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[Rory Medcalf, Indo-Pacific Empire. China and the Contest for the World's Pivotal Region (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020) 310 pp].
review / Salvador Sánchez Tapia
In 2016, Prime Minister Abe of Japan and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, took a trip on the bullet train between Tokyo and Kobe to visualise the birth of a new era of bilateral cooperation. On the basis of this anecdote, Rory Medcalf offers the reader a reconceptualisation of the world's most dynamic region that leaves behind the one that, due to American influence, has for some time dominated under the label 'Asia-Pacific', and which does not reflect a broader geopolitical reality.
The degree scroll of the book is somewhat misleading, as it seems to allude to eventual world dominance from the Indo-Pacific region, and the struggle of China and the United States for it. This is not what the book offers.
For Medcalf, an Australian who has spent many years working in his country's foreign service, "Indo-Pacific" is an alternative geopolitical concept that encompasses a vast and eminently maritime region comprising the Pacific and Indian Oceans, through which most global maritime trade flows, as well as the coastal territories connected by both seas. At the centre of this immense and diverse space are Australia, acting as a sort of hinge, and the area of Southeast Asia that includes the Strait of Malacca, a vital maritime passage.
The proposed geopolitical approach serves as an argument for articulating a regional response to China's growing and increasingly threatening power that does not involve confrontation or submissive capitulation. In the author's words, it is an attempt, made from a liberal point of view, to counter China's desire to capitalise on the region to its advantage.
In this sense, Medcalf's proposal is about the region's middle powers - India, Australia, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc. - achieving greater coordination to shape a future that takes into account China's legitimate interests, but in which these powers effectively balance Beijing's power. The future of the region must be designed with China, but not imposed by China. Nor by the United States, which is nevertheless recognised as an actor core topic in the region, and whose support the author is counting on to flesh out the idea.
The book follows a chronological storyline with three distinct parts: past, present and future. The first part sets out the historical reasons for considering the Indo-Pacific as a region in its own right, and sample the shortcomings of the "Asia-Pacific" view.
presentation The present block is descriptive in nature and briefly describes the main actors on the Indo-Pacific stage, China's growing military power, and how China is using it to return, reminiscent of the time of the Chinese navigator Zheng He, core topic to the Indian Ocean, which has now become an arena of geo-economic and geopolitical confrontation, as well as an important part of China's economic growth as a route for the resources the country needs, and as a maritime part of the global project of the new Silk Road.
As for the future, Medcalf offers his proposal for the region, based on a geopolitical outline in which Australia, of course, occupies a central place. On a scale ranging from cooperation to conflict, through coexistence, competition and confrontation, the author argues for the coexistence of the Indo-Pacific players with China, and proposes actions in the three areas of promoting development in the countries most vulnerable to Chinese influence - and in some cases Chinese extortion; Deterrence, in which the United States will continue to play a central role, but which cannot be based exclusively on its nuclear power, but rather on the growth of the military capabilities of the countries in the region; and diplomacy, exercised at various levels - bilateral, multilateral, and "minilateral" - to generate mutual trust and establish norms that avoid an escalation towards confrontation and even conflict.
These three instruments should be accompanied by the internship of two principles: solidarity and resilience. The former seeks a greater capacity to manage China's rise in a way that promotes a balance between balancing power and rapprochement, avoiding the extremes of containment and accommodation to the giant's designs. Second, the region's states are becoming more resilient to China's power and more capable of recovering from its negative effects.
There is no doubt that this geopolitical approach , which follows in the wake of Japan's "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" policy, is made from a distinctly Australian perspective and that, consciously or not, it enhances the role of this continent-nation, and serves its particular interests in defining its place in the world and maintaining a secure and stable environment in the face of an increasingly threatening China.
While recognising this motivation, which is a logical consequence of applying the old concepts of realism, the proposal vision is not without merit. For one thing, it allows China to be conceptualised in a way that captures the interest in the Indian Ocean as integral to China's view of itself in relation to the world. For another, it serves as a wake-up call, both to the many Asian middle powers and to the small Pacific island states, about the Chinese threat, offering the manna of an alternative to conflict or uncritical submission to the Chinese giant. Finally, it incorporates - at least conceptually - the United States, together with India and Japan, into a multinational effort capable, given the economic and demographic weight of the participants, of balancing China's power.
If the intention of the concept is to foster awareness in the region of the need to balance China's power, then it can be argued that the overly Australian-centric proposal completely omits China's land dimension, and the desirability of incorporating into that balance other regional middle powers that, while not among the maritime powers, share with them a fear of China's growing power. Similarly, although the coastal nations of Africa and the Americas might be thought to form an integral part of the entity defined by the Indo-Pacific basins, they are conspicuously absent from the geopolitical design , with the exception of the United States and Russia. References to Africa are rare; Central and South America are simply unnamed.
It is, at final, an interesting work that addresses an important global issue from a novel, realistic and considered perspective, without falling into doomsday scenarios, but opening a door to a somewhat hopeful future in which a China that is dominant but whose power, it is argued, may already have reached its peak, can give rise to the flourishing of a shared space at the heart of a reconnected world in a way that the ancient navigators could not even have imagined.
The two countries are greatly exposed to solar radiation and they already share electricity interconnectors.
The two countries are greatly exposed to solar radiation and they already share electricity interconnectors.
Spain was an early developer of solar energy, but it didn't keep the pace with the required investments. The effort in renewables should mean a clear increase in installed capacity for solar energy. A partnership with Morocco, gifted with even stronger solar resources, could benefit both countries in producing and marketing this particular renewable energy. Spain and Morocco are about to have a third electricity interconnector.
ARTICLE / Ane Gil
Spain has a lot of potential in solar energy. Currently, its Germany who produces more photovoltaic electricity than Spain, Portugal or Italy in Europe. In fact, in 2019, Germany produced five times more solar energy than Spain (50 GW of installed capacity versus just 11 GW). This fact has little to do with the raw solar energy that the countries receive, considering that Spain is located in Southern Europe.
For how much solar irradiation Spain receives, the solar energy it produces is scarce. Up until 2013, the installed capacity for solar energy grew rapidly. However, since then, the country has fallen behind many other European countries in the development of capacity. The country initially had a leading role in the development of solar power, with low prices that encouraged a boom in solar power installed capacity. However, because of the 2008 financial crisis, the Spanish government drastically cut its subsidies for solar power and limited any future increases in capacity to 500 MW per year. Between 2012 and 2016, Spain was left waiting while other countries developed. The cost of this was high, seeing as Spain lost much of its world leading status to countries such as Germany, China and Japan.
However, as a legacy from Spain's earlier development of solar power, in 2018 Spain became the first country in the world using concentrated solar power system (CSP), which accounts for almost a third of solar power installed capacity in the country. Nevertheless, in 2019, Spain installed 4,752 MW of photovoltaic solar energy, which situated Spain as the sixth leading country in the world. As of 2019, Spain has a total installed solar generation capacity of 11,015 MW: 8,711 of photovoltaic energy and 2,304 of solar thermal.
Photovoltaic solar (PV) energy is usually used for smaller-scale electricity projects. The devices generate electricity directly from sunlight via an electronic process that occurs naturally on semiconductors, converting it into usable electricity that can be stored in a solar battery of sent to the electric grid. Solar thermal energy (STE) capture is usually used for electricity production on a massive scale, for its use in the industry.
Low solar energy generated in Spain
By 2020, Spain national system has reached the maximum generation capacity ever recorded: 110,000 MW of wind energy, photovoltaic (PV), hydraulic, conventional thermal power (natural gas, coal, fuel oil), nuclear, etc. This amount of energy contrasts with the increasingly thin demand of power, which in 2019 was 40,000 MW (40 GW). According to the data published by network Electrica de España, the renewable quota of energy amount to a total of 55,247 MW (55 GW out of 110 GW). This 55 GW is composed of 46% corresponding to wind energy, 16% are photovoltaic and the rest (38%) corresponds to other renewable technologies. During 2019, the national renewable production has been 97,826 GW-hour, which represents 37.5% of the kilowatt-hour that the country demanded last year (the remaining 62.5% has been produced in nuclear power plants or facilities that burn fossil fuels).
So, we can clearly see that the percentage of solar energy is extremely low (3,5% solar photovoltaic and 2% solar thermic of the total kilowatts-hour generated). Nevertheless, Spain has the capability to increase these numbers. According to a report on power potential by country published by the World Bank, Spain has a long-term energy availability of solar resource at any location (average theoretical potential) of 4.575 kilowatts-hour per square metre (kWh/m2). This potential is indicated by the variable of global horizontal irradiation (GHI) on the country, which will vary according to the local factors of the land. Furthermore, the power output achievable by a typical PV system, taking into consideration the theoretical potential and the local factors of the land (average practical potential) is 4.413 kWh, excluding areas due to physical/technical constraints (rugged terrain, urbanized/industrial areas, forests...) PV power output (PVOUT), power generated per unit of the installed PV capacity over the long-term, is an average of 1.93 kilowatt-hours per installed kilowatt-peak of the system capacity (kWh/kWp). It varies according to the season from 1.43 to 2.67 kWh/kWp. Finally, it's worth mentioning that Spain's electric consumption (balance of production and external trade) in 2019 was of 238 TWh (= 2.38 x1011 kWh).
Morocco's solar energy plan
Africa is the continent that receives most solar irradiance, thus being the optimal continent to exploit solar energy. In this regard, Morocco is already aiming to take advantage of this natural resource. At first, this country launched a solar energy plan with investment of USD 9 billion, aiming to generate 2,000 MW (or 2 GW) of solar power by 2020. It has developed mega-scale solar power projects at five locations; at the Sahara (Laayoune), Western Sahara (Boujdour), South of Agadir (Tarfaya), Ain Beni Mathar and Ouarzazate. But Morocco is planning to go further. Morocco announced during COP21 that it planned to increase the renewables capacity to reach 52% of the total by 2030 (20% solar, 20% wind, 12% hydro). To meet the 2030 target, the country aims to add around 10 GW of renewable capacities between 2018 and 2030, consisting of 4,560 MW of solar, 4,200 MW of wind, and 1,330 MW of hydropower capacity. The Moroccan Agency for Renewable Energy revealed that by the end of 2019, Morocco's renewable energy reached 3,685 megawatts (MW), including 700 MW of solar energy, 1,215 MW of wind power, and 1,770 MW of hydroelectricity.
Now, what would happen if Spain partnered up with Morocco? Morocco is the only African country to have a power cable link to Europe. In fact, it's through Spain that these two electricity interconnectors arrive to Europe. The first subsea interconnection, with a technical capacity of 700 MW, was commissioned in 1997 and started commercial operation in 1998. The second was commissioned in the summer of 2016. Furthermore, a new interconnection had been commissioned. This should not only reduce the price of electricity in the Spanish market but it should also allow the integration of renewable energy, mainly photovoltaic, into European electricity system.
Moreover, network Electrica de España (REE) stated that a collaborations agreement between the Spain and Morocco had been formed "to establish a strategic partnership on energy, whose objectives will be focused on the integration of networks and energy markets, the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency". But the possibilities don't stop there. If both countries further develop their solar energy capacities, they could jointly provide enough electricity to sustain Europe, through sustainable and renewable resources.
[Barack Obama, A Promised Land (discussion: Madrid, 2020), 928 pp.]
review / Emili J. Blasco
A president's memoirs are always an attempt to justify his political actions. Having employee George W. Bush used less than five hundred pages in "Decision Points" to try to explain the reasons for a more controversial management in principle, that Barack Obama used almost a thousand pages for the first part of his memoirs (A promised land The fact that no US president has ever required so much space in this exercise of wanting to tie up his bequest.
It is true that Obama has a taste for the pen, with some previous books in which he has already demonstrated good storytelling, and it is possible that this literary inclination has won him over. But probably more decisive has been Obama's vision of himself and his presidency: the conviction of having a mission statement, as the first African-American president, and his ambition to bend the arc of history. As time goes by and Obama starts to become just another in the list of presidents, his book vindicates the historic character of his person and his achievements.
The first third of A Promised Land is particularly interesting. There is a brief overview of his life before entrance in politics and then the detail of his degree program to the White House. This part has the same inspirational charge that made so attractive My Father's Dreams, the book that Obama published in 1995 when he launched his campaign for the Illinois Senate (in Spain it appeared in 2008, following his campaign for the presidency). We can all draw very useful lessons for our own self-improvement staff: the idea of being masters of our destiny, of becoming aware of our deepest identity, and the security that this gives us to carry out many enterprises of great value and transcendence; to put all our efforts into a goal and take advantage of opportunities that may not come again; in final, to always think outside the box (when Obama saw that his work as senator of Illinois had little impact, his decision was not to leave politics, but to jump to the national level: He ran for senator in Washington and from there, just four years later, he reached the White House). The pages are also rich in lessons on political communication and election campaigns.
But when the narrative begins to address the presidential term, which began in January 2009, that inspirational tone drops. What was once a succession of generally positive adjectives towards everyone begins to include diatribes against his Republican opponents. And here is the point that Obama is unable to overcome: giving himself all the moral credit and denying it to those whose votes in the congress disagreed with the legislation promoted by the new president. It is true that Obama had a very frontal civil service examination from the Republican leaders in the Senate and the House of Representatives, but they also supported some of his initiatives, as Obama himself acknowledges. For the rest, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Large swathes of Republicans were quick to jump on the bandwagon, as the Tea Party tide in the 2010 midterm elections soon made clear (in a movement that would eventually lead to support for Trump), but Obama had also arrived with the most left-leaning positions in US politics in living memory. With his idealistic drive, Obama had set little example of bipartisan effort in his time in the Illinois and Washington Senate; when some of his reforms from the White House were blocked in the congress, instead of seeking accommodation - accepting a politics of the possible - he took to the streets to pit citizens against politicians who opposed his transformations, further entrenching the trenches of one side against the other.
The British historian Niall Ferguson has pointed out that the Trump phenomenon would not be understood without Obama's previous presidency, although the bitter political divide in the United States is probably a matter of a deep current in which leaders play a less central role than we might suppose. Obama saw himself as ideally suited, because of his cultural mix (black, but raised by his white mother and grandparents), to bridge the widening rift in US society, but he was unable to build the necessary ideological bridges. Bill Clinton faced a similar Republican blockade, in the congress led by Newt Gingrich, and made compromises that were useful: he reduced ideological baggage and brought an economic prosperity that relaxed public life.
A Promised Land includes many of Obama's reflections. He generally provides the context necessary to understand the issues, for example in the gestation of the 2008 financial crisis. In foreign policy he details the state of relations with major powers: animosity towards Putin and suspicion of China, among other issues. There are areas with different possible ways forward where Obama leaves no room for a legitimate alternative position: thus, in a particularly emblematic topic , he charges Netanyahu without admitting any mistakes of his own in his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. This is something that other reviews of the book have noted: the absence of self-criticism (beyond admitting sins of omission in not having been as bold as he might have wished), and the failure to admit that in some respects perhaps the opponent might have been right.
The narrative is well-paced internally, despite the many pages. The volume ends in 2011, at a random point in time determined by the anticipated length of a second submission; however, it has a sufficiently strong climax: the operation against Osama bin Laden, for the first time told in the first person by the person at the highest level of command. Although the Degree involvement of other hands in the essay of the work is unknown, it has a point of lyricism that connects directly with Los sueños de mi padre (My Father's Dreams) and which financial aid leads us to attribute it, at least to a large extent, to the former president himself.
The book contains many episodes of the Obamas' domestic life. Obama's constant compliments to his wife, admiration for his mother-in-law and constant references to his devotion to his two daughters might be considered unnecessary, especially as they recur, in a political book. Nonetheless, they give the story the tone staff that Obama has sought to adopt, as well as giving human warmth to someone who has often been accused of having a public image of being cold, distant and overly reflective.
▲ A Challenger 2 tank on Castlemartin Ranges in Pembrokeshire, Wales, fires a 'Squash-Head' practice round [UK MoD].
COMMENTARY / Jairo Císcar Ruiz
At the end of last summer, two news pieces appeared in the forums and specialised magazines of the military field in the Anglo-Saxon world. The first of them was the forecast of the continuity (and worsening due to the current pandemic) of the spending cuts suffered in the UK Defence budget since 2010. The second, linked to the first, was the growing rumors of a possible withdrawal of the Challenger 2 tanks, which were already reduced to a quarter of their original strength. At a time of great economic instability, it seemed that the UK's strategic vision had decided to focus on its main assets to maintain its deterrent power and its projection of force: the very expensive nuclear arsenal and the maintenance and expansion of new naval groups in order to host the F-35B.
However, both pieces of news have been quickly overtaken by the announcement of the Boris Johnson executive to inject about 22 billion dollars over 4 years to take British power back to the levels of 30 years ago. Also, the decommissioning of battle tanks was dismissed by ministerial sources, who argued that it was simply a possibility raised in the "Integrated Review" that is being carried out by the British Ministry of Defence.
Although the waters have calmed down, the discussion that has arisen as a result of these controversies seems extremely interesting, as well as the role that armoured units will have on the battlefield of the future. This article aims to make a brief reflection, identifying possible scenarios and their implications.
The first of them It is a reality: the United Kingdom must improve its armoured forces, which run the risk of becoming obsolete, not only in the face of threats (Russia has had since 2015 the T-14 Armata, a 5th generation tank; and recently the modernized version of the mythical T-90, Proryv-3), but also in front of their allies, such as France or Germany, which are already starting the project to replace their respective armor with the future European Main Battle Tank. It is not only a matter of improving their operational capabilities, but also of evolving their survival on the battlefield.
At a time when military technology is advancing by leaps and bounds (hypersonic projectiles; battlefield dominated by technology; extensive use of drones ...), it is necessary to rethink the traditional way of waging war. In the last Nagorno-Karabakh crisis, images and evidence of the effectiveness of the use of Israeli "suicide" drones could be seen against groups of infantry, but also against armoured vehicles and tanks. Despite Foreign Policy accusing poor training and the complex terrain as the main factors for these casualties, the question is still up in the air: does the "classic" tank as we know it still have a place on the battlefield?
Experience tells us yes. The tank is vital in large military operations, although, as noted above, new threats must be countered with new defenses. To this day, the tank remains the best vehicle to provide direct fire quickly and efficiently, against other armor, infantry, and reinforced enemy positions. By itself it is an exceptional striking force, although it must always act in accordance with the rest of the deployed troops, especially with Intelligence, Logistics units and the Infantry. It should not be forgotten that in a battlefield characterized by hybrid warfare, it is necessary to consider the increasingly changing environment of threats.
Sensors and detection systems on the battlefield are persistently more innovative and revolutionary, capable of detecting armoured vehicles, even if they are camouflaged; when integrated with lethal precision firing systems, they make concealing and wearing heavy armor a challenge. There are technical responses to these threats, from countering electronic direction finding through spoofing and jamming, to mounting active protection systems on vehicle hulls.
Despite the above, obviously, the battle tank continues to be a great investment in terms of money that must be made, questionable in front of the taxpayer in an environment of economic crisis, although at the strategic level it may not be.
There are also those who broke a spear in favour of withdrawing the tanks from their inventories, and it seems that today they regret having made this decision. The United Kingdom has the example of the army of the Netherlands, which in 2011 withdrew and sold to Finland 100 of its 120 Leopard 2A6s as a means of saving money and changing military doctrine. However, with Russia's entry into Ukraine and its increasing threats to NATO's eastern flank, they soon began to miss the armoured forces' unique capabilities: penetrating power, high mobility that enables turning movements to engulf the enemy, maneuverability, speed, protection, and firepower. In the end, in 2015, they handed over their last 20 tanks (crews and mechanics included) to the German army, which since then has a contingent of a hundred Dutch, forming the Panzerbataillon 414. Knowing how important the concept of "lessons learned" is in military planning, perhaps the UK should pay attention to this case and consider its needs and the capabilities required to meet them.
A roadmap to the middle position would be to move towards an "army of specialization", abandoning its armoured units and specializing in other areas such as cyber or aviation; but this would only be possible within the framework of a defence organization more integrated than NATO. Although it is only a distant possibility, the hypothetical and much mentioned European Army -of which the United Kingdom would most likely be excluded after the Brexit- could lead to the creation of national armed forces that would be specialised in a specific weapon, relying on other countries to fulfil other tasks. However, this possibility belongs right now to the pure terrain of reverie and futurology, since it would require greater integration at all levels in Europe to be able to consider this possibility.
In the end we find the main problem when organising and maintaining an army, which is none other than money. On many occasions this aspect, which is undoubtedly vital, completely overshadows any other consideration. And in the case of a nation's armed forces, this is very dangerous. It would be counterproductive to ignore the tactical and strategic aspects to favour just the purely pecuniary ones. The reality is that Western armed forces, whether from the United Kingdom or any other NATO country, face not only IEDs and insurgent infantry in the mountainous regions of the Middle East, but also may have to confront peer rivals equipped with huge armoured forces. Russia itself has about 2,000 battle tanks (that is, not counting other armoured vehicles, whether they are capable of shooting rounds or not). China increases that figure up to 6,900 (more than half are completely out of date, although they are embarking on a total remodeling of the Chinese People's Army in all its forces). NATO does not forget the challenges, hence the mission "Enhanced Forward Presence" in Poland and the Baltic Republics, in which Spain contributes a Tactical Group that includes 6 Leopard 2A6 Main Battle Tanks, 14 Pizarro Infantry Fighting Vehicles, and other armored infantry transports.
Certainly, war is changing. We can't even imagine how technology will change the battlefield in the next decade. Sometimes, though, it is better not to get ahead of time. Taking all aspects into account, perhaps the best decision the UK Ministry of Defence could make would be to modernize its tank battalions to adapt them to the current environment, and thus maintain a balanced military with full operational capabilities. It is plausible to predict that the tank still has a journey in its great and long history on the battlefield, from the Somme, to the war of the future. Time (and money) will tell what ends up happening.
 Doubts have existed since the very "birth" of the battle tank during the First World War. In each great war scene of the twentieth century that has contributed significant technological innovations (World War I; Spanish Civil War; World War II; Cold War; Gulf ...) it seemed that the tank was going to disappear under new weapons and technologies (first reliability problems, then anti-tank weapons and mines, aviation, RPG's and IED's...) However, armies have learned how to evolve battle tanks in line with the times. Even more valuable, today's tanks are the product of more than 100 years of battles, with many lessons learned and incorporated into their development, not only on a purely material level, but also in tactics and training.
ESSAY / Álvaro de Lecea Larrañaga
From the moment colonial empires left the African continent and the new republics celebrated their first democratic elections, the issue of election violence has been present in the majority of the countries. It is a problem that has not changed and that keeps disturbing national and international supporters of a peaceful democratization of the African continent. It is not the first time in history we know about election violence in democratic states, such as France during the nineteenth century; nevertheless, the African dynamics are quite peculiar.
Violence, in general terms, has become a political instrument in the African democratic dynamics (Laakso, 2007). Depending on the actor making use of it, the motivation behind it is different. It is also important to take into account the historical, political, partner-cultural and economic context of each country to understand the purposes of the usage of this controversial mechanism. The spur is not the same for the ruling party or the opposition party, or other groups like the youth. Hence the use of violence has a lot of influence in the outcomes of an election process as it is an effective means that shapes the democratic dynamics when it comes to the election of the representatives at all stages of the electoral processes. For example, the ruling parties use it to avoid being removed from their powerful positions and all the benefits that come from them (Mehler, 2007).
This issue of power, with a high level of influence of money, is probably the most common motivation for every actor involved in these dynamics (Muna & Otieno, 2020, pp. 92-111). Not only the ruling powers but the ones trying to substitute them or the ones trying to impose a new order are, in some way, motivated by the powerful positions they could attain. The violence therefore permeates all party structures and is also noticeable within the parties.
The issue of intra-party violence has not received a lot of attention due to more frequency of state inspired violence against the opposition. Yet it is becoming more prevalent especially in political parties that hold power. This is because the belief is usually entrenched that if one represents the ruling party the chances of getting elected get higher. It should also be noted that the risk of intra-party violence increases as inter-party competition decreases, making intra-party violence more common in districts where a single party dominates (Bech Seeberg, Skaaning, & Wahman, 2017).
The timing of the violence is very relevant to understand the problem of election violence. The different three kinds of election violence (pre-election violence, post-election violence and violence during the Election Day) carry different connotations with them (Daxecker, 2013). They are the result of the general context of the country and represent the behaviour of their citizens towards the democratic principles of the nation. This can also be a response to the electoral campaigns of both the ruling and opposition parties, which sometimes involve violent means too.
Pre-election violence is normally recorded within parties as they carry out their primaries to select representatives and during the campaign process in a bid to hinder opponents from getting access to the people. Violence on Election Day is usually designed to disrupt areas where some candidates suspect they will lose or feel the election process has not been fair. While post-election violence is mainly an expression of dissatisfaction with the outcome of the election.
The role of average and international observers are also key for drafting the big picture of the problems involving election violence. These to some extent can escalate the conflict or reduce it. The power of information is huge and these agents are the most reliable sources to the local and international communities. If an international observer, such as a Committee from the United Nations, declares an election fraud, post-election violence is a very possible outcome (Daxecker, 2012). However, the average, and more concretely a trustworthy local average agent, has the power to calm the masses and bring peace.
Finally, the electoral system chosen by each country will also have a direct effect on the violence because of the interests behind the election. The plurality voting is the most used system among African states. These kinds of systems are also known as winner-takes-all, because the winner gets all the power. Even if it is not necessarily a negative system, as successful countries such as France or Brazil also use them, the difference of power between a common citizen and a politician is so big in Africa that the interest of getting those posts is higher (Reynolds, 2009). This will cause that any means justified to get there, including the use of violence.
To further analyse the motivations behind election violence in Africa and the effects it has on the region, and to try to offer a functional solution for this issue the article explores two case studies: Kenya 2007 and Burundi 2010.
African election violence case studies
The presidential and parliamentary elections held in Kenya in 2007 are a great example of election violence where external factors had influences on the outcomes. However, these external factors were not the only ones causing the violence. Internal issues such as the historical culture of the country, the electoral system or the will of power were also influential in this case. To understand the big picture, it is always important to analyze every relevant aspect.
Since the first multi-party democratic elections in Kenya, held in 1992, post-election violence has been very present. During the almost thirty years of dictatorship in Kenya after their independence from the British Crown, repression was promoted throughout the whole territory. Abuses of human rights, nepotism, widespread corruption and patronage were very common (Onyebadi & Oyedeji, 2011), therefore Kenyans are used to protest, violently if needed, against political fraud and suppression of their democratic rights.
Mwai Kibaki's victory in the 2007 elections brought a whole wave of violent protests because of the fraudulent accusations the elections received (Odhiambo Owuor, 2013). Not only the opposition leader Raila Odinga denounced the election as massively rigged, but also the international community did so. As they condemned the election as fraudulent, the United Nations intervened and helped reach a deal between both party leaders. In this case, the violence produced arrived after the elections (post-election violence) and was motivated by the fraudulent accusations made by international and national observers.
The solution reached was to recognise Kibaki as president and to create a new position of Executive Prime Minister for Odinga. Furthermore, they stipulated that cabinet positions were to be shared by the disputants and their political parties. This characteristic outcome was accepted with more enthusiasm by the Kenyan people because it divided the power in more than one person and, therefore, the abuse of it as it had happened before was not so probable. The electoral system, which is explained later on, has helped these abuses to be produced, so this different outcome meant a significant change in the Kenyan policy-making.
In the case of Kenya, average is very relevant, as the two most successful newspapers, the "Daily Nation" and "The Standard", with a combined strength of 75% market share, do not receive funding from the government. Without falling into sensationalism, these newspapers were able to become agents of peace and reconciliation. As violence raged in the post-election period, the newspapers adopted a thematic approach to reaching a peaceful outcome (Onyebadi & Oyedeji, 2011).
This conflict, apart from the effects it had on the electoral outcome, influenced the economic situation of the country. The annual percentage growth of GDP fell from 6.8% in 2007 to 0.2% in 2008, the annual percentage of GDP per capita growth was negative (-2.5%) and the growth on the percentage of employment regarding total labour force began increasing again in 2008, going from 2.5% that year to 2.7% in 2009 (World Bank, 2020). However, this data is biased because of the economic recession several countries, including Kenya, suffered due to the 2008 financial crisis.
Finally, Kenya's first-past-the-post single member constituency electoral system gives the electoral winner plenty of power. Moreover, the economic inequality, the domination of the powerful elites of the country who are very influential in the political system and the fact that Kenyan political parties are not usually founded on ideology but serve the ideas of the founders, produce a form of democracy that represents the few rather than the majority. Therefore, it is very complicated to terminate the desire for political power from the Kenyan mindset.
Burundi's history has been marked by the Hutu-Tutsi rivalry. Since it got independence in 1962, the ethnic cleavages between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi have been remarkable. The 2010 elections are not quite different from the rest, as the outcomes resulted in boycotts and violence. Burundi is a country that has used violence as a tool of solving conflicts several times and has a violent historical precedent regarding "democratic" elections (Mehler, 2007). Several prime ministers and presidents from the different ethnic groups have been assassinated throughout Burundi's democratic history, which has led to a series of coups and ethnic clashes.
During the 2010 elections, the United Nations also sent a mission to observe the democratic process followed. They affirmed that the winning party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy - Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), were able to campaign throughout the country, whereas the opposition parties had much less visibility (Palmans, n.d.).
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), which is supposed to organise, conduct and supervise the elections independently from any party were not as transparent as they were meant to and didn't respect the rights of the political parties, which caused the boycott led by the opposition (Niang, n.d.). In Burundi too, elections have mainly been a struggle for power as a means of gaining access to economic resources through control of the state. So, the tensions have always been great during elections. Thus, violence tends to be used by nearly every actor involved.
The peculiarity within this case is that the violence didn't only take place after knowing the results of the elections, but also before the Election Day. Pre-election violence came as a consequence of systematic disagreement between CNDD-FDD and opposition parties. Although several institutions were created to ensure the legality and transparency of the election, such as the CENI, the CNDD-FDD tried to arrange the legal and institutional context to force the process into its advantage and ensure its victory against the opposition.
The pre-election violence transformed into post-election violence leading to the main opposition leader, Agathon Rwasa, having to flee the country. Even though the violence was not as widespread as in Kenya, the situation remained tense in the country. The results didn't change, and the political rivalries were further entrenched. In this case, the use of violence and coupled with display of power won the elections which created more fear and despair within the population.
Election violence is very common in several countries over the world, with an emphasis on Africa. There, it has become some kind of political instrument which, despite being anti-democratic by nature, is part of the policymaking, campaigning and electoral process. It is different depending on the timing it appears and plenty of factors influence its appearance and control. Within the most remarkable we can find the role of international and national observers, the role of the average, both national and international, and the will of power, usually linked to the economic benefits the winner receives. Furthermore, depending on who the actor is making use of it, the factors behind it can change drastically.
After having analysed the two case studies, Kenya 2008 and Burundi 2010, and having interpreted the impact these issues have had in their internal partner-economic parameters, it is also obvious that these anti-democratic practices do have some impact in every aspect of the society involved in it. Its most remarkable influence can be seen on the election outcome. In both cases, violence was key for establishing the results. In the case of Kenya, it was the motor that boosted a change in the policymaking, and in the case of Burundi, it helped the winning party keep the power.
The three main factors that influence this kind of policymaking and that should be reviewed and, if necessary, modified to end the violence are the electoral system most African countries follow, the ethnic nature of violence and the common African mindset regarding power. The majority of the electoral systems followed in Africa are winner-takes-all systems that makes it hard for the loser to give up power and lose the benefits it brings. Also, as the case of Burundi has shown, ethnic rivalries are a very common reason motivating the violent outcomes of elections, even if the state follows a democratic regime. This, together with the great will of power present on the African societies, demonstrated by the intra- and inter-party violence, provokes the unsustainable situation present nowadays.
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Laakso, L. (2007). Insights into Electoral Violence in Africa. In M. Basedau, G. Erdmann, & A. Mehler, Votes, Money and Violence: Political Parties and Elections in Sub-Saharan Africa (pp. 224-252). South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.
Mehler, A. (2007). Political Parties and Violence in Africa: Systematic Reflections against Empirical Background. In M. Basedau, G. Erdmann, & A. Mehler, Votes, Money and Violence: Political Parties and Elections in Sub-Saharan Africa (pp. 194-223). South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.
Muna, W., & Otieno, M. (2020). The 'Money Talks Factor' in Kenya's Public Policy and Electoral Democracy.
Niang, M. A. (n.d.). Case study: Burundi. EISA.
Odhiambo Owuor, F. (2013). The 2007 General Elections in Kenya: Electoral Laws and Process. EISA, 113-123.
Onyebadi, U., & Oyedeji, T. (2011). Newspaper coverage of post-political election violence in Africa: an assessment of the Kenyan example. average War & Conflict, 215-230.
Palmans, E. (n.d.). Burundi's 2010 Elections: Democracy and Peace at Risk? European Centre for Electoral Support.
Reynolds, A. (2009). Elections, Electoral Systems, and Conflict in Africa. The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 75-83.
The wave of diplomatic recognition of Israel by some Arab countries constitutes a shift in regional alliances
▲ Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates [Pixabay].
ANALYSIS / Ann M. Callahan
With the signing of the Abraham Accords, seven decades of enmity between the states were concluded. With a pronounced shift in regional alliances and a convergence of interests crossing traditional alignments, the agreements can be seen as a product of these regional changes, commencing a new era of Arab-Israeli relations and cooperation. While the historic peace accords seem to present a net positive for the region, it would be a mistake to not take into consideration the losing party in the deal; the Palestinians. It would also be a mistake to dismiss the passion with which many people still view the Palestinian issue and the apparent disconnect between the Arab ruling class and populace.
On the 15th of September, 2020, a joint peace deal was signed between the State of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and the United States, known also as the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement. The Accords concern a treaty of peace, and a full normalization of the diplomatic relations between the United Emirates and the State of Israel. The United Arab Emirates stands as the first Persian Gulf state to normalize relations with Israel, and the third Arab state, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The deal was signed in Washington on September 15 by the UAE's Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. It was accepted by the Israeli cabinet on the 12th of October and was ratified by the Knesset (Israel's unicameral parliament) on the 15th of October. The parliament and cabinet of the United Arab Emirates ratified the agreement on the 19th of October. On the same day, Bahrain confirmed its pact with Israel through the Accords, officially called the Abraham Accords: Declaration of Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations. Signed by Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the President of the United States Donald Trump as a witness, the ratification indicates an agreement between the signatories to commence an era of alliance and cooperation towards a more stable, prosperous and secure region. The proclamation acknowledges each state's sovereignty and agrees towards a reciprocal opening of embassies and as well as stating intent to seek out consensus regarding further relations including investment, security, tourism and direct flights, technology, healthcare and environmental concerns.
The United States played a significant role in the accords, brokering the newly signed agreements. President of the United States, Donald Trump, pushed for the agreements, encouraging the relations and negotiations and promoting the accords, and hosting the signing at the White House.
As none of the countries involved in the Abraham Accords had ever fought against each other, these new peace deals are not of the same weight or nature as Egypt's peace deal with Israel in 1979. Nevertheless, the accords are much more than a formalizing of what already existed. Now, whether or not the governments collaborated in secret concerning security and intelligence previously, they will now cooperate publicly through the aforementioned areas. For Israel, Bahrain and the UAE, the agreements pave a path for the increase of trade, investment, tourism and technological collaboration. In addition to these gains, a strategic alliance against Iran is a key motivator as the two states and the U.S. regard Iran as the chief threat to the region's stability.
What was the rationale for this diplomatic breakthrough and what prompted it to take place this year? It could be considered to be a product of the confluence of several pivotal impetuses.
The accords are seen as a product of a long-term trajectory and a regional reality where over the course of the last decade Arab states, particularly around the Gulf, have begun to shift their priorities. The UAE, Bahrain and Israel had found themselves on the same side of more than one major fissure in the Middle East. These states have also sided with Israel regarding Iran. Saudi Arabia, too, sees Shiite Iran as a major threat, and while, as of now, it has not formalized relations with Israel, it does have ties with the Hebrew state. This opposition to Tehran is shifting alliances in the region and bringing about a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern powers.
Furthermore, opposition to the Sunni Islamic extremist groups presents a major threat to all parties involved. The newly aligned states all object to Turkey's destabilising support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its proxies in the regional conflicts in Gaza, Libya and Syria. Indeed, the signatories' combined fear of transnational jihadi movements, such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS derivatives, has aligned their interests closer to each other.
In addition, there has been a growing frustration and fatigue with the Palestinian Cause, one which could seem endless. A certain amount of patience has been lost and Arab nations that had previously held to the Palestinian cause have begun to follow their own national interests. Looking back to late 2017, when the Trump administration officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, had it been a decade earlier there would have been widespread protests and resulting backlash from the regional leaders in response, however it was not the case. Indeed, there was minimal criticism. This may indicate that, at least for the regional leaders, that adherence to the Palestinian cause is lessening in general.
The prospects of closer relations with the economically vibrant state of Israel, and by extension with that of the United States is increasingly attractive to many Arab states. Indeed, expectations of an arms sale of U.S. weapon systems to the UAE, while not written specifically into the accords, is expected to come to pass through a side agreement currently under review by Congress.
From the perspective of Israel, the country has gone through a long political crisis with, in just one year alone, three national elections. In the context of these domestic efforts, prime minister Netanyahu raised propositions of annexing more sections of the contended West Bank. Consequently, the UAE campaigned against it and Washington called for Israel to choose between prospects of annexation or normalization. The normalization was concluded in return for suspending the annexation plans. There is discussion regarding whether or not the suspending of the plans are something temporary or a permanent cessation of the annexation. There is a discrepancy between the English and Arabic versions of the joint treaty. The English version declared that the accord "led to the suspension of Israel's plans to extend its sovereignty". This differs slightly, however significantly, from the Arabic copy in which "[the agreement] has led to Israel's plans to annex Palestinian lands being stopped." This inconsistency did not go unnoticed to the party most affected; the Palestinians. There is a significant disparity between a temporary suspension as opposed to a complete stopping of annexation plans.
For Netanyahu, being a leading figure in a historic peace deal bringing Israel even more out of its isolation without significant concessions would certainly boost his political standing in Israel. After all, since Israel's creation, what it has been longing for is recognition, particularly from its Arab neighbours.
Somewhat similarly to Netanyahu, the Trump Administration had only to gain through the concluding of the Accords. The significant accomplishment of a historic peace deal in the Middle East was certainly a benefit especially leading up to the presidential elections, which took place earlier this November. On analyzing the Administration's approach towards the Middle East, its strategy clearly encouraged the regional realignment and the cultivation of the Gulf states' and Israel's common interests, culminating in the joint accords.
As a whole, the Abraham Accords seem to have broken the traditional alignment of Arab States in the Middle East. The fact that normalization with Israel has been achieved without a solution to the Palestinian issue is indicative of the shift in trends among Arab nations which were previously staunchly adherent to the Palestinian cause. Already, even Sudan, a state with a violent past with Israel, has officially expressed its consent to work towards such an agreement. Potentially, other Arab states are thought to possibly follow suit in future normalization with Israel.
Unlike Bahrain and the UAE, Sudan has sent troops to fight against Israel in the Arab-Israeli wars. However, following the UAE and Bahrain accords, a Sudan-Israel normalization agreement transpired on October 23rd, 2020. While it is not clear if the agreement solidifies full diplomatic relations, it promotes the normalization of relations between the two countries. Following the announcement of their agreement, the designated foreign minister, Omar Qamar al-Din, clarified that the agreement with Israel was not actually a normalization, rather an agreement to work towards normalization in the future. It is only a preliminary agreement as it requires the approval of an elected parliament before going into force. Regardless, the agreement is a significant step for Sudan as it had previously considered Israel an enemy of the state.
While clandestine relations between Israel and the Gulf states were existent for years, the founding of open relations is a monumental shift. For Israel, putting aside its annexation plans was insignificant in comparison with the many advantages of the Abraham Accords. Contrary to what many expected, no vast concessions were to be made in return for the recognition of sovereignty and establishment of diplomatic ties for which Israel yearns for. In addition, Israel is projected to benefit economically from its new forged relations with the Gulf states between the increased tourism, direct flights, technology and information exchange, commercial relations and investment. Already, following the Accord's commitment, the US, Israel and the UAE have already established the Abraham Fund. Through the program more than $3 billion dollars will be mobilized in the private sector-led development strategies and investment ventures to promote economic cooperation and profitability in the Middle East region through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, Israel and the UAE.
The benefits of the accords extend to a variety of areas in the Arab world including, most significantly, possible access to U.S. defence systems. The prospect of the UAE receiving America's prestigious F-35 systems is in fact underway. President Trump, at least, is willing to make the sale. However, it has to pass through Congress which has been consistently dedicated to maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge in the region. According to the Senate leader Mitch McConnell (Rep, KY), "We in congress have an obligation to review any U.S. arm sale package linked to the deal [...] As we help our Arab partners defend against growing threats, we must continue ensuring that Israel's qualitative military edge remains unchallenged". Should the sale be concluded, it will stand as the second largest sale of U.S. arms to one particular nation, and the first transfer of lethal unmanned aerial systems to any Arab ally. The UAE would be the first Arab country to possess the Lockheed Martin 5th generation stealth jet, the most advanced on the market currently.
There is discussion within Israel regarding possible UAE acquisition of the F-35 systems. Prime Minister Netanyahu did the whole deal without including the defense minister and the foreign minister, both political rivals of Netanyahu in the Israeli system. As can be expected, the Israeli defense minister does have a problem regarding the F-35 systems. However, in general, the Accords are extremely popular in Israel.
Due to Bahrain's relative dependence on Saudi Arabia and the kingdom's close ties, it is very likely that it sought out Saudi Arabia's approval before confirming its participation in the Accords. The fact that Saudi Arabia gave permission to Bahrain could be seen as indicative, to a certain extent, of their stance on Arab-Israeli relations. However, the Saudi state has many internal pressures preventing it, at least for the time being, from establishing relations.
For over 250 years, the ruling Saudi family has had a particular relationship with the clerical establishment of the Kingdom. Many, if not the majority of the clerics would be critical of what they would consider an abandonment of Palestine. Although Mohammed bin Salman seems more open to ties with Israel, his influential father, Salman bin Abdulaziz sides with the clerics surrounding the matter.
Differing from the United Arab Emirates, for example, Saudi Arabia gathers a B amount of its legitimacy through its protection of Muslims and promotion of Islam across the world. Since before the establishment of the state of Israel, the Palestinian cause has played a crucial role in Saudi Arabia's regional activities. While it has not prevented Saudi Arabia from engaging in undisclosed relations with Israel, its stance towards Palestine inhibits a broader engagement without a peace deal for Palestine. This issue connected to a critical strain across the region: that between the rulers and the ruled. One manifestation of this discrepancy between classes is that there seems to be a perception among the people of the region that Israel, as opposed to Iran, is the greater threat to regional security. Saudi Arabia has a much larger population than the UAE or Bahrain and with the extensive popular support of the Palestinian cause, the establishment of relations with Israel could elicit considerable unrest.
While Saudi Arabia has engaged in clandestine ties with Israel and been increasingly obliging towards the state (for instance, opening its air space for Israeli direct flights to the UAE and beyond), it seems unlikely that Saudi Arabia will establish open ties with Israel, at least for the near future.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has only heightened prevailing social, political and economic tensions all throughout the Middle East. Taking this into account, in fear of provoking unrest, it can be expected that many rulers will be hesitant, or at least cautious, about initiating ties with the state of Israel.
That being said, in today's hard-pressed Middle East, Arab states, while still backing the Palestinian cause, are more and more disposed to work towards various relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia is arguably the most economically and politically influential Arab state in the region. Therefore, if Saudi Arabia were to open relations with Israel, it could invoke the establishment of ties with Israel for other Arab states, possibly invalidating the longstanding idea that such relations could come about solely though the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Regarding Iran, it cannot but understand the significance and gravity of the Accords and recent regional developments. Just several nautical miles across the Gulf to Iran, Israel has new allies. The economic and strategic advantage that the Accords promote between the countries is undeniable. If Iran felt isolated before, this new development will only emphasize it even more.
In the words of Mike Pompeo, the current U.S. Secretary of State, alongside Bahrain's foreign minister, Abdullatif Al-Zayani, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the accords "tell malign actors like the Islamic Republic of Iran that their influence in the region is waning and that they are ever more isolated and shall forever be until they change their direction".
Apart from Iran, in the Middle East Turkey and Qatar have been openly board member in their opposition to Israel and the recent Accords. Qatar maintains relations with two of Israel's most critical threats, both Iran and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group. Qatar is a staunch advocate of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. One of Qatar's most steady allies in the region is Turkey. Israel, as well as the UAE, have significant issues with Ankara. Turkey's expansion and building of military instructions in Libya, Sudan and Somalia demonstrate the regional threat that it poses for Israel and the UAE. For Israel in particular, besides Turkey's open support of Hamas, there have been clashes concerning Ankara's interference with Mediterranean maritime economic sovereignty.
With increasing intensity, the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has made clear Turkey's revisionist actions. They harshly criticized UAE's normalization with Israel and even said that they would consider revising Ankara's relations with Abu Dhabi. This, however, is somewhat incongruous as Turkey has maintained formal diplomatic relations with Israel since right after its birth in 1949. Turkey's support of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the region, including in Qatar, is also a source of contention between Erdogan and the UAE and Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia. Turkey is Qatar's largest beneficiary politically, as well as militarily.
In the context of the Abraham Accords, the Palestinians would be the losers undoubtedly. While they had a weak negotiating hand to begin with, with the decreasing Arab solidarity they depend on, they now stand even weaker. The increasing number of Arab countries normalizing relations with Israel has been vehemently condemned by the Palestinians, seeing it as a betrayal of their cause. They feel thoroughly abandoned. It leaves the Palestinians with very limited options making them severely more debilitated. It is uncertain, however, whether this weaker position will steer Palestinians towards peacemaking with Israel or the contrary.
While the regional governments seem more willing to negotiate with Israel, it would be a severe mistake to disregard the fervour with which countless people still view the Palestinian conflict. For many in the Middle East, it is not so much a political stance as a moral obligation. We shall see how this plays out concerning the disparity between the ruling class and the populace of Arab or Muslim majority nations. Iran will likely continue to advance its reputation throughout the region as the only state to openly challenge and oppose Israel. It should amass some amount of popular support, increasing yet even more the rift between the populace and the ruling class in the Middle East.
The agreement recently reached between President Trump's Administration and the kingdom of Morocco by which the U.S. governments recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara in exchange for the establishment of official diplomatic relations between the kingdom and the state of Israel is but another step in the process Trump would have no doubt continued had he been elected for a second term. Despite this unexpected move, and although the Trump Administration has indicated that other countries are considering establishing relations with Israel soon, further developments seem unlikely before the new U.S. Administration is projected to take office this January of 2021. President-elect Joe Biden will take office on the 20th of January and is expected to instigate his policy and approach towards Iran. This could set the tone for future normalization agreements throughout the region, depending on how Iran is approached by the incoming administration.
In the United States, the signatories of the Abraham Accords have, in a time of intensely polarized politics, enhanced their relations with both Republicans as well as Democrats though the deal. In the future we can expect some countries to join the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan in normalization efforts. However, many will stay back. Saudi Arabia remains central in the region regarding future normalization with Israel. As is the case across the region, while the Arab leaders are increasingly open to ties with Israel, there are internal concerns, between the clerical establishment and the Palestinian cause among the populace - not to mention rising tensions due to the ongoing pandemic.
However, in all, the Accords break the strongly rooted idea that it would take extensive efforts in order for Arab states to associate with Israel, let alone establish full public normalization. It also refutes the traditional Arab-state consensus that there can be no peace with Israel until the Palestinian issue is en route to resolution, if not fully resolved.
Behind the tension between Qatar and its neighbours is the Qatari ambitious foreign policy and its refusal to obey
Recent diplomatic contacts between Qatar and Saudi Arabia have suggested the possibility of a breakthrough in the bitter dispute held by Qatar and its Arab neighbors in the Gulf since 2017. An agreement could be within reach in order to suspend the blockade imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain (and Egypt), and clarify the relations the Qataris have with Iran. The resolution would help Qatar hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup free of tensions. This article gives a brief context to understand why things are the way they are.
Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, one of the premises for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar
ARTICLE / Isabelle León
The diplomatic crisis in Qatar is mainly a political conflict that has shown how far a country can go to retain leadership in the regional balance of power, as well as how a country can find alternatives to grow regardless of the blockade of neighbors and former trading partners. In 2017, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain broke diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed a blockade on land, sea, and air.
When we refer to the Gulf, we are talking about six Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. As neighbors, these countries founded the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981 to strengthen their relation economically and politically since all have many similarities in terms of geographical features and resources like oil and gas, culture, and religion. In this alliance, Saudi Arabia always saw itself as the leader since it is the largest and most oil-rich Gulf country, and possesses Mecca and Medina, Islam's holy sites. In this sense, dominance became almost unchallenged until 1995, when Qatar started pursuing a more independent foreign policy.
Tensions grew among neighbors as Iran and Qatar gradually started deepening their trading relations. Moreover, Qatar started supporting Islamist political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, considered by the UAE and Saudi Arabia as terrorist organizations. Indeed, Qatar acknowledges the support and assistance provided to these groups but denies helping terrorist cells linked to Al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State or Hamas. Additionally, with the launch of the tv network Al Jazeera, Qatar gave these groups a means to broadcast their voices. Gradually the environment became tense as Saudi Arabia, leader of Sunni Islam, saw the Shia political groups as a threat to its leadership in the region.
Consequently, the Gulf countries, except for Oman and Kuwait, decided to implement a blockade on Qatar. As political conditioning, the countries imposed specific demands that Qatar had to meet to re-establish diplomatic relations. Among them there were the detachment of the diplomatic ties with Iran, the end of support for Islamist political groups, and the cessation of Al Jazeera's operations. Qatar refused to give in and affirmed that the demands were, in some way or another, a violation of the country's sovereignty.
A country that proves resilient
The resounding blockade merited the suspension of economic activities between Qatar and these countries. Most shocking was, however, the expulsion of the Qatari citizens who resided in the other GCC states. A year later, Qatar filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice on grounds of discrimination. The court ordered that the families that had been separated due to the expulsion of their relatives should be reunited; similarly, Qatari students who were studying in these countries should be permitted to continue their studies without any inconvenience. The UAE issued an injunction accusing Qatar of halting the website where citizens could apply for UAE visas as Qatar responded that it was a matter of national security. Between accusations and statements, tensions continued to rise and no real improvement was achieved.
At the beginning of the restrictions, Qatar was economically affected because 40% of the food supply came to the country through Saudi Arabia. The reduction in the oil prices was another factor that participated on the economic disadvantage that situation posed. Indeed, the market value of Qatar decreased by 10% in the first four weeks of the crisis. However, the country began to implement measures and shored up its banks, intensified trade with Turkey and Iran, and increased its domestic production. Furthermore, the costs of the materials necessary to build the new stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup increased; however, Qatar started shipping materials through Oman to avoid restrictions of UAE and successfully coped with the status quo.
This notwithstanding, in 2019, the situation caused almost the rupture of the GCC, an alliance that ultimately has helped the Gulf countries strengthen economic ties with European Countries and China. The gradual collapse of this organisation has caused even more division between the blocking countries and Qatar, a country that hosts the largest military US base in the Middle East, as well as one of Turkey, which gives it an upper hand in the region and many potential strategic alliances.
The new normal or the beginning of the end?
Currently, the situation is slowly opening-up. Although not much progress has been made through traditional or legal diplomatic means to resolve this conflict, sports diplomacy has played a role. The countries have not yet begun to commercialize or have allowed the mobility of citizens, however, the event of November 2019 is an indicator that perhaps it is time to relax the measures. In that month, Qatar was the host of the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup tournament in which the Gulf countries participated with their national soccer teams. Due to the blockade, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain had boycotted the championship; however, after having received another invitation from the Arabian Gulf Cup Federation, the countries decided to participate and after three years of tensions, sent their teams to compete. The sporting event was emblematic and demonstrated how sport may overcome differences.
Moreover, recently Saudi Arabia has given declarations that the country is willing to engage in the process to lift-up the restrictions. This attitude toward the conflict means, in a way, improvement despite Riyadh still claims the need to address the security concerns that Qatar generates and calls for a commitment to the solution. As negotiations continue, there is a lot of skepticism between the parties that keep hindering the path toward the resolution.
Donald Trump's administration recently reiterated its cooperation and involvement in the process to end Qatar's diplomatic crisis. Indeed, US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien stated that the US hopes in the next two months there would be an air bridge that will allow the commercial mobilization of citizens. The current scenario might be optimistic, but still, everything has remained in statements as no real actions have been taken. This participation is within the US strategic interest because the end of this rift can signify a victorious situation to the US aggressive foreign policy toward Iran and its desire to isolate the country. This situation remains a priority in Trump's last days in office. Notwithstanding, as the transition for the administration of Joe Biden begins, it is believed that he would take a more critical approach on Saudi Arabia and the UAE, pressuring them to put an end to the restrictions.
This conflict has turned into a political crisis of retention of power or influence over the region. It is all about Saudi Arabia's dominance being threatened by a tiny yet very powerful state, Qatar. Although more approaches to lift-up the rift will likely begin to take place and restrictions will gradually relax, this dynamic has been perceived by the international community and the Gulf countries themselves as the new normal. However, if the crisis is ultimately resolved, mistrust and rivalry will remain and will generate complications in a region that is already prone to insurgencies and instability. All the countries involved indeed have more to lose than to gain, but three years have been enough to show that there are ways to turn situations like these around.
US LNG sales to its neighbours and exports from Latin American and Caribbean countries to Europe and Asia open up new prospects
Not relying on pipelines, but being able to buy or sell natural gas also to distant or land-locked countries improves the energy prospects of many nations. The success of fracking has generated a surplus of gas that the US has begun to sell in many parts of the world, including to its hemispheric neighbours, who in turn have more choice provider. At the same time, being able to submit gas in tankers has expanded the customer portfolio of Peru and above all Trinidad and Tobago, which until last year were the only two American countries, apart from the US, with liquefaction plants. Argentina joined them in 2019, and Mexico in 2020 has promoted investments to join this revolution.
▲ A liquefied natural gas (LNG) freighter [Pline].
article / Ann Callahan
The United States is connected by pipeline only to Canada and Mexico, but is selling gas by ship to some thirty other countries (Spain, for example, has become a major buyer). In 2019, the US exported 47.5 billion cubic metres of liquefied natural gas (LNG), of which one-fifth went to American neighbours, according to agreement with report BP 2020 on the sector.
Eight countries in Latin America and the Caribbean already have regasification plants for gas arriving by cargo ship in liquid form: there are three plants in Mexico and Brazil; two in Argentina, Chile, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, and one each in Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Panama, according to the annual summary association of LNG importing countries. In addition to the US, LNG also arrives in these countries from Norway, Russia, Angola, Nigeria and Indonesia. Two countries export LNG to various parts of the world: Trinidad and Tobago, which has three liquefaction plants, and Peru, which has one (another became operational in Argentina last year).
In an attempt to mitigate the risk of electricity shortages due to a decrease in hydropower production due to drought or other difficulties in accessing energy sources, many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are turning to LNG. As a cleaner energy source, it is also an attractive option for countries already struggling with climate change. In addition, gas financial aid will help overcome the discontinuity of alternative sources, such as wind and solar power.
In the case of small island countries, such as those in the Caribbean, which for the most part lack energy sources, cooperation programmes for the development of LNG terminals can provide them with a certain independence from certain oil supplies, such as the influence exerted on them by Chavista Venezuela through Petrocaribe.
LNG is natural gas that has been liquefied (cooled to about -162°C) for storage and transport. The volume of natural gas in its liquid state is reduced by approximately 600 times compared to its gaseous state. The process makes it possible and efficient to transport it to places that cannot be reached by pipelines. It is also much more environmentally friendly, as the carbon intensity of natural gas is about 30% less than that of diesel or other heavy fuels.
The global natural gas market has evolved rapidly in recent years. Global LNG capacities are expected to continue to grow until 2035, led by Qatar, Australia and the US. According to BP's report on the sector, in 2019 the share of gas in primary energy reached an all-time high of 24.2%. Much of the growth in gas production in 2019, when it increased by 3.4%, was due to additional LNG exports. LNG exports last year grew by 12.7% to 485.1 billion cubic metres.
Liquefaction and regasification plants in the Americas [report GIIGNL].
While the United States lagged behind in gas production at the beginning of the first decade of this century, the shale boom since 2009 has led the US to exponentially increase gas extraction and play a key role in the global trade of the liquefied product. With the relatively easy transportation of LNG, the US has been able to export and ship it to many parts of the world, with Latin America, due to its proximity, being one of the regions that is feeling the shift the most. Of the 47.5 billion cubic metres of LNG exported by the US in 2019, 9.7 billion went to Latin America; the main destinations were Mexico (3.9 billion), Chile (2.3 billion), Brazil (1.5 billion) and Argentina (1 billion).
While the region has promising export potential, given its proven natural gas reserves, demand exceeds production and it must import. Venezuela is the country with the largest reserves in Latin America (although its gas power is smaller than its oil power), but its hydrocarbon sector is in decline and the largest production in 2019 came from Argentina, an emerging shale country, followed by Trinidad and Tobago. Brazil matched Venezuela's output, followed by Bolivia, Peru and Colombia. In total, the region produced 207.6 billion cubic metres, while its consumption was 256.1 billion.
Some countries receive gas by pipeline, as is the case of Mexico and Argentina and Brazil: the former receives gas from the US and the latter from Bolivia. But the growing option is to install regasification plants to receive liquefied gas; such projects require some investment, usually foreign. The largest exporter of LNG to the region in 2019 was the US, followed by Trinidad and Tobago, which, due to its low domestic consumption, exports practically all its production: of its 17 billion cubic metres of LNG, 6.1 billion went to Latin American countries. The third largest exporter is Peru, which sent its 5.2 billion cubic metres to Asia and Europe (it did not sell on the continent itself). Argentina joined exports in 2019 for the first time, although with a leave amount, 120 million cubic metres, almost all destined for Brazil.
The region imported a total of 19.7 billion cubic metres of LNG in 2019. The main buyers were Mexico (6.6 billion cubic metres), Chile (3.3 billion), Brazil (3.2 billion) and Argentina (1.7 billion).
Some of those that imported smaller quantities then re-exported part of the supplies, as did the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, generally with Panama as the main destination.
Tables extracted from report Statistical Review of World Energy 2020 [BP].
Mexico is the largest importer of LNG in Latin America; its supplies come mainly from the US. For a long time, Mexico has relied on gas shipments from its northern neighbour via pipelines. However, the LNG development has opened up new prospects, as the country's location can help it boost both capacities: improved pipeline connections with the US may allow Mexico to have a gas surplus at Pacific terminals for re-exporting LNG to Asia, complementing the absence of liquefaction plants on the US West Coast for the time being.
The possibility of re-exporting from Mexico's Pacific coast to the large and growing Asian LNG market - without the need for tankers to pass through the Panama Canal - is a major attraction. agreement The US Energy department granted in early 2019 two authorisations to Mexico's project Energía Costa Azul to re-export US-derived natural gas in the form of LNG to those countries that do not have a free trade agreement (FTA) with Washington, as stated in the 2020 report of the group International Importers of Liquefied Natural Gas(GIIGNL).
For the past decade, Argentina has been importing LNG from the US; however, in recent years it has reduced its purchases by more than 20 per cent as domestic gas production has increased thanks to the exploitation of Vaca Muerta. These fields have also allowed it to reduce gas purchases from neighbouring Bolivia and sell more gas, also via pipeline, to its neighbours Chile and Brazil. In addition, in 2019 it will begin exporting LNG from the Bahía Blanca plant.
With Argentina pumping gas to neighbouring Chile, in 2019 Chilean LNG imports declined to their lowest Degree in three years, although it remains one of the important buyers in Latin America, having switched Trinidad and Tobago to the US as its preferred provider . It should be noted, however, that Argentina's export capacity depends on the levels of domestic flows, especially during winter seasons when widespread heating is a necessity for Argentines.
Over the past decade, Brazil' s LNG imports have varied significantly from year to year. However, it is projected to be more consistent in its reliance on LNG until at least the next decade, as renewable energy is developed. In Brazil, natural gas is largely used to back up Brazilian hydropower.
In addition to Brazil, Colombia also considers LNG as an advantageous resource to back up its hydroelectric system in low periods. On its Pacific coast, Colombia is currently planning a second regasification terminal. Ecopetrol, the state hydrocarbon business , will allocate USD 500 million to unconventional gas projects in addition to oil. Along with the government's authorisation to allow fracking, currently stagnant reserves are projected to increase.
Bolivia also has significant natural gas production potential and is the country in the region whose Economics is most dependent on this sector. It has the advantage of existing infrastructure and the size of neighbouring gas markets; however, it faces skill production from Argentina and Brazil. Also, being a landlocked country, it is limited in the commercialisation of LNG.
Although Peru is the seventh largest producer of natural gas in the region, it has become the second largest exporter of LNG. Lower domestic consumption, compared to other neighbouring markets, has led it to develop LNG exports, reinforcing its profile as a nation focused on Asia.
For its part, Trinidad and Tobago has adapted its gas production to its status as an island country, basing its hydrocarbon exports on tankers, which gives it access to distant markets. It is the leading exporter in the region and the only one with customers in all continents.
▲ A B-1B Lancer unleashes cluster munitions [USAF].
ESSAY / Ana Salas
The aim of this paper is to study the international contracts on cluster bombs. Before going deeper into this issue, it is important to understand the concept of international contract and cluster bomb. "A contract is a voluntary, deliberate, legally binding, and enforceable agreement creating mutual obligations between two or more parties and a contract is international when it has certain links with more than one State.".
A cluster bomb is a free-fall or directed bomb that can be dropped from land, sea, or air. Cluster bombs contain a device that releases many small bombs when opened. These submunitions can cause different damages, they are used against various targets, including people, armored vehicles, and different types of material. It is an explosive charge designed to burst after that separation, in most cases when impacting the ground. But often large numbers of the submunitions fail to function as designed, and instead land on the ground without exploding, where they remain as very dangerous duds.
The main problem with these types of weapons is that they may cause serious collateral damage such as the death of thousands of civilians. Because of that, the legality of this type of weapon is controversial. Out of concern for the civilians affected by artifacts of this type, the Cluster Bomb Convention was held in Dublin, Ireland in 2008. There, a treaty was signed that prohibited the use of these weapons. Not all countries, though, signed the treaty; major arms producers, such as the United States, Russia and China, are not parties in the convention.
Among other things, the Convention proposed a total ban on cluster munitions, the promotion of the destruction of stocks in a period of 8 years, the cleaning of contaminated areas in 10 years, and assistance to the victims of these weapons.
Convention on Cluster Munitions: geopolitical background
The antecedents of this convention are in the recognition of the damage produced by the multiple attacks that have been carried out with cluster munitions. The International Handicap Organization has produced a report that offers concrete and documented data on the victims of cluster bombs around the world. In Laos, the attacks were designed to prevent enemy convoys make use of dense vegetation to camouflage among the trees. Furthermore, in this way it was not necessary to use ground troops. In Kosovo (1999), the targets were military posts, road vehicles, troop concentrations, armored units, and telecommunications centers. In Iraq cluster bombs have been used several times. During Operation "Desert Storm" in 1991, US forces dropped almost 50,000 bombs with more than 13 million submunitions on Iraq in air operations alone (not taking into account those dropped from the sea or by artillery). Estimates suggest that a third did not explode, and were found on roads, bridges and other civil infrastructure.
Pressure for an international ban on cluster bombs has recently intensified, following Israel's bombardments with these weapons in southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Also, in Afghanistan, in 2001 and 2002, during the US offensive, more than 1,200 cluster bombs with almost 250,000 submunitions were dropped against Taliban military instructions and positions. These targets were near towns and villages, whose civilian population was affected. UN demining teams estimate that around 40,000 munitions did not explode. These have been the main concern of NGOs. On the one hand, because of the large percentage of civilians who have been affected by the cluster bombs and on the other hand, due to the amount of submunitions that did not explode at the time and that are in the affected areas, being an even greater risk for the security of the civilian population or even for their agriculture in those lands.
Due to the great commotion over the death of thousands of civilians and after several attempts, a convention on such munitions was adopted in Dublin, where more than 100 countries had come together for an international agreement. The Convention on Cluster Munitions was adopted on May 30, 2008, in Dublin and signed on December 3-4, 2008 in Oslo, Norway. The Convention on Cluster Munitions entered into force on August 1, 2010.
One of the major problems addressed in the Convention was the threat posed by submunitions that do not explode as expected, and which remain in the area as a mortal danger, turning the affected area into a large minefield where the civilian population is the most vulnerable. A study indicates that 20-30% of these bombs do not explode either due to manufacturing defects, or to falls in soft areas or in trees, for example.
Articles 3 and 4 of the Convention are of great importance. Article 3 refers to the stockpile, storage, and destruction of cluster bombs. Here all Parties haves the obligation of making sure to destroy their stored cluster bombs no later than 8 years. Article 4, on the cleaning and destroying of cluster munition remnants and education on risk reduction, is intended to protect possible victims from the danger of bombs that have not exploded. Article 5 reinforces the obligation of the signatory parties to assist the victims of cluster bombs.
After the convention there is a double deal on cluster bombs. Since the destruction of the entire arsenal of these ammunitions and submunitions was approved, the affected companies and the countries involved will have a new challenge in hiring companies that carry out the extinction of these reserves.
The main manufacturers of cluster bombs are the United States, Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan, and India. Approximately 16 states are the largest producers of this ammunition and submunition worldwide, and none of these countries adhered to the convention on cluster munitions. Some of the countries involved are Greece, South Korea, North Korea, Egypt, Iran, Poland, Turkey, Brazil, Singapore, Romania, and Poland. The date on which the cluster munitions were produced is not clear because of the lack of transparency and the data available.
A total of 85 companies have produced, along history, cluster bombs or their essential parts. Many of these companies are headquartered in the United States or Europe, but others are state-owned industries located in developing countries. Cluster munition production involves the manufacturing and integration of a large number of parts, including metal parts, explosives, fuses, and packaging materials. All components are seldom produced by a single company in the same state. This makes it difficult to determine the true extent of the international trade in cluster munitions.
International trade on cluster bomb has slackened. As the cluster munition monitor of 2017 states, the US company Textron Systems Corporation, for example, has slowed production of the CBU-105 weapon due to "reduced orders, and claimed that the current political environment has made it difficult to obtain sales approvals from the executive branch".
Manufactures are also adapting their production to international regulations. Following a study by Pax on "Worldwide Investments in cluster munitions," Avibras (Brazil), Bharat Dynamics Limited (India), China Aerospace Science and Industry (China) or Hanwha (South Korea) are some of the companies that develop or produce cluster bombs according to the definition given by the Dublin Convention in 2008.
It is important to warn about the existing sensitivity regarding the production of cluster bombs. Undoubtedly, they pose a serious problem from the point of view of civil protection, but many companies engaged in the production and the funders of this kind of weapons have a high interest in keeping them legal.
There are very controversial weapons. Many countries insist on that cluster munitions are legal weapons, that, although not essential, have great military use. Some states believe that submunitions can be accurately targeted to reduce damage to civilians, meaning that military purposes can be isolated in densely populated areas. On the other hand, others believe that the ability of cluster munitions to destroy targets just as effectively throughout the attack area can cause those using them to neglect the target, thus increasing the risk of civilian casualties.
The future of International contracting on cluster bombs
As Jorge Heine defines the "New Diplomacy", it requires the negotiation of a wide range of relationships with the state, NGOs and commercial actors. "As middle powers have demonstrated, through joining forces with NGOs, they have actually succeeded in augmenting their power to project their interests into the international arena." Cluster munition is an example of this case.
Because of this, parties forming international contracts for the purchase and financing of cluster bombs are forced to change the object of the cluster bomb business. As mentioned earlier, the new business will be the destruction of these weapons, rather than their production. Especially munitions with high submunition failure rates. For this reason, countries such as Argentina, Canada, France, UK, Denmark, Norway, Spain and more have promoted a new business on the destruction of the storage of cluster bombs. As a result, cluster munitions move away from their useful life and have more chances of being destroyed than of being sold for profit.
By financing companies that produce cluster munitions, financial institutions (in many cases states themselves) help these companies to produce the weapon. But to achieve an effective elimination of cluster bombs, more than a convention is needed. The effort requires national legislation that reflects that purpose. Domestic governments must provide clear guidelines by introducing and enforcing legislation that prohibits investment in cluster munitions producers.
As a military tactic, the use of cluster bombs provides a high percentage of success. A good number of states and armies defend that they are effective weapons, sometimes even decisive ones, depending on the circumstances and the context. It is often argued that using another type of weapon to achieve the same objective would require more firepower and use more explosives, and that this would cause even greater collateral damage. At the same time, and to avoid the low reliability of these weapons, some armies have begun to modernize their arsenals and to replace older weapons with more modern and precise versions that incorporate, for example, guidance or self-destruct systems. Their main objective in developing cluster bombs is to compensate for precision failures with more munitions and, on the other hand, to allow a greater number of targets to be hit in less time.
Advances in technology can certainly reduce some of the humanitarian problems generated by the less advanced types of cluster bombs but a good number of military operations are currently peace operations, where the risk generated by these products also becomes a military concern, not just humanitarian. For example, to address the issue of unexploded ordnance, weapons are being developed that have self-destruction or, at least, self-neutralization mechanisms.
There is great uncertainty about how the norms of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) are interpreted and whether they are applied rigorously in the case of cluster munitions, given the lack of precision and reliability of these weapons. The Convention on Cluster Munitions gives hope, but we must consider the different current situations and how they can change. We also have to take into account that this agreement leaves open many possibilities of circumventing what has been signed. For example, guided or self-destructive cluster bombs do not fall under the umbrella of this pact.
Despite the provisions of International Humanitarian Law, existing cluster munitions have caused large numbers of civilian casualties in various conflicts. A better implementation of the IHL, including the Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War, will not be able to fully address the problems caused by these weapons. There is a need for specific rules on these munitions as outlined above.
 Renzo Cavalieri and Vincenzo Salvatore, An introduction to international contract law, Torino: Giappichelli, 2018.
 During the years 1964 to 1973, Laos was bombed by the United States. The attacks were intended to cut off North Vietnamese supply lines and support Laotian government forces in their fight against communist rebels.
 CBU-105 is a free fall cluster bomb unit of the United States Air Force.
 Pax is a peace organisation with the aim of "bringing peace, reconciliation and justice in the world".
 Matthew Bolton and Thomas Nash, 'The Role of Middle Powe-NGO Coalitions in Global Policy: The Case of the Cluster Munitions Ban', Global Policy, Vol. 1, No. 2 (May 2010), pp 172-184.
 Some essential component for the operation of the bomb is deactivated.
Soft power in the regional race for gaining the upper hand in the cultural and heritage influence among Muslims
A picture taken from the Kingdoms of Fire official trailer
ANALYSIS / Marina García Reina and Pablo Gurbindo
Kingdoms of Fire (in Arabic Mamalik al nar) is the new Emirati and Saudi funded super-production launched in autumn 2019 and born to face the Turkish control in the TV series and shows field for years. The production has counted on a budget of US$ 14 million. The series goes through the story of the last Sultan of Mamluk Egypt, Al-Ashraf Tuman Bay, in his fight against the Ottoman Sultan Selim. The production is the reflection of the regional rivalries in the race for gaining the upper hand in the cultural and heritage influence among Muslims.
To understand the controversy this series has arisen we have to comprehend the context where the story takes place and the main characters of the story. The series talks about the Ottoman conquest of the Mamluk Sultanate of 1517. The Ottomans are already known for the general public, but who were the Mamelukes?
A Mameluke is not an ethnic group, it is a military class. The term comes from the Arab mamluk (owned) and it defines a class of slave soldiers. These mamluks had more rights than a common slave as they could carry weapons and hold positions of military responsibility. They were created in the ninth century by the Abbasid Caliphs with the purchase of young slaves and their training on martial and military skills. They became the base of military power in the Middle East. This military elite, similar to the Roman Praetorian Guard, was very powerful and could reach high positions in the military and in the administration. Different groups of Mamluks rebelled against their Caliphs masters, and in Egypt they successfully claimed the Caliphate in 1250, starting the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria. Their military prowess was demonstrated in 1260 in the battle of Ain Yalut where they famously defeated the Great Mongol Empire and stopped its expansion towards the west.
The Ottoman Empire was formed as one of the independent Turkish principalities that appeared in Anatolia after the fall of the Sultanate of Rum in the thirteenth century. It rapidly expanded across Anatolia and also reached the Balkans confronting the Byzantine Empire, direct heir of the Roman Empire. In 1453, after a long siege, they conquered Constantinople, sealing the fate of the Byzantine Empire.
By the sixteenth century, the Ottomans and the Mamluks were the two main powers of the Middle East, and as a perfect example of the "Thucydides trap", the conflict between these two regional powers became inevitable. In 1515, Ottoman Sultan Selim I launched a campaign to subdue the Mamluks. Incidentally, this is the campaign represented in the Arab series. In October 1516, in the battle of Marj Dabiq, the Mamluk Sultan Al-Ghawri was killed, and Syria fell into Ottoman rule. Tuman Bay II was proclaimed as Sultan and prepared the defence of Egypt. In 1517 the Ottomans entered Egypt and defeated Tuman Bay at the battle of Riadanieh, entering Cairo unopposed. Tuman Bay fled and, supported by the Bedouins, started a guerrilla campaign. But he was betrayed by a Bedouin chief and captured. On April 15, 1517, he was hanged to death on the city gates of Cairo and with him the Mamluk Sultanate ended.
With the end of the Mamluk rule, Egypt became an Ottoman province. The Ottoman control lasted from 1517 until the start of WWI, when the British Empire established a protectorate in the country after the Ottoman Empire entered the war.
A response to Turkish influence
Unlike Saudi Arabia, which until 2012, with the release of Wadjda, had never featured a film shot entirely in the country, other Middle Eastern countries such as Turkey and Iran have taken their first steps in the entertainment industry long before.
Turkey is a clear example of a country with a well-constituted cinema and art industry, hosting several film festivals throughout the year and having an established cinema industry called Yesilcamwhich can be understood as the Turkish version of the US Hollywood or the Indian Bollywood. The first Turkish narrative film was released in 1917. However, it was not till the 1950s when the Turkish entertainment industry truly started to emerge. Yesilcam was born to create a cinema appropriate for the Turkish audience in a period of national identity building and in an attempt to unify multiplicities. Thus, it did not only involve the creation of original Turkish films, but also the adaptation and Turkification of Western cinema.
One of the reasons that promoted the arising of the Turkish cinema was a need to respond to the Egyptian film industry, which was taking the way in the Middle East during the Second World War. It represents a Turkish nationalist feeling through a cinema that would embrace Turkey's Ottoman heritage and modern lifestyle.
Now, Turkish productions are known and watched by audiences worldwide, in more than 140 countries, which has turned Turkey into the world's second largest television shows distributor, generating US$ 350 million a year, only surpassed by the USA.
These Turkish productions embracing the Ottoman period are also a reflection of the current Neo-Ottoman policies carried out by the President Tayyip Erdogan, who many believe is trying to portray himself as a "modern Ottoman ruler and caliph for Muslims worldwide". It is clear that the Turkish President is aware of the impact of its TV shows, as he stated, in a 2016 speech referring to a Turkish show named "The Last Emperor"-narrating important events during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid-, that the West is treating Turkey in the same way as 130 years ago and, regarding Arabs, he stated that "until the lions start writing their own stories, their hunters will always be the heroes."
A soft power tool
Communication-especially visual communication and, therefore, cinema-plays an important role in either reinforcing the identity status quo or challenging self-views and other-views of the dynamic, multi-faceted self. It is precisely the own and particular Saudi identity that wants to be portrayed by this series.
The massive sums invested in the production of Mamalik al nar, as with other historical TV shows, is an evidence of the importance of the exercise of "soft power" by the cinema and TV show industry in the Middle East. As it has been highlighted above, Turkey has been investing in cinema production to export its image to the world for a long time now. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been restrictive when it comes to cinema, not even allowing it within the country in the case of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) for more than 35 years, and they have had few interest on producing and promoting self-made cinema. Now this has dramatically changed. Saudis have an interest in translating their self-conception of matters to the world, and communication is a way of contesting and resisting a dominant culture's encroachment that is being headed by Turkey.
In the words of Yuser Hareb, Genomedia owner(Mamalik al nar's film production company), the series was born from the idea of creating an alternative to the influence that Turkish productions have within Arabs. The producer argues that the Ottoman Empire period is not much of a glorious heritage for Arabs, but more of a "dark time," characterised by repression and criminal actions against Arabs. Turkish historic cinema "adjusts less than 5% to reality," Hareb says, and Mamalik al Nar is intended to break with the Turkish cultural influence in the Middle East by "vindicating Arab history" and stating that Ottomans were neither the protectors of Islam, nor are they the restorers of it.
Dynamics are changing in the region. The Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), the large Emirates-based and Saudi-owned average conglomerate that is one of the strongest broadcasting channel in the Arabic speaking world, was in charge of broadcasting in the Arab countries some of the most famous Turkish dramas since 2007, such as the soap opera Gumus, which final episode had 92 million viewers across the region. In March 2018, MBC rejected several Turkish dramas and it even announced an unofficial moratorium on broadcasting any Turkish series. This decision was praised by the Genomedia owner (the producer of Mamalik al nar), Yuser Hareb, pronouncing against those who passively permit the influence of foreigners with their films and series. Furthermore, MBC is also responsible for the broadcasting of Mamalik al nar in the region. The combination of these movements put together can easily portray a deterioration of Turkish-Arab relations.
Egypt also serves as an example of this anti-Turkish trend, when in September 2014, all Turkish series were banned in response to Erdogan's support for the Islamist president Mohammed Morsi (overthrown in July 2013) and his attacks on President Abdelfatah Al-Sisi. This adds to the backing of Turkey of the Muslim Brotherhood and the meddling in Libya to gain regional leadership over the exploration of gas deposits. In short, the backing of Islamist movements constitutes the main argument given when criticising Turkey's "neo-colonialist" aims, which are not completely denied by the Turkish government as it claims the will to be a restorer for the Muslim world.
Ultimately, both the Turkish and the Saudi Arabian sides have the same opinion of what the other is trying to do: influencing the region by their own idiosyncrasy and cultural heritage. It is indeed the crossfire of accusations against one another for influencing and deceiving the audience about the history of the region, especially regarding who should be praised and who condemned.
Turkish and other pro-Erdogan commentators have described Mamalik al nar as an attempt to foment division between Muslims and attacking the Ottoman legacy. Yasin Aktay, an advisor to Erdogan, remarked that there are no Turkish series that attack any Arab country so far, unlike this Saudi series is doing with the former Ottoman Empire by manipulating "historical data for an ideological or political reason". Indeed, it is an attack on "the Ottoman State, but also on contemporary Turkey, which represents it today".
The legacy of the Ottoman Sultanate has been subjected to political and intellectual discussion since medieval times. Specifically, after World War I, when a lot of new Arab nation-states started to consolidate, the leaders of these new-born states called for a nationalist feeling by means of an imperialist discourse, drifting apart Turks and Arabs. It is still today a controversial topic in a region that is blooming and which leadership is being disputed, however -and, perhaps, fortunately-, this ideology does not go beyond the ruling class, and neither the great majority of Arabs see the Ottomans as a nation that invaded and exploited them nor the Turks see Arabs as traitors.
No matter how much Erdogan's Turkey puts the focus on Islam, the big picture of Turkish series is a secular and modern outlook of the region, which has come to be especially interesting to keep up with the region's changing dynamics. That could be overshadowed by salafist movements restricting freedom of speech in what is considered immoral forms of art by some.
All in all, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are determined to counterbalance Turkey's effort to increase its regional clout through the use of "soft power" instruments by means of reacting to the abundance of Turkish dramas by launching TV series and shows that offer an "Arab approach" to the matter. In any case, it is still to be seen whether these new Arab productions narrating the ancient history of the Arab territories will have or not a success equivalent to the already consolidated Turkish industry.
 Manuel Castells. The rise of network society (New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009).
 Thomas K. Nakayama and Raymond J. Krizek. Nakayama and Raymond J. Krizek (1995). Whitness: A strategic rhetoric (Quarterly Journal of Speech, 1995), 81, 291-319.