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The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer

Author: James M. Dorsey

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Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.
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An Emirati offer to invest in Israel’s most controversial soccer club could serve as a figurative litmus test of hopes that Arab recognition of the Jewish state may persuade it to be more empathetic towards Palestinian national aspirations.
Will the Saudis formalize relations with Israel or will they not? That is the 64,000-dollar question.
The United Arab Emirates’ establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel is damaging its efforts to garner religious soft power by projecting itself as a model of Islamic moderation and tolerance and a force for peace. The UAE move has sparked splits within a key group, created and nurtured by the Gulf state, to project its image as a moderate religious power.
Here are two potential indicators of Chinese interest in moving ahead with a proposed US$400 billion economic and military cooperation agreement with Iran: a Chinese push for Iranian membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and renewed interest in a China-Pakistan-Iran-Turkey energy pipeline. China has moved on neither.
JAMES ZOGBY The Tumultuous Decade: Arab Public Opinion and the Upheavals of 2010–2019 STEUBEN PRESS 2020 September 4, 2020 James M. Dorsey James Zogby’s The Tumultuous Decade: Arab Public Opinion and the Upheavals of 2010–2019 (Steuben Press, 2020) takes the reader on a decade-long tour of the Middle East as the region reverberates from popular revolts that toppled long-standing dictators, civil and proxy wars that sparked some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, foreign interventions and seemingly intractable power struggles. It does so through the eyes of ordinary Arabs, Iranians, and Turks rather than the region’s political elites. Zogby’s ability to tease out a sense of public opinion in a part of the world in which freedom of expression and freedom of the media are rare quantities constitutes an important contribution to the literature and understanding of a region that often seems too complex and intricate to easily wrap one’s head around. In a world of autocracy, repression and conflict, polls often offer ordinary citizens a rare opportunity to express an opinion. Zogby demonstrates that autocratic and authoritarian leaders frequently ignore public opinion but track it closely and at times are swayed by what the public thinks and wants. Years of polling also demonstrates that failure to understand public sentiment and/or take it into account produces misinformed and misguided policies not only by rulers in the region but also governments like that of the United States. Zogby’s discussion of Iraq since the 2003 US invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein illustrates the point. So does his analysis of polling of attitudes over several years in countries that overthrew their leaders during the 2011 popular Arab revolts as well as of perceptions of Iran and Palestinians incapable of wresting themselves from Israeli occupation. Zogby’s book offers a different look at the Middle East, one that offers fresh insights on the basis of citizens’ aspirations rather than what authoritarian and often corrupt elites would like the world to believe. James Zogby is director of Zogby Research Services, a firm that has conducted groundbreaking surveys across the Middle East, and the founder and president of the Washington, DC-based Arab American Institute. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute. He is the author of the syndicated, column, blog and podcast, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer
The decision by the UAE to establish diplomatic relations with Israel keeps a negotiated solution with Palestine on life support. There is no indication that forging relations with Israel will be more successful in nudging the Jewish state towards peace with Palestine on mutually acceptable terms than the failed formula of offering Arab recognition in exchange for peace was.
A rift between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia throws into sharp relief deepening fissures in the Muslim world. Coupled with the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and a myriad of other conflicts in the Middle East, the dispute poses serious challenges to Saudi Arabia’s quest for geopolitical and religious leadership of the Muslim world.
Rare polling of public opinion in Saudi Arabia suggests that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may be more sensitive to domestic public opinion on foreign policy issues such as Palestine than he lets on. The polling also indicates that a substantial number of Saudis is empathetic to protest as a vehicle for political change.
Unfettered Chinese support for Saudi Arabia’s so far peaceful nuclear energy program risks fueling a burgeoning Middle East arms race amid concerns that the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement is all but dead, Turkey suggesting it has the right to develop nuclear weapons, and Israel certain to not remain idle if nuclear proliferation becomes the name of the game.
An agreement to establish diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel and a Saudi-Pakistani spat over Kashmir coupled with feuds among Gulf states and between Turkey, the kingdom, and the Emirates drive nails into the notion that the Arab and Islamic world by definition share common geopolitical interests on the basis of ethnicity or religion and embrace kinship solidarity.
China and Saudi Arabia are engaged in a complex game of shadow boxing to shape a future security framework for the Gulf designed to contain regional conflicts. In a bid to ensure plausible deniability, the boxers are for now intellectuals and journalists rather than officials.
Saudi efforts to position the kingdom as a key player in global soccer resembles a train crashing multiple times with the locomotive continuing to barrel ever closer to an abyss
DANYEL REICHE AND TAMIR SOREK Sport, Politics, and Society in the Middle East OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 2019 July 29, 2020 James M. Dorsey Sports scholars Danyel Reiche and Tamir Sorek’s edited volume, Sport, Politics, and Society in the Middle East (Oxford University Press, 2019), makes a significant contribution to what remains a largely understudied, yet critically important segment of Middle Eastern political and social life. It does so by discussing in eleven chapters multiple aspects and consequences of the region’s incestuous relationship between sports and politics. These range from corruption, the role of the private sector, an emphasis on elite sports and projection of the state at the expense of grassroots sports to battles for identity expressed among others in memories to how sports chants in Israel reflect society’s political and social moods as well as it fault lines, the struggle of women to overcome deeply entrenched social modes and how social media helps them with branding. The edited volume is not only an at times ethnographic dive into Middle Eastern sports’ multiple facets but also in many ways a mapping of how much remains to be explored. This is a volume that should attract the attention of anyone who is interested in the Middle East, sports and/or gender issues as well as readers whose focus is a specific country like Turkey, Israel, Palestine or Jordan or a group of nations like the Gulf states. Whatever one’s preference is, Reiche and Sorek have produced a volume rich in texture, insight and breadth that is likely to prompt the reader to think differently about the political and societal importance of Middle Eastern sports. Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. He is also a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture in Germany.
DANYEL REICHE AND TAMIR SOREK Sport, Politics, and Society in the Middle East OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 2019 July 29, 2020 James M. Dorsey Sports scholars Danyel Reiche and Tamir Sorek’s edited volume, Sport, Politics, and Society in the Middle East (Oxford University Press, 2019), makes a significant contribution to what remains a largely understudied, yet critically important segment of Middle Eastern political and social life. It does so by discussing in eleven chapters multiple aspects and consequences of the region’s incestuous relationship between sports and politics. These range from corruption, the role of the private sector, an emphasis on elite sports and projection of the state at the expense of grassroots sports to battles for identity expressed among others in memories to how sports chants in Israel reflect society’s political and social moods as well as it fault lines, the struggle of women to overcome deeply entrenched social modes and how social media helps them with branding. The edited volume is not only an at times ethnographic dive into Middle Eastern sports’ multiple facets but also in many ways a mapping of how much remains to be explored. This is a volume that should attract the attention of anyone who is interested in the Middle East, sports and/or gender issues as well as readers whose focus is a specific country like Turkey, Israel, Palestine or Jordan or a group of nations like the Gulf states. Whatever one’s preference is, Reiche and Sorek have produced a volume rich in texture, insight and breadth that is likely to prompt the reader to think differently about the political and societal importance of Middle Eastern sports. Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. He is also a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture in Germany.
Saudi support of religious ultra-conservatism in Indonesia contradicts Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s promotion of an undefined form of moderate Islam intended to project his kingdom as tolerant, innovative, and forward-looking. It also suggests that Saudi Arabia is willing to work with the Muslim Brotherhood despite its denunciation of the group as a terrorist organization.
China is contemplating greater political engagement in the Middle East in what would constitute a break with its longstanding effort to avoid being sucked into the region’s myriad conflicts and a bid to counter mounting US pressure to force Gulf states to curtail relations with the People’s Republic.
Gulf scholar Sigurd Neubauer’s The Gulf Region and Israel: Old Struggles, New Alliances makes a significant contribution to our understanding of what drives shifting alliances in the Middle East, an ever more volatile part of the world. Shunned by Arab states for much of its existence, Israel has become in recent years a key factor in efforts by Gulf states to punch above their weight, shape the greater Middle East in their mould, box in countries like Iran and Turkey, and manage their reputations in Washington and ties to the United States. A keen student of the region, Neubauer clearly lays out the limitations of burgeoning alliances in the absence of the resolution of the Middle East’s myriad conflicts among which are the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians and the rift between Gulf states. In doing so, he has written an easily accessible book that is must read for anyone, even those with only a cursory interest in a part of the world that too often impacts the lives of those far beyond its boundaries. Sigurd Neubauer is an internationally recognized authority on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Persian Gulf Security, U.S.-Arab relations, Middle East politics, Arab-Israeli relations, Afghanistan, and U.S. defense industry. His expertise also includes NATO, Norwegian defense policy and transatlantic relations. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, adjunct senior fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the globally syndicated column and blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.
Iran, together with India and Russia, is pushing forward with a sea and rail corridor that could substantially reduce the time and cost of shipping goods from India to Europe. If successful, the corridor could challenge the Suez Canal’s primacy and give Iran a significant advantage as its rivalry with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates plays out in Central Asia
Hobbled by harsh US sanctions and a global economic downturn, Iran has discovered a new opportunity: hot air that carries messages to its opponents. China, albeit far less economically impaired, sees virtue in the business too.
A Palestinian move to secure Palestine’s energy needs by tying them to high-stakes Turkish regional gambits constitutes an effort to reduce Palestinian dependence on Israel at a time when the Jewish state is looking at annexing parts of the occupied West Bank
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