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

Saudi Arabia

A new phase of the war appears to be unfolding in al-Mahra, the far eastern governorate of southern Yemen on the Indian Ocean next to Oman. In 2017 Saudi Arabian troops suddenly rolled through the streets of al-Ghaydha, the governorate capital, taking over the regional airport and announcing that the area had been placed under their security control.  The real reason for the Saudi presence has become visible: to build a long sought oil pipeline from Saudi Arabia to the Indian Ocean through Mahari lands.

The Southern Transitional Council and the War in Yemen

Susanne Dahlgren 04.26.2018

In late January this year, an armed conflict erupted in Aden between troops under command of President ‘Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and those loyal to the Southern Transitional Council (STC), both in principle on the same side of the Yemeni war. The fighting left more than 40 people dead and several wounded. The conflict raised speculations of a crack in the Saudi-led coalition that since March 2015 has waged war in Yemen.

Radix Malorum est Cupiditas

James Spencer 04.3.2018

The last three years have been a time of outright misery for most Yemenis as War, Pestilence, Famine and Death have stalked what used to be known as Arabia Felix. Thousands are recorded as having been killed; tens of thousands more are known to have died. Millions are starved by a siege, and—weakened by hunger—are more vulnerable to diseases which are but fading memories in the “civilised” West. And for what?

President Donald J. Trump is known for breaking norms of domestic and foreign policy in his first year in office. In terms of US-Saudi relations, however, his policy has been relatively standard. Although he chose Saudi Arabia as his first international destination as president—breaking the pattern of a new president visiting either Canada or Mexico first—little else in the existing US-Saudi relationship has changed.

Onwards and Upwards with Women in the Gulf

An examination of women’s struggles to gain the right to vote in Kuwait, and ongoing efforts to promote women’s football in Qatar, provide useful in-depth case studies. They cannot predict the future course of change in Saudi Arabia, but they illustrate the need for ongoing political engagement and social activism to secure gains, and the limitations of state-led efforts to remake isolated aspects of Gulf societies while failing to reckon with the complex web of social regulations that underpin present gender divides.

An Open Letter by Senior Middle East Scholars to the New York Times Regarding its Thomas Friedman’s column, “Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, At Last.”

11.30.2017
We write as scholars of the Middle East and the Muslim world with long, collective experience on Gulf and Arabian Peninsula policy issues to express our amazement, concern and anger that the New York Times would publish Thomas Friedman’s recent essay...

Letter to UN Secretary-General Regarding Saudi Arabia’s Removal from List of Armies Charged with War Crimes

06.29.2016

“The ruling Saudi regime obviously knows how to use its wealth to manipulate dysfunctional international bodies such as the UN. However, in the eyes of the global community it stands charged with overwhelming evidence of war crimes and of fundamental human indecency.”

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.

Open Letter from Scholars of Yemen

03.31.2016

Scholars write for the third time to condemn the actions of the US-Saudi-French alliance violating international humanitarian law in the southern Arabian Peninsula.

Notes on Low Oil Prices and Their Implications

Miriam R. Lowi 02.24.2016

After about three years of hovering around $110 per barrel, with highs of $125 and lows of $90, oil prices began a precipitous decline in the summer of 2014, reaching a low of $48 per barrel in mid-August 2015 before plummeting to just under $30 per barrel five months later. While investors are no doubt reeling from the impact of this price decline on their portfolios and ventures, it’s well worth pondering how the Middle East and its geopolitics are likely to be affected.

But how to explain this downward spiral in the first place? By all accounts, reasons abound.

Saudi Arabia’s Dangerous Sectarian Game

Toby Jones 01.5.2016

When Saudi Arabia executed the Shiite cleric and political dissident Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday, the country’s leaders were aware that doing so would upset their long-time rivals in Iran. In fact, the royal court in Riyadh was probably counting on it. It got what it wanted. The deterioration of relations has been precipitous: Protesters in Tehran sacked Saudi Arabia’s embassy; in retaliation, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties. More severe fallout could follow—possibly even war.

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.

Yemen Is Starving, and We’re Partly to Blame

Chris Toensing 07.1.2015

Twenty million people in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, are at risk of dying from hunger or thirst. That’s 80 percent of the country’s population, which according to UN agencies badly needs emergency supplies of food and water, along with fuel and medicine.

This almost unimaginable crisis sounds like something out of a disaster movie. But the cause isn’t an earthquake or a tsunami.

The main reason for all this suffering is months of merciless bombardment and blockade led by the richest Arab countries—Saudi Arabia and its neighboring petro-princedoms—and backed by the United States. Washington’s providing the attackers with technical assistance, intelligence and top-shelf armaments.

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.

Two Resolutions, a Draft Constitution and Late Developments

Sheila Carapico 04.17.2015

On April 14, three weeks into the Saudi-led air campaign called Operation Decisive Storm, the UN Security Council approved Resolution 2216. This legally binding resolution, put forward by Jordan, Council president for April, imposed an arms embargo on the Houthi rebels and former Yemeni president ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih and his son. There are also provisions freezing individual assets and banning their travel. Russia abstained. It seemed fully to endorse both the so-called Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, brokered by UN Special Envoy Jamal Benomar, and Operation Decisive Storm.

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.

Yemeni Political Dialogue in Riyadh?

On March 10, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) invited rival Yemeni factions to hold peace talks in Riyadh, the Saudi Royal Court announced.

Why Isn’t the “Swing Producer” Swinging?

Karen Pfeifer 03.3.2015

The price of oil is hovering around $50 per barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude, and $60 per barrel of Brent crude, the lowest levels since the global economic downturn of 2008-2009. Until the end of February, when they rebounded slightly, oil prices had been dropping since the middle of last summer.

In the past, Saudi Arabia has cut its oil output to halt this sort of freefall. As the “swing producer,” the country with the largest and most easily extracted reserves, the desert kingdom can afford to reduce supply in the short run to steady price levels in the long run. This time, however, the Saudis ordered their rigs to keep pumping as usual, doing nothing to stop the downward spiral. Why?

From the Editor (Winter 2014)

Midway through Barack Obama’s second term as president, there are two Establishment-approved metanarratives about his foreign policy. One, emanating mainly from the right, but resonating with several liberal internationalists, holds that Obama is unequal to the task of running an empire. The president, pundits repeat, is a “reluctant warrior” who declines to intervene abroad with the alacrity becoming his station. The other, quieter line of argument posits that Obama is the consummate realist, a man who avoids foreign entanglements unless or until they impinge directly upon vital US interests.

Life and Death in the Graves of Mecca and Medina

John M. Willis 10.31.2014

On September 1 The Independent published a piece by Andrew Johnson detailing plans by the Saudi state to move the final resting place of the Prophet Muhammad from the Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina to an unmarked grave in the nearby Baqi‘ cemetery as part of an ongoing scheme to expand the mosques of the two holy cities.

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