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  • Author: Scott Edwards
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: On the 3rd of January 2020, the United States signalled its intent to escalate tensions with Iran, through the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds forces, in Iraq. Following attacks from Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militia on the American embassy in Baghdad, the escalation took place on a backdrop of worsening US-Iranian relations, focused on the US withdrawal of the Iranian nuclear deal (and Iran’s subsequent rollback of key commitments), the reinstatement of economic sanctions against Iran, and increasing tensions in the Straits of Hormuz. Such tensions have been met with concern in East Asia, particularly among countries that have been steadily expanding their relationships with Iran. Responses, however, reflect a continuation of business as normal rather than any great change. While Malaysia, for example, has condemned the assassination in line with their growing closeness to Iran, there has been no tangible change of policy. Indonesia, who has developed a relationship but emphasised their desire to remain neutral in the Iran-Saudi tensions, have avoided making overt statements in support of Iran or condemning US action. For the most part, therefore, Southeast Asian states have been unwilling and unable to abandon their relationship with the US and other key states such as Saudi Arabia, or isolate themselves by supporting Iran overtly. For other East Asian states, overtly supporting Iran runs the risks of encouraging the escalation of the conflict and the damaging of their interests, such as is the case with China. As such, this paper will argue that while the perception surrounding Soleimani’s assassination among East Asia is for the most part negative, this will not fundamentally impact on their relationship with the US or spur a further shift to Iran. Instead, in the face of continuing US pressure on Iran, Iran’s relationships within East Asia have begun to ultimately suffer. This paper will begin by analysing the expansion of Iran’s relationship with East Asian states before going on to argue how these are likely to decline in future despite these countries’ concerns of US actions as well as actions of other important states such as Saudi Arabia. While Iran has expanded its relationship with a number of partners in East Asia, this paper will focus on relationships Iran finds particularly important. Primarily, this is Malaysia and Indonesia, who, as countries with Muslim majority populations, have seen their involvement with Iran growing at a faster pace than others but in relationships mired in complexity. It will also consider China’s perspective; a relationship that has taken on importance for different reasons.
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Sanctions, Conflict, Qassem Soleimani, Militias
  • Political Geography: Iran, Malaysia, Middle East, East Asia, Saudi Arabia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Mohammed Cherkaoui
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: On June 6, 2020, the Qatari crisis entered its fourth year with two parallel political discourses, which have endured the complexity of issues between Qatar and the Quartet [Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt] since early June 2017: a) diplomatic hopes in the U.S.-backed Kuwaiti mediation amidst several gestures of rapprochement between the Qataris and the Saudis; and b) disparity of positions by the disputing parties while maintaining status quo politics. The Trump administration has urged the Quartet capitals to reopen their airspace for Qatari airlines as a step toward ending the open-ended blockade. The Wall Street Journal quoted U.S. officials saying "there is a greater sense of urgency to resolve the airspace issue. It's an ongoing irritation for us that money goes into Iran's coffers due to Qatar Airways overflights." (1) The Trump White House has been irritated by the so-called "overfly fees" that Qatar pays to Iran to use its airspace. There is growing hope Washington’s call will trigger momentum for lifting the land and sea blockade imposed on Qatar as well. Qatar’s foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani hopes “the initiative will produce results, we are open to dialogue and ready to meet each step forward with 10 steps from our side.” (2) Unlike the Saudis, the Emiratis have maintained the 2017 demands, and UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash insists “this issue will stay with us, and we have to manage it in a better way until we reach a future stage.” He has often characterized the blockade as “a result of Doha's interference policies," and argued "the solution for this crisis should be based on dealing with the causes of it." (3) As a result, the three-year blockade is causing a hurting stalemate for both sides of the Gulf conflict. In his new book “Qatar and the Gulf Crisis”, Kristian C. Ulrichsen argues the blockade has become “stuck at a political level where the Saudi and Emirati leadership—and especially Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed—appear reluctant to make the first move to offer concessions or progress to a negotiated compromise.” (4) This paper examines some major narrative turns of the Quartet-Qatar showdown and the transformation of Trump’s position. It traces the possibility of a de-escalation shift along Washington’s pursuit of mediation in the framework of the Kuwaiti diplomacy; and weighs on the future of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), as a counterbalance of the Arab Gulf strategic (dis)unity and common existentialism in a turbulent region.
  • Topic: International Relations, Diplomacy, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Abu Dhabi
  • Author: Thembisa Fakude
  • Publication Date: 08-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: The recent developments in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy towards Syria, Iraq and Yemen have created great confusion. A “bastion of Sunni Islam”, Saudi Arabia has made controversial political decisions that have resulted in immense criticism from across the world.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy
  • Political Geography: Saudi Arabia
  • Author: Madawi al-Rasheed
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: Riyadh is keen to impose guardianship on its Gulf neighbours, but most of them resist, which mires the Gulf system in recurring conflicts. This will not be settled definitively unless their relations are based on the principles of equality and mutual respect.
  • Topic: International Relations, International Security
  • Political Geography: Saudi Arabia