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


Friday, August 30, 2019

Protest: The King is dead, long live the king



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, and Patreon, Podbean and Castbox.

Protest is back on the front burner.

Protesters occupy streets in cities ranging from Hong Kong and Moscow to Khartoum and Algiers. They would likely do so in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, were it not for unprecedented pre-emptive security measures.

When protest is not on the streets, it is embedded in culture wars wracking countries like the United States, Germany and India that stem from the struggle between liberals and mainstream conservatives on one side of the divide and civilisationalists, populists, extreme nationalists and far-right wingers on the other.

A clamour for transparent, accountable rule that delivers public goods and services is at the core of the protests even if some are framed as battles for environmental and economic issues and against corruption rather than democracy or in terms of nationalism, civilisationalism, racism and opposition to migration.

The sparks of the protests differ from country to country. So does the political environment. And the stakes at various stages of the game vary.

In Algeria and Sudan, it’s about an end to corrupt autocracy and more inclusive rule. In Kashmir, the rub is imposition of direct Indian rule and failure to ensure that the region benefits equitably from economic growth.

In Russia, deteriorating standards of living and environmental degradation are drivers while a younger generation in Hong Kong rejects Chinese encroachment in advance of incorporation into a totalitarian system.

The different drivers notwithstanding, the protests and the rise of civilisationalism, populism, and racial and religious supremacism, aided by fearmongering by ideologues and opportunistic politicians, are two sides of the same coin: a global collapse of confidence in incumbent systems and leadership that initially manifested itself in 2011 with the Arab revolts and Occupy Wall Street.

The Arab Spring was a warning bell; the fact that it was bloodily crushed does not mean it will not come back in another form,” said former Italian and United Nations diplomat Marco Carnelos.

It already has with the fall of Sudanese autocrat Omar al-Bashir, who is currently standing trial on corruption charges, and Algerian strongman Abdulaziz Bouteflika, whose associates face corruption proceedings.

Developments in the two African nations notwithstanding, protesters have so far won major battles but have yet to win the war.

Perhaps their most important victory has been the ability not only in Africa but also elsewhere like in Hong Kong to sustain their protests over substantial periods of time.

In maintaining their resilience, protesters were aided in Africa and Hong Kong by governments’ realization, despite the occasional use of force in Khartoum and Hong Kong, that brutal repression would at best provide a short-term, costly solution.

Even Russia, despite more frequent use of police violence, has not attempted to squash protests completely and on several occasions caved into protester demands.

The various experiences suggest that the political struggles underlying the protests are long rather than short-term battles involving lessons learnt from this decade’s earlier protests. The protests go through stages that at each turn of the road determine the next phase.

The struggles in Sudan and Algeria have developed into battles for dominance of the transition following the toppling of an autocrat.

In Sudan, the struggle has shifted from the street to the board rooms of power shared between the military and political forces with external forces like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates seeking to shape the outcome in the background.

A Bellingcat investigation suggested that weapons used by Sudan’s Rapid Support Force (RSF), the successor organization to the Janjaweed that has been accused of war crimes in Sudan, were bought by Saudi Arabia in Serbia.

The RSF is believed to be responsible for the deaths in June of some 120 protesters.

In Hong Kong, China has sought to avoid direct intervention. However, its use of proxies,  bullying of corporates and the business community, pressure on the Hong Kong government to resolve the issue without major concessions and attempts to play protesters on the basis of divide and rule has so far failed to produce results.

In contrast to Sudan, Algeria and Hong Kong, Russia has equally unsuccessfully sought to stifle protests with violence and repression.

“There is the desire to show strength in Moscow, but this will not stop the protest movement unless they start imprisoning people for 15 years. This will continue in a certain form, but whether it will change the country, no, not yet. It will keep the flame alive,” said political analyst Konstantin von Eggert.

Mr. Von Eggert’s analysis is equally valid for centres of protest elsewhere. The 2011 Arab revolts or Arab Spring and what analysts have called the Arab Winter were neither.

They were early phases of a messy process in which grievances are reflected as much in street protests as they are in support for civilizational, nationalist and populist leaders who have either failed to produce alternative workable solutions or are likely to do so.

Ultimately, the solution lies in policies that are politically, economically and socially inclusive. So far, that kind of an approach is the exception to the rule, which means that protest is likely to remain on the front burner and a fixture of the times.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture

Monday, August 26, 2019

Aramco’s IPO: A bell weather of Saudi balancing between East and West



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, Patreon, Podbean and Castbox.

Saudi Arabia’s planned awarding of mandates for the management of an initial public offering (IPO) by its national oil company Aramco is likely to serve as a bell weather for how Riyadh balances its relations with the United States and China.

In an early indication that Western financial institutions like Goldman Sachs may be losing their near monopoly, Saudi Arabia this week invited China’s biggest state-owned banks, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC) and Bank of China Ltd to pitch alongside major US, European and other Asian underwriters for the mandate of what is expected to be the largest listing ever.

Analysts took the invitation to Chinese institutions as a sign that Saudi Arabia was considering Hong Kong in addition to London, New York and Tokyo as possible exchanges on which to list the five percent stake in Aramco that would be on offer.

ICBC, the world’s largest lender by assets, is the only major Chinese state-owned bank to have a commercial banking presence in the kingdom. Bank of China’s London branch was a co-manager on Aramco’s US$12 billion bond sale in April.

The invitation to the two Chinese banks came as US investment bank and financial services giant Goldman Sachs was believed to have significantly enhanced its chances as the result of a sustained high-level lobbying effort.

Goldman had failed to secure a prominent role in 2017 when Aramco initially nominated major Western firms to manage the IPO. The offering was ultimately postponed after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman failed to persuade the market to adopt his US$2 trillion valuation of Aramco.

The success of the bond sale, months after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, that attracted more than $100 billion of investor orders persuaded Prince Mohammed that he might be able to pull off the Aramco offering. Goldman Sachs was the bond’s bookrunner.

Chinese state-owned oil companies PetroChina and Sinopec offered to buy the stake when the kingdom first announced that it wanted to sell five percent of Aramco in the hope of raising US$100 billion.

The sovereign funds of Russia, Japan and South Korea also signalled an interest in becoming cornerstone investors.

Granting a Chinese bank a leading role in the IPO would further cement the kingdom’s pivot towards Asia.

It would underline Saudi Arabia’s ever greater economic interdependence with Asia that it needs to balance with its increasingly uncertain security relationship with the United States and Europe and reliance on Washington in its struggle against Iran.

The kingdom’s relations with its onetime main ally have changed as the United States becomes less dependent on energy imports on the back of shale oil and renewables.

On the flip side, Saudi Arabia last year accounted for some 12 percent of Chinese oil imports and its share has since almost doubled. The US-China trade war has prompted Chinese buyers to reduce oil purchases from the United States and look elsewhere.

China and Saudi Arabia earlier this year inked deals worth US$28 billion, including a Saudi commitment to build a $10 billion petrochemical complex in China that will refine and process Saudi oil. Saudi Arabia has also invested in energy assets in the United States.

Talk of Saudi energy investments in China first emerged two years ago at the time that a possible direct Chinese investment in Aramco was being touted.

Meanwhile, Saudi relations with the US are troubled by a growing sense that the United States will over time reduce its security commitment to the Gulf and mounting questioning in the US Congress of the alliance with the kingdom as a result of its disastrous four-year-long war in Yemen and the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

Some analysts suggest that the kingdom’s revival of the prospects of an Aramco IPO is a political ploy rather than a serious effort to sell a stake in an asset that generates the bulk of the state’s revenue. The revival coincided with Saudi plans to accelerate privatization of other state assets.

The IPO “is wheeled out to investors the same way an ailing, elderly Arab ruler is put on display — to remind subjects of the immense power of patronage, and the threat of retribution for disloyalty. But it is also sad and tiresome, a farce that everyone knows is a representation of the past and not where things are headed. The Aramco IPO has become a regular reminder to those in the finance world who depend on the Saudi government for fees, for access to deals and for that slim possibility that the offering goes through. The message is clear — stay loyal, just in case,” said Gulf scholar Karen Young, writing in Al-Monitor.

Ms. Young argued that Aramco’s ambition to diversify into refining, gas and petrochemicals neatly aligns itself with Prince Mohammed’s effort to diversify and streamline the Saudi economy. She notes that expanding the company’s shareholder base could complicate the oil company’s ability to execute its plans.

Said Ms. Young: “Any discussion of the Aramco IPO always ends on the same note. It is a political decision, which the company will have to be prepared to accept. Oil prices are not helping, as they continue to be depressed, despite rising political tensions in the Persian Gulf. If the government wants to keep its Aramco prize and be able to use its energy resources to wield political influence, it is better off making a deal with China to buy a small stake in the company.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture