A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

June 1917: Enter Allenby

A century ago, at midnight on January 28-29 in Cairo, command of British forces in Egypt was transferred from Archibald Murray to a new commander, who had arrived three days before. It was a crucial moment for British military fortunes in the Middle East. Murray had been on the way out since April after his second failure to take Gaza. The replacement was Edmund Allenby, a cavalryman and veteran of the Boer War and he Western Front. Nicknamed "the Bull," he was known as an aggressive fighter.
Eric Kennington portrait
Allenby was a much-needed breath of fresh air. He streamlined the staff, cut paperwork, and would soon transfer his headquarters from Cairo to the Palestine Front. In the meantime he visited the Front near Gaza. The Eastern Force Commander, Sir Phillip Chetwode, had served with Allenby before.
Allenby was far more energetic and aggressive than Murray had been. Though when he learned of his Egyptian appointment he is said to have felt he was being demoted, until Prime Minister Lloyd
George persuaded him that the East was where real breakthroughs could be made.

At the end of July, Allenby learned that his only son had been killed on the Western Front. He responded by throwing himself into his work..

Friday, June 23, 2017

‘Eid al-Fitr Greetings

‘Eid al-Fitr begins this weekend. Greetings to my Muslim readers.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Apotheosis of Muhammad bin Salman

When I wrote my post last week on "The Splintering Gulf," I promised another post that would include the dramatic changes in Saudi policy, but illness and deadlines intruded, and now the architect of those policies has been named Crown Prince.

Though some are calling it a surprise move, few should be really surprised. Since his father ascended the throne two years  ago, he has steadily consolidated power, and now he has replaced his uncle,Muhammad bin Nayef, as heir to the throne. In a country long ruled by a gerontocracy, the Crown Prince is 31, half a century younger than the 81 year old King.

For most of the 20th century, Middle East analysts could take one thing for granted: Saudi policy would be cautious, conservative, and risk-averse. But no more. In Yemen, the Kingdom has been pursuing an aggressive war against a perceived enemy. And while the new Crown Prince, known as "MbS" to his Western admirers. is openly supportive of the US, he is also marked on an open challenge to a key US Ally, Qatar. Risk-averse Saudi Arabia is now risk-taking, and much can go wrong.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Splintering Gulf

The ostracism of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, and Yemen may be much more dangerous than the usual Middle Eastern feud. It has real potential to escalate into into military conflict or subversion and civil strife which could spread not just in the Gulf but beyond to the entire region. The rivalries and resentments that lie behind the dispute are of longstanding and hardly new.The Gulf has a long history of dynastic disputes, rivalries between and within ruling families, territorial disputes on land and sea, fierce rivalries over resources, and other issues. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), formed in 1981 partly in response to the Iranian Revolution and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, represented six countries which, despite their quarrels, had a great deal in common: all were conservative Arab monarchies; all were, to a greater or lesser degree, dependent on hydrocarbon resources; all were pro-Western; many were former British protectorates. Although several countries had Shi‘ite minorities and Bahrain a majority, all five had Sunni ruling elites. Oman, the odd man out, with its ‘Ibadi tradition and traditional ties with India and East Africa, would also pursue the most independent policies of the lot.

In the 37 years since the formation of the GCC, much has changed. Of the rulers of 1981, only Sultan Qabus is still on the throne. The upheavals we increasingly mislabel Arab Spring provoked rivalries and divisions among the GCC states, as did the increasing role of Iran in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

But I think two other enormous shifts (for now, let's leave the earthquake in US policy aside), were two major shifts which I will discuss at greater length tomorrow: the ever-cautious Seaudi Arabia's sudden assertiveness, even aggressiveness, and Israel's increasing strategic alliance with the Saudis and their allies. More tomorrow.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Operation Moked (Focus): The Fifth of June

I had hoped to write something substantive for the 50th anniversary of the war that changed the Middle East, but I'm ill and behind on work, so for now (it should read 67, not 07):