ISIS, the United States, and the GCC

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It is no ordinary event for 26 countries’ representatives to be meeting to discuss how best to confront the challenge of ISIS. What the so-called “Islamic State,” or ISIS, or ISIL represents differs from one person to the next. To people immediately adjacent to lands in Iraq and Syria that ISIS has not yet conquered, the militant movement is a mortal threat. Whether Shia, Sunni, Christian, Arab, Kurdish, or other in nature and orientation, polities that neighbor ISIS-controlled areas have seen their national sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity threatened. Indeed, ISIS today may arguably be the greatest challenge facing the modern day nation state system in the Middle East.

An F/A-18 Hornet on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in the Gulf on January 1, 2015, conducting air operations in Iraq and Syria.

An F/A-18 Hornet on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in the Gulf on January 1, 2015, conducting air operations in Iraq and Syria. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense.

The attributes of national sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity are no ordinary phenomena. Together they have been and remain the most important criteria for admission into and membership in good standing within the United Nations.

Unfortunately, the United States in the course of its invasion and occupation of Iraq beginning in 2003 had already smashed to smithereens each of these criteria. Simultaneously, the United States also blasted into nonexistence what exists in the American Constitution and was previously enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution as well, namely: provisions for domestic safety, external defense, enhancement of people’s material wellbeing, and the effective administration of a civil system of justice.

In so doing, the United States contributed mightily to the formation and focus of ISIS. The poignancy of this reality must not be lost. It is but one among other inconvenient truths that plague America’s predicament in seeking to navigate the shoals of the storm its shortsighted actions created.

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Yemen’s Houthi Takeover: Domestic and Regional Repercussions

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Sanaa, Yemen, is considered by many historians to be one of the oldest, continuously-inhabited cities in the world.

Sanaa, Yemen, is considered by many historians to be one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world. Photo: Dr. John Duke Anthony.

Two weeks ago, the Zaidi Shiite-Houthi march to control the Yemeni state triumphantly arrived at its destination in Sanaa, and forced the resignation of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the country’s two-month old government headed by Prime Minister Khaled Bahhah. The withdrawal of the President and Premier was the natural end of an aborted political process that was derailed by a gradual Houthi military advance that brought their militia, Ansar Allah, to the streets of the capital. With the Houthis welcoming both resignations and proposing to form a pliant provisional Presidential Council, the country seems to be heading towards more domestic instability and disunity that will generate regional uncertainties. More importantly, perhaps, the pro-Iranian Houthi triumph in Sanaa is nothing short of a coup d’etat that may, in the end, deliver yet another Arab capital to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

An Unpredictable Yemeni Domestic Scene

In justifying their military putsch, the Houthis accused President Hadi of subverting an all-party agreement at a National Dialogue Conference in 2014 – part of a November 2011 initiative proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council in answer to widespread pro-reform protests. Participants in the dialogue had agreed to write a new constitution, the draft of which still awaits ratification by popular referendum. The new charter creates a federated Yemeni state composed of six regions to replace the current 22 administrative divisions.

The pro-Iranian Houthi triumph in Sanaa is nothing short of a coup d’etat that may, in the end, deliver yet another Arab capital to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Desiring autonomy and eventual independence, the Houthis, who currently comprise about 30 percent of the population, prefer a condominium between a northern and a southern region that many believe would be demarcated along the pre-1990 division of the northern Republic of Yemen and the defunct southern People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Such a division would presumably give the Houthis control over the north where their numbers would not be excessively diluted by Sunnis. With the desired division, they could either simply enjoy long-term self-rule or await propitious circumstances to declare independence in a northern rump state that would be a re-incarnation of the old Imamate that died over half a century ago. As for the southern secessionists, whose leader Ali Salem al-Beidh resides in Beirut as a guest in Hezbollah’s southern suburbs, the dissolution of the current union would help them realize a long-held desire to re-establish a state they believe would free them of the oppression of northern politicians.

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NCUSAR & Qatar Delegation Ring January 29, 2015 NASDAQ Stock Market Opening Bell

A delegation from the State of Qatar joined the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations to ring the NASDAQ Stock Market Opening Bell on January 29, 2015.

Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, shares a robust economic, defense, cultural, and educational relationship with the United States. The Qatari delegation included Sheikh Mohammed Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Special Envoy to His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani; His Excellency Ali Sheriff Al Emadi, Minister of Finance for the State of Qatar; Sheikh Abdullah Bin Saoud Al Thani, Governor of the Qatar Central Bank; Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Thani, Chief Executive Officer of the Qatar Investment Authority; and His Excellency Mohammed Bin Jaham Al Kuwari, Ambassador of the State of Qatar to the United States.

Mr. Patrick Mancino, Executive Vice President and Director of Development, and Mr. Nabil Sharaf, Public Relations Specialist, represented the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.

 

Obama’s Latest Visit to Riyadh in Context

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President Barack Obama’s visit to Riyadh in conjunction with the post-funeral ceremonies for King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz could not have come at a time when the atmosphere was more receptive or the political moment more propitious.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Sa'ud and President Barack Obama during the president's January 27, 2015, visit to Saudi Arabia.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Sa’ud and President Barack Obama during the president’s January 27, 2015, visit to Saudi Arabia. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

The visit can be viewed within a twofold context. The first was largely positive. The second was negative and predictably given greater press coverage for reasons explained herein. In a different world, the latter would not have been discussed publicly given the circumstances surrounding the president’s visit to the kingdom.

In an interview only hours before he arrived to offer his condolences, President Obama violated ordinary diplomatic protocol by making critical comments about Saudi Arabia. In so doing, he made an unwelcomed impression on his hosts during a period of transition and mourning.

The president’s remarks in the interview ought not to be surprising. The reasons can be attributed to domestic pressures all American presidents are subjected to by the realities of U.S. political and electoral campaign finance dynamics, the media, and the powerful influence of special interest groups.

Two factors behind all three pressures as Americans approach new presidential elections have long been the liberal international interventionist wing of the Democratic Party and the traditional interests of various pro-Israeli and other American partisans opposed to the Saudi Arabian-American special relationship.

In this there is nothing new under the sun. U.S. and Saudi Arabian leaders readily acknowledge that American domestic political dynamics are at once a fact and a facet of the U.S.-Saudi Arabian relationship. Still, for Saudi Arabia’s leaders, who are managing a transfer of responsibilities upon the death of a leader who was Saudi Arabia’s de facto head of state for several decades, the remarks were poorly timed and poorly considered.

Positives from President Obama’s Visit

By making the visit, which was logistically and operationally convenient as he was already in India, President Obama avoided having portions of the international media criticize him for not being present at a major international gathering. To his credit, he joined many other sincere friends, allies, and strategic partners of Saudi Arabia to pay respect upon the passing of King Abdullah, who was widely respected and admired.

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King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Sa’ud: In Memoriam

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Sa’ud passed away last week. Rahimahu Allah.

Aged ninety, the monarch had been in less than good health for some time. He is followed in accordance with a succession that was as consensually agreed to and as smoothly executed as any among ruling families in modern times. The position and role as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and head of state passed to the Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister, and the late king’s half-brother, HRH Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, who had additionally served as the country’s Minister of Defense.

The new Crown Prince, also in accordance with a previously stipulated and agreed line of succession, is HRH Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz. Prince Muqrin is the youngest son of King Abdulaziz, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. He received his higher education in Great Britain and is an accomplished pilot as well as a former Minister of Intelligence. He is a half-brother of the late king and also of the new king.

One of King Salman’s most remarkable and groundbreaking initial acts was unprecedented: he introduced a member of the younger generation of princes to an official position in the direct line of succession to the future position of king. The new Deputy Crown Prince and Second Deputy Prime Minister is HRH Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, who is also the Minister of Interior. Prince Mohammad bin Nayef succeeded his father in that role when the latter passed away three years ago.

The following tribute is by National Council Founding President and CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony. Dr. Anthony met with and had the opportunity to observe the late king at close hand numerous times over the past half century. Included were more than thirty occasions when Abdullah either led or was a member of the Saudi Arabian delegation to the annual GCC Ministerial and Heads of State Summits that Dr. Anthony attended.

The following essay is the first of several that will be appearing from Dr. Anthony on various aspects of the impact of King Abdullah’s vision and leadership.

 

ABDULLAH BIN ABDULAZIZ BIN ABDULRAHMAN AL SA’UD: IN MEMORIAM

By Dr. John Duke Anthony

January 27, 2015

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Fi Thimat Allah.

King Abdullah was more than revered. He was widely respected. Above all, he long enjoyed and merited the trust, confidence, and loyalty of his people. Prominent public opinion surveys and poll after poll revealed the high regard in which his fellow citizens held him.

HRH Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Sa'ud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and King of Saudi Arabia. Seated behind him is HRH Saud bin Faisal Al Sa'ud, the kingdom's long-serving Minister of Foreign Affairs.

HRH Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Sa’ud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and King of Saudi Arabia. Seated behind him is HRH Saud bin Faisal Al Sa’ud, the kingdom’s long-serving Minister of Foreign Affairs. Photo by Dr. John Duke Anthony.

King Abdullah held the powerful positions of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Commander of the Faithful, head of state, and Shaykh of Shaykhs. Like few other leaders in the Arab countries, the Middle East, and the Islamic world, he was simultaneously one of the most beloved leaders of his time and in the region beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders.

Much of the reason had to do with the fact that, despite the trappings associated with his being a monarch, he was down to earth, modest, and approachable – forever relatable to Bedouins, city dwellers, and high-level dignitaries alike.

His tastes, like the tribal and once-Bedouin soldiers of the Saudi Arabian National Guard that he led the longest – from 1962 until he became ruler in 2005 – were simple. His manner was direct, his style unpretentious.

Not many heads of state have been known, as he was, for their association with bocce ball, an Italian game similar to bowling. In such leisure time as he had, Abdullah loved to play the game – not on grass or asphalt, as its aficionados are wont to do, but on the sand in the desert with his friends and others with whom he felt comfortable.

King Abdullah’s passing marks a serious event in the history of the kingdom that, thanks to him, became a pivotal actor in international affairs to a greater and more diverse extent than any would have imagined when he became king. As ruler, reformer, and foreign policy decision-maker, the late king provided the needed steady hand and firm direction to lead the kingdom through turbulent times. His domestic, regional, and international achievements during a period of great tensions and uncertainties will accord him a place among Saudi Arabia’s greatest leaders.

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Summer 2015 Intensive Language Program at The Arab-American Language Institute in Morocco

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, in collaboration with The Arab-American Language Institute in Morocco (AALIM) for the summer of 2015, is pleased to announce its Summer Language Program in the Kingdom of Morocco. Students will spend six weeks in historic Meknes, Morocco taking part in intensive Arabic language instruction. Students at all levels of Arabic proficiency are encouraged to apply.

Students will spend four (4) hours each weekday in formal Modern Standard Arabic classes, as well as complete out-of-the-classroom assignments. The AALIM center is host to a community of Arabic learners throughout the summer, providing for a fully immersive program. Students may choose to take an additional three (3) hours of Moroccan darija dialect classes.

Those selected will also gain direct personal experience in Moroccan culture, history, and society through a variety of day excursions, local outings, workshops and demonstrations. Meknes is an ideal setting for students to focus on learning Arabic while exploring ancient and modern Morocco. The main AALIM center is located inside the traditional walled old city, called the Medina, an area which features heavily in the Western popular imagination of Morocco. Meknes is also a thriving modern metropolis of over one million residents. The AALIM center is just a short walk from the bustling town center in the New City.

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2014-15 Model Arab League Study Visit to Saudi Arabia Pictures

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations led a delegation of ten students and five university faculty members, all selected from the Council’s Model Arab League program, on a study visit to Saudi Arabia from December 28, 2014 – January 7, 2015. The goal of the visit was to provide an empirical educational introduction to the kingdom’s culture and society for a select group of American students and faculty members who have performed exceptionally well in the Model Arab League program. During the course of their visit, the delegation met Saudi Arabian educators, business representatives, civil society leaders, and American diplomats in addition to visiting numerous sites of cultural, developmental, and historical interest.

Some pictures from the study visit are available below.

Click ‘Continue Reading’ to view the full gallery.

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NCUSAR Signs Strategic Collaboration Agreement with Gulf Research Center

NATIONAL COUNCIL SIGNS MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING WITH GULF RESEARCH CENTER 

Organizations to Collaborate on Programs, Publications, and Activities Analyzing the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the GCC’s Six Member-Countries, Arabia and the Gulf as a Whole, and U.S. Relations with the Region

Washington, DC, USA & Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: The Washington, DC-based National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations (National Council) recently executed a Memorandum of Understanding for future strategic cooperation on matters of mutual interest with the Jeddah, Saudi Arabia-based Gulf Research Center (GRC), which has consistently been ranked among the Top Think Tanks in the Middle East and North Africa by the University of Pennsylvania. The National Council and GRC agreed to coordinate efforts to promote understanding of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and its member countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), regional and international issues affecting the broader Gulf and Arabian Peninsula regions, and the multifaceted and mutually beneficial U.S.-Gulf relationship. Through research projects, educational programs, events, and activities the organizations will seek to assist the reciprocal processes of knowledge acquisition between the GCC countries and the global community. Under the Memorandum of Understanding each party will maintain its independent status.

Gulf Research Center Founder and Chairman Dr. Abdulaziz Sager met with a National Council delegation in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on January 3, 2015.

Gulf Research Center Founder and Chairman Dr. Abdulaziz Sager met with a National Council delegation in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on January 3, 2015. The delegation was comprised of outstanding students and faculty advisors from the Council’s Model Arab League student leadership development program, and led by Council Founding President and CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony, board member John Pratt, and staff members Laura Tucker and Kaylee Boalt.

GRC Founder and Chairman Dr. Abdulaziz Sager said that, “this collaboration will facilitate the expansion of the GRC’s work in the United States and around the world. It will assist our researchers and analysts in their understanding of how the global community responds to the Gulf. It will also enable us to increase the number of events and programs we administer jointly. Dr. John Duke Anthony and the National Council have a long history of research, publications, and education regarding the GCC, its member-countries, the Arabian Peninsula as a whole, and the Gulf and Arab world more broadly. As such, the Council will be an ideal collaborator for advancing our key objective — ‘Knowledge for All.’ We look forward to a fruitful and productive relationship.” 

National Council Founding President and CEO Dr. Anthony noted that the agreement, “formalizes a process of cooperation between our two organizations that has existed informally for quite some time. Working with the GRC strengthens the Council’s multifaceted efforts to build as many new U.S.-Arab bridges and strengthen as many existing ones as possible. The GRC is recognized globally as one of the Arab world’s foremost private research and educational organizations devoted to increasing knowledge and understanding of the GCC region, the GCC itself, and the six GCC member-countries’ domestic and external issues, challenges, and opportunities. The collaboration will enhance the Council’s educational efforts regarding this internationally vital region.” 

About the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations: Founded in 1983 and based in Washington, DC, the National Council is an American non-profit, non-governmental, educational organization dedicated to improving American knowledge and understanding of the Arab world. Information about the Council’s program, projects, events, and activities can be found at ncusar.org. 

About the Gulf Research Center: Founded in 2000, and based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with regional offices in Geneva, Switzerland, and Cambridge, United Kingdom, the Gulf Research Center is an independent, non-governmental, non-profit organization focused on the production and dissemination of objective and scholarly research about the GCC area as well as Iran, Iraq, and Yemen. Information about the Center’s publications, workshops, seminars, and conferences is available at grc.net.

Gulf Research Center National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations