Looking Ahead: What to Expect in the Middle East in 2024

On February 8, 2024, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations hosted a discussion titled “Looking Ahead: What to Expect in the Middle East in 2024.” The program featured former United States diplomats Ambassador (Ret.) Michael Gfoeller and Mr. David H. Rundell. It was moderated by Colonel (Ret.) Abbas K. Dahouk, with Mr. H. Delano Roosevelt, the President and CEO of the Council, joining them for the proceedings.

The specialists provided analysis on the prospects of U.S. engagement with Iran and its proxies in the region after the recent deaths of three U.S. military service members in Jordan in an attack by the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization militia. The specialists also discussed the war in Gaza and prospects for a ceasefire agreement, looking in particular at U.S. diplomacy and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s fifth visit to the region since the events of October 7, 2023.

 

 

Joining the program were:

Featured Specialists:

Moderator:

  • Colonel (Ret.) Abbas K. Dahouk, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Board of Directors Member; Former U.S. Department of State Senior Military Advisor; Former U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia Defense and Army Attache; HyphenPoint LLC President.

Introduction:

The discussion can be viewed on the National Council’s YouTube channel.

The Safer Oil Tanker: Diplomacy Averts Disaster

This is the story of a $20 billion disaster that did not happen.

Last month, while the United Nations General Assembly was meeting in New York City, I attended some programming on the summit’s sidelines together with my colleagues from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. Among them were meetings to learn more about the ongoing conflict and crisis in Yemen. While the situation in Yemen remains dire after 8 years of war, there is a recent bright spot for proactive international efforts: the successful operation to offload oil from the decaying Safer storage tanker. This enormous undertaking has prevented what could have been a colossal environmental disaster that exacerbated the situation in Yemen, and wreaked environmental, economic, and humanitarian havoc in the Middle East region.

Located on the southwestern end of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen is beloved by those familiar with its varied landscapes and its warm, smart, kind, and generous people.  It is bordered by the Red Sea to its west and the Gulf of Aden to its south.  The Romans called it Arabia Felix—Fortunate (and Fertile) Arabia.  In the United States, one is most likely to find Yemen identified with the Queen of Sheba (also known as Bilqīs or Makeda, she is one of the few female figures who appears in sacred texts of all three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), coffee (Yemenis are believed to be among the first to popularize the beverage), and the port of Aden (one of the most famous hubs in the world, connecting maritime traffic between Africa, Asia, and the Middle East).

Map of Yemen, 2012.

The past decade has seen Yemen embroiled in its fourth civil war in the post-World War II period. Its proximate cause was the response of the Zaidi Shiite-Houthis to the outcome of an all-inclusive National Dialogue Conference, which concluded in 2014. Displeased with the outcome of that political process, the Houthis’ militias, with resources and support from Iran’s government, seized Yemen’s capital of Sana’a in 2015.  That subversion of law and order in Yemen touched off a conflict that has resulted in what has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

One of the poorest countries in the Arab region even before the most recent stretch of violence, Yemen has been placed in a very precarious situation. Eight years of conflict, compounded by economic collapse, natural disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have taken a toll on Yemenis’ ability to live with the dignity and meaning that all people deserve. The UN reported several months ago that this year “a staggering 21.6 million Yemenis require some form of humanitarian assistance as 80% of the country struggles to put food on the table and access basic services.”

Relief map of Yemen, 2002.

The National Council has a long history of engagement with Yemen through its founding President & CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony. Appreciating the richness of its cultural heritage, its natural beauty, the incisive and joyful qualities of the Yemeni people, and its long history, the Council has taken twenty delegations of American educators to the country, enabled hundreds of U.S. students to live and study Arabic in Sana’a, and sponsored educational programs about Yemen in Washington, D.C. Most recently, the Council partnered with a Yemen-based non-profit foundation dedicated to enhancing youth capabilities toward promoting peace – the Adalah (meaning “Justice” in Arabic) Foundation For Legal Development – to bring the Council’s Youth Leadership Development Model Arab League Program to Mukalla, Hadhramout.

Individuals stand together after signing an agreement

A cooperation agreement between the National Council and Yemen’s Adalah Foundation was executed last year. The two non-profit groups collaborated to bring the National Council’s Youth Leadership Development Program / Model Arab League to Yemen. The program involves an experiential learning exercise where students have the opportunity to practice representing the needs and interests of someone other than themselves during the course of simulating a diplomatic summit.

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A Taste of Saudi Arabia’s Culture on the Upper West Side

My friends and colleagues from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations came to New York City from Washington, D.C., to participate in meetings and events on the sidelines of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly. As is traditionally the case, the very active week sees heads of state and government leaders converge on the city where proceedings at the UN are augmented by numerous events organized by diplomatic civil society and business communities. For New Yorkers such as myself, the annual global gathering – focused on peace, security, economic growth, sustainable development, the promotion of justice, and, generally, efforts in pursuit of lofty ideals – is visible as we navigate our daily lives.

This year, my colleagues and I were able to begin the week transcending the usual gridlock and madness with a unique Sunday evening invitation. It took us to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, where we had the privilege to attend the Saudi National Orchestra’s debut performance in the United States, the “Marvels of Saudi Music,” at the iconic Metropolitan Opera House. The concert featured female and male performers, musicians, dancers, vocalists, and musical talent all hailing from the Kingdom. A lineup of traditional Saudi and Arabian Peninsula performances captivated our senses, and brought the sounds and musical traditions of the Arab region right to New York.

Arriving at the Lincoln Center. (Left to right) Mr. John Pratt, Chairman of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Board of Directors; Mr. Fahad Nazer, Spokesperson for the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C.; Colonel (Ret.) Abbas Dahouk, National Council Board of Directors Member and HyphenPoint LLC Principal; myself, National Council Board of Directors Member, and author and artist; and Mr. Patrick Mancino, National Council Executive Vice President and Director of Development.

The event was held under the patronage of His Highness Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud, the Minister of Culture of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Performances included pieces from the Saudi National Orchestra, the Saudi Performing Arts Ensemble, and legendary American jazz musicians from the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars.

As Saudi Arabia implements its national development strategy known as Vision 2030, one objective is to develop a performing arts sector that can share Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage with the rest of the world. Simultaneously, space for more entertainment (and tourism) in the Kingdom – that includes AMC movie theaters, concerts, events, and world-class athletes in competition – is being created in a style, time, and manner consistent with a nation that is also a place of pilgrimage and prayer for 1.8 billion Muslims across the globe. The leadership of Saudi Arabia is seeking to diversify its economy and develop domestic industries that can meet the anticipated employment needs of its youthful citizens. 63% of the population of Saudi Arabia is under the age of 30.

Attendees at the event, in addition to Minister of Culture HH Prince Badr, included former Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom, and Chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud; the first female Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, HRH Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud; and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister HH Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. Their royal presence underscored the importance and seriousness of introducing these cultural aspects of the Kingdom to the United States. In addition, New York City Mayor Eric Adams was joined alongside others including journalist and senior Washington Post Editor, Lally Weymouth; Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody; longtime Wall Street Journal writer and author Karen Elliot House, among many others. Even President Biden’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Mr. Timothy Lenderking, and his team were in attendance to show their diplomatic and unofficial solidarity in appreciation of Arab culture and heritage.

During an intermission we had the privilege of seeing HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud. HRH will be a keynote speaker at the National Council’s 40th Anniversary Gala on November 16 in Washington, D.C. The Council has been very fortunate to have HRH make remarks at its annual gathering almost every year since 2006.

Welcoming remarks by Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb captured the spirit of the evening: “Art has the possibility of triumphing over adversity.”

The Saudi National Orchestra and Choir performed over the course of two and a half hours. The chorus was comprised of 18 men and 18 women in traditional dress, standing behind the orchestra. The orchestra included violins, some other stringed instruments, a variety of Saudi percussion instruments, and other instruments including the Oud, two beautiful Saudi wind instruments, and drums made out of desert materials. The sounds were new to many Western ears and a delight to the many in the audience who were students and working professionals from New York and the Arab region.

The program began with several folk art performances. They featured specific regions in the Kingdom and included dances by men wearing each region’s native costumes. The songs were familiar to those who knew the region.

Performances from the “Marvels of Saudi Orchestra.”

The orchestra and chorus departed after charming us all.

Performances from the “Marvels of Saudi Orchestra.”

The American Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars also took a turn gracing the stage. They performed several songs familiar to the Americans in the audience. Then, three leading musicians from the Saudi Orchestra joined the Dizzy musicians for a remarkable and memorable musical blending of the two cultures. Saxophonist Tim Ries praised the collaboration between the two countries. “We need no words, only the heart that beat together. We’ve become like family after only two days.”

Performances from the cross-cultural musical celebration at the Lincoln Center.

The addition of a Saudi Arabian soprano, Rimaz Oqbi, with a voice that reached the rafters, and perhaps the almighty, changed the presentation dramatically. Her operatic repertoire included songs in English, French, and Italian, with music that was delightfully familiar and that showcased the breadth of her talent.

The printed programs given to the audience were magnificent, covering the purpose of the event and the music (with translations in Arabic and English), and with descriptions of the folk art of the various regions. Even after leaving such a memorable event, through the publication audience members were able to amplify their understanding of the Kingdom and its efforts to reach out to the world.

American and Saudi Arabian musicians take a bow, arm-in-arm, after bringing joy to the world-renowned Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

The musicians who we enjoyed have already performed in Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and in Paris, Mexico City, and in Jordan. Many more appearances are scheduled and being planned across the globe and on the world stage.

As Saudi Arabian men and women closed the evening’s first act with an Arabized version of “Fly Me to the Moon,” the consensus among us was that we had somehow managed to indulge in the magic of New York City while simultaneously being transported to Arabia, and shown some of the Kingdom’s hidden treasures. Watch for more to come from a part of the planet that is only beginning to reveal its rich heritage and culture.

 

 

With contributions from National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ Board Member Susan Wilson Bynum.

National Council on US-Arab Relations Signs Memorandum of Understanding with King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies

 

Organizations to Collaborate on Programs, Publications, and Activities Analyzing the Gulf Cooperation Council, its Six Member-Countries, Arabia and the Gulf, and U.S. Relations with the Region

Washington, DC, USA & Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: The Washington, D.C., U.S.A.-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 Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS). The National Council and the King Faisal Center 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 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 pursue creating greater national, regional, and international awareness on issues pertaining to security, stability, peace, and sustainable development in the Gulf region. Under the Memorandum of Understanding each party will maintain its independent status.

National Council Founding President and CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony said that the agreement, “formalizes a longstanding cooperative relationship between our two organizations. Working with the King Faisal Center strengthens the National Council’s efforts to help build and maintain as many new and existing U.S.-Arab friendships, alliances, and strategic partnerships as possible. The Council looks forward to continue cooperating with the King Faisal Center to provide a platform for a wellspring of academic, intellectual, and cultural knowledge for humanity.”

King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies Chairman HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud (at podium) has regularly been a featured keynote speaker at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conferences since HRH first addressed the forum in 2006. Photo: National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, 2017.

Dr. Anthony highlighted that “the National Council, as an educational organization, is dedicated to improving American awareness and appreciation of the multifaceted mutuality of benefits that derive from the Arab-U.S. relationship. In its efforts to help strengthen and sustain these benefits, the Council undertakes a variety of activities. Among them are months-long student internships, study abroad scholarships, educating and training the future generation of Arab region specialists, participation in annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conferences, and, in 24 American cities and five Arab countries annually, leadership development programs that have reached more than 50,000 emerging leaders.”

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

About the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies: The King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies was established by the King Faisal Foundation. Its goal is to further the late King Faisal’s mission of enhancing knowledge and understanding about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world. The King Faisal Center has long served as a leading academic, intellectual, and cultural hub. Information about the Center’s programs, projects, events, and activities can be found at kfcris.com.

Pivot or Remain in Place? Examining the U.S. Military Presence in Arabia and the Gulf

On June 29, 2023, the National Council convened an online briefing program “Pivot or Remain in Place? Examining the U.S. Military Presence in Arabia and the Gulf.” The conversation analyzed the military and economic dimensions, geopolitical implications, and knock-on effects of the proclaimed American pivot to Asia.

 

 

Joining the program were:

Featured Specialists:

  • Sheikh Nawaf Al-Thani, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Distinguished International Defense Affairs Fellow; former Defense Attaché of Qatar to the United States; former Official Spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Defense
  • Ms. Kirsten Fontenrose, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Senior Gulf Affairs Fellow; President of Red Six International, an advisory firm providing U.S. government approved technical expertise to partner nations on defeating drones
  • Colonel (Ret.) Abbas Dahouk, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Board of Directors Member; Former Senior Military Advisor to U.S. Department of State; Former U.S. Defense and Army Attaché to Saudi Arabia; HyphenPoint LLC Principal

Moderator and Discussant:

  • Colonel (Ret.) David Des Roches, U.S. Department of Defense National Defense University Near East/South Asia Center for Strategic Studies Associate Professor; National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Senior International Affairs Fellow

Context Provider:

  • Dr. John Duke Anthony, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Founding President and CEO

A video recording of the program is available above.

Carolinas Committee on U.S.-Arab Relations Spring 2023 “NEWSLINES”

Cover of the Spring 2023 NEWSLINES newsletterThe Carolinas Committee on U.S.-Arab Relations (CCUSAR), with Dr. Joe P. Dunn serving as Director, is an initiative of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. Dr. Dunn is an alumnus of the Council’s Malone Fellowship in Arab and Islamic Studies Program, the coordinator of the Southeast Model Arab League conference, and the faculty advisor heading the Converse College Youth Leadership Development / Model Arab League program.

CCUSAR recently published its Spring 2023 “NEWSLINES” newsletter, available for download through the link below.

The issue features:

  • Powerful illustrations and testimonials from participants in the National Council’s Youth Leadership Development Program / Model Arab League, sharing how the program impacted them; along with
  • Highlights from the 2023 National University and Southeast Regional Youth Leadership Development Program / Model Arab League conferences; and also
  • A story about interfaith dialogue in Spartanburg, South Carolina; together with
  • A book review of They Call Me a Lioness: A Palestinian Girl’s Fight for Freedom by Ahed Tamimi and Dena Takruri.

DOWNLOAD “CCUSAR NEWSLINES (Spring 2023)” [PDF]

Energy Trends and Their Implications for the U.S. and Arab Region

On April 14, 2023, the National Council convened an online briefing program “Peering Over The Horizon: Examining Future Energy Trends And Their Implications For The U.S. And Arab Region.” The discussion examined current and future energy dynamics.

As the structure of energy demand changes, with the importance of fossil fuels predicted to decline in the decades to come, how can energy production and delivery systems incorporate a growing share of renewable energy and manage increased electrification? Will the transition to a low-carbon world require a range of other energy sources and technologies, including low-carbon hydrogen, modern bioenergy, and carbon capture, use, and storage? What factors are most critical in shaping regional and global energy dynamics, and how might they shift in the years ahead? This National Council program explores these questions and more.

 

 

Joining the program were:

Featured Specialists:

  • Dr. Shihab Kuran, Leader of renewable energy projects in Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere; Power Edison Founder, President, and CEO
  • Mr. Phillip Cornell, Economist Impact Principal for Energy and Sustainability; Atlantic Council Senior Fellow; former Saudi Aramco, International Energy Agency, and World Bank Group Advisor

Moderator:

  • Mr. Colby Connelly, Energy Intelligence Senior Research Analyst; Middle East Institute Program on Economics and Energy Non-Resident Scholar.

Audio and video recordings of the program are available above and below, and on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and elsewhere.

“Energy Trends and Their Implications for the U.S. and Arab Region” podcast (.mp3)

Lebanon in Focus [2022 Arab-US Policymakers Conference]

The 31st Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference, Arab-U.S. Uncertainties: What Lies Ahead?, convened at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., on November 2-3, 2022. These are some of the conference proceedings.

 

 
“Lebanon in Focus”

Featuring:

Colonel (Ret.) Abbas Dahouk – National Council Board of Directors Member; former Senior Military Advisor to U.S. Department of State; former U.S. Defense and Army Attach´ to Saudi Arabia; HyphenPoint LLC Founding Principal.

Ambassador (Ret.) Edward Gabriel – American Task Force on Lebanon President and CEO; former United States Ambassador to Morocco (1997-2001).

The Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference is the signature annual symposium organized and administered by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.