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Is the glass half-full or half-empty? That is the question with contradictory US human rights policies towards Saudi Arabia and Iran

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  By James M. Dorsey A cursory look at Saudi Arabia and Iran suggests that emphasizing human rights in US foreign policy may complicate relations but has little impact on regional stability or the willingness of protagonists to reduce tension and manage conflicts when it is in their interest. A post 9/11 US emphasis on human rights was not what inspired homegrown popular Arab revolts over the past decade that initially toppled leaders in eight Arab countries but were largely rolled back or stymied by counter-revolutionary US allies. The UAE and Saudi counter-revolutionary efforts put the two Gulf states on the autocratic frontline of President Joe Biden's democracy versus autocracy dichotomy. They were motivated by a rejection of democracy as an existential challenge to the absolute power of their ruling families. Subsequent US administrations effectively let the counter-revolutionary moves pass, although, to be fair, the Biden administration has suspended $700 million in a

Middle Eastern autocrats sigh relief: the US signals Democracy Summit will not change policy

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  By James M. Dorsey The United States has signalled in advance of next week’s Summit for Democracy that it is unlikely to translate lip service to adherence to human rights and democratic values in the Middle East into a policy that demonstrates seriousness and commitment. In a statement , the State Department said the December 9-10 summit would “set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action.” e State Department said that in advance of the summit, it had consulted with government experts, multilateral organisations, and civil society "to solicit bold, practicable ideas” on “defending against authoritarianism,” “promoting respect for human rights,” and fighting corruption. Of the more than 100 countries alongside civil society and private sector representatives expected to participate in the summit, only Israel is Middle Eastern, and a mere eight are Muslim-majority states. They

Saudi religious moderation is as much pr as it is theology

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  By James M. Dorsey Mohammed Ali al-Husseini, one of Saudi Arabia’s newest naturalized citizens , ticks all the boxes needed to earn brownie points in the kingdom’s quest for religious soft power garnered by positioning itself as the beacon of 'moderate,' albeit autocratic, Islam. A resident of Saudi Arabia since he had a fallout with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militia, Mr. Al-Husseini represents what the kingdom needs to support its claim that its moderate form of Islam is religiously tolerant, inclusive, non-sectarian, pluralistic, and anti-discriminatory. More than just being a Shiite, Mr. Al-Husseini is the scion of a select number of Lebanese Shiite families believed to be descendants of the Prophet Mohammed. Put to the test, it is a billing with as many caveats as affirmatives – a problem encountered by other Gulf states that project themselves as beacons of autocratic interpretations of a moderate strand of the faith. Even so, Saudi Arabia,

Testing the waters: Russia explores reconfiguring Gulf security

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  By James M. Dorsey Russia hopes to blow new life into a proposal for a multilateral security architecture in the Gulf, with the tacit approval of the Biden administration. If successful, the initiative would help stabilise the region, cement regional efforts to reduce tensions, and potentially prevent war-wracked Yemen from emerging as an Afghanistan on the southern border of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf of Aden and at the mouth of the Red Sea. For now, Vitaly Naumkin, a prominent scholar, academic advisor of the foreign and justice ministries, and head of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, is testing the waters, according to Newsweek , which first reported the move. Last week, he invited former officials, scholars, and journalists from feuding Middle Eastern nations to a closed-door meeting in Moscow to discuss the region's multiple disputes and conflicts and ways of preventing them from spinning out of control. Mr. Naumkin, who is beli

UAE chalks up diplomatic successes with uncertain payoffs

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  By James M. Dorsey It has been a good week for United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. Headline-grabbing, fast-paced moves reinforce the UAE's position as a regional power. They highlight the UAE's willingness to chart a course that increasingly competes with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf's regional behemoth; is at times at odds with US policy; and scoffs at assertions of human rights abuse by activists and Western politicians. Controversial Emirati general Ahmed Naser al-Raisi was elected this week as the next president of Interpol despite calls by the European Parliament for an investigation into allegations that he oversaw physical abuse of detainees. Last month, two British nationals filed court cases against him. The UAE has denied the allegations. “Major General Al-Raisi is a distinguished professional with a 40-year track record in community and national policing. As the President of Interpol, he will remain committed to protecting people , making