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Ed Webb

The Oil for Security Myth and Middle East Insecurity - MERIP - 0 views

  • Guided by the twin logics of energy security and energy independence, American actions and alliances in region became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The very thing the United States sought to eliminate in the Middle East—insecurity—became a major consequence of America’s growing and increasingly militarized entanglement.
  • In effect, the essential relationship of dependency between the United States and the Middle East has never been “oil for security.” It has in fact been oil for insecurity, a dynamic in which war, militarization and autocracy in the region have been entangled with the economic dominance of North Atlantic oil companies, US hegemony and discourses of energy security.
  • Although the destabilizing contradictions of this dependency have now undercut both American hegemony and the power of the North Atlantic hydrocarbon industries, the oil-for-insecurity entanglement has nonetheless created dangerously strong incentives for more conflict ahead.
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  • Oil’s violent geopolitics is often assumed to result from the immense power its natural scarcity affords to those who can control it. Recent developments in global hydrocarbon markets, which saw negative prices on April 20, 2020 have once again put this scarcity myth to bed
  • In a series of studies that began in late 1980s, economists Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler charted the extent to which the world’s leading oil companies enjoyed comparatively handsome rates of returns on equity—well ahead of other dominant sectors within North Atlantic capitalism—when major wars or sustained unrest occurred in the Middle East.
  • When oil prices began to collapse in the mid-1980s, the major oil companies witnessed a 14-year downturn that was only briefly interrupted once, during the 1990-1991 Gulf War.
  • The events of September 11, 2001, the launching of the global war on terror and the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq reversed the fiscal misfortunes of the North Atlantic oil companies in the previous decade. Collectively, they achieved relative returns on equity several orders of magnitude greater than the heyday of 1979 to 1981. As oil prices soared, new methods of extraction reinvigorated oil production in Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. In effect, war in Iraq made the shale oil revolution possible
  • fracking—not only benefitted from sky-high oil prices, generous US government subsidies and lax regulation, but also the massive amounts of cheap credit on offer to revive the economy after 2008
  • In response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran hostage crisis, the Carter Doctrine declared America’s intent to use military force to protect its interests in the Gulf. In so doing, Carter not only denounced “the overwhelming dependence of the Western democracies on oil supplies from the Middle East,” but he also proposed new efforts to restrict oil imports, to impose price controls and to incentivize more fossil fuel extraction in the United States, all in conjunction with solidifying key alliances (Egypt, Israel and Pakistan) and reinforcing the US military presence in the region.[5] In effect, America would now extract geopolitical power from the Middle East by seeking to secure it.
  • In denouncing certain governments as “pariahs” or “rogue states,” and in calling for regime change, American policy has allowed those leaders to institute permanent states of emergency that have reinforced their grip on power, in some cases aided by expanded oil rents due to heightened global prices
  • A 2015 report by the Public Accountability Initiative highlights the extent to which the leading liberal and conservative foreign policy think tanks in Washington—the American Enterprise Institute, Atlantic Council, Brookings, Cato, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Council on Foreign Relations and Heritage Foundation—have all received oil industry funding, wrote reports sympathetic to industry interests or usually both
  • For some 50 years, the United States has been able to extract geopolitical power from Middle Eastern oil by posing as the protector of global energy security. The invention of the concept of energy security in the 1970s helped to legitimate the efforts of the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations to forge new foundations for American hegemony amid the political, economic and social crises of that decade. In the wake of the disastrous US war efforts in Korea and Southeast Asia, Henry Kissinger infamously attempted to re-forge American hegemony by outsourcing US security to proxies like Iran under what is referred to as the Nixon Doctrine. At the same time, regional hegemons would be kept in check by “balancing” competing states against each other.
  • The realization of Middle Eastern insecurity was also made possible by the rapid and intensive arms build-up across the region in the 1970s. As oil prices skyrocketed into the 1980s, billions of so-called petrodollars went to purchase arms, primarily from North Atlantic and Soviet manufacturers. Today, the Middle East remains one of the most militarized regions in the world. Beyond the dominance of the security sector in most Middle Eastern governments, it also boasts the world’s highest rates of military spending. Since 2010, Middle Eastern arms imports have gone from almost a quarter of the world’s share to nearly half in 2016, mainly from North Atlantic armorers.
  • For half a century, American policy toward the Middle East has effectively reinforced these dynamics of insecurity by promoting conflict and authoritarianism, often in the name of energy security. High profile US military interventions—Lebanon in 1983, Libya in 1986 and 2011, the Tanker Wars in the late 1980s, the wars on Iraq in 1991 and 2003, Somalia in 1993, Afghanistan since 2001, the anti-Islamic State campaign since 2014 and the Saudi-Emirati war on Yemen since 2015—have received the most scrutiny in this respect, alongside the post-2001 “low intensity” counterterrorism efforts worldwide
  • cases abound where American policy had the effect of preventing conflicts from being resolved peacefully: Trump’s shredding of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement with Iran comes to mind; the case of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories and the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara have likewise become quintessential “peace processes” that have largely functioned to prevent peace.
  • the myth of authoritarian stability
  • A year after the unexpected 2011 uprisings, the IMF’s former director Christine Lagarde admitted that the Fund had basically ignored “how the fruits of economic growth were being shared” in the region
  • What helps make energy security discourse real and powerful is the amount of industry money that goes into it. In a normal year, the oil industry devotes some $125 million to lobbying, carried out by an army of over 700 registered lobbyists. This annual commitment is on par with the defense industry. And like US arms makers,[9] the revolving door between government, industry and lobbying is wide open and constantly turning. Over two-thirds of oil lobbyists have spent time in both government and the private sector.[10]
  • From 2012 to 2018, organized violence in the Middle East accounted for two-thirds of the world’s total conflict related fatalities. Today, three wars in the region—Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan—now rank among the five deadliest since the end of the Cold War. Excluding Pakistan, the Middle East’s share of the worldwide refugee burden as of 2017 was nearly 40 percent at over 27 million, almost double what it was two decades prior.
  • profound political and financial incentives are accumulating to address the existing glut of oil on the market and America’s declining supremacy. A major war in the Middle East would likely fit that bill. The Trump administration’s temptation to wage war with Iran, change Venezuela’s regime and to increase tensions with Russia and China should be interpreted with these incentives in mind.
  • While nationalizing the North Atlantic’s petroleum industries is not only an imperative in the fight against climate change, it would also remove much of the profit motive from making war in the Middle East. Nationalizing the oil industry would also help to defund those institutions most responsible for both disseminating the myths of energy security and promoting insecurity in the Middle East.
Ed Webb

The Real Reason the Middle East Hates NGOs - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • when pressed, the head of the officers’ delegation became red-faced with anger. Apparently, laying the groundwork for more open and just politics did not include human rights organizations, good-governance groups, environmentalists, private associations that provide aid to people in need, or other NGOs.
  • in Egypt, employees of NGOs have become virtual enemies of the state. In keeping with its reputation as the lone Arab Spring “success story,” Tunisia has created a more welcoming environment for these groups, but even there, the ability of NGOs to carry out their work can be constrained given that a state of emergency and other laws place restrictions on the right to assemble
  • the relentless pressure Middle Eastern governments have long applied to NGOs. Leaders in the region do not do well with ideas like “self-organizing,” “relatively autonomous from the state,” and the creation of associations and “solidarities” — and it is hard, without justifying repression, not to see why. Civil society groups have the potential to help people with common interests overcome the considerable obstacles to collective action that many Middle Eastern governments have put in place and, in the process, give greater voice to people’s grievances.
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  • officials in the region have often boasted of the large number of nongovernmental organizations (even as they were cracking down on them) as a way to both deflect criticism from abroad and embed in the minds of their citizens the idea that reform was underway. It has hardly been believable and has not worked, which is why the default for Middle Eastern governments is to repress such groups.
  • It is a mistake to conclude that only narrowly self-serving authoritarianism explains the thuggish approach to NGOs around the Middle East. After all, the hounding of these groups (including in Israel) seems to be out of proportion to any evidence that they can create significant political change in the region. No doubt many NGOs have helped people in need throughout the Middle East, but those dedicated to governance and human rights, for example, have hardly had an impact. But then why do the Middle East’s commanders of tanks, planes, and missiles treat the Arab hippies who want to defend the freedom of association as such a problem? The threat isn’t about loosening the authoritarians’ grip on power, but something more abstract: the Middle East’s fragile sense of identity and sovereignty.
  • Arab leaders essentially regard nongovernmental organizations, especially those with foreign funding, as agents of a neocolonial project. The hypocrisy of this position for governments that either receive copious amounts of foreign assistance or that rely on the West for their security is self-evident, but that does not necessarily diminish its effectiveness
  • Western-funded human rights campaigners and good-governance activists as the most recent manifestation of the civilizing mission that originally brought European colonialists to North Africa and the Levant
  • The related problem of sovereignty brings the matter into sharp relief. The European penetration of the Middle East in the late 18th and early 19th centuries began a long-term process of intellectual ferment and discovery among Middle Easterners about how best to confront this challenge. Islamic reformism, Arab nationalism, and Islamism, which emphasized identity, were the most politically effective (and enduring) regional responses
Ed Webb

Reimagining US Engagement with a Turbulent Middle East - MERIP - 1 views

  • the debate about US foreign policy needs to be not only about redefining US interests and strategy but also focused on how to transform America’s self-identity and the domestic political and economic structures that shape US interactions abroad
  • US foreign policy toward the Middle East has always been driven as much by domestic politics and American self-identity as by different conceptions of strategic interest
  • a diverse set of policy makers, scholars and large segments of the US public, have grown deeply concerned about the high economic and human cost of US interventions in the Middle East. Trump even sought office vowing to end endless wars. America’s overly militarized approach, they argue, has not brought stability or peace to the region. Many also suggest that the longstanding US national interests at stake, such as the flow of oil and Israeli security, no longer seem to be at risk while many US goals—such as a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, the rollback of Iranian influence and the elimination of terrorism—no longer look achievable.
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  • Calls for the United States to pull back reject US intervention and hegemony in the Middle East, but they also seek to insulate the United States from the damage past policies have inflicted on the region and distance Americans from the peoples impacted.
  • The decline of US hegemony and its dominance of global economic and political systems, Schweller explains, has led Americans to “demand a more narrowly self-interested foreign policy” that seeks to insulate Americans from “the vagaries of markets and globalization.” The animating logic of America First, however, does not focus on the country’s global role as much as on the view embraced by Trump’s populist support base that US policy should counter the (perceived) threats posed by transnational flows and interdependence.
  • Much of the mainstream foreign policy debate in opposition to Trump has revolved around voices advocating for the US to return to a more modest, more multilateral version of its role as a global hegemon that seeks to rebuild the liberal international order.[4] Others are calling for an all-out mobilization against the rise of China and Russia.[5]
  • Support for restraint has accelerated with recognition of the declining strategic importance of the Middle East and the absence of major threats from the region to core US interests. With the massive expansion of US domestic energy production, Americans increasingly question the US military presence in the Persian Gulf and security commitment to allies in the region. Meanwhile, with unchallenged Israeli control over Palestinian territories, its military capacity that includes nuclear weapons and growing ties between Israel and Arab Gulf states, Israel is in a more secure strategic position than it has ever been. Advocates of restraint also understand that Iran has a limited ability to project conventional military power and even if it wielded a nuclear weapon, its use could be deterred. Lastly, restraint recognizes that the hyper-militarized approach of the global war on terror engages US forces in continuous military operations that are politically unaccountable and often exacerbate the political and socioeconomic conditions that foster armed non-state actors and political violence in the first place.
  • restraint fails to address the legacies of past US involvement in the region. The hope of insulating the United States from regional instability and future conflicts is also unlikely to be sustainable in the long run.
  • the Israeli right and their US supporters—including the evangelical right and Islamophobic populists—have been unconstrained in their efforts to shape US goals and policies based on a close identification with the Israeli right and Israeli militarism at the expense of the Palestinians
  • While advocates of restraint have long opposed excessive US backing of Israel, without the mobilization of domestic political forces that seek to dissociate the United States from Israeli militarism and support Palestinian human rights, a future US president dedicated to restraint will likely find little strategic value or political support for reversing current policies beyond trimming the price tag.
  • maintain close ties to the Saudi regime and other Arab Gulf states through flows of petrodollar recycling in the form of massive arms sales that sustain American jobs, corporate profits and campaign donations
  • today US ties to the Gulf are being shaped by invented security rationales and material interests. Networks of arms sales, private military contractors, logistics firms and Gulf-funded think tanks—often with cooperation from Israel and its backers—have defined US policies by portraying Iran as a strategic threat, supporting arms sales in the name of so-called economic security and defending the strategic importance of protecting the rule of autocratic elites. At the same time, many segments of the US military and national security state have deeply rooted interests in maintaining bases and military-to-military ties in the region
  • Americans inside and outside of government will not quickly abandon the benefits they receive from economic, military and political ties to Gulf rulers
  • In the foreseeable future, the Middle East will likely experience more instability and conflict due to, in large part, the legacy of US policies over the past two decades, which include the invasion of Iraq, interventions in Libya and Syria, the fostering of proxy wars, the promotion of neoliberal economic reforms, massive arms sales and support for aggressive actions by regional allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia
  • the increased capacities for self-organization by armed non-state actors has helped sustain the regional environment of turbulence
  • It is unlikely that the United States could reclaim the diplomatic credibility needed to rebuild norms of restraint and balancing after having embraced militarism and unilateralism for so long
  • developments in the region will likely impact other US interests relating to the global economy, rivalry with China, climate change, nuclear proliferation and refugee flows
  • while the ideological and media infrastructure that mobilized fears to build the spurious case for the Iraq war have been temporarily disrupted, similar processes could be activated in the future to convert fears, such as of an Iranian cyberwar capability, a Chinese naval base in the region, or a resurgence of ISIS, into a strategic threat requiring a US response
  • the work of forging an alternative path for the United States in the Middle East, one that embraces sustainable anti-imperialism and demilitarization, must go beyond redefining US strategic interests to transforming domestic political, economic and ideological forces that shape US ties to the Middle East
  • In Notes on a Foreign Country, Suzy Hansen tries to diagnose the current era of anxiety and confusion felt by Americans living in an era when aspects of US exceptionalism and global hegemony are waning. She writes, “It is also perhaps the first time Americans are confronting a powerlessness that the rest of the world has always felt, not only within their own borders but as pawns in a larger international game. Globalization, it turns out, has not meant the Americanization of the world; it has made Americans, in some ways, more like everyone else.”
  • The effort to envision an alternative, post-exceptionalist US role in the world requires refashioning the debate so that Americans come to view the insecurities experienced by societies abroad as counterparts to the challenges Americans face at home.
  • Within the turbulent Middle East regional system, efforts to promote security would require not only an end to US military primacy and dominance but also a limit on regional and external interventions, the demobilization of the numerous armed non-state militias and proxy forces and a reversal of processes of state erosion and territorial fragmentation.
  • Americans need to envision a new internationalism that no longer seeks to remake the world in the American image but defines a new way for living within it
Ed Webb

The F-35 Triangle: America, Israel, the United Arab Emirates - War on the Rocks - 0 views

  • deepen what were heretofore covert ties across the full spectrum of civilian sectors from business to science to agriculture and even space. The Emirati-Israeli agreement builds upon years of “under the table” cooperation between security and intelligence professionals driven toward strategic alignment by a shared perception of the major regional threat — Iran.
  • the U.S. sweetener appears to be a commitment to sell it F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, as well as other advanced weaponry long sought by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed
  • When Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979, it secured the second largest military aid package in the Middle East after Israel, which continues today. When Jordan made peace with Israel in 1994, the announcement came along with debt relief and the sale of F-16 fighter aircraft — and, like Egypt, Jordan remains a top recipient of American assistance
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  • Reactions to Emirati acquisition of the F-35 have largely focused on whether Israel will support such a sale and the related requirement in U.S. domestic law to ensure Israel’s military superiority against all other countries in the Middle East. The longstanding policy term, later codified in law, is “qualitative military edge.” From the Emirati point of view, if they have entered into full diplomatic relations with Israel — with a promised “warm peace,” in the words of Emirati officials — and both countries share the same threat perspective, then Israel should have confidence that these advanced weapons will not be turned against it and should therefore not object to the sale. Moreover, unlike Egypt and Jordan, the United Arab Emirates has never attacked Israel.
  • Weapons sales are a leading area of competition in the Middle East, and in the words of the former Acting Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Tina Kaidanow: Arms transfers are foreign policy. When we transfer a system or a capability to a foreign partner, we are affecting regional — or foreign internal — balances of power; we are sending a signal of support; and we are establishing or sustaining relationships that may last for generations and provide benefits for an extended period of time.
  • selling the F-35 to the United Arab Emirates would say much more about the Washington’s partnership with Abu Dhabi than it would about the evolving Emirati-Israeli relationship
  • Selling the F-35 to a country ought to be a signal that the United States has the highest measure of confidence in that country’s warfighting capabilities, decision-making on the use of force, and commitments to protecting sensitive technology. The Emirati record on each of these issues does not, however, inspire the highest confidence. The record is mixed.
  • As former government officials serving in the State and Defense Departments as well as in Congress, we are confident that the process going forward will be messy and time-consuming, specifically because the current case breaks precedent in so many ways.
  • competitors in the global arms export industry — particularly Russia and China — also leverage arms sales, but by and large with no strings attached for their use. Both governments use arms sales to challenge U.S. market dominance and to undermine American partnerships in the region
  • Reflecting a long-held U.S. policy view, during his nomination hearing Washington’s envoy to Abu Dhabi noted that the country “is a moderating and stabilizing force in one of the world’s most volatile regions.” The United Arab Emirates stands out among other militaries in the region for having contributed military forces to many U.S.-led coalitions since the first Gulf War — Kosovo (late 1990s), Somalia (1992), Afghanistan (since 2003), Libya (2011) and the anti-ISIL coalition (2014 to 2015). Indeed, Jared Kushner set a new precedent for framing the American-Emirati partnership when he effectively equated it with that of America and Israel, terming them comparably “special” during his most recent visit to the Middle East.
  • Emirati regional policies have been the subject of increasing congressional concern in recent years, largely focused on the country’s actions in Yemen and Libya. Since the beginning the Saudi-led coalition’s 2015 intervention in Yemen, most congressional action focused on the Saudi role in the conflict and not the Emirati one. But in 2018, congressional concern peaked in response to Emirati plans to launch an offensive to seize the Yemeni port of Hudaydah. The Trump administration subsequently declined to provide military support for the Emirati operation, given the risks of worsening an already severe humanitarian crisis, concerns regarding the complexities of the proposed military operation, and the likelihood of mass civilian casualties
  • In both Yemen and Libya, Abu Dhabi has not succeeded in leveraging its robust military investments toward political processes that would end the conflicts. In both contexts the divergent policies of the United States and United Arab Emirates — including use of military force, conduct in combat, and utilization of U.S. defense articles — should be considered as part of the F-35 deliberations.
  • Since the Yemen war’s inception in 2015, members of Congress have raised concerns about the conflict and U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition, in which Abu Dhabi was a partner and to which it contributed forces until withdrawing in the summer of 2019. These concerns, and the Trump administration’s refusal to address them, culminated in Congress mandating a report on steps taken by both governments to reduce civilian casualties and comply with laws and agreements governing the use of U.S.-origin weapons — indicating skepticism that either country was doing so
  • protecting Israel’s military superiority consists of both legal requirements and longstanding political and process steps that, while not mandated by law, have paved the way for decades of bipartisan congressional consent to arms sales in the Middle East, including of advanced fighter aircraft. The requirement to protect Israel’s “qualitative military edge” is enshrined in 2008 naval vessel transfer legislation, although it had been implemented as a matter of policy between Washington and Jerusalem since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
  • Presumably, the United Arab Emirates and Israel entering into formal relations affirms that the former does not pose such a military threat. The Israeli perspective at the moment, however, has been complicated by the continuing murk over whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blessed the U.S. commitment to sell the Emirati government the F-35 — without the knowledge of his own defense minister. Tensions in Netanyahu’s fragile governing coalition and a larger uproar in Israel’s defense establishment have prompted an awkward pas de deux among American, Emirati, and Israeli officials. Netanyahu — responding to concerns raised by the Israeli defense establishment — stated emphatically during an Aug. 24 joint press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he had not consented to any arms deal as part of normalization. Given Netanyahu’s close relationship with Trump, it is safe to say that no one in either country finds this claim credible. The public spat over Israeli consent to Emirati acquisition of the F-35 escalated when Netanyahu publicly vowed to go to Congress in opposition to the sale, and the United Arab Emirates in response cancelled a planned meeting between the Israeli and Emirati ambassadors to the United Nations.
  • extensive discussions should be expected between Israeli and U.S. technical and military experts to agree on the appropriate mix of offsets to ensure Israel’s military superiority. The offsets may involve discussions of quantity (how many F-35s the Emiratis will acquire versus the Israelis), technical variations in the F-35 platform, or additional sales and assistance to Israel. This challenge is not insurmountable, but it will be time-consuming and extend pass the upcoming American electoral cycle
  • The standard for this level of consultation with Israel before moving forward with arms sales packages to others in the region was set by the Obama administration — first in 2011 with the sale of F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, and later in 2013 with the sale of F-16 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates along with stand-off weapons to both the Saudis and the Emiratis. Concurrent with 2013 sales, the Obama administration negotiated a package for Israel to maintain its military edge that included V-22 Osprey aircraft, advanced refueling tankers, and anti-air defense missiles.
  • Though Israel has no legal right to  block the United States from selling a weapon to another country in the Middle East, Israeli support is critical, particularly during the period of congressional notification. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will consult with the Israeli government, and will prefer to support a sale that earns a clear green light from the Israeli government. Members are likely be left unsatisfied by ambiguous and lukewarm Israel responses to the question of selling the F-35 to the Emiratis, precisely because technical talks have not yet begun. All parties risk being stuck between the divisive politics of the moment, and the deliberative, lengthy policy considerations that such arms transfer packages usually entail, opening the door to a further erosion of bipartisanship on a key issue of national security importance — the what, when, and how of a decision by the United States to provide advanced weapons systems to partner states in the Middle East.
  • Arab capitals are closely following whether the United States will follow through on its apparent commitment to sell the F-35 (and assorted other high-end systems) to Abu Dhabi, and whether American deliverables are sufficiently compelling to consider bringing their own relations with Israel into the daylight
  • The historical record from Egypt to Jordan and now the United Arab Emirates — across administrations of both political parties — is that formal relations with Israel facilitate strategic consistency from Washington
  • Will Egypt and Jordan request the F-35 in light of their existing peace treaties with Israel? Will countries in closer geographic proximity, like Saudi Arabia, request the F-35 and additional advanced U.S. weapons as part of their normalization package?
  • For Israel, Iran and Turkey represent sobering examples in that regard — previously solid security partners within seemingly stable governance structures that became hostile.
  • military edge risks eroding as Arab governments, whether blocked from purchasing certain weapons from the United States or in addition to acquiring them, turn to China, Russia, and other weapons exporters not obligated to maintain Israel’s military superiority
  • Competition in the Middle East between the United States and its adversaries is intensifying — particularly in the weapons sales arena
  • Washington may find itself in an escalating — and unsustainable — cycle of supplementing and upgrading support, technology, and other military offsets to Israel.
Ed Webb

Russia Is in the Middle East to Stay - Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • two radically different conceptions of Russian power have emerged. Within the Beltway, many analysts have come to understand the Russian demonstration of power and influence in the Middle East as an indicator that the global rivalry between Washington and Moscow of the past is also the present and future. Yet there also remains a small group of dissenters — Russia specialists, former U.S. officials, and journalists — to this view. They believe the Russians are actually quite weak, financially strapped, and caught in Syria. The best they can say is that Putin is playing a bad hand well
  • it’s payback time for almost three decades of Moscow’s humiliation. And what better place to start than the Middle East, where the United States is already widely resented even among its allies
  • Since Moscow’s demonstration of strength (with Iran’s help) in Syria, the Russians have asserted themselves as a credible alternative to the Americans with traditional U.S. allies. With arms sales, economic deals, and diplomatic maneuvering, Russia has been effective in pulling Turkey and Egypt away from the United States, though not completely, and closer to Russia’s orbit
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  • now that the United States is the world’s leading producer of petroleum, there is likely to be more cooperation between the Russians and the Arab Gulf states in an effort to ensure that global oil prices are favorable to their interests
  • In the span of less than a decade, the Middle East has gone from a region in which the United States was overwhelmingly predominant to one that Washington and Moscow contest
  • The Russians are not going away, they have a strategy to weaken the West, and it starts in the Middle East. Moreover, Moscow no longer has the ideological baggage of communism, making it easier for it to make inroads in the region
  • The Turks, Egyptians, Israelis, Saudis, and Emiratis are sophisticated observers of American politics. They recognize that the political dysfunction of Washington can affect bilateral relations. Over the last decade, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel have become divisive topics in the United States. There is also the spectacle of the American legislative and executive branches being unable to manage the most routine tasks of governance without getting bogged down in ideological warfare. This makes leaders in the Middle East who have long relied on American security nervous that the United States is in decline, and they have thus begun to pursue, however tentatively, another option — Russia.
  • Leaving the Saudis to bleed in Yemen is not just a strategic gain for Tehran, but also for Moscow, which would be only too happy to see Washington’s primary Arab ally stuck there and in need of a lifeline that U.S. policymakers are too ambivalent to provide
  • Moscow’s demonstration of military force in Syria is primarily against poorly trained militias, bands of extremists, and innocent children. The gunfight between Russian “mercenaries” and American soldiers in February that reportedly killed most of the Russian forces and no Americans indicates that whatever brute force Russia can bring to bear, they are simply no match for the United States. This is a fact that the U.S. ambassadors, envoys, and sons-in-law need to convey to decision-makers in Cairo, Ankara, and other capitals where Moscow is selling its military hardware.
  • the United States has to make it clear that there are consequences for this military trolling. There are, of course, risks of escalation in this approach, but there are also significant disadvantages to demonstrating weakness in the face of Russian provocations
  • If the United States is, as Secretary of Defense James Mattis averred in January, in a new era of great power competition, it is time the United States treated the situation as seriously as it is. Putin must be disabused of the notion that the Middle East is the most propitious place to begin weakening the West and the United States. Americans once before contained and rolled back Moscow’s influence in the region; there is no reason to believe that they cannot do it again — but only if they have the wisdom to recognize what is important in the world right now and the collective stomach to meet the challenge. It is no longer clear to those in the Middle East that they do.
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    I know and like Steve. I don't agree with all of this, but it is a productive intervention.
Ed Webb

MERIP Water in the middle East 2020 - 1 views

  • As a result of these climatic conditions, there is little surface water. The lines of rivers threading across the map of the region are few and far between. The arid climate also means that where there are stores of water below the surface, those aquifers are not being replenished very quickly. In some cases, aquifers are not being replenished at all; these fossil aquifers date back hundreds of thousands of years to past epochs when the region’s climate was wetter.
  • When it comes to water, the Middle East is a region of superlatives: the highest proportion of a population exposed to water stress, the least sustainable water resource use, the most water scarce region in the world. This simplistic narrative contains some truth.
  • The Middle East and North Africa also contains mountain chains where vegetation is lush and winters wet. Morocco’s Rif mountains, for example, receive over a meter of rainfall a year (for comparison, that is more than the Adirondacks). Around the Mediterranean Sea, too, climates are milder and rainfall higher. It sometimes snows in Damascus. Furthermore, even some dry parts of the region have significant water resources flowing through them, originating in wetter climes. Egypt’s southern city of Aswan, for instance, only receives 1mm of rainfall a year, but sits on the banks of the Nile, the longest river in the world. Depictions of the Middle East as water scarce, therefore, must be nuanced by an appreciation of the region’s varied geographies.
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  • The particularly high growth rates in some countries—Iraq, Bahrain and Palestine—are not matched in all countries
  • Migration and forced displacement also shape population distributions.
  • The broad characterization of the region as water scarce and people rich, on the other hand, tells a simple and powerful story. It is a story that is reinforced by a commonly used indicator, the Falkenmark Water Stress Index. This easily calculable figure is a ratio of the total renewable freshwater resources available in a country to the number of people. If the index is less than 1,000 cubic meters per capita per year, it denotes a situation of water scarcity; if it is less than 500 cubic meters per capita per year, it indicates conditions of absolute water scarcity. According to this indicator, the region does not look good. Most of the countries are facing either scarcity or absolute s car ci t y.
  • Water scarcity is not so much about how much water there is and more about what it is being used f or
  • an archetypal Malthusian narrative. Eighteenth century scholar Thomas Malthus proposed that the combination of a limited resource base, only growing at an arithmetic rate, and an expanding population, growing at a geometric rate, would inevitably lead to a point where the system’s capacity to support that population was exceeded and crisis would result. This notion, so simplistic and yet so enduring, undergirds much of the writing about water in the Middle East
  • A larger population means more people drinking, cleaning their homes and bodies, washing clothes and cooking. These daily activities do not, however, require all that much water relative to other water uses
  • n annual allocation of 20 cubic meters per capita is sufficient to cover consumption and basic hygiene needs
  • In cities like Amman and Beirut, many neighborhoods only receive running water for a few hours a day; in war-torn Yemen, millions lack access to clean water. But the lack experienced by some is more due to the inadequacy of the infrastructures for delivering potable water and removing wastewater than the insufficiency of the resource per se
  • producing more food does not always require more water. There are techniques of applying water to the soil that are less water intensive, allowing for what water specialists term “more crop per drop.”
  • Agriculture consumes the greatest amount of water by far, globally. This pattern is particularly pronounced in the Middle East, where low rainfall across much of the region makes irrigation a necessity for cultivation. Agriculture uses 85 percent of the region’s water.
  • food imports can be seen as a source of “virtual water.”
  • more about politics than population. The reason why Saudi Arabia long subsidized wheat production in the desert with water drawn from fossil aquifers, for instance, was not because it needed to produce more food for a growing population. Instead, this policy was about the government’s interest in becoming more self-sufficient so as to decrease its reliance on other countries and the associated vulnerabilities.
  • there is no direct correlation between population size and agricultural water use. Narratives of population-driven water crises should always be approached with caution
  • Many lower income residents, or people living in informal settlements, lack access to sufficient drinking water and sanitation. Populations in motion, too, can generate challenges for water managers. Refugee camps, for instance, which are amalgamations of people in spaces that were not necessarily designed to support those numbers, often struggle to provide enough water for their displaced population’s day-to-day uses.
  • Efforts to integrate climate change adaptation into water management plans are hampered by more pressing political priorities,
  • A number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa rely on transboundary water resources. The high degree of reliance is evident in an indicator known as the dependency ratio, which is the proportion of a nation’s freshwater resources—both surface and groundwater—that comes from outside that country. Syria and Iraq depend on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which rise in the mountainous region of southeastern Turkey. Egypt sources most of its water from the Nile, a river basin that spans 11 countries. Jordan’s two main surface water resources, the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers, are shared with its neighbors. Israel taps into surface and groundwater resources that traverse borders with the West Bank, Lebanon and Syria. Kuwait and Bahrain’s groundwater reserves are fed by water flowing laterally underground from Saudi Arabia.
  • available water resources of the Middle East and North Africa are also shifting due to anthropogenic climate change
  • Climate models are consistent in their projections that temperatures across the region are increasing and will continue to do so in coming decades. Higher temperatures mean higher evapotranspiration rates —plants, in other words, will drink more water—and larger losses from open surfaces like reservoirs. Demand from the most water intensive sector, agriculture, will increase.
  • studies suggest that the variability and uncertainty in rainfall timing and intensity is increasing
  • the rise in sea level poses a risk of coastal flooding in deltas, like that of the Shatt al-Arab, on the border of Iraq and Iran, and the Nile Delta as well as other lowlying areas along the Mediterranean coastline
  • In the case of shared aquifers, the added uncertainties surrounding groundwater volumes and flows compound the challenges.
  • despite the dramatic appeal of the idea of a water war, most scholars agree that the concept is misleading. Wars typically have much more complicated origins than a single causal factor, like water. Intrastate disputes over water may be more significant than interstate conflicts. Moreover, a shared resource does not necessarily have to be a source of tension; it can be a source of cooperation
  • Countries in the more arid parts of the Middle East have championed technologies for producing more water. The Gulf states and Israel, for instance, have been leaders in desalination. In these countries, desalinated water now meets the majority of domestic water needs
  • Many of the region’s water bodies are contaminated with sewage, agricultural chemicals and industrial waste,
  • Public awareness campaigns urge residents to conserve water, take shorter showers, turn off the faucet when brushing their teeth, not leave the water running when cleaning dishes and avoid washing their cars
  • Although initiatives are underway to develop solar-powered desalination, these projects are still in their infancy
  • These uses are so small relative to agriculture, though, that their impact is limited.
  • In many countries of the region, farmers reuse agricultural drainage water. If municipal and industrial waste is properly treated, it too can be reused
  • experts have advised authorities to raise the price of water. In most countries of the region, water is priced significantly below its cost of delivery. In some cases, it is free. Egyptian farmers, for instance, do not pay for the water they use on their fields (although they do pay other irrigation-related costs, such as energy for pumps). If they had to pay for water, economists argue, they would not use so much
  • While these measures can be effective at reducing water consumption and easing scarcity, they impose costs and can increase rural poverty without other forms of social protection and support for small farmers. They also risk ignoring the larger contextual factors that shape water use in a home, factory or farm. Policies that seek to mandate a technology, price or behavioral change for the sake of saving water, without recognizing the priorities and perspectives of those who use this water on a daily basis, are unlikely to be successful
  • the challenge of water scarcity and the experience of many within the region who struggle to find sufficient, clean water for their everyday needs and livelihoods is as much about economic priorities, social inequalities and political relations as it is a function of the region’s geography
Ed Webb

The Coronavirus Oil Shock Is Just Getting Started - 0 views

  • People in the West tend to think about oil shocks from the perspective of the consumer. They notice when prices go up. The price spikes in 1973 and 1979 triggered by boycotts by oil producers are etched in their collective consciousness, as price controls left Americans lining up for gas and European governments imposed weekend driving bans. This was more than an economic shock. The balance of power in the world economy seemed to be shifting from the developed to the developing world.
  • If a surge in fossil fuel prices rearranges the world economy, the effect also operates in reverse. For the vast majority of countries in the world, the decline in oil prices is a boon. Among emerging markets, Indonesia, Philippines, India, Argentina, Turkey, and South Africa all benefit, as imported fuel is a big part of their import bill. Cheaper energy will cushion the pain of the COVID-19 recession. But at the same time, and by the same token, plunging oil prices deliver a concentrated and devastating shock to the producers. By comparison with the diffuse benefit enjoyed by consumers, the producers suffer immediate immiseration.
  • In inflation-adjusted terms, oil prices are similar to those last seen in the 1950s, when the Persian Gulf states were little more than clients of the oil majors, the United States and the British Empire
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  • Fiscal crises caused by falling prices limit governments’ room for domestic maneuver and force painful political choices
  • The economic profile of the Gulf states is not, however, typical of most oil-producing states. Most have a much lower ratio of oil reserves to population. Many large oil exporters have large and rapidly growing populations that are hungry for consumption, social spending, subsidies, and investment
  • In February, even before the coronavirus hit, the International Monetary Fund was warning Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that by 2034 they would be net debtors to the rest of the world. That prediction was based on a 2020 price of $55 per barrel. At a price of $30, that timeline will shorten. And even in the Gulf there are weak links. Bahrain avoids financial crisis only through the financial patronage of Saudi Arabia. Oman is in even worse shape. Its government debt is so heavily discounted that it may soon slip into the distressed debt category
  • Ecuador is the second Latin American country after Argentina to enter technical default this year.
  • Populous middle-income countries that depend critically on oil are uniquely vulnerable. Iran is a special case because of the punitive sanctions regime imposed by the United States. But its neighbor Iraq, with a population of 38 million and a government budget that is 90 percent dependent on oil, will struggle to keep civil servants paid.
  • Algeria—with a population of 44 million and an official unemployment rate of 15 percent—depends on oil and gas imports for 85 percent of its foreign exchange revenue
  • The oil and gas boom of the early 2000s provided the financial foundation for the subsequent pacification of Algerian society under National Liberation Front President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Algeria’s giant military, the basic pillar of the regime, was the chief beneficiaries of this largesse, along with its Russian arms suppliers. The country’s foreign currency reserves peaked at $200 billion in 2012. Spending this windfall on assistance programs and subsidies allowed Bouteflika’s government to survive the initial wave of protests during the Arab Spring. But with oil prices trending down, this was not a sustainable long-run course. By 2018 the government’s oil stabilization fund, which once held reserves worth more than one-third of GDP, had been depleted. Given Algeria’s yawning trade deficit, the IMF expects reserves to fall below $13 billion in 2021. A strict COVID-19 lockdown is containing popular protest for now, but given that the fragile government in Algiers is now bracing for budget cuts of 30 percent, do not expect that calm to last.
  • Before last month’s price collapse, Angola was already spending between one fifth and one third of its export revenues on debt service. That burden is now bound to increase significantly. Ten-year Angolan bonds were this week trading at 44 cents on the dollar. Having been downgraded to a lowly CCC+, it is now widely considered to be at imminent risk of default. Because servicing its debts requires a share of public spending six times larger than that which Angola spends on the health of its citizens, the case for doing so in the face of the COVID-19 crisis is unarguable.
  • Faced with the price collapse of 2020, Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed has declared that Nigeria is now in “crisis.” In March, the rating agency Standard & Poor’s lowered Nigeria’s sovereign debt rating to B-. This will raise the cost of borrowing and slow economic growth in a country in which more than 86 million people, 47 percent of the population, live in extreme poverty—the largest number in the world. Furthermore, with 65 percent of government revenues devoted to servicing existing debt, the government may have to resort to printing money to pay civil servants, further spurring an already high inflation rate caused by food supply shortages
  • The price surge of the 1970s and the nationalization of the Middle East oil industry announced the definitive end of the imperial era. The 1980s saw the creation of a market-based global energy economy. The early 2000s seemed to open the door on a new age of state capitalism, in which China was the main driver of demand and titans like Saudi Aramco and Rosneft managed supply
  • The giants such as Saudi Arabia and Russia will exploit their muscle to survive the crisis. But the same cannot so easily be said for the weaker producers. For states such as Iraq, Algeria, and Angola, the threat is nothing short of existential.
  • Beijing has so far shown little interest in exploiting the crisis for debt-book diplomacy. It has signaled its willingness to cooperate with the other members of the G-20 in supporting a debt moratorium.
  • In a century that will be marked by climate change, how useful is it to restore profits and prosperity based on fossil fuel extraction?
  • The shock of the coronavirus is offering a glimpse of the future and it is harsh. The COVID-19 crisis drives home that high-cost producers are on a dangerously unsustainable path that can’t be resolved by states propping up their uncompetitive oil sectors. Even more important is the need to diversify the economies of the truly vulnerable producers in the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.
Ed Webb

Syria Comment » Archives » "Bush White House Wanted to Destroy the Syrian Sta... - 0 views

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Ed Webb

UCSC International Students Increasingly Vulnerable Amid Wildcat Strike | MERIP - 0 views

  • Since February 10, graduate student teaching assistants (TAs) have been engaged in a wildcat strike—a strike unauthorized by their labor union—to press for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to their salaries. UCSC students and faculty suffer from one of the most expensive and tight housing markets in the country. The graduate student workers, along with faculty and undergraduate students, are sending an urgent message to the administration: the cost of living in Santa Cruz has become unbearable.
  • continue to congregate on the lush green lawn at the base of campus daily at 7:30am. Supporters provide free food and water, legal and medical support and play English, Spanish and Arabic music around the clock. Their actions, such as teach-ins and guest lectures, are bringing together diverse groups from across campus and highlighting shared grievances among students, faculty and staff at the university. As of this moment, graduate students at UC Santa Barbara voted to go on a full teaching strike on February 27, while students at UC Davis voted to begin withholding Winter quarter grades on the same day to demand a COLA and in solidarity with UCSC.
  • While all graduate student TAs are facing a precarious situation, international students are particularly vulnerable. In a February 7 email from the UCSC office of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), international students were “reminded [of] the conditions of their immigration status.” The letter stated that while participation in the strike is not a violation of the students’ immigration status, “any actions that result in student discipline or arrest may have immigration consequences, both on your current status and on possible future immigration applications you may make in the United States.”
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  • Since visa holders are not allowed to seek employment off campus or take on more than a 50 percent work load on campus, they cannot offset the high cost of housing with additional work as other students do in desperation. The international students find the administration responsible for making the “implicit threat of deportation [the ISSS email] a reality by threatening to revoke Spring 2020 work appointments for striking graduate students.” Terminating employment would disproportionately impact international graduate students, who would lose their tuition waiver and thus be forced to give up full-time enrollment at the university, which would then invalidate their visas. 
  • for international TAs, losing their legal immigration status is “a real and terrifying consequence,” one that is affecting their choice to strike. Indeed, due to heavy police presence at the strike, some international students were advised by their professors not to participate in the rallies, for fear of arrest or the collection of evidence against them that could eventually lead to their deportation or other immigration consequences.
  • Obstacles to obtaining visas disproportionately affect students and scholars from the Middle East. The Middle East Studies Association’s (MESA) Task Force on Civil and Human Rights currently runs a research project dedicated specifically to documenting widespread cases of “visa cancellations, border denials, and deportations of students and faculty from the Middle East.” The project was prompted by the denial of entry to 13 Iranian students with valid visas at US airports since August 2019. Morteza Behrooz, an Iranian student who just completed his PhD in computer science at UCSC, says that even now as a permanent resident, he still feels at risk traveling to and from the United States. Iranian students are often issued single-entry visas, “which leaves them particularly vulnerable to unfair policies” and unable to visit their families for years on end, as Morteza experienced when he first joined UCSC.
  • With widespread uncertainty about immigration laws and practices under the Trump presidency, the university administration’s response to the strike puts international students at additional risk. While the punitive measures facing the striking TAs are presented by the administration as uniform and general, certain students are nonetheless subjected to more discipline than others due to their non-citizen status.
  • The difficulties and ambiguities of the visa process risk having an adverse impact on the diversity of US academic institutions and curricula by deterring international students and discouraging exchanges and research. The field of Middle East Studies is also currently facing threats of defunding and interference by the Department of Education, such as the department’s inquiry into the federally-funded Middle East consortium between Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill due to purported anti-Israel bias. At UCSC, which inaugurated a long-awaited and celebrated Center for the Middle East and North Africa days before the strike, the university administration’s perceived pressure on its international students leaves students and scholars coming from the Middle East uneasy.
  • “I feel totally crippled when it comes to my participation in political life as a student here,” he explains. “Even though I was supportive of the TA strike, I felt scared to participate in the rally with other students. I know that getting arrested for whatever reason is not an option for me and will jeopardize my stay. This is oppressive. It means that I cannot freely express myself politically.”
Ed Webb

Coexistence, Sectarianism and Racism - An Interview with Ussama Makdisi - MERIP - 0 views

  • What is the ecumenical frame and how does it revise Orientalist understandings of sectarianism?
  • My book seeks to offer a critical and empathetic story of coexistence without defensiveness—that is, to write a history that neither glorifies the Arab past nor denigrates the present and that explores the grim significance of sectarian tensions in the modern Middle East without being seduced by their sensationalism
  • I wanted to understand how they sought to imagine and build a world greater than the sum of their religious or ethnic parts—commitments that remain evident, if one is prepared to recognize them, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and beyond. I call this modern iteration of coexistence the “ecumenical frame” to underscore the modern active attempt on the part of individuals and communities in the region to both recognize the salience of religious pluralism and yet also to try and transcend sectarian difference into a secular, unifying political community
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  • a project of modern coexistence that not only had to be imagined and designed, but also built
  • to trace how an extraordinary idea of Muslim and Christian and Jewish civic and political community rooted in secular equality went from unimaginability to ubiquity in the course of a single century, and nowhere more so than in the Arab East after 1860
  • subject to conflicting interpretations that valorized “real” religion and demonized sectarianism, often in contradictory and conservative modes, but also in more liberal and even radical ways
  • The Orientalist view of sectarianism frequently analogizes sect as “like race” and, furthermore, it assumes that sectarian differences are inherent cultural and political differences similar to race. What do you think is the relationship of sect to race?  How should race figure in the story of coexistence you relate?
  • the Orientalists idealize the West in order to Orientalize the East. Second, as you suggest, this view transforms religious pluralism in the Middle East into a structure of age-old monolithic antagonistic communities so that one can speak of medieval and modern Maronites, Jews, Muslims and so on as if these have been unchanging communities and as if all ideological diversity in the Middle East ultimately is reducible to religion and religious community
  • The religious sect is conflated with the political sect; the secular is understood to be a thin veneer that conceals the allegedly “real” and unchanging religious essence of the Middle East. This view is dangerous, misleading and tendentious.
  • both race and sect urgently need to be historicized and contextualized—race belongs to US (and Western) political vocabulary; sect to Arab political vocabulary. Both the notion of age-old sects and that of immutable races are ideological fictions that have been manipulated to serve power
  • US scholars Barbara J. Fields and Karen E. Fields have suggested we think of “racecraft” rather than “race relations” to underscore the ideological fundament of racist thinking that appears totally natural to its proponents. As I allude to in my book, so too might we think of “sectcraft” rather than sectarian or communal relations, both to underscore the ideological aspect of sectarianism and to emphasize the amount of work that goes into making sectarianism appear to be inherent, inevitable and unchangeable
  • the colonial dimension is crucial, and it clearly separates the US and the European period of nationalization from that of the colonized Middle East
  • many scholars gravitate toward using categories and experiences that emerge in the US context and apply them, sometimes indiscriminately and often very problematically, to other parts of the world. I think it is important at some level to respect the fact that in the modern Middle East, progressive scholars and laypeople, men and women belonging to different religious communities, have throughout the twentieth century typically described and conceptualized their struggles against injustice and tyranny as struggles against sectarianism and colonialism, but not necessarily as a struggle against racism.
  • the national polities of the post-Ottoman period in the Arab East were established by European colonial powers. These European powers massively distorted the ecumenical trajectory evident in the late Ottoman Arab East. First, they broke up the region into dependent and weak states, and second, they divided the region along explicitly sectarian lines
  • Tribalism, communalism and sectarianism all refer to parallel formations in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East respectively that assume an unchanging essence that separates members of a single sovereignty or putative sovereignty. They are all static ideological interpretations of pluralism, and have all, to a greater or lesser degree, been massively influenced and even in many ways formally classified and invented by Western colonial powers
  • why the investment in and privileging of certain epistemic categories of domination as opposed to others? The question of migrant labor illustrates how race and class and geography and history are intertwined in very specific ways—the Middle Eastern cases (whether the Gulf or in Lebanon) are indeed different from that of the history of migrant labor in the United States, which has always been implicated in settler colonialism.
  • One key difference, of course, between modern Western colonialism and early modern Islamic empires is that the latter, like their early modern Christian counterparts, did not pretend to uphold liberal representation, political equality or self-determination. So, temporality is one essential difference: ethnic, racist or sectarian discrimination in the Islamic empires was not justified or imagined as a benevolent burden to uplift others into an ostensibly equal level of civilization. There was no pretense of a colonial tutelage to help natives achieve independence in the fullness of time
  • In the Ottoman Islamic empire, there were indeed professions of Islamic superiority, notions of ethnic, tribal and religious discrimination, forms of bondage and slavery, and myriad chauvinisms and prejudices tied to kinship, geography, language, culture and ethnicity and so on, but not a notion of biological racism or the obsession with racial segregation and miscegenation that has been the hallmark of modern Western colonialism
  • a new and distinctive defensiveness among leading Muslim Arab intellectuals—that is, their need to defend Islam and Islamic society from missionary and colonial assault whilst also embracing or reconciling themselves to compatriotship with Arab Christians and Jews. This defensiveness persists
  • the great problem of scholars and governments in the West who have long instrumentalized and Orientalized discrimination against non-Muslims to suggest that there is some peculiar problem with Islam and Muslims
  • I think that scholars of gender and women’s history have a lot to teach us in this regard: that is Arab, Turkish, Iranian and other scholars who have explored the long history of gender discrimination—who have defied the fundamentalists—without succumbing to racist Orientalism or self-loathing
  • really historicize! It really is an effective antidote in the face of those who peddle in chauvinism, racism, sectarianism, tribalism and communalism
Ed Webb

Right-Wing Media Outlets Duped by a Middle East Propaganda Campaign - 0 views

  • Badani is part of a network of at least 19 fake personas that has spent the past year placing more than 90 opinion pieces in 46 different publications. The articles heaped praise on the United Arab Emirates and advocated for a tougher approach to Qatar, Turkey, Iran and its proxy groups in Iraq and Lebanon. 
  • “This vast influence operation highlights the ease with which malicious actors can exploit the identity of real people, dupe international news outlets, and have propaganda of unknown provenance legitimized through reputable media,” Marc Owen Jones, an assistant professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar who first noticed suspicious posts by members of the network, told The Daily Beast. “It’s not just fake news we need to be wary of, but fake journalists.”
  • They’re critical of Qatar and, in particular, its state-funded news outlet Al Jazeera. They’re no big fans of Turkey’s role backing one of the factions in Libya’s civil war
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  • a series of shared behavioral patterns. The personas identified by The Daily Beast were generally contributors to two linked sites, The Arab Eye and Persia Now; had Twitter accounts created in March or April 2020; presented themselves as political consultants and freelance journalists mostly based in European capitals; lied about their academic or professional credentials in phony LinkedIn accounts; used fake or stolen avatars manipulated to defeat reverse image searches; and linked to or amplified each others’ work. 
  • In February, two websites, The Arab Eye and Persia Now, were registered on the same day and began to acquire a host of contributors. 
  • both sites share the same Google Analytics account, are hosted at the same IP address, and are linked through a series of shared encryption certificates
  • Persia Now lists a non-existent London mailing address and an unanswered phone number on its contact form. The apparent editors of the outlets, Sharif O'Neill and Taimur Hall, have virtually no online footprints or records in journalism.
  • placed articles critical of Qatar and supportive of tougher sanctions on Iran in conservative North American outlets like Human Events and conservative writer Andy Ngo’s The Post Millennial, as well as Israeli and Middle Eastern newspapers like The Jerusalem Post and Al Arabiya, and Asian newspapers like the South China Morning Post.
  • constant editorial lines like arguing for more sanctions on Iran or using international leverage to weaken Iran’s proxy groups in Lebanon and Iraq. The personas are also big fans of the United Arab Emirates and have heaped praise on the Gulf nation for its “exemplary resilience” to the COVID-19 pandemic, its “strong diplomatic ties” to the European Union, and supposedly supporting gender equality through the Expo 2020 in Dubai.
  • criticizing Facebook for its decision to appoint Tawakkol Karman, a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, to its oversight board. Media outlets in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates have criicized the appointment of Karman, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Islah Party in Yemen, for her association with the group.
  • None of the Twitter accounts associated with the network ever passed more than a few dozen followers, but a few still managed to garner high profile endorsements for their work. An article by “Joyce Toledano” in Human Events about how Qatar is “destabilizing the Middle East” got a shout-out from Students for Trump co-founder Ryan Fournier’s nearly million-follower Twitter account and French senator Nathalie Goulet high-fived Lin Nguyen’s broadside about Facebook and Tawakkol Karman.
  • All of the stolen avatars were mirror image reversed and cropped from their originals, making them difficult to find through common Google reverse image searches
  • On her LinkedIn page, “Salma Mohamed” claimed to be a former reporter for the AP based in London, though no public record of an AP journalist matching Salma Mohamed’s description is available.
  • Another persona, Amani Shahan, described herself in bios for Global Villages and Persia Now as being a contributor to and “ghostwriting articles” for The Daily Beast. No one by that name has ever written for The Daily Beast and The Daily Beast does not employ ghostwriters. (Shahan also referred to herself with both male and female pronouns in different author bios.) 
Morgan Mintz

Forces of Fortune - Council on Foreign Relations - 0 views

  • He reveals that there is a vital but unseen rising force in the Islamic world—a new business-minded middle class—that is building a vibrant new Muslim world economy and that holds the key to winning the cold war against Iran and extremists.
  • he offers a powerful reassessment of why both extremism and anti-Americanism took hold in the region—not because of an inevitable "clash of cultures" or the nature of Islam, but because of the failure of this kind of authentic middle class to develop in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
    • Morgan Mintz
       
      He seems to be in direct disagreement with Huntington's "clash of civilizations" argument here. I wouldn't call this an extension of Amartya Sen's argument though either, but rather a completely new way of framing the discussion around economic causes.
  • Nasr takes us behind the news, so dominated by the struggle against extremists and the Taliban, to introduce a Muslim world we've not seen; a Muslim world in which the balance of power is being reshaped by an upwardly mobile middle class of entrepreneurs, investors, professionals, and avid consumers—who can tip the scales away from extremist belligerence.
  •  
    This is a review of a newly published book by Vali Nasr, a renowned scholar on the Middle East and recently hired adviser to Richard Holbrooke (representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan).
Ed Webb

Can Russia Succeed Where America Failed in the Middle East? - LobeLog - 0 views

  • Specific criticisms included the claim by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that while Russia and Iran were working together to combat terrorism in Syria, U.S. policy was actually supporting it there. Sergey Karaganov, one of Moscow’s most important exponents of the Kremlin’s foreign-policy thinking, described American power as declining and hence ineffective while that of Russia, China, and India as rising in the Middle East. And several Russian speakers described Moscow as better placed to resolve the various conflicts in the Middle East since Russia has good relations with virtually everyone there (except, of course, the jihadists) while the U.S. has poor relations not just with its traditional adversaries in the region, but also with its traditional allies including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
  • In the panel on Yemen, Ali Nasser Mohammad (former president of South Yemen) recalled how in the latter stages of the North Yemeni civil war in the 1960s, the opposing Yemeni sides failed to reach agreement through bilateral negotiations. It was only when their main external patrons, Egyptian President Nasser and Saudi King Faisal, reached an agreement on ending the conflict that progress was made in the inter-Yemeni dialogue. He suggested that similar agreements between external actors in the Middle East’s ongoing conflicts would be needed to facilitate conflict resolution between internal antagonists as well.
  • Russia is clearly in no position to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians so long as Israel continues to receive strong support from the U.S. Nor does there appear to be any other case in which all the main local participants in a Middle Eastern conflict prefer to work exclusively with Russia and not with the U.S.
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  • Russian-American cooperation in the Middle East will be difficult to achieve when their relations are hostile in other areas, including Europe. And even if they could come to any such agreement, it is doubtful that they could impose the terms on the region’s many strong-willed actors. The leaders of Iran and Turkey in particular seem willing and able to defy both Washington and Moscow if they choose to do so.
  • Moscow may not actually want to resolve them since it is the continuation of these conflicts that allows Moscow entrée into the region by stimulating demand from local antagonists for Russian support
Ed Webb

Climate crisis: 13 ways the Middle East is under threat | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • The Middle East and North Africa have always been used to more than their fair share of extreme weather and conditions. But it has been made much worse by the twin threats of climate change and man-made intervention, which are hitting the region with increased frequency and ferocity.
  • "In the Middle East there has been a significant increase in the frequency and the intensity of sand and dust storms in the past 15 years or so."
  • The lavishly titled Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), under construction on the Blue Nile since 2011, will be the largest in Africa when it is completed. But in Cairo it is being watched anxiously: a rapid increase in demand due to population growth, severe mismanagement of resources and a lack of investment in water infrastructure have made Egypt one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, relying on the Nile for 90 percent of its fresh water.
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  • Jordan. It has been described by the UN as one of the most water-scarce countries on the planet
  • Once a water-rich country, southern Iraq has faced successive droughts and significant drops in annual rainfall, following the construction of major dams in Turkey and Iran since the 1970s.
  • Arab states are facing a water supply emergency for which they need a coordinated response, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, predicting that per capita resources will be halved by 2050.
  • The Middle East and North Africa have suffered more than any other region from water scarcity and desertification, problems being complicated by climate change
  • In the UAE, reclamation schemes, such as Dubai's Palm Islands and World Islands, have altered the geography of the coast and wave patterns have destroyed marine ecosystems.
  • Campaigners in western Turkey have protested against a Canadian-owned gold mine project amid fears the deforestation will reduce a hilltop to an arid desert.
  • Dubai has one of the hottest climates on the planet. At the height of summer, temperatures can reach a high of 41ºC in the shade. But the emirate's urban growth - between 10 percent and 13 percent, year on year, for the past four decades - has boosted those figures.
  • Pilgrims attending Hajj in Saudi Arabia may be at risk of extreme heat and humidity that is driven by climate change
  • It has been calculated that golf courses in the US use, on average, 130,000 gallons of water each day. Those in the kingdom and elsewhere will likely use many times that amount, as well as fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides to keep them alive. All these chemicals eventually feed into precious groundwater supplies, potentially causing pollution problems. 
  • In 2017, scientists warned that climate change means that the Middle East and North African region (MENA) is susceptible to some of the more severe consequences of warming, including lethal heat waves, extensive drought and rising sea levels.
  • Morocco was ranked second of 57 countries in this year's Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), which examines four performance categories: emissions, renewable energy, energy use and climate policy. But while Egypt was mid-table at 21st, Turkey came in at 47th, Iran was 55th and Saudi Arabia was last at 57th, a position it has held for the past few years.
Ed Webb

Beirut 1958: America's origin story in the Middle East - 0 views

  • No one in Beirut — or Washington — thought that this mission would mark the beginning of decades of seemingly endless American combat missions in the Middle East. In retrospect, Beirut in 1958 was a decisive turning point.
  • Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war pitting the Christian and Muslim communities against each other. The Muslims saw the Marines as enemies intent on keeping a hated President Camille Nemr Chamoun in office against the law. The Lebanese army, a fragile coalition of Christians and Muslims, saw the Marines as uninvited aggressors who were violating Lebanese sovereignty. The American command was prepared for the worst and was ready to deploy nuclear weapons to the battlefield from its base in Germany.
  • A year before, Eisenhower had enunciated what became known as the Eisenhower Doctrine, the first statement by a president stating that America has vital interests in the Middle East and would defend them by force if necessary.
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  • the immediate cause for the dispatch of the Marines: a coup d’etat in Baghdad on July 14. The pro-American King Faisal II had been brutally murdered in the coup, and his government was swept away. In Jordan, then federated with Iraq, Eisenhower said a “highly organized plot to overthrow the lawful government” of King Hussein had been discovered. Actually, the Central Intelligence Agency had foiled the plot several weeks before.
  • said President Chamoun had requested American military intervention to stop “civil strife actively fomented by Soviet and Cairo broadcasts.” It was the only time in the speech that Eisenhower even alluded to what had him really worried that day: the rising political power in the Arab world of Egypt’s charismatic young President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Arab nationalist movement.
  • It was a less than candid explanation for sending in the Marines. Eisenhower made no mention of the fact that Chamoun was illegally seeking a second term and even claimed Chamoun did not seek reelection. The focus was entirely on Russia and the Cold War, an issue far more Americans understood than the intricate politics of Lebanon or the Arab world.
  • Nasser, meanwhile, was in Yugoslavia visiting the communist government there. Within hours of Eisenhower’s speech, he flew to Moscow. Both Nasser and his host Nikita Khrushchev agreed that they had no warning of the coup in Baghdad or knew anything about the coup plotters, according to recently declassified Soviet documents. Both agreed that the Iraqi coup was the most important development in the Middle East and the American intervention in Lebanon was a sideshow.
  • Nasser was, in the summer of 1958, at the pinnacle of his political career and power. Ironically, he had started his political rise very much as a protégé of the Americans.
  • The British had been completely surprised by the coup in Egypt, but the CIA was not — it had detected the signs of change coming. The agency moved quickly after to coup to establish contact with Nasser.  The point man for the CIA was the legendary Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt, a scion of the Roosevelt family born in Argentina. Kim had visited Cairo before the coup and set up contact with the Free Officers who would carry it out. In October 1952, he returned to Cairo as chief of the CIA’s Near East Division and met with Nasser at the famous Mena House Hotel near the pyramids. Each was impressed by the other and they agreed to a clandestine relationship.
  • Roosevelt led the CIA operation that overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran and restored the Shah to his throne in 1953, immediately making him the darling of both Dulles and Eisenhower.
  • Ike was lucky in the end. His diplomats and generals on the scene in Beirut found a diplomatic way to avoid conflict and prevent the worst. The nuclear weapons were never shipped from Germany to the Mediterranean. After a period of political negotiations, Chamoun was pressured to stand down as president, and the civil war ended.
  • The CIA gave Nasser a few million dollars, far short of what he wanted, to buy arms. Instead, he used it to build a large transmitter for the Egyptian radio program the “Voice of the Arabs” and broadcast his Arabist and anti-colonialist message to the region. Word spread about the source of the money for the tower, and it was nicknamed “Roosevelt’s Erection.”
  • Nasser took a decisive step when he arranged a large arms purchase from the Soviet Union’s client state Czechoslovakia in 1955. This alarmed the Cold Warriors in the West, especially John Foster Dulles, who saw the arms deal as the first significant penetration of the Middle East by Russia. It also alarmed the British and French, who saw Nasser’s growing stature as a threat to their remaining colonies and protectorates in the region such as Aden (part of modern-day Yemen), Algeria, Jordan, and Iraq.
  • Eisenhower opposed the 1956 tripartite invasion of Egypt by Britain, France, and Israel, seeing it as a throwback to imperialism, but the crisis did not improve the American relationship with Nasser.
  • Nasser’s intelligence agents unveiled a Saudi-funded plot to assassinate him, severely embarrassing King Saud, the man Eisenhower hoped would be a pro-American alternative to Egypt for the Arab public
  • The July 14 coup in Baghdad was a complete shock. A brigade of troops was scheduled to pass through the capital en route to Jordan to help back King Hussein against the threat posed by Nasser. Instead, as it entered the capital, it turned on the monarchy. The rebels surrounded the royal palace, and when it surrendered, the king and regent were shot to death. It was a bloody affair. The tanks of the coup-makers were covered with pictures of Nasser, and the crowds that cheered the Iraqi monarchy’s demise also screamed for Gamal Abdel Nasser. The military leaders of the coup said very little.
  • Lebanon’s Chamoun was already asking for American troops, and Jordan was acutely vulnerable. “If the Iraq coup succeeds it seems almost inevitable that it will set up a chain reaction that will doom the pro-West governments of Lebanon and Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and raise grave problems for Turkey and Iran.” Israel, Dulles predicted, would take over the West Bank and East Jerusalem “if Jordan falls to Nasser.” The entire Middle East — or at least its Arab components — might fall to Nasser, in his view. Russia would be the beneficiary.
  • At risk was a devastating defeat in the Cold War
  • the British government decided to send paratroopers to Amman to help steady the remnant of the Hashemite monarchy still in power there.
  • Washington agreed to encourage the British to give up their Suez Canal base. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was initially reluctant, but the U.K.’s huge debts from the world wars compelled him to make a deal and the British army agreed to leave Egypt in 1954. Roosevelt had been active behind the scenes in facilitating the deal.
  • The return of the Marines to Beirut in 1982, for example, ended in a catastrophic truck bombing of their barracks that killed 241 soldiers. The wars in Iraq have now seemingly become endless. The region itself is constantly in turmoil, with terrorist attacks in many of its capital cities an all too routine atrocity.
Ed Webb

Modern-Day Slavery: The Public Markets Selling Young Girls for $14 | Fast Forward | OZY - 0 views

  • 16 Ugandans who’ve died in the Middle East over just the past year, according to a parliamentary panel report from April this year. These women — all of whom died unnatural deaths after complaining of abuse — are just the most extreme examples of a growing epidemic of an increasingly open, modern slave trade that starts in Uganda’s eastern region and culminates in closed rooms in Gulf nations.
  • Migrant workers from across Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia have for several years complained of abuse in the Middle East
  • Uganda has emerged as the theater of a double-barreled racket. At fast-spreading weekly markets, some women are promised jobs in the Gulf only to be sold once they get there, while others — many of them girls between the ages of 10 and 18 — are directly and publicly “bought” as slaves in Uganda and then resold in the Middle East, according to Ugandan authorities, Interpol, independent experts, legislators, victims and their families.
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  • more than 9,000 girls and young women are estimated to have been bought at these markets since last year — for as little as 50,000 shillings ($14), according to Betty Atim, a member of Parliament.
  • After 22-year-old Shivan Kihembo died in Oman in October — months after she had been sold there — her father, Patrick Mugume, was asked by his daughter’s “owners” for money if he wanted her body back.
  • migrant laborers from other African countries have suffered human rights violations — and not just in the Gulf but in Southeast Asia too — in recent years that have drawn comparisons with slavery. But what’s different with Uganda, experts say, is the openness with which women are being auctioned in markets alongside domestic animals and household goods.
  • Officially, Uganda has banned its citizens from seeking work in most Middle Eastern countries — barring Saudi Arabia and Jordan — because it doesn’t have any diplomatic agreements on workers’ rights with those nations, says Uganda’s minister of gender Janat Mukwaya.That ban, though, rarely works as a deterrent when there’s a promise of significant economic gain being dangled before the downtrodden, experts say. Uganda has a per capita income of $604, so Nambereke was promised three times what the average citizen earns. It’s also no surprise that the markets where illegal traffickers find women they can dupe or buy are predominantly in eastern Uganda. It’s a part of the country that has seen far lower poverty reduction than other regions, according to the World Bank, with electricity available to only 6 percent of families, compared to 32 percent in the country’s central region. To get around the ban, traffickers take the women across the border into Kenya after fixing up their passports, and then fly them to the Middle East.
  • Because they’re traveling to countries they’re barred from legally working in, even those women who initially went thinking they were getting employed are scared to try and reach out to authorities, experts say. And their host countries — in a region not known for its defense of human rights of migrants — have little incentive to prioritize concerns for these slaves over those of nations that legally send workers there. And so the slavery mounts — as do the deaths
  • Authorities are also recording cases of abuse from countries where Ugandans are legally allowed to work such as Jordan, Juliet Nakiyemba died at the age of 31 in October. A postmortem showed her kidneys had been removed prior to her death.
  • the government is passing the buck around and hasn’t been able to stop the practice. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Henry Oryem Okello says the ministry of labor needs to act to arrest traffickers. Mugisha says the ministry of labor has asked local governments to step in with legal remedies. And the country’s labor commissioner, Lawrence Egulu, concedes that Uganda’s law against human trafficking is routinely violated but has no clear answer as to why the government hasn’t been able to put a stop to it.
  • Herbert Ariko, the MP of the eastern Uganda region where most of these slave markets are located, says he’s drafting a law aimed at enhancing the punishment for human traffickers — currently 15 years in prison. Nonprofits such as the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies are demanding that the government enter into worker-safety agreements with all Middle Eastern countries. The archbishop of the Anglican Church in Uganda, Stanley Ntagali, is also critical of the government’s inaction. “The government should ensure that the rights of children are respected and the act of selling them in markets is brought to an end,” he says.
Ed Webb

The Other Regional Counter-Revolution: Iran's Role in the Shifting Political Landscape ... - 2 views

  • Saudi Arabia’s role as a counter-revolutionary force in the Middle East is widely understood and thoroughly documented. Historian Rosie Bsheer calls the Saudi kingdom “a counter-revolutionary state par excellence,” indeed one that was “consolidated as such.”[2] The Saudi monarchy has gone into counter-revolutionary overdrive since the onset of the Arab uprisings, scrambling to thwart popular movements and keep the region’s dictators in power — from Egypt and Bahrain to Yemen and Sudan (and beyond)
  • less understood is the counter-revolutionary role that Iran plays in the region’s politics
  • Iran as a “revolutionary” state has been dead for quite some time yet somehow stumbles along and blinds us to what is actually happening on the ground in the Middle East
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  • The defining slogan of Lebanon’s uprising — “all of them means all of them” (kellon yani kellon) — called out the country’s entire ruling class, which includes Hezbollah. One pointed variation on the slogan was “All of them means all of them, and Nasrallah is one of them.”
  • Hezbollah’s attacks on the demonstrators were not only physical but rhetorical, framing the popular revolt as part of a foreign plot against Hezbollah and its regional allies in the “Axis of Resistance” — accusations that were “met with ridicule
  • Hezbollah is “now viewed by many demonstrators as part of the corrupt and morally bankrupt political establishment that must be replaced,”
  • The Lebanese writer and podcaster Joey Ayoub captures the Orwellian upside-down-ness of this ideological sleight of hand in his formulation “Hezbollah’s Resistance™ against resistance.”[33] Hezbollah, he shows, tries to have it both ways: on the one hand, defending the status quo and maintaining Lebanon’s “sectarian-capitalist structures,” while at the same time banking on its membership in the so-called “Axis of Resistance.” That is, posturing as a force for “resistance” — a zombie category amid Lebanon’s current political landscape — while attacking people engaged in actual resistance to the ruling system and undermining progressive social movements.
  • Tehran also intervened politically, maneuvering to keep Iraqi Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi in power in the face of demands from protesters that he step down.[66] (Mahdi eventually did resign, in late November 2019 — a major victory for the protest movement that Tehran endeavored to circumvent.)
  • The protests that erupted in Iraq in October 2019 were arguably the “biggest grassroots socio-political mobilization” in the country’s history.[37] At root, that mobilization was “about the poor, the disempowered and the marginalized demanding a new system,” notes the Iraqi sociologist Zahra Ali.[38] The Tishreen (October) uprising, as it came to be known, quickly spread to “cities and towns across central and southern Iraq”[39] and eventually “engulfed virtually the whole country (though they were most concentrated in Baghdad and the Shia-dominated southern governorates).”
  • the 2019 protests represented “the most serious challenge yet to the post-2003 political order,” the Iraq scholar Fanar Haddad observes
  • the movement “classified itself as a ‘revolution’ in terms of discourse, demands, and objectives.” “[E]ven if the current movement fails to achieve a political revolution,” Haddad argues, “and even if it is not a revolution, it is undoubtedly a revolutionary movement that has already achieved a cultural revolution.”
  • As Berman, Clarke, and Majed note: A movement demanding wholesale political change represented a real threat to the system of cronyism and rapaciousness that has enriched Iraq’s politicians over the last two decades, and these elites quickly mobilized an array of state and non-state security agents in an attempt to quash this challenge.[54] Mohammad al Basri, a figure affiliated with Iraq’s paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units, expressed this mindset with rare bluntness: “Do they really think that we would hand over a state, an economy, one that we have built over 15 years? That they can just casually come and take it? Impossible! This is a state that was built with blood.”
  • Iran is deeply implicated in this counter-revolutionary repression — both indirectly, as the chief political ally and patron of the Iraqi government over the last 15 years, and directly, through the web of militias and paramilitary forces coordinated by the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which have opened fire on protesters
  • The parallels between the Iraqi and Lebanese revolts are manifold, starting with their timing: mass protests engulfed both countries starting in October 2019. Iraqi and Lebanese protesters were conscious of the connections between their struggles: “in the different protest squares people are shouting: ‘One revolution, from Baghdad to Beirut,’” notes Sami Adnan, an activist in Baghdad with the group Workers Against Sectarianism.[34] It’s also important to see the two upheavals in their wider regional context, as part of the “second wave” of Arab uprisings that also included momentous popular movements in Algeria and Sudan — or, as some argue, the uprisings that have been ongoing across the Middle East and North Africa since December 2010.
  • Iraqi protesters weren’t just rebelling against Iran’s local allies, but against Iran itself. Protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square smashed banners of Khamenei with their shoes.[67] Others put up a white banner with red Xs drawn through photographs of Khamenei and Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s regional policy.[68] “Images of Ayatollah Khomeini were removed from cities like Najaf, and pro-Iran political parties with prominent militias that were involved in the violence against the protesters had their branch offices attacked and burned,” Alkinani notes.[69] Most spectacularly, protesters set fire to the Iranian consulate in Karbala and Najaf amid chants of “Iran out of Iraq”.[70]
  • in the face of popular uprisings expressing emancipatory demands, Iran sides not with the protesters but with the ruling establishments they’re protesting against
  • Iran’s official narrative is that its role in Syria is all about fighting terrorism — specifically Al Qaeda and ISIS. But this is a classic case of reading history backwards. In fact, Iran rushed to the defense of the Assad regime as soon as the uprising began — when there was no Al Qaeda or ISIS presence whatsoever (the only jihadists were the ones the regime intentionally let out of its prisons as part of its jihadization strategy).[78] “From the very moment Assad faced popular protests, the Quds Force and Tehran were ready to do all they could to save the rule of the Baath Party,” notes Arash Azizi. Indeed, the Islamic Republic’s emissaries “were pushing on Assad to suppress the uprising mercilessly.”[79] And that is precisely what the regime did
  • The Islamic Republic’s “first reaction” to the demonstrations in Syria “was to open its own playbook and show Assad pages from the post-election protests in 2009,” he observes. “Decision-makers appear to have hoped that Assad would use enough brute force — arrests, beatings, and a limited amount of killings — to spread fear and quickly re-establish control.”
  • Iran helped flip the script and present the Syrian protests not as part of the wave of Arab uprisings — which it decidedly was — but as a foreign-inspired terrorist plot. This rhetorical framing was awkward for the Islamic Republic, which had voiced support for other Arab uprisings — those in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya. This put Tehran in a bind, praising the people of the region for rising up against the dictators that oppressed them but siding with the dictator in Syria.[84] Amin Saikal characterizes this Syrian exception as “an intervention that ran counter to Tehran’s declared rhetoric of supporting the downtrodden masses.”
  • the Islamic Republic intensified its support for the Assad regime in 2011 but its stalwart support for the dynastic dictatorship in Damascus goes back several decades — and while the Assad regime exponentially heightened its level of repression in 2011, violence has been at the very core of its rule throughout
  • “[t]he ‘revolutionary’ slogans of Iran’s ‘resistance’ are empty rhetoric that merely back whatever policies benefit the corrupt ruling elite in Tehran.”
  • the so-called Axis of Resistance, “ostensibly dedicated to furthering the emancipatory aspirations of the Arab and Muslim masses,” has in reality “played a critical role in containing regional revolution and preventing the emergence of a more democratically oriented regional order.”
  • The Islamic Republic “sounds more and more like those same sclerotic rulers it once railed against,” Daragahi observes — “suspicious of any new development that threatens the status quo it dominates.”
  • We need to retire zombie categories — like that of Iran as a “revolutionary” force in the Middle East, and the fiction of the “Axis of Resistance”
  • Both the Islamic Republic and the Saudi Kingdom play counter-revolutionary roles in the Middle East. They are competing counter-revolutionary powers, each pursuing its counter-revolutionary agenda in its respective sphere of influence within the region.
Ed Webb

The dwindling promise of popular uprisings in the Middle East - 0 views

  • The scenes emerging from Iran today elicit a mix of reactions across a region still reeling from the dark legacy of the “Arab Spring,” which itself came on the heels of the “Green Movement” protests in the wake of Iran’s 2009 presidential election. Many Arabs cannot help but recall the sense of hope that reverberated from Tunisia to Yemen, only to be shattered by unyielding repression, war, and the resurgence of authoritarianism. Subsequent protest waves, including those that began in 2019 in Lebanon, Iraq, and Sudan, were similarly met with brutality, co-optation, and dissolution.
  • Over a decade on from the Arab uprisings, the path toward democracy and freedom for youth across the Middle East has become more treacherous than ever, as liberation movements find themselves fighting against stronger, smarter, and more entrenched regimes that have adapted to modern challenges to their domination.
  • Technologies that many hoped would help to evade state censorship and facilitate mobilization have been co-opted as repressive surveillance tools.
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  • many of the region’s youth have become immobilized by revolutionary fatigue left by the tragic, violent trauma of the Arab Spring’s aftermath
  • Breakthroughs in surveillance methods are allowing intelligence outfits across the Middle East to infiltrate just about every crevice of civil society, making it almost impossible to communicate or organize without the government’s knowledge. Some of the most sinister of these weapons have been manufactured in Israel, which has emerged as a leading global exporter of surveillance technologies that are now being deployed against oppressed populations worldwide.
  • The prospect of acquiring dystopian surveillance tech like Pegasus has become a driving motive for authoritarian Arab leaders in their rush to normalize relations with Israel, against the will of their people
  • While arming themselves with the latest repressive tools, autocratic regimes across the Middle East continue to be encouraged by their external benefactors to prioritize security and foreign interests at the expense of democracy and human rights at home
  • with the United States declining as a global hegemon, authoritarians are selling their allegiances to the highest bidder, with human rights, democracy, and accountability falling further by the wayside.
  • Since 2011, Russia has doubled down on its support for some of the most brutal regimes in the region.
  • About 60 percent of the region’s population are under 25 years old, and the dire socio-political and economic conditions that much of the Middle East’s youth face have changed little since the thwarted revolutions of 2011. Youth unemployment has, in fact, worsened over the past decade, increasing from 23.8 percent in 2010 to 27.2 percent in 2020. The lack of opportunities continues to fuel brain drains and mass migration across the region.
  • dictators driven by paranoia have continued to hollow out civil society, ensuring that no viable political alternative to their rule exists. Press freedom across the region has declined drastically; Egypt, for example, has become one of the world’s top jailers of journalists since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power in a military coup in 2013. In Tunisia, President Kais Saied has undone many of the country’s democratic advances by dissolving the government and enhancing his powers through a new constitution.
  • This aggressive trend has intensified in Palestine, too. Following the 2021 Unity Intifada, Israeli forces arrested hundreds of political activists and are now stepping up efforts to target civil society and human rights groups that expose Israeli war crimes and rights violations. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has entrenched its role as a subcontractor of the Israeli occupation, stepping up arrests of political activists and resistance fighters alike across the West Bank at Israel’s behest.
  • A recent study by The Guardian and YouGov found that although a majority of respondents in Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, and Egypt do not regret the uprisings, more than half of those polled in Syria, Yemen, and Libya say their lives are now worse
  • By shutting down spaces for Iranians to realize their imagined future, Iran’s leaders have ensured that any substantial transfer of power will be violent
Ed Webb

Kalam - Cooperative security in the Middle East: A role for China? - 0 views

  • the kind of role that China can be expected to play in Middle East security issues. It is not realistic to think of China as an alternative to US regional security commitments. Furthermore, the fact that China has a long-standing non-alliance policy means that any Chinese approach to regional security affairs would operate under a very different framework. Rather than alliances, China uses strategic partnership diplomacy, with a set of hierarchical designations for partner states depending on their perceived importance to Beijing. These partnerships differ from alliances in that they are interest-based rather than threat-based and do not focus on third parties. Typically, China and the partner country builds trust on the foundation of economic interests, and gradually introduces political and strategic concerns.2 Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) each have comprehensive strategic partnerships, putting them at the highest level of China’s diplomatic hierarchy. Those partnerships suggest that Beijing believes it can be a different type of great power in the region, achieving balanced relationships with competing or rival regional actors. In practice, this interpretation indicates that Beijing would be more willing to support a Persian Gulf security framework that does not actively counter any regional countries. An inclusive cooperative security dialogue involving all Gulf states would be consistent with China’s interests and preferences.
  • For the US, the China challenge means more resources should be directed to the Indo-Pacific and away from the MENA region, a process that has been delayed by ongoing tensions between the US and Iran.
  • First, a US pivot potentially challenges China in Asia, a region that Beijing considers far more consequential than the Middle East and North Africa. Second, it could weaken the existing MENA security architecture that has allowed China to develop a significant regional presence. This adds a layer of complexity when Chinese leaders consider Persian Gulf security. Regional stability is necessary for Chinese commercial and energy interests, but at the same time the threat of regional instability in the form of Iranian aggression means the US will remain deeply engaged in the Gulf.
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  • Prior to the trade war initiated by the Trump administration, Beijing appeared satisfied with the US preponderance in the Middle East. Since then, however, the region has come to resemble a playing field. Beijing began to offer more support to Iran during the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign,4 both with the comprehensive strategic partnership (signed in January 2016 but not implemented until March 2021) and the offer to make Iran a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. At the same time, China has intensified relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, reportedly helping the Saudis with their indigenous ballistic missile programme5 and reportedly beginning work on a military installation in Abu Dhabi before abandoning it due to US pressure on the Emiratis.6 None of this requires significant resources from Beijing but creates friction that seems designed to keep the US anchored in the Gulf.
  • A nuclear Iran is a threat to China, as is the prospect of anticipated nuclear proliferation throughout the Middle East that would likely result. This is an issue that would be especially suited to Chinese engagement through a cooperative security dialogue.
  • ‘Achieve nuclear non-proliferation’ is of course directly linked to the Iranian nuclear issue. As one of the P5 states involved in negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), China sees this agreement as an important diplomatic achievement, and Chinese officials were actively involved behind the scenes in the run-up to the JCPOA.12 That the US unilaterally withdrew from it undermined Chinese preferences for Gulf stability. Its officials have frequently condemned this
  • t established the China Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF) in 2004, a multilateral forum that promotes policy coordination and includes China and the 22 Arab League member states. Another development was the appointment of special envoys to offer Chinese mediation on regional hotspot issues, with one for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and another for Syria. Beyond inserting China into these issues, however, and demonstrating Beijing’s awareness that it needs to be more actively involved, there have been few tangible results from these envoys.
  • The Middle East is a region where the two countries’ interests align quite closely and would benefit from policy coordination. Given the political climates in both Washington and Beijing, however, it is difficult to foresee this happening unless it concerns an issue where both believe their interests and preferences are threatened.
Ed Webb

US-Russia confrontation could drift to Mideast - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 1 views

  • The Middle East offers many opportunities for Putin to combine business with pleasure in challenging the United States. Consider its tumultuous strategic environment: a civil war in Syria, a potential civil war in Libya, ongoing political instability in Egypt and Iraq, simmering violence in Yemen, and political uncertainty almost everywhere else. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are deeply engaged in Syria’s war, as are Iran and Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia and Egypt (among others) are frustrated with the United States — the former over Syria and the latter over America’s intervention in its complex politics, where Washington seems to have been on almost every side at one point or another and has consequently alienated almost all sides. Uncertainty about Iran’s intentions further complicates all of this, as does a weakened relationship between the United States and Israel (where Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman appears to be one of Putin’s closer personal contacts among foreign officials). Meanwhile, China has surpassed the United States as the largest buyer of Middle East oil even as broader China-Middle East trade soars. Expanded Russian arms sales — or new Russian nuclear power plants — may only further destabilize the region.
  • Saudi Arabia and Syria are Russia’s principal security concerns in the Middle East; Moscow’s pre-eminent security interest is in minimizing its own domestic terrorism problem, which means supporting a strong Syrian government that can crack down on extremists and discouraging Saudi and other financial support, whether official or otherwise, for al-Qaeda-connected opposition groups in Syria and extremists in the former Soviet Union. Russia has long viewed Saudi Arabia and Qatar as key sources of support for Chechen militia groups and two Russian operatives were convicted in Qatar in 2004 for assassinating former Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiev to cut short his fund-raising activity there.
  • The Kremlin’s position as a veto-wielding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and its resulting place at the table in the P5+1 process, have been an enduring source of international visibility and influence only recently surpassed by Russia’s Syria role. Moscow also appreciates Iran’s restraint in the former Soviet region and, as a result, sees it as a valuable partner in managing Saudi Arabia. Fundamentally, however, some Russian officials have a conflicted attitude toward Iran, in that they welcome diplomacy as an alternative to US-led war or regime change, but are not especially eager for a US-Iran rapprochement that could undermine Tehran’s interest in their relationship.
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