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“Heavyweight Saudi Arabia” Influence Counters “Over-Stepping” Qatar?

From the Kuwait Times, a fascinating comparative analysis of the influence of Saudi Arabia and Qatar on Islamic countries in transitions:

 

Qatar losing ground to Saudi diplomacy

headline2

 

DUBAI: Qatar, a key supporter of Islamists who rose to power in Arab Spring countries, is losing ground in regional politics to Saudi Arabia which appears to have seized the reins on key issues, notably Egypt and Syria. The decline in Qatar’s regional diplomacy comes as its powerful emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani unexpectedly abdicated in favor of his son Tamim last month.

The wealthy Gulf state had transformed itself into a key regional player but began to retreat as heavyweight Saudi Arabia re-entered the political arena after lagging behind in the immediate period following the eruption of the Arab Spring uprisings in December 2010. The ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last week by the army and the election by the Syrian opposition of Saudi-linked Ahmad Assi Jarba as new leader stripped Qatar of strong influence in both countries.

“Qatar had tried to take a leading role in the region but overstepped its limits by openly backing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria, and other Arab Spring states,” said Kuwaiti political analyst Ayed Al-Manna. Jonathan Eyal, head of international relations at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, argued that Qatar’s regional politics have failed.

“Qatar’s Middle Eastern diplomacy now lies in ruins: it failed to produce dividends in Libya, backfired in Syria and has now collapsed in Egypt,” local Emirati daily The National quoted him on Tuesday as saying. Realizing the damaging effects of their policies, Manna noted, “the Qataris sought to cut down on their commitments” which were already affected by the emir’s abdication and the sidelining of the influential prime minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jabr Al-Thani.

As a result, “Saudi Arabia, a historical regional US ally, regained its role” in coordination with other oil-rich Gulf monarchies, said Manna. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah was the first foreign head of state to congratulate Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour, hours after he was named to replace Morsi. And on Tuesday, the kingdom pledged $5 billion in assistance to Egypt. The United Arab Emirates, which has cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood in the past few months, offered Egypt an aid package of $3 billion.

“Saudi Arabia wants to ensure stability in Arab Spring countries, regardless of its ideological interests,” said analyst Abdel Aziz Al-Sagr, head of the Gulf Research Centre. “It had supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt but reconsidered this support after the Brotherhood failed to run the country wisely,” he argued. But the Saudi researcher downplayed the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both of which have been looking to expand their influence during the Arab Spring uprisings and prevent any potential revolt against their own autocratic regimes.

“The Saudi-Qatari harmony still exists and there is no battle for influence between the two countries,” said Sager. And as proof, “Riyadh was the first to be informed of the political change in Qatar, six months before it took place. And it welcomed it.” But the two countries, whose relations have been historically tense or at least marked by mistrust, support two different approaches of political Islam that emerged strongly in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Qatar sides with political parties linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose experience was cut short despite the strong media support they enjoyed from the influential Doha-based Al-Jazeera news channel. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia promotes Salafist groups that focus less on politics and more on implementing Shariah Islamic law on daily life matters such as forcing women to wear a veil and prohibiting the mixing between sexes. Saudi King Abdullah has reiterated his country’s stance against using Islam for political purposes.

“Islam rejects divisions in the name of one party or another,” he said in a statement marking the start Wednesday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The kingdom will never accept” the presence of political parties, that “only lead to conflict and failure.” But regardless of the political agendas of Saudi Arabia or Qatar, the people who rose up during the Arab Spring revolts will have the final word on their own political futures, argued former Bahraini cabinet minister Ali Fakhro. “It is the Arab people, not Qatar nor Saudi Arabia, who will determine the political future of the region.” – AFP

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July 11, 2013 Posted by | Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Interconnected, Kuwait, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Saudi Arabia, Women's Issues | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Salafi Led Crowd Attacks American Embassy in Tunis

Have you been watching the attack on the Embassy in Tunis?” my Mom asked as we were chatting. She and Dad had visited us in Tunis when we were stationed there. Dad rented a car, and then turned it back in when the driving was too scary for him. Mom let out the waists in all her dresses so they would be loose and flow-y in the hot September of Tunisia.

No, no I hadn’t been watching, I’d had a busy morning.

My memories of the Embaassy in Tunis are so sweet. Just off Place Pasteur, and pretty much everyone knew everyone. In the autumn months, the tiny embassy commissary sold avocados from one of the embassy employee’s trees, great huge avocados – not available any where else in Tunisia.

We lived near The Butcher with the Blue Awning, in Mutuelville, We lived in a villa surrounded by a family with 12 children, around our ages, who adopted us and especially me and our son. The women took me everywhere; it was one of the most memorable postings of my life. They took me to a local hairdresser to get ready for a wedding party; the style he gave me for the evening is a style I wear to this day, I loved it so much, sort of 1930’s French retro. There was one supermarket, and mostly it had canned tuna, canned tomatoes and sometimes fresh milk. We took our own containers to the olive oil man, and stood in line when a fresh shipment arrived. He would weigh our container, fill it, weigh it again and charge by the weight. Some of the best, freshest olive oil I have ever tasted and cooked with, and so inexpensive.

My heart breaks that this sweet embassy would be attacked. Salafist led, of course. When they cannot win the votes of the hearts and men, they resort to violence. AYB! AYB! (Shame! Shame!)

Tunisia Embassy Protest: Black Smoke Seen Rising Above Building
By BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA 09/14/12 05:43 PM ET

TUNIS, Tunisia — Violent protests outside the U.S. Embassy in Tunis against an anti-Muslim film were met with tear gas and gunshots Friday, leaving two people dead, around 40 others injured and plumes of black smoke wafting over the city.

Several dozen protesters briefly stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Tunisia’s capital, tearing down the American flag and raising a flag with the Muslim profession of faith on it as part of the protests. Protesters also set fire to and looted an American school adjacent to the embassy compound and prevented firefighters from approaching it. The school appeared to be empty and no injuries were reported.

Earlier, several thousand demonstrators had gathered outside the U.S. Embassy, including stone-throwing protesters who clashed with police, according to an Associated Press reporter on the scene. Police responded with gunshots and tear gas. Police and protesters held running battles in the streets of Tunis. Amid the unrest, youths set fire to cars in the embassy parking lot and pillaged businesses nearby.

The state news agency TAP, citing the health ministry, said both of those killed were demonstrators, while the injured included protesters and police. Two of the injured were in critical condition, the health ministry said.

A Tunisian employee of the U.S. Embassy who had an injured leg was taken out on a stretcher to an ambulance. It wasn’t immediately clear if there were any other injuries. Embassy officials did not respond to calls and emails.

The group that breached the U.S. Embassy’s outer wall was eventually pushed back outside by a huge deployment of police and special forces. As night fell, the crowd of protesters outside the embassy dwindled to a handful.

The al-Wataniya 1 television station said the presidential guard also intervened and escorted the U.S. ambassador and about 80 embassy personnel away from the site to safety.

Crowds angry over an anti-Muslim film ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad have assaulted U.S. embassies across the Middle East.

The degree of violence in Tunisia surprised many and raised new questions about the direction of the country, where an uprising last year forced out its longtime president and set off pro-democracy revolts across the Arab world. A once-banned Islamist party came to power in elections last year, but the moderate government has struggled to quell protests by increasingly vocal ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis.

Reuters reports:


By Tarek Amara

TUNIS, Sept 14 (Reuters) – At least two people were killed and 29 others were wounded on Friday when police fought hundreds of protesters who ransacked the U.S. embassy in Tunisia in their fury over a film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad, state television said.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki condemned what he called “an attack against the embassy of a friendly nation”.

Tunisia expects Washington to guarantee around a fifth of the $2.2-2.5 billion its needs to borrow next year to help its economy recover after its revolution last year overthew its veteran leader and triggered the Arab Spring uprisings.

A Reuters reporter saw police open fire to try to quell the assault, in which protesters forced their way past riot police into the embassy.

The protesters smashed windows, hurled petrol bombs and stones at police from inside, and started fires in the embassy and the compound. A black plume of smoke rose from the building.

One protester was seen throwing a computer out of a window, while others walked away with telephones and computers.

A Tunisian security officer near the compound said the embassy had not been staffed on Friday, and calls to the embassy went unanswered. A Reuters reporter saw two armed U.S. soldiers on the roof.

Health Minister Khalil Zaouia told state media at least two people died and 29 were injured, revising down an earlier toll from state television which said three died and 28 had been wounded.

The protesters, many of whom were Islamic Salafists, also set fire to the nearby American School, which was closed at the time, and took away laptops and tablet computers.

The protests began after Friday prayers and followed a rallying call on Facebook by Islamist activists that was quickly endorsed by the local faction of the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia.

FLAG BURNED

An Interior Ministry spokesman said police were hunting Saif-Allah Benahssine, the leader of the Tunisian branch of Ansar al-Sharia to interrogate him about the incidents. Better known under the alias Abu Iyadh, Benahssine is also a prominent figure in Tunisia’s Salafist movement.

Libyan officials suspect the Libyan branch of Ansar al-Sharia of being behind an attack in Benghazi in which four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed on Tuesday.

The moderate Islamist Ennahda movement, which heads the Tunis government, had advised Tunisians against participating in the protest against the crude, low-budget film, made in California and trailed online, which portrayed the Prophet engaged in vulgar and offensive behaviour.

“The (Tunisian) government does not accept these acts of aggression against foreign diplomatic missions,” said a statement read on state television. It said Tunisian authorities were “committed to ensuring the safety of foreign diplomatic missions”.

Hundreds of protesters wielding petrol bombs, stones and sticks had charged at the security forces protecting the embassy before jumping a wall to invade the compound.

“Obama, Obama, we are all Osamas,” they chanted, in reference to the slain al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden.

The protesters pulled down the U.S. flag flying over the embassy, burned it, and replaced it with a black flag emblazoned with the Shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith.

Riot police finally drove the protesters from the embassy and the compound, and a Reuters reporter saw them arresting around 60.

The compound was cordoned off by police, soldiers and members of the elite presidential guard, but clashes continued in the el-Aouina district across a highway from the smart Auberge du Lac neighbourhood where the embassy is located.

Marzouki, in an address broadcast on state media, said he had spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and condemned the attack as “unacceptable considering its implications on our relations with” Washington.

“This attack is part of a wider plan aimed at stoking hatred between the people,” he said.

September 14, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Tunisia | , , | Leave a comment