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In defence of the US Government 27, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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While I am most certainly not in receipt of any US Government cash nor am I American or do I usually agree with the folk in the White House that much I feel compelled to offer a quick defence of said Government.

Seasoned commentators, old hands, angry bloggers, erudite analysts et al does not really believe that much that the US Government says. They know and understand that the Government diplomatically says what its says to tow the Party line and to play the long-term game of international politics. They realise that the US Government stresses democracy and other such goods but everyone is aware that this kind of stuff must be said as a kind of rhetorical cover as, for one thing, the US is based on notions of freedom. In reality, everyone is aware that the game of real politik takes place and relations are based on power, not on nice, friendly, whimsical notions of freedom and self-determination.

I’d say that the majority of mainstream commentators and blogging heads would agree with the above statement.

However, in recent weeks there has been a false outcry based on the assumption that the US actually means what it says. This is gross hypocrisy. Those who know perfectly well and have written numerous times in the past on the gap between rhetoric and reality in US policy suddenly become amazed in bouts of mock outrage that the US is not living up to its ideals and staunchly supporting protesters around the Arab world.

What do these people expect the US to say? After a day’s protesting: ‘we want Mubarak out’? This false surprised mockery really grates with me. No one is surprised that the US is trying to be noncommittal over Egypt’s future. Of course the White House spokesman would not be drawn on any ‘guarantees’ towards Mubarak!

Pretending otherwise strikes me as an immature stunt for a cheap shot and a false sense of outrage.

Arab world relations with Israel 24, August 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt, The Gulf.
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Middle East Progress has an interesting and succinct summary of the Arab world’s relations with Israel in terms of normalizations or not, as the case may be.

Background: Most of the 22 member nations of the Arab League do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Egypt was the first Arab state to recognize and establish diplomatic ties with Israel in 1979. In bilateral talks begun at the Madrid Conference, Jordan became the second Arab state to ink an agreement and establish full diplomatic relations in November 1994. In July 2007, the Arab League sent the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers to Israel to present the Arab Peace Initiative on their behalf for the first time.

Arab League Boycott: Though Arab League boycott efforts began before Israel’s founding, the boycott was formalized after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. In 1951, the Arab League created the Central Boycott Office (CBO), which was responsible for overseeing the boycott. The boycott consists of three components: the primary boycott prohibiting the importation of Israeli goods and services; the secondary boycott banning any individual or company from doing business with companies that operate in Israel; and the tertiary boycott prohibiting any individual or company from doing business with firms on the Arab League blacklist.

The Egyptians, Palestinians and Jordanians withdrew from the boycott after signing agreements with Israel in 1979, 1993 and 1995, respectively. Some countries, like Algeria, do not enforce the boycott. In 1996, the CBO ceased its operations, which it resumed in 2001; however, the CBO’s resolutions are considered largely symbolic.

Individual countries
Bahrain: In 1994, Bahrain dropped the secondary and tertiary components of the Arab League boycott, along with the rest of the GCC. In 2006, Bahrain closed its national Israel Boycott Office as a condition to signing a free-trade agreement with the United States. However, along with Oman and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain sporadically asks U.S. companies for cooperation in enforcing the boycott.

Mauritania: Mauritania never accepted the boycott. Israel and Mauritania signed a mutual-recognition pact in 1995, and set up special interests sections the following year. Mauritania and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1999, exchanging ambassadors—the third Arab country to do so after Egypt and Jordan. During the fighting in Gaza in January 2009, Mauritania recalled its ambassador and suspended relations with Israel. In March 2009, Israel closed its embassy in Nouakchott after Mauritania expelled the Israeli ambassador and staff.

Morocco: Israel opened a low-level bilateral liaison office in Rabat in 1994 and Morocco opened a similar office in Israel in 1995. Morocco closed Israel’s Rabat office in October 2000 with the start of the second intifada. While official relations were suspended, diplomatic contacts remain in place for commercial relations and tourism. Morocco does not enforce the boycott.

Oman: In 1996, Oman became the first Gulf state to open a trade mission in Israel, but recalled its trade representative after five months, citing a lack of progress in peace talks. In October 2000, Oman suspended relations with Israel, including permanently closing its office in Israel and the Israeli office in Muscat. Oman pledged to abandon the primary element of the boycott as a condition to signing a free-trade agreement with the United States in 2006, but the United States continues to receive requests for cooperation with the boycott.

In 1996, Oman established the Middle East Desalination Research Centre (MEDRC)—governed by an Executive Council that includes representatives from Oman, the U.S., Israel, Japan, South Korea, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, the Netherlands and Qatar—to meet the water needs of all the parties involved within the context of the Working Group on Water Resources, one of the multilateral tracks that came out of the Madrid conference.

Qatar: Israel and Qatar pledged to open trade offices in their respective countries in 1996.1 Israel opened a trade office in Doha, but Qatar did not reciprocate2, cancelling its planned trade office in July of the same year after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected3 the concept of land for peace. Also during the Oslo years, Israel sought out a deal to import liquefied natural gas from Qatar. In 1996, Israel concluded negotiations for a regasification plant in Jordan that would bring liquefied natural gas to Jordan and Israel from Qatar by 2001; however, a drop in gas prices combined with diplomatic pressure ended the deal. Qatar claimed to have shuttered Israel’s trade office in 2000, but it quietly continued operations until January 2009 when Qatar suspended relations and asked for the Israeli trade mission to be closed after Operation Cast Lead.

Saudi Arabia: In 1994, Saudi Arabia and the other members of the GCC announced that they would abandon the secondary and tertiary components of the boycott. In 2005, Saudi Arabia was required to abandon the boycott entirely in order to gain entry into the World Trade Organization, however, the country still enforces the primary boycott, and an official delegation attended a meeting at the Central Boycott Office in May 2006.

Tunisia: In October 1994, Israel and Tunisia agreed to exchange low-level economic liaison officers that would work out of the Belgian embassies in the respective countries. The decision followed the GCC resolution that year to end the secondary and tertiary boycott of Israel. In 1996, Tunisia opened an interests office in Tel Aviv. Tunisia closed the office and froze relations with Israel in October 2000. Tunisia does not enforce the boycott.

1“Israeli trade officials in Qatar quietly mark first anniversary,” Sean Evers, Bloomberg, The Jerusalem Post, May 29, 1997
2“Israeli trade officials in Qatar quietly mark first anniversary,” Sean Evers, Bloomberg, The Jerusalem Post, May 29, 1997
3 “Gulf Arabs consider cutting ties with Israel,” Sean Evers, Bloomberg, The Jerusalem Post, July 15, 1996

One report but with differing reports of it 22, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Western-Muslim Relations.
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The World Economic Forum have just released a major new report on the state of Western-Islamic relations. It was complied by a veritable cornucopia of experts in the field and runs to some 156 well-spaced pages of sensible, articulate, and accurate observations and conclusions on the current state of affairs.

Th BBC covered the release of the report with the headline “Islam-West rift widens, poll says”. Contrast this with the headline ran by the Arab News: “Muslim-West conflict can be avoided: Report”. Both headlines are correct: that is to say that what they suggest is indeed to be found in the report and neither article, in the end, comes across as biased one way or the other. However, the crucial thing is the overall impression that each news agency wants to impress upon its readers: one of pessimism; one of hope.

Why the difference? Neither the BBC nor the Arab News are known for being overly hawkish or dovish. The answer may lie within the report itself. One part of the report deals with what people in the West and the Muslim world think about each other. On the specific question of how they view closer ties and interactions between the two worlds, it is Europeans who are most uneasy with this notion. Contrarily, it is the US, Israel and the Islamic countries polled whom believe that closer ties would more beneficial to both sides.

It seems, therefore, that the BBC and the Arab News are simply conforming to their culture-wide stereotypical beliefs as described by the report. It will be interesting to see more reaction in the coming days from the media to see if they carry on the trend, in many ways, vindicating and confirming the report’s conclusions.