Richard Whittall:

The Globalist's Top Ten Books in 2016: The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer


Middle East Eye: "

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer is one of the weightiest, most revelatory, original and important books written about sport"

“The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer has helped me immensely with great information and perspective.”


Bob Bradley, former US and Egyptian national coach: "James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer (has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture."
Alon Raab in The International Journal of the History of Sport: “Dorsey’s blog is a goldmine of information.”
Play the Game: "Your expertise is clearly superior when it comes to Middle Eastern soccer."
Andrew Das, The New York Times soccer blog Goal: "No one is better at this kind of work than James Dorsey"
David Zirin, Sports Illustrated: "Essential Reading"
Change FIFA: "A fantastic new blog'

Richard Whitall of A More Splendid Life:
"James combines his intimate knowledge of the region with a great passion for soccer"

Christopher Ahl, Play the Game: "An excellent Middle East Football blog"
James Corbett, Inside World Football


Monday, July 30, 2018

Despite concerns, China sees a potential ally in Pakistan’s Imran Khan


Credit: The Quint

By James M. Dorsey

Pakistani prime minister-in waiting Imran Khan’s ability to chart his own course as well as his relationship with the country’s powerful military is likely to be tested the moment he walks into his new office.

Pakistan’s most fundamental problems loom large and are likely to demand his immediate attention. He probably will have to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a US$ 12 billion bailout to resolve Pakistan’s financial and economic crisis.

The request could muddy Mr. Khan’s already ambiguous relationship with China. The IMF is likely to reinforce Mr. Khan’s call for greater transparency regarding the terms and funding of projects related to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a crown jewel of the People’s Republic’s Belt and Road initiative and at US$ 50 billion plus its single largest investment.

Moreover, Mr. Khan’s need for a bailout is likely to give him little choice but to crackdown on militant groups that have enjoyed tacit, if not overt, support of the military despite risking Pakistan being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog.

To be sure Mr. Khan could evade resorting to the IMF if China continues to bailout Pakistan as it has done in the past year with some US$5 billion in loans. Alternatively, Saudi Arabia could defer payments for oil that account for one third of its imports as it did in 1998 and again in 2008.

Continued Chinese assistance or Saudi help would provide immediate relief but without a straightjacket forcing Pakistan to embark on painful reforms would do little to resolve the country’s structural problem.

An IMF straightjacket may, however, solve one Chinese dilemma: backing for the Pakistani military’s selective support for militants. China’s support was both in response to a request by the military as well as the fact that militants focussing on India and Kashmir granted Beijing useful leverage.

China, nonetheless, has hinted several times in the past two years that it is increasingly uneasy about the policy. It did so among others by not stopping FATF from putting Pakistan on a grey list with the threat of being blacklisted if it failed to agree and implement measures to counter money laundering and funding of militants.

Chinese sensitivity about greater CPEC transparency was evident in Beijing’s attempts to stymie Mr. Khan’s criticism during the recent election campaign and when he was in opposition

Chinese pressure on Mr. Khan and his populist Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI),  or Movement for Justice, to tone down their criticism produced only limited results despite China’s expansion of CPEC’s master plan to include the prime minister-in waiting’s stronghold north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The move, however, did not stop PTI activists from continuing to portray CPEC as a modern-day equivalent of the British East India Company, which dominated the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century.

PTI denounced Chinese-funded mass transit projects in three cities in Punjab, the stronghold of the party’s main rival in the election, ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as squandering of funds that could have better been invested in social spending. PTI activists suggested that the projects had involved corrupt practices.

China last year rejected allegations by Awami National League leader Sheikh Ahmed Rashid, a Khan ally, of corruption in a Chinese-funded bus project in the city of Multan.

Pakistani officials said PTI critics would likely get their way if the country agrees with the IMF on a bailout. “Once the IMF looks at CPEC, they are certain to ask if Pakistan can afford such a large expenditure given our present economic outlook,” the Financial Times quoted a Pakistani official as saying.

CPEC was but one of several issues that have troubled China’s attitude towards Mr. Khan, despite a post-election pledge to work with the prime minister-in waiting.

China was unhappy that a five-month anti-government sit-in in Islamabad in 2014 forced President Xi Jinping to delay by a year a planned visit during which he had hoped to unveil a CPEC masterplan.

Pakistani security analyst and columnist Muhammed Amir Rana, just back from a visit to China, said China was also uneasy about Mr. Khan’s plan to tap the expertise of Pakistan’s highly educated US and European Diaspora, who could counter the PTI’s anti-US bent.

CPEC, and particularly ownership of projects related to the corridor, is likely to be one indication of Pakistan’s relationship with China under a PTI government as well as the nature of Mr. Khan’s rapport with the military. The issue is sensitive given expectations that Chinese investment is pushing Pakistan into a debt trap.

Mr. Rana noted that the Sharif government had resisted a military push for the creation of a separate CPEC authority. The military and the Sharif government were also at odds over the establishment of a special security force to protect Chinese nationals and investments that have been repeatedly targeted in Pakistan.

The Chinese communist party’s English-language organ, Global Times, was quick to declare victory in the Pakistani election. While mentioning past Chinese concerns, the Global Times pointed to the fact that Mr. Khan had unveiled a plan to adopt the ‘Chinese model’ to alleviate poverty.

Noting that China was the first country Mr. Khan mentioned in his first post-election speech, the Global Times gloated: “Despite a barrage of criticism he threw at Sharif's handling of Chinese investments, Khan is not a sceptic of the projects themselves… Imran Khan minced no words when his exclusive interview was published in Guangming Daily two days before the elections. Khan asserted that the CPEC will receive wide support from all sectors of Pakistani society.

Imran Khan's politico-economic views do not seem to be influenced by his Western education. He questions the practicality of capitalist economic policies. He is also a strong critic of US President Donald Trump, the US and US-led wars… Imran Khan's plan is a clear pivot by Pakistan, away from the US orbit and further into the Chinese bloc… China has a friend in Imran Khan,” said a Global Times oped.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario,  Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Lack of global leadership spurs instability in the Middle East


Credit: DollarCollapse.com

By James M. Dorsey

With multiple Middle Eastern disputes threatening to spill out of control, United Arab Emirates minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash acknowledged what many in the Middle East have long said privately: the UAE’s recently-found assertiveness and determination to punch above its weight stems from its inability to rely on traditional allies like the United States.

What is true for the UAE is equally true for Saudi Arabia and Israel. It also shapes responses of those on the US’s list of bad guys, including Iran, the Palestinians, and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Perceptions of US unreliability were initially sparked by former US president Obama Barak’s Middle East policies, including his declared pivot to Asia, support of the 2011 Arab popular revolts, criticism of Israel, and willingness to engage with Iran.

President Donald J. Trump has proven to be more partisan than Mr. Obama in his backing of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel and his confrontational approach of Iran. Yet, his mercurial unpredictability has made him no less unreliable in the perception of US allies even if he appears to have granted Middle Eastern partners near carte-blanche.

“We are ready to take up more of the burden of security in our own neighbourhood. We know that we can no longer rely on the United States, or the United Kingdom, to lead such military operations,” Mr. Gargash said in a speech in London.

Mr. Trump’s partisan approach as well as his refusal to reign in US allies has led to potential escalation of multiple conflicts, including the war in Yemen, mounting tension in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, a race for control of ports and military facilities in the Horn of Africa, Israeli challenging of Iran’s presence in Syria, and confrontation with Iran.

To be sure, the UAE, driven by a quest to control ports in the Horn of Africa and create a string of military bases, together with Saudi Arabia, played a key role in reconciling Ethiopia and Eritrea after more than two decades of cold war.

More often however, US allies appear to be increasingly locked into pathways that threaten mounting violence, if not outright military confrontation. Bad guys help fuel escalation.

The escalatory policies of US allies as well as their opponents are frequently designed to either suck the United States and/or the international community into stepped-up support, including military intervention, or favourable mediation as a means of achieving their goals through negotiation.

Arguably, and perhaps in a twist of irony, escalatory policies often constitute a conscious or unconscious clamour for US leadership in the absence of other powers such as China, Russia and Europe, able or willing to shoulder responsibility.

This week’s escalation of the Yemen war that threatens the free flow of oil with Saudi Arabia halting oil shipments through the Bab el Mandeb strait and an unverified claim by Houthi rebels to have targeted Abu Dhabi’s international airport constitutes the latest fallout of US failure.

Analysts see the halt in oil shipments as an effort to get major military powers, including the United States, Europe, and Muslim allies like Pakistan and Egypt who have shied away from sending troops to Yemen, to intervene to defeat the Houthis.

Many of those powers depend on oil shipments through Bab el Mandeb. The bid to suck them into the Yemen war is an effort to secure a victory that neither Saudi Arabia or the UAE have been able to achieve in more than three years of fighting that has devastated Yemen.

By the same token, Houthi rebels have sought to gain leverage in stalled United Nations peace efforts by targeting Saudi cities with ballistic missiles and making claims of attacks like on the Abu Dhabi airport that they have so far failed to back up with evidence.

The real impact (of the halt) would be felt if other countries followed suit and halted shipments,” said Wael Mahdi, an energy reporter and columnist for Saudi newspaper Arab News, referring to Kuwait, Iraq and the UAE that also ship through Bab el Mandeb.

Mr. Mahdi argued that without a total halt of the flow of oil through Bab el Mandeb “things appear under control for the (oil) market,” but, he warned, “how can the world’s oil community be sure that the waterway is safe?”

In what amounted to a call for foreign intervention, Mr. Mahdi went on to caution that “countries might react too late. Will the world’s powers wait longer…before they ensure the safety of this vital waterway?”

Badr al-Khashti, chairman of Kuwait Oil Tanker Company (KOTC) disclosed that Kuwait was studying whether to halt oil exports through the strait.

Mr. Al-Khashti’s statement was notable given that Kuwait has sought to steer a middle ground in Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s disputes with Iran and Qatar. Similarly, Iraq, despite warming relations with Saudi Arabia, may not want to irritate Iran, with whom it maintains close ties.

External powers responded cautiously to the Saudi halt of oil shipments. US and EU spokespeople said they were aware of the Saudi move.

Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for US Central Command said: “We remain vigilant and ready to work with our partners to preserve the free flow of commerce throughout the region.” An EU spokesman noted that attacks on vessels in the strait were “a threat to international trade movements and heighten regional tensions.”

US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as well as unqualified support for Israel’s hardhanded efforts aided by Egypt and the Palestine Authority to squeeze Hamas and suppress sustained protests along the Gaza-Israel border have emboldened Israeli hardliners, prompted Palestinians to refuse US mediation and, together with Hamas moves to capitalize on the mounting tension, threaten to spark renewed military confrontation that neither side wants.

The United States and Iran are locked into an escalating war of words threatening further interruptions of the flow of oil as well as doom and gloom against a backdrop of the imposition of harsh US sanctions and the US and Saudi Arabia toying with attempting to spur ethnic unrest in Iran in an effort to topple the regime in Tehran.

Said political scientist Ian Bremmer: “The lack of clear, uncontested international leadership is everywhere we look these days… Yet nowhere is the destabilizing impact of this trend more obvious, and pressing, than in the Middle East… The result…will be more uncertainty, more assertive behaviour, more lines crossed and rising fears that no one has the power to contain the risk of new forms of Middle East conflict.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario,  Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Saudi oil shipment halt: A potential watershed in the Yemen war



By James M. Dorsey

A spike in oil prices as a result of a temporary halt in shipments through the strategic Bab el Mandeb strait may be short-lived, but the impact on Yemen’s three-year-old forgotten war is likely to put the devastating conflict on the front burner.

The halt following a Saudi assertion that Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen had attacked two Saudi oil tankers traversing the waterway drives home the threat the conflict poses to a chokepoint in international trade and the flow of Gulf oil to world markets. The Houthis said they had attacked a Saudi warship rather than oil tankers.

An estimated 4.8 million barrels of oil are shipped daily through Bab al Mandeb that connects the Red Sea with the Arabian Sea off the coast of Yemen, Djibouti, and Eritrea.

The halt of oil shipments could provoke an escalation of the conflict with external powers intervening in a bid to assist Saudi Arabia and the UAE in defeating the Houthis and dealing a blow to Iran’s regional presence.

By the same token, the halt potentially offers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates an opportunity to focus international attention on resolving a civil war aggravated and turned into a regional conflict by the two Gulf states’ military intervention in March 2015.

Rather than proving to be a swift campaign that would have subdued the Houthis, the intervention has turned into a quagmire and a public relations fiasco for Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

International criticism of their conduct of the war is mounting as a result of its devastating human cost. Voices in the US Congress, the British parliament and other Western legislatures as well as human rights groups calling for a halt of arms sales to Saudi Arabia are growing ever louder.

The armed services panels in the US House and Senate released earlier this week joint defense legislation that demands that the Pentagon tell Congress whether US or Arab coalition forces violated federal law or Pentagon policy. Another provision restricts mid-air US refuelling of coalition aircraft if the UAE and Saudi Arabia fail to demonstrate efforts to support United Nations-backed peace talks, resolve the growing humanitarian crisis, and cut down on civilian deaths.

The war has killed at least 10,000 Yemenis and left more than 22 million people –three-quarters of Yemen’s population – in need of humanitarian aid. At least 8 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine, and 1 million are infected with cholera.

In a most immediate response to the halt, the United States and Britain, eager to benefit from increased arms sales, are likely to step up their support of the Saudi-UAE effort in the Yemen war.

Viewed from Washington as well as Riyadh, the war is one more front in US efforts to force Iran to halt its support of Middle Eastern proxies.

Since the war began, the US and the UK have sold more than $12bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia alone - including some of the warplanes and the payloads they drop.

The US military, moreover, provides mid-air refuelling for Saudi and UAE aircraft, and both British and US personnel assist the Saudis as they target their strikes.

The US, Britain and other powers could look at expanding operations of an anti-piracy alliance in the region created in 2008 in response to Somali piracy. The alliance includes warships patrolling regional waters from all five United Nations Security Council permanent members – the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France – as well as other European and Latin American nations, Australia, Japan, Pakistan, Singapore, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.

The potential for a breakthrough in peace efforts increases when the halt to oil shipments is coupled with a Saudi-UAE threat to besiege the strategic port of Hodeida that could jeopardize the crucial for the flow of humanitarian supplies potentially creates an opportunity for more forceful efforts to bring the Yemen war to an end.

In a letter to US congressional leaders, UAE ambassador to the United States Yousef al-Otaiba said in June that the Saudi-led Arab force fighting in Yemen is giving the Iran-backed Houthi rebels “the greatest possible opportunity” for a peaceful withdrawal from Hodeida.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths last week put forward a proposal that would avert a fight for Hodeida that has yet to be accepted by all parties. 

The plan reportedly calls for a phased Houthi withdrawal from Hodeida and two other nearby ports, a gradual pullback of UAE forces, UN assistance in staffing the port with Yemenis who would also govern the city of 60,000, and the revival of stalled peace talks.

The possibility of the halt to oil shipments propelling efforts to end the war is enhanced by the fact that the Saudi move has ramifications that go beyond energy security.

The Middle East’s multiple conflicts, including the Saudi-Iranian rivalry and the dispute between Qatar and a Saudi-UAE-led alliance that has imposed a 14-month old diplomatic and economic boycott of the Gulf state has spilled across the Horn of Africa with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and China competing for influence by gaining control of ports and establishing military bases.

The UAE’s strong military and commercial presence in the region is one reason why Chinese President Xi Jinping recent stopped in the Emirates for three days on his way to a tour of Africa.

China likely would favour capitalizing on the Saudi halt to propel peace efforts while the Trump administration more probably will lean towards military intervention that confronts Iran.

Said scholar and author Ellen R. Wald: “The Red Sea is a very important shipping lane. If there is a major disruption European powers, Egypt and the United States would all have reason to intervene. They have significant interests in protecting the freedom of the seas through the passageway. An international intervention against the Houthis may be just what Saudi Arabia wants.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario,  Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

China’s policies spur Central Asians to cautiously chart independent course



By James M. Dorsey

China’s brutal crackdown in its north-western province of Xinjiang and growing questions about the dark side of some of its Belt and Road investments is fuelling anti-Chinese sentiment, prompting some countries to explore ways to chart an independent course, and feeding into the narratives of rising populist leaders.

The incarceration of up to 2,5000 Kazakhs in re-education camps in Xinjiang designed to install Chinese values and loyalty to President Xi Jinping, erase nationalist and militant sentiment, and introduce ‘Chinese characteristics’ into perceptions of Islam among the region’s Uyghur population, a Muslim Turkic ethnic group, has spurred a Kazakh search to cautiously chart an independent course.

An estimated 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs live in Xinjiang, 200,000 of which obtained Kazakh citizenship after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. In contrast to Uyghurs, they were able to move freely across the Kazakh-Chinese border until 2016 when China stepped up its crackdown in Xinjiang.

Chinese policy also figures in crucial Pakistani elections with populist contender and former international cricket player Imran Khan demanding greater transparency in China’s US$ 50 billion plus investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a Belt and Road crown jewel and the initiative’s single largest investment. Mr. Khan is also demanding a more equitable distribution of Chinese investment among Pakistan’s provinces.

Irrespective of whether Mr. Khan emerges victorious from the Pakistani polling, he is likely to be a major voice. His call for greater transparency resonates with significant segments of the business community represented by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry who have been critical of commercial terms that advantage Chinese companies with reduced benefit to their Pakistani counterparts.

Mr. Khan’s call for greater transparency is likely to get a significant boost if Pakistan is forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund to bail out its troubled economy.

Major political parties and business organizations in the Pakistani province of Gilgit-Baltistan have meanwhile threatened to shut down the Pakistan-China border if Beijing does not release some 50 Uighur women married to Pakistani men from the region, who have been detained in Xinjiang.

The province’s legislative assembly unanimously called on the government in Islamabad to take up the issue. The women, many of whom are practicing Muslims and don religious attire, are believed to have been detained in re-education camps.

Concern in Tajikistan is mounting that the country may not be able to service its increasing Belt and Road-related debt. With the World Bank and the IMF warning that Tajikistan runs a high risk of debt distress, Tajikistan has seen its debt-to-GDP ratio balloon from  33.4% of GDP in 2015 to an estimated 56.8% in 2018.

The emerging stories of Kazakhs released from re-education camps in Xinjiang and a court case a Chinese national of Kazakh descent accused of entering Kazakhstan illegally after working in one of the detention centres holding hundreds of thousands of mostly Turkic Muslims is forcing the Kazakh government to stand up more forcefully for the rights of its nationals and reinforcing its desire to steer a middle course between Chinese and Russian ambitions in Central Asia.

41-year-old Sayragul Sauytbay is on trial for allegedly illegally crossing the Chinese-Kazakh border border to join her husband and two children in Kazakhstan. Ms. Sauytbay told the court she had escaped to Kazakhstan after being told by Chinese authorities that she would never be allowed to join her family because of her knowledge of the camps.

Chinese authorities have denied the existence of the camps despite mounting evidence from both official documents and witness accounts. China’s foreign ministry said it “had not heard” of the camps.

Ms. Sauytbay’s defense is attracting attention and spurring anti-Chinese sentiment not only because of her first-hand account of the detention camps but also because of her assertion that she had access to classified Chinese documents that shed light on the sprawling network of re-education centres.

Ms. Sauytbay’s trial puts the Kazakh government, an important Belt and Road partner, in a bind. She has admitted having illegally entered the country but said she would disappear in one of Xinjiang’s detention camps if she were returned to China. Ms. Sauytbay has requested political asylum in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan has until now to sought to raise the issue of the fate of ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang quietly and cautiously with China. Returning Ms. Sauytbay would open the government to accusations that it is kowtowing to Beijing and failing to protect its people. Allowing her to stay, would give further credibility to reports on the extent and nature of the crackdown in Xinjiang.

The trial also boosts Kazakh efforts to steer a middle course between Chinese and Russian influence in Central Asia by forging closer ties to European nations and the United States as well as the Muslim world.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev discussed with President Donald J. Trump, on a visit to Washington in January, an “enhanced strategic partnership” that would strengthen cooperation “on political and security issues, trade and investment, and people-to-people relationships.”
Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev travelled to Washington on a similar mission, seeking US support for his liberalizing economic and political reforms.

Central Asian leaders suggested to European Union High Representative for Security and Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini that they were looking to Europe rather than China and Russia for assistance in building sustainable economies that can create jobs for the region’s mushrooming youth population.

That is not to say that Central Asian nations, most of which are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, do not welcome massive Chinese and Russian investment. They do, but also realize that the investment may improve their infrastructure and enhance security but does not necessarily ensure their ability to sustainably create jobs.

In a sign of the times, Russian commentator Yaroslav Razumov noted that Kazakh youth recently thwarted the marriage of a Kazakh national to a Chinese woman by denouncing it on social media as unpatriotic. 

Quoting Kazakh commentators as blaming Russia for stirring anti-Chinese sentiment in their country, Mr. Razumov, in an article entitled ‘Ally, but not a friend,’ warned that Russia, and by extension China, “must learn to live with this.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario,  Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom
 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Securing Xinjiang: China adds security component to Belt and Road initiative



By James M. Dorsey

China appears to be shifting gears in its multi-billion dollar Belt and Road initiative. Long projected as driven by economics and the benefit of infrastructure linkages, China appears to be increasingly adding a security component to the initiative against the backdrop of President Xi Jinping positioning of his country as a superpower rather than a developing nation.

The emergence of a security component is not only highlighted by the establishment last year of China’s first foreign military base in Djibouti, but also in its stepped-up security cooperation with Afghanistan and other Central Asian nations that border on its north-western province of Xinjiang.

China’s security focus is driven by concerns about national and religious aspirations in Xinjiang of Uyghurs, an ethnic Turkic Muslim group that has long looked westward toward Central Asia and Turkey rather than eastward towards Beijing.

China has sought to radically alter Uyghur identity by introducing a 21st century repressive surveillance state that invades the privacy of Uyghurs and sends tens, if not hundreds of thousands to re-education camps where indoctrination is designed to install Chinese rather than Uyghur nationalist or Islamic values.

China’s security focus on Afghanistan and Central Asia is intended to counter Uyghur militants who have moved to the region after the defeats suffered by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and the group’s establishment of a base in Afghanistan and the Pakistani province of Balochistan.

It also aims, together with efforts to cut off contact between Uyghurs and their Central Asian brethren, to fend off the influence of non-violent Uyghur Diaspora groups who have been resident in Central Asia for decades.

Uyghur fighters speaking in videos distributed by the Islamic State have vowed to return home to “plant their flag in China.” One fighter, addressing evil Chinese Communist infidel lackeys,” threatened that “in retaliation for the tears that flow from the eyes of the oppressed, we will make your blood flow in rivers, by the will of God.”

The Islamic State threats and migration of East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) fighters from Syria and Iraq to the Afghan province of Badakhshan raises in China’s mind the spectre of a return to the 1990s, a period of protests and attacks in Xinjiang, when the Taliban government allowed Uyghur militants to operate from its territory.

Some analysts argue nonetheless that China is more worried that Uyghur militants operating from Afghanistan may pose a greater threat to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), at US$50 billion plus a Belt and Road crown jewel and its single largest investment, than to Xinjiang.

China also fears that the militants could expand from Afghanistan into Central Asia and particularly Tajikistan. The Afghan-Tajik border is 1,357 kilometres long, two thirds of which is in Badakhshan, while the Tajik-Chinese borders runs for 414 kilometres compared to only 76 kilometres along the Afghan-Chinese frontier.


Militants have repeatedly targeted Chinese assets and personnel in Pakistan. At least one Uyghur was involved in a 2016 suicide bombing of the Chinese embassy in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek while a Uyghur gunman killed 39 people in an attack on an Istanbul nightclub in January of last year.

Chinese security cooperation has so far concentrated on joint counter-terrorism operations with Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It first became apparent with reports that Chinese troops were joining their Afghan counterparts in patrolling the Wakhan Corridor, a tiny strip of Afghanistan bordering the on Xinjiang.

China earlier pledged US$ 70 million in aid for Afghan counter-terrorism efforts. The Chinese scholars participating in the ECFR conference said Chinese border control assistance extended beyond the Wakhan Corridor to the Badakshan-Tajik border.

China agreed two years ago to fund and build 11 military outposts and a training facility to beef up Tajikistan’s defense capabilities along its border with Afghanistan that hosts a large part of the main highway connecting Tajikistan’s most populous regions to China.

China has since stepped up the sharing of intelligence with Tajikistan on issues related to political violence, religious extremism and drug trafficking.

The Chinese defense ministry announced in April that China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan would perform joint counterterrorism and training and exercises that focus on real combat experiences.

China and Afghanistan agreed last year to lay a cross-border fibre-optic cable that like in the case of Pakistan could pave the way to export China’s model of a surveillance state to Afghanistan.

“China will strengthen military exchanges and anti-terrorism cooperation with Afghanistan to ensure security between the two nations and the region,” said Xu Qiliang, deputy chairman of China’s Central Military Commission.

Mr. Xu was speaking in December on the sidelines of a meeting of the Chinese, Afghan and Pakistani foreign ministers designed to ease tensions between Kabul and Islamabad and integrate Afghanistan into CPEC. Pakistan has so far resisted sharing CPEC glory with Afghanistan.

China hopes that a resolution of Pakistani-Afghan disputes would pave the road to a Chinese mediated resolution of the Afghan war that would allow the Taliban to share power.

On a visit to Xinjiang in January, Chinese defense minister Chang Wanquan vowed to "firmly maintain Xinjiang's stability" and "build an iron wall to enhance border defense." President Xi Jinping reiterated the need for a “great wall of iron” in March.

Pan Zhiping, head of the Central Asian Studies Institute at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Science, argued that “China’s approach is always to stabilise bordering countries.  If the CPEC links up to Afghanistan, it can ultimately be a gateway to Iran and the Indian Ocean.”  

Afghanistan and Central Asia, regions that most immediately impact the security of Xinjiang, are likely to be first steps in what Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described as China’s intent of “resolving hotspot issues with Chinese characteristics.”

Greater emphasis on the Belt and Road’s security component would also be in line with Mr. Xi’s assertion last month that China was ready to “lead in the reform of global governance.”

China scholar Elizabeth Economy said Mr. Xi’s “ambition is most evident close to home.” Ms. Economy was referring to policy in the South China Sea, Hong Kong and with regard to Taiwan. It is becoming equally evident in China’s other near abroad: Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario,  Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Saudi-UK media tie-up: Targeting the non-Arabic-speaking Middle East



By James M. Dorsey

Long satisfied to attempt to dominate pan-Arab media and battle it out with Qatar’s state-owned Al Jazeera television network, Saudi Arabia has now set its hegemonic sights on influencing the media landscape of the non-Arabic speaking greater Middle East.

In the wake of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s concentration last year of control of Saudi-owned pan-Arab media in an anti-corruption power and asset grab, Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG) this week announced a tie up with Britain’s Independent news website to launch services in Urdu, Turkish, Farsi and Arabic.

The announcement provided no details of the business model or whether and, if so, how the SRMG-owned, independent-branded websites would become commercially viable. That may not be an issue from the Independent’s perspective, given that the deal amounts to the British publication licensing its brand and content to a Saudi partner.

The bulk of the content of the new websites is slated to be produced by SRMG journalists in London, Islamabad, Istanbul and New York, with the Independent contributing only translated articles from its English-language website.

The sites, operated out of Riyadh and Dubai, would produce “highest-quality, free-thinking, independent news, insight and analysis on global affairs and local events,” the Independent said.

SRMG publishes the English-language Arab News and Arabic-language Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, newspapers operating within the constraints of tight Saudi censorship that do not challenge Saudi policies.

SRMG was chaired until he recently was appointed minister of culture by Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud. An unknown member of the Saudi ruling family, Prince Bader made headlines last year when he paid a record $450m for a Leonardo da Vinci painting of Jesus Christ, allegedly as a proxy bidder for Prince Mohammed.

Sultan Muhammad Abuljadayel, a Saudi banker with no track record in media acquisitions, last year bought a 30 percent stake in the Independent. An executive of NCB Capital, a subsidiary of government-controlled National Commercial Bank, Mr. Abuljadayel said at the time he was investing on his personal account.

A cache of Saudi diplomatic cables leaked in 2015 documented a pattern of Saudi chequebook diplomacy that aimed to buy positive coverage of the kingdom by European, Middle Eastern and African media who were encouraged to put “learned” Saudi guests on talk shows and counter “media hostile to the kingdom.”

Cables by the late Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al Faisal, suggested that Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat, and another Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily, Al Hayat, refrain from criticizing Lebanon and Russia.

Saudi funding ranged from the bailout of financially troubled media to donations, the purchase of thousands of subscriptions, and all-expenses paid trips to the kingdom. It was often driven by Saudi Arabia’s covert public diplomacy war with Iran.

Saudi Arabia’s near monopoly on staid pan-Arabic media was broken in 1996 with the launch of Al Jazeera and its free-wheeling, hard hitting reporting and talk shows. Al Jazeera’s disruption of conservative, Arab state broadcasting prompted Waleed bin Ibrahim Al Ibrahim, a brother in law of the late King Fahd, to launch Al Arabiya as an anti-dote.

The rise of Al Jazeera cemented a realization in the kingdom that it needed to expand from print media into broadcasting. The need for broadcasting was initially driven home six years earlier when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Saudi authorities banned Saudi media from reporting the invasion only to discover on the third day that Saudis were getting their news from foreign media outlets, among which CNN.

The Saudi-Qatari battle for control of the air waves escalated in the run-up to this year’s World Cup in Russia. With Al Jazeera and beIN, the network’s sports franchise, blocked in the kingdom as part of the 13-month-old Saudi-UAE-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar, Saudi Arabia initially turning a blind eye to beOutQ, a bootlegging operation operating out of the kingdom that used a satellite that is co-owned by the Saudi government.

Threatened by FIFA with punitive action, Saudi Arabia began cracking down on beOutQ and said it welcomed legal action in the kingdom being initiated by the world soccer body. At the same time, Saudi Arabia explored ways to challenge beIN’s broadcasting rights.

The choice of languages for the Independent websites suggests that SRMG sees the deal as strengthening its brand while supporting the kingdom in its battles with Qatar and Iran and quest for regional hegemony.

The launch of a Farsi website targets the kingdom’s arch rival Iran. Leaving politics aside, Iranians, confronted with an economic crisis that is being exasperated by harsh US sanctions, are unlikely to subscribe or advertise on the website. The same is true for Saudi businesses in the absence of diplomatic relations and given Saudi backing for the sanctions.

The Independent’s Turkish website will have to compete in a heavily populated media landscape that has largely been muzzled by President Recep Tayeb Erdogan. The website’s significance lies in the fact that Turkey supports Qatar in the spat that pits the Gulf state against Saudi Arabia and its allies, maintains close ties to Iran, and challenges Saudi regional ambitions in Palestine as well as the Horn of Africa.

In many ways, Urdu-speaking Pakistan, one of the world’s most populous Muslim nations that borders on Iran, has long supported the kingdom militarily, and is home to the world’s largest Shia Muslim majority, could prove to be the most lucrative element of SRMG’s tie up with the Independent.

In contrast to Turkey, Saudi Arabia enjoys empathy in major segments of Pakistan’s population, hosts a sizeable Pakistani community, has strong support among the country’s religious scholars as well as ties to influential militants whom the military is seeking to ease into mainstream politics, and funds religious media outlets.

At the bottom line, the SRMG-Independent tie-up may be for the kingdom less about business and more about soft power.

“A channel is a very economical way to influence people. Bang for your buck, it’s much cheaper than guns. It is about controlling the discourse, and for Saudis about being in charge,” said Hugh Miles, author of Al-Jazeera: How Arab TV News Challenged the World. Mr. Miles’ analysis applies as much to broadcasting as it does to online media.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario,  Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A double-edged sword: China and Pakistan link up with fibreoptic cable



By James M. Dorsey

This month’s inauguration of a fibreoptic cable linking Pakistan with China could prove to be a double-edged sword. Constructed by Chinese conglomerate Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd, the cable is likely to enhance both Pakistan’s information communication technology infrastructure as well as the influence of Chinese authoritarianism at a moment that basic freedoms in Pakistan are on the defensive.

The $44 million, 820-kilometre underground Pak-China Fibre Optic Cable links Rawalpindi with the Chinese border at Khunjerab Pass and is backed up by a 172-kilometre aerial cable.  A second phase of the project is likely to connect to the port of Gwadar in Balochistan, a key node in China’s US$ 50 billion plus infrastructure-driven investment in the South Asian state, dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The cable is expected to provide terrestrial links to Iran and Pakistan and serve as a conduit to the Middle East, Europe and Africa through hook ups with submarine cables.

The inauguration of the cable came days after China launched two satellites for Pakistan from the Jiuquan Space Center in Inner Mongolia, to provide remote sensing data for CPEC.

The satellites are expected to monitor natural resources, environmental protection, disaster management and emergency response, crop yield estimation, urban planning and provide CPEC-related remote sensing information.

The prominence of Pakistani military officers, including General Qamar Bajwa, Pakistan’s top military commander and Major General Amir Azeem Bajwa, the head of the Special Communications Organisation (SCO), at the inauguration underlined the cable’s strategic and potentially political importance.

Pakistan’s military sees the cable as a way of ensuring that the country’s in and outbound traffic does not traverse India. Major General Bajwa told lawmakers last year that the current “network which brings internet traffic into Pakistan through submarine cables has been developed by a consortium that has Indian companies either as partners or shareholders, which is a serious security concern.”

The key to the cable’s potential political significance lies buried in the Chinese-Pakistani vision that underlines CPEC against the backdrop of Chinese concern about the messiness of Pakistani politics and the People’s Republic’s support of what it sees as the behind-the-scenes stabilizing role of the country’s powerful military.

A leaked draft outline of the vision identified as risks to CPEC “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. “The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the outline said.

The vision appears to suggest addressing security primarily through stepped up surveillance based on the model of a 21st century Orwellian surveillance state in parts, if not all of China, rather than policies targeting root causes and appears to question the vibrancy of a system in which competition between parties and interest groups is the name of the game.

The draft linked the fibreoptic cable to the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media that would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.” The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

Pakistan’s Ministry for Planning, Development, and Reform said at the time that the draft “delineates the aspirations of both parties” 

The cable’s facilitation of aspects of the Chinese surveillance state and soft power strategy occurs in a country in which feudal and patronage politics dominate the countryside and the military has sought to severely curb media coverage in the run-up to elections scheduled for July 25.

Democracy has become a terrifying business in the villages of Pakistan. Elections might change the federal and state governments, but the feudal and punitive power structures in the countryside don’t change. The feudal lords offer allegiance to the new ruler and continue to oppress the poor villagers,” said Ali Akbar Natiq, a scholar, poet and novelist who returns every two weeks to his home district of Okara in Punjab, in an article in The New York Times.

The media crackdown involves censorship of TV channels, newspapers and social media, including preventing the distribution of Dawn. An English-language newspaper, Dawn was established by Pakistan's founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah before the 1947 partition of British India, as a way for Muslims to communicate with the colonial power.

Cable operators were advised to take Dawn’s TV channel off air, advertisers were warned to shy away from the paper while its journalists were harassed. Other journalists and media personalities have been kidnapped or detained by masked men believed to be linked to military intelligence.

Columnist and scholar S. Akbar Zaid said last month that he was advised by Dawn that the paper could no longer publish his column “because of censorship problems that they are facing with regard to the military and its agencies. They say that the threats are very serious,” Mr. Zaid said.

Daily Times journalist Marvi Sirmed reported that her home was burgled and ransacked last month. The intruders took her computers, smartphone, and her passport as well as those of members of her family but left valuables such as jewellery untouched.

Pakistan’s military has denied cracking down on the media although it conceded that it was monitoring social media.

Bloggers, including well-known journalist Gul Bukhari, are among those who have been detained and released in some cases only weeks later.

A guard in a detention centre where five bloggers were held last year for three weeks, alongside ultra-conservative militants, told his captives:, according to one of the detainees: “You are more dangerous than these terrorists. They kill 50 or 100 people in a single blast, you kill 600,000 people a day,” a reference to the 600,000 clicks on the bloggers’ Facebook page on peak days.

In an editorial published after months of harassment Dawn charged that “It appears that elements within or sections of the state do not believe they have a duty to uphold the Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees. Article 19 of the Constitution is explicit: ‘Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press.’ The ‘reasonable restrictions’ that Article 19 permits are well understood by a free and responsible media and have been consistently interpreted by the superior judiciary.”

The paper went on to say that Dawn “considers itself accountable to its readers and fully submits itself to the law and Constitution. It welcomes dialogue with all state institutions. But it cannot be expected to abandon its commitment to practising free and fair journalism. Nor can Dawn accept its staff being exposed to threats of physical harm.”

At the bottom line, Pakistan’s new fibreoptic cable promises to significantly enhance the country’s connectivity. The risk is that visions of Chinese-Pakistani cooperation in the absence of proper democratic checks and balances threaten in Pakistan’s current political environment to undermine the conditions that would allow it to properly capitalize on what constitutes a strategic opportunity.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario,  Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Russian Hackers: The shadowy world of US and Gulf hacks just got murkier


Credit: Crooks and Liars

By James M. Dorsey

The covert Qatar-United Arab Emirates cyberwar that helped spark the 13-month-old Gulf crisis that pits a Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led alliance against Qatar may have just gotten murkier with the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence agents by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Mr. Mueller’s indictment provided detail on website DCLeaks that was allegedly registered by Russian intelligence officers. The website initially distributed illicitly obtained documents associated with people connected to the Republican Party and later hacked emails from individuals affiliated with the election campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

“Starting in or around June 2016 and continuing through the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Conspirators used DCLeaks to release emails stolen from individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign,” the indictment reads.

The indictment focusses exclusively on hacking related to the US election that in 2017 brought Donald J. Trump to office. It makes no mention of hacking related to the 13-month-old Gulf crisis that pits a UAE-Saudi-led alliance against Qatar.

Yet, the indictment’s repeated references to DCLeaks raises the question whether there may also be a Russian link to the hacking last year of Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the United States.

Mr. Otaiba’s revealing and potentially damaging emails that seemed to help Qatar in its public diplomacy campaign were distributed to major media and analysts, including this writer, by an entity that identified itself as Global Leaks.

Questions about a potential link between Global Leaks, DCLeaks and Russia stem not only from Global Leak’s use of a Russian provider that offers free email service but also by the group’s own reference to DCLeaks. The group’s initial email had ‘DCLeaks’ in its subject line.

It remains unclear whether the use of a Russian provider was coincidental and whether the reference to DC leaks was meant to mislead or create a false impression.

Global Leaks initially identified itself in en email as “a new group which is bringing to limelight human right violations, terror funding, illegal lobbying in US/UK to limelight of people to help make USA and UK great again and bring justice to rich sponsors of crime and terror.”

When pressed about its identity, the group said that “we believe that (the) Gulf in general has been crippling the American policy by involving us in their regional objectives. Lately it’s been (the) UAE who has bought America and traditionally it was their bigger neighbour (Saudi Arabia). If we had to hurt UAE, we have so much of documents given by source that it will not only hurt their image and economy but also legally and will for sure result in UN sanctions at the least. But that is not our goal.

Our goal is plain and simple, back off in playing with American interests and law, don't manipulate our system, don't use money as a tool to hurt our foreign policy…. It may be a coincidence that most things (we are leaking) do relate to UAE but in times to come if they continue and not stop these acts, we will release all the documents which may hurt all the countries including Bahrain and Qatar," the group said.

Global Leaks’ allegation that the UAE was seeking to suck the United States’ into Gulf affairs predated reports that Mr. Mueller, the special counsel, was beside Russia also looking into whether George Nader, a highly paid Lebanese-American advisor to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, had funnelled funds to the Trump campaign.

Mr. Mueller is further investigating a meeting in the Seychelles between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, that was brokered by the UAE. Messrs. Prince and Dmitriev have denied that the meeting had anything to do with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump has not publicly addressed reports that his election campaign may have received Gulf funding but at a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, Mr. Trump declined to endorse his government's assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, saying he doesn't "see any reason why Russia would be responsible.”

A British public relations watchdog, Spinwatch Public Interest Investigations, said, in a report published this week detailing UAE lobby efforts, that the Emirates since the 2011 popular Arab revolts had tasked public relations companies in the United States and Britain with linking members of Qatar’s ruling family to terrorism.

The lobbying effort also aimed to get the Qatar-backed Muslim Brotherhood banned, involved UAE threats to withhold lucrative trade deals from Britain if allegedly pro-Brotherhood reporting by the BBC was not curtailed, and targeted journalists and academics critical of the Gulf country, according to the report.

US intelligence officials said the UAE had last year orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani. The hacking provided the pre-text for the UAE-Saudi led economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state. The UAE has denied the assertion.

US and Qatari officials said earlier that Russian hackers for hire had executed the attack on the Qatari websites. Cybersecurity experts said at the time that the hackers worked for various Gulf states. They said the methods used in the hacking of the Qatari website and Mr. Otaiba’s email were similar.

“They seem to be hackers-for-hire, freelancing for all sorts of different clients, and adapting their skills as needed,” said security expert Collin Anderson.

Two cybersecurity firms, ThreatConnect and Fidelis Cybersecurity said in 2016 that they had indications that the hackers who hit the Democratic National Committee were preparing a fake version of the U.A.E. Minis Britaintry of Foreign Affairs website that could be used in phishing attacks.

The UAE-Qatari cyberwar was indeed likely enabled by Russian hackers working for their own account rather than in coordination with the Russian government. It is however equally possible that the same hackers also put their services at the disposal of Russia.

None of what is known about the murky world of Russian hackers is conclusive, let alone produces a smoking gun. The various strands of Mr. Mueller’s investigation, however, suggest grounds to query not only Russian cyber efforts to influence the US election but also the involvement of Russian nationals in the cyber war in the Gulf and potential links between the two operations.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario,  Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom