By James M. Dorsey

Sports governance worldwide has had the legs knocked out from under it. Yet, national and international sports administrators are slow in realizing the magnitude of what has hit them.

Tectonic plates underlying sports’ guiding principle that sports and politics are unrelated have shifted, driven by a struggle against racism and a quest for human rights and social justice.

The principle was repeatedly challenged over the last year by athletes as well as businesses forcing national and international sports federations to either support anti-racist protest or at the least refrain from penalizing athletes who use their sport…


By James M. Dorsey

Former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein has papered over a rare public dispute in the ruling Jordanian family in a move that is unlikely to resolve long-standing fissures in society and among the country’s elite and that echo multiple Middle Eastern fault lines.

Differences over socio-economic policies, governance, and last year’s normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and three other Arab states as well as leadership of the Muslim world were laid glaringly bare by a security crackdown that targeted not only Prince Hamzah, a popular, modest, and pious 41-year-old half-brother of King…


Battle for the Soul of Islam

By James M. Dorsey

This story was first published in Horizons

TROUBLE is brewing in the backyard of Muslim-majority states competing for religious soft power and leadership of the Muslim world in what amounts to a battle for the soul of Islam. Shifting youth attitudes towards religion and religiosity threaten to undermine the rival efforts of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and, to a lesser degree, the United Arab Emirates, to cement their individual state-controlled interpretations of Islam as the Muslim world’s dominant religious narrative. …


By James M. Dorsey

Two initiatives send the clearest signal, yet, that China may be gearing up to play a greater political role in the Middle East.

Touring the region this week, Foreign Minister Wang Yi laid out five principles Middle Eastern nations would need to adopt to achieve a measure of regional stability.

He called on the region’s rivals “to respect each other, uphold equity and justice, achieve nuclear non-proliferation, jointly foster collective security, and accelerate development cooperation.”

Chinese ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chen Weiqing said China would be “willing to play its due role in promoting long-term peace…


By James M. Dorsey

Amid Washington chatter about the future of US-Saudi relations, the kingdom has launched an unprecedented public diplomacy campaign to marshal business and grassroots support beyond the Beltway to counter anti-Saudi sentiment in the Biden administration and Congress.

To do so, the Saudi embassy in Washington has hired a lobbying and public relations firm headquartered in the American heartland rather than the capital. Iowa-based Larson Shannahan Slifka Group (LS2 Group) was contracted for US$126,500 a month to reach out to local media, business and women’s groups, and world affairs councils in far-flung states. …


By James M. Dorsey

In a sign of the times, Turkish schoolbooks have replaced Saudi texts as the bull’s eye of criticism of supremacist and intolerant curricula in the Muslim world.

Once a model of secularism with an education system that taught evolution, cultural openness, and tolerance towards minorities that included Kurdish as a minority language, Turkish curricula have increasingly replaced those concepts with notions of jihad, martyrdom in battle and a neo-Ottoman and pan-Turkist ethno-religious worldview, according to a just released analysis of 28 textbooks.

The report by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education…


By James M. Dorsey

Saudi Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, a popular but controversial religious scholar who has been mostly in solitary confinement since 2017, appeared in court this week only to hear that his case had been again adjourned for four months.

Charged with more than 30 counts of terrorism, a term that is broadly defined in Saudi Arabia to include adherence to atheism and peaceful dissent, prosecutors are demanding the death sentence.

It was not immediately clear why the trial was postponed but some analysts suggest the government may have wanted to avoid a high-profile court case at a moment…


By James M. Dorsey

Recent clashes in the Iranian province of Sistan and Balochistan highlight Iran’s vulnerabilities as well as its inability to overcome trauma and control its demons.

The clashes sparked by a crackdown on cross border fuel smuggling to neighbouring Pakistan achieved what past US and Saudi machinations failed to accomplish: ethnic unrest in a strategic, impoverished and long restive majority Sunni province in predominantly Shiite Iran.

The clashes in February erupted after Iranian Revolutionary Guards killed two smugglers, prompting protesters to storm the governor’s office in the city of Saravan and burn police cars. …


By James M. Dorsey

As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov embarks on a four-day visit to the Gulf, Middle Eastern leaders are either struggling to get a grip on Joe Biden’s recalibration of US policy in the region or signalling their refusal to adapt to the president’s approach.

Mr. Lavrov’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar comes a week after the United States released an intelligence report that pointed fingers at Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for allegedly ordering the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Earlier, the United States halted the sale of weapons…


Credit: YouTube/The National

By James M. Dorsey

When Pope Francis sets foot in Iraq on Friday, he will be breaking historic ground while manoeuvring religious and political minefields. So will his foremost religious counterpart, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, one of the Shia Muslim world’s foremost scholars and leaders.

The three-day visit contrasts starkly with past papal trips to the Middle East that included Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan, states that, unlike neighbouring Iran, are more accustomed to inter-faith interactions because of their Sunni Muslim history and colonial experience or in the case of Shia-majority Azerbaijan a modern…

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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