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The Journal for politics, economics, and culture of the Middle East published by the German Orient-Institute

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01/07/21

Iran’s role in Gulf politics

This article analyses Iran’s posture in the Persian Gulf and focuses on its role in GCC political dynamics following the seismic shift brought about by the overthrow of the Baath order in Iraq in 2003. It further argues that the Arab uprisings of the 2010s played a defining role in Iran-GCC relations, deepening the fissure between Iran and Saudi Arabia as the dominant Gulf powers. The Iraq war and the Arab uprisings contributed considerably to the securitisation of inter-Gulf relations and the uprisings ultimately caused a rupture in the intra-GCC relations as well. Inter-regional tensions have been compounded by the Trump administration’s efforts to build formal diplomatic and political bridges between its Gulf allies and Israel, resulting in the signing of the Abraham Accords between UAE, Bahrain and Israel in 2020. This peace treaty will encourage Israel’s interactions with its Gulf partners, but is unlikely to further the cause of regional security and stability as not only has it created tensions within the GCC, but has also adversely affected the prospects for collective approaches to Gulf security. While the success of the al-Ulla summit in Saudi Arabia brings new opportunities, it is far from clear that by itself it can improve intra-GCC and inter-Gulf relations.

Anoushiravan Ehteshami is Professor of International Relations and Director of the al-Sabah Programme in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University.

Benjamin Houghton is an al-Sabah Doctoral Fellow School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University, where he researches China’s role in the Persian Gulf.

Mirdef Alqashouti is a doctoral student in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University, studying GCC-Iran relations.

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01/07/21

The blockade, Islamism and intra-sectarian tensions: Explaining Saudi-Qatari tensions

The article argues that the Saudi-Qatari rivalry, culminating in the severed diplomatic ties in 2017 for three years, does not evolve or emerge out of Qatar’s support for Iran, but rather from competing visions of the role of Islam within the construction of a regional order in what we view as a form of intra-Sunni, or more specifically intra-Wahhabi, sectarianism. Indeed, as Saudi Arabia and Qatar sought to exert influence on regional politics, they enacted their contrasting positions over the role of (political) Islamism(s). The analysis traces differences in diverging paths of state formation and the role of religious scholars and the relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Simon Mabon is Chair in International Politics at Lancaster University where he directs SEPAD, funded by Carnegie Corporation and The Henry Luce Foundation. Mabon is the author of a number of books on the contemporary Middle East including: Houses built on sand: Sectarianism, revolution and violence in the Middle East (Manchester University Press, 2020); Saudi Arabia and Iran: Soft Power Rivalry in the Middle East (IB Tauris, 2013); and The Struggle for Supremacy: Saudi Arabia and Iran (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). He has published in a range of Middle East and International Relations journals including: Review of International Studies; Middle East Journal; Middle East Policy; British Journal of Middle East Studies; Politics, Religion and Ideology; and Third World Quarterly. He regularly consults with governmental agencies and for international news outlets including the BBC, CNN, CNBC, Sky, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiyya, France 24, Deutsche Welle, and others. He tweets @profmabon.

Mustafa Menshawy is a Post Doctoral Fellow at the Lancaster University’s SEPAD (Sectarianism, Proxies and De-Sectarianisation). His work focuses on Middle East Studies, politics of authoritarianism, and regime-society relations. He is the author of State, Memory, and Egypt’s Victory in the 1973 War: Ruling by Discourse (2017) and Leaving the Muslim Brotherhood: Self, Society and the State (2020). He wrote articles for Politics, Middle Eastern Studies and Religions. He worked for the University of Westminster and the London School of Economics. Menshawy worked as a BBC reporter before moving into academia.

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01/07/21

Saudi Arabia’s new politics: Understanding rapprochement

Despite blockading fellow Gulf state Qatar for nearly three and a half years, primarily on the basis of its links to organisations of political Islam, the willingness of Saudi Arabia to end the dispute in January 2021 was not entirely unexpected. After all, together with its “Anti-Terror Quartet” allies – the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt – little progress had been made on bringing Qatar to heel, with none of the original thirteen “demands” of July 2017 having ever been met. Moreover, with then US president-elect Joe Biden preparing to take office, and with a number of senior White House appointees known to be highly critical of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (a.k.a. “MBS”), the annual GCC summit undoubtedly presented Riyadh with a timely opportunity to present itself as a more cooperative US security partner. Beyond such policy prospects, however, the apparent speed and smoothness of MBS’ Qatar U-turn has also helped underscore the fundamentally non-ideological nature of his emerging, more autocratic-authoritarian regime. As this article will demonstrate, MBS’ new Saudi politics strongly indicate that he and his inner circle have little time for the dominant ideologies of the region, including political Islam. Indeed, compared to earlier Saudi administrations with more complex approaches to Islamist organisations, MBS’ decisions seem to have been driven primarily by more realist, counter-ideological rationales. At the time he became crown prince in June 2017, he undoubtedly still saw potentially popular, post-Arab Spring Islamism as the greatest threat to his nascent rule, and unsurprisingly began to take a much harder line on domestic Islamist elements than any of his predecessors. More recently, however, with much of the immediate danger having seemingly subsided, he has not only softened his stance on Qatar but appears to have entered into strategic compromises with a number of Islamist groups and actors elsewhere in the region.

Christopher M. Davidson is a former reader in Middle East politics at Durham University in the UK and a former assistant professor at Zayed University in the UAE. His books on the comparative politics of the Gulf states include From Sheikhs to Sultanism: Statecraft and Authority in Saudi Arabia and the UAE (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021), After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); and Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

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01/07/21

The perception of Iran in the foreign policy-making of the GCC monarchies

The GCC monarchies have been split on Iran. While Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE tried to curtail Tehran’s regional action, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar took a more balanced posture to hedge the risks of regional instability. A mix of international, regional and domestic factors shaped the two approaches. Among them, the US retrenchment from the Middle East, the Arab Spring and the perception of Iran as an existential or a non-existential threat played a decisive role.

Cinzia Bianco is the Gulf Research Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, based in Berlin, where she is working on political, security and economic developments in the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf region and relations with Europe. Previously, Bianco was a research fellow for the European Commission’s project on EU-GCC relations ‘Sharaka’ between 2013 and 2014. She holds a PhD in Middle East Politics from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, where she worked on threat perceptions in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) after the 2011 Arab uprisings.

Tobias Borck is an Associate Fellow at RUSI, an independent researcher and analyst specialising in Middle East politics and security, and a PhD candidate at the Strategy and Security Institute at the University of Exeter. His doctoral research focuses on stability and regional order in the Middle East from the perspective of the Arab Gulf states. His other research interests include European – specifically German and British – foreign policy towards the Middle East.

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01/07/21

Saudi Arabian regional policy

The article examines how Saudi regional policy has been profoundly shaken under King Salman and his son Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman into an assertive one, stemming from the radical shift to a vertical and repressive domestic policy. It stresses how much the generational gap between both leaders, who do not share the same world vision, has created confusion and downgraded the Saudi leadership externally. The article also emphasises how Mohammed bin Salman is amending Saudi regional policy, as marked by the Covid-19 pandemic moment and the election of President Biden. This resolute, changing regional policy may help to restore Saudi Arabia’s regional voice due to its central positioning.

Fatiha Dazi-Héni is a researcher in Political science on Arab monarchies at IRSEM in Paris and Associated professor on Contemporary History in the Arabian Peninsula at the Political Institute of Lille. Her publications include Monarchie et Sociétés d’Arabie. Le temps des confrontations. (Presses de Sciences PO, 2006 and L’Arabie Saoudite en 100 questions, edited 3 times (Editions Tallendier: 2017, and Texto : 2018 and 2020). She has also published many articles on GCC states and societies, on sub-regional dynamics.

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01/07/21

The Al-Ula rapprochement: What is next?

The rift within the Gulf Cooperation Council has caused significant consequences among its member states, both in the region and globally. When simmering differences surfaced in 2017, borders were closed, contacts severed, and the future of the GCC seemed in doubt. Now, first steps have been taken to re-establish relations, build back trust and engage in an honest rapprochement. A significant transition was also seen in the policies of the regional states during the transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration. This article attempts to identify the future trajectories for the GCC and whether it will continue to function according to the pre-crisis status quo.

Mahjoob Zweiri is Director of the Gulf Studies Center and Associate Professor in Contemporary Politics of Iran and the Gulf at Qatar University. From March 2003 to December 2006, he was a research fellow and then director of the Centre for Iranian Studies in the Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Durham University. Dr. Zweiri has more than 70 publications in the areas of Iran and Contemporary Middle East History and Politics. In addition to Arabic, Dr Zweiri is fluent in Farsi and English.

Thomas Bonnie James is a PhD candidate in Gulf Studies in the Gulf Studies Center at Qatar University.

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01/07/21

The 2017-2021 Gulf rift: Strategic implications and the way forward

For more than three years, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates imposed an economic blockade and diplomatic sanctions on Qatar. In January 2021 the Emir of Qatar attended a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit and signed a reconciliation agreement in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia. I argue that this agreement should be seen more as a truce and less as a permanent peace. The roots of the rift have yet to be adequately addressed.

Gawdat Bahgat is a professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. He is the author of 12 books on the Middle East. The opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of the U.S. government or the policies of the Department of Defense.

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01/07/21

GCC states’ foreign policy and regional role

This article examines the foreign policies and regional roles of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states before, during, and after the ‘Gulf Crisis’ of 2017-21. Points of analysis include the rise of individual Gulf States as assertive regional actors, the impact of the Arab uprisings of 2011 on Gulf politics, the practical implications of the Gulf Crisis on the GCC as an institution, and the prospects for a durable reconciliation following the agreement signed at the Al-Ula summit in Saudi Arabia in January 2021.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen is a Fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston and an Associate Fellow with the Middle East North Africa Programme at Chatham House in London. He is the author of five books about the international relations, political economy and security of the Gulf States, including Insecure Gulf: The End of Certainty and the Transition to the Post-Oil Order (Hurst & Co., 2011), The United Arab Emirates: Power, Politics and Policymaking (Routledge, 2015), and Qatar and the Gulf Crisis (Oxford University Press, 2020).

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01/07/21

Orient III 2021

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen
GCC states’ foreign policy and regional role

Mahjoob Zweiri and Thomas Bonnie James
The Al-Ula rapprochement: What is next?

Gawdat Bahgat
The 2017-2021 Gulf rift: Strategic implications and the way forward

Simon Mabon and Mustafa Menshawy
The blockade, Islamism and intra-sectarian tensions: Explaining Saudi-Qatari tensions

Christopher M. Davidson
Saudi Arabia’s new politics: Understanding rapprochement

Fatiha Dazi-Héni
Saudi Arabian regional policy

Anoushiravan Ehteshami, Benjamin Houghton and Mirdef Alqashouti
Iran’s role in Gulf politics

Cinzia Bianco and Tobias Borck
The perception of Iran in the foreign policy-making

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01/04/21

Disentangling membership of Islamist parties in a post-ideological political arena: The PJD, Ennahda and Ra’am compared

Within the broader spectrum of Arab Islamist political parties, membership has taken on a deep meaning in terms of identity politics. By taking into account not only the diversity of Islamist parties but also the different political contexts they operate in and by opting for a broad conceptualisation of membership, this article aims to offer an overview of key Islamist parties’ strategies towards society, their appeal and their positioning in the domestic political game in three highlydifferent polities: the newly democratised Tunisia, Morocco’s partly liberalised autocracy and Israel’s consolidated but Jewish-majoritarian democracy. It will do so by disentangling the dimension of membership within the Justice and Development (Morocco), Ennahda (Tunisia) and Ra’am (Israel) parties, with an eye to pointing out the existing dialectic between the political parties as such and the religious movement they stem from. Beyond their differences, striking commonalities across these three case studies stand out, such as a pragmatic attitude accommodated to high Islamist moral standards, a strategy of soft penetration and active mobilisation of society, a core conservative constituency interested in upward mobility and a yearning for social change.

Giulia Cimini is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the University of Bologna with a fellowship supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation. In 2019, she was awarded a POMEPS TRE Grant for her research on marginalised communities and the challenges of decentralisation in Tunisia. She holds a PhD in International Studies and specialised in Middle Eastern Studies. Her main areas of expertise are Maghrebi political parties, security assistance, border communities and dynamics of contention.

Claudia De Martino is a researcher in MENA affairs at UNIMED, adjunct professor in postcolonial history at La Sapienza University and teacher of history and philosophy at the European High School Convitto Vittorio Emanuele II of Rome. In 2019 she obtained a master’s in development economics at the ILO/Turin. She was a post-doctoral fellow at the Orientale University of Naples within the EUSPRING project (2015-2016) in 2016 and DAAD annual scholarship recipient in 2015, having obtained her PhD in Mediterranean Social History at the Ca’ Foscari University in 2012.

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01/04/21

The role of the moderate Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in a future Syria

This article on the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria illustrates the movement’s political pragmatism and persistent commitment to parliamentary politics. An overview that places the Brotherhood’s ideology and political pragmatism in a dynamic relationship further shows the primacy of the Brotherhood’s political objectives. In moving away from scholarly approaches that aim to determine whether moderate Islamists are truly moderate or not moderate, the article focuses on the Brotherhood’s surrounding environment. In doing so, it demonstrates that the moderate Islamist Brotherhood’s stance on sovereignty is as much a consequence of its surrounding environment as of its ideology.

Hanlie Booysen is an adjunct research fellow in the Religious Studies programme at Victoria University of Wellington. Her research interest includes the relationship between Islam and politics, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim communities in Aotearoa New Zealand. Hanlie served as a diplomat in Jordan, Palestine and Syria for twelve years.

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01/04/21

Socio-economic factors of radicalisation in Tunisia and Egypt: What we (don’t) know

In spite of their very different political trajectories after the uprisings of 2011, both autocratic Egypt and democratic Tunisia have seen a wave of Islamist radicalisation over the last few years. One very prominent explanation for this development is widespread socio-economic grievances. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the state of knowledge about the socioeconomic factors related to radicalisation in Tunisia and Egypt and identifies research gaps to be addressed in the future.

Clara-Auguste Süß is a doctoral researcher at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) and member of the PRIF’s research group “Radicalisation”. Her research concentrates on Islamist radicalisation, political transformation and marginalisation in the Maghreb, focusing particularly on Tunisia.

Irene Weipert-Fenner is a senior research fellow at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) and holds a PhD in political science from Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany. She works on authoritarian regimes and democratisation as well as on social movements in MENA.

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