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Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia and the UAE Could Spoil Oman's Smooth Transition by Fomenting Regional Ins... - 0 views

  • Oman remains vulnerable to both foreign and domestic sources of instability as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates seek to expand their regional influence. Potential causes of domestic unrest—including high unemployment, budget deficits, and dwindling oil reserves—lack clear-cut solutions. Sultan Haitham faces multiple challenges even without the threat of foreign meddling, yet Oman’s neighbors may view the death of Qaboos as a unique opportunity to advance their own expansionist agendas.
  • Oman resisted Saudi Arabia’s attempts to use the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a tool to serve the Saudis’ foreign-policy agenda, most visibly when Oman’s minister of state for foreign affairs publicly rejected King Abdullah’s plan to deepen the GCC into a Gulf Union in 2013, and was the only GCC state to not participate in the Saudi-led military incursion against Yemen that began in 2015.
  • Sultan Haitham comes to power at a time when the Trump administration has repeatedly signaled its support for Saudi Arabia and antipathy toward Iran. The belated naming of low-ranking U.S. officials to attend the official ceremony honoring Sultan Qaboos was widely interpreted as a slight against the Omanis; the U.K., in contrast, sent both Prince Charles and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to pay their respects.
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  • Saudi leaders likely hope that Sultan Haitham will be more amenable to a Saudi-led Gulf, and without U.S. support, Oman may feel pressure to acquiesce or face potential repercussions. Omani officials have privately expressed concerns that Oman could be the next target of a Saudi- and Emirati-led blockade
  • Despite precipitating the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has used its military presence there to declare its intention to build a pipeline through the Mahra region and construct an oil port on the Yemeni coast. Saudi Arabia currently ships oil through the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb strait, whereas the proposed pipeline would allow direct access to the Indian Ocean.
  • Mahra has close links to the adjacent Dhofar region of Oman, which has long viewed the province as an informal buffer from the instability in other parts of Yemen. Sultan Qaboos offered aid as well as dual citizenship to residents of Mahra as a means of eliminating the potential for another conflict resembling the Dhofar War of 1963-1976, which drew cross-border support from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen operating from Mahra into Dhofar
  • Inhabitants of Mahra have expressed frustration with the presence of both the Saudis and Emiratis, given that these kingdoms’ alleged foes—the Houthis as well as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula—are not present in Mahra
  • The UAE has taken control of the Yemeni island of Socotra, building a military base in a unique ecosystem nominally protected by UNESCO. The UAE is also building bases in Eritrea and Somaliland as part of a plan to develop a “string of ports” that will allow it to project power and escape possible pressure from Iran in the Persian Gulf.
  • Other Emirati ambitions include the Musandam Peninsula, an Omani enclave that forms the narrowest point in the Strait of Hormuz. The inhabitants of the peninsula have close ties to the UAE, as Musandam connects geographically to the emirates of Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah, rather than Oman. Oman’s control of the strategic chokepoint reflects the sultanate’s history as an empire whose territory once stretched from southern Pakistan to Zanzibar. 
  • The border between Oman and the UAE was only formally demarcated in 2008, but Omanis see a circle of potential threats arising from Emirati activity in or possible designs on Musandam, Mahra, and Socotra.
  • the UAE may feel that Oman’s new sultan may be more receptive to alignment with Emirati objectives than his predecessor
  • Oman has failed to significantly diversify its economy
  • As in many oil-dependent economies, unemployment is high, especially among young people
  • During the popular uprising of 2011, which brought thousands of Omanis to the street for the first time, the government used its nest egg to pay for a massive expansion of the government payroll.
  • there are no available resources to try to finance a transition away from oil, and the low price of oil has further impeded the government’s efforts to meet its obligations
Ed Webb

Where and why food prices lead to social upheaval - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Unlike other commodities, global food prices have followed a different trajectory. Although down from near-historic highs in 2007-2008 and 2011, they are still higher than at any point in the previous three decades.
  • The economic effects of higher food prices are clear: Since 2007, higher prices have put a brake on two decades of steady process in reducing world hunger. But the spikes in food prices over the past decade have also thrust food issues back onto the security agenda, particularly after the events of the Arab Spring. High food prices were one of the factors pushing people into the streets during the regionwide political turmoil that began in late 2010. Similar dynamics were at play in 2007-2008, when near-record prices led to food-related protests and riots in 48 countries.
  • Unlike energy and electronics, demand for basic foodstuffs is income-inelastic: Whether I have adequate income has no effect on my need for sustenance. Not surprisingly, 97 percent of the post-2007 ‘food riots’ identified by a team at the New England Complex Systems Institute occurred in Africa and Asia, which are home to more than 92 percent of the world’s poor and chronically food-insecure. Careful empirical work bears out this conventional wisdom: High global food prices are more destabilizing in low-income countries, where per capita incomes are lower.
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  • Politics might affect the relationship between food prices and protest through two channels. The first is the extent to which governments shield urban consumers from high global prices. Governments in developing countries often subsidize food purchases, especially those of urban dwellers, shifting welfare from rural producers to urban consumers. But this observation raises the second-order question of the conditions under which governments will subsidize urban consumers. We hypothesized that autocratic governments were more likely to shield urban consumers. While urban dwellers can riot in the absence of elections, rural dwellers have fewer channels through which they can voice grievances.
  • democracies and anocracies did enact more pro-rural food policy. In particular, democracies in Africa and Asia enact policies that favor urban areas less and rural areas more. These take the form of enhancing farmer incomes and raising consumer prices, which often causes protests and rioting. Lessening urban bias in food policy may be good pro-poor policy, given the continued concentration of poverty in rural areas, but it carries political risks.
  • the Arab Spring reflects some of the risks autocratic leaders face when attempting to insulate urban consumers from global market prices. Consumer subsidies have long been part of the “authoritarian bargain” between the state and citizens in the Middle East and North Africa, and attempts to withdraw them have been met with protest before: Egypt’s bread intifada, which erupted over an attempt to reform food subsidies, killed 800 in 1977. These subsidies explicitly encouraged citizens across the region to evaluate their governments’ effectiveness in terms of their ability to maintain low consumer prices — prices that, given these countries’ dependence on food imports, those governments ultimately could not control
  • Our findings point to the difficult tradeoffs facing governments in developing countries as they attempt to pursue two different definitions of food security simultaneously: food security as an element of human security, and food security as a means of ensuring government survival and quelling urban unrest. These tradeoffs appear to be particularly acute for developing democracies.
Sherry Lowrance

Amid transition, more Egyptians cling to safety of long-hated emergency law - The Washi... - 1 views

  • A broad swath of society — from glassworkers to accountants, Christians to Islamists — say the emergency law is one of the few things keeping them safe.
  • “We’ve taken the emergency law for 30 years. One more year won’t make a difference.”
  • symptom of a deeper problem
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  • Many police officers have withdrawn from the streets; tales of theft and violence sweep neighborhoods, and in Imbaba, an impoverished area of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile, some residents say they don’t dare walk the streets unarmed.
  • Now, many residents say, the few police who are on the streets are polite, even cautious. And the military has taken over the security functions of the country — something its soldiers aren’t trained to do.
  • military justice
  • rights groups here estimate that at least 5,000 people have been detained since the military took over the criminal justice system at the end of January.
  • In a sign of how much tables have turned, one human rights group recently went to the police to initiate a complaint against a military officer.
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    The protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak were driven in large part by hatred of the 30-year-old emergency law that gives the government broad powers to censor and detain citizens. But in a sign of the topsy-turvy world that Egyptians now live in, many here say they want the law to stay for the time being.
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    This seems more comparative politics than international politics, which is why there isn't much in this group about similar topics. I have another group that you might find useful if you are interested in such topics: http://groups.diigo.com/group/authoritarianism-in-mena
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