Middle East General

Middle East General

By Lamis Andoni

The resounding defeat of the Democratic Party in the United States midterm congressional elections has clearly weakened President Barack Obama's hand on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts. With a new Congress, US foreign policy – at least as regards the Middle East – will remain pro-Israeli, and will maintain the goal of boosting Israel and weakening Iran. But the tone and manifestation of this policy will undergo changes that will result in hard-line tactics that will serve to increase the pressure on the the Palestinians, Syria and Iran.

With the changes in the two houses of Congress, right-wing Republicans will gain more power, thus limiting Obama's room for manoeuvre on foreign policy issues – ranging from China and North Korea to Russia, Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Democratic Party's loss of more than sixty seats in the House of Representatives, and the weakening of the party's grip on the Senate, indicate a serious shift to the right as the two houses have become more pro-Israeli, more supportive of the Netanyahu government, and in favour of a confrontation with Iran.

By Muneer Shafiq

Russian-Arab relations, although having strategic significance for both parties, do not hold the same level of strategic value for either. Furthermore, such relations are only the third or fourth priority for each of them. Clearly, Russia gives priority to its relations with America and Europe. At the Arab level, most regimes, except for Syria, prioritise their relations with the US, with some interested in relations with Europe. Russia is thus located at a tertiary level, together with China. With the strengthening of its relations with Iran, Turkey and a number of Third World countries, Syria's recent foreign policy priority is the Middle East region. At the international level, it is most anxious to develop relations with Russia. The extent of success regarding this endeavour, however, depends on Russia's position, and Syria's relations with Russia have not succeeded in reaching a strategic level. Oscillating according to circumstances, Syria-Russia relations are limited to the tactical level, to balance Russia-US and Russia-Israel relations.

By Olivier Da Lage

We have to admit that there was a pre-AlJazeera era and a post-AlJazeera era. There is no doubt that the start of broadcasting in November 1996 by the Qatar-based Arab satellite channel has profoundly changed the media and political equation in the entire Middle East. Countless articles, many books, and research papers in many languages have been devoted to "the AlJazeera phenomenon".i

State broadcasting authorities and newspaper managers in the Middle East, international broadcasters elsewhere, and governments in the region and beyond had to rethink their policies, change the way they addressed their people and the people of their neighbouring countries. Competitors were forced to set themselves up with the aim of luring away AlJazeera viewers. Where this succeeded (e.g. with Al Arabiya), it was because these other broadcasters emulated AlJazeera's formula of field reporting, and tough questioning of political figures on live interviews. Those viewers who were attracted to other channels usually continued watching AlJazeera for the sake of comparison.

By Fawaz A. Gerges

In an important and alarming report to the United Nations Security Council early July, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that an increase in tensions between Lebanon and Israel could lead to a new war with potentially devastating consequences for the entire region.

The UN chief cited dozens of instances when the two antagonists - Israel and Hizbullah - almost broke out into war, and accused them of violating the 2006 ceasefire resolution that ended the 34-day July war in 2006. While Hizbullah continued to maintain "a substantial military capacity", Ban said, Israel continued to violate the ceasefire by conducting daily flights over Lebanon, and refused to withdraw from the disputed border village of Ghajar.

By Fawaz A. Gerges 

Exactly a year ago, in June 2009, the then-recently installed American president, Barack Obama, made a landmark speech in Cairo symbolically to "reset" US relations with the Muslim world. He eloquently addressed critical challenges facing the US in the Muslim world and rhetorically offered a new paradigm, a new beginning, for managing relations between "America and Islam". The speech sent a clear message:

"I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles - principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings."

By Na'eem Jeenah

The much-anticipated speech by US president Barack Obama to 'the Muslim world' was a well-presented mixture of rich symbolism, a call for 'a new beginning', promises of small changes in US foreign policy, deliberate obfuscation, and a dose of more of the same Bush medicine. Immediate Muslim responses to the speech in Cairo on the 4th June 2009, which was punctuated by applause from the obviously carefully-selected audience, were to the symbolic rather than the substantive parts of the speech.

Across the Muslim world there was a feeling among many people that here was a US president who respected Muslims: he began with the greeting of 'salaam'; quoted a number of verses from the Qur'an; said 'peace be upon them' after referring to the prophets; and dwelled on what he called 'civilization's debt to Islam'.

By Aslam Farouk-Alli

President George W. Bush's now infamous Baghdad media conference on the 14 December 2008 may aptly be reframed as the story of The Tyrant, The Scribe and The Flying Shoes, even though the nightmare of present-day Baghdad does not, in any way, resemble the mythical capital of One Thousand and One Nights. The Arabic literary classic relates stories of Aladdin and his flying carpet, amongst others, and offers important life lessons in the process. The events of the Bush press conference, on the other hand, tell a less romantic story, but one that is equally pregnant with significance and loaded with moral lessons, for tyrant and layperson alike!

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