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Issue 621 - 05 October 1999

Religion and the States


In the 19th Century the European Great Powers often intervened in the Middle East under the guise of religion. Whether it was the French “protecting” Maronites in Lebanon or the Russians supporting Orthodox communities, geopolitical expansionism dovetailed neatly with popular demands in metropolitan capitals to rescue coreligionists from the “depravities” of the Orient.

Issue 506 - 13 March 1995

Turkey's Reorientation


The visit of Iraqi foreign minister Muhammad Said al Sahhaf to Turkey last month demonstrated the growing concern in Ankara at the course of regional events. Since World War II Turkey has been a staunch supporter of Western policy in the Middle East but the country's leadership has recently become very concerned at the costs and implications of Western policy towards Iraq. These concerns come against a background of rethinking in Turkish foreign policy circles and the possibility of reorientation away from Europe and towards the east.


Whether localised protests over rising social pressures, a cry for regime change or the work of external enemies – or all of the above – the latest upsurge in popular discontent has pointed to complex dynamics across the Islamic Republic which will not easily go way. Dissident group Human Rights Activists in Iran said that between 28 December and 3 January all 31 provinces saw protests, spread throughout 69 counties and 71 cities; from three locations on 28 December, protests grew to 11 and then 28 cities on the next day and continued to spread thereafter.


The civil nuclear plans of GCC and neighbouring states point to a new assertiveness among Gulf economies, whose need to diversify energy sources is greater than the temptation to keep up with regional nuclear leaders Iran and Israel

Issue 122 - 29 May 1984



The execution of Iran's long-standing threat to disrupt the oil shipments of other Gulf states has begun to be put into effect. Arab reaction, at least on the diplomatic front, was swift and fairly decisive. The Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states held an extraordinary meeting in Riyadh, at which Iran was roundly accused of aggression, and it was decided to take the issue to the UN. The subject of the Iranian attacks on Arab-owned shipping was also put on the agenda of the delayed Arab League Foreign Ministers' meeting, held in Tunis.


A rumour did the rounds of foreign currency traders returning  from  their  Easter  break  that  a  senior member  of  the  Saudi  ruling  family  and  security establishment  was  about  to  be  named  by  the  US authorities  as  a  supporter  of  Islamist  radical  groups linked  to  Al-Qaeda.  Such  were  the  concerns  that  this claim  would  prompt  the  Saudi  leadership  to  pull substantial funds out of the USA as a sanction against Washington   that   the   Euro   bounced,   further strengthening against the dollar.


On 5 March, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain issued a joint statement saying they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar. Qatar’s refusal – so the statement said – to abide by the terms of an agreement signed by Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) member states more than three months before had forced them to make the decision, effective immediately.The agreement was said to have been signed in Riyadh on 23 November – the day that Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah and King Abdullah Bin Abdelaziz Al-Saud took part in an unusual tripartite meeting in Riyadh, reportedly aimed at reconciling differences between Qatar and Saudi Arabia.


The King is overseeing a programme of cautious change, but is reluctant to ease the family hold on real power or alienate powerful religious interests. It takes fine political judgment to bolster the position of his Shammar branch of the family without provoking a rift with the Sudeiris and other powerful factions


War with Islamic State (IS, or Daesh) and the fiscal crisis caused by low oil prices have combined to undermine the political arrangements by which both federal Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have been governed since the Saddam Hussein regime fell. New or invigorated strands of social and political opposition have targeted the massive corruption and mismanagement that have wasted hundreds of billions of dollars over the past decade. But it is far from certain whether Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s challenge to corruption and the sectarian quota system, or the Kurdish opposition’s attempts to limit the Barzani clan’s authoritarian rule in Erbil, will result in more accountable government.


Neither home-based Islamist reformers nor liberals seem able to identify a strategy to encourage King Abdullah to live up to reformist hopes.

Issue 479 - 07 February 1994

Mending Fences


Chairman Yasser Arafat has been to Saudi Arabia for his long-sought-after audience with King Fahd. The Palestinian leader's visit was preceded by some careful diplomatic soundings in the Kingdom by senior PLO officials, to make sure that Arafat's effort to restore relations would not be premature and that the slice of humble pie that Chairman Yasser would have to consume would not be too large and indigestible. It was widely and publicly understood that the PLO leader was expected to apologise for the ghastly political mistake he had made in supporting Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the Gulf war.


The UAE has projected its influence and increasing military muscle in an ever wider arc under Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and UAE Armed Forces deputy supreme commander Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (MBZ)’s leadership. Its commitments now run as far west as Libya, where the UAE is a key backer of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF – formerly known as the Libyan National Army), whose march on Tripoli has stalled amid a striking Turkish intervention.

Issue 320 - 08 September 1987



Until a week or so ago it seemed just possible that some progress was being made towards a negotiated settlement to end the Gulf war. Iran had edged a little closer to acceptance of the July 20 United Nations Resolution 598, which unanimously called for a ceasefire in the war, and Iraq was keeping to its suspension of air attacks on Iranian shipping and oil installations. After an inauspicious beginning, the United States' naval escort operation was working reasonably well and without, so far, untoward incident. However, there were growing signs that the uneasy truce would not last.

Issue 109 - 14 November 1983



THE HEADS OF STATE of the six Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states meet for their fourth Summit in Qatar in an atmosphere of uncertainty and confusion, writes a Newsletters correspondent from Doha. At the time of going to press no resolutions have yet been passed, but it is already clear that the Conference is faced with a host of problems over which it has little control


Liberals have taken a beating as conservative Islam, Shiite community organisations, tribal or family ties and local standing have proved the main influences at play as a minority of male Saudis vote for the first time.