Israel can attack Syria at any time without cost

In the Middle East, there seems to be double standards in play when it comes to Israel. Israel seems to act with immunity while other Arab countries, and Iran as well, are expected to adhere to greater standards, being called liers and worse if they do not. The latest is Israel airstrikes on military sites in Syria (a street in Damascas Syria, pict...
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NZ$5 trillion investor group supports Christchurch Call

Since the Mosque killings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March there's been an outpouring of emotion and of money. This is what has been pledged so far. New Zealand and global investors representing more than NZD$5 trillion have added their support to the Christchurch Call, which sets out voluntary commitments for governments, companies and wider...
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Abbas needs to dismantle the PA

Even though I have lived in the Middle East for some years, and have visited both Israel and Palestine, I was in the dark about why the Palestinian Authority (PA) came into existence and what could happen next. This article from Yossin Beilin for Al Monitor gives some of the answers. Yossi Beilin May 6, 2019 Article Summary Instead of playing into ...
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Iran claims US sabotage of missile program used to its ‘benefit’

This article talks about the Strait of Hormuz, often forgotten in articles about Iran. It's the strait between Iran and Ras Al Khaimah, an emirate in the United Arab Emirates. There's always been a lot of action there, such as fishing boats moving to the wrong waters and getting fired on. Most activity has not hit the news. This time it has. It's e...
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Cowed Egyptians meet Sisi's power grab with apathy

When I lived in Dubai from 2005- 2014, Egypt was a barometer of what could happen in the rest of the Middle East.  It is frightening. And most of the GCC countries, the UAE and Saudi Arabia in particular, are supportive of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Here's what Al Monitor says. Shahira Amin February 14, 2019 Article Summary The rare voice...
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Launch of Saudi news channel aimed at Iraqis

MBC is a TV channel that is entertainment based. In Dubai, we were not only in the same building but also on the same floor. In Dubai Media City. Of course, I didn't know that a Saudi businessman was bankrolling MBC. Here is the latest news, c/o of Al Monitor. Launch of Saudi news channel sparks controversy among Iraqis READ IN: العربية Omar al-Jaf...
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British soccer fan faces 15 years in prison

I was stunned when I read this article, but I was not surprised and certainly believed that what is outlined in the article could happen. Everything is politicised in the UAE, including sport. Although I wrote about finance, business and economics for many years in the UAE, it was important to know the relationship each family had to one another, b...
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US intel assessment suggests Trump's Iran policy not working

Iran is like a sword in the side of America. It won't go away. The US, or at least President Trump, has decided that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and may use them soon. US intelligence agencies disagree. When I was living in the UAE there was one occasion, in 2013, when Israel was firing at Iran's nuclear plant in the south of the country. We...
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Saudi used Arab Summit to clarify position toward Trump

I read this article with interest since it explains Saudi policy - and with it the policy of countries like the UAE. The Gulf countries are certainly anti- Iran, despite the fact that nearly all the trading families in the UAE are from southern Iran. And that companies in the emirate Ras Al Khaimah do a lot of business with their closest neighbour.

 The Gulf countries like to be anti Iran but all, especially the UAE, do its best to stay on good terms with it.

 Being anti-Iran means being pro-Trump. This is best illustrated in Dubai with the Trump Estates by Damac Properties, the largest private property developer in the Middle East. The Trump Estates is described this way: “DAMAC Hills is an exclusive gated community perched on a private island amidst the lush greens and fairways of the Trump International Golf Club Dubai.”

Article summary

In response to a growing rift between Riyadh's regional policies and some actions by President Donald Trump, King Salman has reaffirmed long-held alliances while distancing the kingdom from Washington.

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Built on sand

There is so much happening in Saudi Arabia right now, and not just the meetings with Donald Trump and his clan. Oil, the Saudi ruling family and Islam are all showing signs of cracks. Certainly, Saudi Arabia is not how it used to be. Explaining this is Andrew Critchlow, who spent a long time in the Middle East, (when I was there). He went to the UK and was working with Thomson Reuters.

Three main pillars bind Saudi Arabia together: oil, the ruling Al Saud family and Islam. Reforms are preparing the Middle East’s largest economy for the end of a reliance on the first. But they could have a destabilising knock-on effect on the other two.

Saudi as a modern nation was founded in 1932 by a powerful regional overlord known as Ibn Saud. Since then the family has monopolised power by doling out its vast petroleum wealth in the form of handouts and preferential business deals while maintaining an uneasy pact with an ultra-conservative domestic religious establishment. But a 62 percent slide in the price of crude since 2012 has forced the kingdom to cut benefits such as energy subsidies for the average Saudi. Buying support is about to get tougher.

The radical restructuring of the economy now being managed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – one of Ibn Saud’s many grandsons – is ambitious and not before time. The prince, widely known as ‘MbS’, last month presented the details of his Vision 2030 and short-term National Transformation Plan, with the aim of weaning Saudi off oil, which still accounts for over 70 percent of budget revenues. But although it’s a financial necessity for Riyadh to rein in a record budget deficit, politically the strategy is risky – it could prove unpopular in poorer rural tribal areas of the desert kingdom.

That would be okay if the 1000-plus princes of the Al Saud family were a unified bunch. But they are not immune to disagreements. After the death of the incumbent King Salman bin Abdulaziz, power will pass for the first time outside the direct line of Ibn Saud’s sons, which itself implies a less harmonious succession. The sudden elevation of the 31-year-old MbS, the current king’s son, looks a threat to his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef, who as crown prince is the official heir to the throne. It could also kindle resentment among the sons of previous rulers who were passed over, including those who don’t descend from the offspring of Ibn Saud’s most influential wife, Hassa bint Ahmed al-Sudairi.

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The Qatar dispute blunders on; no end in sight

The Gulf Co-Operation Council (GCC) dispute over Qatar is going on and on. Neither side-  four countries- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt, versus Qatar, are willing to give in.

The dispute has certainly highlighted the issue of food security- something that GCC countries are trying to resolve by reducing their dependency on imported food. Qatar has not achieved this (no one has) and is throwing money at the problem by bringing into the country 4,000 Irish dairy cows with reportedly 10,000 more to follow. The country can then feed all its population. Is this an attempt to destroy Qatar by starvation?

There are also reports that the GCC Summit due to take place in Kuwait in December is likely to be postponed to mid 2018 and that the US is pulling out of some military exercises planned with GCC countries. Qatar has also taken formal steps in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to escalate a compliant it lodged in July against the UAE.

Also, in some comments made to Arab Digest, it seems that the GCC is now more receptive to some approaches from Israeli countries. It seems that being Israeli is no longer a hindrance to doing business in the GCC.

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The future of the Middle East

This is the final chapter in the forthcoming e-book which considers what will happen when the Saudi and Egyptian regimes fall and the West’s struggle against Jihad.

The Future of the Middle East

We are pleased to announce today the publication of the final chapter in our forthcoming new e-book ‘The Future of the Middle East’, co-produced by Global Policy and Arab Digest and edited by Hugh Miles and Alastair Newton.

Global Policy is an interdisciplinary peer reviewed journal and online platform which aims to bring together academics and practitioners to analyse public and private solutions to global issues. Established in 2010, Global Policy is based at Durham University and edited by David Held and Dani Rodrik.

We would like to thank again all the experts who so kindly contributed to this project and made it a success. The completed e-book will be published on October 23rd. We will provide more information about this closer to the time. Meanwhile all previous chapters are freely available here.

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Media Use in the Middle East 2017

For a comprehensive assessment on what is happening in the media in the Middle East- online and traditional- check out this survey by Northwestern University in Qatar. The findings are enlightening, especially the differences between the Arab countries.

I’ve put the executive summary below. For those who want to read the report more fully go to

Below are the key findings from this study, which are explored in detail in the chapters that follow.

Media Use by Platform

Compared to five years ago, internet penetration rose in all six countries surveyed and most dramatically in Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia.

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Alcohol and Dubai: why they don't mix

Dubai has hit the headlines in the British papers again, and not for a good reason. It was reported that a British guy could be jailed for indecent behaviour for maybe three years. He was in Rock Bottom bar in Tecom (where I used to live) and brushed a Jordanian man on the hips, in a bid not to spill his drink.  The Jordanian man thought his behaviour was indecent. That’s how the incident has been reported by the British media. (See article in the Daily Mail below).

In other media, notably in Dubai, it was reported that the man was drunk so when the police arrived he was arrested.

Few people, apart from those ex-pats who live there, seem to realise that it is illegal to be caught drinking outside a licensed premises such as restaurant or club. That’s why people who live in the emirate get an alcohol license, which entails getting a signature from your employer that you are allowed to drink, among other things. I never got one.

Without a license you can be arrested for drinking at home, or even for having alcohol on the premises. So, if the police found this guy drunk, or even with alcohol in his system, he would be arrested. Indecency wouldn’t even need to be considered.

British father begs people not to visit Dubai

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Why the Rohingya issue is so complicated

I've been following the Rohingya issue which is becoming increasingly complex. This time, rather than being Muslims versus the West, it is Muslims versus the Buddhists- a group we, in the West, had always been taught is tolerant and caring. Indeed, these are the reasons often cited for people transferring their religious preference from Christianity to Buddhism.

Therefore, I was keen to read this article by Lex Rieffel, non-resident senior fellow, Global Economy and Development, The Brookings Institute. Much of the world has condemned Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and leader of the National League for Democracy of Myanmar, for not speaking out about the Rohingya killings. Rieffel explains why.

Reporters on the scene are saying that 300,000 or more members of the Rohingya community (of Muslim faith) in Buddhist-majority Myanmar have fled across the border into Muslim-majority Bangladesh in the past two weeks. The refugees have been describing to reporters a litany of human rights abuses: homes burned, women raped, men beheaded, and more.

Editorial writers and columnists around the world have slammed Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and leader of the National League for Democracy of Myanmar, for allowing the atrocities to occur and have even demanded that the Nobel Committee withdraw the Peace Prize awarded to her in 1991.

As a scholar focusing on Myanmar for the past 10 years, during which I have visited the country more than a dozen times, I know how horrible the situation is. I have been to Rakhine state and have seen the Rohingya confined to a refugee camp on the outskirts of the state capital of Sittwe. At the same time, I believe that much of the media commentary is misdirected. It fails to describe the complex origins of the problem and explain how intractable it is.

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The Saudi Arabian sheep deal again

The deal between the New Zealand government and Saudi businessman Hmood Al Ali Al Khalaf has re-surfaced. After the report came out by the Auditor General Lyn Provost last November that there was no evidence of corruption- although there were "significant shortcomings"- it was probably assumed that the matter was all done and dusted. But it's election time so it's probably not surprising that the deal has resurfaced.

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The Qatari Crisis- is this the end of the GCC?

I was listening to a podcast today by Nader Kabbani, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a senior fellow in Global Economy and Development. He provided a background on the Qatar-Gulf crisis, which has gone on for three months, and outlined its social, economic, and political implications.

He noted that Qatar has shifted its air and land routes, and although it can take longer to get from A to B the difference is not significant. Flying to Europe and Asia takes about 20 minutes longer, while to Africa it can take longer.

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Making the Middle East worse, Trump style

The problems across the Middle East just seem to get worse. How is it possible? When you're living in the region it's pretty clear that US foreign policy in particular, as well as the foreign policy of many of the European countries, including the UK and Germany, are much to blame, whether good or bad-- although foreign policy is generally bad.

This article that was published in Foreign Policy magazine back in June is enlightening. It explains why the problems are so intractable. One reason is expediency and stupidity; the other is the lack of force. Only force will bring about a solution, sort of, especially when it comes to the Israeli - Palestinian peace process. As I was told about five years ago when visiting both countries (I was attending a conference in Bethlehem) Israel will always be better off (territory wise) with the status quo than taking part in a negotiated settlement. This article appears to bear this out.

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Dubai has many sides

I’m always intrigued to read about foreigners getting into trouble in Dubai. It must be easy to think that the emirate is so “Western”. On the surface, it is. Go beneath it, it is not.

 This article about an unmarried couple having consensual sex in the UAE is shocking by Western standards. It is true. The UAE has strict laws. But it’s not nearly as cut and dry as this story might suggest.

 In the first instance, the couple did not have sex in Dubai; it was Sharjah, an adjoining emirate, which has adopted Saudi rules. There is no way anybody would have allowed any hanky panky there.

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The Gulf crisis and more

The Gulf crisis –that is Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain imposing a land, sea and air blockade against Qatar is likely to be ongoing. Kuwait and Oman are remaining neutral, which is typically the case. Saudi Arabia and its allies cut ties with Qatar on June 5 and have accused it of funding terrorism- an accusation that Qatar denies. They later issued a 13-point list of demands, among them being the closure of the news network Al Jazeera, that have been rejected by Qatar.

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