The Taliban, the Shari'a and the Pipeline

Rivalries and Power Plays in Afghanistan

by Olivier Roy
published in MER202

Underlying the appearance of the Taliban movement, first of all, are factors internal to Afghan society, in particular the discrediting of the government and the “commandos” born out of the resistance to Soviet intervention. The rapid expansion of the militia, culminating with the conquest of Kabul on September 26, 1996, cannot be understood without considering the direct support of Pakistan, abetted by the US and Saudi Arabia, as part of a larger project to export fossil fuels from Central Asia to Western markets via Afghanistan and Pakistan, bypassing Iran and Russia.

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The Romance of Tahliyya Street

Youth Culture, Commodities and the Use of Public Space in Jidda

by Lisa Wynn
published in MER204

For middle and upper class elite, entertainment in Jidda is overwhelmingly centered around commodities. In particular, the city’s Tahliyya Street is a monument to commercialization in Saudi Arabia: a string of shops and fast food restaurants such as Benetton, Esprit, McDonald’s and Sbarro, mixed in with local entrepreneurial creations, such as Stallion Records and Dujaj al-Tazij.

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Oil, Gas and the Future of Arab Gulf Countries

by Fareed Mohamedi
published in MER204

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Washington Still Refuses to Learn an Obvious Lesson

by Chris Toensing | published June 6, 2011

Back in 2004, three years into the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 Commission report made its debut to the gushing admiration of the Washington press corps. The report was everything that the mainstream media adores: bipartisan, devoid of divisive finger-pointing, full of conventional wisdom.

Take this pearl: “One of the lessons of the Cold War was that short-term gains in cooperating with the most brutal and repressive governments were often outweighed by long-term setbacks for America’s stature and interests.”

Migration, Modernity and Islam in Rural Sudan

by Victoria Bernal
published in MER211

For the villagers of Wad al-Abbas in northern Sudan, transnational migration has generated new understandings of what it means to be a Muslim. From the mid-1970s through the 1980s, Wad al-Abbas’s incorporation into the global economy was mediated primarily by Saudi Arabia. The Saudi kingdom exerted influence on Sudan at the national level by pressuring then-President Numeiri to institute shari‘a law in 1983 and funding opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, Saudi Arabia attracted ordinary Sudanese from all walks of life as labor migrants. Villagers from Wad al-Abbas found work in Saudi Arabia as truck drivers, electricians, factory workers and sales clerks.

A Saudi Dissident's Agenda for Democratic Reform

by Mohammed AlMohaissen | published March 1, 2003

From Washington to the Arab summit, there has been much discussion lately of reformism in Saudi Arabia, but few have heard from grassroots voices within the pro-democracy movement itself.

The United States has acted as though it were introducing reform notions where they previously did not exist. But the truth is that for decades there have been intellectuals and citizens within Saudi Arabia pushing tirelessly and against great odds for change.

Dictatorship Remains OK for our Allies

by Chris Toensing | published February 18, 2005

President George W. Bush likes to associate his administration’s goals with the will of the Almighty. Witness the stirring coda of the 2005 State of the Union address: “The road of Providence is uneven and unpredictable yet we know where it leads: It leads to freedom.” As in many previous speeches, Bush lingered on the way stations of this divinely lit pathway in the “broader Middle East,” the region stretching from Morocco to Afghanistan.

The Shi‘a of Saudi Arabia at a Crossroads

by Toby Matthiesen | published May 6, 2009

Deep in the morass of YouTube lies a disturbing video clip recorded in late February at the cemetery of al-Baqi‘ and on surrounding streets in Medina, Saudi Arabia. An initial caption promises images of “desecration of graves.” Al-Baqi‘, located next to the mosque of the prophet Muhammad in the second holiest city of Islam, is believed to be the final resting place of four men revered by Shi‘i Muslims as imams or successors to the prophet: Hasan ibn ‘Ali, ‘Ali ibn Husayn, Muhammad ibn ‘Ali and Ja‘afar ibn Muhammad. The prophet’s wives, as well as many of his relatives and close associates, are also said to be buried here, making the ground hallowed for Sunni Muslims as well.