Richard Whittall:

The Globalist's Top Ten Books in 2016: The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer

“The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer has helped me immensely with great information and perspective.”

Bob Bradley, former US and Egyptian national coach

"James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer (has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture."
Alon Raab in The International Journal of the History of Sport

“Dorsey’s blog is a goldmine of information.”

Play the Game

"Your expertise is clearly superior when it comes to Middle Eastern soccer."
Andrew Das, The New York Times soccer blog Goal
"No one is better at this kind of work than James Dorsey"
David Zirin, Sports Illustrated

"Essential Reading"
Change FIFA

"A fantastic new blog'
Richard Whitall of A More Splendid Life

"James combines his intimate knowledge of the region with a great passion for soccer"
Christopher Ahl, Play the Game

"An excellent Middle East Football blog"
James Corbett, Inside World Football

Friday, June 23, 2017

Saudi-UAE demands challenge fundamentals of international relations

By James M. Dorsey

A list of 13 conditions for lifting the Saudi-UAE led embargo of Qatar handed to the Gulf state this week by Kuwaiti mediators offers a first taste of newly-promoted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s foreign policy approach that if endorsed by the international community would call into question fundamental principles governing international relations.

The demand, that if accepted by Qatar would turn the Gulf state into a Saudi vassal, were unlikely to facilitate a quick resolution of the three-week-old Gulf crisis. In fact, they may complicate a resolution that would allow all parties to claim victory and save face.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have reportedly given Qatar ten days to comply with their demands, according to the list that was reviewed by The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal. Gulf states have yet to comment on the list. It was also not clear what steps the two states might take if Qatar rejected the demands.

Qatar has insisted that it would not accept any demands that compromised its sovereignty or amounted to interference in its internal affairs. It has also denied various Saudi and UAE allegations against it. The Gulf state said further that it would only negotiate an end to the crisis once the embargo had been lifted.

The demands go far beyond the declared aim of Qatar’s protractors that it halts its support of jihadists and Islamists. Acceptance of the demands would not only compromise its political sovereignty but could also jeopardize its economic independence if Iran were to retaliate for Qatari compliance. 

Compliance would further create a dangerous precedent for freedom of the press and expression.
The Saudi-UAE demands appeared to fall far short of a call by the US State Department that the conditions for lifting the Saudi-UAE diplomatic and economic embargo of Qatar be “reasonable and actionable.”

The United States and other democracies would likely find it difficult to support shuttering of Qatari-funded media, including the Al Jazeera television network. Al Jazeera revolutionized the Arab media landscape by introducing more free-wheeling, critical news reporting and debate that has irked autocratic Arab leaders for more than two decades.

The network drew the ire of Saudi Arabia and the UAE for its support of the 2011 popular Arab revolts that brought Islamist forces, including the controversial Muslim Brotherhood, to the fore. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have gone to great length to roll back the fallout of the revolts.

Similarly, the two Gulf state’s demand that Qatar reduce the level of, if not break off, its diplomatic relations with Iran could endanger the Gulf state’s economy that is dependent on its oil and gas exports. Qatar shares with Iran ownership of the world’s largest gas field and cannot afford an open conflict with the Islamic republic.  

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are demanding that Qatar shut down diplomatic posts in Iran, expel members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, and only conduct trade and commerce with Iran in compliance with US sanctions that are not internationally binding.

The demands put Qatar in a separate category from others in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, including the UAE, Kuwait and Oman, that maintain diplomatic relations with Iran. The UAE, which has a territorial dispute with Iran over three islands in the Gulf, is home to a large Iranian community and serves as an important economic hub for the Islamic republic.

Similarly, acceptance of a demand that Qatar close a military base of NATO member Turkey in the Gulf state would also undermine the Gulf state’s sovereignty. Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said his country had no plan to close its base in Qatar.

Other NATO members have military bases in the Gulf, including the United States’ largest military facility in the Middle East in Qatar, and British and French bases in the UAE. Turkey, like Qatar, supported the 2011 revolts as well as the Brotherhood.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are further demanding that Qatar cut ties to a host of organizations ranging from jihadists like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State to Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar has denied contacts with the jihadists but has been open about its relations with non-violent Islamists, including the Brotherhood and Palestinian group Hamas.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week suggested that banning the Brotherhood was all but impossible.  Speaking to the House Committee on Foreign Relations, Mr. Tillerson cautioned that designating the Brotherhood, with an estimated membership of 5 million, as a terrorist organization would “complicate matters” with America’s relations with foreign governments.

“There are elements of the Muslim Brotherhood that have become parts of governments. Those elements… have done so by renouncing violence and terrorism,” Mr. Tillerson said. He said groups affiliated with the Brotherhood that commit violence had already been added to the US terrorism list.

In a sign that compliance with the demands would not restore confidence among Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and the UAE together with Egypt and Bahrain insisted that Qatar expel their citizens, including those who had adopted Qatari nationality, and no longer offer their nationals citizenship as a way of ensuring that the Gulf state not meddle in their internal affairs. They also demand that Qatar be audited for a period of ten years.

In a bid to garner US support for their demands, Saudi Arabia and the UAE insisted that Qatar stop funding groups designated as terrorist by the United States, extradite people wanted by the kingdom, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt on charges of terrorism, and provide details of its funding of Saudi and other Arab dissidents.

Qatar’s distractors differ with the Gulf state as well as the United States on which groups and individuals classify as terrorists. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, the United States has not. Bahrain’s Sunni minority government relies on support of members of the Brotherhood.

Things get even more complicated when it comes to Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood that controls the Gaza Strip. Hamas has been designated a terrorist organization by the US, the EU and Israel but not the United Nations, the arbitrator of which designations are internationally binding.

Egypt, financially dependent on Saudi Arabia and the UAE, this week came to Hamas’ aid by supplying Gaza’s only power plant with fuel. The plant was shut in April because of a dispute between Hamas and the Palestine Authority (PA) on the West Bank headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. The Egyptian supply came as Israel reduced its supply of electricity to Gaza at the request of the PA.  

The Egyptian move also came as a Hamas delegation visited Cairo not only for talks with authorities but also with Mohammed Dahlan, a Abu Dhabi-based, UAE backed former Palestinian security chief who has ambitions to succeed Mr. Abbas as the leader of the Palestinians. Mr. Dahlan advises UAE strongman Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed on issues of national security. A deal between Hamas and Mr. Dahlan, who is at odds with Mr. Abbas and cannot return to the West Bank, would offer him a way back into Palestine.

In sum, Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s demands constitute an effort to rewrite the rules of international relations that uphold the sovereignty of nations and their right to graft their own policies. They effectively would put Qatar under guardianship and undermine the principle of freedom of expression and the media.

The demands complicate efforts by the United States and others to resolve the Gulf crisis. They reopen an unresolved debate about the definition of terrorism and the ability of countries to adopt independent decisions on policies regarding media, citizenship, diplomatic relations, and economics. In short, at stake in the Gulf crisis is far more than the fate of a tiny Gulf state.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa as well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

FIFA’s new rule to fight racism in football (JMD quoted)

Last month the Ghanaian footballer Sulley Muntari left the pitch in disgust. During a match in Italy’s top league he was racially abused by a section of fans. He complained to the referee expecting a sympathetic ear, but instead was shown a yellow card. Fan-to-player racism is commonplace in professional football. Now football’s international governing body FIFA has introduced a new rule it hopes will stop racism on the terraces for good.
Different governing bodies have made gestural efforts to kick racism out of the game: the ‘No to Racism’ video, produced by the European football association UEFA and shown during Champions League matches, featured football’s biggest superstars condemning racial abuse. Yet, as the Muntari case and countless others show, these campaigns are yet to succeed.
FIFA’s new scheme is currently on trial at the Confederations Cup. During the tournament referees will be able to stop and suspend matches if they see or hear racist behaviour from fans.The order sounds simple enough: the match is abandoned, the supporters are unhappy, they root out the bad apples in their ranks and the abuse stops. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has called the changes “ground-breaking”.
However, in practice this type of collective punishment would be difficult to enact. Referees already experience massive pressure when making decisions on the pitch. Would they really call off a match potentially facing the wrath of thousands, even millions of fans?  
Racism is a big deal… if I had this problem today, tomorrow or the next game I would walk off again.”
 Sulley Muntari , Pescara central midfielder

James M. Dorsey, author of ‘The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer’, told The World Weekly that while he applauds the sentiment, it is “an empty gesture”. Dr. Dorsey refers to FIFA’s “serious reputation problems”, sullied after numerous corruption scandals that saw its last president, Sepp Blatter, face criminal charges. The organisation, officially apolitical, is “tying itself up in knots” in an attempt to “look good”, Dr. Dorsey says. 
Beyond corruption scandals, FIFA has come under fire from human rights groups for awarding the World Cup to known rights abusers. In preparation for the 2022 tournament in Qatar hundreds of foreign labourers have died in the construction of stadiums. Dr. Dorsey points to this hypocrisy: “To not be racially abused is a human right.” Looking at the abuse of workers in Qatar and Russia, it seems FIFA has a morality limit.
Kaspar Loftin
The World Weekly
22 June 2017 - last edited today

Saudi Prince Has Throne in His Sights. Now for the Hard Par (JMD quoted on Bloomberg)

Saudi Prince Has Throne in His Sights. 

Now for the Hard Part

By Marc Champion

June 22, 2017, 7:01 AM GMT+8 June 22, 2017, 10:39 PM GMT+8

Mohammed bin Salman facing tough challenges at home and abroad

Whatever setbacks are in store, the buck now stops with ‘MBS’

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman just 

consolidated his position and power. Now he’ll need all 

the help he can get.

Shortly after dawn on Wednesday, King Salman 

announced that his 31-year-old son, widely known as 

MBS, was now heir to the throne. His older cousin, 

former Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, had been 

pushed aside to make way.

The move, if not the timing, was expected. Yet bin Nayef 

also lost his post as interior minister, a powerful role in 

which he oversaw the nation’s domestic security forces 

and counter-terrorism efforts. Those areas will now be 

in the hands of a close MBS ally. The prince already has 

substantial control over defense, economic and foreign 


Power on that scale comes with a catch. The challenges 

MBS has set for himself are vast. Now that rivals have 

been sidelined, the blame for any failures or unpopular 

measures will fall entirely on him, according to Ayham 

Kamel, director for the Middle East and North Africa at 

Eurasia Group.

Until this week, “responsibility for decisions had been 

shared among different members of the ruling family,” 

said Kamel. “As Mohammed bin Salman rises, it becomes 

more difficult, if possible at all, to assign responsibilities 

to other parties.”


MBS accumulated so many portfolios after his father 

became king in January 2015 that Western diplomats in 

the kingdom took to calling him “Mr Everything.” So 

Wednesday’s palace maneuvering is unlikely to produce 

any sudden change to Saudi domestic or foreign policies.

The initiatives the new crown prince has taken over those 

two years have, however, been unusually ambitious on 

almost every front.

His Vision 2030 plan to wean Saudi Arabia off its near-total 

dependence on oil was well received by economists, at least 

in terms of its goals; some questioned the government’s 

ability to implement it. Investors celebrated Wednesday’s 

political moves as a sign that MBS will now be free to push 

ahead with the reforms, with the benchmark stock index in 

Riyadh surging 5.5 percent. It extended the rally on Thursday 

to post the biggest weekly gain since March 2011, the height 

of the Arab Spring.

Still, driving those plans through to a conclusion that meets 

the aspirations of the kingdom’s young and fast-growing 

population will be a Herculean task. Many citizens will have 

to accept painful changes, such as reduced subsidies and 

fewer public-sector jobs, if the plan is to succeed. It also 

requires selling up to 5 percent of Saudi Aramco, a national 

treasure -- which means opening up the oil giant’s carefully 

guarded books to public scrutiny.

‘Several Generations’

With oil prices dipping below $45 this week, the government’s 

ability to please everybody without burning through its ample 

but finite currency reserves will be limited. In a sign of how 

sensitive Vision 2030’s austerity measures can be, King Salman 

on Wednesday reversed cuts to state salaries and bonuses, 

even as he announced his son’s elevation. The government 

also gave public employees an additional week’s holiday to 

mark the end of Ramadan.

The challenges for Saudi foreign policy are equally daunting, 

and could drain the political capital MBS will need at home. 

“His ability to deliver on both fronts is still highly uncertain, 

as the country’s authorities are attempting to implement 

several generations’ worth of reforms in less than 15 years,” 

said Torbjorn Soltvedt, principal analyst for the Middle East 

and North Africa at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, in a 


In 2015, MBS launched Saudi Arabia’s expensively equipped 

military into a war in Yemen. The conflict has so far proved 

messy and inconclusive, and its civilian death toll has drawn 

criticism. He also raised the stakes in Saudi Arabia’s fierce 

regional rivalry with Iran, describing dialog as “impossible” 

and calling for the fight to be taken onto Iranian soil.

Most recently, the prince led a group of countries into a 

diplomatic standoff with fellow Gulf Cooperation Council 

member Qatar. That, too, looks unlikely to deliver quick 

results and risks blowback, as Turkey and Iran rallied to 

help Qatar ride out the closure of its only land border.


None of these steps represent a fundamental change of 

policy for Saudi Arabia, according to James Dorsey, senior 

fellow for the Middle East and North Africa at Singapore’s 

Nanyang Technological University. But, he said, they’re all 

far more aggressive than the kingdom’s elderly and 

generally cautious leaders were willing to risk in the past.

The tougher approach to intractable problems in the Middle 

East appears to mesh with that of U.S. President Donald 

Trump, who met MBS in Washington in March, and again in 

Saudi Arabia in May. On Wednesday, Trump called to 

congratulate the younger leader. According to the president’s 

office, the two men discussed the “priority of cutting off all 

support for terrorists and extremists, as well as how to 

resolve the ongoing dispute with Qatar.” The prince has 

cultivated ties elsewhere in the White House, twice dining 

with his near-contemporaries Ivanka Trump and Jared 


Support from other parts of Washington, where the 

deposed bin Nayef was well regarded for his counter-

terrorism efforts, is less certain. On Tuesday, State 

Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert issued an 

unusually blunt criticism of Saudi Arabia and the United 

Arab Emirates for failing to produce detailed evidence in 

support of the accusations they leveled at Qatar.

MBS embarked on his campaigns against Yemen and 

Qatar “without an exit strategy,” said Dorsey. “At this point, 

those are backfiring.”

The Rise of a Prince Ends Doubts Over Saudi Arabia’s Direction (JMD quoted on Bloomberg)

Mohammed bin Salman’s elevation as Saudi
heir also has international ramifications.
By Marc Champion and Donna Abu-Nasr

June 21, 2017, 10:49 PM GMT+8 June 22, 2017, 5:47 AM GMT+8
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. PHOTOGRAPHER: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP

With the anointment of Prince
Mohammed bin Salman as heir to the
Saudi throne, any doubts over the
continuation of policies that have shaken
up the Middle East have gone.
Western diplomats already referred to the
31-year-old as “Mr. Everything,” because of
his control over most aspects of domestic,
foreign and defense affairs. His elevation
ends a behind-the-scenes struggle for power
and answers the question of what would
happen to his plans for Saudi Arabia when
King Salman, now 81, dies or steps aside.

The most ambitious of these, Vision 2030,
seeks to recalibrate the economy to end the
country’s near-total dependence on oil
revenue. But internationally, there are also
Saudi Arabia's Shake-Up

Last month, the prince again raised the
stakes in the regional rivalry with Iran,
saying that dialog was “impossible" as they
fight a proxy war in Yemen. He also led a
multi-nation effort to isolate neighboring
Qatar, causing a rift among fellow
members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
That also looks set to turn into another long
and potentially fruitless test of wills as Iran
and Turkey come to Qatar's aid.
“The switch offers him the legitimacy and
consensus of becoming the next king and
that will validate his vision, his plans and his
policies,” said Sami Nader, head of the
Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic
Affairs. “There were a lot of question marks
about the future of Saudi Arabia and the
transition. Now this debate has ended.”

Widely known as MBS, he was made
crown prince just after dawn in Riyadh,
displacing his older cousin, Mohammed
bin Nayef, who was also stripped of his
post as interior minister in charge of
domestic security forces and
counter-terrorism policy.

The move was neither a shock nor a coup,
and it means he could be running the
kingdom for decades to come. What's
more, his tough approach to the
intractable problems of the Middle East
would appear to mesh well with U.S.
President Donald Trump, who visited
Saudi Arabia last month.

Trump called the new crown prince
Wednesday to offer congratulations on
his elevation, the White House said in a
statement. Trump and the prince
“committed to close cooperation to
advance our shared goals of security,
stability, and prosperity across the Middle
East and beyond,” according to the

Prince Mohammed also has come to
know Trump's daughter Ivanka and her
husband Jared Kushner, having dined
together twice, once in Washington and
once in Riyadh. 
What Next?
The problem is what comes next. On
Tuesday, the U.S. Department of State
questioned Saudi Arabia's justification at
striking out at Qatar by cutting it off from
diplomatic and transport links.

The bombing campaign in Yemen aimed
at destroying the rebel Houthi forces that
Saudi Arabia sees as proxies for Iran,
meanwhile, appears to have no end in sight.
Two years later, it has become bogged down,
bloody and increasingly unpopular.

“On the foreign policy side he's also
embroiled Saudi Arabia in Yemen and Qatar
without an exit strategy,” said James Dorsey,
senior fellow for the Middle East and North
Africa at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological
University. These aren’t changes of direction
for Saudi Arabia, but “what he has done is
to stretch up a notch and put some very sharp
edges on it, and at this point those are

Why King Salman chose this time to change
the line of succession remains unclear. There
have been rumors about his health and
alleged plans to abdicate almost from the
moment he became king, in January 2015. The
amount of power he placed in the hands of his
relatively inexperienced son had rankled older
members of the royal family. And religious
conservatives were always going to resist efforts
at gradual liberalization in one of the world's
most repressive societies.

MBS’s plans require tearing up the social
contract that's kept the family in power since
his grandfather, Ibn Saud, founded the kingdom
in 1932. It was one of state largesse in exchange
for obedience to an austere autocracy.

That said, there's a strong desire for change
among many Saudis. Official statistics show
that half the population is under 25. He
remains popular among the young, even though
some Saudis are becoming unhappy as subsidies
and public sector jobs are withdrawn, according
to Dorsey.

That means his controversial plans for selling off
parts of the state energy behemoth Saudi Aramco
and other aspects of Vision 2030 are also likely
to move forward, according to Ayham Kamel,
director for the Middle East and North Africa at
the Eurasia Group, in London.

“Investors had doubts that Vision 2030 is real
or that the man behind it would actually be the
ruler of Saudi Arabia. Those doubts will largely
evaporate after this,” he said. Still, with power
will come the responsibility for what goes wrong,
said Kamel, and “that part is going to be
fundamentally different.”