A new book on how Arab liberals are promoting social change through media

Amid civil war, failing states, and terrorism, Arab liberals are growing in numbers and influence. Advocating a culture of equity, tolerance, good governance, and the rule of law, they work through some of the region’s largest media outlets to spread their ideals within the culture. Broadcasting Change analyzes this trend by portraying the intersection of media and politics in two Arab countries with seismic impact on the region and beyond. In Saudi Arabia, where hardline clerics silenced their opponents for generations, liberals now dominate the airwaves. Their success in weakening clerics’ grip over the public space would not only help develop the country; it would ensure that the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad exports a constructive understanding of Islam. In Egypt, home to a brutal government crackdown on Islamists and a bloodsport of attacks on Coptic Christians, local liberals are acting with courage on the ground and over the airwaves. Through TV talk shows, drama, and comedy, they play off the government’s anti-Islamist agenda to more thoughtfully advocate religious reform. Continue Reading…

New and Noteworthy in Arab and Islamic Affairs, 10-29-17

Trump’s ambassador to the UN lays off Doha and pressures Juba. To subscribe to this daily roundup by Mideast specialist Joseph Braude, click here.  In a remarkable about-face, Nikki Haley tells Congress that Qatar “does not fund Hamas.” … “Haley’s reversal, contained in a memo to Congress obtained by BuzzFeed News, comes as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seeks to unite competing factions in the Trump administration behind a common policy in the high-stakes Gulf crisis.” That policy effectively leans in favor of the Qatari position. The position, as described in the article, is to view the four-country blockade as “a threat to both stability in the region and the US air base in Qatar, which is home to the largest concentration of U.S. military personnel in the Middle East.” Haley’s remarks include the following: “While the Qatari government does not fund Hamas, it does allow Hamas political representatives to be based in Qatar, which Qatar believes limits Iran’s influence and pressure over Hamas. … Qatar has committed to take Continue Reading…

New and Noteworthy in Arab and Islamic Affairs, 10-16-17

Iran critics give Trump’s JCPOA decertification mixed reviews, while Russia rewards Saudi Arabia for warming relations. To subscribe to this daily roundup by Mideast specialist Joseph Braude, click here. The new White House strategy on Tehran is more savvy than its critics claim, writes Amir Taheri in Asharq Alawsat …: “Had he renounced the JCPOA in a formal way, Iran’s leaders could have cast themselves as victims of ‘imperialist bullying’ and deployed the Europeans . . . to fight in their corner. Now they cannot do that because all that Trump is demanding is a stricter application of the measures that the EU and others say they mean to defend. … [The measures, he writes, amount to a more holistic view of relations with Iran, to include accountability on support for terror, human rights violations, and hostage-taking.] But Eli Lake at Bloomberg sees a betrayal of Trump’s promise to nix the JCPOA: “Trump fails to address the greatest threat the rogue regime poses: its expansion in Syria and Iraq. … In some ways Trump’s decisions to Continue Reading…

A Landmark Austrian Government Report Warns Against Muslim Brotherhood Activism in the Country

The report, commissioned by the Austrian intelligence establishment, documents exploitation of Austrian government funds and schools, radicalization of local Muslim communities, and the use of Austrian territory as a springboard for Brotherhood activism in Arab countries. In recent years, several European governments have begun to revise their policies toward the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations. The trend began in 2014 when the British government ordered a review of the movement, its presence in the UK, and the question of how official policy should treat it. The process did not culminate, as some critics of the Brotherhood had hoped, with the designation of the group as a terrorist organization. Nonetheless, it amounted to a stinging indictment of the Brotherhood’s ideology and aims. The report found that the group has “selectively used violence and sometimes terror in pursuit of their institutional goals,” warned against its habit of political double-talk, and advised the British government to be wary of engaging Brotherhood affiliates as partners. Similar findings have begun to emerge elsewhere on Continue Reading…

An open invitation to Arab readers who want to share in the struggle against extremism

As a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Task Force on Countering Terrorism and Ideology, I interviewed its co-chairman, Governor Tom Kean, as part of an effort to spread the message of the report to an Arab audience. We’re inviting readers at Al-Majalla, Saudi Arabia’s flagship news magazine, to contribute their ideas about how to counter extremism in their country and beyond. Here’s a link to the English edition of the q&a.

Joseph Braude’s New and Noteworthy in Arab and Islamic Affairs, 9-13-17

An Arab League slugfest over Qatar, a shvitzing frenzy in Israel over GCC ties, and Polisario fears of a mass exodus from the Saharan camps. To subscribe to this daily roundup, click here. Acrimony at the Arab League over Qatar: Tensions escalated at the summit in Cairo as Doha FM called Iran an “honorable state” and dubbed rival regimes’ media “dogs.” Saudi Arabia and the UAE reiterated that their list of 13 demands remained the basis for negotiation over resolving the conflict. Kuwait’s deputy FM, sworn to media the intra-GCC feud, hit back at the Qatari praise for Iran: “Despite Kuwait’s efforts to open up communication channels for dialogue between Arabian Gulf countries and neighbouring Iran with a view to enhancing regional security and stability, the Islamic Republic has continued its interference in domestic Arab affairs. Meanwhile, Washington remains a battlefield among the Gulf states’ hired hands. A shvitzing frenzy in Israel over GCC ties: An Israel radio broadcast claiming an unnamed Saudi prince had visited the Jewish state has become an international story, and Continue Reading…

Joseph Braude’s New and Noteworthy in Arab and Islamic Affairs, 9-11-17

Venezuelan ruler heads to Algiers, Moroccan opposition prince booted from Tunisia, and a Saudi crackdown on Islamist clerics. To subscribe to this daily Mideast roundup, click here. Rocked by protests and newly sanctioned by the U.S. Government, Venezuelan president Maduro arrives in Algeria. The sanctions barred U.S. banks from the country and isolated the national oil company. Algerian FM says enhancing oil trade will be discussed. The trip should be understood in the context of the following recent statement by Maduro: “[Let’s] start selling oil, gas and all other products that Venezuela sells with new currencies, including the Chinese yuan, the Japanese yen, the Russian ruble, the Indian rupee among others.” Algeria may well throw him a lifeline. Sidelined Moroccan prince deported from Tunisia: Moulay Hicham, ensconced at Stanford U. and an outspoken critic of King Mohammed VI, was to have given a lecture about the future of the Arab spring then continue east to Qatar for an event at Brookings Doha. But now he’s stuck in Paris. Tunisian authorities are keeping tight-lipped. Saudi Continue Reading…

New and Noteworthy in Arab and Islamic Affairs, 9-10-17

A fuzzy encounter between the U.S. Navy and Iran, an intra-Jewish spat over relations with Qatar, and scrappy decisions in Algiers. To subscribe to this daily roundup, click here. Iran claims it confronted a U.S. Navy vessel and the U.S. issues a denial. Reuters cites Tasnim News Agency as saying an “Iranian military vessel confronted an American warship in the Gulf and warned it to stay away from a damaged Iranian fishing boat.” U.S. Naval Central Command acknowledged it heard a small boat’s distress call 75 miles away but “at no time was there any direct contact between the U.S. and Iranian maritime forces.” Qatar pays a Jewish-owned PR firm to court American Jews, but a Chabad rabbi warns Jews that Doha has blood on its hands. Times of Israel: “Qatar is paying $50,000 a month for outreach to the Jewish community to a prominent Jewish Republican operative at a time when the Persian Gulf nation is facing calls for isolation from other moderate Arabs and by conservatives in Washington, DC.” Full page ad in the New Continue Reading…

New and Noteworthy in Arab and Islamic Affairs, 9-8-17

A delay in Saudi economic reforms, a shift in Saudi discourse, and an axis of neutrality in North Africa. To subscribe to this daily roundup, click here. Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” undergoes a revision. “An internal document seen by the Financial Times labels the amended plan NTP 2.0 and adds: ’The timeline of the NTP will continue to 2020, but the plan requires implementation of objectives for 2025 and 2030.’ Importantly, the kingdom’s most closely watched reform effort, the partial privatisation of state oil monopoly Saudi Aramco, sits outside the NPT. No suggestion is made that the NTP’s redrafting will affect the initial public offering of 5 per cent of Saudi Aramco, planned for next year.” So does rhetoric toward Israel and Iran in Saudi media. A directive was reportedly issued to all Saudi media outlets calling for a “lightening of language” in discussions of the two countries. Four North African states adopt neutrality toward the crisis in the Gulf. A Washington Post report cites a combination of “fears of Continue Reading…

Joseph Braude’s New and Noteworthy in Arab and Islamic Affairs, 9-7-17

Gulf states receive an offer of mediation from France and relay an offer of normalization to Israel. A German outlet signals a parting of the ways with Washington on Iran. To subscribe to this daily roundup by Joseph Braude, click here. French foreign ministry wades into the intra-GCC dispute: Paris announced the appointment of Bertrand Besancenot, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as special envoy to media the dispute between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt on the other. Reuters notes that France has close ties with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates while also being a major arms supplier to Qatar and a key ally of Saudi Arabia. By comparison with the U.S., the French government has issued few and muted public statements about the crisis. Gulf states offer Israel an interim arrangement: The Wall Street Journal has reported that several Gulf states are offering to set up phone lines with Israel, permit Israeli businesses to engage in open commerce, and grant Continue Reading…