Category Archives: Conflict and Resolution

Saudi’s National Identity

Saudi’s National Identity

“I’m telling you, you can’t compare Saudi Arabia to other countries”

– Al-Waleed bin Talal

The ‘Modern’ Saudi

Saudi Arabia has spent much of the 20th and 21st century asserting a unique form of national identity within the Middle East; one that argues that it is the leader of global Islam and, as such, the spiritual and political head of the Ummah (the Arabic term for the supra-national Islamic world).

This identity, and the need to create this identity, has defined the international relationship Saudi Arabia has had with its neighbours in the Middle East and, although it has managed to give Saudi Arabia some political dominance over the affairs of the Gulf Region and wider world, it has also brought them into direct rivalry with others in the region, in particular Iran, who have a divergent geopolitical vision for the world. This rivalry has never resulted in anything more than proxy conflicts in the past, but Saudi’s continued pursuit of regional political authority may well lead it to conflict in 2016.

The root of its national identity lies in the religious divides that have defined the Islamic World for centuries. Sunni and Shi’a Islam have two opposing interpretations of the religion, rooted in the historical succession to Mohammed, and each have a political proponent in Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively. This rivalry is greater than a simple difference of opinion and it has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands. It has created an intractable conflict between two religious identities that, in the modern world, has divided communities as much as it has divided nation states.

Across the Middle East there is now a split between Sunni and Shi’a communities. Iraq, Bahrain, Syria and Saudi Arabia are all split along sectarian lines and whilst Iraq and Syria have descended into violence, Saudi Arabia has managed to contain its own sectarian struggles. However, through its decision to intervene militarily in Syria and Yemen, through its suppression of Shi’a opponents (culminating in the execution of 41 prisoners) and through its continued aggression towards Iran, it has risked its future stability.

In Yemen the Saudi led coalition has targeted Houthi rebels in a war that has pitched the Shi’a rebels (characterised by Saudi Arabia as terrorists) against the ‘saviour’ of Sunni Islam. It has become a nationalist struggle and signals a new period in Saudi Arabia’s military strength, in which it is prepared to commit troops to wars abroad. This all  symbolises the ‘new’ Saudi Arabia which is focused on its preeminent role in Middle Eastern affairs.

However, this new foreign policy agenda is provocative. Saudi nationalism has come at the price of Middle Eastern security. It has led to protests from its own Shi’a minority in the East who are seeking greater representation in politics and want to challenge the authority of the ruling Saud family. This resentment from its Shi’a minority has been brutally repressed by the Saudi regime and many of the individuals executed in the most recent round of government ‘justice’ were protestors who argued against government policies.

The restriction of free press has become a part of the new Saudi national identity. It sees the Gulf Region as the centre of a vast battle between the two sides of Islam and with its political future staked on wining this battle against Iran, it cannot allow any threats to go unnoticed.  Protest and political criticism is the biggest threat to Saudi Arabia’s stability.

So what could a potential future for Saudi Arabia entail?

If Saudi Arabia continues its pursuit of a supra-national Sunni identity it will come into conflict with Iran. The Sunni-Shi’a split is arguably the most ingrained division in politics, based on thousands of years of history, and it will not be solved simply. When this religious divide is combined with the geopolitical conflict between the Saudi and Iranian desire for regional dominance, the potential for conflict is vast. The two nations are already entrenched in conflicts around the region, supporting opposing sides (although neither side supports Islamic State, despite seeing alternative ways in which to end the conflict) and these positions have already resulted in political controversy, from accusations of supplying weapons to claims that air raids have been used to target political, as well as military, targets.

From here the potential for face-to-face conflict is very real. Saudi Arabia and Iran have begun an escalation of tensions that, unstopped, would only lead to open warfare. This war would be a war for regional dominance and for economic and political superiority. It would determine the future of many other nations in the region, such as Syria and Iraq, and, most importantly, it would confirm who had authority of the Ummah and thus the Islamic world.

By Peter Banham

The Atomic Question

The Atomic Question

The question we still have to deal with is, what role does the nuclear bomb or nuclear power have in our world today? What have we learnt in the last 70 years since America made the decision to drop two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Unfortunately we are no closer to a clear answer. We have seen the devastation caused by nuclear weapons and we have seen what could happen if we lose control of our nuclear energy programme, but we can also see the necessity of nuclear weapons as part of our political and security policies and the importance of nuclear power in creating a sustainable future. It remains one of the most complex issues faced by our society today and we may have to wait many more years until we have an answer to give Continue Reading

Germany and Ukraine – A Way out for the Ukraine Conundrum?

Germany and Ukraine – A Way out for the Ukraine Conundrum?

Germany’s Toxic Issue The face-off between the Western world and Russia, over the Ukraine issue, has had political ramifications all over the globe and in particular between Germany and Ukraine. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is in a hurry to put things back to normal in Europe. In a recent press briefing Chancellor Merkel stated that… Continue Reading

Is Argentina Being Left Behind?

Is Argentina Being Left Behind?

Argentina has been left reeling this week after a political scandal engulfed the government. Alberto Nisman, a renowned Argentinian lawyer, investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires, was found dead last week. He had caused great controversy by arguing that the Argentinian government has continually covered up Iran’s involvement in the attack. Many believe that his death is not only suspicious but is likely to have been a politically motivated murder aiming to destabilise the case he was building against the government, or indeed to destabilise the government itself. Continue Reading

If We Burn, You Burn With Us…

If We Burn, You Burn With Us…

Revolution is one of the most overused and controversial words in politics. It has been used to inspire a population, condemn the actions of a minority and define the change that upended society. They have been popular uprisings and violence anarchy, but is there a common nature that unites revolution and how is it that revolutions are seen differently in the course of history. Continue Reading

Beyond the Hotel – Trinidad, Paradise and Politics

Beyond the Hotel – Trinidad, Paradise and Politics

behind the ‘paradise’ exterior of Trinidad there is a violent undercurrent of fundamental politics. Nationalism, fundamental Islam, socialism and crime combine in parts of the Caribbean to create a nation that diverges greatly from our perceived notion of these islands. Ultimately the beaches and hotels only part describe the Caribbean and the reality is that the politics of this region reveal the Caribbean, if only we can go beyond the hotel. Continue Reading

20 Years On, Has Africa Learnt the Lessons of Rwanda?

20 Years On, Has Africa Learnt the Lessons of Rwanda?

In April, 1994 a wave of violence spread through the small African nation of Rwanda, dividing the country between the Hutu’s and the Tutsi’s and causing the deaths of close to a million people. It was one of the worst genocides in history and created a scar across the heart of Africa. But has Africa learnt from the tragedy of this genocide, has it moved on? Continue Reading

Is Venezuela on Rocky Ground?

Is Venezuela on Rocky Ground?

Venezuela is on rocky ground. The nation’s stability is wearing increasingly thin and the protests show little sign of slowing down. The world is distracted by events elsewhere around the world and there is a risk that unless something changes we risk seeing another country descend into chaos whilst the international community stands by. Continue Reading

‘Russian Bear Tactics’: How Russia Continues to Dominate the East

‘Russian Bear Tactics’: How Russia Continues to Dominate the East

Ever since the fall of Communism Russia has worked hard to determine how it fits into a world system where it is no longer a global superpower. The answer has been to assert regional dominance on the nations that broke away from the control of the USSR in the 1990’s. From Eastern Europe through to Central Asia nations have spent twenty years battling against Russian overtures to influence their governments. Continue Reading

How Will the PKK Withdrawal Affect Turkey and the Region?

How Will the PKK Withdrawal Affect Turkey and the Region?

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series A 'New' Turkey

It has been widely reported this week that the PKK (Kurdish Worker’s Party) has begun a withdrawal from Turkey following a ceasefire. Like the Northern Ireland conflict in Great Britain or the Basque Insurgency in Spain the Kurdish conflict has been a barrier to Turkey’s progression to a peaceful state. But what impact will this movement have on Turkey, Iraq and the wider region? Continue Reading

The Insurgency Still Tearing Apart the Philippines

The Insurgency Still Tearing Apart the Philippines

The Philippines is a fractured state; the Earth’s tectonic activity has seen to that, but amongst the myriad of islands lie the roots of an internal conflict that has torn apart the nation. This conflict is one of the oldest, ongoing military struggles in the world today, having started in 1942 during the confusion of World War II. However, the conflict has faded in the global conscience and the focus of Filipino discourse has shifted towards its economic development Continue Reading

A Country You Know Little About…But Should (Part 2) – El Salvador

A Country You Know Little About…But Should (Part 2) – El Salvador

El Salvador is often the forgotten nation of Central America. Mexico is the guiding political power, Costa Rica and Belize are famed for their natural beauty, Panama for its canal and Nicaragua (unfortunately) for its troubled past and history. Yet El Salvador has all the above; beautiful landscapes defined by volcanoes, beaches and tropical rainforests; a complex and varied history and an economy that is growing rapidly. Continue Reading

Are Mali’s Neighbours Really at Threat?

Are Mali’s Neighbours Really at Threat?

The recent conflict in Mali has highlighted to the world the rising power of Islamist groups, such as Ansar Dine and AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), in the region and the governments of the West have been increasingly concerned that this could open a new front in the fight against religious extremism. What politicians have most worries about, is that the threat in Mali could spread around the region. Continue Reading

Palestine in 2012: Statehood and Leadership

Palestine in 2012: Statehood and Leadership

Palestine is undergoing a period of change in which issues of statehood, security and leadership are all under scrutiny by the world media and by political figures. It is the perennial unrecognised state, one which has limited political and social recognition on the international stage but is always striving for greater power and control within the region Continue Reading

Life in the World’s Poorest Nation

Life in the World’s Poorest Nation

Life in the world’s poorest nations is tough. For those who live in these nations poverty is high, with many of basic services in society being relatively non-existent. There are many reasons for this extreme economic deprivation, but for the nations that top the lists of the world’s poorest states the main driver in human conflict. Continue Reading

Interesting, Iconic, Odd: Britain’s Global Invasions

Interesting, Iconic, Odd: Britain’s Global Invasions

Stuart Laycock concluded in his book, All the Countries We’ve Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To, that Britain has invaded all but 22 nations worldwide. Britain has always been a military nation and Britain’s global invasions tell the story of British history, from India to Ethopia and into the modern world. Continue Reading