Showing posts with label GCC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label GCC. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The disintegration of the GCC could create a True PGC

    December 13, 2017   No comments

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

During the last of week of November, the Emir of Kuwait sent out formal invitations to all leaders of member states of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, originally and still commonly known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), to attend the 38th summit (December 5, 2017). The rulers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and United Arab Emirates, declined, sending instead political appointees of the 3rd order to represent them, which must have been seen as a personal insult to the elder Emir of Kuwait, Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah. I believe that this event will mark the unofficial end of this regional intergovernmental organization and perhaps the creation of a better intergovernmental organization in that region. This conclusion is not based just on the snub described above. Rather, it is based on the very reasons that led to the creation of the GCC in the first place and the motives that sustain it.

The GCC was born out of fear and bigotry among undemocratic authoritarian rulers who felt threatened by any event that introduces a political process that would diminish the legitimacy of their own form of government. Throughout its history, the creation of the GCC was motivated by fear, rooted in ethnicism, steeped in bigotry, and driven by elitism.

The GCC was founded in 1981, two years after the fall of the Shah and a year after the Iraqi invasion of Iran (1980), a war that lasted until August 20, 1988. Membership was limited to Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain but excluding Iraq. While one could presume that Iran might have been excluded from this organization on account that it is not an Arab country, the founders provided no logical explanation for the exclusion of Iraq, which borders the Persian Gulf as well. However, it is the original exclusion of Iraq and its exclusion from a 2011 proposals to transform the GCC into a Union that signal the sectarian bias.

The GCC was formed with the aim of protecting the clan or family rule. Iraq was not ruled by a clan or family. Jordan and Morocco are.

The GCC was formed to protect the interests of Sunni Muslims. Iraq was and still is a Shia-majority country.

The GCC was created to preserve the supremacy of ethnic Arabs. Iran is a majority-Persian country. In their pursuit for promoting Arab supremacy, the founders of the GCC intentionally removed the word Persian from the name of the Persian Gulf--the name recognized by the UN and all other international organizations. The adjective “Arab” is used to name the Arabian Sea, on which the Persian Gulf opens and Iran has the longest shores along the Gulf than any other country bordering it, justifying the naming of the body of water, the Persian Gulf.

The idea that the GCC was created out of fear and to preserve an outdated political order can be further supported by its rulers’ attempt to expand its membership when they were also threatened by the 2011 uprisings popularly known as the Arab Spring. Then, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain pushed a proposal to transform the organization from a cooperative into a union and invited Jordan and Morocco to join. Justifying the need for these changes, the prime minister of Bahrain explicitly stated that “current events in the region underscored the importance of the proposal. Oman and Kuwait resisted the proposal, causing it to fail.

Most recently, the failure of the Saudi interventions in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen forced its rulers, again, to seek tighter control over decision making within regional organizations--like the GCC and the Arab League--to protect the clan rule from challenges spurred from neighboring countries. The drive for tighter control ruptured the artificial bond that connected the GCC member states, when Qatar refused to surrender all decision making to Saudi Arabia.

While the GCC summit was under way in Kuwait city, the rulers of UAE announced that they created a "committee for military, economic, political, media, and cultural cooperation between UAE and Saudi Arabia.” This announcement is essentially a step towards the creation of an alternative, but much weaker, GCC, which would be limited to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain. This alternative is unlikely to bring peace and stability to the region for it is still based on the same irrational fears and self-serving goals of the rulers. However, its creation may nudge the other members of the GCC to create an alternative--one that is based on inclusion and mutual interest and respect.

Given the importance of the Persian Gulf to the world, not just to the region, nations bordering it should establish a new intergovernmental organization that will work to improve the quality of life of all the peoples in those countries and to safeguard the region against armed conflict and man-caused disasters. Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman should take the lead and work with the governments of Iraq and Iran to found the Persian Gulf Cooperative (PGC). Such an organization will be built on mutual respect and mutual interests, immediately bringing peace and prosperity to an estimated 100 million people living in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Iran, and Iraq. And when the rulers of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and UAE reconsider their bigoted beliefs and policies, they should be able to join in as full members along with Pakistan and Afghanistan as Observers. Together, these ten nations, would combine their abundant natural resources and vibrant, youthful societies to create better opportunities for their collective population of more than 320 million people.

Because many ethnic, racial, religious, and sectarian communities live in these countries, such an organization would reduce sectarian and ethnic tension, utilize natural resources and water ways responsibly, strengthen civil society and respect for human rights norms, and enshrine cooperative leadership in a region that has been struggling for too long under unstable governments and authoritarian regimes. It will be an organization that is good for member states, good for the region, and good for the world as it inspire cooperation, mutual respect, and shared future.


* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Monday, June 5, 2017

This Crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar likely to dismantle the GCC

    June 05, 2017   No comments
Together, Saudi Arabian and Qatari rulers bankrolled armed rebellions that destroyed Libya, Syria, and Yemen. They offered political and military support to all armed groups that are willing to fight regimes they do not like. Their united front against their common enemies did nothing to remove their own internal problems. Now, they have to face those problems and from the first look, they shattered. Previously, the club of rich nations known as the GCC worked together to force poor Arab countries fall in line. They exerted their power to expel a founding member of the Arab League, Syria, out of the intergovernmental organization. When Qatar hosted the annual summit of the Arab League, it maneuvered to give Syria’s seat to some obscure figure from the Syrian opposition groups.

On May 22, while in Saudi Arabia, Trump met with about 53 representatives of government of Arab and Muslim nations to show a united front against what he called “radical Islamist terrorism.” A day after he left, media outlets from Saudi Arabia and UAE accused Qatar of undermining Arab unity by supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran. On the charge of supporting terrorism, Qatar essentially replied by invoking the proverb: the pot calling the kettle black. Indeed that sums it up: Saudi Arabia is the only regime that espouses the radical interpretation of Islam called, Wahhabi Salafism. They worked on promoting this creed around the world under the guise of Sunni Islam. Every fighter joining al-Qaeda or ISIL is a follower of this radical creed. So it is laughable that Saudi Arabia is accusing other governments of supporting terrorism while its rulers have provided weapons to Salafists fighting in Syria and Libya and used its resources and connections to spread Wahhabism through Islamic centers all over the world. Rulers of Qatar seem determined to resist its bullying neighbors this time. They activated their assets, mainly well-financed and well-staffed media powerhouse, Aljazeera, and members of and sympathizers with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Qatar might be behind the leaked emails of a diplomat from UAE. The emails show that the GCC states used their wealth to hire the best and most influential PR and lobbyists to influence policy makers and governments around the world and in the United States. One of the emails show how Gulf States’ diplomats promote one prince over others and how they work with journalists to raise the profile of individuals they like and raise concerns about groups and governments they do not like.

The coming days and weeks will reveal more since these two countries worked together to destabilize other countries. Each side will be leaking more emails and diplomatic documents that will show the extent of their involvement in creating shady alliances, destabilizing other countries, and using their assets to mask all their covert operations around the world.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Will the rulers of Saudi Arabia, and perhaps other GCC, fall and why?

    June 04, 2015   No comments

Saudi rulers use war on Yemen to remain relevant
The war on Yemen removed the last fig leaf and exposed the tools and advantages the rulers of Saudi Arabia have used for nearly a century to control its population and project power and influence outside the kingdom’s border. The first tool is the strategic alliance with the United States that shielded it from any criticism in international forums and protected it against foreign threats in return for steady flow of cheap energy. The second tool is a brand of interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism, which allowed the rulers to enjoy absolute power over the institutions of the state as long as Wahhabism was allowed to use the instruments of the state to project itself as the purest form of Sunni Islam.

Saudi Arabia, despite its abhorrent human rights record enjoyed diplomatic, political, economic, and military cover that shielded it from any criticism or sanctions. In fact, Western countries often referred to Saudi Arabia and the few Arab countries that fell under the direct influence of the kingdom as the axes of moderation. The marginalization of ethnic minorities, diminutive attitudes towards groups belonging to different sects, abuse of foreign laborers, domination of women, selective application of cruel punishments, political corruption, blatant nepotism, and flagrant interference in internal affairs of other countries all went unexposed—beyond the reach of media and even academic scholarship.

The rulers of Saudi Arabia used its wealth-acquired clean image to build religious centers in Western countries and madrasas and mosques in poor Muslim countries and staff these institutions with administrators and imams who were indoctrinated in Wahhabism—albeit under the name of Sunni Islam. In addition to this soft form of proselytizing, the rulers of Saudi Arabia have supplied its global allies with hardened zealots who were ready to fight and die for whatever cause they were able to manufacture. Often times, the interests of Western governments and the ambitions of the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance intersected as was the case in Afghanistan in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In this particular case, Western governments, especially U.S. administrations, embraced the so-called mujahidin and they worked together to counter the real or perceived threats posed by the Soviet Union. The same alliance was revived in Syria in the last four years to counter the real or perceived threats posed by Iran and Russia. Saudi Arabia wanted to use this alliance in Yemen as well but the Obama administration hesitated. There are signs however, that this freakishly strange union between the U.S. and the Saudi-Wahhabi cabal is about to expire.

First, the so-called Arab Spring uprisings has forced Western governments in general, and this U.S. administration in particular, to realize that the business of protecting unpopular regimes has become very risky. The sudden fall of two “moderate” Arab leaders in Tunisia and Egypt almost left Western countries on the wrong side of history. They were forced to retroactively overreact calling these former friends and allies dictators. The breaking of the wall of fear that kept Arab masses under check for so long produced a level of political unpredictability never seen before. The Obama administration reaffirmed this reality when it warned the rulers of GCC that their real threat is from their own people not from outside. In other words, U.S. administrations will no longer protect regimes that do not enjoy a popular mandate. They remain, however, interested in protecting countries, especially the ones with clear commitment to representative governance like Tunisia. This distinction between regimes and countries and lack of commitment to protect specific regimes kept four out of the six rulers of the GCC out of the summit at Camp David. Interestingly, the Obama administration also extended NATO’s protection to Tunisia after it denied it to GCC States.

On May 12, the self-declared caliph and leader of the “Islamic State,” al-Baghdadi, declared the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance nulland void. In a 34 minute long rant, he accused Aal Salul (the group’s diminutive label for the Saudi family) of attempting to regain its standing as the protector of Sunni Muslims by launching “Operation Fancy” in Yemen. He called on Saudi Sunni Muslims not to fall for this trick. He explicitly asked them to rise up against the rulers of the kingdom and join the “Islamic State,” which is, in his determination, the true representative of pure Islam and the real “protector” of Sunni Muslims. The fall of GCC regimes will be internal. Specifically, it will come on the hands of the adherents to the brand of Islam they manufactured over the past eighty years: Wahhabism.

Importantly, al-Baghdadi’s statements confirm what some scholars have been saying about the link between Saudi Arabia and ISIL. Al-Baghdadi reaffirmed that his version of Islam was in fact inspired by the same Islam preached and practiced in Saudi Arabia. The difference, however, is that he and his “Islamic State” are living the true faith and practice, whereas the Saudi ruling family support it only in name and form.

These two important developments, the downgraded Saudi-Western alliance and the rise of the Islamic State as the exemplar of Sunni Islam, are terrifying for the Saudi ruling family. The ruling family’s precious investment in religious extremism—as an ideology—and dependence on Western governments—as a national security strategy—are spent. Wahhabism, the brainchild of the family of Saud, has now outgrown its masters and has established its own political and military entity: the “Islamic State.” Western countries are no longer dependent on Saudi oil. Preserving regimes that are rejected by the peoples they are supposed to represent is now very risky. For the rulers of GCC, as it has become for most Arab rulers, the options are very limited: reform or perish.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Managing Syrian Conflict through Diplomacy

    July 06, 2013   No comments
by Henelito A. Sevilla, Jr. 

The complexity of issues surrounding the Syrian civil war requires not only diplomatic negotiations at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) but also through multilevel consultations of many important actors that have significantly contributed to either finding the solution or to worsening of the problem. What we have seen in Syrian civil war is not only opposing forces within the country but also outside forces which add to the intricacy of the problem. After months of conflict we found out that arms do not provide security nor it provide venue for more negotiation rather more bloodshed and killing of innocent civilians. This assumption has been reinforced by what happened in Libya. The proliferation of small arms into the hands of Libyan civilians does not only guarantee pity crimes after the overthrown of Khadafy but also the possibility of an increasing rate of organized crimes once small arms are channeled to politically motivated sub-groups such as the Jihadists.  In the case of Syria, small and high powered arms are already in the hands of the opposition forces and some of them are already handled by minors and some undisciplined Syrian who are vulnerable to killings, whereas, the United States, Russia and Iran are supplying arms and helicopters to either opposition or regimes forces.  Arguably this regrettable situation has contributed significantly to the killings of hundreds of civilians including the Syrian refugees fleeing to the borders of Turkey and Lebanon.  Arming the opposition to protect themselves from Bashar’s forces and providing attack helicopters and arms to the regime against the oppositions’ maybe the best option but it does not provide rationality to what really is the idea and intention on why Syrian went to streets to demonstrate. The fact that Bashar’s regime is unacceptable both from American and pro- American Arab regimes point of view, then the beginning of the civil protest was the perfect timing to start the gradual elimination of the US headaches in the Gulf. Syria ‘civil war’ is not just a civil war in its absolute terms. It is also an international geographically confined war with varied competing actors and interests not necessarily Syrians. It is a war about changing the political landscape of the region and finally it is a proxy war between the US, the Arabs and perhaps Turkey in one hand and Russia and Iran and perhaps China on the other hands.

What we have seen in the ground are the manifestations of different interests being carried out by the opposition forces and government forces who served as competing proxies of the two blocks being identified above. The competing interests of external actors have become apparent both at the UNSC, regional organization such as the Gulf Cooperation Council and through official pronouncements of the United States, Russia, China, Iran, GCC and Turkey. 

At the height of the UNSC debate on Syria, permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have already shown disagreement on how to approach the civil crisis in that country. This was the first level where disagreement and conflicting interests of the UNSC members became apparent.  The United States led alliance with Gulf monarchies and European allies has called for an international pressure to end the “Syrian killing Machines” and protect the Syrian citizens from the Bashar’s “abhorrent brutality.”  All would be much happy to see the region without Bashar of Syria and the Ayatollahs in Iran.  As a political journalist Pepe Escobar put it,
“It’s an alliance between NATO basically led by Washington, London and Paris and the six Persian Gulf Monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Their agenda from the beginning, for months now, is regime change no matter what.”    On the other side, Russia and China have both disagreed with the US back proposal on the ground that the UNSC resolution might result to a coercive change of government not by the Syrian people but by the outsiders. Thus, the conflict in Syria has also manifested a “geopolitical struggles over the future of the Iranian regime, control of the Middle East oil and perpetuation  of the West preponderant influence in the region” an condition that Russia and China feel that they could be “booted out of the region.”

This level of disunity has greatly affected the way diplomacy is being conducted on the ground. Not less than the former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan acknowledged his disappointment on the superpowers’ disunity and lamented that “any further militarization of the conflict would be disastrous.”   Patrick Scale in his article argues that “the more the opposition resorts to arms, the more the regime will feel justified in crushing it.”  The six-point proposal that Annan negotiated had a backed from the UNSC and the Arab League but was opposed by Russia and China. The Six-point proposal  called for the Bashar’s government to ‘withdraw the use of heavy weapons and deploy troops to populated areas and for the opposition fighters to disarm. It also leads down the mechanics for political transition once Assad is removed from power.’

The second level of disunity can be seen from the Gulf regional actors themselves. The members of the Arab League do not want Iran to be part of the consultation and in the making of the framework for solution in Syria. The denial of Arab Gulf states on the Iranian participation in negotiation process would not only result to a half -cooked resolution but would also trigger the Iranian Islamic regime to participate in non-transparent operations in Syria. The Western Countries in the United Nations have accused Iran as the ‘central party to illicit arms transfers’  to Syria and Hezbollah using the Syrian border. Finally, Iran must have a greater role considering its influence on Syria as Alex Vatanka article argues that since from the beginning, Iran’s relations with Syria is “a marriage of convenience” . Iran being a regional power must be acknowledged by the Arab Gulf States instead of just ignoring it as irrelevant actor.

The third level of disunity comes from completing political interests of the Syrian opposition groups. According to Fawaz Gerges an Expert at the London School of Economics and Political Science, that there are more than 100 armed Syrian groups. These groups are visible both inside and outside Syria. They can be divided into categories such as Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, moderate Islamist, nationalist, secularist, leftists.  In an article written by Stephen Lendman of The New York City Independent Media Center,  opposition groups in Syria can be divided into nine major groups: 1) The Syrian National Council (SNC), the largest opposition group that ‘favors a violent ousting of Assad’; 2) National Coordination Bureau for the Forces of Democratic Change (NCB), which advocate a “democratic governance”; 3)  Syrian Democratic Platform, an ideologically formed group; 4) Building the Syrian State (BSS), that  discourage ‘armed struggle’; 50  National Change Current (NCC), a group that support the SNC; 6) The ‘loyal opposition’, that supports Assad; 7) ) Syrian Sunni Islamism, the strongest group that includes the Islamic Brotherhood; 8) the Kurdish Opposition; and 9) The independent Dissidents.
These opposition groups are united in replacing the Bashar’s regime, but their ‘approaches are different’.   Apart from these Syria comprised various groups each would like to have greater share in the Transition period in Syria.

Finally, Turkey is also playing a very crucial role especially in the terms of Syrian refugee issues. There had been disagreements within the UNSC on whether Turkish request to put a “buffer zone “inside Syria was practical or not. The Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has announced in August 2012 that his country would not accept more than 10,000 Syrian refugees into Turkish soil and called for the establishment of the buffer zone.  The United States and its allies shown no interest on it and as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius commented that establishing a buffer zone is a “complicated” issue since it would require a resolution from the United Nations to established a “no-fly zone” in the area, given Russian and Chinese “reluctance” to remove Assad.   Assad also dismisses the idea of a buffer zone saying that it is “unrealistic.”

Different levels of disagreement both inside the country and abroad have all made negotiation a difficult task to achieve, a condition that led to the resignation of Annan as a chief negotiator citing disagreements among the members of the UNSC. A former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi replaced Annan and has dubbed his work as “impossible mission.”  But given that the crisis in Syria has already erupted to become a proxy war, there is no other way as of the present yet on how to diffuse the issue than diplomacy. It would mean that the interest of the Libyan nation must be given a top priority before any other political interests, although finding a common ground in the case of Syria is a difficult mission that the UNSC permanent members could achieved given the propensity of their regional interests. 


What is happening now in Syria is a continuation of a political and geostrategic battle on one hand between the permanent members of the UNSC vis –a- vis their regional interests and between the Basher’s regime against the fragmented government opposition groups on the other hand.  It is also a battle for Iran to maintain its ally in Syria and preserve its status as a regional power. In addition, it is an opportunity for Turkey to project itself as a regional power in the region and reasserts its role as a hybrid link between the Middle East and the West.  Each international and regional state-actors involved in Syria have played a dangerous game that would transform the political landscape of the Middle East region to an unknown direction. Each state guided by their strategic interests would love to see their share of influence in future of the Middle East. Instead of focusing on issues such as providing relief goods to Syrian civilian casualties and refugees, many efforts were focused on political and geostrategic concerns. Within this concern, nothing could be a best alternative to diplomacy. Even in the absence of development after many months of conflict, the world, especially contending powers should not overruled diplomacy and negotiation in favor of political and strategic interests of some actors involved. Giving signals to other states to sell arms to either parties in conflict may not only encourage the prolongation of the conflict and loss of lives and properties but may also demeaning our ethical and moral responsibilities not just as members of the international community but most especially as members of human race.


*Henelito A. Sevilla, Jr is an Assistant Professor at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines, Diliman. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Tehran, a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Shahid Behesti, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran and Bachelor of Science in International Relations at the King Faisal Center for Islamic, Arabic and Asian Studies, Mindanao State University, Marawi City, Philippines.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

MESA protests UAE "Blacklisting" of Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen

    March 24, 2013   No comments

*His Excellency Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Foreign Affairs

United Arab Emirates
via fax +971 02 444 7766
Your Excellency,

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) to register shock and deep dismay at the denial of entry into the United Arab Emirates of Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen. Dr. Coates Ulrichsen is Co-Director of the Kuwait Research Programme at the London School of Economics (LSE) and an internationally recognized scholar of Gulf Arab politics. On February 22, he was on his way to a scholarly conference at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) that was jointly organized with the Middle East Centre at the LSE. The theme of the meeting was “The New Middle East: Transition in the Arab World.” His paper was entitled “Bahrain’s Uprising: Domestic Implications and Regional International Perspectives.” Immigration officials at the Dubai Airport detained him for forty-five minutes while they scrutinized his passport in detail. He was then informed that he was “blacklisted.” A representative of Emirates Air told him that he was denied entry and being sent back to London.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

On February 25, the official news agency of the UAE confirmed that Dr. Coates Ulrichsen had been denied entry because of views he has espoused in the course of his scholarly and educational work. An official statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quoted which acknowledged that Dr. Coates Ulrichsen was denied entry because he had “consistently propagated views de-legitimizing the Bahraini monarchy.” Further, the Ministry explained, “The UAE took the view that at this extremely sensitive juncture in Bahrain’s national dialogue it would be unhelpful to allow non-constructive views on the situation in Bahrain to be expressed from within another GCC state.”

Subsequently, on February 26, the police chief of Dubai, Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, told the al-Riyadh newspaper: “Kristian is not welcome here. We blocked him from entering the country to protect its security and stability from his evil ideas.” With comments such as these, the United Arab Emirates is on record as condoning the flagrant violation of basic principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression.

The provost of the AUS informed the LSE on February 21 that he had received orders from the ruler’s office that no discussion of Bahrain was permissible at the upcoming meeting. The LSE issued a statement on February 22 that announced it was calling off its participation in the meeting that it helped to organize due to “restrictions imposed on the intellectual content of the event that threatened academic freedom.” Many of the participants, including Dr. Coates Ulrichsen, were already in transit as the academic conference collapsed.

The implications of this incident are serious and far-reaching. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, “This decision [to bar the scholar’s entry] in no way reflects the strong ties with both the AUS and LSE and their academic excellence.” Academic freedom is integral to—indeed, inseparable from—academic excellence. State intervention to silence scholarly interchange is anathema to academic freedom and, in the long run, corrosive of the overall environment for education at universities.

We ask that Dr. Coates Ulrichsen be removed from the “black list” and for assurances that he will be able to travel to the UAE free from restrictions based on the content of his scholarship. We request that you disavow the incendiary remarks of the Dubai police chief as well as the defamatory comments that are being repeated in numerous state-run outlets. We further call upon you to allow all academic conferences to proceed unhindered, whatever their topic or theme. Finally, we encourage you to pledge that no further state interference in scholarly discussion and debate will be tolerated at any university in the United Arab Emirates. These steps are necessary to quell the growing doubts in the international scholarly community about the integrity of the UAE’s numerous partnerships with foreign academic institutions to promote higher education in the Gulf.


Peter Sluglett

MESA President
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore


His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister, and Co-Chair of the Higher National Security Council (fax +971 04 353 1974)

His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research (fax +971 02 631 3778-Abu Dhabi; +971 04 299 4535-Dubai)

His Excellency Lt. General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Interior (fax +971 04 398 1119)

His Excellency Humaid Mohammed Obeid al Qattami, Minister of Education (fax +971 03 7611198)

His Excellency Abdulrahman Ghanem Almutaiwee, Ambassador of the UAE to the UK (Fax +44 207 581 9616)

Ambassador Dominic Jermey, Ambassador of the UK to the UAE (fax in Dubai Consul +971 4 309 4301; phone in Abu Dhabi Embassy +971 2 610 100)

Dr. Peter Heath, Chancellor, American University of Sharjah (

Dr. Mark Rush, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, American University of Sharjah (

Dr. Craig Calhoun, Director, London School of Economics (

Dr. George Gaskell, Pro-Director, Resources and Planning, London School of Economics (

Dr. Fawaz Gerges, Director Middle East Center, London School of Economics (

His Excellency Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bahrain (phone +973 1722 7555)

Ursula Lindsey, Middle East Correspondent, Chronicle of Higher Education (
*The following letter was issued by the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA).

Friday, January 18, 2013

News Analysis: Is France now fighting the same kind of groups it armed and assisted in Libya?

    January 18, 2013   No comments

It may be a long while before we know the details about France’s sudden intervention in Mali. After all, Mali’s armed forces lost control of parts of the country many years ago. Mali’s political leaders have asked for help many months ago. Yet, suddenly, France, with little warning, launched an aerial bombing campaign to push back armed Salafi groups, Ansar al-Din, who were seen (by satellite and surveillance airplanes) rapidly moving south, possibly towards the capital, Bamako. When the bombing failed to dislodge the Ansar, France decided to insert ground troops which would mean that this intervention will be a long one.

The surprise intervention might have a military value, but it also risked the lives of many civilians since it did not give governments any time to upgrade security around vulnerable facilities. The workers taken hostage in Algeria is just one example.

The French intervention highlights another problem. The west does not seem to have a principled strategy to deal with the changes taking place in the Arab world. First most western governments hesitated to support the peaceful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Additionally, western governments continue to support the Arab authoritarian rulers of the Gulf States (French president was visiting UAE when his forces launched the  attacks). Still, the same governments provided unlimited support to armed, violent rebels in Libya and Syria. Without doubt, the groups France is fighting in Mali are not that different from the groups it supported in Libya and is supporting now in Syria.

The most alarming thing is that the Jihadi Salafis western governments are now fighting come from the same generation of fighters they trained in Afghanistan. That means that they are yet to deal with the generation of Libya and Syria Jihadi fighters they have sponsored, which means that the west’s conflict with violent Salafi groups is made perpetual.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

News Analysis: French intervention in Mali and the paradox of foe-ally militant Salafism

    January 15, 2013   No comments

Based on recent events, observers might be mystified by the seemingly unprincipled French involvement in regional and world crises. When the Tunisian uprising that jump-started the Arab Spring began, French leaders sided with the regime and prominent French politicians fell from grace after the revolution succeeded in removing Ben Ali. Then, France did not take any public role in the Egyptian uprising. 

When the Arab Spring reached Libya, France was the most enthusiastic western country for starting military action that resulted in the killing of Qaddafi and the establishment of the new regime. At that time, most observers thought that the Libyan oil was the primary motive that pushed France to take the lead in NATO’s operations in Libya. Former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, admitted that much when he said, after the fall of Qaddafi, that France should have the lions’ share in the oil business in Libya. However, despite his success overseas, the French people were not happy and fired Sarkozy.

When the new president, Francois Hollande, took over, many expected a more measured response to world crises. His first test was Syria. He initially kept his distance from the opposition that was represented in the Syrian National Council. That might have been a cautious move to keep Turkey’s influence under control since that group was seen as being too close to Turkey. When the U.S. and Qatar engineered the dismantling of the Syrian National Council and replacing it with the Syrian National Coalition, France was the first country in the world to recognize it as “the sole and legitimate representative of the Syrian people.” Whatever strategy they have had in mind, it does not seem that it worked since the Syrian Coalition is just as incompetent as its predecessor in terms of having real influence inside Syria.

Moreover, the Syrian Coalition was unable to control extremist groups like Jabhat al-Nusrah, which the U.S. placed on the list of terrorist organizations. The U.S.’s move was criticized by the president of Syrian Coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-khatib,  and that was enough for western countries to become more skeptical of the ability  of the Syrian Coalition to meet its obligations. Minimally, western countries wanted secular groups within the Syrian opposition to have a bigger role. That did not happen and the fear of al-Qaeda taking over a leading role in Syria overrode the west’s desire to overthrow an unfriendly authoritarian.

Late last week (on Friday), France, again, surprised the world by starting a military campaign against militant Salafis in northern Mali. Over the weekend, France bombed positions of Ansar al-Din and stationed over 700 French troops inside Mali to stop Ansar al-Din’s advances. Another 2,000 French troops will be sent to Mali soon, according to French authorities. This is happening while French citizens were killed in Somalia on the hands of another al-Qaeda affiliate, Shabab al-Islam (aka Ash-shabab).

Seeking more support, the French president visited the Gulf States where he declared from the United Arab Emirates that he expects these states to provide military and financial help.

Mali has been in turmoil for years and very few paid attention. Previously, some of the natives of this Saharan country, the Touereg, have been fighting to end discrimination, marginalization, and neglect. But in recently years, Salafi groups became more and more active in the region. Relying on the discipline of their members and the generosity of their private and state sponsors from the Gulf region, the Salafis were able to achieve in months what the Touereg rebels could not achieve in years. With the chaos in Libya, more weapons and personnel made their way to northern Mali. Last summer, a military coup paralyzed the central government and Ansar al-Din used that opportunity to expand their control and influence. 

France’s intervention, then, can be explained by its fear over threats to its interest in western Africa in general and the prospect of one of Africa’s mineral rich countries falling in  the hands of al-Qaeda affiliates. Mali has huge untapped gold mines as well as other natural resources. Gold, especially, is proven to be the preferred currency for countries and groups that are facing scrutiny from the west. Mali, therefore, became the epicenter of convergence of conflicting interests.

Despite the distance, France’s intervention in Mali may create a new reality in Syria. After all, the similarities (and links) between Ansar al-Din in Mali, Ansar al-Shari`a in Libya and Tunisia, and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria make it very hard for western countries to explain why they are waging war on these related groups in Africa but providing them, via their Gulf allies, with support, military and otherwise, in Syria.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holding on to the past and the status quo, Gulf States seek political unity

    December 21, 2011   No comments
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

The Arab world is fundamentally changing, and many Arab leaders are racing to adapt. Showing increased signs of nervousness, the leaders of the Gulf States have adopted the Saudi King’s recommendation to move the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) towards “unity.” The meeting of the rulers of the GCC member states that concluded on Tuesday December 20, 2011 also issued an unusually portentous declaration. The rulers expressed their fears of “attempts by foreign entities trying to export their internal crises through the effects of discord and division, and inciting sectarianism.” Therefore, they outlined a strategy “to fortify the home front” to counter these attempts through their “determination to achieve the highest degree of economic integration and development of defense cooperation and security.” Let’s attempt to decipher these seemingly cryptic sentences.

Perceived threats

The Saudis in particular and the other Gulf States in general, are fearful of two main threats, real or perceived. The first threat is Iran, which challenges their long-held religious and ethnic tenets. The second threat is the Arab Awakening, which challenges them ideologically and politically. The two threats seem to be connected now, and they will only be more so in the future. The Gulf State strategy seems to be based on the assumption that the stability of all Gulf regimes can only be disturbed by outside forces.

The Saudi political rulers in particular have tied their destiny to a form of Islamic expression that reveres the “Salaf” and downplays the direct political role of Islamic scholars. The Kingdom’s stability hinges on preserving the Umayyad model of governance, and the conservative interpretation of Islam through the lens of Hanbalism and Wahhabism. Modern Islamists’ interpretation of Islam could weaken the Saudi paradigm, which is built on consent, not dissent or contestation.

In addition to the rise of Sunni Islamists in the Arab Awakening, the Saudis continue to fear the Shiite model, which is perceived as religiously radical and ethnically anti-Arab. While the Arab Awakening has the potential to further erode Sunni support for the Saudi version of Islam, Shiite gains in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria could further divide the already ineffective Arab League. Sunni (Salafi) Islam and Arab nationalism have always been central to the Saudi vision of the Arab world. Today, these two pillars of Sunni pan-Arabism are challenged from within and from without forcing the Gulf rulers “to fortify the home front.”

Their solutions

The Gulf rulers are apparently convinced that their ability to succeed in the changing world while resisting those changes can be achieved through the element of strength that they already possess: wealth. Consequently, they outlined a strategy that would allow them to “achieve the highest degree of economic integration and development of defense cooperation and security.” In other words, the Saudis now want more isolationism and institutional mechanisms to guarantee political and economic unity. The ruler’s decisions regarding two critical matters, the membership of Jordan and Morocco and the Syrian situation, reflected this new strategy.

The final statement referred to the Syrian situation as an issue that must be addressed by the Arab League. But it also connected Syria to Iran when it called on outsiders to stop interfering in the affairs of Arab states. The Gulf States rulers are clearly interested in breaking the Syria-Iran connection to make up for losing influence over Iraq to Iran. They also identify Egypt and Tunisia as losses, since they are now ruled by Islamists who frown upon the archaic Umayyad model or an Arab nationalism that excludes Berbers, Kurds, and other ethnic minorities. They are also interested in providing new instruments that will limit the Iranian influence on the Shiite political minorities in Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.

Most telling is the dissipating enthusiasm for adding new members to the six-nation cooperative. Immediately after the fall of the authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, the Gulf States issued an invitation to Morocco and Jordan to apply for membership in the GCC. Tuesday’s communiqué ignored the membership issue, recommending instead that the “GCC begin to establish a fund to support development projects” providing each of the two kingdoms with $2.5 billion. Importantly, the statement did not envision full membership, but rather a "partnership" with the two countries.


The GCC investment in Jordan and Morocco is not an investment in stable governance. If they wanted to support democracy and stability, they would have invested in Tunisia and Egypt. Instead, they are investing in regimes that mimic their own Umayyad model of governance. The GCC rulers embraced a selective policy of condemning regimes, like the Syrian one, for abusing their citizens while throwing a safety line to other equally abusive regimes such as the Bahraini, Moroccan, and Jordanian ones. Such a policy is shortsighted and unproductive. Western countries should be wary of such political engineering intended to preserve clannish rule, not representative governance.

Despite the fact that none of the members of the GCC are run by representative governments, and despite their abysmal human rights record, the rulers of the Arab Gulf States continue to wield influence through Arab and Islamic institutions. These rulers seem to be confident that they can buy consent. So far they have. Evidently, peoples are less likely to demand representation when there is no taxation.  In emirates like UAE and Qatar, not only do citizens not pay taxes, but they also earn a per capita income of nearly $70,000--the fifth highest in the world. Understandably, these states are not facing the same economic conditions as the people in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, or Syria. But the rulers of the Gulf States underestimate the formidable force of people’s longing for dignity. In a changed Arab world, the peoples of the Gulf States, too, will start to wonder why they are denied a voice in the management of the natural resources that allow them to live tax-free for now. Dignity is not only about money and economic security; it is about self-respect and autonomy, too.
Professor Souaiaia teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of the book, Contesting Justice.

Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated. 

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