Iran-Saudi split damps hopes for regional conflict resolution
The year has begun with a sharp deterioration in the relationship between the two major powers in the Gulf region: Iran and Saudi Arabia. Gideon Rachman is joined by Roula Khalaf, foreign editor, and Geoff Dyer, Washington correspondent, to discuss the regional implications of the dispute.
By Gideon Rachman
Something is changing in the west’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. You can read it in the newspapers. You can hear it from politicians. And you can see it in shifts in policy.
Militia men loyal to Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi loot the barracks of the Special Forces in Aden
As Saudi jets launched bombing raids against Yemeni rebel targets, escalating another war in the Middle East, the Sunni world showed remarkable unity. A coalition of the willing — all Sunni — was assembled, stretching from Egypt to Pakistan. Supporters and critics of the Saudi regime alike agreed that it was time to teach Shia Iran.
And yet, Sunni communities should have little cause for satisfaction. It may be understandable that Riyadh considers Iranian backing for advancing rebels in Yemen as a step too far – Yemen is the Saudi backyard after all. But however large the Saudi-led coalition, and however united in its resolve to confront Iran, the latest intervention in Yemen is unlikely to save the country from sliding into all out civil war.
Indeed, Yemen is turning into another worrying case of Saudi-Iranian proxy war, a heightening power struggle that has engulfed other nations in the region and spread mayhem throughout the Middle East. Read more
How stable is Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia’s new monarch King Salman takes over at a time of unprecedented challenges in the shape of regional chaos as well as a sharply falling oil price. Gideon Rachman is joined by Roula Khalaf and Simeon Kerr to discuss how stable the kingdom is.
♦ President Putin’s Crimea intervention has won widespread support within Russia and sparked a debate over the country’s Soviet past.
♦ The Ukraine crisis has provided the EU with a cue to start thinking strategically.
♦ Chrystia Freeland says we must stop pussyfooting around Putin’s regime.
♦ Prince Turki al-Faisal, the man who headed Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service for 24 years, has Lunch with The FT.
♦ The New York Times profiles one Saudi’s “Lonely, costly bid for Sunni-Shia equality.”
♦ The Wire introduces the open source coder who wants to be a US Congressman. Read more
♦ The FT’s Jeevan Vasagar looks at how farmers are reaping the rewards from Germany’s renewable energy boom. The Government appears to be on a collision course with farmers and renewable energy provides as it seeks to rein in generous subsidies.
♦ Sarah Lyall in the New York Times explores how the fates of Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks are diverging. Brooks walked away from News International with a $17.6m severance package. Coulson has moved out of London and according to one source, “He has lost everything, basically.”
♦ Also in the New York Times, Ben Hubbard looks at the pioneering Saudi women who are entering the workplace in the conservative Middle Eastern state – a significant shift in a country where women are severely restricted in all public activities.
♦ Finally, African Arguments has an interview with John Githongo, the man who revealed corruption in Kenya’s Kibaki administration in the early 2000s. He describes the current “democratic recession” in Kenya and a wave of new repressive legislation being passed. Read more
International reaction to the Iran nuclear deal
The United States and European Union are clearly delighted with the historic nuclear deal struck with Iran in Geneva last week, but some key US allies in the region, notably Israel and Saudi Arabia are not happy. John Reed, Jerusalem correspondent, James Blitz, defence and security editor and Siona Jenkins, Middle East news editor, join Gideon Rachman to discuss how the agreement will affect the balance of power in the region.
♦ Gideon Rachman writes about how “the big danger to the European single currency is that the political consensus that underpins the euro could come unstuck” and next year’s European parliament elections could be a breakthrough moment for the “European Tea Party”.
♦ Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief has said that he plans to scale back cooperation with the US to arm and train Syrian rebels in protest against Washington’s policy in the region, raising tensions after Riyadh’s decision to renounce a seat on the UN Security Council.
♦ Norman John Gillies, the last surviving St Kildan, died at the end of September: the Economist looks back at the man’s life and his memories of life on an island 110 miles off the Scottish coast.
♦ Vigilante groups are fighting back against Boko Haram in Nigeria. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
The pace of events in the Middle East has quickened once again. More than two years since the start of the Arab spring, the facts on the ground can still change so rapidly in the region that western governments struggle to keep pace. Last week Barack Obama had convened an emergency meeting to discuss the violent crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, only for the US president to find himself confronted with an even more dramatic challenge – a chemical weapon attack in Syria.
Army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on an anti-Islamist protester's placard. US president Obama is depicted as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. Getty
When the army and security forces ignored pleas for restraint from Egypt’s allies in the US and Europe, moving to crush the Muslim Brotherhood protest camps that spread across Cairo after the July 3 coup d’etat that toppled President Mohamed Morsi, they had reason to feel supremely confident.
What General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his colleagues have done is to restore the security state – an action that should not be confused with re-establishing security.
This restoration is edging towards the status quo ante the Tahrir revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in 2011. It started before the coup, with the constitution Morsi and the Brothers railroaded through last December. Most of the controversy excited by this Islamist-tinged charter was caused by the way it ignored liberal, Christian and women’s concerns over fundamental rights and freedoms. Alarmingly little attention was paid to the way the Brotherhood sought to co-opt the military by embedding the army’s privileges and prerogatives even beyond the powers it enjoyed under Mubarak. Read more
Residents gather at the site of an explosion in Beirut's southern suburbs, stronghold of Hizbollah, July 9, 2013. AFP/Getty
Hizbollah has brushed off the European Union’s decision on Monday to blacklist its “military wing” as a terrorist organisation. Well, it would, wouldn’t it.
The Shia paramilitary group issued the mandatory rhetorical broadside. “It looks as if the decision was written by American hands and with Israeli ink”, it said, to which “the EU only had to add its signature”.
In fact, as Hizbollah would surely know, it takes a great deal more than that for the EU’s 28 member-states to reach a consensus on anything at all. Read more
♦ The FT’s Roula Khalaf says that Algeria’s bloody civil war – which lasted for a decade after the military cancelled an Islamist poll victory in 1991 – has lessons for all sides in Egypt: for the military to not repress the Islamists, for the Islamists not to take violent revenge for the coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi, and for the liberals not to embrace the military’s strongarm tactics.
♦ The model for the Middle East, proving that democracy and Islam could coexist, sued to be Turkey. But this is no longer the case. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been accused of tampering with secularism by promoting Turkey’s “own brand of Sunni Islam,” which has isolated him from both religious and secular forces.
♦ Saudi Arabia and the UAE, delighted at the overthrow of Morsi and the promises of interim authorities to regain stability, have pledged $8bn in aid to Egypt to help fight a slide in the pound and a foreign reserves crisis.
♦ Away from the Middle East, the FT Analysis page looks at the supercomputer. With its politicians mired in budget wrangling that have frozen current funding levels, the US looks set to be surpassed by China in the race to build an exascale supercomputer – a machine 1,000 times faster than the fastest of today. Such computers are vital for scientific simulations, including investigations into everything from earthquakes to the human heart.
♦ Self-imposed currency controls in Cyprus to aid crisis management have led to the devaluing of the euro there, prompting anxiety among business people.
♦ A brand new 64,000 sq ft military headquarters in Kandahar province that will never be used is being held up as an example of the massive scale of US wastefulness in Afghanistan as its military prepares to withdraw. Read more
Birds have become flashpoints in politics worldwide — today’s reads on our feathered friends and others:
This is what got us chatting today:
Here are our picks from the weekend and this morning to start off your week’s reading: