Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘GCC’

Yemen in Crisis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 26th February, 2018

Yemen in CrisisThe ancient Romans referred to Yemen as Arabia Felix, but there is little that is happy about the country now. Often divided in modern history, it is now in danger of total disintegration. With only very limited oil resources, it is by far the poorest country in the Middle East, and unlike the other states located in the Arabian peninsula, it has never been allowed to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — though the cohesion and usefulness of the GCC itself have been undermined with the recent stand-off with Qatar. Far more acute than the lack of oil, however, is Yemen’s depleted source of water; Sana’a risks becoming the world’s first capital city to run out of water completely. In rural areas that used to be fertile, subsistence agriculture is a dwindling lifestyle, as predominantly young men migrate to the cities in search of work. Such migration is of course a common feature of many developing countries, but it has been more acute in Yemen than in many other states. Moreover, the government of the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh compounded the situation by its corrupt handling of the economy, which enriched a small elite while impoverishing the masses. Hence the size and vigour of the anti-Saleh demonstrations that erupted during the 2011 so-called Arab Spring.

Yemen conflict 2However, even at the height of the uprising, the situation in Yemen was never black and white. There was always a complex nexus of rivalries, based on tribal loyalties, regional variations and a certain degree of religious difference. All too often the current conflict in Yemen is over-simplified as a battle between the Sunni-backed internationally-recognised but largely exiled government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and the Shi’i-backed Huthi rebels, but as Helen Lackner’s excellent book, Yemen in Crisis (Saqi, £25), explains with admirable clarity, Yemen’s modern history is far more complex than that. And as she points out, the military intervention of a Saudi-led coalition in 2015 turned a political and humanitarian crisis into a catastrophe. The Saudi blockade of the port of Hodeidah, for example, led to widespread malnutrition — not least among infants — that has been described by the United Nations as the most serious humanitarian crisis of our time. A major outbreak of cholera last year compounded the situation. As Helen Lackner rightly argues, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman probably launched the Yemen War in the hope that a quick victory would cement his rise to power. But nearly three years on, the situation is a quagmire and it is the Yemeni people who are suffering.

Helen Lackner is the ideal guide for readers wanting to understand some of Yemen’s complexities and how it has ended up in its current dire situation. She worked in the country for 15 years — largely in the field of rural development — and has been researching it for far longer. Her love of the place and its people shines through the text, which is academically sound but totally accessible to the general reader. I travelled widely in Yemen myself in the 1980s and 1990s, which Ms Lackner now sees as the good old days. Whether it will ever be possible for such a period of relative calm to return in the near future remains to be seen, but even if so, the cost of reconstruction is going to be gargantuan, as the destruction of Yemen’s infrastructure and unique cultural heritage continues apace.

Advertisements

Posted in book review, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is the GCC Unravelling?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th November, 2017

C0F4FE57-2826-47BC-B8AE-6C6F8B4B45BCThe Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, more commonly known by its previous name, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), has been in existence since 1981 and aims at a degree of economic integration between Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman as well as cooperation in other fields, but some of its more ambitious plans have been quietly shelved. Following the launch of the euro there was talk of moving towards a single GCC currency, to be called the khaleeji (Gulfi), but Oman said it would need to opt out and enthusiasm waned elsewhere. Then at the time of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, tentative moves were made to bring two other Arab monarchies, Jordan and Morocco, into the fold, despite neither being in the Gulf. However, the one obvious geographical absentee absentee is Iraq, which overthrew it’s short-lived monarchy in 1958, was never a serious contender while Saddam Hussein was in power and has been equally unpalatable to the Sunni Arab monarchs since Shia-dominated governments have been in charge in Baghdad following the 2003 US-led invasion. When there was stronger than usual unrest among Bahrain’s majority Shi’i population in 2011, Saudi Arabia and the UAE sent in troops to help the Al Khalifa monarchy quash it. Since then, Iran has been the focus of much of the GCC’s animosity, notably from Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as Tehran’s rival for regional hegemony. But since this summer, another deeply complicating factor has emerged: the embargo of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, mainly because of the activities of the Doha-based TV channel, Al Jazeera, and Qatar’s alleged cosying up to Iran (with which it shares a gigantic gas field). Kuwait has been trying to mediate, while the wily ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos, is keeping well out of it. The Saudi Foreign Minister the other day downplayed the importance of the row, but it has inevitably made the facade of GCC unity crumble. And if the standoff continues for long, the GCC would be in real danger of unravelling.

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Peace Beyond Borders

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 4th July, 2016

Peace beyond Borders coverDespite what most Brexiteers believed, the European Union has been a great success as a peace project. That is the central thesis of veteran Indian peace and justice campaigner Vijay Mehta’s latest book, Peace beyond Borders (Catapult, £9.99), in which he argues that exporting the EU model to other parts of the world would help end conflicts. In fact, several other parts of the world have indeed been regionalising in recent decades, from South East Asia (ASEAN) to the Gulf Arab states (GCC) and South America (UNASUR). None has up till now gone as far in terms of economic let alone political integration as the EU, but they all acknowledge that they are stronger together. The author looks at each continent or sub-continent in turn, seeing how cooperation has overcome divisions and historic rivalries, as well as championing the potential of further cooperation. This strengthening of a multipolar global reality is healthy, he believes, rather than the United States being the only super-power (as it became after the collapse of the Soviet Union), acting like some sort of world policeman. In a final section, Vijay Mehta acknowledges that there are nationalist forces resisting the sharing of sovereignty, just as within some countries (including the UK and Spain) there are forces that want more regional autonomy or even independence. Scotland, of course, may well re-examine the case for independence if Brexit is now successfully implemented, preferring to remain within the EU. Reading this book one can only lament that just over half the voters of Britain did not understand the elements of peace and hope inherent in the European project. Had some been able to read it before they cast their vote on 23 June, maybe it would have changed their minds.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

ISIS and the London Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd January, 2015

ISIS London conferenceYesterday the Foreign Ministers of 21 nations gathered in London to discuss how to respond to Islamic State. There were not only representatives of major Western countries, including John Kerry from the United States, but also delegations from five of the six GCC States, Egypt and Iraq — the last mentioned very much in the front line. The case for additional aid — financial, training and military hardware — was reinforced by a plea from Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, pointing out that falling oil prices mean Baghdad has less money available to allocate to the fight against ISIS. There was little information released as to the London conference’s decisions, but I was surprised by the degree of scepticism in some quarters that the talks would lead to more decisive action by the anti-IS Coalition. I took part in an hour-long live TV debate on Kurdistan TV after the meeting finished and was made conscious of how the Kurds in the KRG feel the rest of the world could be doing more. My interlocutors were also concerned about Turkey’s apparent ambivalence given Ankara’s failure to stop anti-Assad groups using Turkey as a base from which to infiltrate Syria. I also pointed out the ambiguity of several Gulf States, not least Saudi Arabia, which is officially part of the Coalition, yet which has directly or indirectly fuelled ISIS and other militant groups with money (from wealthy private individuals) and by the export of its fundamentalist Wahhabi interpretation of Sunni Islam. Given the way that women are sidelined from decision-making in Saudi Arabia and have often been the victims of ISIS barbarity, it was moreover unfortunate that the London conference seemed to be very much a men’s affair.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Alan Duncan, Free to Speak

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th July, 2014

Alan DuncanArab Spring EgyptWhen Lord Lothian invited International Development Minister Alan Duncan to address the Global Strategy Forum at the National Liberal Club today on the Arab Spring three years on, he can have had no inkling that Mr Duncan would be ministerially defenestrated the previous night. But in a way that was an advantage as the speaker was therefore bound by no government conventions and limitations and was able to give a wide-ranging yet penetrating overview of recent events in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). I liked his concept of “3D” British foreign policy, i.e. diplomacy, development and defence working in conjunction, and he has clearly put his experience in the oil industry to good use while in office, though he was pretty pessimistic about developments in Libya, in particular. I queried him on Egypt, as he’d said the West was maybe too quick to welcome the ousting of Hosni Mubarak; surely, I said, the West has been too quick to welcome the arrival of Field Marshal Sisi, given the appalling current record of torture and imprisonment, which has even affected journalists working for international media outlets, such as my former BBC colleague, and now Al Jazeera journalist, Peter Greste? Where Alan Duncan and I were much more aligned was when he spoke of the need to approach the Arab-Israeli conflict from a position of principle — in other words recognising the compound injustice (and indeed humiliation) perpetrated against the Palestinians by successive governments of Israel. It would have been good to press him further on his hints at possible consequences of the tensions between different Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, but maybe now he is more of a free agent it will be possible to winkle more out of him in such important debates.

Link: http://www.globalstrategyforum.org/

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Islamic New Year

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th December, 2008

islamic-new-year     Yesterday was the first day of the Muslim year 1430. It’s unusual for the Islamic (Hijra) and Western calendars almost to coincide in this way, as the the former is about 11 days shorter than the latter. And for many in the Arab world, this had led to hopes of a joyful, extended holiday.  But with Israel launching its ‘all-out war’ against Gaza, people are not in the mood for celebrating. There was a dignified demonstration by several hundred Palestinians and local sympathisers on the Corniche here in Manama yesterday afternoon (Bahrain being one country in the region where political demonstrations are allowed).

Gaza is understandably dominating the summit meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which opened in the Omani capital, Muscat, yesterday. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Prime Minister of Qatar — which is the only GCC country which has diplomatic ties to Israel — rang the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, to inform her that ‘Arabs feel that Israel had no intention of achieving peace’. This bodes ill for 2009.

The global financial crisis is the other big issue for the GCC leaders, but this should not in principle stop them progressing with their plan for a regional single currency (provisionally dubbed the ‘khaleej’, or the gulf), by 2010. This plan is very much based on the EU’s model. But Oman — perhaps inspired by Britain’s example — is going to opt out.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »