Much press attention at this year’s Manama Dialogue will focus inevitably on the conflict in Syria and other consequences of the Arab Spring. But a set of other core issues also remain, including the threat perceptions of regional states, and Iran’s place in these calculations. Regional states, and international partners such as the US, remain concerned by Iran’s continuing drive to improve its ballistic missile capabilities, amidst international preoccupation with Tehran’s nuclear programme. Given these uncertainties, the development of regional military capabilities will likely figure high in delegates’ conversations Read the rest of this entry »
By Alanoud Al-Sharekh, Corresponding Senior Fellow for Regional Politics, Middle East
The unrest that erupted in Kuwait on Sunday was the largest and most violent in the oil-rich emirate’s recent history. Thousands of protesters took to the streets after emir Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah announced changes to Kuwait’s voting system on Friday. Less than a fortnight earlier, the emir had paved the way for snap elections in December by dissolving parliament.
The majority of Sunday’s demonstrators came from Kuwait’s Islamist and tribal opposition, who suspect the measures are an attempt to marginalise them in parliament. Special Forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the rally. I watched from my window as crowds attempted to bait the forces by throwing rocks and chanting ‘We will not allow you’ – a reference to one opposition politician’s warning to the emir not to make changes to Kuwaiti legislation. Several demonstrators arrested for participating in an illegal march and for damaging property were released the next day.
Despite democratic transformations in a few states, the problems that led to the Arab Spring largely remain unresolved, Dr Toby Dodge, IISS Consulting Senior Fellow for the Middle East, told an audience in Manama on 29 May 2012. In his talk, ‘Drivers of Instability: Reflections on the Arab Spring’, Dodge pointed to short- and medium-term factors such as rising food prices and demographic bulges, as well as the broader failed policies of Arab authoritarianism, as some of the causes of the Arab revolutions.
Yet unemployment remained high in the region more than one year after a street vendor in Tunisia set himself alight and a wave of protests began. Many of the youth who spearheaded the uprisings had not been integrated into post-revolutionary transitions.
Dodge said that several factors determined how each country fared during the uprisings. The outcome varied according to the state’s capacity to co-opt, repress or buy off protesters agitating for reform; the ruling elite’s cohesion; and the domestic opposition’s ability to sustain popular mobilisation.
By Dr Alanoud Al Sharekh, Corresponding Senior Fellow for Regional Politics, IISS-Middle East
A recent decision by the United Arab Emirates to withdraw the residence permits of 30 Syrian men who took part in an unlicensed protest against the regime of Bashar al-Assad outside the Syrian consulate in Dubai in February has provoked a war of words between a controversial Muslim Brotherhood figurehead and Dubai’s police chief. The dispute between Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi and Lieutenant-General Dahi al-Khalfan risks spiralling into a diplomatic confrontation between the UAE and its neighbours.
Speaking during an episode of his long-running popular al-Jazeera show ‘Shari’a and Life’ in early March, Qaradawi denounced UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan and his brother Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Having previously been banned from entering the UAE himself for inciting dissent, the extremist cleric asserted that 100 Syrian families had in fact had their residence permits withdrawn and also attacked the UAE for revoking the citizenships of some Islamists in the country. Claiming to speak on behalf of Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun, Qaradawi threatened to incite Muslim rage against the UAE both on his show and during his Friday sermons.
By Dr Sanjaya Baru, Director for Geo-economics and Strategy
As Asia’s rising powers seek to sustain growth and ensure stability, energy security has moved to the forefront of Asian geopolitics. The recent visit by China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar was as much about ensuring energy security for China as it was about China playing a role in maintaining political stability in the Middle East. The visit came against the backdrop of the growing threat of United States-led oil-export sanctions against Iran and China’s need to secure alternative sources of oil and gas. But its unstated purpose was to bolster China’s rising profile in the Persian Gulf and the Muslim world.