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This article first appeared on Play the Game

13.01.2021

Analysis by James M. Dorsey

Hosting major sports tournaments can confer prestige on a country, but in the case of Egypt, the 2021 Handball World Championship will do little to repair its relations with the US, Italy and states in the Gulf, argues James M. Dorsey in this analysis.

Egyptian general-turned president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi sees the 2021 men’s handball world championship in Cairo and Alexandria as an opportunity to put his best foot forward at a time when Egypt’s relations with its closest regional and global partners are encountering substantial headwinds. …


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By James M Dorsey

China would like the world to believe that the Middle East and North Africa region does not rank high on its totem pole despite its energy dependence, significant investment and strategic relationships with the region. In many ways, China is not being deceptive. With relations with the United States rapidly deteriorating, China’s primary focus is on what it views as its main battleground: the Asia–Pacific. China is nonetheless realising that remaining aloof in the Middle East may not be sustainable.

In assessing the importance of the Middle East and North Africa region to China, the glass seems both half full and half empty with regard to what it will take for China to secure its interests. In the final analysis, however, the glass is likely to prove to be half full. If so, that will have significant consequences for Chinese policy towards and engagement in the region. …


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By James M. Dorsey

Silent about rising sectarian violence in Pakistan, Gulf states vying for religious soft power risk exposing the limitations of their concepts of an undefined ‘moderate’ Islam that is tolerant and endorses pluralism.

Countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have so far turned a blind eye to mounting sectarian sentiment in Karachi and Punjab province against Shiites and Ahmadis, sects viewed as heretics by conservative Sunni Muslims.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan appears to have passed on the opportunity to demonstrate the kingdom’s claim to leadership of a Muslim world that adopts principles of religious tolerance and pluralism when he apparently refrained from raising increased sectarian violence in talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi during a visit to Pakistan last month. …


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By James M. Dorsey

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ushered in the new year, pledging to employ his country’s military to secure Turkey’s place in a rebalanced new world order.

Mr. Erdogan spelled out his vision when he inserted himself on December 30 into an address by his defense minister, Hulusi Akar, to several hundred masked Turkish and Azeri military officers in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku.

Speaking on the loudspeaker of Mr. Akar’s handphone that the defense minister held up to the microphone, Mr. Erdogan compared Turkish military interventions, foreign bases and/or participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions in lands of the former Soviet Union, Kosovo, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Qatar to the creation during World War One of the Islamic Army of the Caucasus by Enver Pasha, the Ottoman war minister. …


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By James M. Dorsey

President Joko Widodo’s recent cabinet reshuffle suggests that Indonesia may adopt a more critical attitude towards China and reinforce government support for efforts by Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the world’s largest Muslim movement, to reform Islam and position the Southeast Asian state as a key player in a battle with Middle Eastern rivals for the soul of Islam.

Mr. Widodo signaled his potential policy moves with the appointment of ambassador to the United States Muhammad Lutfi as trade minister and prominent Nahdlatul Ulama official Yaqut Cholil Qoumas as minister of religious affairs.

Mr. Lutfi’s appointment came two months after a visit by Mike Pompeo to Jakarta in October at the invitation of Nahdlatul Ulama during which the Secretary of State extended Indonesia’s access to a preferential tariff arrangement and opened the door to a free trade agreement with the United States. …


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By James M. Dorsey

A projected sharp reduction in trade between the United States and China in the next two years coupled with moves to diversify supply chains potentially position Turkey alongside Vietnam, Mexico, Taiwan and Poland as competitors in efforts to reduce dependency on the People’s Republic, according to a just published study.

The study, conducted by the Boston Consulting Group on behalf of the Turkey-US Business Council (TAIK), suggests that Turkey, located on a fault line that separates Europe from Asia, has prerequisites to emerge as a winner provided it invests in its digital, electronics and equipment sectors.

TAIK is an affiliate of the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey (DEIK), the country’s oldest and largest business association. …


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By James M. Dorsey

Turkey is leveraging its successful backing of Azerbaijan’s recent war against Armenia to counter Iran in the Caucasus and gradually challenge Russia in Central Asia, the heart of what Moscow considers its backyard.

The Turkish moves have elicited different responses from Russia and Iran, two countries Turkey views as both partners and rivals.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been careful not to jeopardize his newly found status as a Russian recognized-player in the southern Caucasus.

By contrast, Mr. Erdogan seems determined to provoke Iran with statements and postings by-his state-run broadcaster that potentially call into question the territorial integrity of the Islamic republic. …


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Credit: Southfront

Second Karabakh War as Cause or Consequence?

James M. Dorsey

Populated at the time by fluent Hebrew speakers, the Israel desk of Armenia’s for­eign ministry waited back in 1991 — in the immediate wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union — for a phone call that never came. The ministry was convinced that Israel, with whom Armenia shared an experience of genocide, were natural allies. The min­istry waited in vain. Israel never made the call. …


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By James M. Dorsey

Saudi Arabia appears to be drawing lines in the sand as the kingdom prepares for a new era in relations with the United States once President-elect Joe Biden assumes office in January.

In doing so, the kingdom is seemingly signaling that it is willing to go only so far in seeking to get off on the right foot with a Biden administration.

Saudi Arabia seems to be betting that Mr. Biden will be cautious not to rupture relations with the kingdom despite criticism he expressed at times in strong language during the US presidential election campaign.

The Saudi bet is not unreasonable. …


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By James M. Dorsey

Punching above its weight, the United Arab Emirates is wielding a combination of religious soft power, commercial and economic sway, and hard power in its bid to counter political Islam in ways that potentially could threaten pillars of Western democracy as well as US and European strategic interests.

The UAE’s footprint is visible across the globe, most recently in France, the latest arena in what amounts to a battle for the soul of Islam, as well as in US disclosures about the nature of Emirati intervention in Libya.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia appear to have been lobbying for a tougher French policy towards political Islam prior to the crackdown initiated by President Emmanuel Macron in the wake of the gruesome killing of a schoolteacher in September and subsequent attacks, including on a church in Nice. …

About

James M. Dorsey

James is an award-winning journalist covering ethnic and religious conflict. He blogs using soccer as a lens on the Middle East and North Africa's fault lines

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