuclear accord

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A little acknowledged provision of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program explains jockeying by the United States and the Islamic republic over the modalities of a US return to the deal from which President Donald J. Trump withdrew. The provision’s magic date is 2023, when the Biden administration if it returns to the agreement, would have to seek Congressional approval for the lifting or modification of all US nuclear-related sanctions against Iran. Both the administration and Iran recognize that Congressional approval is likely to be a tall order, if not impossible, given bi-partisan US distrust, animosity, and suspicion of the Islamic republic. As a result, the United States and Iran have different objectives in negotiating a US return to the accord. The Biden administration is attempting to engineer a process that would allow it to sidestep the 2023 hurdle as well as ensure a negotiation that would update the six-year-old deal, limit   Iran’s c

Myanmar: Exploiting lessons learnt in the Middle East

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  By James M. Dorsey Demonstrating for the third week their determination to force the country’s military to return to its barracks, protesters in Myanmar appear to be learning lessons from a decade of protest in the Middle East and North Africa. By the same token, Myanmar’s protesters, in stark contrast to public silence about the military’s brutal repression of the Rohingya minority in recent years, seem to want to forge a national identity that supersedes past emphasis on ethnicity and/or religion. In doing so, they, like their counterparts in Lebanon and Iraq, reject sectarian policies that allowed elites to divide and rule and distract attention from economic and social grievances held by all segments of the population. As they resist the military’s February 1 coup that nullified a democratic election won in November in a landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) because of alleged electoral fraud, protesters confront many of the same obstacles th

Turkey signals sweeping regional ambitions

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  By James M. Dorsey A nationalist Turkish television station with close ties to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dug up a 12-year-old map that projects Turkey’s sphere of influence in 2050 as stretching from South-eastern Europe on the northern coast of the Mediterranean and Libya on its southern shore across North Africa, the Gulf and the Levant into the Caucasus and Central Asia. Buoyed by last year’s Azerbaijani defeat of Armenia, TGRT, a subsidiary of Ihlas Holding, a media and construction conglomerate that has won major government tenders, used the map to advance a policy that has long constituted the agenda of some of Mr. Erdogan’s closest advisors. The broadcasting of the map, first published in a book authored by George Freidman , the founder of Stratfor, an influential American corporate intelligence group, followed calls by pan-Turkic daily Turkiye , Ihlas’ daily newspaper that has the fourth-largest circulation in Turkey, to leverage the Azerbaijani victory to cre

Saudi schoolbooks: What does it take to recontextualize Islam?

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  By James M. Dorsey Two decades of snail pace revisions of Saudi schoolbooks aimed at removing supremacist references to Jews, Christians, and Shiites suggest a willingness to delete offensive language while keeping in place fundamental concepts of an ultra-conservative, anti-pluralistic, and intolerant interpretation of Islam. In a break with the past, Human Rights Watch and Impact-se , an education-focused Israeli research group, reported for the first time in two decades of post-9/11 pressure on Saudi Arabia that the kingdom had made significant progress in revising textbooks. The reports focussed on explicit references to other religions but noted that further revisions were needed to eliminate language that disparages practices associated with religious minorities, particularly Shiite Muslims and Sufis, sects viewed as heretic by ultra-conservatives. “As long as the texts continue to disparage religious beliefs and practices of minority groups, including those of fellow S

Muslim scholar: Human rights policy needs to focus on religious scholars, not just activists

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  By James M. Dorsey A prominent Muslim scholar has warned that the West’s failure to include the incarceration in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Muslim world of pro-democracy religious scholars risks perpetuating autocratic rule. “The world manufactures the condition that it condemns. We don’t rise up to condemn the persecution of Muslim democrats when it occurs, and we don’t go out of our way to protect Muslim democrats. In fact, there is a deeply embedded hypocrisy when it comes to the Muslim world,” said Khaled Abou el Fadel, a Kuwait-born University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Islamic law professor and human rights activist. Mr. Abou el Fadel was speaking at a virtual conference , organized by the Washington-based Arab Center for Law and Research to focus attention on Sheikh Salman al Oudeh, a popular but controversial religious scholar, who is one of several religious figures incarcerated since 2017 on terrorism-related charges. Saudi prosecutors have demanded the d

Saudi moderation has its limits

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  By James M. Dorsey Two recent reports documenting significant Saudi progress in countering ingrained religious anti-Jewish, anti-Christian and anti-Shiite supremacism as well as anti-Western and other xenophobic attitudes suggest the kingdom’s receptivity to external pressure as it endeavours to position itself as the leader of a vaguely defined ‘moderate’ form of Islam. So does the fact that several Saudi government websites , including the Saudi defence ministry’s English and Arabic site, have been inaccessible for several days, reportedly to remove supremacist and racist content that would call into question the sincerity of the Saudi effort. The scrubbing includes the deletion of past anti-Semitic sermons by Mohammed al-Issa, the kingdom’s former justice minister, who as head of the Muslim World League has become the face of projected Saudi religious moderation, pluralism, and tolerance. The League was in the past one of Saudi Arabia’s main vehicles in the global funding

Separating the wheat from the chaff Saudi moderation put to the test

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  By James M. Dorsey Saudi Arabia’s combustible mix of religion, nationalism, and tradition as well as contradictions in the kingdom’s projection of itself as a driver of moderate Islam and major voice in combatting discrimination and racism spark heated debate on social media. How the mix plays out will ultimately spotlight the outcome of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to inject a significant dose of nationalism in a Saudi identity that historically has been heavily shaped by religion. The contours of public engagement are evident in the contrast between passionate debates over issues such as a proposal to remove the sword from the Saudi flag and discussions of what constitutes Muslim holy land and the status of Jerusalem as Islam’s third-holiest city as opposed to far more cautious social media responses to changes in US policy as the Biden administration settles into office. The debates suggest that Prince Mohammed’s endeavour is a work in progress. Like the