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Will They or Won’t They? Saudi Recognition of Israel is the $64,000 QuestionSS

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By James M. DorseyWill the Saudis formalize relations with Israel or will they not? That is the 64,000-dollar question.The odds are that Saudi Arabia is not about to formalize relations with Israel. But the kingdom, its image tarnished by multiple missteps, is seeking to ensure that it is not perceived as the odd man out as smaller Gulf states establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.Bahrain’s announcement that it would follow in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates was as much a Bahraini move as it was a Saudi signal that it is not opposed to normalization with Israel.Largely dependent on the kingdom since Saudi troops helped squash mass anti-government protests in 2011, Bahrain, a majority Shia Muslim nation, would not have agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Israel without Saudi consent.The Bahraini move followed several other Saudi gestures intended to signal the kingdom’s endorsement of Arab normalization of Israel even if it was not going to lead the p…

UAE Recognition of Israel Dents Emirati Religious Soft Power

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by James M. Dorsey The United Arab Emirates’ establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel is damaging its efforts to garner religious soft power by projecting itself as a model of Islamic moderation and tolerance and a force for peace. The UAE move has sparked splits within a key group, created and nurtured by the Gulf state, to project its image as a moderate religious power.The United Arab Emirates’ bold recognition of Israel, earning it valuable brownie points in the West, has come at a cost: a blow to its efforts to earn religious soft power in the Muslim world.The setback raises questions about the UAE’s strategy of co-opting prominent Muslim scholars with financial incentives to project the Gulf state as a model of tolerance that seeks to promote a moderate interpretation of Islam in a global competition for religious soft power with Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia.The UAE attempt to reap religious support for its opening to Israel encountered blowback when a sta…

China could signal increased engagement with Iran but doesn’t

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By James M. Dorsey Here are two potential indicators of Chinese interest in moving ahead with a proposed US$400 billion economic and military cooperation agreement with Iran: a Chinese push for Iranian membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and renewed interest in a China-Pakistan-Iran-Turkey energy pipeline. China has moved on neither.While converting Iran’s SCO observer status into membership would primarily signal Chinese interest in substantially increasing its engagement with the Islamic republic, moving ahead with the pipeline could be a geopolitical game changer.China’s refusal to signal interest in putting flesh on the skeleton of its partnership with Iran following the leaking of a purported, wide-ranging agreement between the two countries suggests that the People’s Republic neither wants to increase tension with the United States by blatantly violating harsh US sanctions against the Islamic republic nor does it wish to upset its balancing of relations wit…

The Tumultuous Decade: Arab Public Opinion and the Upheavals of 2010–2019

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JAMES ZOGBYThe Tumultuous DecadeArab Public Opinion and the Upheavals of 2010–2019STEUBEN PRESS 2020September 4, 2020 James M. Dorsey
James Zogby’s The Tumultuous Decade: Arab Public Opinion and the Upheavals of 2010–2019 (Steuben Press, 2020) takes the reader on a decade-long tour of the Middle East as the region reverberates from popular revolts that toppled long-standing dictators, civil and proxy wars that sparked some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, foreign interventions and seemingly intractable power struggles.It does so through the eyes of ordinary Arabs, Iranians, and Turks rather than the region’s political elites. Zogby’s ability to tease out a sense of public opinion in a part of the world in which freedom of expression and freedom of the media are rare quantities constitutes an important contribution to the literature and understanding of a region that often seems too complex and intricate to easily wrap one’s head around.In a world of autocracy, repression and c…

UAE Geopolitical Gamble Keeps Palestinian Peace Prospects on Life Support

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by James M. DorseyThe decision by the UAE to establish diplomatic relations with Israel keeps a negotiated solution with Palestine on life support. There is no indication that forging relations with Israel will be more successful in nudging the Jewish state towards peace with Palestine on mutually acceptable terms than the failed formula of offering Arab recognition in exchange for peace was.Like it or not, the United Arab Emirates may have done the Palestinians a favor by forging diplomatic ties with Israel. On the face of it, the agreement deprives the Palestinians of a perceived trump card: Arab recognition in return for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied during the 1967 Middle East war even if it has not proven to be much of an asset.Historically, forging diplomatic relations with the Jewish state has not been a magic wand to resolve a seemingly intractable dispute.The carrot of recognition has not helped solve the Palestinians’ problem 72 years after they were first dis…

Pakistan-Saudi Spat: Hitting the Kingdom Where It Hurts

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by James M. Dorsey A rift between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia throws into sharp relief deepening fissures in the Muslim world. Coupled with the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and a myriad of other conflicts in the Middle East, the dispute poses serious challenges to Saudi Arabia’s quest for geopolitical and religious leadership of the Muslim world.Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureishi has stirred a regional hornet’s nest by challenging Saudi leadership of the Muslim world.Complaining about lack of support of the Saudi-dominated Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that groups 57 Muslim-majority nations for Pakistan in its conflict with India over Kashmir, Mr. Qureishi suggested that his country would seek to rally support beyond the realm of the kingdom.In doing so, Mr. Qureishi was hitting Saudi Arabia where it hurts most and at a particularly sensitive moment in the kingdom’s quest for religious and regional hegemony.…

Ignore at your peril: Palestine ranks high in Arab public opinion

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By James M. DorseyRare polling of public opinion in Saudi Arabia suggests that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may be more sensitive to domestic public opinion on foreign policy issues such as Palestine than he lets on. The polling also indicates that a substantial number of Saudis is empathetic to protest as a vehicle for political change.The poll conducted on behalf of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy is likely to reinforce Prince Mohmmed’s resolve to crackdown on any form of criticism or dissent at a time that the kingdom is struggling with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and a steep fall in oil prices and demand.The Washington Institute survey strokes with polling by others, including James Zogby, an Arab-American researcher and activist and author of The Tumultuous Decade: Arab Public Opinion and the Upheavals of 2010–2019.Saudi reluctance to follow in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates in recognizing the State of Israel suggests that autocra…