Middle East politics / Arabic / Counter-terrorism

A brilliant 1,000 word reader comment worth highlighting

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote this post on  why the Saudi-UAE views of radical Islam will be more influential during the Trump administration.  A long-time reader, an extremely smart and distinguished analyst of Middle East politics, left this 1,000 word comment:

I agree that the Saudi/Emirati perspective on pol Islam will be more influential than Qatari ones. I think this is manifestly the case, given recent appointments and because they overlap with the language members of the administration adopted publicly during the campaign and since the beginning of the admin. I think it is inaccurate to characterize the Obamian view as being close to or synonymous with the Qatari one. The Qataris actively associate themselves with a Brotherhood-light internationalism, which the Obama people never embraced. They took a view that distinguished between violent versus non-violent Islamists and prioritized the threat assessment of the violent ones. It attempted to avoid taking a position on what were seen as internal debates among Muslims, except to effectively excommunicate the actively violent AQ/ISIL trend. A very incoherent and stifling approach, which is characteristic of agnostic Gen X Obamianism. This benefits the Saudi perspective, which provides the ideological ground for violent jihadi Salafism (walking followers to the edge of the cliff and saying, don’t jump, as many hardliners like to say), because it takes no position so long as those who promote variants of the ideology say “but don’t act on these teachings!” and draws the line strictly at the promotion or execution of violence. 

Analytically, I am sympathetic to the Saudi/UAE perspective on groups like the MB laid out in the piece. Operationalizing that view is problematic and we have seen this play out across the region, in Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, and elsewhere…


My new article on Trump Middle East policy for “The Hill”

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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.

Making Jordan Great Again?


Today I read this  scathing attack on Jordanian immigration policy by a leading Jordanian journalist.  In a nutshell, he rips what he considers an over reliance on foreign workers at the expensive of hiring Jordanians.

The Key Question this article raises:  what does this say about the long-term fate of global immigration paradigms if Jordan – a relatively poor country – is having this kind of problem in 2017?

The article is in Arabic – here is my translation of the key points:  Continue reading “Making Jordan Great Again?”

What are the takeaways on Middle East policy from President Trump’s Tuesday speech?

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In his first address before Congress, the President gave an impressive speech that is receiving wide, bi-partisan acclaim.  It didn’t go into tons of details on the Middle East but there were plenty of short statements that provided meaningful insights into his approach.

Here are the three main things I saw:

#1 – Generally Not Going to Be Bush and Obama on Regime Change: 


Hard to argue with the facts here.

Under Bush (Iraq) and Obama (Libya + Syrian) the US got heavily involved in promoting the concept of regime change in the Middle East. The most important question: what good did it do? Can anyone say we actually made the Middle East better in any way?  And that it wasn’t a massive waste of time and resources by the US? So if it only led to disasters and negative results, why would it be strategic to keep doing more of it?

#2 – Treating Our Allies as Allies in Their Own Right: 
Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 10.04.22 AM.pngThis might have been the most interesting comment. It’s also a very clear departure from President Obama’s approach

Continue reading “What are the takeaways on Middle East policy from President Trump’s Tuesday speech?”

“Why is the President of Al-Azhar Angry?”

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An interesting article in Al-Arabiya that’s a good follow up to last week’s post on the  struggle between Establishment Islam and Anti-Establishment Islamism in Egypt, so I translate and analyze below. Continue reading ““Why is the President of Al-Azhar Angry?””

Why Saudi/UAE views on radical Islam during the Trump era will be more influential than the Qatari narrative of the Obama years

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Given the Trump administration focus on rebuilding damaged alliances with traditional Middle Eastern allies that were neglected by President Obama, Israeli, Emirati, Saudi and Egyptian views on issues such as terrorism and whatever relationship the Muslim Brotherhood has to that, will have more influence in the US in the coming years than say, the Qatari narrative that had much weight during the Obama years.

On that note, this is a fascinating article that was published in Al-Hayat, a major regional newspaper, by a distinguished Saudi anthropologist. It sheds some interesting light on those perspectives mentioned above, so I decided to translate it.

There’s alot in here – but I mark in blue what I think are the more noteworthy points, with my commentary at the end on what this may mean from a Trump administration Counter-Terrorism perspective. Continue reading “Why Saudi/UAE views on radical Islam during the Trump era will be more influential than the Qatari narrative of the Obama years”

Beating ISIS the “State” was the easy part – the 100 year ideological war is just getting started

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Over the weekend I read an article by former Obama administration official Andrew Exum stating that “President Trump will defeat ISIS” but that “it will mostly be due to the work of his predecessor.”

While the article mostly dwells on the question of which administration should get the most credit, its flaw is that it implicitly assumes that the geographic entity in Syria and Iraq is the end all and be all of the problem.

It’s not. As I noted in an article I wrote for in Fall 2015:

Defeating ISIS the geographic entity is the easy part:

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Continue reading “Beating ISIS the “State” was the easy part – the 100 year ideological war is just getting started”

Can Egypt’s Muslim Establishment neutralize the anti-Establishment Jihadist narrative?

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Below I have translated a February 13th article in Alaph newspaper titled “Daesh and the Muslim Brotherhood Call Upon Their Followers to Kill the Sheikh of Al-Azhar.”

It highlights the extent to which the political violence associated with Jihadist movements everywhere in the Muslim World is best understood using this paradigm:

Establishment versus Anti-Establishment 

The basic divides as relates to  Egypt in particular:

(Group A) Establishment Islam: Continue reading “Can Egypt’s Muslim Establishment neutralize the anti-Establishment Jihadist narrative?”

A 1977 documentary with critical insights for neutralizing anti-establishment Jihadist propaganda in 2017

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This is an important 1977 documentary – currently available on Netflix – and should be required viewing for anyone tasked with crafting effective messaging to undermine the recruiting appeal of Islamist extremist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

For three reasons:  Continue reading “A 1977 documentary with critical insights for neutralizing anti-establishment Jihadist propaganda in 2017”

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