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Showing posts from May, 2018

Mahathir’s reforms could put Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the spot

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By James M. Dorsey
Newly elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammed Mahathir is adopting policies that could reshape the Southeast nation’s relations with powerful Gulf states.
A series of anti-corruption measures as well as statements by Mr. Mahathir and his defense minister, Mohamad (Mat) Sabu, since this month’s upset in elections that ousted Prime Minister Najib Razak from office, are sparking concern in both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Mr. Mahathir, who has cautioned in recent years against widespread anti-Shiite sectarianism in Malaysia, has questioned together with Mr. Sabu Malaysia’s counterterrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Mahathir has also reinvigorated anti-corruption investigations of Mr. Razak, whom Qatari media have described as “Saudi-backed.”
Mr. Razak is suspected of having syphoned off billions of dollars from state-owned strategic development fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The fund as well as Saudi and UAE entities allegedly con…

How much solidarity with Iran can the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization afford?

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Credit: Global Times
By James M. Dorsey
A planned China and Russia-led show of support for Iran at next month’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit is likely to be primarily symbolic unless the group opts to honour the Islamic republic’s bid to be upgraded from observer to full member.
Yet, even a symbolic SCO gesture at its June 9-10 gathering in the Chinese city of Qingdao that would denounce the US withdrawal from the 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran and imposition of harsh sanctions could prove tricky.
The meeting is expected to be attended by the presidents of China, Russia, Iran India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It will come a day after the leaders of G-7 that groups the United States, the European Union, Japan, Canada, Britain, France and Germany are unlikely to find common ground on Iran at their summit in Quebec.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will presumably not look kindly at solidarity at a time that the…

2018 World Cup offers Chechnya opportunity to play Middle Eastern politics

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By James M. Dorsey
When strongman Ramzan Kadyrov last month opened The Local, a United Arab Emirates-funded luxury hotel in the Chechen capital of Grozny and prepared to receive Egypt’s World Cup qualifying national team as its first guests, he was cashing in on more than the Russian region’s Muslim identity.
Eager to forge close ties to Middle Eastern nations, Mr. Kadyrov, who tightly controls Chechen sports, was cashing in on the fact that he has aligned himself with like-minded governments that not only stand out in their repression of dissent, but also their efforts to oppose Saudi-inspired ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim Islam.
Mr. Kadyrov, a barrel-chested man who recognizes the political utility of sports and is widely seen as a henchman of Russian President Vladimir Putin, earned his credentials by brutally suppressing an Islamist insurgency in Chechnya during his decade-long tenure.
Speaking to The Washington Post, Beslan Visambiev, a manager of a Grozny-based UAE investmen…

Middle Eastern culture wars: The battle of the palates

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Credit: The Kitchen Sisters
By James M. Dorsey
Nothing in a swath of land stretching from the Atlantic coast of Africa to China is undisputed.
Food is often emblematic of disputes over identity, history and political claims that underlie an arc of crisis wracked by ethnic and religious conflict; clamour for political, economic, social, national and minority rights; efforts by states and ethnic groups to garner soft power or assert hegemony, international branding; diplomatic leverage; and great power rivalry.
Israel and Lebanon fight humus wars and join Palestine in battles over the origins of multiple dishes.
Turks, Arabs, Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and Iranians claim as their national dish baklava, a sweet whose variations over time reflect the region’s history. They fight over the sweet’s origins and even that of the word baklava.
The battles over the origin of foods have forced countries to rewrite aspects of their histories and major companies to review the way they market products. F…

Dodging UN and US designations: Hafez Saeed maintains utility for Pakistan and China

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By James M. Dorsey
A recent upsurge in insurgent activity in Kashmir likely explains Pakistani and Chinese reluctance to crackdown on internationally designated militant Hafez Saeed and the network of groups that he heads.
So does the fact that Mr. Saeed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, an outlawed, India-focused ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim group widely seen as one of South Asia’s deadliest, have assisted Pakistani intelligence and the military in countering militants like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban, that have turned against Pakistan itself.
Lashkar-e-Taiba has also been useful in opposing nationalist insurgents in Balochistan, a key node in China's Belt and Road initiative. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $50 billion plus China investment in Pakistani infrastructure and energy, is the initiative’s single largest cost post with the Baloch port of Gwadar as its crown jewel.
The United States has put a $10 million bounty on the head of Mr. Saeed, who is beli…