Turkish-Russian Tension Set to Spill Onto European Pitches

By James M Dorsey

 

The escalating Turkish-Russian crisis following Turkey’s downing in November of a Russian war plane promises to spill onto European soccer pitches with FC Lokomotiv Moscow set to play Fenerbahce SK, notorious for its fiery fan base, in a Europa League match. Continue reading

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Is Iran Turning its Back on Syria?

By James M. Dorsey

RSIS Commentaries

No. 129/2011 dated 6 September 2011

Synopsis

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s staunchest ally, Iran, is hinting that its support for the embattled leader is not unconditional. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is preparing for the likelihood that Assad will fall. Continue reading

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China scores fatal own goals in competition for post-Qaddafi Libya

By James M. Dorsey

China has scored two near fatal own goals in the race for influence and lucrative contracts in oil-rich post-Qaddafi Libya.

A document disclosed this weekend testifies to China preparing to supply as late as July weapons in violation of United Nations sanctions to Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi’s forces who were locked into battle with NATO-backed rebel forces. Adding fuel to the fire, the head of Libya’s rebel Transition National Council (TNC), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, has accused China of blocking the release of his country’s frozen assets. Continue reading

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Myanmar has much to teach autocratic Arab leaders when it comes to soccer

Myanmar football chief Zaw Zaw urges fans to keep calm during the second leg of a World Cup qualifier in late July against Oman at Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar. The game was abandoned after fans threw rocks, shoes and water bottles onto the field and a member of Oman’s coaching staff was reported to have suffered a head injury (Source: AP Photo)

By James M. Dorsey

 

When it comes to soccer as a release valve for pent-up anger and frustration, Myanmar’s authoritarian leaders are proving to be far better students of Roman history than their embattled Arab counterparts.

If Arab leaders turned soccer pitches into battlefields for political freedom; economic opportunity; ethnic, religious and national identity; and gender rights, Myanmar’s autocrats made soccer the modern day equivalent of giving the people bread and circuses. Continue reading

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Qaddafi sons: two sides of the same coin?

By James M. Dorsey

It is hard to fathom that Colonel Moammar Qaddafi’s third son, Al Saadi Al Qaddafi, would truly be any more conciliatory to NATO-backed Libyan rebels who have effectively replaced his father as the country’s rulers, than his older, fire-breathing brother Saif al-Islam, who has vowed to fight to the bitter end. Continue reading

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Algerian-Qatari tension over Libya spills onto the soccer pitch

By James M. Dorsey

Islamist rebel Abdel Hakim Belhadj (Source: Maggie’s Notebook)

Diplomatic tensions between Algeria and Qatar over the Gulf state’s support for NATO-backed Libyan rebels are spilling onto the soccer field.

As part of a litany of alleged anti-Algerian moves by Qatar, Algerian media are accusing the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), of seeking to undermine Algeria’s soccer prospects by offering Algerian players in Europe large sums of money and Qatari citizenship if they move to its national team. The media have not identified specific instances and no Algerian player has recently packed up his bags and moved to Qatar. Continue reading

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Risk of messy transition

By James M. Dorsey

 

ITH Nato-backed rebels capturing Tripoli and members of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s family, Libya could emerge as the Arab world’s first revolution rather than its third successful popular revolt following the toppling earlier this year of autocratic leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. That could mean faster and deeper change in Libya – but a far messier transition than those in Tunisia and Egypt. Continue reading

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US and the Middle East: PR fiasco looms for Obama

By James M. Dorsey

 

Synopsis

President Obama faces a public relations disaster in the Arab and Muslim world next month with his expected rejection of recognition of Palestinian statehood by the United Nations General Assembly. Obama could do much to restore his country’s image and reaffirm the US as a player despite its unpopular policies.

Commentary

COME SEPTEMBER the United States will face a major public relations disaster in its Middle East policy when the UN General Assembly (UNGA) votes on Palestinian statehood. President Obama has vowed to oppose UN recognition of a Palestinian state within the borders prior to the 1967 war when Israel captured and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

Although the UNGA is certain to grant the recognition by an overwhelming majority, the US has pledged to veto UN Security Council endorsement of the resolution. That will go against US claims that it favours the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel with boundaries based on the pre-1967 borders.

Credibility Problem in US Mid-East Policy

While the US veto will prevent Palestine from becoming a member of the UN, it will give it a kind of legal status currently enjoyed by Taiwan and Kosovo whose memberships in the world body have been blocked by China and Russia respectively. Moreover, recognition by the UN Assembly will affirm the pre-1967 borders as the legal boundaries of Palestine that was implicit in failed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

While the UN declaration of a Palestinian state will be a triumph for its president Mahmoud Abbas, it will be a public relations failure for Obama in the Middle East and North Africa. It will reinforce the perception that Washington is beholden to Israel notwithstanding Obama’s outreach efforts towards the Arab and Muslim world.

Ironically, Palestine’s newly acquired legal status could prove advantageous to Obama’s efforts to nudge Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to return to the negotiating table. Obama failed earlier this year to persuade Netanyahu to explicitly acknowledge the pre-1967 borders as the basis for a settlement. While he stopped short of rejecting Obama’s position, Netanyahu sought instead to strike a deal with Abbas involving Palestinian recognition of the Jewish character of the State of Israel in exchange for his acknowledgement of the pre-1967 borders.

Since the Palestinians have already conceded recognition of Israel as a state, Netanyahu’s demand is unacceptable to Abbas because it would undermine the position of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and the right to return for refugees who were forced to flee when Israel was established in 1948.

Communications failure

Obama needs a communications strategy to explain his administration’s position especially the dichotomy between its declared support for a Palestinian state and its rejection of the UN resolution, which threatens to reduce the diminished credibility of the US to tatters. Washington’s credibility problem in the Middle East and North Africa stems only partly from US policies, including its unqualified backing of Israel. It also stems from the US failure to back popular uprisings wholeheartedly, as well as its perceived military weakness exemplified by its inability to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan or force out Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi.

The image of the US as a fumbling superpower arises from the fact that it has failed at the one thing it counts among its strengths: displaying a degree of transparency and accountability that would allow it to dominate the information game, manage expectations and massage the facts when its policies do not always square with the high standards it sets for others. To achieve that, the Obama administration would have to rejig its efforts to win Muslim hearts and minds that it launched with the president’s widely acclaimed speech in Cairo in June 2009.

Such rejigging would have to involve a concerted effort to engage with Middle Eastern and North African media, consistently and persistently, to explain US policy as well as how US policy making works. US officials have yet to hold a briefing for Arab journalists on US attitudes towards the anti-government protests sweeping the region. US officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, appear regularly on US news channels but only rarely on Middle Eastern or North African media outlets.

The failure to engage with regional media is in stark contrast to the US media campaign in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington when the US established media hubs in Dubai, Brussels and London staffed with fluent Arabic speakers. The administration was equally effective with its use of Twitter and YouTube to broadcast Obama’s Cairo speech.

Arab Public Opinion

Against the backdrop of the region’s struggle for greater political freedom, the US would benefit from engaging in an open and transparent debate of its policies instead of simply issuing declarative statements to regional media. US officials go to great lengths to explain the nuances of their policies to the US media. However Middle Eastern and North African journalists, the very communicators needed to create an understanding of US policy, are excluded from those briefings.

Engaging with regional journalists may not convince Arab public opinion of the moral justification of US policy, but would at least go a long way to dispel conspiracy theories and prejudices prevalent in Arab media. It would help shape understanding of and in-depth reporting on US policies and avert unpopular positions becoming destructive PR fiascos.

Moreover it would position the US as a power willing to engage rather than impose its views. The Arab world may well disagree with its policies but would have a more nuanced understanding of the reasoning that informs those policies.

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James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.


RSIS Commentaries

No. 123/2011 dated 24 August 2011


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Fall of Qaddafi poses policy challenge for China and Russia

By James M. Dorsey

Libyan rebels capture Colonel Qaddafi's compound (Source; EPA/The Daily Telegraph)

 

Significant advances by NATO-backed Libyan rebels pose a significant policy challenge for China and Russia that could prompt a rethinking of their support for autocratic leaders in the Middle East and North Africa.

As Russia and China scramble to improve strained relations with the rebels and salvage future commercial ties in the wake of the fall of Mr. Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, policymakers in Beijing and Moscow are likely to want to ensure that they do not end up on the wrong side of history elsewhere in the region, and most immediately in Syria. Continue reading

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Libya at crossroads: A model for the Middle East or a revolution that goes awry?

By James M. Dorsey

(Libyan rebels poised to take control (Source: Clickrally.com)

 

With NATO-backed rebels capturing Tripoli and members of Colonel Moammar Qaddafi’s family, Libya could emerge as the Middle East and North Africa’s first revolution rather than its third successful revolt following the toppling earlier this year of autocratic leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

In many ways that could mean that change in Libya could move faster and deeper but also prove to be far messier than the transitions in Tunisia and Egypt. Continue reading

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