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Showing posts from January, 2018

Tackling Pakistani madrassas An uphill struggle

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By James M. Dorsey
This is an edited version of remarks by James M. Dorsey at the launch in Islamabad on 30 January 2018 of ‘The Role of Madrassas: Assessing Parental Choice, Financial Pipelines and Recent Developments in Religious Education in Pakistan and Afghanistan,’ an extensive study by three Pakistani think tanks backed by the Danish Defense College.
In many ways, the question whether madrassas or religious seminaries contribute to instability in Pakistan and Afghanistan goes far beyond an evaluation of the content of what students are taught and how they are being taught. In fact, it could be argued that the train has left the station and that there are no magic wands or simple administrative and regulatory fixes to address problems associated with madrassas. To make things worse, those problems are not restricted to madrassas; they also are prevalent in the public education system.
Irrespective of which of the spectrum of estimates of the number of madrassas in Pakistan one a…

Moderating Saudi Islam: Government proposes tightening fundraising rules

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By James M. Dorsey
A Saudi draft law could constitute a first indication that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vow to return the kingdom to a moderate form of Islam will some reshaping of the kingdom’s global funding for Sunni Muslim ultra-conservative educational and cultural facilities as well as militants.
The law, if adopted, would at the very least tighten rules governing the raising of funds in the kingdom that often flowed to militants in campaigns of which it was not always clear whether the government had tacitly approved them. Tighter rules would make it more difficult for the government to put a distance between itself and militant fundraising.
To be sure, analysts have long assumed that fundraising, particularly with the help of members of Saudi Arabia’s government-aligned, ultra-conservative religious establishment, could not occur without the knowledge of a regime that maintains tight political control.
It remains unclear how tighter fundraising rules would affect Sau…

How regional rivalries threaten to fuel the fire in Syria and Iran

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Credit: Wikimdia
By James M. Dorsey
Turkish allegations of Saudi, Emirati and Egyptian support for the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) threaten to turn Turkey’s military offensive against Syrian Kurds aligned with the PKK into a regional imbroglio.
The threat is magnified by Iranian assertions that low intensity warfare is heating up in areas of the Islamic republic populated by ethnic minorities, including the Kurds in the northwest and the Baloch on the border with Pakistan.
Taken together, the two developments raise the spectre of a potentially debilitating escalation of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as an aggravation of the eight-month-old Gulf crisis that has pitted Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar, which has forged close ties to Turkey.
The United Arab Emirates and Egypt rather than Saudi Arabia have taken the lead in criticizing Turkey’s incursion into Syria designed to remove US-backed Kurds from the countries’ border and create a 30-kilometre …

Kidnapping and ant-Shiite rhetoric stirs Malaysian debate about Saudi-inspired ultra-conservatism

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By James M. Dorsey
Allegedly kidnapped, forty-three-year old Malaysian activist Amri Che Mat, a foreign exchange trader and mountain climber, has not been heard of since he went missing in November 2016.
An inquiry into his disappearance coupled with an assertion by Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, the mufti of the state of Perlis, that Malaysia’s miniscule Shiite Muslim community constitutes a national security threat are but the latest incidents that have raised concerns about the impact of Saudi-inspired ultra-conservative strands of Islam.
Shiites in Malaysia, a country of 31 million, are believed to number 40,000. Shiism was banned in 1996, but Shiites are allowed to worship privately.
Mr. Amri’s black four-wheel-drive was found the night of his disappearance near a construction site with its windows smashed, a 55-minute drive from his home in Kangar, Perlis’ capital. Witnesses said his car was blocked by five vehicles when he was snatched close to his house.
Accused of adhering to Sh…

Testing Prince Mohammed’s pledge to return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam

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By James M. Dorsey
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vow to return his kingdom to a moderate interpretation of Islam could be put to the test by a draft bill in the US Congress that would require the secretary of State to submit yearly reports about whether Saudi Arabia is living up to its promise to remove intolerant content from its educational materials.
The bill would also increase pressure on Saudi Arabia to introduce freedom of religion in a country that bans all worship except for those that adhere to its long-standing strand of ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim Islam.
The bi-partisan bill submitted by Republican House of Representatives member Ted Poe and Democrat Bill Keating reflects long-standing criticism of Saudi textbooks that use hateful and incendiary language; foster supremacism, intolerance, and anti-pluralism; and, according to many critics, incite violence.
The texts describe alternative strands of Islam such as Shiism and Sufism in derogatory terms and advis…

Iran: Protests and threat of renewed sanctions focus economic thinking

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Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps logo
By James M. Dorsey
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appears in the wake of recent anti-government protests to have put his weight behind President Hasan Rouhani’s repeated calls for reduced military and Revolutionary Guards involvement in the economy.
Mr. Khamenei signalled his support by ordering the military and the Guards to start divesting from commercial holdings and businesses not related to their core tasks except for construction projects considered essential by the government.
The order serves not only to address protesters’ grievances that were sparked in part by losses suffered by millions of Iranians a result of the collapse of fraudulent financial institutions with links to the Guards and other public institutions. The financial entities lured investors with high interest rates that they could not pay.
Mr. Khamenei’s order could also sweeten Iranian efforts to persuade Europe to put in place legal measures that would al…

Whither Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ‘moderate’ Islam?

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Credit: algeriepatriotique
By James M. Dorsey
Recent Algerian media reports detailing Saudi propagation of a quietist, apolitical yet supremacist and anti-pluralistic form of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism raises questions about the scope of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s commitment to what he has termed ‘moderate’ Islam. So does Saudi missionary activity in Yemen.
The missionary activities suggest that Saudi Arabia continues to see ultra-conservatism as the primary ideological antidote to Iranian revolutionary zeal. Saudi Arabia has invested an estimated $100 billion over the last four decades in globally promoting ultra-conservatism in a bid to counter the Islamic republic. The campaign has contributed to greater conservatism and intolerance in Muslim communities and countries and in some cases fuelled sectarianism.
Saudi support for ultra-conservatism does not by definition call into question the kingdom’s determination to fight violent radicalism and extremism, and coun…

Gulf crisis turns Qatar into the ‘region’s Israel’

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Qatar airbrushed from map in UAE / Credit: Simon Henderson
By James M. Dorsey
Prominent US constitutional lawyer and scholar Alan M. Dershowitz raised eyebrows when he described Qatar as “the Israel of the Gulf states.”
Known for his hard-line pro-Israel views, Mr. Dershowitz drew his conclusion following an all-expenses paid trip to the Gulf state. Mr. Dershowitz argued that Qatar like Israel was “surrounded by enemies, subject to boycotts and unrealistic demands, and struggling for its survival.”
He noted that while he was in Qatar an Israeli tennis player had been granted entry to compete in an international tournament in which the Israeli flag was allowed to fly alongside of those of other participants.
In response, Saudi Arabia took Qatar to task for accommodating the tennis player and almost at the same time refused Israelis visas to take part in an international chess tournament. To be fair, with US President Donald J, Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it may …

Chinese engineer’s disappearance takes on geopolitical significance

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By James M. Dorsey
Thirty-six-year-old Chinese engineer Pingzhi Liu went missing almost a month ago. It took Pakistani authorities three weeks to classify Mr. Liu’s disappearance as a likely kidnapping that could have significant political and economic consequences.
Identifying the mysterious disappearance as a kidnapping is not only embarrassing because Mr. Liu was one of thousands of Chinese nationals working in Pakistan that are guarded by a specially created 15,000-man Pakistani military unit.
It is also awkward because it coincides with apparent Chinese questioning of aspects of the $56-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a crown jewel of China’s Belt and Road initiative, and increasingly strained relations between Pakistan and the United States.
Mr. Liu was accorded military protection even though his project, the Karot Hydropower Plant, located near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, is not part of CPEC. Karot was the first project financed by China’s state-owne…