Twenty-First Annual Oman Cultural Immersion Program — February 22 – March 8, 2017

Applications Now Being Accepted for the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’

Twenty-First Annual Oman Cultural Immersion Program

February 22 – March 8, 2017

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations is pleased to offer, through its Joseph J. Malone Fellowship in Arab and Islamic Studies Program, the Twenty-First Annual Oman Cultural Immersion study visit to the Sultanate of Oman, February 24 – March 8, 2017. Fellows are required to participate in and complete a pre-departure orientation in Washington, D.C. to be held on February 22-23. This unique opportunity will provide a privileged first hand exposure to one of the Arab world’s most demographically, geographically, and socially diverse countries.

The National Council is currently accepting applications to participate in this study visit. APPLY NOW!

MALONE FELLOWSHIP APPLICATION

American professionals in academia, government, the military, non-governmental organizations, business, religious institutions, the media, civic associations, as well as the fine arts, humanities, and the social sciences are invited to apply.

The Twenty-First Annual Oman Cultural Immersion study visit will provide participants an educational experience that few Westerners and even fewer Americans have had. The program is choreographed to provide Malone Fellows an unparalleled diverse exposure to Oman — one of the most historically and culturally rich of all Arab and Islamic societies. Until relatively recent times, the Sultanate languished in its status as one of the most forgotten corners of all Arabia. Anyone in doubt about the extraordinary opportunity that being able to visit Oman in this manner presents need only consult any of the several National Geographic Magazine features on the country in the past two decades.

End Pictures: inlaid Islamic niches at the Grand Mosque in Oman’s Capital Territory; Middle Pictures: Bedouin Omani girls in the Sharqiyyah Sands.

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Oman: The Pearl of Arabia

Arriving in the Sultanate of Oman you feel as if you are on a Hollywood set. Orderly. Vast. Visually breathtaking. Often visitors liken it to Disneyland. Controlled. Well-organized, meticulously maintained public grounds. Friendly. Happy. Helpful. Tolerant. No litter. No vagrancy. No graffiti. No terrorism. No violence. No radicalism. No unsafe areas. Did I mention exquisitely clean…It is all this and more.

Oman is an Arabian dreamscape. I’ve never seen such well-planned urban development. Architectural details are carefully mandated here. Many of the buildings are 46 years young; they’re well thought out in placement and accessibility. Even the street lamps in the cities and on the highways are lyrically beautiful in their repetitive form. There is something calming and reassuring about this consistent elegance.

The Public Authority for Investment Promotion and Export Development building in Muscat.

This tranquility is the hallmark of the capital city of Muscat. Muscat means “place of anchorage.” There you find a visual feast of stylish, controlled, and unified structures that underpin the deliberately skyscraper-free skyline. Here a hyper white Arab style of architecture is juxtaposed against the rough rocky landscape of the Hajar Mountains and the blue Gulf of Oman. Oman is an architectural treasure in Arabia.

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Arabia to Asia: The Myths of an American “Pivot” and Whether or Not There’s a U.S. Strategy Toward the GCC Region

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That the foreign policies of various governments often appear to be confusing or contradictory is because they frequently are. During Barack Obama’s presidency, such inconsistency has seemed to characterize aspects of America’s relations with the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The ambiguity and uncertainty that accompanies it is among the things that Obama has sought to dispel and clarify in the course successively of his March 2014 visit to Saudi Arabia, his May 2015 summit at Camp David with senior leaders of all six GCC countries, and his mid-April 2016 attendance at a similar meeting with leaders of the same countries. As this essay seeks to demonstrate, what he has had to contend with – and what others of late have had to contend with regarding aspects of his administration — in terms of background, context, and perspective has not been easy of resolution, amelioration, or even abatement.

Assumptions, Ambitions, and Abilities

Dating from before and since these high-level GCC-U.S. meetings, Washington has taken steps to strengthen and extend America’s overall position and influence in the GCC region. A principal means for doing so has been through the GCC-U.S. Strategic Dialogue.[1] But one example among several was when former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, came with approvals for billions of dollars in sales of U.S.-manufactured defense and security structures, systems, technology, and arms to GCC countries, together with long-term munitions and maintenance contracts.

President Barack Obama attends a U.S.-GCC summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in April 2016. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

President Barack Obama attends a U.S.-GCC summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in April 2016. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

Yet, simultaneously, signals from Washington and the mainstream U.S. media before and since Obama’s meetings with his GCC counterparts have not always been as clear as the signalers thought would or should be the case. That said, what specialists have had no doubt about for some time is that the Obama administration is recalibrating the strategic focus of its international priorities in hopes of being able to accomplish two objectives at the same time. One objective has been, and continues to be, a steadfast resolve to remain committed to the security, stability, and prospects for prosperity in the GCC region. The other has been and remains a parallel determination to emphasize the Asia-Pacific regions.

Affecting the need for such a recalibration have been major U.S. budget reductions and their impact on strategic concepts, forces, and operational dynamics. At issue and under examination in this regard, according to the Secretary of Defense in advance of the most recent Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), are, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, America’s assumptions, ambitions, and abilities.

Understandably, the GCC region’s reaction to these trends and indications was and continues to be mixed.

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Twentieth Annual Oman Cultural Immersion Program — February 17 – March 2, 2016

Applications Now Being Accepted for the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’

Twentieth Annual Oman Cultural Immersion Program

February 17 – March 2, 2016

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations is pleased to offer, through its Joseph J. Malone Fellowship in Arab and Islamic Studies Program, the Twentieth Annual Oman Cultural Immersion study visit to the Sultanate of Oman, February 19 – March 2, 2016. Fellows are required to participate in and complete a pre-departure orientation in Washington, D.C. to be held on February 17-18. This unique opportunity will provide a privileged first hand exposure to one of the Arab world’s most demographically, geographically, and socially diverse countries.

The National Council is currently accepting applications to participate in this study visit. APPLY NOW!

MALONE FELLOWSHIP APPLICATION

American professionals in academia, government, the military, non-governmental organizations, business, religious institutions, the media, civic associations, as well as the fine arts, humanities, and the social sciences are invited to apply.

The Twentieth Annual Oman Cultural Immersion study visit will provide participants an educational experience that few Westerners and even fewer Americans have had. The program is choreographed to provide Malone Fellows an unparalleled diverse exposure to Oman — one of the most historically and culturally rich of all Arab and Islamic societies. Until relatively recent times, the Sultanate languished in its status as one of the most forgotten corners of all Arabia. Anyone in doubt about the extraordinary opportunity that being able to visit Oman in this manner presents need only consult any of the several National Geographic Magazine features on the country in the past two decades.

End Pictures: inlaid Islamic niches at the Grand Mosque in Oman’s Capital Territory; Middle Pictures: Bedouin Omani girls in the Sharqiyyah Sands.

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“Oman Reborn: Balancing Tradition and Modernization” Book Discussion

On December 8, 2015, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center hosted a book launch luncheon and discussion for Oman Reborn: Balancing Tradition and Modernization by Linda Pappas Funsch.

  

Oman Reborn traces the narrative of a little-known and relatively stable Arab country whose history of independence, legacy of interaction with diverse cultures, and enlightened modern leadership have transformed it in less than fifty years from an isolated potentate to a stable, dynamic, and largely optimistic country. At the heart of this fascinating story is Oman’s sultan, Qaboos bin Said, friend to both East and West, whose unique leadership style has resulted in both domestic and foreign policy achievements during his more than four decades in office.

The author, Linda Pappas Funsch, is a specialist in modern Middle East studies and Islamic history. She has studied, worked, and traveled extensively throughout the region. A freelance writer, consultant, and educator for more than forty years, she lectures frequently about Oman at scholarly symposia and institutions such as the World Bank, the World Affairs Council, and Georgetown University.

Funsch was re-introduced to the Sultanate through the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ Annual Malone Oman Cultural Immersion Program in 2006, 32 years after her first visit. After the National Council study visit she published a series of articles about Oman in the Frederick News-Post. Funsch has subsequently served as a scholarly escort as well as a lecturing specialist at pre-departure orientations for this annual Council cultural program in Oman.

  1. Watch the book discussion on YouTube

“Gulf Cooperation Council: Role in Regional Dynamics” – 24th Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

Session on Gulf Cooperation Council: Role in Regional Dynamics with Dr. John Duke Anthony, Ambassador (Ret.) Dr. Richard J. Schmierer, Mr. Khaled Almaeena, Dr. Abdullah AlShayji, and Ms. Elizabeth Wossen from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 24th Annual Arab-US Policymakers’ Conference, “U.S.-Arab Relations at a Crossroads: What Paths Forward?,” on October 14, 2015, in Washington, DC.

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The GCC-U.S. Summit: An Opportunity for Strategic Reassurance?

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An unprecedented and extraordinary event is about to occur: a heads of state summit. These, by any standard, can be and often are extraordinary events. That’s what this one is. It is so because it gathers in the capital of the United States President Barack Obama with the representatives of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The two-day summit is set for May 13-14, 2015.

GCC leaders are scheduled to meet with the president in Washington on day one and on day two gather with him in the more capacious and secluded confines of Camp David. The latter venue is a longtime private presidential meeting place in the Maryland foothills, which is conducive to wide-ranging and deeply probing discussions on matters of common, timely, and varying degrees of urgent interest to the president, his advisers, his guests, and their advisers. The focus of this essay is the issues, challenges, and opportunities that will focus the principals’ attention while there.

The Summit’s Participants in Context

That the summit is occurring at this time is no mere coincidence. In terms of the GCC-U.S. relationship, it brings to the forefront the chief representative of the world’s most militarily, economically, and technologically advanced nation. Joining him will be the leaders of six neighboring Arab Gulf countries from what is arguably the world’s most strategically vital region that are little known and even less well understood by the American people as a whole.

What needs to be better comprehended by the American public regarding these countries are the roots and nature of their multifaceted strategic importance not just to their peoples and immediate region, but also the United States and the world in general. To begin with, the six GCC countries possess thirty per cent of the planet’s proven reserves of oil, the vital strategic commodity that drives the world’s economies. Collectively, they are also the holders of the developing world’s largest reservoir of financial assets, as measured in the trillions of dollars.

Crude Oil 2014 Proved Reserves.

In addition, the GCC countries have no rivals in their combined positive impact on the American aerospace and defense industries. In the past half-decade, their purchases of U.S.-manufactured defense and security structures, systems, technology, weaponry, ammunition, training, maintenance, and operational assistance have massively impacted and continue to impact the American economy.

The dynamism and mutuality of benefits in the U.S.-GCC relationship are envied by virtually every country that wishes it could accomplish anything remotely similar.

The purchases of American export goods and services by these countries have provided jobs essential to the material wellbeing of millions of Americans. They have extended production lines of products that would otherwise no longer be available. As a consequence, they have lowered the cost per unit of many American manufactured goods. In so doing, they have thereby enhanced the competitiveness of this component of the American economy to a degree envied by virtually every government or corporation in other countries that would wish they could accomplish anything remotely similar.

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The Consolidation of a New Arab Political Order

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Operation Decisive Storm Coalition Forces' spokesman Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri provides a briefing on developments in the campaign.

Operation Decisive Storm Coalition Forces’ spokesman Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri provides a briefing on developments in the campaign. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

While the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm against the Yemeni Houthis and their allies continues and its long-term results are so far unknown, it is not pre-mature to project that a new Arab political order is being consolidated. Its elements include a firm and sustainable commitment to fight extremism and sectarianism, bring order and stability to the heart of the Arab world – namely, Syria and Iraq – and design, chart, and lead an independent course for the protection of pan-Arab national interests.

Such an order has a leader in the collective energies and capabilities of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, with Saudi Arabia as a first among equals, and essential assistance from such countries as Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. Indeed, to assure its collective interests, arrive at a hoped-for peaceful stability, and sustain much needed political, economic, and social development, the Arab world must coalesce around a strong political order that can utilize its capacities and permissible international conditions to achieve what it needs and deserves. Importantly, the consolidated new Arab political order appears to emphasize essential principles that require astute judgment, committed resources, and continuous vigilance.

Fighting Extremism and Sectarianism

The status quo states of the new Arab order are cognizant of the threats represented by the plethora of extremist groups operating at the heart of the Arab world. In Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has staked a claim in Hadramawt Province abutting the Saudi Arabian border after it lost its bases in Shabwa and Abyan to the west. In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State group has erased the borders between the two countries in a mission to re-establish an imagined and borderless Islamic Caliphate while al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front controls strategic areas of Syria. Both organizations are serious threats to Lebanon and its pluralist political society.

In Libya, the Islamic State group, al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar ash-Shari’a, and a sundry of militias have settled, and promise to both keep the country unstable and use it as a base to spread chaos and mayhem elsewhere. In Tunisia and Egypt, jihadist extremists are waging a war of attrition against state security institutions. The actors of the consolidating Arab political order must know full well that they alone can address this threat in a fashion that combines a sense of shared responsibility for common interests and an attempt at forging an independent course that serves such interests.

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