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For Saudi Arabia, BeoutQ row is a colossal own goal

Samantha Maloof

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Last week, the English Premier League revealed it was commencing legal action against Saudi-based sports channel BeoutQ, describing it as a “highly organized and sophisticated” form of piracy. BeoutQ is already facing action from several sports bodies, but the announcement from the world’s most popular sports league is arguably the biggest blow yet.

The dispute centres on BeoutQ’s theft of sports and entertainment content from Qatari broadcaster BeIN. Despite denials from Saudi officials, a string of neutral companies have corroborated claims of Riyadh’s involvement. The affair has been hugely damaging to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and his regime, denting their attempts to win global influence at a time when their Qatari rivals are gearing up to host the football World Cup in 2022. If BeoutQ was an attempt to curb Qatar’s growing soft power, it has backfired spectacularly.

When Saudi Arabia launched its blockade of Qatar back in June 2017, this state of affairs would have been inconceivable. The whole dispute, after all, was rooted in soft power, specifically the burgeoning international influence of Qatar’s state-funded broadcast network Al-Jazeera which, the Saudis claimed, was providing a platform for dissent and extremism. Qatari observers say the boycott was, at least partly, rooted in jealousy over the World Cup: Riyadh and its allies have consistently objected to Doha’s hosting of the event, and pushed for their tiny neighbour to be stripped of the rights.

But Qatar’s influence in the football world, the product of many years’ worth of investments, provided a serious impediment to Saudi Arabia’s attempt to isolate its neighbour. BeIN, a sports-focused spin-off of Al-Jazeera, had rushed to buy up the rights to air matches from the Premier League, the Champions League and the World Cup as part of a multi-pronged offensive for bidding rights prior to the boycott. Saudi Arabia, whose young population was besotted with European football clubs such as Barcelona and Manchester United, was BeIN’s largest market in the Middle East.

Two months after the boycott, BeoutQ began broadcasting. It started out as a relatively small website (albeit one enthusiastically backed by several prominent Saudis), but now it’s developed into a highly professional operation encompassing 10 encrypted channels, with its own advertisements, branding and commentary. As well as sports such as football, tennis and motor racing, it’s branched out into movies and series. BeIN’s MENA managing director has described it as the biggest commercial theft ever seen in the realm of sports and entertainment.

As BeoutQ’s reach has increased, so has the condemnation. As well as launching its own $1 billion lawsuit, BeIN has spent months lobbying global organizations to do likewise, a campaign which has brought action from sports bodies such as Fifa and Formula 1, as well as the World Trade Organization. The backlash has been fuelled by reports from cyber-security experts such as Cisco, citing “irrefutable proof” that BeoutQ’s content is being provided through Saudi Arabia’s state-backed satellite operator Arabsat. Now BeIN has launched a website containing a dossier of evidence” about BeoutQ and the people behind it. Riyadh has attempted to rebuff BeIN’s allegations, claiming the network is backed by Cuba and Colombia, but their reaction of these claims has only increased the scrutiny.

Terrible timing

For Saudi Arabia, the row is doubly embarrassing given its own attempts to win soft power through sport. MBS, who has hob-nobbed with cultural icons such as Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in the hope of presenting a modern, Western image, sees football as a key part of his global PR strategy. The country’s federation has unveiled plans to create one of the best football tournaments in the world, recruiting Western officials such as Roger Draper, former head of Sport England, to create a Middle Eastern answer to the Premier League.

The BeoutQ row, which follows several high-profile cases of unpaid wages by Saudi clubs, has repelled the global football community just when Riyadh is seeking its endorsement. What’s more, in the wake of the Khashoggi affair and the war in Yemen, the broadcasting spat only deepens popular suspicions about Saudi Arabia; instead of resembling a reformist success story, it looks like a rogue actor which can’t be trusted.

Now even Riyadh’s own sports coups are being tarnished. Last week Italian giants Juventus and AC Milan contested their Supercoppa in Riyadh, an event which should have provided a huge boost to Saudi Arabia’s profile. But the match, decided by Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, was overshadowed by BeIN’s vehement objections, and the publication of its ‘dossier’, which rather conveniently went live the same day. Having spent 20 million to secure the hosting rights, Saudi Arabia had to watch its arch-rival walk away with the media spoils.

The following day, the Saudi football team met Qatar in the Asia Cup. Again, the PR odds were stacked in Riyadh’s favor: the match, after all, was played in Abu Dhabi, a key ally in the boycott of Doha. But the so-called ‘Blockade Derby’ ended in a 2-0 win for Qatar, while many journalists took the opportunity to focus on Saudi Arabia’s attempts to throttle its tiny neighbour, highlighting the restrictions faced by Qatari fans and journalists.

Of course, Qatar has faced its own share of unwelcome headlines. The emirate remains mired in allegations that it bought the World Cup with bribes, charges it has denied. And, despite the emirate having passed a raft of new labour reforms, rights groups highlight the work that remains to be done to protect the migrant workers building its World Cup stadiums. Yet in contrast with the global uproar around the Saudi government’s recent actions, media attention around Qatar has been relatively dialled down.

Even if allegations by the Premier League and BeIN of state involvement in BeoutQ prove false, it seems the damage has been done. Saudi Arabia, having attempted to claw back its neighbour’s soft power advantage, has only succeeded in scoring an own goal.

Samantha is a freshly minted graduate in International Relations based in Cairo, currently working as a research assistant in a small think tank looking at development and inequality in Africa

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Middle East

The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Iran’s game just started

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By announcing that Iran will begin keeping its excess uranium and heavy water, the Islamic Republic now sends a firm and clear message to the west, exactly one year after U.S. president, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from its nuclear deal with Iran. 

At this point, it seems that Iran has made a wise decision. Over the last year, the European troika has not only done anything to revive the nuclear deal or bring any kind of benefit to the Iranian nation, but they have actually backed up U.S. by developing new plans to undermine Iran’s “missile work”, and diminish its “power in the region” as well as its “nuclear technology”.  

As stated in clauses 26 and 36 of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), if the other side fails to meet its obligations, Iran is entitled to partially or completely end its commitments as well. So, Iran’s recent decision could be analyzed both on legal and strategic terms. 
However, it seems that the strategic aspects of Iran’s decision are even more important than its legal aspects. This decision is strategically important because it stops Washington and European troika to carry out their anti-Iran scheme, a dangerous scheme that they actually started devising when Trump took the office in 2017.  

At the time, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president played a major part in carrying out the west scheme. A scheme based on enforcing Iran to keep its “nuclear promises” and stay committed to a “distorted nuclear deal” while “U.S. had abandoned the deal”, and at the same time, trying to “diminish Iran’s power in the region” and “reduce its missile activities”. 

All other actions of Europeans toward Iran were also simply targeted at carrying out this major plan, including how they constantly changed their strategies toward Tehran, and how Germany, U.K. and France intentionally delayed in launching the alternative trade mechanism (Instex) with Iran.  

Now, Iran’s decision to keep its Uranium and heavy water is definitely in compliance with JCPOA, and more importantly, it will seriously undermine the “American-European” joint plan against Iran. This also explains why French government was so distressed by Iran’s new nuclear strategy and had such a quick reaction, considering that Emmanuel Macron, the French president and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Foreign Minister both have had important roles in carrying out the American-European anti-Iran scheme. 

At any rate, what is clear now is that the game has just started! And the Iranian political system and specially the foreign ministry have a great mission to run this game wisely.  

In following days, the European troika might want to force Iran into changing its decision by threats such as reviving the European Union sanctions against Iran or even taking Iran’s case to the United Nations Security Council (so that Trump administration can meddle in Iran’s affairs). But, it is time for Iran political system to be adamant in its decision.  

The Iranian Foreign Ministry should clearly ask the Europeans to choose one of these options, either Iran will “further reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal” or the Europeans should do something practical to “protect the rights of Iranian nation”. 

It is also necessary that the Iranian political system reveals the American-European joint anti-Iran scheme to the people so that the true nature of Europeans is showed to Iranians. In that case, Europe and specially the European troika will completely lose their reputation.    

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Why the Algerian popular movement has succeeded until now?

Sadek Hadjal

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Authors: Sadek Hadjal and Samar Sahki

Ten factors and mechanisms adopted by both Algerian people and its army have made popular movement remain in its proper peaceful path

Since February 22, 2019, the Algerian popular movement has calmed anger on the streets every Friday demanding the departure of Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his regime. The last decade of the 20 years of his mandate was characterized by a high-level of corruption and mismanagement, especially, after his illness. Although after the resigned of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, people have continued to march demanding the complete change of the old regime.

Until now, after nearly 11 weeks, the Algerian popular movement has succeeded in achieving several goals without violence, giving a good image for Arab region witnessed the same events after a huge popular movement in 2011, called “the Arab spring”. but unlike what is happening today in Algeria, the so-called  “Arab spring” led to a bloody and dangerous consequences for the Arab countries – civil wars, military interventions, displacement, illegal immigration, proxy wars in the context of international and regional rivalry-.

The success of the Algerian Popular Movement reflects a great deal of intelligence and awareness between the Algerian demonstrators on one hand, satisfaction, wisdom and professionalism of the Algerian military in dealing with the situation on the other hand. Certainly, the two parties in Algeria -the demonstrators and the military command- have benefited from the events of the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011, which unfortunately led to disastrous results in most Arab countries. As well as what was known by “black decade” that Algeria witnessed in the 1990s.

In order to learn lessons from these events, the Algerian elites organized many international and national academic seminars, discussed several doctoral dissertations at universities, and produced many television programs to analyze the causes of these bloody events and to discover the best ways to avoid similar events, based on the reject of all kinds of external intervention as a main idea in any discussion.

There is a method both the Army and the demonstrators have relied on to success until now, which is characterized by:

From the side of protestors, they have focused on:

1 Avoiding the confrontation with military and police officers, unlike what happened in “Arab spring” countries.

2.Trying to coax the military and police officers to be with their side through the slogans.

2.Avoiding acts of violence and vandalism by keeping protests pacific.

3. Reject any religious, ethnic, or political group or party or symbols to represent them.

4.Focusing on pragmatic demands that have nothing to do with ideological discourses.

5.Refuse any external intervention whatsoever, whether there was supporting the movement or against it.

From the other side military command has focused on:

1.Not aligning against the popular movement. Otherwise, we would face a disaster situation may be more than what happened in some Arab countries.

2.The Army interference to align with the popular movement, but after confirming that there is no political solution on the horizons and that the situation could get worst.

3.The commitment of Military command by the constitution; which means passing a message that there is no intention to a military coup.

4.Not taking any step unless the popular movement demands it strongly and forcefully through the slogans carried every Friday. So that the steps taken by the Army won’t be in doubt, critic, or exploitation.

5.Provide guarantees to judges to do their work against corrupt people.

By these ten factors, the Algerian popular movement succeeded to achieve fifty percent of Goals (isolated Bouteflika and arrested the most famous symbols of the old regime on corruption charge). Now, the rest of the Goals are more difficult to achieve than the first one. The next step will focus on how to achieve a democratic system that results in accountability and empowers people to control the ruler. Whatever; until now the Algerian popular movement presents a Successful model can the rest of Arab societies benefit from.

What next:

To realize the rest of the goals, the Algerian popular movement and the Army must keep these ten mechanisms but also avoid any confrontation between them. Today there is a controversy between the two sides about the next stage; the Military command wants to hold quick presidential elections as soon as possible under Article 102 of the constitution because according to its view, any political solutions out of the constitution can lead to chaos. But the question here is who ensure that elections will be democratic under the same faces of the old regime and rules (election law for example). in return, there are a lot of citizens insist on carrying out a transition period to get rid of all old regime symbols in order to ensure presidential elections based on international standards, rather than the elections under the old regime symbols (the interim president Ahmed ben salah, and the current government of Noureddine Bedoui). But the question here is who leads this transition period? If the answer was through elect representatives, so who organize and ensure the transparency of these elections! The transition period will create a constitutional vacuum that possibly leads to chaos and that’s why Military command don’t wanted .

Algeria now is in front of a big constitutional and political dilemma, there are solutions but to maintain all possible solutions, we must avoid any confrontation between citizens and the military command. Of course, the popular movement has all the right to pressure and demand what it looks appropriate as a solution but without entering in confrontation with the military, because, in the end, the military has played a positive major role until now.

Algeria has the ability to overcome the current state crisis and emerge from the events of the popular movement as a regional force because it has a new generation of educated and ambitious youth, a well-equipped military force with experience in the field of counter-terrorism, and large energy reserves of oil and gas.

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