Toby Keith does Saudi Arabia

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I can’t say I was expecting to read an article today about a Toby Keith concert in Saudi Arabia this weekend.

The more I think about it, however, it’s a clever idea from a Saudi government PR perspective in terms of subtly “liberalizing” the population in ways that are culturally acceptable.  Of course, as long as any pitfalls are avoided (more on that below).

And the choice of a country singer such as Toby Keith isn’t surprising. In fact it’s quite clever.

One thing that always struck me in traveling around the Saudi provinces, was how in many core ways their culture isn’t that much different from American culture outside of big Big State urban area.

For example, both are:

  • Rural in nature
  • Emphasis on importance of tradition and honor – resistant to latest urban fads
  • Preference for pick-up trucks
  • Tied to the land
  • More slower, lower
  • Rural-gun/hunting culture
  • Do your own thing collectively – less individualistic

And remember, 40 years ago, 99% of Saudis were living in the countryside/desert.  So even for city dwellers today, culturally in many ways, it’s still rural in nature.

Potential Pitfall in this Concert? 

Continue reading “Toby Keith does Saudi Arabia”

15 Middle East-related articles I read this week

As a new feature, every week or so I will be posting links to the most interesting or newsworthy articles on the Middle East that I read during this period.

Here are 15 or so from this past week. All worth reading, though some I disagree with and explain why:


(1)  Egypt and the End of the Secular Middle East

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This is a thoughtful article. However, it exaggerates the extent to which Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s was “Secular” by Western standards today.

More importantly, it overlooks the extent to which that somewhat “secular” period of Egyptian history was a deviation from the norm of overall strong religious conservatism by the vast majority of Egypt’s population over the course of history.

The article assumes that the Nasser period with it’s mild secularism was the starting point of Egyptian history.  In fact it was a momentary departure from the overall norm of strong religious conservatism by 90+ % of the population.

What has happened since the 1970s is an entirely predictable return to that non-Secular norm. It was basically inevitable once the Nasserist industrial project failed.

(2)  The Professor and the Jihadi

A truly excellent in-depth look at the French situation with radical Islam, via a profile of the distinguished scholar Gilles Keppel.

Sadly, I believe this is true:

Continue reading “15 Middle East-related articles I read this week”

Book review: The way of strangers, Encounters with the Islamic State

With the growing appeal of ISISism in the Middle East, the importance of an effective US diplomatic focus on religious freedom, with new paradigms that take into account the gravity of the situation, is only growing. Last week I attended an important conference hosted by the University of Notre Dame that did a great job at helping take that discussion to a new level.

And on a related note, over the weekend, I finished this new book on ISIS:

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In a nutshell, should you read this book and why? 

Continue reading “Book review: The way of strangers, Encounters with the Islamic State”

Report Card – first 100 days of Middle East Policy in the new administration

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Yes, the first 100 days of any Presidential Administration is an arbitrary benchmark. There is no automatic reason that the first 6% of a term is any more important than the first 12 or 18%?

Still, enough time has passed to make some meaningful initial assessments. So this is my First 100 Days report card on Middle East Policy.  See my overall grade at the very end of the post.

6 Core Issues: 

Continue reading “Report Card – first 100 days of Middle East Policy in the new administration”

Making sense of the Sisi-Trump summit


Continuing an early-administration priority of restoring relations with key allies, the POTUS pulled out all the stops Monday for the first meeting to the White House by an Egyptian leader since 2009:

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Was the meeting a success? 

Here are three core principles to keep in mind.

#1 – Allies will act as good allies IF they believe they are considered genuine allies

Bottom line: The only way the US gets the benefits of an alliance with a country like Egypt, is if it’s a strong relationship and one where the junior partner truly feels valued.

Otherwise – and with virtually no exceptions to this rule – this is what happens:

Egypt will give the US the metaphorical finger and do what it wants as part of a classic Egyptian desire to demonstrate a certain spunk and “independence.”

Exact same thing is true of Israel and Saudi Arabia..

Continue reading “Making sense of the Sisi-Trump summit”

My new article on the return of US pragmatism to Mid East policy

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For two core reasons: 

#1 – “Trump’s position makes Iranian adventurism throughout the Middle East far less likely. It also decreases the temptation of U.S. allies to engage in counter-productive and destabilizing unilateral military operations of their own out of a perceived need to project strength in the face of Iran.”

#2 – “by restoring alliances with traditional allies in the Middle East, Trump’s approach is far more likely to get significant contributions from them, furthering his America First agenda.”

Here’s the Link to the article.