The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is such an established feature of today’s Middle East that it comes as something of a surprise to realize that it is less than a hundred years old. It was only in 1932 that Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, after a 30-year political and military struggle against local warlords and the Ottoman Empire, named the area that he had conquered “Saudi Arabia”, and proclaimed himself its first king.
Author Archive: Neville Teller
Since mid-July 2016 Turks have been living in a state of emergency, subject to the sweeping powers permitted the president and his ministers in this situation. Triggered by the coup attempt on 20 July, in which 240 soldiers, police and civilians were killed trying to stop rogue troops who had commandeered fighter jets and tanks to bomb parliament, the state of emergency was extended on 19 January 2017 for a further three months.
The life cycle of many enterprises can best be described as a parabola – an arch-like curve, like an object thrown high in the air which falls back to earth. From a slow start they often gain considerable momentum, reach an apogee, and then decline. Is the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement following this pattern? Born in 2005, it grew rapidly in influence, penetrating university campuses across the free world, local governments, trade unions, churches, and even supermarkets and concert halls. It reached what seemed like a high point in 2015, a decade after it began. Since then…
Suddenly the media is awash with reports, rumors and hints about a fresh approach to tackling the perennial Israel-Palestinian stand-off. Cynics, contemplating the history of the Middle East over the past 70 years, might well conclude that every conceivable method of reconciling the conflicting aspirations of the two parties has already been tried and failed. But changing circumstances can reconfigure political opportunities. An initiative impossible in 2007 may have become perfectly viable by 2017.
Back in the glory days of the so-called “Arab Spring”, when Middle Eastern dictators were falling like ninepins, it seemed that the overthrow of Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak of Egypt, Gaddafi of Libya and Saleh of Yemen would inevitably be followed by the downfall of President Bashar Assad of Syria. But, it now seems, providence had reserved a different fate for Assad. A determination to cling to power, however ruthless or inhumane the methods, allied to a favourable concatenation of political circumstances, has enabled Assad to emerge from a long, multi-faceted combat battered, depleted territorially and logistically, but still…
The Commonwealth is a facet of contemporary life that most people know little about. The Commonwealth games, interposed every four years between the Olympics, might arouse a flicker of interest across the globe, but as for the background or purposes of the organization there is little general knowledge or concern. And yet the Commonwealth has the potential to exert an enormous power for good on global politics.
Emboldened by the misconceived policies of ex-US President Obama, Iran has become positively confrontational under President Donald Trump. Iran and the US always backed different sides of the wars in Syria and Yemen, but now they stand ideologically opposed on most issues involving the region. Early in February Iran tested a ballistic missile, claiming that to do so was not in contravention of its nuclear deal, but the new US ambassador to the United Nations called the test “unacceptable”. Washington put the Islamic Republic “on notice” and imposed sanctions on more than two dozen individuals and companies involved in procuring ballistic…
The year 2017 will witness a double anniversary in the convoluted history of the Middle East, one of 50 years, the other a centenary. June 6 is the date in 1967 which marked the outbreak of the Six Day War; “November 2nd, 1917” is the date that appears below the words “Foreign Office” on the single sheet of paper that contains the Balfour Declaration. Both continue to influence every aspect of Arab-Israeli relations and the interminable Israel-Palestine dispute.
Never mind the traditional first hundred days. Within US President Trump’s first twenty days in office the broad outlines of his policy for the Middle East had emerged. It clearly has two over-riding objectives – to defeat Islamic State (IS) and to cut Iran down to size. In the Trump world view, both IS and Iran represent clear and present dangers to the stability, values and way of life of the civilized world in general, and the US in particular.
The Islamist world is fierce, bloody and fratricidal. Many of the extremist groupings are in bitter conflict with one another, not always along the traditional Sunni-Shia divide. Sometimes intra-Islamist conflicts are essentially political in nature. One long-running political feud is the continuing struggle between Hamas and Fatah. The Hamas-Fatah conflict does not concern itself with religious doctrine, nor even with basic political objectives. Both organisations are Sunni Muslim; both are pledged to restore to Islamic rule the whole of Mandate Palestine, including the area currently occupied by the state of Israel. Their fundamental disagreement is over the strategy for achieving their common…