Geopolitics

ARABICA - A Daily Shot Of What the Arab World is Saying/Hearing/Sharing

ARABICA - A Daily Shot Of What the Arab World is Saying/Hearing/Sharing


A R A B I C A
ارابيكا

By Kristen Gillespie

YEMEN: TAKING STOCK, COUNTING DEAD
Protests in Yemen have been ongoing for more than eight months, with the epicenter of the uprising at a square near the University of Sanaa. Protesters have been camped out, and despite periodic attempts by security forces to forcefully break them up by opening live fire on the crowds, the mostly young demonstrators have remained resolute.

It appears that what is left of the central government is fed up after a tribal insurrection in the north, an Al-Qaeda insurrection in the south and a nationwide revolt against the leadership of 32-year incumbent President Ali Abdullah Saleh. While most foreign journalists have been expelled from Yemen, the Arabic media puts the death toll at 46 people in Sanaa over the past 24 hours. Three of those killed were soldiers who had defected from the army and joined the opposition.

Yemen is part of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, a European Union-style bloc, which has offered a proposal aimed at convincing Saleh to leave power. The GCC Initiative includes full immunity for Saleh and his family from prosecution, a far more generous offer than the Arab world's other deposed leaders were given. A UN envoy and the Secretary General of the GCC, Abdullatif al-Zayani, both arrived in Sanaa on Monday. The official Yemeni news agency did not address the 46 dead, but stated that "the visit aims for al-Zayani to get acquainted with the latest developments in local arena."

EGYPT: STRIKING TEACHERS, FIGHTING KIDS
Egypt's al-Wafd newspaper published a report called "Fights and assaults, chaos in schools" chronicling the third day of the teachers' strike in Egypt. Education Minister Ahmed Moussa met with teachers' representatives, but told them the national budget could not accommodate the salary raise and other demands of the teachers. The strike will continue, teachers responded, until the government meets their demands. As teachers sat in the courtyards of schools and refused to enter the buildings, the paper reports on fights between the students inside due to a lack of supervision.

ARAB ONLINE: CHIT-CHATTING, NOT JOB HUNTING
A new study by one of the Arab world's largest job-finding sites, Bayt.com, finds that the vast majority of Internet users in the region are going online only to chat with friends, "rather than looking for a job, learning or shopping." A total of 67 percent of those surveyed said they use the internet for socializing, and use the internet for three hours or more per day.



Sep 19, 2011

photo credit: illustir

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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