Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971

Gulf

Ambitions of a Global Gulf

From the wars in Syria and Libya to the catastrophic bombing campaign in Yemen, the Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been the main Arab forces involved in the region’s current conflicts. The Gulf also increasingly shapes the political and economic policies of other Arab states, promoting economic liberalization along with hardening authoritarianism and repressing social protest. Their destructive prosecution of the war in Yemen is an attempt to position themselves as the principal mediators of the maritime routes and territorial hinterlands located in and around the Arabian Peninsula—a strategic prize that will be decisive to shaping the Middle East’s future geopolitical landscape.

“The Dubai of…”

Over the last several decades, and particularly after upheavals in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, much of the urban center of gravity of the Middle East has shifted to the Gulf. To understand this trend and its consequences, MERIP editorial committee member Jillian Schwedler interviewed Yasser Elsheshtawy in Philadelphia on June 4, 2018.

From Gaza to Jerusalem to Iran

Joel Beinin 07.12.2018

By forging a regional alliance aimed at confronting Iran and its allies, the new coalition of the US, Israel and allied Sunni Arab regimes intend to relegate the Palestinian issue to collateral damage in order to succeed.

The Arab World’s Non-Linear Electricity Transitions

For many, especially in the United States, the Arab world is closely associated with fossil fuels. But over the past several years, a raft of news articles, opinion pieces and analyses have hailed the advent of renewable energy—especially solar power—in Arab countries. Many such pieces open with images meant to defy the reader’s expectations. In the first line of an essay in The Atlantic titled, “Why the Saudis Are Going Solar,” the author notes that according to his first impression, “Everything about [Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia] seemed to suggest Western notions of a complacent functionary in a complacent, oil-rich kingdom.” Yet he was surprised to find that “Turki doesn’t fit the stereotype, and neither does his country” because of the prince’s leadership in Saudi Arabia’s drive to develop a domestic solar industry. In a similar vein, an Economist article on the blossoming of solar energy in the developing world opens with an anecdote about solar arrays being built in an arid part of Jordan, accompanied by a Getty Images photograph of a solar panel resting in front of a sand dune in an unidentified locale—solar power making the desert bloom, so to speak. Also fitting this pattern, the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2016 misleadingly summarizes a “New Policies” scenario for Middle East power generation that includes oil, gas, nuclear, hydro, wind and solar energy with the statement, “Natural gas is gradually joined by renewables as the fuel of choice.” A more accurate summary of the IEA’s own data might read, “Oil and gas continue to dominate a more diverse energy mix.”

Arabia Incognita

The Editors 05.6.2016

A new anthology from MERIP and Just World Books explores the Arabian Peninsula as “a distinct political unit” whose upheavals reverberate regionally and globally.

The GCC Needs a Successful Strategy for Yemen, Not Failed Tactics

James Spencer 09.11.2015

For the last 45 years, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has tried to mitigate its Yemen problem through short-term tactics, rather than construct and give resources to a strategy for solving it. That policy has failed repeatedly. A bold and lasting transformation is needed, not the same ineffectual meddling.

Traditionally, the attitude of most GCC members toward Yemen has been fond but standoffish. The Gulf states have been fairly generous in funding projects and providing aid, but held populous Yemen at arms’ length, for reasons both demographic and ideological, the latter being fear of Marxism and republicanism.

Breaking Even, Breaking Down or Going for Broke?

Karen Pfeifer 05.22.2015

As of mid-May 2015, crude oil prices had fallen to the lowest level in recent years, under $60 a barrel for US domestic benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and about $66 a barrel for the international Brent benchmark. These market prices are compared to several types of “break-even” prices and affect decision-making by oil producers at several levels: whether price covers just production costs or incorporates a satisfactory level of profit, whether budgets balance and whether long-term capital investment is attractive.

Operation Decisive Storm and the Expanding Counter-Revolution

John M. Willis 03.30.2015

On the night of March 25 one hundred Saudi warplanes bombed strategic targets inside Yemen under the control of the Houthi rebels. A number of countries—the other Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) members minus Oman, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Morocco and Pakistan—joined the effort either directly or in support capacities. Although the Houthis have been in control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa and the central government since September 2014, it was the flight of president ‘Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to Aden and the subsequent Houthi attack on the southern city that constituted the breaking point for Saudi Arabia and the GCC.

Burying the Hatchet with Iran

Chris Toensing 11.5.2014

Don’t tell anyone, but the United States and Iran are getting closer — perhaps closer than ever — to letting go of 35 years of enmity.

No, Washington and Tehran aren’t going to be BFFs or anything.

But they do share a common interest in rolling back the so-called Islamic State, whose well-armed militants have declared an extremist Sunni caliphate stretching across Syria and Iraq.

The United States is anxious to restore the Iraqi government’s authority in oil-rich Iraq, while Iran is eager to defeat a murderously anti-Shiite militia on its western flank.

“Energy Security”

Over the last few decades, the phrase “energy security” has spread like an oil spot from specialized literature outward into the standard lexicon of reporters and politicians. Like “security” itself, it is a term whose meaning seems transparent but resists precise definition, in part because the meaning is not immediately obvious and in part because the meaning seems to expand as time goes by. What is “energy security”? Why did it become so prominent in discussions of global politics in the late twentieth century and why is it so important today? We asked Toby Jones, associate professor of Middle East history at Rutgers University and an editor of this magazine, to supply some clarity about this concept. Jones is working on a book that will treat this subject in depth.

Catastrophe and Consequence

The Editors 06.13.2014

What is happening in Iraq is a catastrophe, but not a sudden one. The violence in Iraq has been worsening steadily over the last few years. And more to the point, today’s crisis is the consequence of failed policies and failed politics — national, regional and international — years and even decades in the making.

No understanding of today’s Iraq is complete without the background of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and ensuing Gulf war, and the 13 years of UN economic sanctions, all of which set the stage for the additional disasters that would befall Iraq with the US-led invasion of 2003.

Youth of the Gulf, Youth of Palestine

Ted Swedenburg 05.31.2014

I recently came across two accounts of Arab youth that fly in the face of conventional wisdom. One is Kristin Diwan’s issue brief on youth activism in the Arab Gulf states for the Atlantic Council, and the other is a documentary by filmmaker Jumana Manna on Palestinian “male thug culture” in East Jerusalem. The film is called Blessed, Blessed Oblivion.

DragonMart, the Mega-Souk of Today’s Silk Road

In 1998, a shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Indonesia. It turned out to be the remains of an early ninth-century dhow from the Gulf that had been headed back from China with a cargo of over 70,000 items, primarily ceramics, produced in different Chinese regions. The goods varied in style and quality, and had clearly been custom-made for the different tastes of the major trading centers of the Gulf. Thousands of ceramic bowls and dishes had been neatly stacked into hundreds of large urns, which in turn had been arranged in several layers of rows along the bottom of the dhow.

Jordan, Morocco and an Expanded GCC

Curtis Ryan 04.15.2014

A recent report suggests that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) may be looking to expand…again. The report says that, during a March summit, the group of six Arab petro-princedoms extended invitations to both Jordan and Morocco to join a pan-monarchical military alliance. And there is a chance, at least, that the GCC states would include a nominal republic, Egypt, in a broader regional military and defense pact (although it is not clear if Jordan, Morocco and Egypt would need to join the GCC or the military bloc would be a separate entity).

Saudi Bullying of Qatar

Sheila Carapico 03.13.2014

Just ahead of a planned state visit from President Barack Obama, Saudi Arabia is brandishing the threat of a land and naval blockade against its neighbor and fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member Qatar.

(No) Dialogue in Bahrain

Toby Matthiesen 02.13.2014

In the run-up to the third anniversary of the Bahraini uprising on February 14, 2011, mass protests with tens of thousands of participants again engulfed the small kingdom. At the same time, a number of contacts between the opposition and the royal family sparked hopes of renewed high-level negotiations leading to the resolution of the long-standing conflict.

Collective Frustration, But No Collective Action, in Qatar

Justin Gengler 12.7.2013

In late June 2013, as neighboring Arab states continued their struggles against popular pressure for political reform or regime change, the Gulf emirate of Qatar undertook its own, voluntary transfer of power. Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, patriarch of modern Qatar, appeared on state television to name as successor his 33-year old son, Sheikh Tamim. The outgoing leader was hobbled by serious health problems, it was said, and in any case most observers agreed that a recalibration of Qatar’s domestic and international agendas was perhaps just what the doctor ordered.

Handshakes in Geneva

The Editors 11.30.2013

Everyone is happy with the interim agreement reached with Iran in Geneva on November 23 — that is, everyone who really wants to defuse the tensions over Iran’s nuclear research program.

From the Editors (Spring 2013)

“The Iraq war is largely about oil,” wrote Alan Greenspan in his memoir The Age of Turbulence (2007). “I’m saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows.” It may indeed be self-evident that the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, as the former Federal Reserve chairman says, because of oil. But what does this proposition mean? The answer is not so obvious.

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