France Likely to Dial Down Relations with Qatar After Election

Doha Qatar
Tilt-shift perspective of Doha, Qatar, May 21, 2010 (Joey Gannon)

The cozy relationship enjoyed between France and Qatar may come to an end after the election on Sunday. Both Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have bashed the Persian Gulf state on the campaign trail.

“I will put an end to the agreements that favor Qatar in France,” Macron, the frontrunner, said last month. “I think there was a lot of complacencies, during Nicolas Sarkozy’s five-year term in particular.”

Sarkozy, a conservative, intensified cooperation with Qatar. His left-wing successor, François Hollande, did not reverse the policy.

Macron, a former economy minister under Hollande, has pledged to demand that Western allies in the Middle East, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, show a “new transparency as to their role in financing or other actions regarding terrorist groups that are our enemies.” Read more “France Likely to Dial Down Relations with Qatar After Election”

Obama Escapes Nixon Treatment for Holiday Bombings

Richard Nixon Joseph Luns
American president Richard Nixon of the United States and King Baudouin of Belgium listen to a speech by NATO secretary general and former Dutch foreign minister Joseph Luns in Brussels, June 26, 1974 (NATO)

In the fall of 1972, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and a North Vietnamese peace delegation led by Lê Đức Thọ reached a preliminary peace agreement in Paris that would eventually lead to the end of the Vietnam War, at the time America’s longest war. Kissinger had deliberately kept South Vietnamese negotiators in the dark and when he arrived in Saigon to deliver the agreement for their approval, South Vietnamese negotiators had not been involved in the process.

Saigon rejected the plan, which was effectively the death warrant for thousands of South Vietnamese in the South, and asked its views be included in the ceasefire agreement. South Vietnamese president Nguyễn Văn Thiệu accosted Kissinger, “Are you trying to win the Peace Prize?”

Conversely, the North Vietnamese government in Hanoi flatly refused to make even minor concessions, setting the stage for the December 1972 bombing of North Vietnam and the mining of Haiphong harbor by the United States. Formally known as Linebacker II, the operation became known as the “Christmas Bombings” by Richard Nixon’s critics.

Kissinger indeed later won the Nobel Peace Prize and, eventually, the North Vietnamese agreed to allow South Vietnamese input and an eventual ceasefire. Read more “Obama Escapes Nixon Treatment for Holiday Bombings”

Crossed Swords? Rethinking the “Clash” of Christians and Muslims

Ian Almond, Two Faiths, One Banner: When Muslims Marched with Christians Across Europe's Battlegrounds (2011)
Ian Almond, Two Faiths, One Banner: When Muslims Marched with Christians Across Europe’s Battlegrounds (2011)

Since Samuel Huntington unveiled his “Clash of Civilization” thesis in a 1993 Foreign Affairs article, a cottage industry of critiques have emerged to challenge it. Great thinkers, such as Amartya Sen, Amin Maalouf and Edward Said, have expended time and ink to refute Huntington’s controversial thesis. For the most part, these works have presented rationale critiques that focus on theoretical problems raised by Samuel Huntington’s board game like simplification of geopolitics and global history. Few of these critiques have, however, tried to counter Huntington’s argument with primary source research or been as readable as Ian Almond’s Two Faiths One Banner: When Muslims Marches with Christians Across Europe’s Battlegrounds (2011).

In this slim book, Almond shows that European history is far more muddled than Huntington’s depiction of one overarching “clash” between two visions of Abrahamic monotheism. Indeed the individual motivations and allegiances proves far to complex to paint with even the most vivid neoconservative or Marxist brush strokes. In making this argument, Almond cuts across wide historical periods, as well as the politics of several different centuries, demonstrating a mastery of facts, figures and a flair for colorful details. Read more “Crossed Swords? Rethinking the “Clash” of Christians and Muslims”

Argentina Might Lead Wave of Resource Nationalism

Despite the Arab Spring, it was not a Middle Eastern country which grabbed biggest headlines for resource nationalism in 2012. It was Argentina, where populist President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner proposed a bill on April 16 to renationalize Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), the country’s largest energy company. Her idea was subsequently approved in early May 2012 by the Argentinian legislature.

The move sent shock waves across the global energy industry, the desks of geostrategists and political risk consultants. Leaders from Europe to Mexico rushed to criticize the move. Kirchner cited the need to keep energy prices manageable for Argentinians but at that time, the price of gasoline within the country was actually less than the price at the pump to be found in some of its neighbors.

The renationalization of YPF, at the time largely owned by Spain’s Repsol, came at a time when some geostrategists were predicting a shift in global energy politics from the Middle East to the Americas. North and South America are home to the largest oil resources outside of the Middle East and North Africa. Read more “Argentina Might Lead Wave of Resource Nationalism”

Egypt’s Opposition Tactics: Mayhem, Canal City Strikes

Egyptians demonstrate in Cairo, January 25, 2012
Egyptians demonstrate in Cairo, January 25, 2012 (Lilian Wagdy)

The past month has seen the emergence of two very different approaches to street protests in Egypt.

On the one hand, the use of violence as a means of protest has gained renewed vigor. Port Said erupted into clashes at the end of January after death sentences were issued to 21 people for their role in the deadly football riots the year before. And a new, violent and mysterious protest group called the Black Bloc has emerged in the last few weeks whose predilection for street fighting and aggressive tactics has become well known.

On the other hand, however, resistance to President Mohamed Morsi’s government is evolving in other ways. Recently in Port Said, although violence has continued, there has also been a marked shift toward organized strikes and civil disobedience. Read more “Egypt’s Opposition Tactics: Mayhem, Canal City Strikes”

In Cairo, a Free Market Experiment Underway

The skyline of Cairo, Egypt, December 18, 2008
The skyline of Cairo, Egypt, December 18, 2008 (Ed Yourdon)

Near the middle of Tahrir Square a sign nestled among the tents proclaims to pedestrians that they stand in “The Free Republic of Tahrir.” While protesters seek political reform, Tahrir’s entrepreneurs have continued to evolve with Egypt’s political situation and continue to meet the needs of new customers. Read more “In Cairo, a Free Market Experiment Underway”

Azerbaijan’s Necessary Energy Diversification

The ink dried in 1994 on the “deal of the century” between Azerbaijan, BP and a number of Western oil companies. It paved the way for Azerbaijan to become one of the world’s most pivotal oil and gas exporters under the direction of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR).

But in a new century, even hydrocarbon rich Azerbaijan must begin considering ways to diversify its energy portfolio. Furthermore, developing alternative sources of energy within Azerbaijan would leave more natural gas for export and help diversify the Azerbaijani economy.

A Chinese proverb notes, “A partnership is like a marriage; you sleep in the same bed but have different dreams.” Still there is no doubting the significance of the oil deal signed that September 1994. Azerbaijan was recovering from a disastrous war with Armenia in which up to one million Azeris from Armenia and the Karabakh region were displaced and major damage had been sustained to Azerbaijan’s economy. At the time the Caucasus was a forgotten region on the world map, a mere byproduct of the dissolution of the Cold War. But for international oil companies, the region was not without opportunities nor its political risks. Read more “Azerbaijan’s Necessary Energy Diversification”