The Middle East in the new global power cartography


Iran and Saudi Arabia fight for Pakistan; British Conservatism, Libya and the oil lobby; Egypt, the crescent North and other emerging regional power hubs.

Iranian-Saudi war spills over to Pakistan

“During my frequent visits to Pakistan in the 1990s, all kinds of theories were expressed whenever there was an attack on members of the Shia or Sunni community,” the German journalist Hans Bremer wrote in The News (Feb 26, 2003). “One that always struck me as strange was that a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia was being fought on the streets of Pakistani cities.”.

Speaking in the National Assembly during the second Benazir government (1994-96), the Interior Minister, General Naseerullah Babar, even candidly expressed his dismay over the situation saying: “two neighboring countries (Afghanistan, backed by Saudi Arabia, and Iran) are fighting their war in Pakistan” (Amin Lakhani. Why Sectarian Violence Must End, Dawn, Aug 19, 2004).

Unloading the entire blame on a foreign pedestal would be unfair. The sectarian strife in Pakistan, to a larger extent, is a Frankenstein’s monster of its making. However, the Saudi-Iranian rivalry aggravated the Shia-Sunni conflict. As a matter of fact, Shia-Sunni conflict is a misnomer. The conflict in Pakistan is not between Shia and Sunni sects. It is, in fact, an anti-Shia crusade by a Sunni sub-sect (Deobandis with a Wahabist bent). [READ THE REST.]

Cameron to face BP Libya questions

President Barack Obama will raise the issue of BP’s alleged role in lobbying for the release of Libyan terrorist Abdel Basset al-Megrahi when he meets David Cameron on Tuesday.

Mr Obama’s administration has already publicly accepted the UK’s explanation for last year’s release from a Scottish jail of Mr al-Megrahi. But the White House said on Monday that the US president and UK prime minister would “likely touch on” the Libyan issue at their first official meeting in the US. [READ THE REST]

Murky waters

Peter Vosser, CEO of Royal Dutch/Shell said as much at a conference in South Africa recently, and other oil companies have been lining up to say the same thing. This has led many analysts to assume that pressure from the oil lobby will ultimately win out in corridors of power around the world. In spite of the disaster, Libya has granted BP the right to drill offshore, with the head of the country’s National Oil Company commenting: “you do not ban flying because of one crash”. Well, no, but then again, most air crashes don’t demolish livelihoods across a huge swathe of a major nation and wipe half the value off the world’s third largest oil company. That kind of level of risk is enough to give insurers nightmares and might make even the largest oil majors think twice about the potential downsides. At the very least, regulation and safety concerns are likely to push up costs and push out completion dates. In a world where we may be approaching Peak Oil production, this can have a major effect on oil prices. [READ THE REST]

The Crescent North revisited

In my article published in The Nation on January 29, 2010, I had predicted the formulation of The Crescent North and rise of Islamic forces from Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, and Central Asia. I had also argued that the West, confused by the rise of militant Islam in the Middle East, had initiated a ‘long war’ by triggering a Shia-Sunni conflict based on the Iraqi model; not realising that recent history has already set in motion the winds of change, with epoch-making consequences, this time coming from the steppes of Asia or the Crescent North. [READ THE REST]

Turkey: The sentinel swivels

Toronto, Brussels, Bishkek and London in one week; in another, visits ranging from Lisbon to Kabul. Since he became Turkey’s foreign minister just over a year ago, Ahmet Davutoglu has clocked up more than 100 international trips as he hyperactively pursues his vision of Turkey as a rising regional power. Not for nothing does he hail from Konya, ancestral home of the whirling dervishes.

His message has been largely unexceptionable: expounding with a professorial air and an academic fixation with numbers and dates his doctrine of a “zero problems” rapprochement with Turkey’s neighbours – a slogan similar to the “peace at home, peace abroad” favoured by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the republic.

To that end, Mr Davutoglu has sought to mediate in conflicts from the Balkans to Baghdad and has used Ankara’s fast-growing economic clout to further new friendships, whether with emerging powers including Russia and Brazil or with formerly antagonistic neighbours such as Syria, Iraq and Greece.

But in recent months, tensions between Turkey’s regional aspirations and its traditional alliances with the west have burst into the open. [READ THE REST]

America’s lieutenant

WOULD-BE rulers of the world have always coveted Egypt, and for good reason. Rich in resources and in a choice position, it is also easily controlled, with no forests or mountains for rebels to lurk in. The Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans all grabbed it. So did Muslim Arabs, Ottoman Turks, Napoleon’s France and finally Britain. The Crusaders, Tamerlane and Hitler all tried and failed to take it. The cold-war superpowers vied for influence too; Egypt flirted with both, but America bid higher and won. [READ THE REST]

[Image source: S &/or B]

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