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Tag Archives | Saudi Arabia

Bloodbath in Egypt

The House of Saud picks a side.

There is chaos in Egypt.  The Muslim Brotherhood and their leader Mohammed Morsi were ousted from power by the Egyptian military in a soft coup last month.  The Brotherhood hasn’t taken kindly to being deposed from power.  This week has seen violence of an unprecedented scale in recent history in Egypt.  Over 750 civilians have been killed since Wednesday.  Without the active intervention of the U.S. and regional powers, that number will rapidly increase and the possibility that Egypt will descend into a long, protracted civil war isn’t far-fetched.

What we’re seeing is a battle between the Old Guard and resurgent Islamist groups in Egypt.  The military-security apparatus’s decades-long dominance is being challenged and neither the Islamists nor the Old Guard are ready to back down.  The victims of the ensuing confrontation are, unfortunately, the ordinary Egyptians.

In the midst of turmoil, Saudi Arabia appears to have picked a horse:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has called on Arabs to stand together against “attempts to destabilise” Egypt.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its people and government stood and stands by today with its brothers in Egypt against terrorism,” he said in a statement read on state TV on Friday, backing Egypt’s military leadership.

“I call on the honest men of Egypt and the Arab and Muslim nations … to stand as one man and with one heart in the face of attempts to destabilise a country that is at the forefront of Arab and Muslim history,” he added.

Saudi Arabia “has stood and stands with its Egyptian brothers against terrorism, deviance and sedition, and against those who try to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs… and its legitimate rights in deterring those tampering with and misleading” its people, he said. [al-Jazeera]

The House of Saud’s endorsement of the Egyptian military may appear odd given Saudi Arabia and the Brotherhood’s commitment to conservative strains of Islam.  However, it is important to distinguish between Wahhabism as a religious and philosophical movement that the Saudis promote (for example in Afghanistan or Pakistan) and the political movements that draw inspiration from Wahhabism.

The Saudis are happy to promote Wahhabism, but have always been very cautious about political Wahhabism.  It should not surprise us then that they are very uneasy with the Brotherhood because they see the movement as a threat to monarchy in the Gulf.  Other Gulf monarchies also endorse the distinction.  The UAE, for example, arrested 30 Egyptians and Emiratis in June on suspicion of ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

This also explains why Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have ensured that the Muslim Brotherhood hasn’t gained the kind of foothold in the Gulf that it has in Egypt and the Islamic maghreb.  The absence of the Brotherhood’s mass participation in the politics of the Gulf is not by accident, it is by design.  None of the Gulf monarchies are eager to see the Brotherhood operate in their neighborhood.

Further, where Egypt is concerned, the Saudis have always been among the military-security establishment’s most important supporters.  Gen. Nasser and Mubarak drew strength from Saudi Arabia’s backing.  In fact, it should be surprising that Saudi Arabia’s endorsement of the military-security establishment wasn’t made apparent sooner.

In India’s neighborhood, similar parallels can be drawn with regard to Pakistan, though for different reasons.  The Saudis are likely to always back the Pakistani army over political parties such as the JUI (that draw inspiration from the Muslim Brotherhood).  This is unlikely to change as long as the Saudis see nuclear Pakistan as a bulwark against Iran.  Of course, the Saudis will continue to support the proselytizing of puritanical Wahhabism by religious jamaats in Pakistan, but not to the extent that they begin to pose a challenge to the Pakistani army’s primacy in dictating policy in that country.

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Urdunama: Intelligence Failure

Pakistan’s military and political leadership is scrambling to explain how Osama bin Laden came to be living in a house in Abbottabad, 60 miles from Islamabad, as well as trying to assuage people’s concerns about the military and intelligence apparatus’ inability to detect or challenge the U.S.’s so-called breach of sovereignty.

Under attack from all corners, Pakistan is attempting to fall back on “allies” not named America.  While Prime Minister Gilani eulogized Pakistan’s ties to China in a manner most poetic, Pakistan dispatched Interior Minister Rehman Malik to Saudi Arabia for consultations.  In the seaport city of Jeddah, Mr. Malik spoke to al-Arabiya, in an interview charged with rhetoric and unseemly comparisons.  Below is an excerpt from Daily Pak:

Rehman Malik, in speaking with an Arabic newspaper said that Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan was an intelligence failure, in the same way that 9/11 was a failure of U.S. intelligence agencies.  But this doesn’t mean that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies harbor terrorists.  Mr. Malik said that there would not be any calls for resignation of anyone from the political or military establishments, just as no one from U.S.’s political or military establishment resigned as a result of 9/11.  To those accusing Pakistan of connivance, Mr. Malik asks, who created Osama bin Laden?  Who used bin Laden against the Russians in Afghanistan?

He said that Pakistan had never allowed Osama bin Laden to come to Pakistan.  Mr. Malik also stated that the essence of the problem was the lack of trust between Pakistan and the U.S.  In response to another question, Mr. Malik said that if India attempted any operations against Pakistan, it would be given a befitting reply to its misadventure. [روزنامہ پاکستان]

 

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The Khaleej and India

How will the instability in the Gulf impact India’s economy?

Political instability in the Middle East will likely have an impact on India.  We have already seen how the uprisings in Egypt and Libya have affected the lives of the over 18,000 Indians living in that part of the world.  The potential impact of the deteriorating situation in Bahrain will be far greater, where about 300,000 Indian expatriates live.  GCC countries today are home to about 4.3 million Indians.  This, of course, does not include the many undocumented (mostly blue collar) Indian workers in the region.  In some cases (as in Dubai, which experienced an influx of workers in the last decade), the number of undocumented workers as a percentage of the total population of expatriate Indians will be considerable.

But beyond the potential effects to the lives of Indian citizens, political disturbances in the region will also have an impact on India’s economy.  Today, remittances account for about 4% of India’s GDP (considerable, but not as high as other countries in the subcontinent).  Remittances to India as a percentage of GDP have also (somewhat interestingly) increased over time, and with the liberalization of India’s economy (from 1.1% in 1985, 2.8% in 2000 to about 4% in 2008).  As of 2008, the Gulf was the largest source of remittances to India at about 40%:

(Source of data: Reserve Bank of India)

Two important points need to be made here: first, while we already know that India leads other nations in terms of total dollar remittances ($46 billion, 2008), it does not include remittances made via hawala transactions.  Since the September 11 attacks, the U.S. has worked with Gulf countries to strengthen their finance and banking regulations to ensure control over hawala transactions (which, by their very nature, have been helpful to terrorists to finance attacks against the U.S. and India).  However, according to some estimates, hawala remittances to India from the Gulf are still pegged at about 30-40% of legal remittances.  That would effectively put total remittances from the Gulf to India at at least $60 billion.

Second, when one considers remittances as a percentage of net state domestic product (NSDP), some states will likely be far more vulnerable to political uncertainties in the Gulf than others.  According to a study published by the Centre for Development Studies, remittances to Kerala as a percentage of the state’s economy was at 30%.  Further, per data published in the same report, it can be inferred that remittances from the Gulf alone can be pegged at about 28% of the Kerala’s economy.

While the most immediate impact of the repatriation of Indian citizens from a worsening situation in Bahrain could result in a momentary spike in remittances, as some suggest was the case during the first Gulf War, it will undoubtedly have a medium- to long-term impact on the economies of states in India that depend heavily on them.

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l’affaire Tunisie

Why the Maghreb is not the Khaleej.

Some quick thoughts on events as yet unfolding in Tunisia.

Much has been written recently about the so-called revolution in Tunisia and its probable impact on the rest of the Arab world.  Robert Fisk, for instance, rattled off the names of every other Arab country he could think of when asked if he thought the revolution could be contagious to the rest of the region.  Admittedly, somewhat unfair to pick on Mr. Fisk when the vernacular press in Tunisia’s neighboring countries has spent almost every waking moment since the revolution asking, “are we next?”

Some factors make the events in Tunisia different from others (العربية) that have occurred in the greater region. Unlike almost any other upheaval in the region’s recent history, this was not an Islamic movement.  Further, it also invalidates the claim that Arab societies were incapable of bringing about change intrinsically and without the support of foreign powers.

However, it would be erroneous to extrapolate this “revolution” in Tunisia to the greater region, particularly the Peninsula.  The Maghreb, after all, is not the Khaleej.  Three primary factors inhibit the sort of Rousseauian rebellion in the Peninsula currently being romanticized in the West.

First, the Heads-of-state: with the exception of a few, rulers in the Peninsula derive political power to rule from dynastic allegiances (contrast this with how heads-of-state in Libya, Algeria and Tunisia came to power).  This is not to say that the leaders in the Peninsula cannot be disposed, but that it will most likely come from within the family (e.g., Oman 1970, Qatar 1995, etc.) than take the form of a people’s’ revolt.

Second, Police states: the contrast of real curbs on social and political freedom and high levels of human and economic development make a Tunisia-like uprising improbable. Harder, because of curbs on freedom and equally unlikely to inspire a economically satisfied population.  Third, United States: While the U.S. pushes for a democratization of the Peninsula, it also has a vested interest in preserving the region’s monarchies.  It provides billions of dollars worth of military equipment to them and trains their officers.  When needed, it has shown a willingness to come to their aid when their power is threatened (Kuwait and Saudi Arabia).  This is a far cry from the rapport the Maghreb has with the U.S.

Indeed, as Amr el-Shobaki makes some very valid points in January 18th’s al-Masri al-Youm, about why it would be difficult to even envision a similar uprising in Egypt, much less in distant Saudi Arabia.

In Egypt, protests have lately taken a single, monotonous form, often rallying people around sectarian causes. The Egyptian regime, unlike its Tunisian counterpart, allows these protests to give citizens an opportunity to vent. This strategy serves to diffuse people’s anger and prevent the transformation of issue-specific protests into larger social and political movements.

The protests that took place in Tunisia reflect a healthy society. The Tunisian education system may be the best in the Arab world (the country’s illiteracy rate is no more than 10 percent), and the Tunisian General Labor Union actually defends workers’ rights. It respects the principles of trade unionism despite the fact that some of its leaders support the ruling party. In contrast, the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) runs itself in haphazard fashion and has distanced itself from independent worker organizations like the Real Estate Tax Collectors’ Union and the Center for Trade Union and Worker Services.

Egypt is also plagued by religious fundamentalism that has made it impossible for Egyptians to protest under the banner of universal values, such as freedom, equality, combating unemployment and demanding a minimum wage. Unlike Egypt, Tunisia is not home to any Salafi movements. Nor does it have preachers who boast thousands of followers and who lead many youth astray. Tunisia does not have a Muslim Brotherhood that is intent on mobilizing thousands of people to defend its own agenda rather than the national interest, nor does it have religious leaders who spread ignorance and sectarianism. [al-Masry al-Youm]

So is democracy doomed in the Peninsula?  Not necessarily, but it almost certainly will not come about as a result of a popular uprising.  The democratization of the Peninsula is a long term project involving painfully slow political and legislative reform, whose wheels have only recently been set in motion.  In this regard, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman will lead the way and provide a model for the rest of the region to perhaps emulate.

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