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Jordan is where domestic and regional fissures collide

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  By James M. Dorsey Former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein has papered over a rare public dispute in the ruling Jordanian family in a move that is unlikely to resolve long-standing fissures in society and among the country’s elite and that echo multiple Middle Eastern fault lines. Differences over socio-economic policies, governance, and last year’s normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and three other Arab states as well as leadership of the Muslim world were laid glaringly bare by a security crackdown that targeted not only Prince Hamzah, a popular, modest, and pious 41-year-old half-brother of King Abdullah, but also seemingly unrelated others perceived by the monarch as a threat. Reading tea leaves, the perceived threats may be twofold albeit unrelated: Prince Hamzah’s association with powerful conservative tribes who over the last decade have demanded an end to corruption and prominent figures with close ties to Saudi Arabia. The kingdom, hom

Battle for the Soul of Islam

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  By James M. Dorsey   This story was first published in Horizons   TROUBLE is brewing in the backyard of Muslim-majority states competing for religious soft power and leadership of the Muslim world in what amounts to a battle for the soul of Islam. Shifting youth attitudes towards religion and religiosity threaten to undermine the rival efforts of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and, to a lesser degree, the United Arab Emirates, to cement their individual state-controlled interpretations of Islam as the Muslim world’s dominant religious narrative. Each of the rivals see their efforts as key to securing their autocratic or authoritarian rule as well as advancing their endeavors to carve out a place for themselves in a new world order in which power is being rebalanced. Research and opinion polls consistently show that the gap between the religious aspirations of youth—and, in the case of Iran other age groups—and state-imposed interpretations of Islam is widening. The shifting att

China signals possible greater Middle East engagement

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  By James M. Dorsey Two initiatives send the clearest signal, yet, that China may be gearing up to play a greater political role in the Middle East. Touring the region this week, Foreign Minister Wang Yi laid out five principles Middle Eastern nations would need to adopt to achieve a measure of regional stability. He called on the region’s rivals “to respect each other, uphold equity and justice, achieve nuclear non-proliferation, jointly foster collective security, and accelerate development cooperation.” Chinese ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chen Weiqing said China would be “willing to play its due role in promoting long-term peace and stability in the Middle East.” China is focussing on Gulf security and the conflict with Iran as well as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Mr. Wang said before leaving for the Middle East that China would be willing to host a multilateral Gulf security dialogue that would initially focus on securing oil facilities and shipping lanes. China,

Playing US politics: Saudi Arabia targets Middle America

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By James M. Dorsey Amid Washington chatter about the future of US-Saudi relations, the kingdom has launched an unprecedented public diplomacy campaign to marshal business and grassroots support beyond the Beltway to counter anti-Saudi sentiment in the Biden administration and Congress. To do so, the Saudi embassy in Washington has hired a lobbying and public relations firm headquartered in the American heartland rather than the capital. Iowa-based Larson Shannahan Slifka Group (LS2 Group) was contracted for US$126,500 a month to reach out to local media,   business and women’s groups, and world affairs councils in far-flung states. “We are real people who tackle real issues,” LS2 Group says on its website. Embassy spokesman Fahad Nazar told USA Today in an email that "we recognize that Americans outside Washington are interested in developments in Saudi Arabia and many, including the business community, academic institutions and various civil society groups, are keen on m