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Friday, July 21, 2017

How will the Qatar crisis affect internal Palestinian politics? (JMD quoted on Diwan)

Hani Masri | Director-general of Masarat, the Palestinian
Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies

Qatar maintains close ties with Hamas and the Palestinian
Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas, while also hosting
Hamas’ leadership in Doha. In this context, we can understand
the significance of the visit of a Hamas delegation to Cairo a day
after the outbreak of the Gulf crisis, and its agreeing to Egyptian
security conditions. This led to the reopening of the Rafah crossing,
allowing Egyptian goods and fuel to enter Gaza.

Here was a change in the policy of Egypt, which had preferred to
deal with Gaza through the Palestinian Authority. The change
was explained by Egyptian anger at Abbas’ refusal to reintegrate
Mohammad Dahlan—the former head of the Preventive Security
Force in Gaza and now an ally of Egypt and the United Arab
Emirates (UAE)—into Fatah’s Central Committee, and the
Palestinian president’s punitive actions against Gaza, despite
Cairo’s warning that an explosion there could harm Egyptian

Egypt, the UAE, and other states opposing Qatar seek to take
Gaza out of Qatar’s orbit. That explains the coincidence of the
Egyptian agreement with Hamas and the understandings
reached between Hamas and Dahlan, the Islamic movement’s
old enemy, whose implementation could lead to a new
partnership in Gaza and the emergence of a strong alignment
against Abbas. This would deepen Palestinian divisions, with
Dahlan’s return hastening the battle over Abbas’ succession.
Israel would be the biggest beneficiary. It would exploit
Palestinian divisions to claim that there is no Palestinian
partner, thus implementing its plan to liquidate the
Palestinian cause.

Nathan Brown | Non-resident senior fellow in the
Carnegie Middle East program, professor of political science
and international affairs at George Washington University,
and co-author of the recent Carnegie report 

It is very old news—dating back to 1948 if not earlier—that Arab
states fight their rivals on the turf of internal Palestinian politics.
However, since the 1960s Palestinian national leaders have built
a set of institutions (the different political factions, the Palestine
National Congress, the Palestinian National Authority) or seized
control of others (the Palestine Liberation Organization) to cope
with such meddling and preserve some ability for the Palestinians
to act for themselves.

The current round of intervention in Palestinian affairs by the
United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt, and others is a return to an
era when those institutions were weak or did not exist. It is a
product not only of the new Arab proxy wars but also of 
the decay of Palestinian institutions that now facilitate rather
than resist such meddling. Hamas and the Palestinian National
Authority, the newest elements in the Palestinian institutional
makeup, actively allow others to write Palestine’s future.

However, the current round of intervention is worse for
Palestinians than its counterpart a half-century ago, when outside
actors at least evinced a pretense of commitment to the Palestinian
cause. Today’s meddlers benefit no identifiable Palestinian interest.

James Dorsey | Senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of
International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological
University, syndicated columnist, and author of the blog, 

The short answer is that the jury is still out. What is clear is that
Hamas has been left out from the list of organizations drafted by
the Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led alliance opposed to Qatar.
This was done as an incentive to push the Islamist group to accept
a power-sharing agreement in the Gaza Strip that would allow the
return of Mohammed Dahlan, the former head of the Preventive
Security Force there. Dahlan is an Abu Dhabi-based arch-rival of
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who has close ties to Abu
Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Egyptian President
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor
Lieberman. Dahlan’s ambition is to succeed Abbas.
Lower salaries for public-sector employees in Gaza paid by Abbas’
Palestinian Authority (PA) and reduced Israeli energy supplies to
the strip at the PA’s behest have caught Hamas in a pincer
movement imposed by Abbas, Israel, Egypt, and the UAE. As a
result, it has been forced to turn for help to Egypt, a UAE and Saudi
ally, and to enter into talks with Dahlan about a power-sharing
agreement. Hamas is caught between a rock and a hard place.
Continued economic pressure undermines its ability to rule.
Surrendering any degree of control over Gaza undermines its
power base. In short, whichever way the Gulf crisis is resolved,
Hamas’ position and standing are likely to be impacted.

The Gulf crisis: A battle of megalomaniacs

Source: The World Bank

By James M. Dorsey

There are fundamental problems in trying to learn lessons or draw conclusions from the Gulf crisis for the role of small states in international relations.

For one, the Gulf crisis is an epic battle between small states rather than simply one small state being targeted by its larger regional detractors. Indeed, it is the United Arab Emirates against Qatar with the UAE rather than Saudi Arabia as the driver in the crisis.

The problem, moreover, in making comparisons is not primarily that both the UAE and Qatar, whose leaders viscerally dislike each other, have massive war chests on the back of their energy exports and therefore are able to wage and sustain the kind of battle that is being fought.

It is that we are dealing with states that are megalomaniac in their ambition and the length to which they are willing to go to ensure the survival of their regimes. Megalomaniac means that their survival strategies go far beyond the normal strategies adopted by small states. Buried in their megalomania is also a measure of naivete, a naïve belief that the consequences of their actions will not come to haunt them.

The UAE and Qatar have adopted strategies that go far beyond the palette of options most small states believe are available to them in the sense that, despite their differing visions of what they think the political lay of the land in the Middle East and North Africa should be, both strive to shape their region in their mould.

In effect, to achieve their goals the UAE and Qatar act not as small states but as big powers, using the kind of tools big powers use: financial muscle, support of opposition forces to stimulate or engineer regime change, military coups, covert wars, and more recently cyberwar.

In fact, the UAE, or what US secretary of defense James Mattis likes to call Little Sparta, is in the mould of a big state establishing foreign military bases and using its commercial strength to control ports across the broader region.

The parameters of the debate about small states in Singapore, sparked by the Gulf crisis, irrespective of what the different positions advocate, are far more reflective of the behaviour of small states. They accept by definition, whether they argue for a more submissive or more activist policy, in word and deed that Singapore is a small state. That shapes discussion of what Singapore can and should do and within what parameters it can and should stand up for its interests; a public discussion that one would not be having were one in either Qatar or the UAE.

Singapore also has, beyond the ability to have a public debate, another advantage. However, one wants to describe the Singapore system of government, it is a system grounded in institutions, the rule of law, and checks and balances.

Singapore like Qatar and the UAE is consumed by a degree of fear. It is a fear about national security, it is a fear grounded in race riots surrounding Singapore’s birth, the perception of living in a volatile neighbourhood, and the fear resulting from the fallout of convoluted transitions that have wracked the Middle East and North Africa as well as Islam. It is not a fear about the survival of the Lee family as Singapore’s foremost political family.

Neither Qatar nor the UAE has Singapore’s degree of institutionalization. Their fears are grounded in the equation of the survival of autocratic ruling families with national security.

Ironically, a silver lining of the Gulf crisis could be over time that this could change with the wave of unprecedented nationalism that the crisis has unleashed in Qatar as Qataris rally around the Al Thani family that accounts for 20 percent of the citizenry in a nation of 300,000 nationals.

Both Qatar and the UAE project themselves as regional and global hubs that are building cutting-edge, 21st century knowledge societies on top of tribally-based autocracies in which education, in contrast to Singapore, is designed to ensure that citizens have marketable skills and can interact globally rather than develop the skills of critical thinking that could result in criticism.

Both Qatar and the UAE have glimmering and bold skylines that rival that of Singapore. But beyond the trappings of modernity, neither are states that empower their citizens. The limitations of modernity are evident. Criticism of Qatar’s labour regime after it won the 2022 World Cup hosting rights did not resonate among Qataris.

Similarly, Qataris protested when in 2009, some households in the Gulf state hired Saudis as maids, yet never raised their voice about the widespread abuse of Asian maids. Saudi maids were too close to home. If Saudis could be reduced to the status of a maid, so could Qataris one day.

Nonetheless, despite their different attitudes towards political Islam, Qatar and the UAE have both developed societies in which religious scholars have relatively little say and Islamic mores and norms are relatively liberally interpreted.

This, however, is where in terms of survival strategies the communalities between Qatar and the UAE stop. To be sure, Qatar and the UAE share building blocks of soft power creation and the manufacturing of national identity some of which are also employed by Singapore that include foreign military bases; world class airlines that service global hubs; museums that both attract tourism and manufacture a national heritage; high profile investments in blue chips, real estate and the arts, sports and the ambition of becoming centres of excellence in multiple fields.

This is also where the comparison with Singapore or any other small state ends, Qatar and the UAE diverge, and where conflict between the two became inevitable. The UAE views autocracy as the key to regional security and the survival of its autocratic regime, no more so than since 2011 when popular revolts toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

As a result, the UAE has backed regime change in a number of countries, including Egypt and reportedly Turkey; supported anti-Islamist, anti- government rebels in Libya; joined Saudi Arabia’s ill-fated military intervention in Yemen; and in the latest episode of its campaign, driven imposition of the boycott of Qatar.

In contrast to the UAE, Qatar has sought to position itself as the regional go-to go-between and mediator by maintaining relations not only with states but also a scala of Islamist, militant and rebel groups across the Middle East and northern Africa. It moreover embraced the popular Arab revolts and supported Islamist forces, with the Muslim Brotherhood in the lead that emerged as the most organized political force from the uprisings. 

Qatar’s support for the Brotherhood amounted to aligning itself with forces that were challenging Gulf regimes and that the UAE alongside Saudi Arabia was seeking to suppress. Qatar did so in the naive belief that it could encourage transition everywhere else without the waves of change washing up on its own shores.

Underlying the crisis in the Gulf are issues that go far beyond the place of small states in the international pecking order. The crisis shines a spotlight on key issues that governments have long sought to keep in the dark even though they complicate efforts to combat political violence, advance greater accountability and transparency, and ensure protection of basic human rights.

The crisis makes more difficult the perpetuation of the fact that the international community is unable to agree on a definition of what constitutes terrorism and basic human rights; and it also lays bare the long-muddled distinction between national security and the interests of parties in government - whether autocratic or democratically elected.

There can be little doubt that the diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar was intended to put the idiosyncratic Gulf state on a dog leash. To do so, the two states need to ensure adherence by others to their definitions of national security and terrorism that includes non-violent groups advocating alternative systems of government they view as a threat to the survival of their regimes, as well as those calling for the respect of basic rights including freedom of the press and freedom of expression. In the case of Saudi Arabia, atheists too are defined as terrorists.

The issue of a definition of terrorism is of course a national prerogative but it became acute in the Gulf with the visit of US President Donald J. Trump in May and his focus on combatting political 
violence. The crisis is in part a result of a long-standing failure of the US to get its allies in the region to agree on what constitutes terrorism and what does not.

The irony of the power struggle in the Gulf is that it involves, in more than one way, the pot blaming the kettle. The battle pits autocracies against one another. None of the protagonists advocates a more liberal system of government for its own people.

The crisis in the Gulf, beyond different strategies to build soft power as part of foreign and defense policy, is rooted in the histories of the independence of the region’s states and concepts of national security that are defined by geography.

The focus on the Muslim Brotherhood is crucial to understanding the Gulf crisis because it goes to the core of the region’s power dynamics. For starters, the role the Brotherhood plays in the make-up of Qatar differs fundamentally from that in other Gulf states.

To understand Qatar, one has to take into account that it is a country sandwiched between two regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of which it views as potential threats. It also is the only country besides the kingdom that adheres to Wahhabism even, if Qataris distinguish between its Wahhabism of the sea as opposed to Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism of the land.

The Qataris looked at Saudi Arabia from the outset of independence and decided that their state would be everything that the kingdom was not. There would be no power-sharing agreement with religious scholars. In fact, Qatar until today boasts no prominent religious scholars beyond Yusuf Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born naturalized Qatari citizen.

The absence of prominent scholars was in part a reflection of ambivalence among Qatari rulers towards Wahhabism which they viewed as both an opportunity and a threat: on the one hand, it served as a tool to legitimise domestic rule, on the other it was a potential monkey wrench Saudi Arabia could employ to assert control.

Opting to generate a clerical class of its own would have enhanced the threat because Qatar would have been dependent on Saudi clergymen to develop its own. That would have produced a clergy steeped in the kingdom’s Wahhabism and inspired by its history of political power-sharing that would have advocated a Saudi-style, state-defined form of Islam.

Qatari religious authority is not institutionally vested. Qatar has, for example, no Grand Mufti as does Saudi Arabia and various other Arab nations; it only created a ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments 22 years after achieving independence. "Saudi Arabia has Mecca and Medina. We have Qaradawi -- and all his daughters drive cars and work,” said former Qatari justice minister and prominent lawyer Najeeb al Nauimi.

It is against that backdrop that the Brotherhood was woven into the fabric of Qatari society from day one when by design or default Qataris contacted a bookseller in Cairo, a member of the Brotherhood, who helped them import the staffing of their bureaucracy and education system.

Despite Saudi Arabia being the Gulf’s behemoth, the UAE, and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed’s finger prints are all over the Saudi-UAE-led alliance’s demands, particularly with regard to the insistence that Qatar adhere to the designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and the reform if not shuttering, of the controversial Al Jazeera television network.

In effect, the UAE’s efforts to counter Qatar pre-date the first time-round withdrawal of the Saudi, UAE and Bahraini ambassadors in 2014. The UAE and Qatar have been involved in a covert war since 2011 that involved massive investments in public relations and lobbying firms and the establishment of a United Nations accredited network of fake NGOS and human rights groups.

Two factors drive Bin Zayd’s obsession with the Brotherhood and Jazeera: the fact that the Brotherhood had built a substantial power base within the UAE military, and the results of private surveys conducted among Emirati nationals some years ago that showed that the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, that also controls the UAE’s federal government, had low approval ratings.

Distrust of the Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia dates to the emergence of the opposition Sahwa movement in the kingdom and the Brotherhood’s backing of Saddam Hussein in the wake of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The two events prompted then Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud to declare after 9/11 that the group was at the root of all the kingdom’s problems.

The move, however, to outlaw the Brotherhood was Bin Zayed’s initiative. Bin Zayed took advantage of the fact that by 2014 Saudi King Abdullah’s concentration span was approximately two hours. It was at the end of a meeting with Mohammed, who was backed by the head of the Saudi court Khaled al Tuwaijri, that Abdullah agreed to declare the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

It was a decision that was at stake in the power struggle that occurred as Abdullah lay on his death bed and that in the initial phase Mohammed lost. Abdullah’s successor, King Salman, not only replaced all of Bin Zayed’s allies in the Saudi court, but also made overtures to the Brotherhood. Ultimately, Mohammed’s back door into influencing the Saudi court and stiffening Saudi resolve was Salman’s son, Mohammed bin Salman, who in a palace coup recently became crown prince.

One major difference and advantage that Singapore has in its positioning of itself is that Indonesia is not Saudi Arabia even if it may be flexing its muscles somewhat, and Malaysia is not the UAE. Qatar has benefitted in the current crisis from the fact that Saudi Arabia despite its financial muscle and moral authority as the custodian of the two holy cities cannot bank on a lot of empathy in the international community. Qatar also exploits the notion that even though big states bullying small states is a fixture of international relations, the Saudi-UAE campaign has taken that to new heights.

The demands tabled by the anti-Qatar alliance involve the kind of reshaping of policies and curtailing of sovereignty normally imposed by an occupying force. If successful, the diplomatic and economic vanquishing of Qatar would serve as a precedent for more global powers like China and Russia, not to mention the Trump Administration. It would legitimize tendencies already displayed by Russia, which, in effect, continues to adhere to the Soviet-era Brezhnev doctrine of “limited sovereignty” within its sphere of influence, as well as by China in the South China Sea.

Singapore’s conclusions from the Gulf crisis in terms of ensuring that it has the capacity to defend itself and stand up for its national interests are lessons that Qatar too is drawing with the boycott forcing it to diversify its suppliers of essential goods and services, expand the network of ports its vessels can call on, and enhance its ability to produce at least some basic items like dairy products.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE appear to have learnt little from their failure to marshal widespread support for their boycott campaign among Muslim and non-Muslim countries alike.If anything, Omar Ghobash, the UAE’s articulate ambassador to Russia, suggested that the two states may risk weakening their position if a potential effort to force the kingdom and the Emirates’ trading partners to choose between doing business with them and dealing with Qatar, fails. It would be a choice many cannot afford to make, and would likely reject as a matter of principle.

Nonetheless, Muslim nations in Asia would be most vulnerable to a more forceful UAE-Saudi campaign that would be designed to force them to align themselves with the two Gulf states. 
Countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan, two of the world’s most populous Muslim states, as well as India, home to the world’s fourth largest Muslim population, fear that Saudi Arabia could threaten to lower their annual quota for the number of pilgrims allowed to perform the hajj and expel millions of migrant workers and expatriates in a bid to force them to join the boycott of Qatar.

The continued inability of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to generate a groundswell of support for their campaign against Qatar suggests that Abu Dhabi and Riyadh need to change their approach. Three options currently present themselves: negotiate a face-saving way out of the crisis, tighten the economic noose around Qatar’s neck, or seek to engineer regime change in Doha.

Despite the jury being out on what the Gulf will look like once the crisis is resolved, what is certain is that the resolution of the crisis will have far-reaching consequences for future norms underlying international relations. No one will be watching the crisis with bigger Argus eyes than small states in the Gulf and beyond, looking for lessons learnt for their own positioning in disputes in geographies near and far—the South China Sea, to name the most obvious example.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa as well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Gulf crisis: Fake news shines spotlight on psychological warfare

By James M. Dorsey

Revelations about two incidents of Gulf-related fake news shine a spotlight on a long-standing psychological war between the UAE and Qatar that preceded the Gulf crisis, as well as the two states’ seemingly repeated and competing interventionist efforts to shape the Middle East and North Africa in their mould.

In the latest incident, US intelligence officials asserted that the UAE had orchestrated the hacking in May of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes that were attributed to Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia declared their six-week-old diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar on the basis of the hack despite Qatari denials of the quotes and an investigation involving the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). US intelligence reported that senior UAE officials had approved the hack on May 23, a day before it occurred. The UAE has denied the allegations.

The US allegations came less than 24 hours after Reuters was forced to withdraw a report that six members of the Saudi-UAE-led alliance had asked world soccer body FIFA to deprive Qatar of its 2022 World Cup hosting rights after it turned out to be fake. The story was widely carried by international media and news websites and constituted the basis of an analysis by this author. It was not immediately evident who was responsible for the false report.

The two incidents nevertheless highlight different strategies of the Gulf’s small states, buffeted by huge war chests garnered from energy exports, to project power and shape the world around them, including the current Gulf crisis.

At the core of the differences lie diametrically opposed visions of the future of a region wracked by debilitating power struggles; a convoluted, bloody and painful quest for political change; and a determined and ruthless counterrevolutionary effort to salvage the fundaments of the status quo ante.

The UAE together with Saudi Arabia views autocracy as the key to regional security and the survival of its autocratic regimes and has systematically sought to roll back achievements of the 2011 popular Arab revolts that removed from power the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen who had been in office for decades.

As a result, the UAE has allegedly backed regime change in a number of countries, including Egypt and reportedly Turkey; supported anti-Islamist, anti- government rebels in Libya; joined Saudi Arabia’s ill-fated military intervention in Yemen; and in the latest episode of its campaign, driven imposition of the boycott of Qatar.

In contrast to the UAE, Qatar has sought to position itself as the regional go-to go-between and mediator by maintaining relations not only with states but also a scala of Islamist, militant and rebel groups across the Middle East and northern Africa. It moreover embraced the 2011 revolts and supported Islamist forces, with the Muslim Brotherhood in the lead, that emerged as the most organized political force from the uprisings. 

Qatar’s support for the Brotherhood amounted to aligning itself with forces who were challenging autocratic Gulf regimes and that the UAE was seeking to suppress, prompting allegations that Qatar was supporting terrorism defined as anything opposed to autocratic rule.

The hacking of the Qatari websites in May and the fake soccer story were but the latest instalment in the psychological war between the two Gulf states. The UAE and Qatar have been waging a covert war in the media and through fake NGOs even before Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain first withdrew their ambassadors from Doha in 2014 in a failed bid to get Qatar to change its policies.

The UAE, the world’s largest spender on lobbying in the United States in 2013, sought to plant anti-Qatar stories in American media. To do so, it employed California-based Camstoll Group LLC that was operated by former high-ranking US Treasury officials who had been responsible for relations with Gulf state and Israel as well as countering funding of terrorism. 

Under the contract, Camstoll would consult on “issues pertaining to illicit financial networks, and developing and implementing strategies to combat illicit financial activity.”  In its registration as a foreign agent, Camstoll reported that it “has conducted outreach to think tanks, business interests, government officials, media, and other leaders in the United States regarding issues related to illicit financial activity.” 

Camstoll’s “public disclosure forms showed a pattern of conversations with journalists who subsequently wrote articles critical of Qatar’s role in terrorist fund-raising,” The New York Times reported.  Camstoll reported multiple conversations with reporters of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Dow Jones News Wires, Financial Times, Bloomberg News, CNN and the Washington Free Beacon.

In disclosing the UAE’s efforts to influence US media reporting on Qatar, Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for The Intercept, argued that “the point here is not that Qatar is innocent of supporting extremists… The point is that this coordinated media attack on Qatar – using highly paid former U.S. officials and their media allies – is simply a weapon used by the Emirates, Israel, the Saudis and others to advance their agendas… What’s misleading isn’t the claim that Qatar funds extremists but that they do so more than other U.S. allies in the region (a narrative implanted at exactly the time Qatar has become a key target of Israel and the Emirates). Indeed, some of Qatar’s accusers here do the same to at least the same extent, and in the case of the Saudis, far more so.”

Qatar’s response to the media campaign against it was illustrative of its ineptitude prior to the current Gulf crisis in fighting its public relations and public diplomacy battles, clumsiness in developing communication strategies, meek denials of various accusations, and failure to convincingly defend its controversial policies. In a bid to counter its World Cup critics, Qatar contracted Portland Communications founded by Tony Allen, a former adviser to Tony Blair when he was prime minister, according to Britain’s Channel 4 News

The television channel linked Portland to the creation by Alistair Campbell, Blair’s chief communications advisor at Downing Street Number Ten and a former member of Portland’s strategic council, of a soccer blog that attacked Qatar’s detractors. Britain’s Channel 4 reported that the blog projected itself as “truly independent” and claimed to represent “a random bunch of football fans, determined to spark debate.” The broadcaster said the blog amounted to “astro-turfing,” the creation of fake sites that project themselves as grassroots but in effect are operated by corporate interests. The blog stopped publishing after the television report.

Qatar also thought to undermine UAE efforts to tarnish its image with the arrest in 2014 of two British human rights investigators of Nepalese origin who were looking into the conditions of migrant labour. The investigators worked for a Norway-based NGO, the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD), that was funded to the tune of €4.2 million a year by anonymous donors believed to be connected to the UAE.

Founded in 2008, GNRD was headed by Loai Mohammed Deeb, a Palestinian-born international lawyer who owned a UAE-based consultancy, and reportedly operated a fake university in Scandinavia, according to veteran Middle East author and journalist Brian Whitaker who took a lead in investigating the group.  GNRD said it aimed to “to enhance and support both human rights and development by adopting new strategies and policies for real change.”

In 2014, GNRD published a human rights index that ranked the UAE at number 14 in the world and Qatar at 97. Heavy criticism of the index persuaded the group to delete the index from its website. GNRD, moreover, consistently praised the UAE’s controversial human rights records with articles on its website on the role of women, the UAE’s “achievements in promoting and protecting the family, environmental efforts, care for the disabled and its protection of the rights of children.

GNRD was closed following police raids in 2015, the confiscation of $13 million in assets, and charges of money laundering that have yet to be heard in court.  Norwegian investigators said that UAE diplomats had fought hard to prevent the case going to court.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa as well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

CORRECTION: Calls for Stripping Qatar of World Cup suggests Gulf crisis at a stalemate

My story, Calls for Stripping Qatar of World Cup suggests Gulf crisis at a stalemate, was based on a Reuters story, that ran Sunday morning at 03:59 London time. I sent an email to the author of the Reuters story early Sunday morning asking for confirmation, but never received a reply. I decided to go with my analysis after the Reuters story had been picked up by major news organizations and websites across the globe. Reuters withdrew the story 16 hours later saying “the website on which the story was based said it did not publish the information attributed to it.” While the assertion based on the Reuters story that the Saudi-UAE-led alliance had written a letter to world soccer body FIFA appears to be false, my analysis of where the Gulf crisis and how FIFA is handling it stands. Nonetheless, I apologize for the mistake and any inconvenience.

By James M. Dorsey

A Saudi-UAE-led alliance has tabled a long-expected demand that world soccer body FIFA strip Qatar of its 2022 World Cup hosting rights.

With little chance of FIFA acting on the demand any time soon, the move suggests that the alliance, struggling to figure a way forward amid mounting international pressure for a face-saving way out of the six-week-old Gulf crisis, needs to be seen to be acting on its hitherto unfulfilled promise to tighten the screws on Qatar.

Amid mounting international pressure for a negotiated solution to the crisis and calls for the lifting of the alliance’s diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and its allies have so far shied away from promises to tighten the noose around Qatar’s neck if it failed to cave in to their demands centred on accusations of Qatari funding of terrorism.

Six weeks into the boycott, Qatar has been able to absorb the boycott, which involves a cut-off of almost all land, sea and air links with the Gulf state. It also has succeeded in standing its ground in a struggle for the moral high ground with its detractors, whose demands have failed to garner a groundswell of international support.

While few in the international community give Qatar a clean bill of health on funding of militancy and political violence, many suggest that its detractors are tainted by the same brush. The alliance has moreover struggled to come up with a set of demands that many in the international community have said need to be reasonable and actionable.

The Saudi-UAE-led alliance initially put forward a set of 13 non-negotiable demands that included cutting ties to a host of Islamist and militant groups and individuals, closing a Turkish military base in Qatar, lowering its relations with Iran, shuttering Qatar-sponsored media such as the controversial Al Jazeera television network, and putting Qatar under guardianship.

Qatar’s rejection of the demands and the alliance’s realization that its quest was being perceived by many in the international community as an attempt to undermine Qatari sovereignty and curb freedom of the media, prompted the alliance to adopt six principles that repackaged the demands and removed some of the sharp edges.

Much like the original demands, those principles also failed to garner the kind of international support the alliance needs to push forward with a tightening of the screws on Qatar.

The alliance also appears to have backed down on at least one of its demands, the shuttering of Al Jazeera. In an interview with The Times, UAE minister for the federal national council Noura al-Kaabi said the Emirates sought "fundamental change and restructuring" rather than closure of Al Jazeera. The Saudi-UAE-led alliance accuses the network of being a platform for militant groups.

"We need a diplomatic solution. We are not looking for an escalation," Ms. Al-Kaabi said, suggesting that the Saudi-UAE led alliance was looking for a face-saving end to a crisis in which parties have dug in their heels, reducing margins for a way out that would allow all to declare victory.

At the heart of the Gulf crisis, lies a fundamental divide in how Qatar and its main detractors, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, envision the future of the Middle East and North Africa. Central to the dispute is the international community’s inability to define what constitutes terrorism and who is a terrorist.

It is a difference that is likely to weaken the demand to deprive Qatar of its World Cup hosting rights. It is also a difference that has given the Gulf crisis a-pot-blaming-the-kettle character.

While Qatar sees the survival of its autocratic regime in the support of political change everywhere but at home in a naïve belief that it can exempt itself, Saudi Arabia and the UAE opted for maintenance of the status quo ante by rolling back the achievements of the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. A sub-text to the struggle is the existential battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The epic struggle has led to a military coup in Egypt that removed from office the country’s first and only democratically elected president, sparked devastating civil wars in Libya and Syria, aggravated conflict in Iraq, and prompted an ill-fated Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen that brought the country to the edge of the abyss.

With efforts to mediate a way out of the crisis in full swing, FIFA has little incentive to act on a letter by six of its members – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Mauritania – demanding that Qatar be deprived of its hosting rights because it is a “base of terrorism.”

Speaking to a European news website, The Local, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said that “the countries warned FIFA of the risks threatening fan and player security in a country that is ‘the base and the castle of terrorism’.”

Mr. Infantino said the six countries had threatened to boycott the tournament should their request not be acted upon.

While the six countries are unlikely to be under the illusion that FIFA will simply accept their demand, tabling it allows the Saudi-UAE-led alliance to assert that it is not backing down in the Gulf crisis and is increasing pressure on Qatar. The alliance also hopes to exploit widespread criticism within the global soccer community of FIFA’s 2010 decision to award Qatar hosting rights.

Nevertheless, FIFA is unlikely to want to take sides in the crisis or weigh in on the debate on definitions of terrorism. Struggling to shake off multiple scandals that have severely tarnished the world soccer body’s image, FIFA is also unlikely to take a decision in a dispute in which all parties are tainted.

Moreover, FIFA is under no real pressure to act. The Qatar World Cup is more than five years away. The Gulf crisis is certain to be resolved long before that, one way or the other. In the meantime, the boycott does not stop Qatar from moving ahead with construction of World Cup-related infrastructure, albeit at a higher cost of construction materials.

Ultimately, FIFA will want to take a decision on the merits of Qatar’s ability to deliver a safe, secure and well managed World Cup rather than based on political arguments, many of which have yet to be substantiated.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa as well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Gulf crisis: A coming out of small states

Source: The World Bank

By James M. Dorsey

Buried in the Gulf crisis are two major developments likely to shape future international relations as well as power dynamics in the Middle East: the coming out of small states capable of punching far above their weight with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, a driver of the crisis, battling it out; and a carefully managed rivalry between the UAE and Saudi Arabia that has weakened the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and aggravated suffering in war-wracked Yemen.

Underwriting the battle as well as the rivalry are different strategies of small states, buffeted by huge war chests garnered from energy exports, to project power and shape the world around them. Both Qatar and the UAE project themselves as regional and global hubs that are building cutting-edge, 21st century knowledge societies on top of tribally-based autocracies.

That, however, may be where the communality in approach ends. At the core of the different strategies as well as the six-week-old diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar by a Saudi-UAE-led alliance, lie opposed visions of the future of a region wracked by debilitating power struggles; a convoluted, bloody and painful quest for political change; and a determined and ruthless counterrevolutionary effort to salvage the fundaments of the status quo ante.

The varying visions and the two small states’ determination to act on them as a matter of a security and defence policy designed to ensure regime survival made confrontation inevitable.

It is an epic struggle in which Qatar and the UAE, governed by rulers who have a visceral dislike of one another, could in the short and middle term both emerge as winners even if it is at the expense of those on whose backs the battle is fought and considerable damage to their carefully groomed reputations.

Complicating the region’s lay of the land with its multiple rivalries is the fact that at times the interests of the main protagonists both coincide and exacerbate the crisis. For years, the Gulf’s major players supported Syrian rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, yet complicated the struggle by at times aiding rival groups.

Ultimately however, the rival strategies that involve the UAE working the corridors of power of the Gulf’s behemoth, Saudi Arabia, whose focus is its existential fight with Iran, and Qatar sponsoring opposition forces, has left the Middle East and North Africa in shambles.

Beyond Syria, Libya and Yemen are wracked by wars. Egypt is ruled by an autocrat more brutal than his autocratic predecessor who has made his country financially dependent on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and has been unable to fulfil promises of greater economic opportunity.

As a result, as small states, like Singapore, debate in the wake of the Gulf crisis their place in the international pecking order and their ability to chart an independent course of their own, Qatar’s brash and provocative embrace of change as opposed to the UAE’s subtler projection of power that shies away from openly challenging the powers that be, may be too risky an approach to emulate.

Nonetheless, the jury on the differing approaches is still out. Qatar has been able to defy the boycott and so far, convincingly reject demands of the Saudi-UAE-led alliance that would undermine its sovereignty and turn it into a vassal based on its financial muscle and an international refusal to endorse the approach of its detractors that many view as extreme, unrealistic and unreasonable.

Taking the long view on the assumption that change is inevitable, Qatar could emerge as having been on the right side of history even if the notion that it can promote change everywhere else except for at home is naive at best. A wave of nationalism with Qataris rallying around their emir in defiance of the Saudi-UAE-led boycott masks criticism of the ruler’s policies that Qataris in recent years vented on social media.

However the Gulf crisis ends, Qatar’s revolutionizing the Middle East and North Africa’s media landscape with the 1996 launch of Al Jazeera speaks to the ability of small states to shape their environment.

The television network’s free-wheeling reporting and debates that provided a platform for long suppressed voices, shattered taboos in a world of staid, state-run broadcasting characterized by endless coverage of the ruler’s every move. Al Jazeera, despite its adherence to the Qatari maxim of change for everyone but Qatar itself by exempting the Gulf state from its hard-hitting coverage, forced irreversible change of the region’s media landscape in advance of the advent of social media.

Qatar’s strategy by definition made the Gulf state a target, culminating in its current showdown with its detractors. The Saudi-UAE-led boycott crowns decades of failed efforts to get Qatar to halt its support of the region’s opposition forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood, that advocate alternative, more open systems of government, as well as more militant groups.

If Qatar’s strategy was confrontational, the UAE opted for an approach that granted it a measure of plausible deniability by influencing the policies of Big Brother Saudi Arabia, establishing close ties to key policy makers in Washington, acquisition of ports straddling the world’s busiest shipping lanes, and crafting a reputation as Little Sparta, a military power that despite its size and with the help of mercenaries could stand its ground and like the big boys on the block establish foreign military bases.

In doing so, the UAE successfully exploited margins in the corridors of power in Riyadh to get the kingdom to adopt policies like the banning of the Brotherhood, a group that has the effect of a red cloth on a bull on UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, but that the Saudis may not have pursued otherwise.

The UAE, moreover, by aligning itself with Saudi Arabia rather than antagonizing it, has been far defter in its ability to achieve its goals and project its power without flying too high above the radar.

The UAE’s approach has also allowed it to ensure that major policy differences with Saudi Arabia on issues such as the conduct and objectives of the Yemen war, a role for the Brotherhood in a Sunni Muslim alliance against Iran, the degree of economic integration within the GCC and the UAE’s thwarting of Saudi-led efforts to introduce a common currency, and Hamas’ place in Palestinian politics, did not get out of hand. Even more importantly, the approach ensured that the UAE’s policies were adopted or endorsed by bigger powers.

At first glance, the UAE’s approach dictated by its determination to resist change would appear to be more sensible for small states. Yet, like in the case of Qatar, the jury is still out.

If change in the Middle East and North Africa is ultimately inevitable, the UAE is no less vulnerable than Qatar. Crown Prince Mohammed’s obsession with the Brotherhood is rooted in the fact that the group at times enjoyed significant support among Emiratis as well as within the country’s armed forces.

While the rulers of the seven emirates that constitute the UAE under the leadership of Abu Dhabi’s Al-Nahayan family may well agree on the threat posed by the Brotherhood, it remains unclear whether they are equally enthusiastic about Crown Prince Mohammed’s aggressive policies towards Qatar.

“This is about Abu Dhabi asserting its dominance in foreign policy issues, because this is not in Dubai’s interest,” said former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir William Patey.

By implication, Sir Patey was suggesting that unease among the various emirates may be one reason why Abu Dhabi refrained from tightening the screws by closing a partially Abu Dhabi-owned pipeline from Qatar that supplies Dubai with up to 40 percent of its natural gas needs.

The Gulf crisis is not about to end any time soon. Yet, it has already established that small states need not surrender to larger neighbourhood bullies and can not only stand their ground but also shape the world around them.

The ability to do so is at the end of the day a function of vision, policy objectives, assets small states can leverage, appetite for risk, and the temperament of their leaders. Qatar and the UAE represent two very different approaches that offer lessons but are unlikely to serve as models.

In the final analysis, both Qatar and the UAE may pull off punching far above their weight even if they fail in achieving all their objectives. It comes however at a price paid in part by others that ultimately may come to haunt them.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa as well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Should small states act like small states? (JMD quoted in Straits Times)

Should small states act like small states?

The diplomatic crisis faced by Qatar shows that however savvy small states may be, their size puts them at a disadvantage should they not see eye to eye with bigger powers. Insight looks at what small states can and should do in such a situation, and whether there are lessons for Singapore.

Despite its population of 2.6 million, the oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar punches above its weight on the global stage.
But over the years, Qatar's insistence on maintaining ties with Iran has ruffled the feathers of larger neighbours, which have also accused it of supporting terrorism - something Qatar roundly rejects.
Tensions came to a head last month as nine Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia severed ties with Qatar and closed borders and airspace to Qatari aircraft and ships.
Last week, the bloc issued Qatar a list of 13 demands that must be met for the blockade to end, including reducing diplomatic ties with Iran and restricting who it can grant citizenship to, which analysts say would undermine its sovereignty.

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The diplomatic crisis highlights that however savvy small states are, they are still at a disadvantage if big states decide to go from being allies to being against them.
The episode caught the attention of top former and current diplomats in Singapore, who drew parallels between Qatar and Singapore.
  • Small states, large networks

  • The world's powerhouses have the Group of 20 (G-20) forum to discuss global economic issues, and a number of its smaller nations have a club of their own: the Global Governance Group (3G).
    The informal group of 30 small and medium-sized countries from all continents was convened by Singapore in 2009. The G-20 had then been revived to tackle the global financial crisis, having been created as a forum for financial stability issues in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
    "Smaller but fairly robust economies like Singapore were concerned with the rather unilateral manner in which the G-20 was acting," recounted Singapore's then-Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vanu Gopala Menon in the book titled 50 Years of Singapore and the United Nations.
    The 3G was thus formed to influence the G-20 to take into account the interests of smaller countries affected by its decisions. The group is why Singapore has regularly been invited to participate in G-20 meetings as an observer, including the latest G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.
    As German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted at a joint press conference after meeting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday: "As the chair of the Global Governance Group, Singapore works very much to remind us of the interests of smaller countries and medium- sized countries."
    Singapore also founded the Forum of Small States at the UN in 1992 as a platform to band together on common interests like environmental concerns. Representatives of its 107 members meet a few times a year to discuss issues of concern to small states.
    The two groups show how Singapore amplifies its voice and advances its interests by banding together with other small states.
    In this way, larger players are more likely to sit up and take note of others' views on global issues.
    Says Associate Professor Alan Chong of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies: "We call ourselves small... but that does not mean we cannot talk to great powers as an equal. Because of the creative energies of our diplomats, we have become an outsized player."
    Charissa Yong
Some, such as former permanent representative to the United Nations Kishore Mahbubani, said Qatar's troubles showed that small states should always behave like small states and be wary of getting entangled in affairs beyond their borders.
But others, such as retired Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Bilahari Kausikan publicly disagreed, backed by former foreign minister K. Shanmugam, who is now Home Affairs and Law Minister.
In newspaper commentaries and Facebook posts, they advocated the approach of not being reckless, but also not hesitating to stand up for cherished principles.
Insight examines the thorny question of what small states should do when bigger powers do not see eye to eye with them. And what if the demands of bigger countries hurt a small state's core interests?


The rare public debate within the establishment on small state diplomacy was not purely theoretical.
Closer to home, an international arbitration court ruled last year in favour of the Philippines, striking down China's claims to the South China Sea - almost all of which overlap with other countries'.
Singapore was careful to state that it did not take a position, but reiterated its support for the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law.
Amid some rumblings of disquiet from Chinese officials, local critics wondered - out loud - if Singapore should have just kept quiet.
Said Professor Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy: "In the jungle, no small animal would stand in front of a charging elephant, no matter who has the right of way, so long as the elephant is not charging over the small animal's home territory."
Such discretion is the lot of small states, he said, which others interpreted as advocating for laying low and staying out of trouble.
But to do so would be to surrender one's sovereignty and set a dangerous precedent, said Mr Bilahari.
He countered with an animal metaphor of his own, saying: "Singapore did not survive and prosper by being anybody's tame poodle." He added: "I don't think anyone respects a running dog."
Observers say the debate is about the amount of room for manoeuvrability that small states have.
Middle East expert James Dorsey from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) says: "The principle that international relations have developed to a degree in which size does not always matter, and that if you're small you can stand up to the big guy, is not necessarily true."
On the one hand, he says, there is the principle that all states irrespective of size are sovereign and have the right to chart their own course as long as they act within internationally accepted norms and laws.
On the other hand, they also have the ability to maintain relationships with other countries, he adds.
The idea that Singapore should trim its behaviour to something expected of small states goes against a key tenet of its foreign policy, says RSIS associate professor Alan Chong.
Founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the first foreign minister S. Rajaratnam were of the view that Singapore could excel only if it was extraordinary and must try not to be just another small state.
Says Dr Chong: "We made waves disproportionate to the size of Singapore because we knew how to read the situation correctly and convert our vulnerability to strengths. This is something perhaps you cannot treat as analogous to Qatar."
How small states play their hand, and the neighbourhood they are in, both matter.
While Singapore and its neighbours are all part of Asean, the Gulf Cooperation Council, which Qatar is a part of, is a lot more fragmented along sectarian lines.
Says Dr Chong: "If we have a quarrel with one or two members of Asean, it's not likely that everyone else will agree with the other two."
He adds that another way Qatar did not play its cards right was in the leeway it gave Al Jazeera, its state-funded broadcaster.
The Saudi-led blockade is demanding that Al Jazeera be shut down, as part of its ultimatum to Qatar if the diplomatic crisis is to end.
While Singapore's broadcast media "will not go all out to stoke the emotions of the public in a foreign country, Al Jazeera is like all guns blazing on everybody in the Middle East", says Dr Chong.
But discretion should not preclude taking a public stand on issues that will rebound on Singapore, say observers and diplomats.
Ambassador-at-Large Ong Keng Yong stressed in a commentary in The Straits Times last week that Singapore has always adopted a friendly approach to friendly states, and has always been sensitive in managing foreign policy.
"We do not go around looking for trouble. But when necessary, Singapore has stood up to pressure from other states when its interests were at stake," said Mr Ong, who was Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia from 2011 to 2014.
Yielding would also set a dangerous precedent, both in bilateral relationships and international law.
As Mr Shanmugam said in a Facebook post last week, "once you allow yourself to be bullied, then you will continue to be bullied".
Dr Chong points out that international law is often advanced by court cases based on precedents.
He says: "If China claims the islands based on its history, and no one raises a hoot, what does it mean? Any great power can just move in and occupy all the coastal areas it wants.
"In this sense, it does not seem advantageous to be discreet. International law is such that you don't want bad precedents to be set."


When push comes to shove, small states should stand up for their core interests. But the idea is for push not to come to shove in the first place, say analysts.
"You should not be placed in a position where all the great powers, or all the regional powers, are arrayed against you," says Dr Chong.
"Qatar was trying to be an outsized player, but it didn't read the winds correctly. You cannot allow this nightmare combination to build up over time."
As part of its strategy, Singapore makes as many friends as it can and invests in international institutions.
Says Dr Dorsey: "Having friends is crucial. In times of need, having friends is even more important. Small states will want to bolster their position by having friends,"
Observers unanimously agree on the importance of Asean and the United Nations - including Prof Mahbubani who credited the UN Charter with the sharp drop in small states being invaded and occupied. "The UN is, therefore, the best friend of small states like Singapore," he wrote.
Such institutions also promote peace and security, which underpin economic growth and prosperity, a point noted by Mr Ong.
Contributions to these groups build up goodwill over time so that in the event of a crisis, countries are more likely to be sympathetic to Singapore, says Dr Chong.
But for small states, they may have no choice but to stand up to a larger power when it is 'charging over its home territory', or core interests.
Says Dr Dorsey: "The stakes are clear: whether or not small states are able to chart their own course. And if a state surrenders that right, then it has essentially surrendered its independence."
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 09, 2017, with the headline 'Should small states act like small states?'. Print Edition | Subscribe