Bahrain


For my post on the Arab youth views of democracy, click here.


The GCC States and the Viability of a Strategic Military Partnership with China

By Imad Mansour, Qatar University, The Middle East Institute, Mar 17, 2015

The term “strategic partnership” has been increasingly used in GCC circles to signify that relations with China are important and worthy of long-term investment. In a March 14, 2014 speech during his visit to Beijing, Saudi Arabia’s then Crown Prince Salman announced that “we are witnessing the transformation of the relationship with China to one of strategic partnership with broad dimensions, to the benefit of both our countries.”[1] Saudi Arabia’s position was echoed by the emir of Qatar during a 2014 visit to China in which issues of common concern to all GCC states, especially combating terrorism, were discussed.[2] Abdel-Aziz Aluwaisheg, GCC general assistant secretary for negotiations and strategic dialogue, has also noted that there is growing interest in the Gulf to develop a “strategic dialogue” with China.[3]

Despite this growing GCC recognition of China’s strategic role in the region, what exactly a “strategic partnership” or “strategic dialogue” would look like remains unclear. This essay discusses why officials in GCC member states might be hesitant to embrace the idea of China as a viable strategic military partner, while at the same time recognizing the need to further develop relations with China.

Securing Independent Military Capabilities

From the perspective of GCC leaders, the main military advantage of partnership with China is Beijing’s potential willingness to provide weapons that the United States is currently reluctant to sell. Given the United States’ lukewarm responses to recent regional unrest, the GCC countries are seeking to augment their independent capabilities, and China could be an important supplier, whether or not it is a full “strategic partner.”[4] These GCC views are based on the understanding that as economic interdependence grows, China might be more willing to provide advanced weapons systems in greater quantities. It is important to note that looking to China for arms sales is consistent with the GCC states’ broader strategy of expanding their network of suppliers.[5]

However, GCC leaders continue to assess the benefits of such an arrangement through the prism of their enduring relationship with the United States. This is largely due to historical momentum. GCC states have long procured most of their military hardware, training, intelligence systems, and combat systems directly from the U.S. government or from American businesses. In addition, the United States and its allies share GCC concerns about containing regional conflicts in Iraq and Syria, as well as the region-wide threat posed by al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates.[6] Furthermore, it seems that despite its reluctance to sell certain weapons directly to the GCC, the United States has tacitly approved GCC purchases of such weapons from China.[7] This balance―whereby the United States sells the GCC most of its conventional weapons systems, while GCC states purchase other approved weapons elsewhere―allows the GCC to accrue the benefits of remaining within the U.S. umbrella while also buttressing its defenses. Obtaining military hardware from China that the United States has not approved would involve an extremely delicate diplomatic game—one in which the GCC stands to lose more than it would currently gain. (more…)

by Daniel Martin Varisco, Middle East Muddle, Anthropology News, November, 2013

As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt prophesied, December 7th, 1941 is a day that lives in infamy, even some seven decades after the event that triggered United States entry into the Second World War. Another date of more recent infamy is December 17, 2010, when a harassed Tunisian vegetable hawker named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the municipal building in the picturesque town of Sidi Bouzid. Although badly burned, he survived until January 4, just ten days before Ben Ali, the Tunisian dictator for some 23 years, boarded a plane for exile in Saudi Arabia. The first kind of infamy was the beginning of a devastating war, the second became the stimulus for what was hoped to be a sweeping political revolution across the Middle East. Three years later it seems to be politics as usual, a chilly seasonal change from the jasmine scent of the Arab Spring that blew across Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen and now swirls through the political maelstrom enveloping a surviving dictator in Syria, ongoing instability in Iraq and Afghanistan and a new regime outlook in Iran.

Seasoned pundits know that in many parts of the world spring’s prospects yield to the heat of summer, the cooling autumn and eventually the chilly reality of winter in a never-ending cycle. The Arab Spring is not one season fits all, but the overall effects have been more chilling than thrilling this year. In Tunisia the Islamic party leading the country is in a state of national paralysis following the July killing of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi. In Egypt the elected president, Muhammad Morsi, remains in military custody and his major party of support, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been banned. The military, under General Sisi, has reinstated martial law in a move that most Egyptians, it seems, support. In both Tunisia and Egypt, the transition to power by Islamic groups who promised not to dismantle the civil state structure has angered a wide range of groups, especially secularists and more moderate Muslims. (more…)


BY Karim Sadjapour, Foreign Policy, June 15, 2011

How a couple of cows explain a changing region: equal opportunity offender edition.

In the early years of the Cold War, in an effort to simplify — and parody — various political ideologies and philosophies, irreverent wits, in the spirit of George Orwell, went back to the farm. No one really knows how the two-cow joke known as “Parable of the Isms” came about, but most students of Political Science 101 have likely come across some variation of the following definitions:

Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes one of them and gives it to your neighbor.

Communism: You have two cows. The government takes them both and provides you with milk.

Nazism: You have two cows. The government shoots you and takes the cows.

Capitalism: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.

Over the years, the parables gradually expanded, using the two-cow joke to explain everything from French unions (You have two cows. You go on strike because you want three cows.) to the Republican Party (You have two cows. Your neighbor has none. So what?). While in its original iteration the cows were a metaphor for currency, capital, and property, they later began to take on different meanings.

Today, the Middle East has replaced the Cold War as America’s primary foreign-policy preoccupation. As opposed to the seemingly ideologically homogenous communist bloc, however, the 22 diverse countries that compose the modern Middle East are still confusing to most Americans. Why can’t the Israeli and Palestinians stop fighting already? What’s the difference between Libya and Lebanon again?

Herewith then is a satirical effort to simplify the essence of Middle Eastern governments so that, in the immortal words of George W. Bush, “the boys in Lubbock” can read it. And, rather than symbolizing property, the cows here symbolize people, which — funny enough — is how most Middle Eastern regimes have traditionally viewed their populations.

Saudi Arabia
You have two cows with endless reserves of milk. Gorge them with grass, prevent them from interacting with bulls, and import South Asians to milk them.

Iran
You have two cows. You interrogate them until they concede they are Zionist agents. You send their milk to southern Lebanon and Gaza, or render it into highly enriched cream. International sanctions prevent your milk from being bought on the open market.

Syria
You have five cows, one of whom is an Alawite. Feed the Alawite cow well; beat the non-Alawite cows. Use the milk to finance your wife’s shopping sprees in London.

Lebanon
You have two cows. Syria claims ownership over them. You take them abroad and start successful cattle farms in Africa, Australia, and Latin America. You send the proceeds back home so your relatives can afford cosmetic surgery and Mercedes-Benzes.

Hezbollah
You have no cows. During breaks from milking on the teat of the Iranian cow you call for Israel’s annihilation. (more…)


The continuing turmoil in Syria and impending election in Egypt have knocked Bahrain off the news cycle. Things there are not so funny, but it is still worthwhile to take a comic look. You can do that here.


sample illustration from Josh Neufeld’s “Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand”

The Guardian has an interactive and updated timeline on the events labeled the “Arab Spring,” with links to articles in The Guardian. You can choose the time period and the country and the type of event or issue. It is current through September 26, 2011.


BY Karim Sadjapour, Foreign Policy, June 15, 2011

How a couple of cows explain a changing region: equal opportunity offender edition.

In the early years of the Cold War, in an effort to simplify — and parody — various political ideologies and philosophies, irreverent wits, in the spirit of George Orwell, went back to the farm. No one really knows how the two-cow joke known as “Parable of the Isms” came about, but most students of Political Science 101 have likely come across some variation of the following definitions:

Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes one of them and gives it to your neighbor.

Communism: You have two cows. The government takes them both and provides you with milk.

Nazism: You have two cows. The government shoots you and takes the cows.

Capitalism: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.

Over the years, the parables gradually expanded, using the two-cow joke to explain everything from French unions (You have two cows. You go on strike because you want three cows.) to the Republican Party (You have two cows. Your neighbor has none. So what?). While in its original iteration the cows were a metaphor for currency, capital, and property, they later began to take on different meanings.

Today, the Middle East has replaced the Cold War as America’s primary foreign-policy preoccupation. As opposed to the seemingly ideologically homogenous communist bloc, however, the 22 diverse countries that compose the modern Middle East are still confusing to most Americans. Why can’t the Israeli and Palestinians stop fighting already? What’s the difference between Libya and Lebanon again?

Herewith then is a satirical effort to simplify the essence of Middle Eastern governments so that, in the immortal words of George W. Bush, “the boys in Lubbock” can read it. And, rather than symbolizing property, the cows here symbolize people, which — funny enough — is how most Middle Eastern regimes have traditionally viewed their populations.

Saudi Arabia
You have two cows with endless reserves of milk. Gorge them with grass, prevent them from interacting with bulls, and import South Asians to milk them.

Iran
You have two cows. You interrogate them until they concede they are Zionist agents. You send their milk to southern Lebanon and Gaza, or render it into highly enriched cream. International sanctions prevent your milk from being bought on the open market.

Syria
You have five cows, one of whom is an Alawite. Feed the Alawite cow well; beat the non-Alawite cows. Use the milk to finance your wife’s shopping sprees in London.

Lebanon
You have two cows. Syria claims ownership over them. You take them abroad and start successful cattle farms in Africa, Australia, and Latin America. You send the proceeds back home so your relatives can afford cosmetic surgery and Mercedes-Benzes.

Hezbollah
You have no cows. During breaks from milking on the teat of the Iranian cow you call for Israel’s annihilation. (more…)


The Shia in Bahrain have recently been distancing themselves from Iran whilst attention is diverted to Libya [REUTERS]

Predominately Shia protesters are calling for political reform not alignment with Iran, researchers argue.

by Genieve Abdo and Jasim Husain, al-Jazeera, April 3, 2011

Listening to the rhetoric coming out of Tehran, one might assume that Bahrain’s Shia opposition is relying on help from its co-religionists next door. But, in fact, the opposite is true: the Shia opposition wants nothing more than for Tehran to stay out of the sectarian dispute unfolding in the tiny kingdom.

The major demand of the mainstream opposition is to turn the country into a constitutional monarchy, much like those in Europe. Other selected goals include: an elected government; a free press; an unrestricted civil society; and an end to discriminatory practises against religions other than the Sunni minority, such as unequal employment practises, unfair distribution of wealth, and the elimination of all forms of administrative and financial malpractice. (more…)

Next Page »